It was 1985. I lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and my Mom lived in Selkirk, Manitoba. I had been asking — begging — Mom to come and visit us ever since we moved to Saskatoon from Selkirk, in 1978, a period of seven years.
1978, the year of my baptism as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was also the same year that my husband was laid off from his well-paying job. Our family was in transition on so many levels. My kids had to change schools. I began in earnest to live as a Jehovah’s Witness and also raise my kids to avoid alcohol, drugs, and other vices in which my husband (at the time) was engaged. I wanted desperately to believe that the Bible would help me keep my kids clean and sober. It’s also the same year we moved to a new province of Saskatchewan. New to me, but it was hubby’s home city — Saskatoon.
Until 1985 I had returned to Selkirk and visited with Mom on a few occasions, but she had yet to visit us. Obviously, she was hesitant to leave her new husband Alex at home alone because he suffered from a medical condition. Naturally, she wanted to make sure he was in good hands, if she came for a visit. It would be Mom’s first time ever in Saskatchewan.
Mom finally arranged for a trustworthy family friend to look in on Alex while she was away. Our family was very excited when Mom finally accepted our invitation to visit us and experience our new home.
Mom was as eager to see us as we were to see her. At long last, she booked a train for herself and my youngest brother. They planned their trip to the next province where we lived. My wish to have her visit our family was coming to fruition at last and I was jubilant!
The weeks flew by until it was finally time to pick up Mom and my brother from the train station. Heather even put on a dress for the occasion — and so did Grandma — and so did I! This was going to be a very special visit. We certainly wanted Mom’s very first visit to Saskatoon to be memorable.
We settled Mom into our spare bedroom and got on with the business of catching her up with all the news in Saskatoon. Also, what we were missing in Selkirk was a subject for discussion.
The very next day, I rounded up the kids and we went swimming at Riversdale Swimming Pool. The kids had been taking swimming lessons and Grandma had to witness what good swimmers they were becoming.
On another day, I packed a lunch and our family had a picnic at Blackstrap Park, located a short drive out of the city.
Sometimes, we did things as a family. At others, Mom and I spent mother-daughter time together. Mom and I went shopping together, we went for walks along the river, we had long talks and generally caught up on a lot of missed news. We browsed through malls together, had leisurely lunches together, explored antique shops together, picked through knickknacks, and splurged on rhinestone earrings.
Through Mom, I got to know my new stepdad Alex better and became certain they were happy together. He loved her — adored her. I thought, what could possibly be wrong with that?
“I can see that life is so much better now than you ever had it, being married to my father!” I exclaimed over lunch one day.
Mom looked down, smiled contentedly, and I sensed my hunch was right.
Disturbing Family History
I went to the weekly religious meetings without my mom, because she was disfellowshipped (since 1976) and preferred not to attend. So, Mom stayed at home to get re-acquainted with Terry, while I attended with my children. I just knew God would have wanted me to keep attending meetings — set the right example and win her back to the congregation without a word. I was going to fix everybody who needed fixing in our family!
So, what went wrong? Mom got in trouble with the elders soon after she left my dad in the early 70s. It wasn’t long before she met Alex at her new job in Selkirk. They began dating very soon after Mom officially divorced my dad. That’s when the elders judged her adversely. According to them, she was not scripturally permitted to date a new man. Not only that, she was not allowed to even divorce her husband (my dad) because he still wanted her back. He had been writing her letters, begging her to come back.
In other words, according to the elders, separation — or even a legal divorce — didn’t count. She was declared an adulteress, and subsequently disfellowshipped. Once disfellowshipped, everyone in the congregation was obligated to shun her. All the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Selkirk were shunning Mom!
“A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband.”—1 Corinthians 7:10, 11 New World Translation (NWT)
Shunning Mom was an Order!
Nevertheless, I believed I did not have to shun my mom, after all she was my mother! Certainly, I was an exception, as I had scriptural obligations to my mom. I felt sure.
The elders completely disregarded all the abuse she had endured during her nearly two decades of marriage to my father. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but deep in my heart I felt the elders didn’t make a fair assessment of my Mom’s situation. After all, she fled from an abusive husband.
Well, word of her visit to Saskatchewan traveled fast. About a week after my mom’s visit, I received a disturbing letter from one of the Selkirk elders, considered to be a family friend. The congregation back in Selkirk had gotten wind that my disfellowshipped mother visited with me. The elder wrote to warn me that if I didn’t cut off my association with her at once that I would be severely dealt with.
What would prompt such a letter from a religious elder in my Mom’s hometown?
I was devastated. No one had a right to interfere with my mom’s relationship with me like this! It was such a violation of my rights. I struggled alone — I could not discuss it with my husband. He was not a religious member, and could not possibly understand the religious reasoning behind this type of treatment.
Struggling with Doubts
I could appeal to the elders in Saskatoon, perhaps. Yet, if I dared to verbalize my questions and doubts, I would have been marked. That means I would have been watched suspiciously by the body of elders as well as anyone else who knew of the specifics of the situation. I didn’t want to be known as a “Doubting Thomas” member or I would have been frowned upon. Worse than that, anyone else in the congregation who knew of my doubts would have disassociated themselves from me. I couldn’t risk that punishment, as I wanted to be known as a credible and respected member. I heard over and over again from the platform that members “should have no doubts” — so I dared not have any.
If I told the elders to leave me alone, who would support me in helping my kids to stay clean and sober and not follow the example of their father? Besides, I really believed what the religion taught. After all, here I am in a spiritual paradise and there was nowhere else to go. I must stay at all costs. I can’t be disloyal because this test is from Satan. He’s trying to break my integrity. My integrity means my life.
