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The shunning of an individual is the act of deliberately avoiding association with him or her. The historical punishments of ostracism and exile were forms of shunning. Today, shunning in an official, formalized manner is practiced by only a few religions, although it continues to be practiced informally in every sort of human grouping or gathering. Religious shunning is often referred to as excommunication.
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. Scientologists coined the word disconnection to refer to that practice.
Shunning aims to protect a group from members who have committed acts seen as harmful to the shunning organization, or who violate the group's norms. As the practice may end marriages, break up families, and separate children from their parents (or vice versa), it is particularly controversial.
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 and Amish
The Anabaptists practice Meidung (the German word for 'shunning'), following the above-quoted passage from Matthew 18:15.
Jehovah's Witnesses refer to the practice of shunning as "disfellowshipping." Shunning is not required in the case of disfellowshipped members of the same household, although in this case the remaining members will not usually discuss spiritual matters with the disfellowshipped one. 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.
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 the church authorities, 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 administer by the High Council and led by the Stake President.
The social ramifications of these punishments are intense, especially in smaller, Mormon dominated communities. Once someone is viewed as "having lost the Spirit", they are avoided except for occasional "fellowshipping" to encourage the individual to "get their life in order and return to the fold." However, if the individual begins to question the authority of the church, or the theology, "active" Mormons will avoid them, and view them as being led about by the devil.
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, cherem stopped existing after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the greater gentile nations which they lived in. A fuller discussion of this subject is available in the cherem article.
See also Totalitarian religious group.
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