How the “Shunning” practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses compares to the Hellfire doctrine.

Years ago, when I was a full-fledged Jehovah’s Witness, serving as an elder, I met a fellow witness who had been a Muslim in Iran before converting. This was the first time I had ever met a Muslim who had become a Christian, let alone a Jehovah’s Witness. I had to ask what motivated him to convert given the risk, since Muslims who convert often experience an extreme form of disfellowshipping…you know, they kill them.

Once he moved to Canada, he had the freedom to convert. Still, the gap between the Koran and the Bible seemed a huge one, and I couldn’t see the basis for such a leap of faith. The reason he gave me turned out to be the best response I’ve ever heard for why the doctrine of Hellfire is false.

Before I share that with you, I want to explain that this video will not be an analysis of the Hellfire doctrine. I believe it is false and even more than that, blasphemous; yet, there are still many people, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, et cetera, who hold it to be true. Now, if enough viewers want to hear why the teaching has no basis in Scripture, I’ll be happy to do a future video on the subject.  Nevertheless, the purpose of this video is to demonstrate that witnesses, while disdaining and criticizing the doctrine of Hellfire, have in fact embraced their very own version of the doctrine.

Now, to share what I learned from this Muslim man turned Jehovah’s Witness, let me start by saying that he converted when he learned that Witnesses, unlike most nominal Christians, reject the doctrine of Hellfire.  For him, Hellfire made no sense.  His reasoning went like this: He never asked to be born. Before he was born, he simply did not exist.  So, given the choice to worship God or not, why couldn’t he just turn down the offer and go back to what he was before, nothing?

But according to the teaching, that is not an option.  Essentially, God creates you out of nothing then gives you two options: “Worship me, or I’ll torture you forever.”  What kind of choice is that? What kind of God makes such a demand?

To put this into human terms, let us say a rich man finds a homeless man on the street and offers to put him up in a beautiful mansion on a hillside overlooking the ocean with all the furnishings and clothing and food he’ll ever need. The rich man asks only that the poor man worship him.  Of course, the poor man has the right to accept this offer or to refuse it. However, if he refuses, he cannot go back to being homeless. Oh, no, not at all.  If he refuses the rich man’s offer, then he must be tied to a post, whipped until he is near death, then physicians will attend to him until he heals, after which he will be whipped again until he nearly dies, at which point the process will start all over again.

This is a nightmare scenario, like something out of a second-rate horror movie. This is not the kind of scenario one would expect from a God who claims to be love.  Yet this is the God which proponents of the Hellfire doctrine worship.

If a human were to boast about being very loving, perhaps the most loving of all men, yet acted this way, we would arrest him and throw in an asylum for the criminally insane.  How could anyone worship a God who acted like this?  Yet, astonishingly, the majority do.

Who exactly would want us to believe that this is the way God is? Who benefits by us having such a belief? Who is the principal enemy of God?  Is there anyone known historically as a slanderer of God?  Did you know that the word “devil” means slanderer?

Now, back to the title of this video.  How can I equate the social act of shunning, with the idea of eternal torture? It might seem like a stretch, but in fact, I don’t think it is at all.  Consider this: If the Devil is really behind the doctrine of Hellfire, then he accomplishes three things by getting Christians to accept this doctrine.

First, he gets them to unwittingly slander God by painting him as a monster that delights in inflicting eternal pain.  Next, he controls them by instilling fear that if they don’t follow his teachings, they will be tortured.  False religious leaders cannot motivate their flock to obedience by love, so they must use fear.

And third…well, I have heard it said, and I believe it to be so, that you become like the God you worship.  Think about that. If you believe in Hellfire, then you worship, revere and adore a God who tortures for all eternity anyone who isn’t unconditionally on his side.  How does that affect your view of the world, of your fellow human beings?  If your religious leaders can convince you that a person is “not one of us” because they hold different political views, religious views, social views, or if they just happen to have skin that is a different color than yours, how will you treat them—given that when they die, your God is going to torture them for all time?

Think about that please. Think about that.

Now, if you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting on your high horse and looking down your long nose at all these poor deluded fools believing this Hellfire fantasy, don’t be so smug.  You have your own version of it.

Consider this reality, a story that has been repeated countless times:

If you are an unbaptised teenager in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses and you chose to never get baptised, what will happen to your relationship with your family when you get older, eventually marry, have children.  Nothing.  Oh, your Jehovah’s Witness family won’t be happy you never got baptized, but they’ll continue to associate with you, invite you to family gatherings, probably still try to get you to become a witness. But, for a change, let’s say you get baptised at 16, then when you’re 21, you decide you want out. You tell this to the elders. They announce from the platform that you are no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Can you go back to your pre-baptismal status?  No, you are shunned! Like the rich man and the homeless man, you either worship the Governing Body by giving them absolute obedience, or your mate, husband or wife, will probably divorce you with the approval of the Organization.

This shunning policy is seen universally as cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of basic human rights. There have been many who have committed suicide, rather than endure the pain of shunning.  They have viewed the shunning policy as a fate worse than death.

