Keep up with all the chapters at the book page of Facing Hate: Overcoming Social Smearing, Recovering Relationships, and Rebuilding Your Reputation.
Domestic abuse victims often take photos of the truth: burns, scars, bruises, etc. Photos are indicting, and they become strong evidence in convicting abusers of their crime. But where there is no crime, there can be no photo. And, indeed, there was no photo to help the online world validate the initial claim that the Jeub family was the “house of horror” the tabloids wrote about. Still, for some, the claim alone was validation enough to make their judgment against us. I realize today that much of my defense was relevant only to the rational and civil-minded, those seeking the truth of the matter. But I had learned, from the lips of my daughter’s friend, that for so many in her online generation, “the truth doesn’t matter.” Thus, the online world left little to be salvaged for the accused abuser.
What is this thing you call “truth”? This is the online mob’s presumptive question of which it cares little for an answer. If someone presumes no measurable, objective truth by which to live, that person is free to live by his or her own created “truth.” To any problem that presents itself, any predicament that arises, any question asked about life, the answer for the mob is, “Whatever.” No evidence is needed, no further research necessary. The end justifies the means, so smearing another human being regardless of the truth is perfectly justified to the collective judgment of the mob.
This is the antithesis of academic debate, at least how I have taught it for two-and-a-half decades. I entered the activity in 1995 and found it to be the perfect truth-seeking activity I craved as a young teacher. Debate is the educational activity of placing two opponents against each other in a controlled arena of competition, both to argue the two sides of a proposition. I taught my daughters how to think strategically through the most controversial policy and value debates, to seek corroboration for their claims, to anticipate cross-examination of their ideas and answer confidently.
Much of the smear that I faced online portrayed me as a legalistic, dogmatic dad, a “my way or the highway” kind of jerk who had little patience for anything other than my own judgments. Every aspect of my teaching — years of curriculum development and study of debate technique — taught the exact opposite of the online narrative from my adversaries. Understand how debaters come to the truth: Faced with a proposition, they hold their opinion and first let their research guide them. Second, they formulate claims with the evidence and expert guidance (not their own) forming strong validation for any contention they propose for their case. And, third, they anticipate opposing arguments, rationally address them while developing well-rounded responses to help convince the judge. Even after all this analysis and justification for the sake of truth, they hold themselves open to correction, further research and alternative views that will help modify or strengthen their position. In a sentence, debaters are the kindest, most open-minded, most nonjudgmental people I know.
Social smearers are the exact opposite. They turn the rational process of debate on its head. Claims are made before any research is gathered, and research is seldom required at all. Accusations are made early in the process of truth seeking, as few care for the truth anyway. If the claims are not fabricated altogether, they are purposely exaggerated in order to shock the judge into condemnation of the defendant. The claim is usually so vile that the judge — in social media, this is the mob of strangers watching from their elevated social media platforms — will seek no validation for the claim. Any attempt at defense is beaten down and shamed.
Social smearers are not debaters at all, then. They are bullies.
It took me a long time to understand that I was not able to change the archenemy of my debate theory, even when they were my own daughters. Worse yet, I had to come to terms with the fact that my daughters — trained in persuasive strategy — knew their audience better than the average “truth is relative” millennial. They easily persuaded the gullible mob to go along with their enticements, like ignorant, emotional rubes whipped up to use their keyboards and phones as pitchforks and torches. My daughters knew the questions before they were asked, and they leveraged the online world to make sure their smear was as damaging as possible. I was banned from convincing anyone online that I was innocent of the charges, for the measurement of my guilt or innocence was not the truth, as all crime should be. The mob was my judge and jury. There was no winning in this kangaroo court.
