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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, often associated with religious groups and other tightly knit organizations and communities. Targets of shunning can include, but are not limited to, apostates, whistleblowers, dissidents, people classified as "sinners" or "traitors" and other people who defy or who fail to comply with the standards established by the shunning group(s).


Shunning can be broken down into behaviours and practices that seek to accomplish either or both of two primary goals.

  1. To modify the behaviour of a member. This approach seeks to influence, encourage, or coerce normative behaviours from members, and may seek to dissuade, provide disincentives for, or to compel avoidance of certain behaviours. Shunning may include disassociating from a member by other members of the community who are in good standing. It may include more antagonistic psychological behaviours (described below). This approach may be seen as either corrective or punitive (or both) by the group membership or leadership, and may also be intended as a deterrent.
  2. To remove or limit the influence of a member (or former member) over other members in a community. This approach may seek to isolate, to discredit, or otherwise dis-empower such a member, often in the context of actions or positions advocated by that member. For groups with defined membership criteria, especially based on key behaviours or ideological precepts, this approach may be seen as limiting damage to the community or its leadership. This is often paired with some form of excommunication.

Some less often practiced variants may seek to:

  • Remove a specific member from general external influence to provide an ideological or psychological buffer against external views or behaviour. The amount can vary from severing ties to opponents of the group up to and including severing all non-group-affiliated intercourse.

Shunning is usually approved of (if sometimes with regret) by the group engaging in the shunning, and usually highly disapproved of by the target of the shunning, resulting in a polarization of views. Those subject to the practice respond differently, usually depending both on the circumstances of the event, and the nature of the practices being applied. Extreme forms of shunning have damaged some individuals' psychological and relational health. Responses to the practice have developed, mostly around anti-shunning advocacy; such advocates highlight the detrimental effects of many of such behaviors, and seek to limit the practice through pressure or law. Such groups often operate supportive organizations or institutions to help victims of shunning to recover from damaging effects, and sometimes to attack the organizations practicing shunning, as a part of their advocacy.

In many civil societies, kinds of shunning are practiced de-facto or de-jure, to coerce or avert behaviours or associations deemed unhealthy. This can include:

  • restraining orders or peace bonds (to avoid abusive relationships)
  • court injunctions to disassociate (to avoid criminal association or temptation)
  • medical or psychological instructing to avoid associating (to avoid hazardous relations, i.e. alcoholics being instructed to avoid friendship with non-recovering alcoholics, or asthmatics being medically instructed to keep to smoke-free environs)
  • using background checks to avoid hiring people who have criminal records (to avoid association with felons, even when the crimes have nothing to do with the job description)


Shunning is often used as a pejorative term to describe any organizationally mandated disassociation, and has acquired a connotation of abuse and relational aggression. This is due to the sometimes extreme damage caused by its disruption to normal relationships between individuals, such as friendships and family relations. Disruption of established relationships certainly causes pain, which is at least an unintended consequence of the practices described here, though it may also in many cases be an intended, coercive consequence. This pain, especially when seen as unjustly inflicted, can have secondary general psychological effects on self-worth and self-confidence, trust and trustworthiness, and can, as with other types of trauma, impair psychological function.

Shunning often involves implicit or explicit shame for a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group or its leadership. Such shame may not be psychologically damaging if the membership is voluntary and the rules of behavior were clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, if the group membership is seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules is inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or various tools of psychological pressure applied. Extremes of this cross over the line into psychological torture and can be permanently scarring.

A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.

Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.

Civil rights implications

Some aspects of shunning may also be seen as being at odds with civil rights or human rights, especially those behaviours that coerce and attack. When a group seeks to have an effect through such practices outside its own membership, for instance when a group seeks to cause financial harm through isolation and disassociation, they can come at odds with their surrounding civil society, if such a society enshrines rights such as freedom of association, conscience, or belief. Many civil societies do not extend such protections to the internal operations of communities or organizations so long as an ex-member has the same rights, prerogatives, and power as any other member of the civil society.

In cases where a group or religion is state-sanctioned (e. g. in communist states), a key power, or in the majority (Singapore), a shunned former member may face severe social, political, and/or financial costs.

In religious practice


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.

Template:Bibleref: 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."

Template:Bibleref: 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.

Template:Bibleref: 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.

Template:Bibleref: 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.

Template:Bibleref: 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.

Template:Bibleref, 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.


Prior to the Code of Canon Law of 1983[citation needed], the Catholic Church expected in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the faithful to shun an excommunicated member in secular matters.[1] In 1983, the distinction between vitandi and others (tolerandi) was abolished, and thus the expectation is not made any more[citation needed].


Some sects of Anabaptist origin shun former members.

Upon taking instruction classes, each applicant must make a confession to uphold shunning of all excommunicated adult members, and also submit to being shunned if they are excommunicated. The stated intention is not to punish, but to be used in love to win the member back by showing them their error. (Ref John Hopkins Press, below).

Shunning occurs in Old Order Amish and some Mennonite churches.[citation needed] Shunning can be particularly painful for the shunned individuals in these denominations, which are generally very close-knit, as the shunned person may have no significant social contact with anyone other than those in their denomination.

The Amish call shunning Meidung, the German word for avoidance. Shunning was a key issue of disagreement in the Amish-Mennonite split. Former Amish woman Ruth Irene Garrett provides an account of Amish shunning in her community from perspective of shunned individuals in Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life. Amish shunning is also the subject of popular fiction novels about shunning. Different Amish communities vary in the severity and strictness of shunning employed.

