(originally published on April 16, 2018)
To say it’s not easy leaving a cult is putting it lightly. Not only are you typically shunned by all family and friends that are still members, but you have to re-enter society after living in a bubble for such a long time. (As I’ve covered in other interviews, some people grew up in cults, making the transition into society only that much harder.) I could go on and on about how it’s not a “walk in the park” (again, putting it lightly) for people to just up and leave, but imagine being married with kids and your spouse refuses to not only leave, but you’ve now found yourself in a heartbreaking custody battle?
This is Mick Pillar’s story. I interviewed him about leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult recently. I am confident that you will feel a mixture of emotions reading this, shock, sadness, and hope. I’m very proud of Mick for not only being brave enough to leave the cult but remaining a wonderful father and making sure to use his voice to warn others about Jehovah’s Witnesses and refusing to stay silent.
Below is our interview. You may want to grab a tissue because this is both a sad and uplifting story!
- First off, I want to express how sorry I am that your wife chose to stay being a JW. I know you two have two beautiful children, ages 11 and 5. As blood transfusions aren’t allowed in the JW Cult, do you mind me asking what will happen if one of them will ever need one?
That depends. My wife and I have been separated for about a year and as of right now, are still not officially divorced and so a permanent decision has yet to be made about the custody of our kids. I’m hoping for a “shared parenting” situation where both of us would equally share in the decision making for kids. How this would apply to emergency medical procedures, I’m not sure. I imagine in that type of decision the courts would get involved. I would hope that in a life-threatening emergency situation they would put the health and safety of the child first and approve a blood transfusion. As a side note; my wife has rejected a shared parenting arrangement and is wanting sole custody. I can only assume that part of her motive in this is to ensure her right to refuse a blood transfusion for our children. So as you can imagine, I am very concerned about the outcome on this issue of custody.
- I’ve seen “educational” videos aimed at JW’s through the channel Telltale . I saw in one of his videos, as well as talking to other ex-members, that going to college and getting a high paying job is not allowed because the goal for members to devote all their time to the cult. (Examples I’ve heard, collecting money, knocking on doors talking about the Kingdom of Jehovah, attending meeting after meeting, and more.) Was this true for you, and have you been able to experience things like getting a regular job since leaving?
Higher education is strongly discouraged. The type of job a JW takes is not so important, as long as they are able to fulfill the many requirements that the organization expects of you. If a person stops fulfilling some of these obligations, they will start to feel pressure from people in their congregation. JWs believe that Armageddon will literally come any day now. They’re taught by their leaders that part of their salvation is based on their remaining active in the “preaching work.” So when you combine these two beliefs you get a thinking that says, “What good would a college education do me when Armageddon is so close?” And “The best use of my time is spent preaching and warning others about Armageddon.”
I was impacted from this type of thinking as well. My Mother was a devout JW and as such, I think she became scared that I would start to become too negatively influenced by “the world.” So when I was around 13, in grade 7, she pulled me out of public school and started homeschooling me.
This was and still is a big trend among JWs. Then when I was around 15 she let me start working part-time for a fellow JW as a house painter. I was eventually working full time at around age 17, before I had even graduated High School. Despite struggling for many years with low paying, jobs due to lack of a good education I am happy to say that I now have a great job working for my city’s Public Safety Department. This, of course is despite my JW upbringing not because of it. Besides the educational benefit to a college education, I feel that I, like so many JWs, missed out on important social experiences and growth that I could have had in those important developmental years.
(As a side note, I’ll provide a link to a Pew Research poll, which shows JWs as the least educated religious group in the US –
- It always breaks my heart when I hear about the mishandling of sex abuse among children. Do you know why the organization feels like this is permissible? How do they handle it when the child starts to show signs of depression and/or PTSD as a result of the sexual abuse?
There are two policies of the JWs that have caused some serious harm in the areas of child sex abuse. The first is the non-reporting of allegations of abuse to the police. The second is something known as the “Two Witness Rule.” This rule is based on a scripture that they have cherry-picked from the bible. The elders (local leaders) enforce this rule by stating that if a victim of child sex abuse cannot provide a “second witness” to their assault, that the elders should “leave the matter in Jehovah’s hand.” This basically means, DO NOTHING!
It should be said that the cause of these issues are the world leaders of this group, the “Governing Body.” They are the ones who write and enforce these bad policies that have resulted in so much unnecessary pain for children.
As to why it’s been permitted? – It’s simply a matter of Public Relations. Why address the issue and face losing members when you can cover it up? And they’ve done a very good job of this. Ask any practicing JW if they have a pedophile problem in their org and the answer will always be, ‘of course not.’ But the truth is now coming out! (I’ll reference some articles)
Regarding the coverup and findings in Australia:
Fined $4000 a day:
$66 Million class action lawsuit:
- You told me that your sister had already left the cult. Is she OK with you sharing her reasons as to what led her to make that decision? How did she feel when you decided to leave years later?
