The Legacy of the Worldwide Church of God

What it was like growing up in a cult and its impact on my life and others like me.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Up close and personal

I write this blog from my personal experience because I want the reader to understand how the Worldwide Church of God impacted my life. It was devastating for me to realize everything that I was taught about religion wasnt necessarily the truth. Especially so because I built my life around the belief that it was so. I will be 41 soon and it is only over the past few years that I have finally felt like I have found myself and lived my life with true meaning.

I come from lower middle class. My father based his income off the land. Farming, hunting, and fishing. My mother stayed at home and only worked through our church years. (I believe this was so she could tithe to the church as my dad was not a church goer and would not give my mother access to finances.) My father worked hard and let my mother handle household things which included for the most part raising me the daughter. My mother came from very strict Baptist parents. Some of my mothers ancestors were ministers and the family originally from Europe. My mother swears even to this day, with much pride, that there is Jewish blood in her line and so this leads me to believe that she still believes in the British Israelism ties the Worldwide Church of God taught.

It is ironic that my mother left her Baptist church after accusing the preacher of stealing money. I remember I was very young, around 5ish, when my mother began attending the Worldwide Church of God. I started learning from that day on how important religion was to my mother. Saturday sabbath keeping became very important. Pork and seafood were banned from the house. We read grocery labels so we wouldnt accidently get lard in our food. We were taken out of school to keep old testament holy days and also to keep from attending traditional Christian holidays. We stopped celebrating birthdays. I was told not to talk to anyone concerning our home life and especially not to my grandparents who strongly opposed my mothers views. My mother studied in her room for hours at a time. I spent a lot of time by myself, wandering the woods behind the house or in my room. I did occasionally play with neighbor kids but never participated in group activities with them. I was eager and longing to play with other kids. I would make up invitations to their houses and my mother would not check into those invitations very thoroughly. I think she was so emeshed in religious turmoil it was good to have me out of her hair.

I think this was where things first became difficult for me. I think about how it would have been if my mother were truly interested in me as a daughter and not so withdrawn inside herself considering religion. I dont speak of it often but I was molested as a child by older brothers of a neighbor child and in several instances by an uncle who continually exposed himself to me. The one childs parents were never home when I visited and I feel if my mother had checked into that she would have known. She never seemed too curious that I stoppped wanting to visit. The uncle lived next door to us along with other family members. My mother just assumed I was safer there I guess. But the result of this was the beginning of the shame and guilt I felt over sex and by religious standards how unclean I was. I remember learning about venereal diseases as a preteen and being terrified that I was going to die. My mother never discussed sex with me as a child or preteen. What I learned was from health class at school or in the sermons of the Worldwide Church of God.

I remember all too well a sermon I heard as a young teen. The minister told a story about a worldly girl who went to a party, dressed slutty and drank too much. She ended up being gang raped and choking on her own vomit. The minister went into detail about how all the alcohol was pushed back up her esophogus by the force of the rape. This is such an example of what we had to listen to as children. I was a young teen then but there were children of all ages listening. The moral of the sermon was that girls who acted worldly or hung out with the wrong crowds would die violently.

I remember that sermon I think especially because of my guilt. People had touched me inappropriately and I was unclean. Although I was techinically a virgin I had fornicated. And that was a sin. And sin was punishable by death. It didnt matter that I was just a child when it happened and it was not my fault. I still felt dirty and ashamed. Confiding in my mother about any of it was not an option. I thought I would be punished.

It is through my experiences I tell my children over and over that they should come to talk to me no matter what for any reason. I will never punish them for telling me the truth. I am on their side first and foremost. My oldest daughter recently lied to me. I knew she was lying and responded in a manner where she had to either be found out by her schoolmates or admit to me she was lying. I told her again that she could talk to me about anything and she finally admitted to me in a burst of tears that she had been lying. We then went on to work together to solve her problem, my daughter continually hugged me through the process, and I think we both benifitted. How I wish I could have talked to my mother. But she was beyond approaching. Our relationship was based on my being the good daughter and with that came being a good member of The Worldwide Church of God.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

People raised with no religion

Sometimes I get pre-occupied comparing people I know. Some are avid Christian church goers. Some like myself, were raised in cults or non-Christian sects. Some were raised with no religion at all. What makes the difference between a person with good values and a person with bad values? Does religion play that strong a factor in making us who we are or are we capable of knowing what is good and bad without that influence?