My attachment to the religion was strong. Yet, my decision to yield to the elder’s threat couldn’t stop the unending questions of loyalty and love for my mom or for the Watchtower Society. Both sides of the issue tormented me relentlessly.
I recalled the first time I told mom I loved her. It was when I left Terry in Winnipeg in 1973 during our engagement, after I discovered he used heroin. I went to stay with my mother at her mom’s home (my grandma). She had already left my father. At that time I vowed I would always tell Mom — show Mom — how much I loved her. Abandoning her now would mean I betrayed my own promise to love her always.
I further reasoned that since Mom lived in Selkirk and I lived in Saskatoon, why couldn’t I simply ignore the elder’s letter and go about my business, as if nothing happened? No one ever needed to know I had been threatened in this way by a religious elder. Then again, how could I live with this ultimatum? I could leave the religion! But where would I go? How would I explain leaving the religious organization to my kids? This religion has the truth, doesn’t it? This is the way I should live. Isn’t it?
“Spiritualizing” the Problem
That’s when my ego took over and “spiritualized” the problem. That means I fell into a “spiritual trap” of sorts. The religion taught that when someone leaves the faith family, that un-spiritual action cannot be tolerated in the congregation. It is a mortal sin to leave the religion, a condition where I would be treated as dead. Leaving the religion was the same as leaving God. On the other hand, the religion taught that if I had enough love, shunning Mom could bring her back into the religious fold — and I’d be “saving” her. Directly from the Kingdom Hall platform, how many times had I heard the admonition about the spiritual benefits of shunning?
Rhetorical question. Countless times I had heard talks about the benefits of shunning. I knew that protesting would be futile. I wouldn’t get very far because the entire organization was tuned against dissent. Thoughts of simply quitting the religion terrified me. I would lose the friendship of Rhonda, Cheryl, and Joyce. My life would be altered forever. I would have no friends and no one would speak to me. My kids would be hurt and disillusioned. I would be devastated on so many levels.
My Beliefs Destroyed My Family
Since I believed this was the only true religion, God expected me to do the “right” thing and OBEY the elders, who were his representatives on earth. Any disloyalty to the organization was synonymous of disloyalty to God and would certainly come back to haunt me.
Back and forth went my self-accusations all day long. Most of my nights were spent in restless wakefulness, besides. Even the thought of shunning Mom was psychological torture — but I couldn’t stop it.
About a week later, I received a package from my mom. She always sent me little cute things of sentimental value that I loved receiving from her. Hand-crocheted lace doilies, or candy dishes, or Victorian ornaments that she just knew I would love. I knew what might be inside, but I dared not open the box.
Today was decision-time!
This was my test from Satan!
Shunning Mom — My Betrayal!
I gave in to the religious terror that had been instilled in me all my life. I returned the package, unopened, scrawled with one word, “Refused”. Shunning Mom had begun…
My heart exploded into into great sobs, as I retreated to the bedroom while hot tears spilled out. I muffled my wailing into a large white towel. My face emerged only long enough to gasp for another breath. My heart was breaking wide open. I couldn’t ever let Terry know how my imposition of this strict rule on myself affected me. He would think I’m crazy! Well — crazier! Shunning Mom was the right thing to do. I was compelled to shun my mom. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or even what I really thought deep in my own heart. The elders issued the orders, they quoted the scriptures — and I was obligated to shun — or I would be disfellowshipped and shunned just like my mom. This was a test of my trust in God.
Teaching My Children to Shun
Of course my children saw what I did. They watched me shun my mom. They believed that I always did the right thing, because I told them it was the right thing to do. I told them it would help my mom come back to the organization, if she really loved us — and God — enough. She would repent from her sin and tell the elders she was sorry.
Somehow, Terry found out what I had done and was very disappointed with my treatment of Mom. I guess my children told him. They would tell him if he asked them what was wrong.
When I left home in 1971, I left the family religion. Terry knew my history with the religion. After my marriage in 1973 up until 1977, I never bothered with it. But, in 1977, when I again renewed my studies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he kept hoping I would drop the entire idea of retaining membership in that religious organization. He hoped I was on a tangent, which was only temporary until he got me out of Selkirk onto his home court — Saskatoon — and away from those people. But such was not to be. Jehovah’s Witnesses turned up everywhere we moved! And now — I had dedicated my life to this ideal.
Shunning Mom Hurt My Soul Deeply
I was truly naive as far as Terry was concerned. He viewed my behavior as delusional. And, looking back, I know now he was right.
At some point God was going to bless me for being such a faithful wife and mother, under adverse conditions, I was sure.
Looking back, that false belief of future blessings for my faithfulness feels utterly delusional. I tried so hard to do everything just right by the group standards and beliefs. I hoped this would be the time of blessing, not just for me, but for the whole family. Yet, everything turned out so wrong.
Instead of receiving blessings for shunning Mom, I fell into a deep depression — or what I call my Dark Night of the Soul.
And it wouldn’t be the first time. Somewhere — I had lost my humanity.
Shunning Ex-Members a Religious Rule
Jehovah’s Witnesses official stance is that they “do not interfere in family life, it is a personal choice to shun or not.” Nevertheless, according to the video posted, I see clearly the official stance is merely propaganda for public consumption, in order to create the appearance of a benign religion Read More >>
Kill the Apostates! Jehovah’s Witnesses consider themselves a “moderate” religion. However, what follows is an excerpt from their Watchtower magazine, which reveals a truth about them that they might not wish to discuss when they ring your doorbell: Read more >>
YouTube Video: Shunning Mom Watch the video instead, if you don’t like reading, and you’re still with me.
Getting Mom Back YouTube Video about Mom Getting Reinstated.
Visit website Phoenix of Faith the memoir. Follow on Twitter: @_phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011–Present.