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Shunning is the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from an individual or group. It is a sanction against association commonly associated with religious groups following excommunication or dismembership. In some cases, the shunned person or group is considered as anathema, abominable, or spiritually diseased by the shunning group.
A distinct practice sometimes confused with shunning involves the severing of ties between new members and those of their friends and family who disapprove of the faith. The Church of Scientology coined the word disconnection to refer to that practice.
Shunning aims to exclude, punish, and shame a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group, who questions what the member sees as wrongs the group commits, or who flees the group. Usually, shunning is done after formal excommunication or disfellowship and not before. Shunning is often intended to teach obedience and squelch disobedience or nonconformance by the shunned and to punish defiance from the shunned. Shunning can also be used to condemn and shame such members, to compel them back into conforming membership, and to punish those who pursue recompense from the group after suffering shunning.
As the practice may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children from their parents (or vice versa), it is particularly controversial. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunnee, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, and social bonds. The extent to which the shunned member's larger social rights in a society are affected by such shunning can also make a dramatic difference in the effect of shunning, beyond the aforementioned costs. In cases where a group or religion is state-sanctioned, a key power, or in the majority, a shunned former member may face especially severe social, political, and/or financial costs. Some, especially researchers of mind control, brainwashing and menticide groups, identify the practice with "cult-like" or totalitarian behaviour.
Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in the psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what pyschologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning often causes traumas to the shunned (and to their innocent dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.
Shunning in Christian denominations
Several passages in the New Testament suggest shunning as a practice of early Christians, and are cited as such by its modern-day practitioners within Christianity. As with many Biblical teachings, however, not all Christian scholars or denominations agree on this interpretation of these verses.
1 Corinthians 5:11-13: 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."
Matthew 18:15-17: 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.
2 Thessalonians 3:6: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Romans 16:17: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
2 John 10, 11, NASB: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
Policies governing the use of shunning vary from one organization to another.
Only in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) does the Catholic Church expect the faithful to shun an excommunicated member in secular matters.
Anabaptists: Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites
Some sects of Anabaptist origin shun former members. Extreme shunning occurs today only in Amish, orthodox Mennonite, and Hutterite churches. Shunning is often particularly painful, for the shunnee, in these denominations since they are generally very close-knit, since they teach members to look down on non-members from childhood, and since the shunned person usually has no significant social links with anyone other than those in their denomination.
The Amish call shunning Meidung, the German word for avoiding. As described in the article on the Amish, severe and uncompromising shunning is a key part of Amish history and contemporary practice. Former Amish woman Ruth Irene Garrett tells the true story, rarely seen in print, of Amish shunning from the shunnee's perspective in Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life. Amish shunning is also the subject of popular fiction novels about shunning.
Some very conservative Mennonite churches use shunning to exclude, punish, and shame excommunicated members. Mainstream and progressive Mennonites do not shun, or use much less extreme forms of shunning. Those Mennonites who shun, do so by condemning, snubbing, and shaming excommunicants in all social, spousal and familial contacts without regard for family ties. Shunning by all church members begins upon excommunication and is continued until the excommunicant either dies or "repents".
The Mennonite Ban, of which shunning is a part, prohibits all normal social contact by church members with the excommunicant but not vice versa. In extreme cases, member spouses must shun their shunned spouses with refusal to dine with, with refusal to sleep with, and with a host of other ongoing social insults in their common home in front of their common children. The excommunicants closest family members also shun him or her in all ongoing social contacts if the family members are church members. Since shunning damages and often destroys the excommunicant's closest bonds, it has been called "one of the cruelest punishments known to man" by a shunned Mennonite excommunicant and "a living hell of torture" by a shunning Mennonite member and father-in-law (see Delivered Onto Satan below).
Jehovah's Witnesses practice an extreme form of shunning and refer to it as "disfellowshipping". A disfellowshipped person is not to be greeted either socially or at their meetings. Shunning is not required in the case of disfellowshipped members living in the same household, although in this case the remaining members will not usually discuss spiritual matters with the disfellowshipped one. Family members are not to be spoken to once they leave home except in emergencies. There are a number of reasons that a person may be disfellowshipped, with fornication and disagreeing with the religion's doctrines being two of the most common enforced. The organization points to passages in the Bible (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), such as those mentioned above, to support this practice. See Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses and External Links below.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
Mormons have a lay ministry. Most people in the congregation are called up to serve in some capacity. This includes the Bishop, the main ecclesiastical authority. Face to face "interviews" with the Bishop include frank discussions about the law of chastity, being honest in your dealings with your fellow man, support of church leadership, non-association with splinter groups or anti-Mormon organizations. Violations can result in punishments ranging from not taking the sacrament (communion) to a Bishop's Court where the individual usually meets with the Bishop and his first and second councilors. These men determine if the individual should be punished or not with revocation of Temple Recommends and disfellowship. If the offense is serious enough (usually violations involving sex, violence of some form of criminal offense) the court will be administered by the High Council and led by the Stake President, where the member may be excommunicated.
The social ramifications of these punishments can be intense, especially in smaller, Mormon dominated communities. Often, if the individual begins to "publicly" question the authority of the church, or speak out against the theology, "active" Mormons will generally avoid them. Publicly questioning leadership authority is seen as an attempt to undermine the order of the church and lead others away.
