I suffer from depression, but even at my darkest moments, when my mind has briefly flirted with notions of suicide, I’ve always thought what a bad choice that would be.
There are just so many different ways a person’s life could be configured. So whenever it feels like there is no way out, I’ve always found myself able to reason that surely there MUST be another way of living that is less soul-destroying – even if the journey to that change of circumstances might be difficult.
Many of you will remember I was attacked towards the end of last year for voicing an opinion on “aggressive activism,” which is my definition for the goading, taunting and confronting of bewildered cult victims – either at places of worship or during their public preaching work – by indignant, vengeful exJWs.
In response to simply offering my opinion on this issue (doing so without naming any names), I was accused of being a stalker, a wife beater, a cult leader, a cyber-bully, and even a potential pedophile – with my baby daughter seemingly at risk from me.
As hurtful as this torrent of abuse has been, what has been even more alarming is the ease with which the ringleaders behind these accusations have managed to recruit a group of sympathizers, and manipulated these into believing that THEY are the true victims in this whole scenario – not me.
Also troubling is the complete lack of restraint and basic human decency from this mob, many of whom claim to be Christian. For example, two particularly vocal critics of mine called Mike and Kim are so passionate about bringing Jehovah’s Witnesses to Christ that they have apparently set up their own state-registered ministry.
These same people have sat in front of a camera to deliver a 90-minute tirade featuring all of the aforementioned accusations, apparently seeing no conflict with their Holy Book’s calls to “suffer evil” and “be peaceable with all men.”
Though I expect proponents of evangelical activism (“leave Watchtower and embrace our, correct version of Christianity”) to take issue with my openness about my agnosticism/atheism, I find it troubling that the likes of Mike and Kim have been so successful in exploiting the aggressive activism controversy as a smokescreen to pursue their agenda of trying to silence my agnostic views – to the point of hoodwinking even non-religious exJWs into flocking to their anti-Cedars banner.
When the backlash reached its zenith just before Christmas, I seriously considered breaking some of the tension with a light-hearted video in which I would sing a parody song aimed at debunking Mike and Kim’s accusation that I am obsessed with their daughter, who previously helped me with my work. I envisioned a video in which I would be seated at a piano, Gary Barlow-style, singing plaintively to a framed picture of her, delivering a mock confession of my love for her, and mourning that it was unrequited.
But thankfully I snapped out of doing this video when I remembered that the person in question has been known to suffer from depression. However funny the video might have been to some, and however successful it might have been at rubbishing the claims that I was fixated with this girl, how would I have felt if she had committed suicide soon after it was circulated? I would have felt utterly devastated, and responsible for her loss.
All about the money?
Since all of that, there has been a fresh wave of attacks. Apparently my already-long list of fabricated/embellished crimes has been added to, with claims that I am profiteering from my work as an activist (to the tune of over $10,000 per year), that I live in a “hole” of a country, that I make my wife work while I do nothing, that I “disfellowship” people who disagree with me, that I am fat and ugly (well, maybe that’s true), and that I have been too ready to defend myself in conversations with trolls on Facebook and YouTube.
I’ve mostly been able to shrug off all this mud-slinging, knowing full well I have nothing to hide.
As far as my finances are concerned – yes I have Google ads on my website, but so does JWfacts. Yes I have a PayPal button for donations, but so does JWstruggle (and a LOT of other exJW websites, none of which seem to be under siege for the heresy of accepting money). And I also plead guilty to having a Patreon button at the end of my videos for people who want to donate to my work – but nobody is forced to click through and pledge donations.
My articles and videos are available to people entirely free of charge, and will remain so.
Any proceeds from Google Ad impressions* ($125 per month), YouTube ad impressions ($110 per month), or regular donations ($63 per month) get ploughed straight into my business to help pay for new equipment and justify the considerable time spent away from my regular job (translating and proofreading) while doing research and producing content. (For example, my 2-hour rebuttal video to the Gerrit Losch JW broadcasting episode took three days to put together, which would be hard to justify if it wasn’t part of my job.)
