Shunning is the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from an individual or group. It is a sanction against association often associated with religious groups and other tightly-knit organisations and communities. Targets of shunning can include, but are not limited to apostates, whistleblowers, dissidents, people classified as "sinners" or "traitors" and other people who defy or who fail to comply with the standards established by the shunning group(s). Shunning has a long history as a means of organisational influence and control. Extreme forms of shunning and related practices have rendered the general practice controversial in some circles.
Some less often practiced variants may seek to:
Shunning is usually approved of (if sometimes with regret) by the group engaging in the shunning, and usually highly disapproved of by the target of the shunning, resulting in a polarization of views. Those subject to the practice respond differently, usually depending both on the circumstances of the event, and the nature of the practices being applied. Extreme forms of shunning have damaged some individuals' psychological and relational health. Extreme responses to the practice have developed, mostly around anti-shunning advocacy; such advocates highlight the detrimental effects of many of such behaviors, and seek to limit the practice through pressure or law. Such groups often operate supportive organizations or institutions to help victims of shunning to recover from damaging effects, and sometimes to attack the organizations practicing shunning, as a part of their advocacy.
In many civil societies, kinds of shunning are practiced de-facto or de-jure, to coerce or avert behaviours or associations deemed unhealthy. This can include:
These effects are seen as positive by society, though often not by the affected parties.
Shunning often involves implicit or explicit shame for a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group or its leadership. Such shame may not be psychologically damaging if the membership is voluntary and the rules of behaviour clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, the group membership seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules are inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or various tools of psychological pressure applied. Extremes of this cross over the line into psychological torture and can be permanently scarring.
A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.
Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.
In cases where a group or religion is state-sanctioned (e. g. in communist states), a key power, or in the majority (Singapore), a shunned former member may face severe social, political, and/or financial costs. Some, including researchers of mind control, brainwashing and menticide groups, identify the practice with "cult-like" or totalitarian behaviour.
: 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."
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
, 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.
Shunning occurs today in Old Order Amish and in some Mennonite churches. Shunning can be particularly painful for the shunnee in these denominations since they are generally very close-knit, and since the shunned person may have no significant social links with anyone other than those in their denomination.
The Amish call shunning Meidung, the German word for avoidance. As described in the article on the Amish, shunning was a key issue of disagreement in the Amish-Mennonite split and it is continued in contemporary practice. Former Amish woman Ruth Irene Garrett tells the story of Amish shunning in her community from the shunnee's perspective in Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life. Amish shunning is also the subject of popular fiction novels about shunning. Amish differ considerably from community to community in the severity and strictness of the shunning.
Some very conservative Mennonite churches use shunning to exclude, punish, and shame excommunicated members. Mainstream and progressive Mennonites either do not shun, or they use much less extreme forms of shunning. Those Mennonites who shun, do so by condemning, snubbing, and shaming excommunicants in all social, spousal, and familial contacts without regard for family ties. Shunning by all church members begins upon excommunication and is continued until the excommunicant either dies or repents.
The Mennonite Ban or excommunication does not usually involve shunning, but only a ban from participation in communion. A few Mennonite groups do however practice shunning, or have in the past. In some cases members must shun their shunned spouses with a refusal to dine or sleep with the one being shunned. The excommunicant's closest family members also shun him or her in all ongoing social contacts if the family members are church members. Since shunning damages and often destroys the excommunicant's closest bonds, it has been called "one of the cruelest punishments known to man" by a shunned Mennonite excommunicant and "a living hell of torture" by a shunning Mennonite member and father-in-law (see Delivered Unto Satan below).
The extent of the disassociation is limited. For example, unavoidable contact resulting from business arrangements does not necessarily constitute a contravention of the shunning requirement. Similarly, a Bahá'í who administers an online forum may interact with Covenant-breakers who are members of such a forum, with respect to his duties as an administrator. Shoghi Effendi expressed a similar perspective The common theme is that the Bahá'í should limit his contact to the particular transaction or business at-hand and not be drawn into discussion that would allow the offender to advance his ideas. This certainly applies to fora such as Wikipedia talk pages. Given the above-stated purpose of this shunning is as a protection from the spread of a "spiritual disease", and not as a form of punishment for the so-named covenant-breaker, the Bahá'í practice of shunning seems to be designed in such a way that limits the material penalty normally associated with shunning by a community. In practice, however, many Bahá'ís may not be aware of the limits expressed above.
Bahá'ís are not required to practice shunning for purely moral or legal lapses, or against those who simply leave the religion. The flagrant and unrepentant violation of Bahá'í laws and standards of conduct can result in the loss of administrative rights, which prevents an individual from offering contributions to the funds of the Faith, vote or be elected to office in community elections, or obtain marriage or divorce within the religion, etc. They may, however, attend any public gathering, are still considered members, and Bahá'ís need not shun such members. Very occasionally, Bahá'ís are expelled due merely to a variance in belief. In such cases the beliefs depart fundamentally from Bahá'í teachings and, upon investigation, they were found never to have conformed to Bahá'í belief. They are considered to have never been Bahá'ís, because they did not ever accept the Bahá'í beliefs. This is not considered synonymous to covenant-breaking, and such former members are not subject to shunning.
Bahá'ís are not expected to shun non-Bahá'ís. Contrarily, they are expected to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship."