“Disconnection” in the Scientology Religion: What is It?
The Church’s policy regarding what is called disconnection is easily understood: It is simply the handling of interpersonal relationships, an act engaged in by members of all faiths, as well as those with no faith at all.
The act of deciding with whom one wishes to associate is not unique to Scientology; it is common to all faiths and indeed to all groups. Scientologists have the same rights as everyone else to be left in peace from those who attack them or their religion and only intend to do harm. The choice is up to the individual, and the Church respects each individual’s right to decide what is best for them.
Scientologists have the same rights as everyone else to be left in peace from those who attack them or their religion and only intend to do harm.
Scientologists associate with and befriend members of every religion. In fact, the moral code of Scientologists requires respecting the religious beliefs of others. No other religion expresses such a philosophy in its moral code. The Church works with other religions in accomplishing common goals and interests, through interfaith activities, community gatherings, and cooperative volunteer participation.
Because Scientology is a new religion, Scientologists often have family members who are not Scientologists and who may practice the family’s traditional faith or no faith at all. This causes no conflict for Scientologists. In fact, Scientologists generally have strong family ties, regardless of the religious affiliation of their family members. Scientologists do not “disconnect” from family members, or from anyone else for that matter, because of a difference of beliefs.
Disconnection occurs when a decision is made not to communicate with a hostile individual. These kinds of choices are made routinely in everyday life. Take, for example, the battered wife who disconnects from the husband whose fists are pummeling her. It is her right. Similarly, an individual with a hostile co-worker has the right to choose to ignore taunts and harassment and not communicate with that co-worker. This is also how society deals with a criminal: if they do not cease their criminal conduct, the criminal is disconnected from society so he cannot continue to commit criminal acts against others. So it is with Scientologists who choose not to suffer harassment and attacks from family members or others.
Disconnection occurs when a decision is made not to communicate with a hostile individual. These kinds of choices are made routinely in everyday life.
Scientologists believe that a Scientologist will find his spiritual advancement inhibited if he or she is connected to someone who is antagonistic to him or to his desire to improve his life through Scientology or to Scientology itself. To resolve such a situation, Scientology instructs that one first try to handle the other person’s antagonism. If attempts at resolution fail, only then does one cease communication with the antagonistic person. This principle of “handle or disconnect” exists in any group and in virtually all religions; Scientology is no different. Disconnection, then, is simply exercising a right to communicate or not to communicate with a particular person, nothing more, nothing less.
One of the most volatile subjects in the history of humankind has always been religion. Sadly, wars, mass killings, inquisitions, church burnings and other tragic events have been and are carried out as a result of religious bigotry or differing beliefs. In the entire history of Scientology, however, you will not find a single instance of Scientologists advocating violence in the name of religion. Rather, Scientologists respond to harassment by simply disconnecting or ceasing to communicate with the offending person.
Consider if an anti-Semitic neighbor were to walk into a Jewish family home singing the praises of Hitler. All would support the Jews’ rights to tell the person to leave the house and not return if he continued the offending behavior. Similarly, if a devout Catholic were the subject of harassment by individuals mocking the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ, one would understand if the Catholic wanted nothing more to do with such a person unless he ceased attacking his beliefs.
Scientologists are urged to and are expected to have good relations with their families. In a few cases, however, bigotry or a lack of respect for the beliefs of others may cause a relation to aggressively attack the beliefs of a Scientologist family member. In every instance, the Scientologist is counseled by the Church to mend these relationships and try to come to an accord, even if only to have the hostile family member respect the Scientologist’s right to practice his faith. Only after all efforts at resolution have failed should a Scientologist decide, as would anyone else, if he wants to continue to communicate with a hostile family member or other hostile individual. This is the entirety of disconnection.
Many religions today—Amish, Mennonite, Bahá’í and Jehovah’s Witness—practice shunning, a formal decision to cease interaction with an individual or a group. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews practice herem, the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Considered more broadly, virtually every religion practices some form of social exclusion, whether or not it is a formal ecclesiastical penalty, in response to an attack, or merely an admonition that one is to avoid the company of evil. Like Scientology, most religions do not forbid contact with people who merely have different beliefs. As evident in the summary below, examples of these doctrines exist in all major faith traditions. These religious practices have been upheld as constitutionally protected by multiple court decisions in the United States and elsewhere.
Dr. Benjamin J. Hubbard, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religions at California State University, Fullerton, has closely examined Church of Scientology practices and has compared them with those of other religions. Dr. Hubbard writes:
These concepts are by no means unique to Scientology. Whether it has a formal ecclesiastical penalty for apostasy, as a response to an attack on a member's beliefs, or merely an admonition on the way one is to live life, all traditions practice some form of social exclusion.”
Dr. Hubbard concludes:
On the basis of my comparison of the practice of disconnection within Scientology to similar practices within other contemporary faiths, I see no reason to single out this religion as espousing unique or bizarre rituals for separating a disruptive person from the community of believers. Such a community is held together by common agreements on right and wrong conduct and methods for preserving its integrity. All faiths have this attribute in one form or another. The policies of the Church of Scientology in this regard are by no means unique and fall well within the spectrum of acceptable conduct.