It doesn’t help my situation much, but I find some solace that I am not the first victim of angry mobs. I think of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, the fictional account of a black man convicted of rape in the 1930s. His defense was reasonable and convincing, but the town mob overwhelmed the righteous path and, instead of acquitting him, killed him. And there’s no doubt that this story resembled many other lynchings throughout history. The Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century were rigged affairs that left no option of a genuine defense to the accused, torturing them until a “confession” was made and they either died from the torture or were sentenced to death after their confession. Strange, isn’t it? They used an awful, barbaric method of torture to “find the truth,” but it was no truth at all. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ likewise came about when a mob overrode Pontius Pilate’s assertions of his innocence. Study this passage (John 18:28-40) and you see stark similarities to social smearing. Pilate advocated for Jesus’ freedom, but he relented to the angry mob calling for his crucifixion. “What is truth?” the governor inquired of Jesus. But he didn’t wait for a response, instead pressing on, sentencing our Savior to death.
These days, we metaphorically refer to unjust trials as “modern-day lynchings,” “witch hunts” and “crucifixions.” In all of these examples, the truth was relative, a preconceived conclusion that justified the hanging, torture or lashings that preceded the inevitable deaths. Debaters never believe claims that are not duly briefed and researched, and they are taught to resist the fallacious appeal to sympathy from the most egregious claims. Conversely, our brave new world of social media participants are arrogant and unjust, quick to judge, gleeful ruiners of reputations without any inquiry or investigation. They surrender to their primal instincts. They let their hate guide them.
The online world we live in today can be awful. It can be a hell on earth. The socially smeared are hanging from nooses, burning at the stake and hanging on crosses along the horizon of the internet. Is there any freedom from this injustice? There is, but for me there was first a valley of death that I had to traverse. It left my heart most heavy, like a rock.
The successes of my recent past with two of my daughters caused me to reach out to my oldest daughter, the one who was the central focus of our TLC show nearly a decade prior to our social smear. She was now living with a man and had two other children with him — all three of whom we were forbidden to see. I attempted to approach the young dad as I had approached the other men in my daughters’ lives. I hoped he would be much like the others, eager to have my daughter reconcile with her parents and perhaps return to the semblance of a loving family. Instead, he declined any of my attempts to connect, and my hopes were crushed.
All of my daughters, by this time, had mostly puttered out from lambasting their family with fabrications of childhood abuse, which was good. This oldest one retreated to her boyfriend and his family, buying a home and applying her skills to a career that brought them modest wealth. The other shifted her blogging to bizarre, experimental writings of spiritual prophecy, mental illness, and leftist activism. I couldn’t bear to keep up with them. It is extremely painful to see a gifted child walk away from the foundations of their upbringing. Even more troubling was seeing how many people followed her down her dark and dreary path. Many would encourage her, call her “brave” and “fearless,” and even support her financially through her Patreon campaign that claimed she was working on a book that would further expose her family of all sorts of fallacious crimes. Some even followed her down the path of posting whatever stories in their own pasts they could come up with to socially shame their own parents. It pained me to see my daughter’s writing skills — no doubt her persuasive debate powers that I raised her with — being used to promote debauchery and hatred.
This was the darkest valley of my life. Few people have understood the depression I faced. Our family psychologist — as well as my sister, a school counselor with a masters degree in psychology — suggested I struggled with symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both had professional experience with PTSD, particularly dealing with war veterans. When a war veteran — who has experienced horrors far beyond what they expected — returns to civilian life, friends and family want to know what it was like. But the veteran doesn’t want to explain it. Even when he does try to explain it, it never compares to the actual experience, an experience the veteran didn’t want to explain to anyone in the first place. This leads others to misjudge and misunderstand, but the veteran just wants to return to his pre-war self. It’s a stress that follows the trauma; the veteran cannot solve it, and we call the symptoms of all this PTSD. It is a dark and lonely journey.
Trauma is also common for the socially smeared. No one really understands it until it happens to you. The weight of a social smear — the embarrassment, the injustice, the cruelty you face, the paranoia that sets in — is the most traumatic ordeal I have ever experienced. It was like I was stripped naked and lashed in the public square, surrounded by jeering judgment and ridicule from the gathering mob. And though I had returned to civilization and restored many of my relationships in the aftermath, I had trouble explaining to anyone the suffering that I withstood. People tried to encourage me, but no encouragement lifted me from my depression. And the more I tried to explain myself, the more hopeless I got about my situation. It truly was a disorderly stress following a significant trauma.