I recently attended the wedding of a good friends daughter. I have watched this young girl grow from a child into a 21 year old adult. Her family did not go to church. I guess you could call them passive Christians. If it came down to it maybe they would label themselves Baptists but they really didnt practice any religion whatsoever and didnt own a bible. The children never had any bible instruction. I marvel at what a geniune, sincere, respectful adult she has become. Giving and caring. Hardworking. I cant imagine her ever causing harm to another. I know her parents have loved her fiercly and stood by her through out her growing years with encouragement and family support.

My grandparents were devout Christians. Non-drinking. Regulars in their church which they attended twice a week. They constantly volunteered and helped others in need. My grandfather read the bible everyday. They were good people. They would never harm another. It always bothered me that the Worldwide Church of God preached that people like my grandparents would suffer in the tribulation for celebrating pagan holidays. I knew my grandparents were good people. They didnt deserve to suffer.

My friends daughter and my grandparents had different beliefs and yet they, in my opinion, are good decent people. They arent murderers, liars, cheaters, haters, or any other horrible things. They're just people. I was raised totally differently. I was raised to believe that anyone that didnt belong to the Worldwide Church of God was a gentile or unholy and unworthy of being one of Gods chosen people. And if you werent qualified to be a member of Gods chosen church you would suffer as non-believers should. The WWCG believed I shouldnt associate with people like my friends daughter or my grandparents because they are not Gods people. This in itself is a tragedy.

I no longer belong to the Worldwide Church of God.

I believe there is a God and he created ALL of us for a some yet unexplained reason. The capacity for good and bad is there for all of us. I think when we are surrounded by genuine, unconditional love we thrive better than when surrounded by hate and discontent. Maybe it is the teacher that is the key. Are the people that are teaching us morals doing it for the good of the student or to serve themselves? My life was in despair until I came to the realization that the things I learned were taught to me by people who didnt have my best interests in mind. They twisted religion to suit themselves. I think I am a much better person now that I have left that religion behind. Now I can find good in all different kinds of people and try to encourage others to find it too. Anyone can do that. With or without religion.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Petition to Congress

I have a friend whose family has suffered abuse by the hands of Jehovahs Witnesses and whose abusers were protected by that church. Her organization is doing a lot to promote awareness of spiritual abuse and is a worthy cause. She sent me some information concerning one congressman, Stephen F. Lynch who they hope will help them. There will be a meeting Monday May 9th at 10:00am in Boston to discuss the issuses of sexual abuse and abuse in churches and what can be done about it.

For more information see this link:

info@silentlambs.org

There is also an online petition to congress which can be signed:

http://www.amatteroftruth.org

Abusive spiritual groups practice control of their members and protect their leadership for their own gain. Abusive leaders should be held accountable for their actions. A good leader gives of himself and his organization and doesnt bring harm to his own members.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Can I find faith after being raised in Herbert W. Armstrongs church?

I was raised as a child in the Worldwide Church of God and left in the mid 80's before any of the changes that later took place after the death of Herbert Armstrong. When I left the church I had just about given up. I couldnt progress in life without feeling that all was meaningless. I would never measure up to the churches rigid old testament standards without feeling pathetically outcast and inadequate. I never felt I would get to really live my life without being persecuted and rejected by God. I chose to go on with my life the best way I knew how at that point, however, and practiced no religion.

But almost 20 years later when 911 happened, I became scared. What if this was the beginning of the tribulation the church had warned us about. I wondered if now my children would suffer in the tribulation because I had sinned and left the church. I became distraught and started searching to renew my church ties. But where was the church? My local congregation was gone, all moving on to main stream churches after the newly appointed pastor generals doctrines shifted towards main stream Christianity. My mother, the one who had gotten us into the church in the first place, now went to a Sunday church. I was angry with her explanations. After years of enduring guilt and shame from her for not toeing the church line, now she didnt believe their original doctrines anymore. I was raised to believe their doctrines meant my life or death.

It is ironic through all the time that I was trying to renew my church ties that I had been praying for God to show me the truth. What was the truth about the Worldwide Church of God? The irony came when I stumbled on The Painful Truth and Ambassador Watch web sites and learned about the deceitfulness of the original Worldwide Church of God. The storys there opened my eyes and I do believe I finally found truth and reality.