A Witness can’t imitate Jesus in this regard.  He has to wait for the approval of the elders, and they usually delay their forgiveness a minimum of one year after the sinner has repented and left his sin. They do this because they need to humiliate the person as a form of punishment so as to build respect for their authority.  It’s all about the authority of those in positions of leadership.  It is rule by fear, not love.  It comes from the wicked one.

But what about 2 John 1:10?  Doesn’t that support the shunning policy?

The New World Translation renders this verse:

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.”

This is the main scripture Witnesses use to support the total shunning of an individual. They claim this means that they are not even allowed to say “hello” to a disfellowshipped person.  So, they take this to mean that the Bible commands us to not even acknowledge the existence of someone who is disfellowshipped.  But wait.  Does this apply to anyone who is disfellowshipped for any reason? What if someone just chooses to leave the Organization?  Why do they apply this scripture to them as well?

Why doesn’t the Organization get everyone to read and meditate on the context before forcing people to take such drastic decisions?  Why cherry pick one verse?  And to be fair, does their failure to consider the context free each one of us from guilt?  We have the same Bible, they have. We can read. We can stand on our own two feet. In fact, on judgment day, we will be standing alone before the Christ.  So, let’s think here.

The context reads:

“. . .For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those not acknowledging Jesus as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look out for yourselves, so that you do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that you may obtain a full reward. Everyone who pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. The one who does remain in this teaching is the one who has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 1:7-11)

It is talking about “deceivers.”  People willingly trying to deceive us.  It is talking about those who “push ahead” and who “do not remain in the teaching –not of the Organization, but of the Christ”.  Hmm, people who are trying to force false doctrine on us, who are pushing ahead of what is written in Scriptures.  Does that ring a bell?  Could it be that they are trying to put the shoe on the wrong foot? Should they be looking at themselves?

John is talking about someone who denies the Christ coming in the flesh, an antichrist.  Someone who does not have the Father and the Son.

Witnesses apply these words to brothers and sisters who continue to believe in Jesus and Jehovah but who doubt the interpretation of the men of the Governing Body.  Perhaps it is time for the men of the Governing Body to stop projecting their sin onto others.  Should they be the ones we should not be willing to eat with, or to say a greeting to?

A word about that phrase: “say a greeting”.  It is not a prohibition against speech.  Look how other translations render it:

“don’t welcome him” (World English Bible)

“neither wish him happiness” (Webster’s Bible Translation)

“nor say to him, God speed you.” (Douay-Rheims Bible)

“do not even say, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Good News Translation)

“Neither bid him God speed” (King James Bible)

The greeting John refers to means you wish the man well, you are blessing him, asking God to favor him.  It means you approve of his actions.

When Christians who believe in Jehovah God and strive to obey the commands of Jesus Christ are shunned by those who presume to worship God and proudly carry his name by calling themselves His Witnesses, then truly the words of Romans apply: “For ‘the name of God is being blasphemed on account of YOU people among the nations’; just as it is written.” (Romans 2:24 NWT)

Let’s expand on the second point, that the shunning practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses is used to instill fear and force compliance in the flock in much the same way as the doctrine of Hellfire is used.

If you doubt what I say concerning the purpose of the Hellfire doctrine, just consider this experience from my personal life.

Years ago, as a Jehovah’s Witness, I had a bible study with an Ecuadorian family that included four teenaged children all living in Canada.  We covered the chapter in the book that dealt with the doctrine of Hellfire, and they came to see clearly that it was unscriptural.  The next week, my wife and I returned to the study to find that the husband had run off with his mistress, abandoning his wife and children.  We were understandably shocked by this unexpected turn of events and asked the wife what brought it on, since he seemed to be doing so well in his Bible study.  She confided that when he had learned that he wouldn’t burn in hell for his sins, that the worst that would happen to him would be death, he abandoned all pretext and gave up on his family to enjoy life as he wished.  So, his obedience to God was not motivated out of love but out of fear. As such, it was worthless and would never have survived any real test.

From this, we see that the purpose of the hellfire doctrine is to create a climate of fear that will induce obedience to church leadership.

This same outcome is achieved by the unscriptural shunning doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  PIMO is a term that has come into being in recent years.  It stands for or means “Physically In, Mentally Out.”  There are thousands—very likely tens of thousands—of PIMOs within the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These are individuals who no longer agree with the teachings and practices of the Organization, but who keep up a front so that they do not lose contact with beloved family and friends. It is fear of ostracism that keeps them inside the organization, nothing more.

Because Jehovah’s Witnesses operate under a cloud of fear, not of the punishment of eternal torment, but rather, the punishment of eternal banishment, their obedience is not due to love of God.

Now about that third element in which Hellfire and Shunning are two peas in a pod.

As we have already affirmed, you become like the God you worship. I have talked to Christian fundamentalists who are quite happy with the idea of Hellfire. These are individuals who have been wronged in life and who feel powerless to fix the injustice they have suffered. They take great comfort in the belief that those who have wronged them will one day suffer horribly for all eternity. They have become vindictive. They worship a God who is unbelievably cruel and they become like their God.

