Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Does the Court have jurisdiction over religious shunning?

How do you feel about shunning? 
I often come across news stories about someone who is being “shunned” for religious reasons. These stories are occasionally about the Amish, but usually they are about Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as this one:

Alberta court weighs in on jurisdiction over religious groups following expulsion of Jehovah's Witness member

The gist of that story is this: An Alberta real estate agent, Randy Wall, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, is suing the congregation that disfellowshipped (excommunicated) him. His claim is that their shunning him has hurt him financially, as most of his customers prior to the disfellowshipping were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The news story contains more innuendo than facts. It claims that in 2014, he was requested to appear before a judicial committee of four elders about a charge of drunkenness. He admitted to two occasions of drunkenness and that he’d verbally abused his wife once. He claimed “his behaviour stemmed from stress related to the expulsion of his 15-year-old daughter who he and his wife were required by the church to shun.”

The article says: “The judicial committee found Wall was ‘not sufficiently repentant’ and he was disfellowshipped, a decision that then compelled his wife, children and other Jehovah's Witnesses to shun him. Wall appealed that decision and a panel of three elders was selected and asked to consider ‘the mental and emotional distress he and his family were under’ following his daughter's disfellowship but the committee sided with the original panel's decision.” When a letter to the Canada branch likewise failed to get the decision overturned, Wall decided to sue.

The article continues: “The court of Queen's Bench in Calgary ordered a hearing to first determine if there was jurisdiction for the court to hear the application. A judge decided that the superior court did have jurisdiction to hear the application because ‘he was satisfied the disfellowship had an economic impact on [Wall].’ The congregation and its judicial committee then appealed Wall's right to have a Court of Queen's Bench judge hear his application.”

Another salient point from the article: “Wall said his clients refused to do business with him following his expulsion because they were from the Jehovah's Witness congregation. For that reason, he argued his property and civil rights were affected by the disfellowship so the court had jurisdiction to hear the application.”

Since the judges decided two to one that a trial is appropriate, the congregation has the choice of either: 1., appealing, fighting a legal battle to prove the courts do NOT have jurisdiction over decisions made within a religion; or 2., defending themselves at trial.  

Here are some facts the news story – in fact, that nearly all news stories about shunning, got wrong.

No one is shunned by Jehovah’s Witnesses who was not a baptized member. Baptism is not some water sprinkled on one’s head as an infant. It is immersion of a person who is old enough to make decisions for himself/herself.

Becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not like taking out a membership at Costco.

No one gets baptized without first taking a vow. Baptismal candidates are asked two questions, in public, and are required to answer “Yes!”, LOUDLY, loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the entire venue, which is commonly a crowd of a thousand or even ten thousand people! They are asked:
  1. On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
  2. Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?
When Wall got baptized, he answered “YES” to both those questions. He basically agreed to meet all the requirements of being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Wall knew, when he said “YES”, that drunkenness was not acceptable. Witness beliefs are based strictly on the Bible.
“Stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
You can’t get much clearer than that. Wall also, by his own admission, violated another precept of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Watchtower, the official organ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has directed numerous times that Jehovah’s Witnesses not use their congregation for their business. Here’s an example:
“We should not carry on personal business activities in the Kingdom Hall, nor should we exploit fellow Christians for financial gain.”  (1/15/1997 Watchtower, p. 7)
In building his business around his fellow Witnesses, Wall chose to violate that directive.

What about the claim that, according to the news article, “the family was pressured to evict the girl from the home, leading to ‘much distress’”?

Again, Watchtower policy:
“This magazine has made every effort to encourage Christian parents to provide spiritual help to their disfellowshipped child who is still living at home.” (8-15-13 Watchtower p.8) 
The article went on to reference an article back in 1988 – long before this 15-year-old girl was born – that requires parents to care for the spiritual and physical needs of their minor children. 
“Even if [a minor child] is disfellowshipped because of wrongdoing after baptism… just as they will continue to provide him with food, clothing, and shelter, they need to instruct and discipline him in line with God’s Word.” (11-15-88 Watchtower p. 20)
No doubt Wall felt stress that his 15-year-old daughter was disfellowshipped – any good father would feel like a failure in such circumstances – but that doesn’t excuse lying about being instructed to put her out of the house when that is clearly not the direction given to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Nor does it excuse getting drunk and screaming at his wife.

There is one other, glaring, gaping hole in this and other stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses and shunning: 
There is no mention that the shunning is fixable.

Another quote from The Watchtower:
“Our God who requires that an unrepentant wrongdoer be expelled from the congregation also lovingly shows that a sinner can be reinstated in the congregation if he repents and turns around.” (4-15-88 Watchtower p. 31) 
That article then cites 2 Corinthians 2:6, 7: “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man; now you should instead kindly forgive and comfort him.” If Wall had simply, humbly, accepted the counsel offered, by now this whole ordeal would have been behind him.
Feel free to leave a comment.

 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books,all available at Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.


  1. Clearly Wall is not repentant and has taken offense not only against his congregation but Jehovah, himself. Taking this to the court system is disgusting and shows his disregard for what is correct. Hopefully, the court will throw it out as they have no jurisdiction in anyone's decision as to who they associate with or not.

  2. Definitely not just disfellowshipped but now has become apostate.

  3. Superb response Bill. Just superb. Catryna49, spot on as well. I was thinking much the same thing. Often times when we have an issue with another individual(s), it's something we need to examine to ensure that we're not somehow contributing to it.

    If you get drunk and abuse your wife verbally, no one else is responsible for that but you.