Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Break Up Families or Build Them Up?

What JW.ORG says

Jehovah’s Witnesses are sometimes accused of breaking up families. But do the Witnesses actually cause discord?

As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we work to build up families, both our own and those of our neighbors. We respect God as the Creator of the family arrangement. (Genesis 2:​21-​24; Ephesians 3:​14, 15) In the Bible, he teaches principles that have helped people around the world to have marriages that are strong and happy.

The Truth

In the cited JW.ORG article Watchtower admits that it has received accusations of breaking up families, but fails to address any of the reasons why these accusations exist in the first place.

It is telling that the words “disfellowshipping” or “shunning” do not appear in the entire article, which are practices enforced by Watchtower that by definition break families apart. If a Witness commits what Watchtower considers to be a sin and is not sufficiently repentant in the eyes of the congregation elders, that person is expelled from the congregation and is to be shunned completely by church members:

  •  “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 disfellowshiped person?”   The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, page 25

This injunction extends to family members. While acknowledging that a marriage-mate converting to the Jehovah’s Witness religion may be a cause for marital strain, the JW.ORG FAQ says nothing about what happens when a family member ceases to believe in the religion.

  • “What if we have a relative or a close friend who is disfellowshipped? Now our loyalty is on the line, not to that person, but to God. Jehovah is watching us to see whether we will abide by his command not to have contact with anyone who is disfellowshipped.​—Read 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.

    Consider just one example of the good that can come when a family loyally upholds Jehovah’s decree not to associate with disfellowshipped relatives. A young man had been disfellowshipped for over ten years, during which time his father, mother, and four brothers “quit mixing in company” with him. At times, he tried to involve himself in their activities, but to their credit, each member of the family was steadfast in not having any contact with him. After he was reinstated, he said that he always missed the association with his family, especially at night when he was alone. But, he admitted, had the family associated with him even a little, that small dose would have satisfied him. However, because he did not receive even the slightest communication from any of his family, the burning desire to be with them became one motivating factor in his restoring his relationship with Jehovah. Think of that if you are ever tempted to violate God’s command not to associate with your disfellowshipped relatives.w12 4/15 pp. 8-12

Witnesses are taught to ignore their emotions and family ties, viewing the unnatural shunning of a family member as a test of loyalty to God.

  •  “[Disfellowshipping] may be difficult because of emotions and family ties, such as grandparents’ love for their grandchildren. Yet, this is a test of loyalty to God…Anyone who is feeling the sadness and pain that the disfellowshipped relative has thus caused may find comfort and be encouraged by the example set by some of Korah’s relatives” w88 4/15 pp. 26-31

Although “limited contact” in emergency situations is allowed, Witnesses are expected to have as little association with their disfellowshipped relatives as humanly possible.

  •  It might be possible to have almost no contact at all with the relative. Even if there were some family matters requiring contact, this certainly would be kept to a minimum,” in harmony with the divine injunction to “quit mixing in company with anyone” who is guilty of sinning unrepentantly. (1 Cor. 5:11) km 8/02 pp. 3-4

Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that questioning this doctrine is a sign of spiritual weakness:

  • If we do not follow what the Bible says about bad associations, disfellowshipping, or entertainment, our heart can become hard. What should you do if this starts happening to you? You urgently need to examine your faith! The Bible says: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith; keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Be honest with yourself, and regularly use God’s Word to correct your thinking.” ws16 June pp. 9-14

A Jehovah’s Witness can even be disfellowshipped for speaking to a disfellowshipped person:

  • “Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action” Shepherd the Flock of God (Elder’s Handbook) Chapter 12, Paragraph 17.

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