It is indeed unfortunate when people are unwilling to respect the beliefs and choices of others, but Scientologists, like members of other faiths and other groups, have the right to choose to choose to disassociate from those who attack them and their religion and who inhibit their spiritual progress.
A Comparative Summary of Shunning in World Religions
shun [shǝn] (v) persistently avoid, ignore, or reject (someone or something) through antipathy or caution.
Virtually every world religion practices some form of shunning. As in other religions, Scientologists have a similar practice, called disconnection, that is often misunderstood or mischaracterized.
Scientologists practice disconnection as a last resort after all other avenues of reconciliation have been exhausted. In Scientology, inclusion rather than exclusion is preferred. As with other faiths, the Scientology practice does not involve disconnecting from people because they have different beliefs. Scientologists live and work on a daily basis with Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists. Scientologists are taught to respect the religious beliefs of others.
Here is a summary of religious practices similar to Scientology’s disconnection:
Shunning as an ecclesiastical discipline is still practiced in Orthodox and Chasidic communities. It is even referenced in the Old Testament, as in Job: 28:28 (“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”) and Proverbs 12:26 (“The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.”)
Herem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in Judaism. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Although it developed from the above Biblical sources, herem, as employed in Talmudic times (70 BCE-500CE) and the Middle Ages (400-1400 CE), became a Rabbinic institution, the object of which was to preserve Jewish solidarity.
The Bible contains many references in both the Old and New Testaments to exclude communication with those who are hostile to the faith or its practices, notably in the letters of Paul. Two examples: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one,” from I Corinthians 5:11 and “Mark those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them,” from Romans 16:17. The interpretation and application of these passages vary widely among Christian denominations and numerous examples exist of current application.
Jehovah’s Witnesses practice a form of shunning which they refer to as disfellowshipping. This refers to a person who is not greeted either socially or at meetings following a decision of a judicial committee established by a local congregation that a member is unrepentantly guilty of a “serious sin.” The Jehovah’s Witness practice of disfellowshipment has been examined by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and found to be a protected religious practice. [Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 819 F.2d 87, (1986)] In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights wrote favorably on the practice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practices excommunication, as well as the lesser sanctions of private counsel and caution, informal probation, formal probation, and disfellowship. In most cases, excommunication in the Mormon Church is a last resort, used only after repeated warnings. Mormons also practice the lesser sanctions of private counsel and caution, informal probation, formal probation, and disfellowshipment. Disfellowshipped individuals may maintain church membership but may not take the sacrament or enter church temples, nor may they offer public prayers or sermons. Disfellowshipped persons may continue to attend most church functions and are permitted to wear temple garments, pay tithes and offerings, and participate in church classes if their conduct is orderly. Disfellowshipment typically lasts for one year, after which one may earn reinstatement.
Independent Evangelical Congregations
In January 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported an increase in shunning among independent evangelical congregations. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of evangelical Christian churches practice public disciplining of wayward members. In May 2015, the Southern Baptist Convention shunned then-presidential candidate Ben Carson, a Seventh-Day Adventist, purportedly because of his political and theological views.
The Amish practice of shunning includes avoiding a former member in every way possible; excluding that person from both the church and community is considered a means of preserving the Amish culture. At its most severe, other members of the congregation are prohibited from almost all contact with an excommunicated member, including social and business ties between the member and the congregation, sometimes even marital contact between spouses or family members if one remains in the congregation.
The Hutterites use shunning as a form of church discipline. Since Hutterites have communal ownership of goods, the effects of excommunication could impose a hardship on the excluded member and family, leaving them without employment, income and material assets such as a home. One Hutterite colony in Manitoba, Canada, was involved in a protracted dispute when leaders attempted to force the departure of a group that had been excommunicated but would not leave.
In the Mennonite Church excommunication is carried out only after many attempts at reconciliation and on someone who flagrantly and repeatedly violates standards of behavior that the church expects. Occasionally excommunication is also carried out against those who question the church and/or outright disagree with the church’s theology. In either case, the church will attempt reconciliation with the member in private.
Discipline requires the church to confront a notoriously erring and unrepentant church member, first directly in a very small circle and, if no resolution is forthcoming, expanding the circle in steps eventually to include the entire church congregation. If the errant member persists without repentance and rejects even the admonition of the congregation, that person is excommunicated or excluded from church membership. Exclusion from the church is recognition by the congregation that this person has separated himself or herself from the church by way of his or her visible and unrepentant sin. This is done as a final resort to protect the integrity of the church.