I asked her recently to fill me in on her reasons because I never really knew why she had left. She told me of one instance that contributed. It was the time our Mom got “disfellowshipped.” This term means typically someone has sinned and as a punishment, it is announced to the entire congregation that so-and-so has been disfellowshipped and this means no one is allowed to talk to that person. They are shunned. Well, this surprised our entire family because mom was quite the shining example of a JW. I was 18 and my sister was 13. My sister says this event opened her eyes. It helped her to see that even the very “spiritually strong” ones can purposefully decide to break the rules at times. I think this allowed her to begin to ask herself what she really believed. She also had friends who weren’t JWs who helped her get out at an early age.
I know she’s happy to have me out now also. She’s since told me that she spent a lot of time talking to others about the best way to help get me out of the cult. But she played me just right. Had she pressed me too hard on any issue, I would have gotten defensive and probably fallen further into the cult. She would talk with me about things just enough for me to question things without getting defensive. She definitely contributed to me waking up even if it probably took longer than she had hoped.
- How are your children doing right now? You told me that you want them to live a free and balanced life as well as educating them about the dangers of the JW cult. How will you approach this topic and will you have any support from people like your sister, who can back you up?
My kids are doing wonderfully! Thanks for asking about them. They are so resilient. Through everything this last year they’ve remained happy and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
Obviously, they’re the most important things in my life and so my goal now is just to raise them in as much a normal life as I can. This means letting them enjoy things the cult doesn’t, like celebrating birthdays and holidays and having friends who aren’t JWs. My sister and her husband (who aren’t JWs) have been an incredible help in this area. I wouldn’t have made it through this last year without them.
Still I know that my kids are going to be under constant pressure from their mom’s side of the family to conform to the JW life. So I realize I’m going to have to raise them to use critical thinking. But I’m honestly not too worried about them. They’re already starting to see the hypocrisy in that organization by the way I am being shunned by former friends and family.
They’re smart kids and with my help I’m sure they’ll avoid getting trapped in the cult.
- You mentioned being drawn to activism, including raising awareness about the cult. Can you tell us about what plans you have? Is there anything we can do to help/support you in your activism? What other issues are you passionate about?
Honestly, I’m not exactly sure yet. I spent 30 some years proselytizing as a JW. Now I feel like the least I could do would be to spend some time warning my community about the dangers of that group I once promoted so blindly. This may mean picketing, protesting, creating YouTube videos, street interviews or even door knocking.
I think the key to any type of activism is exposure and the sharing of information. So I would ask the public to take a little time to inform themselves about the dangerous side to the JW religion. Share this information with your family and neighbors and even with the next set of JWs who knock on your door.
Besides these JW specific issues, I’m looking forward to doing some things I was never allowed to, growing up in the cult. I want to inform myself of local issues and vote for the first time. I want to donate blood for the first time. And I want to do some real volunteer work with my kids maybe at local homeless shelters or wherever we can.
- It’s devastating that once people leave the JW cult, the ex-members are shunned by all their family and friends. How hard has that been on you? Are there any particular relationships you still hold out hope for? Have you needed to attend any type of support group or anything of that nature?
Well it’s been particularly hard because not only did I discover that everything I had been my whole life was a lie but at the same time I also lost my wife and most of my friends and family who would have been the ones to support me through such a revelation. The only way I made it through this last year is because of the help of my dad, my sister and my brother in law.
As far as hope – young people are “waking up” (coming out) of that organization every day and I still hold out hope for many I used to know. But one particular is my middle sister who is still a JW. She hasn’t shunned me at all and she has even let me and my youngest sister talk to her about what we know. I think with time and some encouragement she may wake up as well.
For those who have recently left JWs or any other high control group, I would highly recommend professional therapy. The influence these type of groups has on their members is tremendous and their effects can be long-lasting. If professional therapy isn’t an option I would recommend the many groups that exist on social media. The exJWs on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube have been an excellent help for me and so many. It’s important to talk about what we’ve gone through.
- Thank you again for taking the time for doing this interview. What does the future hold for you, and what goals do you have?
I can only guess what the future holds for me but I hope it includes plenty of fun times and happiness with my two best buddies, my kids. My goal is to shortly buy a house with lots of room for the kids to play and a garage where I can set up a little woodshop so I can tinker around while continuing to feed my increasing podcast addiction.
Thank you again, Mick. I applaud you for standing strong for not just yourself, but your two beautiful children. I have no doubt they will grow up to be outstanding adults and keep using your voice when it comes to speaking out against the cult.
You have both my support and the support of many others as well.