There have been occasions where large, one-off donations have been made either to help our family (most notably when we had Jessica’s baby shower) or to assist with my activism (i.e. when two large donations were received to help fund our trip to London for the conference on undue influence) – but this money has never come with strings attached, i.e. that I must endorse Christianity and stay silent about my unbelief. My supporters have simply been willing to help out as the need arises, and they have been placed under no compulsion to do so.
Unlike many of the people who are styling me as a rich cult leader sponging off gormless followers and abuse victims, I don’t yet have a fridge, a TV, a sofa or a kitchen. I REALLY AM doing my activism because I want to free people both now and in the future from cult indoctrination. My work is offered freely, and I don’t see why I should be made to turn down acts of kindness when these are extended simply to appease my critics.
The only work I ever intend to charge for will be my book, which I will aim to price as reasonably as possible once it is finally finished and published. No doubt once it goes on sale I will receive a fresh wave of abuse from people who will quickly forget how much they paid to read the words of Steven Hassan, Jim Penton, Carl Olof Jonsson or Ray Franz and paint me as a greedy profiteer all over again – but it is pointless trying to keep such people happy.
Is blocking someone on Facebook “shunning?”
I have also come under fire for my practice of blocking people on Facebook who are either critical of my activism, or abusive towards me, or supportive/defensive of those who are abusive towards me. I fail to understand why I am obliged to use Facebook, not as a tool for keeping in touch with my friends and readers, but as an implement of ritual self-flagellation that I must use to entertain the scathing rants and banal sniping of my mostly-anonymous, mostly-evangelical critics on a daily basis.
Telling me I’m not allowed to block or unfriend people on Facebook who are nasty is like telling me I MUST stand and listen to random people shout at and berate me if I encounter them while out shopping. I am perfectly within my rights to walk away from any such situation and get on with whatever it was I was doing. I don’t HAVE to punish myself with nonsense just for the sake of it.
It’s worth remembering that nobody is forcing anyone to watch my videos OR read my blog articles. If you hate me and my work so much I have excellent news – you don’t HAVE to follow me or read/watch my work. You can do activism the way YOU want to do it, or find an activist whose videos and blogs are more to your liking. Or you can avoid taking in “apostate” material altogether, if that’s your problem.
And no, I am not in the business of “shunning” people who disagree with me. I am merely choosy about who my friends are. I have plenty of people on my Facebook friends list with whom I don’t see eye to eye on a range of issues, but I find they are able to put their points across without evangelizing or resorting to ad hominem insults and accusations, so I am only too happy to keep them in my circle and benefit from their perspective.
And frankly, I find the use of the word “shunning” in describing any situation other than estrangement from family or close friends to be an insult – especially by people who should know the difference between being prevented from commenting on a blog or Facebook page and having all contact with family terminated forever.
Taking its toll
Usually I am able to shrug off all the above silliness, content with the fact that I am doing the best I can for all the right motives, and making some modest headway in waking people up (if my email inbox is to be believed).
But today I was out mingling with some of my friends who live in my village, and something fairly innocuous happened that sent me spiraling into the realization that the level of abuse being directed at me from self-righteous keyboard warriors on the other side of the Atlantic really is starting to take its toll.
I didn’t feel suicidal, but I definitely felt a huge wave of sadness and futility.
I went home and talked to my wife Dijana about what I was feeling, and she told me she was feeling pressured by the situation too. Whenever I am talked about, or our family is talked about, by obsessive lunatics who are more fixated with me than they are with Watchtower, Dijana finds herself worrying and fretting over what effect this will have on me, and whether we are safe from these clearly disturbed individuals (bearing in mind we have already received two menacing cards through the post from an individual in America calling himself/herself “John Smith”).
What upsets Dijana most is that, amidst all this hatred and vitriol, she feels forced to put on a brave face for our daughter Jessica, because she is worried that if she lets her sadness show when spending time with our baby this might subconsciously rub off on her, or make her feel that she is somehow not living up to expectations.