The Mennonite ban does not usually involve shunning, but excommunicated members are banned from participation in communion. A few Mennonite groups do practice shunning, or have in the past. Mainstream and progressive Mennonites either do not shun, or employ less extreme forms of shunning. Some very conservative Mennonite churches use shunning to exclude, punish, and shame excommunicated members. In its extreme form, Mennonites who practice shunning do so by condemning, snubbing, and shaming excommunicated individuals in all social, spousal, and familial contexts without regard for family ties. When a member is excommunicated, shunning continues until the individual's death unless they repent.[citation needed] The practice has been described as "one of the cruellest punishments known to man" by a shunned Mennonite[citation needed] and "a living hell of torture" by a Mennonite member who has practised shunning.[citation needed]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses practise a form of shunning which they refer to as "disfellowshipping".[2] A disfellowshipped person is not to be greeted either socially or at their meetings. Disfellowshipping follows a decision of a judicial committee established by a local congregation that a member is guilty of a "serious sin", including "fornication, adultery, homosexuality, greed, extortion, thievery, lying, drunkenness, reviling, spiritism, murder, idolatry, apostasy, and the causing of divisions in the congregation";[3] Watch Tower publications cite sexual immorality as the most common reason.[4][5]

The Watch Tower Society directs that those who voluntarily renounce membership of the religion are also to be shunned.[6][7] The organization cites their interpretation of various passages in the Bible, such as 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, and 2 John 10-11 to support their practice of shunning. Total shunning is not enforced 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 person. Parents are still expected to give Bible instruction to a disfellowshipped minor.[8][9] Contact with family members not living in the family home is to be kept to a minimum.[10] Sociologist Andrew Holden claims his research indicated many Witnesses who would otherwise defect because of disillusionment with the organization and its teachings retain affiliation out of fear of being shunned and losing contact with friends and family members.[11]

Other Protestant groups

In some Protestant groups or churches, shunning goes by other terms, such as disfellowshipping or "marking," based on the King James Version of Romans 16:17, which says to "...mark them which cause divisions...." Some groups perceive any disagreement with their teachings or leadership as being divisive, or even having a "demonic" influence and use shunning as a means of ensuring all church members' absolute submission to church leadership. Some use the so-called "Moses Principle" as a justification to shun any dissenters. It is estimated that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice shunning.[12]


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 and Chassidic community, the practice of cherem ceased after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy and Jews were legally enfranchised into the Gentile nations in which they lived.

Bahá'í faith

Members of the Bahá'í Faith are expected to shun those that have been declared Covenant-breakers, and expelled from the religion,[13] by the head of their faith.[14] Covenant-breakers are defined as leaders of schismatic groups that resulted from challenges to legitimacy of Bahá'í leadership, as well as those who follow or refuse to shun them.[14] Unity is considered the highest value in the Bahá'í Faith, and any attempt at schism by a Bahá'í is considered a spiritual sickness, and a negation of that for which the religion stands.[14]

European Pagan groups


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.


Reculement is a provision of initiatory Wiccan traditions in the USA that allows elders to repudiate an oath-breaker. Rarely used, most often in cases that involve "outing" closeted Wiccans. This is only used by Wiccans in the United States of America, where the term reculement was invented.

In British and European initiatory Wicca, a perpetrator of serious abusive behaviour (such as sexual abuse) would have their vouch withdrawn, and be banned from community events. Withdrawing a vouch means that they are no longer regarded as a trustworthy person and therefore they cannot attend events or coven meetings.

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 states 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.[15]

In traditional legal systems

Shunning was and is a punishment used by many customary legal systems. Such sanctions include the ostracism of ancient Athens and the still-used kasepekang in Balinese society.

See also


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia, Entry Excommunication, read on April 23, 2010
  2. Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  3. "Expelling". Insight on the Scriptures, volume 1. p. 788.
  4. Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 103
  5. The Watchtower, February 15, 1993, page 8
  6. "Disfellowshiping—How to View It", The Watchtower, September 15, 1981, page 23.
  7. Questions From Readers, The Watchtower, July 1, 1984, page 31.
  8. “Helping Others to Worship God”, The Watchtower, Nov 15 1988, p.20.
  9. “When a Minor Is Disfellowshipped”, The Watchtower, Oct. 1 2001, p.16. par. 12
  10. "Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit", The Watchtower, April 15, 1988, p. 28.
  11. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. pp. 250–270. ISBN 0415266092.
  12. Alter, Alexandra (2008-01-18). "Banned From Church". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. Van den Hoonaard, Willy Carl (1996). The origins of the Bahá'í community of Canada, 1898-1948. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 107. ISBN 0889202729.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Smith, P. (1999). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. pp. 114–116. ISBN 1851681841.
  15. Church of Scientology What is Disconnection? ( copy of website accessed 4/19/06)
  • 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 0-8103-6904-4
  • Friesen, Patrick, The Shunning (Mennonite fiction), 1980, ISBN 0-88801-038-9
  • Kraybill, Donald (2001), "On the Backroad to Heaven", Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltoimore, Maryland".

Further reading

  • McCowan, Karen, The Oregon Register-Guard, Cast Out: Religious Shunning Provides an Unusual Background in the Longo and Bryant Slayings, March 2, 2003.
  • 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
  • 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).

External links

de:Meidung el:Αποκοπή από τους Μάρτυρες του Ιεχωβά he:חרם חברתי

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