Triumph: Life After the Cult-A Survivor’s Lessons, by Carolyn Jessop, provides valuable insights in how to break free from undue influence caused by an oppressive religion. Her experiences occurred within the context of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Her memoir, Escape, outlines how she managed to break free of the cult.
In the first part of Triumph, she tells the behind the scenes story of what happened in Texas, in 2008, when State authorities removed over 400 FLDS children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. She reveals how she tried to help, and what the outcome was, and why the removal failed to protect the children or their mothers. Though she does not directly say it, helping others who are still trapped in the FLDS is an important part of her healing.
In the second half of the book, Jessop recalls the people, tools, and events that helped her break free, and those that helped her upon her exit from polygamy. For this reason, I recommend the book to anyone who is even questioning their membership in a controlling group. Jessop’s healing process can be a template for personal growth and healing, and may help you find the courage to leave.
Jessop’s environment was full of criticism and reminders of her imperfections. The community was told to police one another, and to gain favor with the husband or church leaders, turning each other in was encouraged. Since she could not control what others thought and did, she decided to work on her own opinion of herself. She worked to accept and approve of herself. If she approved of herself she did not crave it from others.
While still a member, she identified her core values, one of which was that her choices should be made based on free will, not fear. Because total obedience was expected of her, she concluded what was going on was not from Jesus. She wanted power based on free will. To her “real power is as simple as finding a principle and staying true to what you believe.” She then asked, is it time to resist or comply? In doing so she began to see that she had choices. With choice, you “understand what you are doing and why” and therefore “an abuser can never wholly control you.” (page 148)
She learned that perfection is not attainable and that she could approach life by doing the best she could that day, and face the rest tomorrow. (page 162) She realized that to accept the idea of perfection, she had to reject herself. “I decided I would accept myself just as I am- imperfect, struggling, very human.” (page 163)
Jessop’s core values “transformed” her life. It made her change her attitudes, even if her circumstances were not changing. Eventually those core values, led her out. “Each tiny internal shift in my reactions- a percent here, a percent there-kept accumulating and compounding until my life was headed in a completely new direction.” (page 168)
One missed opportunity Jessop writes about occurred when she first got out of the FLDS, She didn’t always accept the love that was offered by helpers and neighbors. She was so worried about what people would think, that she missed the help they were offering. Ironically, she also identifies the importance of the kindness of a stranger. The stranger confronted her husband for being abusive. It helped her see that outsiders were not like the church said they were, and in some cases, were more righteous.
She describes the process of forgiving her husband and sister wives, identifying it as the one thing she did that brought the most liberation. Using a self-help book, she followed the steps to re-script her relationships. She did not forgive out of religious duty, but did so to find release from the people who were abusive. In doing so she let go of her anger.
Jessop does a good job of taking the reader step by step through the process of breaking free and healing. The important lesson of Triumph is, you have choice and there are many things you can do to heal, regardless of how dreadful and controlling your situation is or was. You need to be willing to change, take risks, and be true to yourself.
Lloyd Evan’s tome, The Reluctant Apostate: Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses Comes at a Price, is an important addition to research on the history and inner working of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization. The book unfolds as a memoir, but then delves into the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and examines policies that hurt and entrap members.
Evans has done a fine job of pulling from previously written resources that outline the history of this organization that claims to be God’s sole channel on earth. Some of the resources are no longer in print or are difficult to find, so Evan’s work ensures the information will continue to be accessible. Evans then adds to the research by discussing issues that deserve more inquiry, such as the ban on accepting blood, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and the destruction of families due to the Watchtower’s shunning mandate.
The book opens with the questions and teachings that led to Evans disassociating himself from the organization. As he tells his story, he tells the readers the things he learned along the way. He spends time looking at the early presidents of the Watchtower Society, and asks questions like, “If this organization is God’s spokesman, why were its main leaders involved in scandal and acts that are illegal or immoral?” He offers citations and quotes to show what eye witnesses at that time reported.
Some may dismiss this and say, “That was so long ago, what does it matter, since the light gets brighter and brighter? That was then. This is now.” Evans answers that it matters because the dishonesty has never stopped. It matters because people are still being hurt and dying because of policies the leaders set. He cites the example of what followers were told about vaccines, and then how they were later told it was acceptable to get a vaccine. He asks questions like, “What about the people who obeyed and did not get vaccines during the years Watchtower discouraged vaccination? What about those who died from a preventable disease?” He shows the same trend with organ transplants and blood. How many people must die?
Evans brings the reader to the present day and discusses the policy commonly referred to as the “two witness rule.” Within the organization, if a person is accused of sin, they cannot be found guilty unless there are two witnesses to the sin, or an outright confession. Evans show that the policy is a disaster when it comes to a Witness who is accused of molesting a child. Pedophiles depend on secrecy and when a child is targeted, the Organization’s policies often prevent multiple things from happening. 1. The wrongdoer may go free because no eye witness, other than the child, is available. 2. The wrongdoer can continue to have access to children and target other children. 3. The police are not informed. 4. The victim gets no justice. 5. Other parents are not informed and are unable to protect their children; this includes both Witness parents and parents whose children may be approached as a pedophile Witness knocks on their door while holding a Watchtower magazine.
Even when the Watchtower Organization has been confronted on their policies, they refuse to change, as Evans shows through an examination of the Australian Royal Commission’s review of Jehovah’s Witnesses response to child sexual abuse. (Google the Australian Royal Commission and Jehovah's Witnesses and see the results yourself.)
This book is written for three audiences: current Jehovah’s Witnesses who may have questions, a curious person who is not involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses (to whom the writing may serve as a warning), and the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community. Throughout this work, Evans points the reader to current sources like YouTube and websites so that the reader can do further research.
The book ends with Evans offering an alternative definition of cult that is not dependent on group size. He argues that the larger a group is, the less likely it will be identified as a cult. But that alone cannot be a determination. He suggests looking at the harm caused by the group, but ultimately Evans argues that all religion could be considered a cult because people are not truly free from influence, and must suspend facts and science to believe (This is my interpretation of what Evans proposes as a definition of cults).
The Reluctant Apostate spans over 125 years of Jehovah’s Witness history. It adds to the research in a significant way. Coming in at over 700 pages, it is an intimidating work. I digested it in under a week, but I was familiar with some of the primary research that Evans related. I think this will be a significant resource for thinking people everywhere. Ex- Witnesses everywhere owe a debt to Evans for this work, which will bring further exposure to the Watchtower Organization and bring freedom and healing from the damage caused by it.
"The Golden Rule for chasing away the ghosts of cult indoctrination is and always will be 'the three R's': Research, Research, Research!" Evans page 667.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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