Unitarian Universalism, as a congregational rather than a hierarchical denomination, encompasses a wide diversity of opinions and sentiments. Nonetheless, Unitarian Universalists have had to deal with disruptive individuals. By the late 1990s, many congregations were using the West Shore UU Church’s policy as a model. If someone is threatening, disruptive or distracting from the appeal of the church to its membership, a church using this model has three recommended levels of response to the offending individual. While the first level involves dialogue between a committee or clergy member and the offender, the second and third levels involve expulsion, either from the church itself or a church activity.
Although Lutheranism technically has an excommunication process, some denominations and congregations do not use it. Excommunication requires (a) confrontation between the subject and the individual against whom he has sinned, (b) if this fails, confrontation between the subject, the harmed individual, and two or three witnesses to such acts of sin, (c) informing the pastor of the subject’s congregation and (d) a confrontation between the pastor and the subject.
Eastern Orthodox Churches
In the Eastern Orthodox churches, excommunication is the exclusion of a member from the Eucharist. This can happen for such reasons as not having confessed within that year. Excommunication can also be imposed as part of a penitential period. It is generally done with the goal of restoring the member to full communion. Before an excommunication of significant duration is imposed, the bishop is usually consulted.
The Orthodox Church distinguishes between “separation from the communion of the Church” (excommunication) and other epitemia (penances) laid on a person, and anathema. While undergoing epitemia, the person remains an Orthodox Christian, even though their participation in the mystical life of the church is restricted; but those given over to anathema are considered completely torn from the Church until they repent. Epitemia, or excommunication, is normally limited to a specified period of time—though it always depends on the repentance of the one penanced. The lifting of anathema, however, depends solely on the repentance of the one condemned. The two causes for which a person may be declared anathema are heresy and schism. Anathema is a last resort and must always be preceded by pastoral attempts to reason with the offender and bring about their restoration.
For the Orthodox, anathema is not final damnation. God alone is the judge of the living and the dead, and up until the moment of death repentance is always possible. The purpose of public anathema is twofold: to warn the one condemned and bring about his repentance, and to warn others away from his error. Everything is done for the purpose of the salvation of souls.
Eastern Catholic Churches
In the Eastern Catholic Churches, a distinction is made between minor and major excommunication. Those on whom minor excommunication has been imposed are excluded from receiving the Eucharist and may also be excluded from participating in the Divine Liturgy. They may even be excluded from entering a church when divine worship is being celebrated there. The decree of excommunication must indicate the precise effect of the excommunication and, if required, its duration.
Roman Catholic Church
In modern times, the Roman Catholic practice of excommunication is treated as a “medicinal penalty” intended to invite the person to change behavior or attitude, repent, and return to full communion. Degrees of excommunication in the Catholic Church range from full expulsion from a church with loss of all rights and contacts, to lesser limitations on communication such as separation from the group at meals or censorship of communications. Under current Catholic canon law, “Excommunicates lose rights, such as the right to the sacraments, but they are still bound to the obligations of the law; their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of the penalty.” They are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Among many of the Society of Friends groups (Quakers) one is read out of meeting for behavior inconsistent with the sense of the meeting. These individuals are excluded from participation in religious meetings.
In the Reformed Churches, excommunication has generally been seen as the culmination of church discipline, one of the three marks of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses it as the third step after “admonition” and “suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season.”
Members of the Bahá’i faith are expected to shun those who have been declared Covenant-breakers and expelled from the religion. “And now, one of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past.” (The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 20)
Buddhism stresses that one must not walk with evil and gives an admonition not to support those attacking the faith: “If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those will hinder your progress.” (Master Yong Hun)
Confucian and Taoist Traditions
The Confucian and Taoist philosophies hold that the avoidance of associating with evil is the only way to preserve one’s purity: “If you wish to preserve your virtue, avoid the company of evil people.” (Ref: 366 Readings from Taoism and Confucianism, Robert Van De Weyer) Taoist philosophy urges adherents to “Avoid evil action, instead practice benevolent deeds.” (Taoism by Zhongjian Mou)
In Hinduism, it is taught that if you know the nature of evil and demonic qualities, how they manifest in human behavior, and how evil people with demonic qualities live and act, you can avoid their company, remain on guard and save yourself from a great calamity, “for calamity it is to fall into the company of demonic people or become one like them.”
Islamic traditions condone mild shunning of members for violations of Islamic law. Traditionally, the Prophet shunned the three men who stayed behind from the campaign to Tabook with no excuse. The lengthy Hadith about their story is narrated in al-Saheehayn from Ka’b ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him), who was one of the three. “Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: If a person is known to openly fail to do obligatory duties or to do haraam things, then he deserves to be shunned and should not be greeted with salaams, as a rebuke to him, until he repents.” Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (23/252)
In strict Islamic societies in the Middle East, practices may be interpreted severely based on strict scriptural interpretations not shared by moderate Muslims who are more ecumenical and rely on passages in the Qur’an and Hadith promoting peace: Qur’an (4:89) –“They wish that you should reject faith as they reject faith, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
The Scientology practice of disconnection is not only consistent with other world religions, it is based on traditions borne over thousands of years and passed down through the ages.