Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Disfellowshipping and the Art of Civil Disobedience

Each week, Amanda and I visit a different church, sitting quietly, taking notes and—if granted permission to do so—discreetly taking a few pictures. As journalists, we tend not to participate in their rituals, maintaining an (ahem) “objective” distance from the service. We’re just flies on the wall. Okay, cynical, atheistic flies who know where all the best Happy Hours are. But still.

This last Sunday, we did things a little differently. We attended the annual Memorial of Christ’s Death at a “Kingdom Hall” of my religious alma mater—Jehovah’s Witnesses—where I quietly partook of the emblems representing Jesus’ flesh and blood.


I wasn’t the only ex-Witness to attend the Memorial and munch their bread and wine. I personally know several others around the country did the same thing, no doubt to the shock of onlookers in those Kingdom Halls. In my case, it prompted one of the church elders to expel me from the premises.

His reaction was understandable. As Amanda said in her post covering the event, I’d just pissed in their cornflakes.* Was I out of line? Yes and no. I believe that what I did was not only justifiable, but a necessary act of peaceful protest against their tradition of religious abuse.

Worldwide, there are about eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is estimated that about 60,000 of them are “disfellowshipped”—shunned by their community—each year. Such “judicial action” is handed down by secretive tribunals made up of local elders for a variety of behaviors ranging from adultery to gambling to smoking. Once the announcement regarding this decision is made, friends and family are expected to cut off all association with the individual.


The Jehovah’s Witness monthly Our Kingdom Ministry, dated August, 2002, instructs Witnesses to “avoid social fellowship with an expelled person.” By way of explanation, it adds, “This would rule out joining him in a picnic, party, or trip to the shops or theatre or sitting down to a meal with him either in the home or at a restaurant…. A simple ‘Hello’ to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshipped person?”

Those who voice their disagreement with the elders’ decision in this matter can themselves be subject to disfellowshipping; as a result, compliance is rarely a problem.

Though they go to public schools and work normal jobs, Jehovah’s Witnesses live otherwise isolated lives. They are urged to cultivate relationships within the religion, withdrawing from friends and family who do not share their faith. Drawing a distinction between church members and those “in the world,” The Watchtower says:


“[W]e are wise to cultivate close friendships only with those who love Jehovah. Completely avoiding contact with those in the world is neither possible nor required. … [Yet,] it is one thing to have necessary limited contact with the world and quite another to cultivate close ties with it. Thus, we are able to make mature decisions as to whether we will participate in extracurricular activities at school, such as sports events and dances, and attend parties and dinners arranged for fellow employees.”—March 15, 2006, p.23.

The implication is that a “mature decision” entails abstaining from social activities. As a point of fact, virtually all Jehovah’s Witnesses follow that direction.

Such expectations are fine for those who flourish in the religion. But what if someone doesn’t? What if someone, you know, acts like a human, “sins,” and is deemed by a committee of elders, behind closed doors, that the person is unrepentant? If disfellowshipped, that person can find him- or herself stripped of every close tie they ever had.


As you can imagine, this can be devastating—emotionally, psychologically and mentally. Tragically, those shunned are often still in their teen years. It’s not unusual for such a young person to be kicked out of the home once he or she has been deemed “bad association.” Some are plunged into depression, while others attempt suicide. A few succeed.

I have to confess that I participated in this religious abuse myself for many years.

And then I found myself on the outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. For the first time in my life, I started talking to disfellowshipped Witnesses, listening to their narratives. I heard story after heartbreaking story about individuals who had been horribly mistreated by their own “brothers,” like the 18-year-old girl who, alone and desperate, came down with pneumonia, but whose parents refused to take her to the hospital.


Like the father whose Witness ex-wife spread rumors that he had sexually molested their children. (Actually, such slander rather common. According to the rumors about me, I was disfellowshipped for carrying on adulterous affairs. In hindsight, I wish that had been true.)

Like the 16-year-old girl who, having come out as a lesbian, was thrown out of her house—after her mother first raided her bank account—and spent six months homeless and penniless, until an ex-Witness family took her into their home.

