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These are the pro-shunning videos the Jehovah's Witnesses don't want you to see
The religious group removed two videos promoting the cruel practice of disfellowshipping. But not before the clips were saved.
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Two videos that were shown to Jehovah’s Witnesses during their 2023 Regional Convention—a three-day event meant to bring together large groups of believers—have apparently been scrubbed from streaming versions of the event. But not before the watchdogs at AvoidJW.org saved copies.
The videos in question are scripted vignettes in which a young JW woman named “Elsa” receives phone calls from her mother, who is depicted as a former JW. That would mean the fictional mother has been “disfellowshipped”—shunned—and her family is no longer allowed to communicate with her. Elsa has to figure out whether to talk to her mother… or avoid her indefinitely.
ELSA’S VOICEOVER: Mom’s disfellowshipping still feels so raw.
VOICEMAIL: Elsa, please pick up. I miss you so much. I just want to hear your voice.
ELSA’S VOICEOVER: It's such a struggle. I miss her. She taught me the truth, gave me a stable life. She was my closest friend. What’s the harm in just calling once in a while? To chat? Maybe I can even help her to come back to Jehovah.
The intended takeaway is clear: Of course it’s hard to cut ties with those who have left the fold, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses demand it of their members. Elsa just needs to overcome the temptation to talk to her mom.
In the second video, Elsa, sitting in a Kingdom Hall, comes to terms with cutting her mother out of her life and realizes it won’t be so bad. After all, she’s got everything she needs within her religious community.
SPEAKER: Abel was essentially a spiritual orphan. But regardless of what his parents chose, he listened to Jehovah and patiently waited on Him to fulfill His promises.
ELSA’S VOICEOVER: I never thought of it that way. What has Jehovah promised me if I patiently wait? [She looks around.] Spiritual Brothers… sisters... and mothers.
[Elsa receives another phone call from her mother. This time, she confidently ignores it.]
ELSA’S VOICEOVER: If I focus on what I do have and wait patiently, someday, what I don’t have may even come back to Jehovah.
The implication is that the other mothers in her congregation will just take the place of her biological mom (who is bizarrely referred to as a “what” and not a “who”).
The two videos were shown during a portion of the 2023 Regional Conference called “Better to Be Patient Than to Be Haughty in Spirit” in a segment urging members to “Imitate Abel, Not Adam.” The person delivering that talk, Corey Wadlington, spoke about the benefits of shunning people who have been disfellowshipped, albeit in somewhat nicer language than the blunt approach seen in the two vignettes.
How cruel is that practice? The Detroit Free Press published an article in 2018 documenting what it’s like for victims:
Shunning "can lead to great trauma among people because the Jehovah's Witnesses are a very tight-knit community," said Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies associate professor at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
"If you're separated out, you're really left to your own devices in ways that are very challenging and very painful," Schmalz said. "Once you leave a group that's been your whole life — letting that go is a kind of death."
An estimated 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses are disfellowshipped every year — roughly 1% of the church’s total population, according to data published by the Watchtower. Their names are published at local Kingdom Halls. Of those, two-thirds never return.
It really is treated by JWs as a form of “tough love”—the best way to get fallen believers back into the fold. If ex-JWs are so desperate to regain contact with their families, all they have to do is embrace the faith once again. We’re avoiding you because we love you.
That’s also the same justification evangelicals have used when promoting “conversion therapy” or supporting discrimination against LGBTQ people. It’s always in the name of love. Even though the fact that that’s a lie is so painfully obvious to everyone outside the bubble.
Disfellowshipping is also a sign of the religion’s weakness. It sends the message that critical thinking will never be enough to bring someone back to Jehovah—they won’t come back on their own. They have to be emotionally manipulated.
There is a theory as to why these videos were removed from the presentation.
Recently, British celebrity Rebekah Vardy, wife of soccer star Jamie Vardy, has been in the spotlight for speaking out against the JWs in a documentary, saying sexual abuse she endured as a child was dismissed by JW elders and that she was disfellowshipped after leaving the organization at the age of 15.
Some ex-JWs are speculating that the two videos were removed from all streaming versions of the Regional Conference in direct response to Vardy’s documentary and the subsequent interest in the JW practice of disfellowshipping. (They point out that each segment in the “Haughty” part of the conference is 12 minutes long, each with two scripted videos, except for the one that included these two videos, which is now only 9 minutes long.)
Remember that Norway recently rescinded the "religious community" status of the Jehovah's Witnesses in large part because of their practice of disfellowshipping.
AvoidJW.org notes that, whatever the reason for the videos being removed, the organization isn’t publicizing it:
While the reasons for the removal of these new videos is still a matter of speculation, it seems evident that it was done hastily, with the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses unaware of what has taken place. The videos provide very powerful visual evidence of the practice of shunning, and the expectations placed upon any Witness with a disfellowshipped relative.
If the secrecy was because the Jehovah’s Witnesses are no longer shunning people and these videos were a big mistake, that would be fantastic. But the reality is that the practice isn’t going anywhere; it’s the negative publicity they’re worried about.
Better to lie low and not draw more attention to disfellowshipping than give people another reason to despise the organization, right?
Still, the not-so-subtle removals say a lot about how this religion works.
Side note: The two videos of Elsa were uploaded to YouTube by ExJWCaleb, and they create an interesting predicament: Will the JWs file takedown notices to have them removed? If they do, they would essentially be admitting these videos are theirs…
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