Is Shunning biblical? Short answer – yes.
But lets look more closely at the term shunning. When I use this term, I mean the isolation and rejection of and by people in your social circle and family. It is behviour that has been used by cults to get compliance to orders from their members, and it has also been used by churches to describe the discipline that is metered out to those who won’t listen when they are told to stop sinning. The two are actually very different.
Paul gave the churches instruction on how to deal with reprobates. He frequently told his people ‘from such turn away’, usually from false teachers and brethren who were wasting the church’s time and energy. 2 Timothy 3:5 and 1 Timothy 6:5 are two examples of this. Paul spoke about false teachers being twice cursed (Galatians 1), Peter talked about false teachers and their effects on the church in 2 Peter, and John the apostle talked about false teachers in his second epistle saying that those who greeted them ‘shared in their evil deeds’.
So, if by shunning you mean having nothing more to do with those who refuse to stop preaching false gospels, then it is definitely biblical.
There is even a story told by John’s disciple Polycarp which spoke of the fact that on one instance when John had heard that there was a known false teacher, Cerinthus, in the bathing house he was going to he left in a hurry, convinced that the roof would fall in because of this person. Now that is the fear of God. Whatever happened to that kind of reverence for the gospel?
Nowadays, there is no such concern among most of the church going public. Those who consider themselves Christian seem to have no real concern about false teachers or their influence. They happily read, listen to and even greet false teachers with open arms. There is no fear of God, no wisdom and no desire for spiritual things. They would not go to the lengths that scripture demands, to avoid false teachers, most church-going Christians today would not even recognise a false teacher because they are so used to false teaching from their own pastors.
Then there is the ‘shunning’ or ‘sending away’ which occurs when churches use the biblical method of disciplining those who refuse to change their behaviour when they have been confronted a number of times by church members.(Matthew 18). The sort of behaviour I am talking about is usually confined to sexual immorality or abuse. It is the end run of the sort of pastoral care that involves taking church members to task for the kinds of behaviour that affect other church members and even whole churches. It is necessary for the morale and faith of the whole congregation and it is usually not done often and only towards the most reprobate of offenders. It is the equivalent of sending somebody to prison for their crimes. Except in church environments it is used prayerfully and not without a great deal of pain and concern by all involved. Nobody uses the ‘sending away’ principle on a whim, and hopefully there will also be follow through. If the offender refuses to change and does not come back to the church that is their decision. But in most cases, there will be an opportunity for that person to come back when they are ready. Prayer and fasting is usually involved by all concerned.
The ‘shunning’ which is practiced by controlling churches is a different matter however. This type of shunning involves church members literally running away from you if they see you in the street. They will justify their behaviour by saying that the person who left, or was kicked out, is a ‘bad influence’ and they need to oust this person in order to save the offender’s souls. This is not usually the case. The shunning that is done is purely motivated by the flesh and is in fact a punishment for not doing what they are told unquestioningly by their abusive leaders. Most people who are shunned by cults and controlling churches are shunned because they have had the courage to speak up about the abuse. It is not a badge of dishonour, it is more of an indicator of who the church members themselves are.
I want to point out the difference at this juncture between shunning and the issue of ‘going no contact’ with abusive relatives and friends.
If shunning is avoiding spiritual poison, then ‘going no contact’ is about avoiding emotional poison; reprobates and those who refuse to stop abusing you. It may seem like a no brainer, but most people who have been involved in long term abuse have had their brains re-wired. I am not a neuro-surgeon. But I have read a great deal about brainwashing and neuro-plasticity which is the study of the brains’ ability to change the way it thinks. When you have been raised by an abuser, or been strongly influenced by an older sibling who is an abuser, you are taught to think the way the abuser wants you to think. You may grow up believing that you are a good, nice, caring person who serves others and wants to do good for them. In fact, you have been wired to think that this is what you are. You will go out of your way to avoid conflict, you will feel extremely uncomfortable whenever anyone else is angry or upset and you will do whatever you can to defuse stressful or threatening situations, usually by avoiding the person who causes them or doing things that make or keep them happy. If you can’t do that, you will probably end up going out of your way to get into their good books by doing more than you need to do, working harder, or bending over backwards by giving them what they want.