I remember feeling like no one understood me, even my closest friends and family members. Friends would ask how I was doing, and I would smile and mouth an “OK” or a “fine,” but secretly I would be thinking, “I don’t even want to begin to explain how awful I feel.” It would do no good; they wouldn’t understand. My children — the older ones still at home — moved on emotionally and socially within a year or two. They would ask me why I still held onto the past, resilient as they were. Even Wendy grew impatient with me and my depression, feeling that I should let go of the trial and move on with life. So on April 13, 2017, I attempted to explain to my family what I was still going through. I penned this letter, a letter I never sent:
It has been more than two years since my daughters began their brazen attacks against our family. They used every tool they could muster to bring us ruin. I would like to say that they failed, but I need to humbly offer that they succeeded. I can’t win this fight. I am in ruin.
I struggle nearly every day with depression. A weight of despair haunts me. The smallest task at hand becomes a difficulty. Sometimes my knees buckle and I lie in bed. My humor leaves, I sigh heavily, and I frown often. People try to remind me of my many blessings, but I do not believe them. Instead, I wallow.
I struggle with work. I was once a teacher, an educational cheerleader, an enthusiastic evangelizer for debate. I had many great people supporting me and my work. Some have tried to continue at my side, but all have kept a comfortable distance. No one really backs me, for I remain accused of heinous crimes against innocent children. And because I have refused the debate, they ask, “What does he have to hide?” I’m deemed guilty without a defense.
I struggle trusting anyone. I do not trust that my children will grow in truth and greatness. They will likely turn on me and on God, perhaps join my prodigal children, when they are tempted to take up their story. Distant relatives were not supportive. Closer ones were, or at least they thought they were. At best they believed me and felt bad for my trials, but no one stood up and called out my adult children.
In their own way, everyone believes they were supportive. Even people who sympathized with [my daughter] believed that they were being helpful. Those who directly betrayed me—past friends and family cousins—had some twisted idea that they were helping my family. They prejudged this problem to be my problem, somehow the end-result of my fathering — too strict, too conservative, too religious, too much into debate. They wanted me to fess up and accept my penance, my punishment, my pain. I somehow deserved it, and denial would only prolong my suffering.
I guess my punishment is trying to raise a home in God’s love. Peace, love in God and one another, goodness for all. In a way, this is my prayer: God’s Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. But no one believes me. They think I am pretending, that I am the fabricator of lies and my children’s deceit is a byproduct of my deception. In their judgment, I am a mastermind and Great Deceiver, someone who spins his lies to control others and wield power.
This is the reason for my great sadness. I have been targeted—successfully—to be killed and destroyed. My flaw was not in my intention to build peace, love and goodness for this world. It was in my desire to build these values the best I could in my corner of worldly influence. I was doing a pretty good job. And I looked forward to sharing in the prosperity with others through my ministry, my work, and my family.
The Resistance made sure that it would not spread, even to my own children and family. My sadness is as real and consistent as the morning. This is my war. And I have lost it.
Wendy found my computer open to this letter, and her response was not pleasant. We had drifted apart and, like I shared, she was growing irritated with my depression. We have different perspectives of how this happened, and let me first explain how she saw it. She saw depression as a weakness, a surrender to the fight that I should have been participating in more heartily. Wendy would say to me often that I should forget my daughters, focus instead on my many other children, get on with life, and ignore the social smear. I was misinterpreting my ordeal, letting it ravage our lives rather than overcoming it. She believed I was feeding my depression, and this led to an emotional spiral downward that caused many of our family problems. The rest of my children needed a dad, my business needed an executive, and my wife wanted back the man she married. Indeed, I was not the man I used to be. And my wife felt that she had been more than patient with me, for quite long enough.
