After running JWsurvey for more than two years, the time has finally come to share my story.
Why has it taken so long? Because when I first set up this website I was still technically a Witness – constantly in fear of reprisals from my family or my local elders if my true identity was ever discovered.
Now, after much discussion and soul-searching, my wife and I have both made the decision to part ways with the organization – regardless of how our Witness family responds.
There are multiple reasons for this huge leap, the main one being that my wife is pregnant. Both of us refuse to raise our child in a religion we know to be false, or to allow any of our relatives to attempt this with the excuse that we are still Witnesses – which would be the case if we remained inactive.
Taking this stand has come at considerable cost – a cost imposed on us by Watchtower. We have yet to hand in formal letters of disassociation, but we have let our family know gradually over the last few weeks. This has resulted in a considerable backlash.
On my side of the family in particular I have been subjected to insults and character assassinations – attempts to call my motives into question and frame me as “selfish” simply for acting on my convictions, and standing up for my own beliefs.
My father (who is an elder) hasn’t been abusive, but he has reaffirmed that he will be shunning us the moment things become official. We spent a few days vacation together in picturesque Northern Croatia before I sat him down and attempted to explain my position.
After I revealed the information on the UN/NGO scandal to Dad by showing him newspaper articles from 2001, he was initially nauseous and didn’t want to hear any more. A day later he told me he refuses to hear my side of the argument, and will be shunning me once things are official. In his mind there is no contradiction that he will be spending his time trying to persuade people of other faiths to challenge their convictions, while refusing to hold his own beliefs to even the slightest scrutiny.
It has been deeply hurtful and distressing for me to witness my own father, who I deeply love, surrender his reason and common sense with so little struggle – especially with so much at stake. It is still more distressing that I am being blamed for any shunning that ensues even though these are Watchtower’s rules, not mine. After all, I am happy to have a relationship with all of my Witness relatives no matter what they believe.
The more I observe the utter refusal of certain family members to even listen to my reasons, and hold me to a decision I made when I was 11, the more obvious it is that I am escaping a manipulative cult where independent thinking is ruthlessly crushed and loved ones are considered expendable wherever loyalty to the Governing Body is concerned.
You may well ask what brought me to this stage, and how I came to doubt my beliefs in the first place? I am writing a book on this at the moment, but I will do my best to present a summary of my story in this article.
***When this article was written, I still felt the need to keep my real name secret due to concerns over my family. Since then I have decided to be open about my real name, which is Lloyd Evans, but I will continue writing under the moniker “John Cedars” since that is the name so many people know me by.***
An unconventional upbringing
I was born in Manchester, England, in 1979 and raised in Wilmslow, which used to be a quiet leafy village in the suburbs, but is now a wealthy neighborhood known for its celebrity residents – mostly footballers and their wives.
I had an upbringing in which Armageddon was very much a real event that could strike at any moment.
One evening, our family worship featured an “Armageddon drill.” My father received what turned out to be a fake phone call telling him that the Great Tribulation was upon us. My family was to hurry to join the brothers and sisters at the local kingdom hall, because we would all be heading off to Macclesfield Forest to make our escape from the authorities under Satan’s control.
I remember running upstairs and frantically stuffing various items in my rucksack, including a recently released book called Revelation – It’s Grand Climax At Hand incase I somehow needed it. In that moment I was convinced I was witnessing the end of the system of things.
It was only when I came downstairs and saw the smiles on the faces of my parents and sister that I realised the joke was on me.
I was baptized in December 1990, age 11. I remember my mother crying at my baptism. In the years that followed I did my best to make my parents proud by being an exemplary Witness youth.
My parents were not as strict as others in our congregation, so they encouraged me to go to college after high school. I studied art for two years. Even so, it wasn’t long before I felt the pull of pioneering, in no way diminished by the constant pressure from the platform for young ones to pursue full-time service as a “career.” I started regular pioneering in September 1998 – the same month that I was announced as a ministerial servant. I had just turned 19.
