But now I am writing YOU to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” … “Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13
To their credit, Jehovah’s Witnesses are sincerely diligent when it comes to applying Bible counsel to themselves, and to the congregation. Faithfully doing so has proven to have tremendously positive results, which only makes sense. If the Bible really is, as it claims, the word of our creator, his wisdom certainly must surpass ours, and as it is summed up at Isaiah 48:17, “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself.”
The context of the above scripture indicates that it is not about pre-judging people, or looking down on anyone. Jesus did not do that, after all. He ate with, taught, and showed love for those with all sorts of faults and problems. By the same token, he did not accept or condone ongoing attitudes and behaviors in opposition to his Father. What Paul was inspired to later write is therefore no contradiction, but rather an indication that anyone called a brother or a sister, that is anyone actively associated with the congregation as a Christian, who would knowingly and willfully practice such things that Jehovah condemns as seriously harmful, unloving and wrong, could not rightly still be considered a follower of Christ. Faithful brothers and sisters are counseled then to avoid any association with such a person, even to the point of just sitting down to a meal with them.
Other scriptures make it plain that this applies to someone who has not shown any repentance, remorse or regret for such serious wrongs, and that the purpose of such “disfellowshipping,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses call the practice is twofold. First, it may move the person to reconsider the seriousness of what they have been doing and to turn around, thereby restoring a good relationship, first and foremost, with Jehovah God, but also with their spiritual family, who are urged to “kindly forgive and comfort” them. (2 Corinthians 2:7) A second key reason is that, in the event they should remain unrepentant, “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.” (1 Corinthians 5:6)
Indeed, the wisdom of the scriptural admonition is evident, and can be clearly seen by counterexample. No doubt we’ve all heard of some widely publicized cases of unthinkably horrid offenses committed by members of various religions. (Child molestation, for example, comes to mind. Murder is another, such as the bombings of abortion clinics, for example.) When those engaging in such acts, even repeatedly, can yet remain affiliated with others of their “faith,” as though even such gross wrongs are tolerable, or beyond judgement, what does it say to the world at large about that faith? “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)
So yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses are to be commended for upholding their faith, even in difficult matters of judgement such as disfellowshipping.
[Now, before I go any further, if you’ve not previously looked over my background, and particularly if you yourself are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am going to ask you to please read this first!]
What is sometimes not as commendable, even if it is readily understandable, is the human tendency for over-zealousness. I well know that we cannot expect perfection of one another in this system of things, nor can we expect it of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor those appointed to positions of responsibility, in spite of the tremendous good that Jehovah clearly is using them to accomplish. I don’t question that the brothers taking the lead in the congregation have both the authority and responsibility to make decisions of judgement, nor am I bitter about the decision that they came to in my case, though I certainly disagree with it. I do, however, continue to wonder whether they themselves genuinely believe that I fall into any of those scriptural categories mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. I hope they might eventually give some consideration to the possibility that in some situations, no matter how well-motivated they may believe their actions to be, that they themselves may well be going “beyond the things written,” in removing not only the “wicked,” but sometimes merely the afflicted.
The background of how I suppressed my own nature as a transgender woman for many, many years, as well as how and why that life eventually became impossible to maintain, is a lengthy story, perhaps for another day. What is most relevant here is that, quite frankly, I was a bit shocked that, within weeks of my first surfacing the truth of my situation openly with a brother whom I considered a long-time friend, the congregation elders had decided this was a “judicial matter,” and scheduled a meeting to essentially determine whether I would be “repentant,” or would need to be removed from the congregation.
What was even more difficult to comprehend about the abruptness of this action is that prior to speaking with that brother, he knew very well that I had been suffering from major depressive illness for some years and as a result had had very little contact with him or anyone, from the congregation or otherwise for that matter. Though still suffering from depression (which remains an ongoing battle for me), I was managing to break free from the worst of it, finally feeling more able to interact with others, and actually wanting to do so. I was ready to try attending meetings regularly at the Kingdom hall again, something I’d not been able to manage for a long time.
What I knew by then, and what I repeatedly tried explaining to him and the other brothers I spoke with afterward, was that coming to recognize and accept the truth about the woman I’d buried inside of myself all my life, and finally allowing her to peek her head out of that prison to breathe fresh air, was a major part of the reason I’d begun to recover to the extent that I had. Nonetheless, their decision was essentially a foregone conclusion. Because I cannot, and will not dress and present myself as the “man” I have come to realize I never truly was in the first place, I have been removed from the congregation.
I’ve had a good deal of time to reflect and ponder my own situation, in light of the scriptures and otherwise, both before and since. My own conclusions have not changed, though I do think that my understanding has deepened, and in part that is why I will be continuing to explore the subject here.
For now, though, I’ll conclude by saying I am grateful to be attending meetings regularly at the Kingdom hall again, and despite being considered “disfellowshipped” I find them spiritually strengthening and encouraging. These days I am glad to say I can be more sociable again, and although it saddens me that I cannot now freely associate with many of my friends, brothers and sisters in the congregation, I find I am being given precious opportunities to speak about the good news of God’s Word with others I come into contact with. Far from letting my circumstances cause me to be negative, many an acquaintance has told me they have come away after a conversation with a better view of both the Bible and Jehovah’s Witnesses than they had before. It pleases me know that I can still plant seeds of truth. I would encourage anyone in my sort of situation to do the same. Jehovah is a rewarder of those loyal to him, and so although the appointed elders may still expect to see me doing things that I cannot do, I know that Jehovah is pleased to see me doing what I can.