And then there was Cady, who simply realized the religion wasn’t for her and decided to cease identifying herself as a Witness. With that, after little more than a tearful phone call, her family cut her off. She says, “It would be easier to hate the Witnesses if they were all a group of thugs, not the people you’d loved and shared decades of life with. But the pain is meted out directly from the people you love the most.”


And that, for me, gets to the heart of the problem: some of Jehovah’s Witnesses are beautiful people. In general, people join churches because they want to be “good.” But, like Nazism, which turned a nation of decent, hardworking people into ravenous monsters, Jehovah’s Witnessism calls upon even its saintliest members to perform atrocious acts of inhumanity.

These stories aren’t well-known inside the Witness community, because the people who would tell them have been effectively silenced: disfellowshipped men tell no tales. And if they go public with their stories, they are stigmatized as “mentally diseased” apostates—a sort of Disfellowshipped Exxtreme status.**

So what I did last Sunday served several purposes. Sure, Joel S. and company provided me with some great blog fodder and it was a very cathartic experience for me. But most importantly, it was a public act of defiance against a barbaric, anti-Christian character assassination ritual that ruins lives, breaks up families and turns its practitioners into hypocrites.


I don’t like to use the C-word—you know, cult—when describing Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other religion (except, maybe the Scientologists). Nevertheless, the kind of institutionalized abuse that routinely goes on within their religion puts that word on the tip of my tongue.

Chiding me for my visit to the Memorial, one commenter on this blog wondered: what would Jesus think of me? Hmmm…. Are we talking about the Jesus who strolled into the temple and publicly denounced his church leaders as a generation of vipers and wolves? The guy who braided a whip of ropes, drove out the moneylenders and condemned the rabbis for turning his place of worship into a den of thieves? I think Jesus would would be okay with the peaceful memorial visitations I and other ex-Witnesses engaged in.


We sent a very clear message to those congregations that we will not be overlooked.

In our own way, we each performed an act of civil disobedience. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can dehumanize us with their labels, they can shun us and they can call us names in their print publications. But I can only think of one response:

See you next year.

*The Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for one thing: banging on people’s doors and dragging them out of bed so they can slip a magazine into their hands. And they got their panties in a knot because I came to one of their meetings and ate a cracker? Seriously?

**The Watchtower, July 15, 2011

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Paul Sarce Bocs

posted September 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Buenas tardes, soy un expulsado de la organización de los testigos de Jehová, y estoy 100% que esa decisión fué la correcta, quienes consideraron que la suya no lo fué, les recuerdo que todos tenemos el derecho a apelar y demostrar que estaban arrepentidos, y la única forma de hacerlo es mediante los hechos, no mediante dichos. Ninguno de ustedes es apóstata, ni creo que quieran serlo, pero deben revisar en su interior lo que están haciendo, puesto que le están haciendo daño a personas que quieren entrar, lo que equivale a ser guias ciegos. Tengan mucho cuidado con lo que hacen por favor, y vuelvan a Jehová, como yo trato de hacerlo. Feliz noche.

Here’s the Google Translator version:
Good afternoon, I am expelled from the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I’m 100% that this decision was correct, who believed that theirs was not, I remind you that everyone has the right to appeal and show they were sorry, and the only way is through actions, not by them. None of you is apostate, or think they want to be, but they should check inside what they are doing, because you are hurting people who want to enter, which is to be blind guides. Be very careful what they please, and return to the Lord, as I try to do. Happy night.

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Joel Gunz

posted September 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

Hey Valerie… Good to meet you!

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Valerie Willman

posted September 9, 2011 at 9:03 am

Amen, Joel.

