Some religious movements require members to shun (avoid) anyone who has left or has been expelled ('excommunicated
' or 'disfellowshipped' from) the movement.
Members are not to interact with those who are being shunned. In some religious movements such former adherents, including one's own family members, are to be considered 'dead.'
What the Bible Teaches About Shunning
The Bible does not teach that Christians much shun former members. It does teach that someone who refuses to repent from sin must be expelled from fellowship. That is, they are no longer considered members of the Christian Church. See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
The author of Disfellowshipping versus Shunning comments:
Clearly, Paul did instruct Christians to expel from the congregation's fellowship any person who was purposely practicing willful sin. The disassociation would quite naturally exclude them from being greeted by the identifying "holy kiss," as well as not being allowed to share in meetings and the meals for Christian worship and prayer. However, Paul's instruction did not prohibit normal conversation or witnessing to former members. Nor were they barred from attending worship in the temple or the synagogues. Jesus, the apostles and Paul, along with the rest of the Jews, worshipped God both publicly in the temple and synagogues, and privately with small groups in various homes. (Acts 5:42) It was from the private Christian fellowship for worship that sinners were excluded.
The Bible includes the following instructions on Church discipline:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Treating someone as "a pagan or a tax collector" does not mean to completely ignore the person. Jesus himself interacted with gentiles, including tax collectors.
Shunning in Various Religions
Shunning is practices, in one form or another, in various religions, cults and sects. This includes the Amish, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, the Church of Scientology
The Jehovah's Witnesses are
hardly unique in sometimes removing folks from membership in the congregation.
"Almost any religious body would, on occasion, drop a membership - by request, due to inactivity or as a matter of discipline due to some kind of moral failure," said Ron Stansell, professor of religion studies at George Fox University.
, for instance, can be excommunicated - denied sacraments considered their means of salvation.
But the Jehovah's Witnesses are among a minority of Christian groups
in the United States known to cut off social - and, as a result, business and family - contact with the disfellow- shipped.
Such shunning is "a fairly common practice of radical reformation sects, groups that tend to be drawn in very much on themselves," said Carl Raschke, a Denver University religious studies professor.
Other practitioners include certain Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities, Hutterites and the Bruderhof
Disfellowshipping is not the most radical practice out there, Colorado College professor David Weddle said. Some ultra-orthodox Jewish
congregations, for example, go so far as to hold funerals for former members who decide to marry outside the religion.
And in some extremist Islamic
groups around the world, apostasy (renunciation of faith) is considered punishable by death - witness the bounty placed on author Salman Rushdie after he was branded an apostate for "The Satanic Verses."
Banned From Church "a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders."
, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18, 2008
Cast Out "Officially, the practice is known as "disfellowshipping." The word may sound less drastic than the "excommunication" of the Roman Catholic Church, but the practice goes far beyond denying sacraments to those cast out."
, The Register-Guard, Mar. 2, 2003
Jehovah's Witnesses and Shunning
Includes a section on "Disfellowshipping versus Shunning."
The Practice of Shunning
By: Gary Busselman (on Jehovah's Witnesses)
Spiritual Shunning "When Jehovah's Witnesses excommunicate, or ''disfellowship,'' a member, even the closest human ties can be severed without question."
, St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 22, 2002