Individual members of the church exhibit the personal biases, and natural reactions inherent with human nature, however, there are no doctrines of the Church that teach members to "shun" others that have been subject to disciplinary action. LDS scripture and leadership explicitly prohibit the practice of shunning. Excommunicated members are encouraged to attend church meetings, but forbidden to take the sacrament (communion) or to pay tithing to the church.
Shunning in Judaism
Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Except in rare cases in the Ultra-Orthodox community, the practice of cherem ceased after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy and Jews were assimilated into the greater gentile nations which they lived in. A fuller discussion of this subject is available in the cherem article.
Shunning in the Bahá'í Faith
Members of the Bahá'í Faith are expected to shun those that have been declared Covenant-breakers by the head of their faith. These are the leaders of schismatic groups that resulted from challenges to the Bahá'í leadership, as well as those who follow them, or who refuse to shun these. Since unity is the highest value in the Bahá'í Faith, any attempt at schism by a Bahá'í is considered a spiritual sickness, and a negation of what the religion stands for. People so-declared are not considered Bahá'ís by the mainstream.
The extent of the disassociation does have practical limits. For example, unavoidable contact resulting from business arrangements does not necessarily constitute a contravention of the shunning requirement. Similarly, a Bahá'í who administers an online forum may interact with Covenant-breakers who are members of such a forum, with respect to his duties as an administrator. Shoghi Effendi expresses a similar perspective. The common theme is that the Bahá'í should limit the contact to the particular transaction or business and not be drawn into discussion that would allow the offender to advance his ideas. Given the above-stated purpose of this shunning as a "protection" from the spread of a "spiritual disease", and not as a form of punishment for the named covenant-breaker, such an approach seems to be designed to limit the material penalty normally associated with shunning by a community. In practice, however, many Bahá'ís may not be aware of the limits expressed above.
Bahá'ís are not required to practice shunning for purely moral or legal lapses, or against those who simply leave the religion. The flagrant and unrepentant violation of Bahá'í laws and standards of conduct can result in the loss of administrative rights, which prevents an individual from offering contributions to the funds of the Faith, vote or be elected to office in community elections, or obtain marriage or divorce within the religion, etc. They may, however, attend any public gathering, are still considered members, and Bahá'ís need not shun such members. Very occasionally, Bahá'ís are expelled on the grounds that their beliefs depart from Bahá'í teachings. This is also not considered synonymous to covenant-breaking, and such former members are not subject to shunning.
Bahá'ís are not expected to shun non-Bahá'ís. Contrarily, they are expected to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship."
Nithing Among Asatruar
Oathbreakers and other criminals in the Asatru faith can be marked on a website, or a nithing pole can be erected on the offender's business or residential property. Traditionally, the pole was carved with runes describing the offense and topped with a decapitated horse's head.
Disconnection in the Church of Scientology
The Church of Scientology asks its members to quit all communication with people the Church deems are perpetually antagonistic to Scientology. The practice of shunning in Scientology is termed disconnection. Members can disconnect with parents, children, spouses, and friends. The Church teaches that typically only people with "false data" about Scientology are antagonistic, so it encourages members to first attempt to provide "true data" to these people. If providing this data does not stop the antagonistic behaviour, then disconnection is encouraged as a last resort. <ref>Church of Scientology What is Disconnection? (archive.org copy of website accessed 4/19/06)</ref>
- Excommunication: An often related practice of community expulsion.
- Reculement: The provision of British Traditional Wiccan faiths that allows elders to repudiate an oath-breaker. Rarely used, most often in cases that involve "outing" closeted Wiccans.
- Scott, Stephen (1996), An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Good Books: Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
- Encyclopedia of American Religions, by J. Gordon Melton ISBN 0810369044
- D'anna, Lynnette, Post-Mennonite Women Congregate to Discuss Abuse, Herizons, 3/01/93.
- Esua, Alvin J., and Esau Alvin A.J., The Courts and the Colonies: The Litigation of Hutterite Church Disputes, Univ of British Columbia Press, 2004.
- Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life, Ruth Irene Garret, Rick Farrant
- Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, Martha Beck, Mar 2005.
- Delivered Unto Satan (Mennonite), Robert L. Bear, 1974, (ASIN B0006CKXQI)
- Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children, Stanley S. Clawar, Brynne Valerie Rivlin, 2003.
- Deviance, Agency, and the Social Control of Women's Bodies in a Mennonite Community, Linda B. Arthur, NWSA Journal, v10.n2 (Summer 1998): pp75(25).
- What Shall We Tell the Children
- Spiritual Shunning
- Jehovah's Witnesses and Shunning
- Article on "Avoidance"/Shunning in Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
- A Complicated Kind of Author (Mennonite)
- Others Among Us: Photographs of Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites
- The Amish: Technology Practice and Technological Change, (see shunning)
- Stress and Conflict in an International Religious Movement: The Case of the Bruderhof (Hutterite)
- Ritual and the Social Meaning and Meaninglessness of Religion (Mennonite)
- Rituals, Communication, and Social Systems: The Case of the Old Order Mennonites
- Shunning: A Part of the Faith of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Understanding Shame and Humiliation in Torture
- The Committee on Religious Shunning Video interviews with individuals coping with the consequences of religious shunning (accessed 4/18/06)