But where do I go from there? The WWCG debunked everything I knew about modern Christianity. I cant sit in a mainstream church without thinking about the hypocrisy of people and religion in general. I truly feel there must be a God but as far as religion goes, sometimes I feel no one really has the true answers. Some are guessing, some are presuming, some are taking advantage of people for their own gain. I wish I could belong to a church again but that experience has devastated me. I have faith in God. Thats the best I can do right now.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Respecting Authority versus Good Values

I left the Worldwide Church of God in my early twenties, as a young adult. So I guess my version of the church is from the childs eye view. I have children of my own now so I am often pondering how to teach my children in the best way possible so that they have happy successful lives.

When I was a child, in the church and my home life, there was a big emphasis placed on respecting authority and respecting adults. You did not question adults in the church. It wasnt done. And the members of the ministry were beyond approach. Their word was law if you were to be a part of the kingdom of God and chosen to go to the place of safety to escape the soon coming tribulation. Sermons with repeated euphemisms were common. "There is a way that may be seem right to a man but there in lies death." Translated meaning: if you arent toeing the line you will suffer. "Many are called but few are chosen." The ministry had many select bible quotes to keep the members afraid of losing their salvation. Being a member meant giving till it hurt, complying with all the strict laws, offerings, and holy days, and long suffering.

But I often wonder about what the church did for the good and benefit of its members. I try hard to remember a feeling of a community that was doiing good deeds and its a hard stretch. The church was definately not a community that helped others outside the church at all. I remember selling doughnuts for our youth group but that went back into church expenses to my knowledge. But there was no emphasis in our church to better our community at all inside or outside the organization. We were preparing for another world and suppose to forsake the world we were in because it belonged to and was ruled by satan.

In todays world, I find I do try to teach my children to respect authority but with that comes another lesson. Not everyone in authority is honest and decent. There ARE those that take advantage of others with their positions. Be it a predator in a fake policemans uniform or a televangilist scavaging for donations. I want my children to look for the good in people. Does this person in authority give of their time and effort? Are they making a credible difference in someones life regardless of race, religion, and background. Is their help unconditional? Does the person expect things in return or are they truly giving of themselves? I hope my children learn to be givers. I hope they learn that a community that helps its members is better than one that persecutes its members when they make human mistakes.

I have respect for the "givers" in this life. We are all in the human race. I call no man God. Maybe if people stopped trying to play God the world would be a better respectful place.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Being single and dating in the WWCG.

There was quite a bit of hypocrisy about dating in the church and its attitude towards women. I found out that what was ok for the guys wasnt always the same for the girls. It was difficult. Your dating options in the church were limited especially so because the members were literally scattered across the state. Sometimes your options were narrowed down to those within a certain radius also which made it even more difficult. But the church honed in on not wanting its members to date outside the church. I remember sermons upon sermons about not being uneuqally yoked with outside members, coming out of the world, and seperating myself from unbelievers. But this didnt hold true when it came to all of the teenage boys.

It seemed that girls were supposed to reserve themselves exclusively for the boys. My mother allowed me to date outside the church which was surprising but as I matured closer to 18 the pressure to become baptised and adhere to the strict policies of the church became enormous. I didnt let the other kids know I sometimes dated outside the church. Once I was caught out on a date with a "gentile" by some of the other kids and the shame and the guilt I felt left me feeling so pathetic. But the stigma of outside dating was different for the boys. Two of the popular boys brought girls in from outside the church and not much was said. But as a girl in the church I wouldnt have dreamed of the humiliation I would feel if I brought one of my dates in. We just werent supposed to do that.

Even more humiliating was the fact that boys in the church thought they deserved pure, devoted virgins. I was totally mortified when one prospective dater told me it was his right to know if I was a virgin or not. What could be more embarrassing to a virgin than that? To be questioned about your non-existant sex life by a prospective sexual partner? And to be told it was their right to know?

I left the church in my early twenties. Part of it was the dating issues. I was scorned and humiliated in a great part because of rumours created by another person I had a disagreement with and the fact that I didnt want a future with someone I was dating in the church. That person went on to Ambassador College and I believe is still a part of WCG today. He wrote me scathing letters when I left assuring me I would suffer in the tribulation because of it. In a way, I think he is the one that is suffering.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What can we do about abusive spiritual groups?

I just recently corresponded with a woman I met who is a former member of Jehovahs Witnesses. She told me that there was a march on Washington this past week by her group of former members as well as ex-members of other abusive groups to raise awareness of the damage some of these organizations have on people. She says they go to Washington DC every year. Darn. I wish I had known!