(…coming from an ex-JDub, myself)

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posted August 9, 2011 at 11:58 am

CREO QUE LA RAZON ESPUESTA AQUI, ESTA ESPUESTA EN TODA ORGANIZACION, EMPRESA, GOBIERNO Y EN TODA FASE DE LA VIDA. QUIEN NO HA SIDO APARTADO POR PASARSE LAS LEYES, POR EJEMPLO EN UN GOBIERNO QUE ES LO QUE HACEN ES ENCARCELADO, SEPARADO DE LA SOCIEDAD PORQUE PUEDE HACER DAÑO A LA SOCIEDAD. EN UNA EMPRESA CUANDO ALGUIEN COMETE INCLUSO COSAS COMO LAS QUE PROHIBEN LOS TESTIGOS, COMO EL ROBO HASTA LA ETICA Y EL RESPETO POR SUS SUPERIORES PUEDEN SE HECHADOS DE SU PUESTO DE TRABAJO, Y QUE DURA EXPERIENCIA ES DE PERDER UNO EL EMPLEO, INCLUSO EN EL CIRCULO DE AMISTAD LAS PERSONAS TIENEN PRINCIPIOS Y PERSONALIDAD QUE DE SEGURO BASANDOSE EN ELLOS NO SE ACERCARIAN A CUALQUIER PERSONA SI SABE QUE LE VA HACER DAÑO ESTAR CON ELLA. ENTONCES EL HECHO DE QUE LOS TESTIGOS DE JEHOVA MUESTREN LA FORMA DE DISCIPLINA MAS SENCILLA PARA QUE LA PERSONA REFLEXIONE Y RECAPACITE DE SU MAL PROCEDER, ES UNA FORMA QUE SE HACE EN TODA BASE DE UNA SOCIEDAD Y ES MAS ES COLOCADA POR DIOS, AHORA A MI PARECER LO QUE USTEDES QUIEREN Q LA ORGANIZACION DE JEHOVA SEA REBAJE SUS NORMAS ESTIPULADAS POR SU PALABRA LA BIBLIA COMO MUCHAS RELIGIONES DONDE DIOS CADA UNO DE ESOS PECADOS SE HAN IDO HAGRABANDO A LO QUE DICE ROMANOS 1:19 EN ADELANTE EL APOSTOL PABLO QUE LAS NORMAS MORALES SE HIRIAN REBAJANDO. PORQUE NO HABLARON ACERCA DE RECOMPONER DE REHACER SUS MENTES DE ACUERDO CON CRISTO, COMO SU MANERA DE PENSAR. La historia es la misma de siempre, protestar por la expulsion, pero jamas, jamas, protestar por el pecado. Porque lo que no confiesan a los que les escuchan es que ellos persisten en fornicar, en robar, en calumniar, en cometer homosexualidad, en cometer pederastia, en drogarse, incluido el tabaco…….etc.etc. Eso ellos no lo condenan. Condenan la expulsion y sus efectos. Ellos desean seguir dentro y seguir haciendo lo mismo. Tu te imaginas un padre que pone reglas dentro de su hogar y nadie las cumple y claro el padre no pone disciplina, como creen que sería un país si pusiera normas y leyes y no las cumplieran y no pusieran condenas por pasarlas, es mas que sería de una empresa donde no se cumplen sus leyes y no se toman medidas para arreglar la situacion, todos se acabarían terminarian en una anarquía, y si o estoy mal eso está pasando en muchas iglesias. entonces estaría tomar medidas disciplinarias para que el pecador se recapacite y vuelva de su mal camino?

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posted July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm

“I have to confess that I participated in this religious abuse myself for many years”, “I was disfellowshipped for carrying on adulterous affairs. In hindsight, I wish that had been true”.

Please let me laugh hahahahahaha, I promise you, I’m still laughing. Reading this is enough to conclude that it is nothing but pathetic resentment. It leaves you without an impartial point of view, and as a result, leaves your “article” as worthless for any who is not resentment, but in fact looking for some general idea about this subjet.

Furthermore, this “Disfellowshipping” activities rest in their faith in a book and their faith in the God you refuse. So, your judgment on this matter cannot be trusted, at least not for anyone trusting the Bible nor any god.

And prejudiced expressions like “Tragically, those shunned are often still in their teen years. It’s not unusual for such a young person to be kicked out of the home once he or she has been deemed “bad association.” Some are plunged into depression, while others attempt suicide. A few succeed.”, and without given any formal source of information, just sustains and put a full stop to my previous conclusions.