This is a recipe for your personal disaster and nobody has ever gained anything by living this way, except of course the abuser. But the abused person will not even think they are being abused. They will tell you that their abuser is a great person, has many good qualities etc. Sure, they say, he or she may be a bit short tempered and ‘I don’t really like it when they….(fill in the blank) ….but they are definitely not abusive’. The abuser is a nice guy, the victim of the abuse is a nice guy and we all get along famously. Until you get sick or face some kind of personal difficulty which prevents you being their slave, or finally answer the clue phone and decide you have had enough of being stabbed in the back, treated like a doormat and taken for granted. Then the mouse will roar. However, what the victim needs to recognise is that they were never a mouse to begin with. They actually began life with their own personality, varied, wonderful, talented and quirky, fun to be with, free, happy and enjoying life. It was only when their parent/older sibling/relative began to use them for their own ends that the otherwise joyful child becomes fearful, withdrawn and subservient. Behold, another victim of abuse is created. And your creator is your abuser.
The objects of this kind of abuse is very good at reading people and empathising, anticipating needs and assessing risks. You are a good analyst both of situations and people. You are also probably pathologically terrified of people, in particular those types of people who resemble the abuser you grew up with; namely, narcissists and sociopaths. It takes a huge amount of time and energy for people in this situation to get to the point that they understand what happened to them, that they are not who they have been told they are – compliant, obsequious and servile. You fully believe that you are a great person, although deep down you really don’t like yourself very much. In fact, when you are having a bad day, you actually feel a lot of self-hate because you know instinctively that this is not the sort of life that you want, nor are you the sort of person you were created to be.In fact, to borrow a much loved phrase from A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh,
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
You need to be able to speak up about the abuse, you need to break the silence which has been forced upon you by your abuser, and you need to be able to hear yourself say ‘no’ to them. This will inevitably drag up all of your worst fears, and they are well founded. Most abusers have legendary tempers and you will h ave to face that when you tell them you don’t want to have any more to do with them. Abusers are not open to discussion, they are not reasonable and pliable people. There is a reason they are abusers. So when you speak up, you have to face what you have been avoiding for years.
We do not encourage anybody to speak up to their abuser without a great deal of help and support from others who understand the toxic dynamics of the situation. You need prayer, whether you are a Christian or not, because you are facing, and wrestling with, spiritual forces of wickedness. This is why you have been under so much pressure, you have not just been dealing with a human abuser, you have been dealing with a demonic one as well. Therefore it is a fait accomplis that you will have to break off all connection with them sooner or later for your own mental health. You can no longer continue to live as a slave to somebody else’s moods and whims. You must find yourself again and you must learn to use your voice, your authentic voice, not the one that the abuser gave you, which in effect is their own voice. You have been like the character of Echo in the Greek Myth of Narcissus. She was not able to use her own voice, only to echo back the last words of her lover Narcissus. She was previously a very talkative person who loved to have the last word. She was cursed by Juno because by her talking she distracted Juno and allowed Juno’s adulterous husband’s lovers to get away from her. Echo used to be somebody else, but she became a shadow of her former self, literally, and faded away to nothing as all echoes inevitably do.
As lifelong victims of serial abusers, we learn to echo their words, adore and worship them and throw our lives away in pursuit of their attention and love, only to be rejected and shunned by them.
Now, it feels like shunning to reject and cut off contact from these abusers, but in actual fact you have to do this in order to regain your authentic self. As a Christian, it is important to know who you are before God in order to be able to relate to him honestly and truthfully. We worship Him in Spirit and in truth therefore we need to be able to recognise that our personalities are not what we had previously thought.
Rejection has an up-side. If you are rejecting abuse, slavery and bullying and the people who use these forms of perverted relationship then you are rejecting deception, lies and the castration of your soul. This can only be a good thing. Moreover, once you are no longer living the lie that your abuser forced you to live, you can see the world, and in fact your God in a completely different light and you will be able to partake of the eternal life that God promises us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.