The following year I experienced my first “crisis of conscience” when the Daniel book (or Pay Attention To Daniel’s Prophecy) was released at the “God’s Prophetic Word” District Convention. I remember being initially very excited. I felt I would be able to relate to it more than the Revelation Climax book, which by now seemed crazy and garish to me. I took my copy of the Daniel book home and read it quickly.
As I devoured its convoluted reflections on bible prophecy, feelings of disappointment slowly overcame me. I encountered various explanations of scripture that simply did not add up. For example, how could the Roman Empire become Anglo-America in one prophecy, but become Nazi Germany (an enemy of Anglo-America) in another? Should there not be some kind of consistency in God’s inspired word?
The more I dwelled on this and other issues, the more I suspected that the Governing Body was simply making things up as they were going along – “shoe-horning” scriptures to fit historical events.
My doubts eventually came to the attention of my Presiding Overseer after my ministry partner snitched on me. He took me aside one afternoon while on field service, listened to my issues for a while, and then said: “Listen, I just want to know one thing. Do you believe in 1914, or not?”
When I said that yes, I believed in 1914, he said, “Well that’s all that matters!” – and our conversation was over. After this bizarre exchange, I pressed ahead with my progress as a Witness, but always with niggling doubts in the far reaches of my mind.
A life-changing tragedy
Then in 2001 my world collapsed when my mother died of breast cancer. I was 21 at the time. Mum first fell ill in 1999 but received treatment, including a mastectomy, which forced her cancer into remission. But it resurfaced a year later and consumed her very quickly, despite aggressive chemotherapy. On May 9th 2001, Mum’s doctor gave her three weeks to three months to live. She passed away 12 days later while we were on our final family holiday in Cornwall.
Mum’s death forced me to push any lingering doubts as far back in my mind as I possibly could and soldier on with my “career” in the organization. After all, serving Jehovah loyally was my one and only chance of being reunited with her in the resurrection. I couldn’t let her down.
When I was 22 I began applying to attend MTS (now the “Bible School for Single Brothers”). I was finally accepted at the age of 25, and attended the 29th Class in Britain at the Assembly Hall in Dudley. I was thrilled and extremely proud, not least because by going through the course I was fulfilling one of my Mum’s dying wishes.
Mum had told me in one of our final conversations that in the resurrection she wanted to see a video of my MTS graduation. She didn’t know that the filming of graduations is prohibited by the organization, but simply by going and graduating I knew I would be meeting her expectations. I would film what I could while I was there, just in case.
Attending MTS was a mostly uplifting and enjoyable experience. What I most appreciated was the camaraderie and friendships with guys my age from all over the UK and parts of Europe. It felt as though there were little or no distinctions between students who were ministerial servants (like me) and students who were elders. We were all sharing the same experience together as those seeking to learn.
During the course there were one or two moments that made me stop and ponder, such as during one class when our instructor told us to put a line through some words in one of our volumes of Insight on the Scriptures. Apparently this change was required because of “new light” since these books were published.
The words we were asked to delete can still be plainly seen on current versions of Watchtower Library. I thought to myself at the time, “If these words are so wrong that we are being asked to delete them, shouldn’t ALL Witnesses receive similar instructions for their Insight Volumes?”
After two months the class came to an end, and I graduated along with 21 others. My Dad, sister, and some of my close friends came along to what proved to be an emotional graduation ceremony. I was interviewed and asked to relate my experiences leading up to the course, including the death of my mother and the fact that I had quit my job in order to attend.
At the end of the graduation I joined my classmates in singing an acoustic rendition of “Life Without End At Last” with my guitar. The audience erupted in applause. It felt like I had reached the pinnacle of my achievements within the organization. I was determined to put my training to good use.
A year after my MTS, I flew out to Croatia for a reunion with a number of my classmates. One student, named Miroslav,* invited us to spend some time with his congregation in Sisak, about an hour’s drive south from Zagreb.
It was in Sisak that I met my future wife, who was pioneering at the time. After a few months of getting to know each other through emails and phone calls she agreed to move to the UK so that we could pursue our relationship.