Did it matter if I was offended by this? I felt that Wendy was quite cruel to me at this depressing time in my life. Years prior when the twins were born, Wendy suffered from anxiety attacks. I was 100% supportive, all-in with the task of keeping Wendy protected during this vulnerable time. That fact made it all the more easy for me to feel now like she was dropping me cold when I went through a similar anxiety, mine in the form of depression. I had wanted to fight online, but Wendy thought it served no purpose, so I felt my fighting spirit being suppressed, like a warrior whose wife begs for him to stay home from battle. I saw ignoring the social smear as putting blinders on, giving up, not fighting! This idea spiraled me further into depression, giving Wendy more reason to blame me for our stress, and matters compounded as time rolled on.
I will never forget the fight we got into in the driveway, remaining in our car to hide our shouting match from the children. I had suggested Wendy get a job to help with our financial struggles, and she tried to convince me that that was quite impossible. Our schedules, skills and ideals were built around me being the breadwinner, she being the runner of our children’s activities. I could not see a break in my finances, and she could not see a break in her duties either. She continued to blame me for the problem, and I pressed for her to help out more. Wendy saw herself as giving me a kick back to reality, and I saw her as resisting work that would help alleviate our financial stress.
You, dear reader, are right now probably judging me or my wife. You either agree with Wendy that I should get off my duff and get back to work, or you agree with me that Wendy should put in her fair share and quit depending on me so much. Can you see how we were headed for disaster? I used to easily judge couples who would divorce following a family trauma. A child dies, a teen rebels, a bankruptcy is suffered. “I guess it shows troubles were going on already,” I would quip. But I get it now. Circumstances do lead to failures, and shame on me for ever assessing failure as merely a sign of underlying troubles. My own case in point: The social smear from my daughters nearly ruined our marriage, and it had not one thing to do with troubles that were already there.
This was so different from the way we used to be. Wendy and I started our marriage with rock-solid counsel and direction. We would pray every night together, committing to each other in all we set out to do. We walked together in unison through all of life’s trials. I believe we once had the best marriage in the world. Now, sitting in the car being reprimanded like a child, I felt like calling it quits. Wendy was so seething angry, she considered the same. For the first time in our marriage, we both saw divorce as a viable option. This was the lowest moment of our life together.
I’m glad to say that we didn’t give the devil his due in this regard. Here’s how we battled the infernal temptation: We hiked. We live a mile away from Colorado’s largest woods, the million-acre Pike National Forest. Mt. Herman overlooks our little town of Monument like a mound of greatness, offering miles of trails to pack into. Wendy and I now had our own mountain to move, that of our marriage. We refused to justify a separation. Instead, we packed our backpacks with lunchmeat, deli cheese and a bottle of red wine. We proceeded to spend several afternoons in the mountains of Monument.
Therapy is expensive, so we got quite the deal venturing into the mountains with only the expense of a backpack full of goodies. We hiked into the pine forests to find a perfectly secluded spot for a picnic. I’d lay out a blanket, we’d set up our humble hors d’oeuvres, pop open a bottle of wine … and converse. Our phones were off. Our minds and hearts were on. We discussed the latest happenings in our family drama, and we would strategize how to handle our troubles. This was so, so important to dealing with our social smear. But more importantly, this gave us time to deal with how the social smear affected each of us — each of us differently — to help heal our relationship wherever we fell short.
We found our favorite spots. One was quite far in on a wooded peak that gave us a peering view between two other peaks, like pillars on each side of an overlook to the Monument valley. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for a lone, dead tree spearing up through our majestic view. So one day I brought a hatchet with us. I chopped it down as Wendy cheered me on. It was at least 10 inches thick, so it was no easy task. Wendy drank her wine while I huffed and puffed and sweated. She laughed at me as I swung, chop after chop. But when it fell, we cheered together, our cheers echoing into the wild. Now the view was wide open and free of death. I laid back on the blanket in exhaustion, proud of my triumph, so happy to have my wife believing in me again. We made love on the blanket, then sharing more wine with cheese and crackers. What a wonderful moment in our marriage.