Dijana also can’t help but feel enraged when she sees her picture (taken from our translation company website), being shared around on Facebook “hate Cedars” groups, the members of whom then speculate that she is the victim of an oppressive, abusive husband. If she were herself an outspoken activist, or vocal about anything beyond whale conservation, she could perhaps understand all the scrutiny – but she is content to let me get on with my activism and focus on being a mother, and thus finds it all very intrusive.
This conversation with Dijana, and the realization that the fanatical obsessions of a few troubled individuals in America are having a tangible impact on our family has led to my writing this article by way of pleading with any exJWs out there who might have been swayed by my attackers to apply some logic and reason, and show some compassion.
I am not a cult leader. I am not a leader of any sort, and would repudiate any attempts to make me one. I am an ordinary man with a wife and daughter who just happens to be an activist against a cruel cult. And yes, I happen to not be religious.
Of course I have made mistakes, and perhaps gone too far at times when confronting trolls and critics on Facebook and YouTube – but nothing I have said or done has even remotely warranted the tsunami of hatred and vitriol that has been directed against me and my family over the past few months.
A plea for decency
All I ask of my fellow ex cult-members is some basic human decency – the same instincts of solidarity and compassion that made me pull back from making a stupid piano video that I would have almost certainly regretted.
I am not a suicide threat, and my depression is manageable, but I do have a wife and baby daughter – and when you attack me with completely unfounded and specious allegations, you attack them as well. Dijana in particular really does feel the reverberations, to the point of wanting to write to some of the ringleaders herself.
It has long been a notable irony that the majority of opposition to my activism work comes, not from Watchtower or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but from my fellow ex-JWs. I’ve noticed from conversations with activists against other cults that this is not an isolated phenomenon. People who have exited other high-control groups have also been known to turn on each other, and make each other scapegoats for their issues and frustrations.
If it were only me who was taking the heat for having an opinion, and not being afraid to voice it, I think I could handle much of what I’ve been subjected to – content to simply block persistent trolls and fanatics who are hell-bent on character-assassinating me.
But when it starts to affect my family, I do feel a need to draw the line. This abuse has to stop. If you happen to be involved in any way, I implore you to please find something or someone else who is worthy of your frustrations. There are seven men in Brooklyn who export truckloads of pain and misery on a daily basis that I can strongly recommend.
***UPDATE October 2015***
Not long after this article was published, JWsurvey received a “cease and desist” letter from lawyers representing Mike and Kim Brooks. The letter, dated April 20th 2015, insisted that this page be removed and that “no further mention of the Brooks family be made by [Lloyd Evans] on his websites, Facebook, Podcast, YouTube, Vimeo, Patreon, or others.”
After discussions between myself and the webmaster, John Hoyle, it was decided that this article would not be taken down, because I had every right to respond to misinformation that was being circulated about me online by this couple in particular.
However, after discussions with someone acting as something of a go-between with Mike and Kim, it was decided as a gesture of goodwill to remove a link showing the registration of their “Mike Kim Ministries Inc” organization, on the understanding that if I would at least refrain from further talking about the couple online they would reciprocate. I readily agreed to this since I have no interest in talking about Mike and Kim Brooks or their exploits on this website or on my YouTube channel. I was also increasingly concerned that posting a link to an internet page where the couple had made their address public might undermine their safety.
A few months passed with very little being said by my community of “haters.” Eventually the hour-long rant by the Brooks family was removed from Mike, Kim and Shyla’s channels – I assume out of embarrassment over the blow-back from their thoroughly-discredited accusations that I am a stalker, wife-beater, and potential sex offender. I allowed myself to think my haters had found more productive uses of their time than to follow my every move, question my motives and fantasize about my private life.