Six months after her arrival I proposed to her with a cheap silver ring (all I could afford as a poor pioneer!) on a row-boat in the middle of a windswept lake in the Lake District. She accepted, although later joked that she only said “yes” because she wanted to get off the boat!
We were married in the summer of 2007 on the Croatian coast, and honeymooned in Venice, Switzerland and Paris on our drive home to the UK. On our return, we resumed pioneering together in the same congregation.
We began married life living in a small basement flat in a rough part of Stockport. The sound of police sirens screeching through the night formed the soundtrack to most of our evenings. Looking back it was an inauspicious start to our new life together, but it was all we could afford as pioneers on part-time wages. In fact we couldn’t afford even that, because we soon started to slide into debt.
The call to elderhood, and the anti-climax
In April 2008 I was thrilled to be appointed as an elder. I felt as though I could finally put my MTS training to full use, and take a more active role in helping people. I already loved giving talks, but it was the shepherding side that I was really looking forward to. I was anxious to help people with their problems in any way I could.
But it wasn’t long before reality started to sink in, and I began to see what being an elder was really all about. I soon discovered that elder bodies are intensely political, easily manipulated by strong personalities, and that elders are most definitely not appointed by holy spirit as Watchtower so often claims.
Our congregation had a particularly thuggish Presiding Overseer (now known as a Coordinator) who seemed to delight in bullying the brothers and making their lives miserable. He would think nothing of counselling a brother who bought a new Range Rover on being too materialistic, or imposing arbitrary rules on a teenage boy not to socialize with a young sister he liked.
When I did my best to correct this bully elder’s overbearing behavior in the only way I could think of, I was chastised for going about it in the wrong manner. I was kept as an elder, but stripped of certain privileges, including my pioneer status.
My wife also had her pioneer status removed at this time, even though she had nothing to do with my elder issues. I was told that, since both of us had been failing to meet our hour requirement, I was to break the news to my wife that she too was no longer a pioneer.
And so, after eight years of selfless full-time service for the organization in two different countries, my wife was unceremoniously sacked as a pioneer through her husband without so much as a “thank you.”
My lowest point
But these troubles were soon to pale into insignificance when my wife made a heartbreaking discovery. She learned that, though I hadn’t cheated on her, I had been fraternizing with girls on the internet in ways that I shouldn’t have done as a married man. I had a big issue with cyber sex and pornography, which I had developed as a teenager, and which remained with me even into my marriage.
I am not proud of my actions, and to this day I grimace at what I put my wife through. She has never been anything but loyal and loving, and it saddens me that I hurt her by betraying her trust so early in our marriage.
I also feel it was hypocritical of me to accept an appointment as an elder with the aim of helping others and offering spiritual guidance when I had so many issues of my own to contend with. I was living a double life and being dishonest with people.
Even so, I can’t help but consider these actions to be very much a by-product of sexual repression in my formative years. In particular, I think of the difficulties I had in finding a marriage partner from a narrow pool of Witness girls, and the unscriptural Watchtower injunctions designed to induce guilt over masturbation.
Of course, I accept responsibility for my actions and I do not blame Watchtower for everything. After all, plenty of Witnesses seem to develop into well-balanced adults without these problems.
But my wife and I both now realise that sexual repression in my upbringing was a major factor. It forced me into finding ways of satisfying my natural sexual urges as a virgin without intercourse so as to remain “morally clean,” and this led to an unhealthy dependency on the internet and pornography.
Once my wife discovered my problem we had a number of emotional exchanges. Decisions needed to be made. My first instinct was to sweep things under the rug and work things out between us, but in the end I decided to stand down as an elder and move back to the congregation I had grown up in to receive discipline.
Apart from anything else I knew I wouldn’t get a fair trial from the bully elder, who would doubtless want to make sure I suffered further for daring to question him. This matter involved my wife and I, and not him – so I chose to receive my punishment from elders I felt I could rely on to be impartial.
I wrote an exhaustive confession in a letter and posted it through the letter box of my new Coordinator. Before long I was summoned to a Judicial Committee and made to relive everything I had done in excruciating detail, despite my signed confession which had already explained everything.