Let me take a moment to speak to the couple “facing hate,” whatever the social smear or family trauma. Do not let your marriage crumble. There will be temptations to abandon each other, the thought being that ruin with your partner is the lesser of two evils. Don’t believe it. Resist with all of your heart and strength! Cleve to each other by finding your escape routes of joy. For Wendy and me, it was a cheap bottle of wine with some picnic munchies. We had God’s beautiful Pikes National Forest to venture into. You have other spots. Other places. Wherever God leads you, go. Never let the wedge of separation tempt you into thinking a better path exists. You and your beloved will make it through this terrible time, and you will be stronger together.
I haven’t yet shared much about my spiritual predicament through all of this. Honestly, I’m not proud of it. I had been a professing Christian since I was 17, quite the heralded spiritual leader in my circle of friends and, later, the Christian publishing world. You would think I would overcome my depressing circumstances — like so many patriarchs of scripture, martyrs of the faith, even Jesus Christ himself. I always anticipated myself responding to life’s unfair persecution in similar fashion as them.
Instead, I had become such a pathetic let-down. I felt like God had become an uncaring deity intentionally putting me through immense pain, forcing me to my knees crying for mercy. I recall a screaming prayer that seemed nearly blasphemous at the time. “Enough!” I raged through clenched teeth, as if I should be commanding the Creator of the Universe. I was dangerously upset with my Lord and Savior. My religious friends would try to console me. “God will make you stronger through this trial,” was a common, carefree attempt at encouragement. Thanks, but no thanks. Here was another spiritual cliché: “God doesn’t give you a cross you can’t carry.” Are you kidding me?! If the life of public shame and humility was somehow the life God had ordained for me, I didn’t want any of it. My faith shriveled and froze to the nihilistic depravity of an angry, agnostic unbeliever.
I now realize that this was precisely where God wanted me, but for a long while I thought it was a divine act of cruelty. I’m glad to say that just like my marriage did not crumble, neither did my faith in God. I cannot say it was easy, pleasant or even merely hard. And it was hardly pristine. You may reject my view of the divine if you like; we can still be friends and learn together from my exit from my social smear. But please don’t reject my story simply because I profess faith in a God who cares more for me than I do for myself. My story has much to say about the tumultuous world of social smearing. I cannot, however, get away from the miraculous removal of the dark mountain that loomed before me.
Though I was locked away in my prison cell of shame, miracles — yes, out-of-this-world miracles — came about that I could not have possibly orchestrated myself. Just look at my story so far: it seems so unbelievable that it appears fabricated. Seriously, I just “ran into” my daughter at a Rush concert thronged by 20,000 fans? I had just been talking about a strategy of what to do when I might meet her? And my other daughters just “happen” to court men who counsel them back to my home? Were these “coincidences”? Just chance happenings?
Wendy and I spent many hikes talking of such things. Her faith was always stronger than mine, and she seemed to think I should let go of my circumstances and be just as strong. Forgive me, wife of my youth, but I found this difficult to do. I felt abandoned and betrayed. This was not the trial I signed up for! Drag me into the street and threaten my life. Fine. But strip my family from me and ravage my reputation online? I didn’t foresee this trauma, and I want no part of it.
One of our ventures into the national forest was the day before Valentine’s Day. Love wasn’t on our minds, but we trudged loyally into the forest together. Our hearts were in a tender and vulnerable place. We had shared several deep cries at the top of the mountain peaks over the previous winter. If God was with us, he was with us in the mountains, in the wild, at those heartbreaking moments.
Being the day before Valentine’s Day, we gave ourselves a bit more time. We ventured off the beaten trail and cleared a small peak on the backside of Mt. Herman. It seems like every rock has its own character, and the rocks we carried in our chests in place of our hearts were the most unique among them. Our mood was an awkward mix of glee and glumness, enjoying our hike but mourning our social smear. We didn’t see much hope in our situation at the time.