Let see how brave you are really with my post, or deleting it.

I will do all I can to be with them as soon as they have a meeting, and remember you, and your crying “articule”!

Come on! Overcome that chapter of your life! Take care of your liver =D

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Joel Gunz

posted May 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Thanks, Rebecca!

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Rebecca L

posted May 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm

It’s refreshing to read a Jehovah’s Witness blog with a contructive (insider’s) viewpoint. Kudos.

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Candy Floss

posted May 22, 2011 at 4:35 am

Thank you so much for this story, and for your post. Congratulations on your progress! The grief is profound, and constant, but we do slowly get better.

I love your blog!

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posted May 18, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I can not go along with the way the jw’s think and the bad rules they have toward those in this and what they tell them is wrong for everyone. I hope my son gets out of that organization as he can’t celebrate his own birthday or anyones birthday in his family. Of couse he cant partake in holidays either. I don’t see how come they have not kicked him out as he served nine years in the Navy and he is a life member of the veteran of the VFW as I am. I got in to a couple of the members of the jw when they said bad things about the Military. They don’t come around here any more.

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Joel Gunz

posted April 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Today is the day I catch up on some correspondence on the blog. Yeesh! I’ve been remiss. Please forgive me. It has been an honor to (re)connect with people who, like me, were once part of repressive religious system and finally broke free. Thank you for your stories of courage and honesty. We all build strength on each others’ shoulders, don’t we?

Brunnhilde – Thank you so much for dropping by!

Jim Rizoli – I’d be very interested to hear your disfellowshipping tapes – can you post a link here?

Former Member of Men’s Warehouse Mafia – Isn;t it funny that, once thr anger blows away, whats’ left is forgiveness, strength and compassion for those on the inside? (At least, mostly!) Cheers to you.

Dan S. – Are you the Dan S. I know???

Anne Marie – I just want to quote you again: “If love is more powerful than hate, then I believe, too, that truth will win over lies…” Amen, sister!

Anna Logan – Thanks so much for “getting” the story!

Adam (Twitch) – Loving your blog! here it is:

Mrs. Hopkins – So sorry to hear your story. And how sad that JWs refuse to see you (and us) as a person.

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posted April 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Joel and Amanda – every time I read your blogs it gives me a little bit of a boost in getting past what happened to me. I’ve read it over and over again in the comments, you can’t understand what its like unless you’ve been there, but your blog about it gives a little glimpse of how desperately hurtful it is.

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Jim Rizoli

posted April 26, 2011 at 11:59 am

I was a JW for 26 yrs, pioneered for 17 and saw the light back in 1994.
My twin brother was Df’d in 1991 and that got the ball rolling for me to question things. Was an elder for a short time but time enough to see there are some big problems here.
Was Df’d in 1996 and pretty much never looked back. It did cost me my marriage but that is a small price to pay for freedom.
Was one of the first to record a Df’ing meeting and get it on the internet.
Have no interest in the Jw’s today and found this blog by happenstance.
All in all life is good and nice to see there is life outside the “organization”, and for the most part people are nice.
I was lucky to have my brother to lean on and him me, when the sky fell in on top of us.
Happy to speak to any of you who need help coping.

Jim Rizoli

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posted April 25, 2011 at 1:02 am

You are a wonderful writer Mr. Gunz. I appreciate this article, keep up the good work!
Dan S.

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Anne Marie DeSoto

posted April 25, 2011 at 12:35 am

All we can do is to keep trying to tell the truth. We may be painted as evil, or as liars, but we must stand up for what we know is right; for what we know to be true.

If love is more powerful than hate, then I believe, too, that truth will win over lies…

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posted April 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm

It is my hope that in this electronic age people have greater access to support when they are disfellowshipped. I had a young woman working for me who was disfellowshipped because she divorced her abusive husband. Nothing happened to the husband. She was very depressed for a long time. Thankfully she had supportive people in her life!

