Years ago, when I was a younger and single man, I joined a singles group in my church. We were a friendly bunch, and one day a new member told us what was really bothering her. She had a terrible problem that would not go away, and her life was ruined.
She was being shunned.
Shunning means that someone is cut off from their community, and in extreme cases, all of their friends and neighbors refuse to speak to them or do business with them. If this sounds odd to you, we didn’t get it either.
Being shallow city kids, we could find new friends, and we liked being free from rude and controlling people. And we could sleep in on Sunday. If we were shunned, we would need time to notice that someone had disappeared from our busy lives, and then we could decide if this was a problem or an opportunity.
We were shallow.
It took us some time to know that our friend was hurting. She had lived in a small town up north, and her family were members of a very conservative community that avoided the modern world, and went to church a lot. I won’t name the denomination.
They had lived in that tradition for centuries, as far back as they could remember. Our friend knew that some day, a young man in the community would become interested in her, and after some courtship, they would get married, and have several children. Her whole life was given to her by the community, including employment.
One Sunday, in a church service in the northern community, the leader called for a vote. Everyone who agreed to expel and shun her family could stand up. They all stood, except for her family.
And her life was gone. Everything that she knew was taken from her in with that vote.
Probably, some relative of hers had displeased the leaders, but she was just a girl in church. We met her after she moved to the city and got a job. I don’t know where she went after our conversation, but the adjustment to her new life probably took years. She was grieving and angry, and she wanted to go home.
Note; this was all done in the name of Jesus, by people who believed they were the best Christians.
So, what should we think about this? Are you being shunned? Do you know someone who is suffering? Are you on the other side, are you doing this to someone?
Psychologists know how shunning hurts people: The practice of shunning and its consequences g/2016/11/the-practice-of-shunning-and-its-consequences/
But there is some direction in the Bible: “So when you are assembled, and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5: 4 and 5). That “brother” was having sex with his father’s wife, mother or stepmother, and the church had no problem with this. “I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people” (verse 11).
That sounds like shunning.
I once spoke to a pastor, who was very wise. At the time, I had friends who were doing things that I hated, and they expected me to participate. The details don’t matter here; but I needed advice. The advice was, if something is wrong for your life, don’t bring it into your life.
He was correct, and since then I have expanded his simple advice.
- Avoid being controlled and dependent on other people. We are called to freedom, and our employment and money management, and social life belong to us. If we can be controlled easily, someone will try, and shunning might be a powerful tool. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3: 17)
- Know who you are. Accentuate the positive. “And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15, New Living Translation).
- Accept the boundaries. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, a Buddhist is not a Baptist, Scottish people don’t cheer for English soccer teams, much. Everything has boundaries.
- Tell them. Politely and respectfully say something like “You are … and I don’t do that because …” In most cases, they will shun you, and your problem will be solved. They won’t invite you to their parties.
- Keep yourself safe. If the problem persists, you might have to limit contact with someone who is immoral, by your standards. Don’t bring that behavior into your life, and your family.
And most of all, grow in your faith. I have so much good in my life because I am a Christian, and critical shunning from other people can’t compare. There is always some new happiness for me. If you are wondering, yes, I have lived the experience, on the receiving end.
If you are on either side of shunning, sender or receiver, I hope God will give you more wisdom. Shunning is a powerful tool and it can ruin lives.