Then, when I announced my plans for a special “JWsurvey Day” video featuring a montage of different exJWs, one of my most fixated online critics Joel Martz, AKA “The UnWitness,” uploaded a video criticizing me for planning a video in which exJWs would be shown as happy, because apparently this lived up to the stereotype of apostates as being selfish.
Around this time, there was an unfortunate incident on Facebook one evening when I was tired and irritated. A post was put up in the mostly-secular JW Podcast group, for which I am an admin, that was nothing more than a scripture with no comment or explanation. Assuming it to be an attempt at trolling by a Watchtower-apologist, I posted a meme with text that read: “Who left the gate open at the cunt farm?” I then checked to find out who the poster was, and discovered it wasn’t a JW but someone on my friends list who happened to be a Christian. I immediately deleted the post, made another post to the effect that it would be appreciated if people could refrain from putting up scripture-only posts, and thought nothing more of it.
A few days passed and I was directed to a video by Alun Williams – an evangelical Christian fanatic who had already made a number of videos ranting against me because I am an unbeliever. Alun had apparently been contacted by a lady, whose name he didn’t immediately divulge, who was upset at how I had treated her on Facebook. Though I was perplexed as to why this person had approached Alun with her grievances and not me, I contacted her on Facebook as soon as I learned of her identity and gave her a personal apology. I also issued the following public apology on the group where Sharon had been aggrieved…
Despite the apology, Alun Williams continued to issue a stream of videos vilifying me for my mistake including such titles as “John Cedars – You don’t feed us,” “John Cedars – Parasites,” and “John Cedars – Narcissist.”
Then today, on October 10 2015, I woke up to discover a fresh YouTube diatribe by Mike Brooks, who (together with his wife) I understood had moved on from his agenda against me. Having learned about the Facebook issue, Mike had taken it upon himself to be the judge and jury for something I had already issued a public apology for. The fact that it took me nine days to apologize to Sharon (simply because I didn’t keep a record of who it was I needed to apologize to, and had to wait for the name to appear in Alun Williams’ video) was shown as further evidence of my depravity. And once again, my wife Dijana was declared to be in an abusive relationship – warned that both her and my baby daughter Jessica are at risk from me.
Even more astonishingly, I was threatened with physical violence if I ever find myself in New Mexico, with Mike saying he would risk going to jail to give me my comeuppance. Apparently threats of physical violence as retribution for something someone has already apologized for can be considered perfectly Christlike behavior.
I am now getting used to the fact that the slightest slip-up, real or imagined, will be gleefully leapt upon by Mike and Kim, Alun Williams and others from the further reaches of the evangelical wing of the exJW community. What I struggle to fathom is how they can justify lambasting someone for a fairly innocuous error of judgment, who has since apologized publicly, while calling themselves Christian. Didn’t Jesus supposedly tell Peter to forgive his brother up to seventy-seven times? Why can I not be forgiven for calling someone a cunt for a few seconds before the post is deleted, and later apologizing publicly?
For the record, Mike and Kim and I were originally on quite friendly terms, but our relationship quickly deteriorated after a series of Facebook exchanges in which it became obvious that any disagreement between us, however friendly, was interpreted by them as an “attack” and “bullying.” They have since pursued activism against me with almost as much energy as they pursue it against Watchtower, seemingly for no other reason than jealousy and the fact that I do not share their religious beliefs.
I understand this update will make for uncomfortable reading, especially for those who like to think of the Ex-JW community as a tranquil haven where former Witnesses unite against a common foe. But the truth is, the “community” is nothing more than a loose-knit group of vastly different people who happen to have shared the same devastating experience.
Some try to use that experience to help others. Some channel the anger and frustration against their fellow cult-survivors. Still others go to the extreme of fixating against those who are perceived to have a bigger audience than they do, and will stop at nothing to drag them down – including inventing accusations. Such behavior highlights just how corrosive Watchtower’s undue influence can be, and makes me more determined than ever to pursue my activism, and answer my critics in the best way possible – by pursuing effective, non-aggressive, non-evangelical activism against Watchtower.
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