Jehovah's Witnesses accused of 'inhumane treatment' for isolating former believers

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(February 25, 2024 Sunday). Jehovah's Witnesses accused of 'inhumane treatment' for isolating former believers. CE Noticias Financieras English.

"Good morning, could I have a minute to listen to a message from the Bible?"
Jefferson Alexandrino de Lima gave it 12 years. In 2008, a lady knocked on his door to offer a Bible course. The 15-year-old from Pernambuco agreed, got baptized and, until 2020, was one of the Brazilian Jehovah's Witnesses. Until he asked to leave.

He began to disagree with internal guidelines. He says that this was the beginning of his erasure within a religious community known for reducing social ties with outsiders. Suddenly, no one wanted to hear from him anymore. "My sister-in-law blocked me on WhatsApp, said goodbye to me as if I had died. Friends too."
It was as if Jefferson, who had made it to pioneer (a type of missionary) and ministerial servant (like a deacon) in the hierarchy of this Christian community, was a virus from which everyone should keep their distance. "The leaders encouraged my wife to separate from me." She refused and abandoned her belief too.
In 2022, the psychology graduate presented his graduation paper to the Olinda Faculty of Human Sciences: "Religious ostracism and depression: an analysis of the relationship between the disorder and former Jehovah's Witnesses".
The topic has also mobilized a virtual petition created in January by another ex-addict, businessman Fabiano de Amo, 46. His goal, he says, is to break through the religious bubble and put pressure on the Public Prosecutor's Office and members of parliament to take action against the treatment granted to disaffiliates.
The text mentions "inhumane treatment" and proposes "dialog, freedom and mutual respect between members and ex-members", so that those removed "are fully reintegrated into their families, communities and support networks".
The institution that manages the Witnesses in Brazil says that the break "does not put an end to the bonds that the person has with their family". The choice, it says in a note sent to Folha, would be an intimate one. "In addition to religious reasons, friends and family can also choose to limit or cut off association with a disfellowshipped person because of the emotional pain and other difficulties they have caused."
"Organized to Do Jehovah's Will", the organization's book, talks about disfellowshipped members - those who are excluded for committing "serious sins that threaten the spiritual and moral purity of the congregation", such as "sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality [sic], blasphemy, apostasy and idolatry".
There is a kind of internal court to judge the cases. "When it is necessary to disfellowship an unrepentant sinner, the announcement is made: '[Person's name] is no longer a Jehovah's Witness'. It will serve as a warning to the brothers to stop associating with that person," the text states.
There are also those who have disassociated themselves, who have left the segment by free choice. "Regarding those who have renounced the faith, the apostle John wrote: 'They have gone out from among us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us'." It is also recommended to cut off relations with them.
There is no legal clarity on the issue, which has led to trials around the world, with varying verdicts. In 2021, for example, a Belgian court fined the organization, accused of inciting hatred and discrimination against former followers. Invoking religious freedom, a lower court reversed the decision.
Fabiano left in 2005, uncomfortable with the doctrine he had followed since he was a child. The "total intolerance" towards other religions, he says, was the last straw. He also cites the unshakeable certainty of "an end of the world that is always near, and whoever is not inside will be destroyed by their God, just like Noah's Ark".
The first prediction for the final judgment, in the belief spread from the 19th century onwards by students of the Bible, was 1914.
He defines as "brainwashing" the process that led his own parents to tell him they no longer saw him as their son.
Based in the USA, Jehovah's Witnesses are part of the global popular imagination, with itinerant stalls offering pamphlets about their faith. In Brazil, there were 1.4 million adherents in the 2010 Census, the most up-to-date official data on national religiosity.
In its publications, the organization fights back against criticism accumulated over the years. Some of them sound folkloric to outsiders, such as not celebrating birthdays - the custom is said to have pagan origins. Include Christmas, because "Jesus told us to celebrate his death, not his birth", and there is no proof that he was even born on December 25th.
There are instructions not to vote for any candidate or run for political office.
The patriarchal structure is laid bare in this excerpt from a study they released: "Millions of Christian sisters deserve our congratulations. They set an excellent example by being submissive to their husbands."
Among the most noisy guidelines is the veto on blood transfusions, which has already led to court cases such as that of the parents who refused the procedure for their premature newborn daughter - the judge dismissed the argument of freedom of belief. The Witnesses' website says that the Scriptures "clearly command us to abstain from blood".
Some internal taboos, such as men wearing beards, have been relaxed over the years.
On treating other beliefs as false: "Jesus didn't agree with the idea that there are various religions that lead to salvation. In fact, he said: 'Narrow is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and few there are who find it. The Witnesses believe they have found that road.
Housewife Raquel Gonçalves, 57, was forced to recalculate this route when, researching on her son's cell phone, she saw contradictions in the faith she adopted in 1996. In October, she gave it up and became a pariah to those who had been her friends for decades.
"We don't have a dignified way out," he says. "It was as if I had committed a grave sin. They ignore me when they see me in the street. I tried to talk to a sister of faith and she turned her back and walked away. It's horrible. They treat me like I'm nothing."
She was one of six ex-faithful people Folha spoke to, all of whom reported being rejected.
Sales representative Francisco Couras, 47, became an elder in Ceará, a leadership position in the structure, like a pastor. But three years ago, he left the scene. He says he saw "a lot of hypocrisy", like elders who preached humility, "not looking for a college degree, but a simple job", while they themselves led wealthy lives.
When he retired, he seemed radioactive to those he had as brothers. His daughters, aged 17 and 7, he has seen only a few times since then. Their mother and firstborn are baptized in the religion. "The last time I visited them was in July, when the youngest had surgery."
He was considered an apostate to what he defines as a sect. "It's like being a demon."
In his final project, Jefferson de Lima discusses the suspension of these fraternal relationships "as a trigger for depression". The disorder is cited by most of those who spoke to the report.
The institution, however, denies the order to avoid baptized people who "stopped participating in preaching or even associating" with it. Instead, they seek to "contact these people and rekindle their interest in the things of God".
On the other hand, those expelled who "violated the moral code of the Bible" and did not repent could be avoided. "The Bible clearly says: 'Remove the wicked man from among you'."

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