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anna logan

posted April 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Wow …very good article you wrote. I am very sorry for what happened to you and all the other people who where kicked out of the JW church, that is so sad to me, i dont think anybody has the right to kick you out of GODS church… so that must not be GOD thats there.

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Adam (Twitch)

posted April 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm


Great article. Very well said. Many people inside the Witness organization never hear the stories of what happen to the lives of the people that are abandoned by their friends and families inside the religion.

After leaving the Witnesses in ’96, I spent years depressed and suicidal. I was later diagnosed with PTSD, due to physical abuse during my childhood, and the experiences I went through after leaving the organization.

Luckily, for many people “getting out” today, there are more resources available online that weren’t available to someone like me in 1996. There is a whole network of people out there available to help.

Thanks for writing about this.


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Joel Gunz

posted April 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm

They really can’t see beyond their religion, can they? So dehumanizing on so many levels.

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Mrs. Hopkins

posted April 24, 2011 at 8:27 am

I already posted a comment on Amanda’s blog, but I just wanted to thank you for doing what you did in standing up to the JWs, especially sitting right next to one that you knew personally. Being a JW ruined my youth and I am just now able to be myself. I stopped going to meetings 10 years before I finally came out to my mother as a lesbian and for that she has ended our relationship. I didn’t expect her to accept and love the fact that I am gay, but as my mother, I was hoping that she would move beyond that. JW are not capable of seeing past things, even when it comes to their own family. It’s very sad.

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Sara Gresser

posted April 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Thank you. I spent years wondering if I could make a point on the inhumane actions of Jehovah Witnesses without offending their beliefs. After all, I respect the right to freedom of religion. You have proven completly to me, right now, that it isn’t offending their beliefs as much as pointing out the actions of their beliefs. Thank you.

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Sarah Keirsey

posted April 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm

It is so important to bring the “dark side” of the JW’s to the fore and end the silence. There may be good people inside of that religion, however, they still participate in the practice of shunning and thereby condone it, even if they don’t agree with it wholeheartedly. I was one of those people, not speaking to my sister for 23 years because she left the Cult (that is what they are by all definitions). My offense, for which I was put out, was questioning and researching and ultimately standing up to the Organization as a whole and stating that I could no longer in good conscience have my name attached to a group that claim to be god’s channel and yet are full of lies, hypocrisy and cruelty. For that I too am labeled an “apostate”, a label by the way I wear proudly as to me it represents my strength in taking on their powerless uneducated group of men that preside with such “authority”. I applaud what Joel did and respect Amanda for standing by his side and seeing first hand the “abuse” even a long time friend would perpetrate on Joel in the name a god…….people are indeed free to believe as they choose but when it crosses boundaries of humanity, when children are put on the street and people take their own lives because of it…..something is very wrong and must change……We who have experienced it and continue to experience it,must be the voice of that change

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Lisa Le

posted April 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Joel, Thank you so much for posting this for ALL of us. You are truly inspirational. Even my neighbor who is a preacher wants to go to the memorial next year and partake. This was a silent protest. It was very little to say the least compared to what they have done to people (who used to be their brothers and sisters). I know people who have killed themselves because of the rejection, no hope. So ashamed for the sin they committed and then on top of it the rejection from the only people and family they know. My daughter was 3 1/2 when we left the organization quietly because we disagreed with the disfellowshipping practice and not being able to celebrate our only daughters birthday. She was shunned also of course and couldn’t figure out why she didn’t have her little friends anymore. Those families that we went camping with, shared meals with, all reject my cute little 3 yr old. Turn away from her at the grocery store when they see her. So, so sad. We were not disfellowshipped. All we did was decide we didn’t want to be members anymore. That’s all. I’m glad you brought out the other side of JW. Yes, they are wonderful people that live a good moral life for the most part but there is dark side that no one knows about until you’ve been there. Thanks again for all you do Joel. You have a great circle of TRUE friends that will always be there for you.

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posted April 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I thought God was all about love and loving everyone? Kinda makes ya wonder about a religion that asks you to turn your back on someone.

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