We took an alternate way down. Great boulders peppered this side of the mountain as we zigzagged our way toward home. We climbed one small hump to dead-end into a giant rock three times the size of any man. It was such a surprise! We stood in near disbelief, not believing our eyes at first. The bolder was a near-perfect shape of a heart, standing straight above us, hidden from the main trail but clear as day before us now. “Look, Wendy!” I cried. “It’s our Valentine’s Day rock!” We laughed and then cried at this discovery we could have easily missed walking by in our sorrow.
I suppose there are a million metaphors we could have drawn from this discovery. Are we hardened? Are we hiding our true hearts? Is God showing us something wrong that we should take notice of? Here’s what I think. God wanted to show us that he’s got our hearts on his mind. It wasn’t a harsh or hard or hindering sign. It was playful. Millennia ago, God dropped this heart-shaped rock in the middle of a million-acre forest, and he already knew that two middle-aged lovers would walk by it on the eve of Valentine’s Day. It is a massive boulder to us, but to him it was a tiny dab from his creative brush. I envision him smiling when he tucked this boulder into the side of our mountain.
This was just like God as I once knew him. He has a sense of humor, showing himself in simple ways that urge me to ponder his greatness and his friendship. I may not have my life figured out, but God does. He’s okay with my questions and my doubts, and he’s got Wendy and me in the palm of his hands. He’s the Ultimate Gamer, leading us to higher land in the tumultuous waters of life. I wasn’t sure where this journey was going to take me, but God wasn’t about to let me go. He seemed to want to let me know that he had my back, and that this difficulty was not going to go to waste. It was impossible for him to do otherwise. His love was settled, like a rock.
I know how devastating social smearing can be, but there is hope, and it is in the truth. “The truth will set you free,” Jesus said two millennia ago, and his words ring true more so today than ever. I have found that when I center on the truth of a smear — no matter how outlandish or dramatically false — I have overcome the damage of the smear, learned more about myself and my relationships with others, and even reconciled with those who have participated in the initial attacks. I hope this resonates with all those suffering the impacts of social smearing — ruined reputations, divorces, lost careers, devastated lives — because I believe I have found the path out of the darkness you’re experiencing.
I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There was a purpose to my trial through social smearing. Or, perhaps, God was going to use this social smear to do something big. Now that’s a walk I signed onto when I became a Christian years ago. To do something big, to show others the saving grace of Christ, to bring heaven on earth. That’s what God had in mind for me, my family and even those couple of daughters who remained in the clench of darkness.
When you’re presented with the unbelievable — that which is impossible and shakes your understanding of life and how the world works — you run the risk of embracing unbelief itself. This is what nearly ruined me, but God helped me overcome my doubts. I had children who were possessed with some sort of wicked interpretation of life, much like the demon-possessed mentioned in the bible. I’m not one to look for demons behind every bush or even to suggest that my daughters had succumbed to demonic influence, but I identify with the father in the book of Mark who begged Jesus to heal his son of his possession. Jesus’ answer? Belief. “Everything is possible for one who believes,” he said. I now, more than ever, understand this dad’s response: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).
Just in case you’re struggling to believe this mountain-moving story, I took a picture of our beloved Heart Rock as proof. I also have a photo of my daughter and me at the Rush concert, along with wedding pix from my other daughter’s magnificent mountain nuptials that included our whole family. Tucked away in digital folders and physical albums are also countless images of my smiling family living everyday life while showing the love and joy that is so much the truth of who we are. The truth does matter, and the truth is we are not abusers. We are a large, loving family. We look out for one another and protect one another. I’ll yell it from the mountaintop: Chris and Wendy Jeub are good parents who do their level best to help and love and guide their many beautiful blessings through the difficulties of life. The proof is in the pictures. The truth is there for all to see.
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