There is much help over the web. The group I belonged to was obscure but Ive been able to join in with some former members to find comfort and support. But upon searching my local area Ive been unable to find any help groups or even for that matter anyone in any profession that understands how real and harmful being in some of these spiritual abusive groups can be. Surely there is a need? Sometimes I feel this all comes down to that fine line of freedom of speech and the people who take advantage of others in the name of religion. No one wants to trample on or edge their toe over that line. Is it taking a tiger by the tail to want some type of regulation of these groups? If we are trampling on free speech and stepping on the rights of individuals as promised in the constitution by regulating these groups than what else can we do? How can we better the lives of those damaged by these groups and what can we do to make sure this doesnt happen to others? I guess we just have to exercise that freedom of speech for now. I wish there was more. I hope someone hears me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Why do we let others control us in the name of religion?

I dont know if this is a question that can be answered. I feel that I was raised in a destructive church that had a huge impact on the course of my life. In a way I feel I didnt have a choice of my belief system because this is what I was taught by my mother and her choice of churches. And her choice of churches was a destructive cultic one. But why did my mother allow this belief system to control her life? Why did the others in the Worldwide Church of God allow the leadership to have such control of their lifestyles? (Even to the point of making marriage, business, and life choices for them?) Are people without any religious instruction at all evil people?

For the most part of my life I have lived feeling that life was worthless. That I was a bad person for forsaking the religion I was raised in and that I would be denied eternal salvation because of it. When I type this it seems extreme but in reality I did base a lot of my life choices on those feelings. And this was just the remanants of what I learned while in the church. But what about the people still in these destructive churches? Or other religions for that matter? What are we needing so badly that we allow others to dictate our lives?

For me I feel that it must be needing to belong. To feel wanted and loved for who we are. For the hope that there is meaning to all of this life. But do we find that when others dictate to us or do we find that inside ourselves and our own personal relationships with others and with God?

I think what bothered me most about belonging to a destructive organization was that they believed they were the only chosen few and that everyone else was evil. This bothered me because I knew there were genuinely good people that were not in my church. There are examples of people that do good all over the world. Why do some feel people that others who dont have a church affiliation are evil? And cant good come from inside us as opposed to what other people dictate to us? Sometimes I feel just as much harm and evil comes from religious groups as to those from outside religious groups.

The best I can hope for is that Im working towards the good and I live a fulfilling life. I give thanks to God as I know him but other than that I have to admit I just dont know the answers. I dont think anyone else has the answers either. We all just have our opinions and what we were taught as kids.

Monday, April 11, 2005

How the Worldwide Church of God stole my childhood.

In talking with others raised in the WWCG, Ive noticed a common thread with survivors is that many feel such regret for the years taken by the church. I know in a sense I do feel they took my childhood. Not just the childhood but my innocence and joy of childhood.

As a youth in the church I did look forward to my friends. And we did have some fun experiences many of which were just our time spent together as opposed to in church activities. We were all in the same boat, just trying to be kids in the middle of our parents religious ideals. But it wasnt the fun activities, the friends, or the good times that have stuck with me. Those are in the past. What has stuck with me is the lessons ingrained in my head. The words I heard for the years and years of my childhood. Even as children once we were able to read and write we were encouraged to study and keep notes during the church services. I think this might be bizarre to outsiders but church members kept literally detailed almost word for word notes on the 2 hour long services. How many 16 year olds do you know that have a library of church stenos and a personally color coded bible? (Green for holy day scriptures, Orange for Law scriptures. etc.) The WWCG was really big on the Law scriptures.

But through all the studying and sermons the WWCG version of God sunk in. To the WWCG keeping the law was what assured you a place in the church. Slightest transgressions were noticed and counted amoung the congregation. Even the slightest appearance of doing something wrong got tongues wagging. We were constantly reminded to be steadfast in devotion and law in order to be chosen.

So how did the church steal my childhood? In my thoughts. In my hopes. In my dreams. I have never expected to live my life to the fullest because the church preached the end of the world would be in "the next few years." They seperated me from the love of my unbelieving grandparents who moved away after not being able to convince my mother the church was harmful. They made me believe that God was the type of God who would torture my loving grandparents as non-believers. They took my confidence that I could accomplish something meaningful with my life because we were not to appear worldly or pursue worldly things. They took my mother because she chose the church over family. They zapped my hope and they zapped my joy for living in the lessons they taught me about their version of God.

I cant get my childhood back but I often joke with others that my childhood started at 40. Thats when I realized the church took those years but they dont have the rest of them. I can make the most of what I have left. I intend to do so.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Living Church of God and Despair

I havent yet discussed the Living Church of God massacre because I started this blog after the tragedy in Wisconsin. But this blog was a direct result of that event. There is a fine line between a persons right to worship the way they choose and the abuse they suffer at the hands of those who would take advantage of them for their beliefs. I lot has been said about Terry Ratzman. Why didnt he just quit the church? Why didnt he just walk away if the church wasnt right for him? How could the church control him to the point of murder and suicide?