At one point I remember being reduced to tears. By the end of it all, it was decided that I should be reproved and not disfellowshipped. However, my reproof was to be publicly announced both in my new and former congregations to make it clear that I had done wrong during my time as an elder.
A fresh start
Around this time my wife and I agreed that we needed a fresh start, so we decided to move to live with her parents in Croatia. Our years spent pioneering had left us with very little money and a mountain of debt, but we at least had an opportunity to build an apartment for ourselves without worrying about rent or mortgage payments.
And so we packed up our belongings and made the move across Europe to Croatia in the summer of 2009. At the time I recall being determined to restore my spirituality, and maybe even work my way back to serving as an elder again eventually.
For the first few months in my new congregation I continued under the restrictions from my reproof in the UK, meaning that I couldn’t answer up at meetings or participate in any talks on the Theocratic Ministry School.
I was reduced to being a mere observer at meetings that I could scarcely understand due to the language barrier. I knew a few words of Croatian, but certainly not enough to follow closely what was being said.
Before long, something unexpected happened. My identity as a Witness disintegrated as I could feel myself being unplugged from the indoctrination. For the first time I began to ask myself, “What do I truly believe?”
I recalled my doubts about the Daniel book from when I was 20. I found I was able to add a number of other issues and teachings that I could no longer agree with. Eventually I sat down and wrote a list of nine “grievances.” When I looked at the list, it was obvious to me that I was now only a Witness in name only. There were just too many things wrong with the organization for it to be the “truth.”
Eventually my restrictions were lifted and I began giving Bible readings in Croatian on the school meetings. Elders would give me encouragement, leaving me with the impression that I would be re-appointed before too long if I just put forth a little effort. But by this time it was too late. I was already waking up.
Then one day in May 2011, after pouring out my feelings to my wife, I decided to declare myself inactive. I felt I needed to let my Dad know of my decision by telephone. I recall him being heartbroken. I broke down in tears once I had finished talking to him. No son relishes the idea of being viewed as a failure by his father.
I wrote a letter to my elders briefly explaining my reasons for being inactive. In hindsight, I realise that my elders could have very easily taken this as a letter of disassociation and severed me from the organization there and then, but for some reason they didn’t want to do this. At least, not to begin with.
Stalling the inquisition
Two elders visited and we had a long and tearful discussion. I explained that I would still be attending memorials each year (to keep my family happy, in my mind) but that I could no longer go preaching when I had so many doubts. They chose to respect this, so I assumed that would be the end of it.
Around this time a new elder joined our congregation from Zagreb bethel, and he soon learned of my inactivity. He decided he didn’t like the way things had been handled, and convinced himself that there must be more to my decision than I was letting on.
This elder pulled my wife to one side at the end of one meeting and interrogated her in the back room, asking questions about my behavior and quizzing her as to our business affairs. My wife and I run a small business, and he and others had come up with a theory that I was staying on as a Witness just so I could exploit Witnesses when handing out work.
All of this happened at roughly the time I finished reading Crisis of Conscience and learned of the 1980 witch hunt against the likes of Raymond Franz and Nestor Kuilan. It felt very much like my elders had me in their sights in the same way, and were determined to disfellowship me on any pretext – real or imagined. All they needed now was a chance to grill me for information having failed to get anything from my wife.
I received a phone call from an elder asking to arrange a visit, but I told him in no uncertain terms that they had broken the rules by interrogating my wife without me being present, and I would therefore not be cooperating with any attempts to offer me “help” until I received a full apology.
Predictably the apology never came, and I was finally left alone. If there was one thing I knew I could rely on, it was the pride of elders and their tendency to deny doing anything wrong. This uneasy stand-off gave me the freedom I needed to explore my new reality without being immediately separated from my family.
