Reveal News – The Center for Investigative Reporting
By Trey Bundy / July 30, 2015
McALESTER, Okla. – In the summer of 2012, the elders in Debbie McDaniel’s congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses expelled her for having a sexual relationship with a woman. They announced her punishment to the congregation and notified the organization’s headquarters in New York. The consequences were clear: She would be shunned by the Witnesses – including her mother, father, sister and brother – and lose her chance at eternal life.
Jehovah’s Witnesses call their version of excommunication disfellowshipping, a punishment by shunning to rid the faithful of bad associations with those who break the laws of God. Once they’re expelled, the disfellowshipped cannot have any contact with Witnesses, even polite acknowledgment on the street, until they have proved their repentance and willingness to return obediently to the organization. In some cases, they’re shunned for the rest of their lives.
The disfellowshipping in 2012 was the second time that McDaniel, now 46, had been shunned by the Witnesses in her small hometown of McAlester in southeastern Oklahoma. When she was 18, elders responded to rumors that she had become sexually active by summoning her to confess the details of her sexual history. The meeting was a spiritual tribunal presided over by three elders with the power to expel sinners they deem unrepentant.
“They ask very, very personal, embarrassing questions,” McDaniel said. “Not just did you have sex with this person, but did you have an orgasm? Did you enjoy it? Where did he touch you? Where did you touch him?”
In the months leading up to that 1987 hearing, McDaniel said, the congregation’s top elder, Ronald Lawrence, had staked out her apartment and questioned her about rumors that she was promiscuous.
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