How could the church control him to the point of murder suicide?

The end result is we are all responsible for ourselves. Terry Ratzman was a murderer. He could have walked away but he didnt. Something drove him to the brink of no hope, despair, and anger. This in point, is what my blog is all about. I do think the Worldwide Church of God (and its offshoots), from my personal experience, contributed. I think in some ways I can understand Terry Ratzmans despair. I felt that despair myself. I felt like I had a death sentence hanging over my head when I left the church. From the time I was a very young child I was taught that the consequences of not believing the Worldwide Church of Gods beliefs was a death sentence. Not only in physical body but the eternal soul.

The WWCG taught me that my present day life was fruitless. That the things that I wanted in this life were nothing compared to the future kingdom of God. That basically this physical life was meaningless. How was I suppose to feel? Our job was to hurry up and prepare for another world and not care about the people left behind. I firmly believe that Terry Ratzman felt no hope.

But I was able to find hope. With help and with yearning in my heart that there is something better than the church of Gods version of God. I dont think the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God and its offshoots know true compassion and joy. That would interfere with business. This is evident in much of the silence surrounding these offshoots and the Terry Ratzmann murders.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Worldwide Church View of the Pope

Scince the passing of Pope John Paul, I was thinking about all the crap the Worldwide Church of God use to preach about the Pope and his part in the supposed coming apocolypse. The Church practiced British Israelism. Meaning they thought they were descendants of the two lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh and therefore the chosen of God in modern day America and Britain. If the apocolypse were to come, the WWCG had to find an antichrist that opposed America and Britain. The speculation was rampant. The WWCG believed that a United Europe would be what triggered the end of time. The next Holy Roman Empire to destroy the world. But who would unite Europe and usher in the apocolypse? The Pope? I sat through many sermons as kid based on just this exact speculation. I remember when the first John Paul died so quickly. I was just a kid but the church was all excited and speculating that he died so quickly because the next pope was really the one who was going to start the apocolypse. How sick!!!I bet all the remnants of the WWCG are in a tizzy about who the next pope is going to be right now.

Why did the WWCG cling to Europe as the next Holy Roman Empire? What could be scarier to the congregation? Another Holocaust where Gods chosen are persecuted? How many times did the pastors mention how threatening a United Europe would be to the United States? They wanted us to fear. They wanted us to associate the Holocaust with the apocolypse. They wanted us to tremble in fear and speculation so that we would follow them without question in order to earn salvation and safety from the coming end times. They wanted to control us so that we would be more than willing to reach in our pockets to support the WWCG.

Being a leader means caring about the people you are leading. To the point of sacrifice to your self. The leadership of WWCG cared about self. Their selves. When it came to the suffering of its congregation there was no compassion. There is hope and joy for life but its hard to find it in the WWCG and its many offshoots.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cultish expectations

One of the things that is probably most bizarre to the average person is the humungous guilt and shame we former church members had over the weirdest things. Like actually missing a day at church or getting a shrimp in a salad unexpectedly. While members we were consumed with the fear of not adhereing to the strict dietary and religious laws. It was drilled into us how unworthy we would be if we didnt give 100 percent, faithfully to our religion.

Normal people get up and decide yes or no that they want to go to church on a given day. No big deal. But as a faithful wwcg member, I know the looks you would get if you miss one, just one Saturday at church. The sneerful, aha, you must be falling away, where have you been look. The...are you really worthy to be a member...look. If you missed more than one Saturday...the calls would come. "We're worried about you, when are you coming back to church. Whats going on with you." For me, after I missed more than a couple, I was told I couldnt come back to church until I counciled with the ministers about what I had been up to. Then came the...."You're making a mistake with your life" and "Is leaving the church worth your salvation?" Eternal Condemnation no matter what the cause. I remember well before I left the church the discust and scorn some would have for those that "fell away". Tsk, tsk.

And what about the feeling you would get if you accidently got a shrimp in your salad. Like you would instantly have to start hurling but not want anyone else to know. Pretending that you couldnt eat anymore and not wanting anyone to look at your salad too closely. Then praying to God that he forgave you scince you really didnt know there was a shrimp there. How pathetic. And how sad. Im so glad I dont live like that anymore.