The birth of JWsurvey
As things settled and I grew accustomed to my new life as a “fader” I continued to trawl the internet for information. JWfacts.com in particular was a real eye-opener. It was on Paul Grundy’s site that I learned of the UN/NGO scandal, Rutherford’s letter to Hitler, and the Mexico/Malawi scandal. Barbara Anderson’s website also informed me on the complexities of the child abuse issue, and how Watchtower is causing real harm in that regard. Everything began to fall into place.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to share. I was also curious as to how many others like me were out there. I began thinking of ways to poll such ones for their opinions so that people could see at a glance what the consensus was among thinking Witnesses.
Then one day I proposed setting up a survey of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I began experimenting with ways of making this a reality. I thought it would cost a lot of money to set up, but an Ex-JW web developer and writer called John Hoyle came to my rescue completely out of the blue. He contacted me and essentially said, “If you want I can build you a website that can host your survey, and you won’t need to pay me anything for it.”
At first I thought it was impossible for a complete stranger to be so kind and make such an offer with no thought of payment, but I figured I had nothing to lose in accepting. Before long, JWsurvey.org was launched. The rest, as they say, is history.
A reason to take a stand
Fast forward two years or so, and yesterday I found myself attending a hospital appointment with my wife, who is three months into her pregnancy. This was our first opportunity to see our first baby in the womb by means of an ultrasound.
As the grainy images came up on the screen, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I could see our baby’s heart pumping in its chest. I could see its legs folded buddha-like beneath it. I could even see its fingers as its hands were raised almost covering its alien-like face.
The thought occurred to me, “I will love this person unconditionally its whole life, no matter what it thinks, says or does. I will never allow myself to be separated from it, no matter what happens.”
Unlike me, this child will be taught only proven facts – not religious dogma designed to reinforce the unquestioned control of an elite group of deluded theocrats who insulate themselves from even the mildest criticism.
There will be no “Armageddon drills.” There will be no fear, guilt, or paranoia. There will be only love and acceptance. My child will have all the opportunities I never had as a youngster – including the chance to build a life for itself doing and believing whatever it chooses, with my support.
Yes, my Witness family is bitterly disappointed in me. Yes, they view me as a traitor. But there is nothing I can do about that other than to build my own family, free of such rifts and divisions. Though this is proving traumatic for me, I cannot live the rest of my life bending over backwards to conform to the expectations of my indoctrinated forebears.
They may prefer for me to remain inactive, trapped in some sadistic vow of silence so that the mother organization can continue to wreak havoc undisturbed. But I refuse to tacitly bend my knee to Watchtower for a moment longer. A stand must be taken. A line must be drawn.
After all these articles it is high time for me to talk with my feet – especially with my child’s future at stake. Yes, fading is a great option if you can stay quiet and pull it off, and I support those who handle matters in that way. But if you are an activist like myself with something to say about Watchtower and the means to say it, you will find it increasingly difficult to keep it going for too long before something has to give.
The journey continues
I know many of you reading my story will be disappointed at my personal failings, but please understand that I am only human and never set myself up as a role model or spiritual guru for anyone. I am interested only in exposing the scandals and falsehoods of an organization that claims to represent God as honestly and journalistically as possible.
I have not the faintest interest in drawing off followers, preaching alternative doctrines or telling people how to live their lives. I am interested only in revealing the truth about Watchtower, and I feel my experiences within the organization, both good and bad, put me in a great position to do this.
Nothing I write should be considered as beyond question – in fact I am happy to receive criticisms and make changes to articles if needed. I am committed to using my energies to join with other more seasoned campaigners in informing the world about what I view as a damaging cult, which I see tearing my own family apart and threatening countless others.
To all those who have sent messages of support and solidarity over the past few days via Facebook and email, I give my heartfelt gratitude. It is not easy to make this stand. I have shed more than a few tears, but I know what I am doing is right.
By going through this pain now I am sparing future generations from the same problems. I want to give my child a life free from fear and indoctrination, with the opportunity to explore this amazing thing called life without the shackles of ignorance and servitude. I can think of no finer legacy to pass on.
*Miroslav has recently been disfellowshipped for apostasy. On his facebook profile, he identifies himself as a follower of the Bible Students.
Translations: Romanian | …