Singer Michael Jackson has dropped out of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a step that normally means he must be shunned by family members and friends who remain in the religious sect.
A representative of the Woodland Hills congregation where Jackson belonged said that the entertainer "disassociated" himself from the congregation and "no longer wants to be known as a Jehovah's Witness."
The official, who did not want to be identified, did not give a reason for Jackson's decision and said only that he left "in the spring."
A form letter from the Witnesses' Brooklyn headquarters, dated May 18, also stated that the organization "no longer considers Michael Jackson to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses." A copy of the letter was obtained by The Times.
A spokesman for Epic Records and Jackson's manager, Frank Dileo, said they do not make comments on the singer's personal life and would not ask Jackson to comment.
Shunned by Family, Friends
Ex-Witnesses and the author of a book on the Witnesses said in interviews that when members "disassociate" themselves, their friends and family still within the organization must not speak to them. It has been reported in the past that Jackson's mother Katherine is a devout Witness.
The official of the Woodland Hills congregation would not state what the implications of "disassociation" are, but when asked if they are serious, he responded, "Correct."
Gary Botting, co-author of "The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses," said that dropping out of the Brooklyn-based Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, as it is officially known, "is worse than being disfellowshipped," or kicked out.
"If you willfully reject God's only organization on earth, that's the unforgiveable sin . . . the sin against the Holy Spirit," said Botting, who has taught at the University of Alberta, Canada, and remains a Witness himself.
Jackson was probably the best-known member of Jehovah's Witnesses, whose 3 million members worldwide are known for their persistent proselytizing efforts and periodic predictions of the end of the world. Their distinctive beliefs, arising from their Bible interpretations, call for no expression of allegiance to flags or governments and refusals to accept blood transfusions. About 35,000 Witnesses from Southern California are expected June 19 at the first of three summer gatherings at Dodger Stadium.
Album Produced Tensions
Though Jackson's anti-drug stance in public appearances was in keeping with the Witnesses' clean-living codes, the entertainer's Grammy-winning album "Thriller" produced tensions with the sect leaders in 1983 because of allegations the record and a video made to promote the album encouraged occult beliefs. The video depicted Jackson being transformed into a monster.
However, Jackson was quoted in the May 22, 1984 issue of AWAKE!, a Witness magazine, as saying that he would never make such a record and video again. "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult," Jackson was quoted as saying.
The article also quoted Jackson as saying: "I want to do what is right. A lot of people were offended by it." He also promised to block further distribution of the film over which he had control, according to a Witness official in Brooklyn who read from the article.
Later in 1984, during the much-publicized "Victory Tour" by Jackson and his performer-brothers, the singer was reported to have done some door-to-door witnessing in Dallas and Birmingham, Ala. He wore a dark hat, gray suit and drooping mustache while distributing literature for the Witnesses in Birmingham.