Can a Person Resign From Being One of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

From the JW.ORG article of the same name

What JW.ORG Says

“Yes. A person can resign from our organization in two ways:

  • By formal request. Either orally or in writing, a person can state his decision that he no longer wants to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • By action. A person can take an action that places him outside our worldwide brotherhood. (1 Peter 5:9) For example, he might join another religion and make known his intention to remain part of it.​—1 John 2:​19.”

The Truth

While the above is narrowly correct, Watchtower makes it sound as though leaving the organization is a painless process as simple as writing a letter or joining a different church, failing to mention the consequences of “resigning,” or as they would put it, “disassociating.”

Per Jehovah’s Witnesses’ internal manual, Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will:

…if a person who is a Christian chooses to disassociate himself, a brief announcement is made to inform the congregation, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Such a person is treated the same way as a disfellowshipped person.

Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will pg. 152, par. 33

What does it mean to be “treated the same way as a disfellowshipped person?” In Jehovah’s Witnesses, being disfellowshipped means being shunned by the entire Witness community–not just the congregation, but one’s believing friends and family. (See: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Break Up Families or Build Them Up?)

Disfellowshipping is a punishment that Watchtower tells its members is only used for unrepentant sinners. According to the Organized book, the purpose is 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.” (od chap. 14 par. 25)

The May 2015 Study Edition of the Watchtower says of disfellowshipping only that, “If one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who is baptized commits a serious sin and does not repent, he will be disfellowshipped.”

Since the announcement and punishment of a disfellowshipped person is the same for someone who resigns–and since congregants will be forbidden from speaking to the one resigning–members will have no idea if the person has committed adultery, murder, or is simply resigning for conscientious reasons.

In addition, a member can be considered as “disassociated” even if she desires to remain a Jehovah’s Witness. The elder’s manual Shepherd the Flock of God (which is not available to any Jehovah’s Witness who is not an elder) outlines that “willingly and unrepentantly accepting a blood transfusion” as well as “taking a course that violates Christian neutrality” are considered actions that disassociate a person.

To be clear, in practice this means choosing to save one’s life by accepting a blood transfusion or voting in an election can result in a member being shunned.

Clearly, then, resigning from Jehovah’s Witnesses is far from the casual, painless process that JW.ORG would have one believe. Yet the FAQ article goes on to say the following:

…the elders are not authorized to coerce or pressure someone to remain as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each person makes his own choice regarding religion.

Can a Person Resign From Being One of Jehovah’s Witnesses? (JW.ORG)

This is patently false. The threat of being shunned by one’s friends and family is inherently coercive and pressurizing, and countless testimonials from former members have shown that Jehovah’s Witnesses elders can be rather ruthless in the pressure they put on inactive, “spiritually weak” or “fading” Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For an excellent resource with examples of this, watch the video series “Fade Interrupted: When the Elders Come Calling,” by YouTuber Lloyd Evans.

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