A Jehovah’s Witness who spoke out against a practice which leaves people isolated has now fallen foul of the Hull Elders.
Adrienne Van Den Tooren, of west Hull, had expected to be thrown out of the organisation after speaking out over the practice of being ‘disfellowshipped’ and ‘shunned’.
She was among a group of former members in Hull who lifted the lid on their experiences within the organisation and the pain of being told to leave.
They described how they have been isolated from loved ones with parents and siblings not even speaking to them simply because they questioned elements of the doctrine preached by the religious group.
Those within the group can be ‘disfellowshipped’ which is a form of ex-communication and they say they are then ‘shunned’.
Mrs Van Den Tooren said: “I was disfellowshipped on May 16 having not had fellowship for a year presumably on the basis of speaking out against disfellowshipping and shunning.
“The whole time I attended the Kingdom Hall I did nothing wrong but as a witness I endured over 30 years of institutional abuse.”
Mrs Van Den Tooren was summoned to a judicial committee but she refused to go without an escort.
She said: “I said I would need an escort because I am elderly and autistic but I was told it was not permitted.
“They went ahead to announce disfellowshipping in my absence.”
New lease of life
While being disfellowshipped can be devastating for some former witnesses, Mrs Van Den Tooren believes it is a positive step for her.
She said: “We were told that if we are disfellowshipped we will be miserable and mentally diseased.
“But, on the contrary, I am liberated and have a zeal for life.
“Still, the Witness community, family and friends are officially required to shun me with no acknowledgement or compassion, assuming I have done something grossly wrong.
“I have been a Witness all my life so, despite my relief, it has been no easy thing. It has been a slow process realising what I now know.”
She is now labelled an apostate – someone his has denounced their Christian faith – but Mrs Van Den Tooren strongly rejects this.
She said: “I am a stronger Christian than ever I was as a Jehovah’s Witness. I believe totally in God.
“If I were living 500 years ago I would have been hung, drawn and quartered, if not burnt!”
Disfellowshipping on the increase
Former members say the practice of shunning has been stepped up and claim a significant number of people have been disfellowshipped in the last few months, including several vulnerable elderly people.
Former Witness member Steven - not his real name – said: “There have been a number of people ex-communicated in Hull recently and that includes several OAPs whose children and grandchildren can no longer speak to them, leaving them vulnerable and isolated.
“I was disfellowshipped because I began to question the Witness’s version of the Bible which is different from other Christian versions.”
Steven now actively warns people against joining the Jehovah’s Wtinesses and has launched a leaflet campaign.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Armageddon is just round the corner and humanity is now in the "last days". They believe only they will survive and everyone else will perish.
The denomination was founded in the US towards the end of the 19th century, under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell.
There are about 6.9m active Witnesses in 235 countries in the world, including 1m in the US and 130,000 in the UK.
Members of the movement are probably best known for their door-to-door evangelical work and refusing blood transfusions.
One elder said they will not add fuel to the fire by getting into a debate in public.
But he did say: “Mrs Van Den Tooren has made her choice and she can do as she pleases.”
But he did want to clear up one issue after former members previously told the Mail a 12-year-old girl had been disfellowshipped.
He said: “The idea that we would disfellowship a 12-year-old girl is ridiculous. We would never disfellowship a child.”
'The bad influence of the wrongdoer is removed'
The Watchtower Online Library has information about disfellowship decisions.
It says: "In some cases, the wrongdoer will have become hardened in his course of sinful conduct and will thus fail to respond to efforts to help him. Sufficient 'works that befit repentance' may not be in evidence at the time of the judicial hearing. (Acts 26:20)
"What then? In such cases, it is necessary to expel the unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation, thus denying him fellowship with Jehovah’s clean people. The bad influence of the wrongdoer is removed from the congregation, thereby safeguarding its moral and spiritual cleanness and protecting its good name. (Deut. 21:20, 21; 22:23, 24)
"Upon becoming aware of the shameful conduct of a member of the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul admonished the elders to 'hand such a man over to Satan . . . , so that the spirit [of the congregation] may be saved.' (1 Cor. 5:5, 11-13) Paul also reported the disfellowshipping of others who had rebelled against the truth in the first century.—1 Tim. 1:20."
What you cannot do as a Jehovah's Witness
There are many things a Jehovah’s Witness cannot do including:
- Celebrate Christmas, Easter or birthdays
- Pursue higher education
- Engage in same sex relationships
- Accept blood transfusions (although this stance is softening)
- Donate to charity
- Marry a non-Witness
- Have non-witness friendships
- Attend other religious ceremonies such as weddings or funerals
- Join the armed forces