Religious people who worship such a cruel God become cruel themselves.  They can engage in such horrific acts as the Inquisition, the so-called Holy Wars, genocide, burning people at the stake…I could go on, but I think the point is made.

You become like the God you worship.  What do Witnesses teach about Jehovah?

“…if one should remain in this disfellowshiped condition till he died, it would mean his everlasting destruction as a person who is rejected by God.” (The Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1965, p. 751).

“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.” (Watchtower 1989 Sep 1 p.19)

They teach that if you didn’t have the good sense to accept The Watchtower and Awake when they came knocking on your door, you are going to die eternally at Armageddon.

Now these teachings are not in line with that Jehovah tells us in the Bible, but this is the idea that Witnesses have of their God and so it affects their mental attitude and world view.  Again, you become like the God we worship. Such a belief creates an elitist attitude. Either you’re one of us, for better or worse, or you’re dog meat.  Were you abused as a child? Did the elders ignore your cry for help?  Do you now want out because of how they treated you?  Well, then, you have disregarded the august authority of the elder body and must be punished with shunning.  How cruel, but yet, how typical. After all, they are just imitating the God as they see him.

The devil must be delighted.

When you submit to the doctrines of men, whatever your religious denomination may be, you become slaves of men and are no longer free. Eventually, such enslavement will result in your humiliation. The wise and intellectual ones who opposed Jesus thought they were above reproach. They thought they were serving Jehovah. Now history looks back on them as the greatest of fools and the epitome of wickedness.

Nothing has changed. If you oppose God and chose instead to support men, you will eventually look the fool.

In ancient times, there was a man named Balaam who was paid by the enemies of Israel to call down a curse upon the nation.  Each time he tried, the spirit of God moved him to pronounce a blessing instead.  God thwarted his attempt and tried to get him to repent. But he did not.  Centuries later, another so-called holy man, the high priest of the nation of Israel was conspiring to have Jesus killed when the spirit became operative on him and he pronounced a prophetic blessing.  Again, God gave the man a chance to repent but he did not.

When we try to support the false teachings of men, we may unwittingly condemn ourselves.  Let me give you two modern examples of this:

Recently, there was a case in Argentina where a brother and his wife began to express doubts about some of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was during the time of the international convention, so the elders started to circulate warnings to all the brothers and sisters using phone calls and text messages slandering this couple by informing everyone that they would be disfellowshipped once the convention was over and the meetings were resumed (they hadn’t met with the couple yet). The couple took legal action and wrote a letter to the branch. The result of that was that the branch had the elders back off so that no announcement was made; leaving everyone wondering what was going on. Nevertheless, the branch letter fully supported the actions of the local elders.  (If you wish to read about the case, I will put a link to the series of articles published on the Beroean Pickets website in the description of this video.)  In that letter, we find that the brothers in the branch unwittingly condemn themselves:

“Finally, we sincerely and deeply express our wish that, as you carefully meditate prayerfully on your position as God’s humble servant, you may proceed according to divine will, focus on your spiritual activities, accept the help that the elders of the congregation seek to give you (Revelation 2:1) and “Throw your burden on Jehovah” (Psalm 55:22).” 

If you read the whole of Psalm 55 you will see that it is dealing with the oppression of a righteous man by evil ones in positions of power. The final two verses pretty much sum up the entire Psalm:

“Throw your burden on Jehovah, And he will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to fall. But you, O God, will bring them down to the deepest pit. Those bloodguilty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 55:22, 23)

If the couple is to “throw their burden on Jehovah”, then the branch is casting them in the role of the “righteous one”, leaving the role of the “bloodguilty and deceitful men” for the branch and local elders to fill.

Now let’s look at another example of how foolish we can be when we seek to justify the actions of the men who teach lies, instead of holding to the truth of God’s word.

[Insert video of Toronto judicial committee]

All this brother wants is to be able to leave the Organization without being cut off from his family.  What reasoning does this elder use in defense of the Organization’s position on shunning?  He talks about how many individuals who left their former religion to become Witnesses suffered shunning.  Obviously, the Witnesses who did this are seen as virtuous because they valued what they held to be true as more important than maintaining contact with family members who remained in “false religions”.

So, who is the brother like in this example?  Is it not the brave individuals who left false religion in search of truth?  And who did the shunning? Was it not the members of his former religion, people who were part of false religion?

This elder is using an analogy that casts this brother as a valiant seeker of truth and the congregation of Jehovah’s Witness as the same as the false religions that shun those who leave them.

One can almost see the spirit at work, causing these men to utter truth that condemns their own actions.

Are you in this situation?  Do you want to worship Jehovah and obey his son as your savior free from the artificial and heavy burdens placed upon you by modern-day Pharisees?  Have you faced or do you expect to face shunning?  The words of blessing you just heard uttered by this elder, like some modern-day Balaam, should fill you with confidence that you are doing the right thing.  Jesus said that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29)

Further, you have the unwitting reassurance of the Argentina branch office, like some modern-day high priest, that Jehovah God will not let you, “his righteous one”, fall, but that he will sustain you while bringing down the “bloodguilty and deceitful men” who persecute you.

So, take heart all you who will remain faithful to God and true to his son.  “Stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28)

Thank you very much.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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