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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The fear of being unredeemable

Perhaps another one of my biggest fears about God that The Worldwide Church of God instilled in me is that if I knew and understood the truth as the WWCG saw it and then chose not to accept it, I would lose my eternal life. They considered this a deadly sin. To know the "truth" and to turn away from it. But doesnt every religion on the face of the earth teach, to an extent the same thing? They all want to be right. They all require submission to the church leadership.

Sometimes I still wonder if I am endangering my soul by not following a religion. But religion is basically all about having faith. And having faith is believing sight unseen what other men have taught us. And what if they arent teaching us right?

To me, my faith is believing there is a God. A God that is removed from the pettiness of this world. That remains unprejudiced against all people. That sees the good in people. That wants us to make the most of the life he gave us while we have it. That believes in love and compassion and forgiveness. I can have this faith without anyone telling me how I should be having it and what I should be doing to keep it. That is between me, my faith, and God.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Random thoughts on life post-cult

Ive been thinking about how happy and at peace with life Ive been feeling lately. Im comfortable with the person I am now and wouldnt trade my current life for anyone elses lifestyle. Im not happy that most of my life revolved around a religion that was created by an advertising guru for his own personal gain but that is part of who I am and what Ive become.

I believe in God, a creator. I thank him for my blessed life. But I do not practice a religion mainly because I believe they are man-made. I do know that as humans there are things that are wrong. Envy, hate, prejudice, murder, greed, lies, selfishness, deception, are rampant in our world. But there is also good. Love, compassion, caring, comforting, giving, selflessness.

The religion I was taught by the Worldwide Church of God was prejudiced against others. Although there was some caring and compassion amoung the general members at times, there was not much from the leadership. In fact the leadership expected us to seperate ourselves from and shun non believers. We were to hate the worldliness of others outside our religion. When the church talked of "the end times" they often talked of how we should not look back like Lots wife. We should selfishly leave others behind because God would destroy them for being non-believers. The general membership of the Worldwide Church of God often struggled to survive financially while the leadership prospered generously. We were often told that the lavishness of the leadership was how they opened doors to leaders worldwide. That they had to represent God in grand form if they were to preach the gospel to others.

I may not have a religion scince I left my cult behind but I feel comforted to know I am not taking advantage of others. I dont hate others that are diffent than myself. I will not take anything that I havent earned myself. I try to be compassionate to all people and give something back to my community. I have left behind the shame and guilt that a cult instilled in my beliefs. I realize that anyone can call themselves christian like and godly but not many actually act for the betterment of others. I no longer believe any man-made religion can assure me of anything. I am at peace with that.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Have we sold out God for religion?

As a child I was raised in what I deem to be a bad spiritual organization. (The Worldwide Church of God.)It was basically the only religion I have practiced and it has taken me many years to deal with the fall-out of the experience. Part of my dealing with being taken advantage of in the name of religion is studying everything I could get my hands on concerning religion and its origins. I was obsessed with finding out what religion, if any, was the right religion. The end result is that I havent found one. I often wonder if as humans, we have sold out God for religion.

Ive watched some interesting shows on the National Geographic channel concerning evolution and missing links. I still have a problem with evolution. It seems we are much too complex not to have been created by a God. But for practicalitys sake evolution of man seems plausible. But why was the practice of religion even first started? I can imagine some of the first men, without the knowledge that we have today being utterly terrified of natural disasters, animals, and other men as predators. Could their fears and the rituals that they began to perform to comfort and protect themselves be what originally started the "wheel" rolling on modern religion? Was it the fear of the unknown that created gods and demons and these rituals that we practice today?

It seems apparent much of religion first revolved around gods of nature and things that made early man prosper. But as man grew in knowledge religion became more complex. Controlling mans actions and setting up laws to govern became important. Managing the masses. And every group of people worldwide have developed their own traditions and religions to this day. But in our complexity we have become defenders of the religions at a cost to those that are different than us. Are we still that early man struggling with rituals of the unknown even though we have the intelligience to know what prejudice is and that hurting others is wrong? Are we so steeped into the practice of our religions and defending them against others we cant see that if we believe there is a God that he created us all? Not just a select few? Have we sold out God in honor of our religious tradition? I know my religious tradition was harmful and I no longer support it. I cant say that any religion is right or any religion is wrong. But I do wonder why God would go through the trouble of creating all of us to hate and murder each other. Or maybe we are the ones doing the name of our religions.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What will I do in the Wonderful World Tomorrow?

The Worldwide Church of God preached that Christ would return to the earth soon, destroy all unbelievers, and set up a new kingdom where all of us who qualified would reign with him. They painted a very rosy picture at times but often it seems through rose colored glasses. Probably the most often qouted bible verse for the world tomorrow was Isaiah 65 in which the ministers spoke of the blind seeing and God wiping away our tears. But what exactly was it that we would be doing for all eternity?

As a teenager in the church I think I was unsettled by the prospect of the tribulation the most. The ministers preached about this quite frequently. They often spoke of the "left behind" scenario. Where some would be taken to the place of safety while others would be left behind to suffer in the tribulation. One of our ministers in a sermon actually claimed that Herbert W. Armstrong might tell women to stop having children because the bible warns of the woe to come for women pregnant or nursing in the tribulation. It was hard for me to think this would be my future. No family or marriage. Leaving people I cared about behind. All to sit in the desert hideaway in Petra (the churches speculated place of safety) being controlled by the tyrannical ministers.

But to what end? Speculation was rampant. Supposedly we would become teachers to the wayward unbelievers and sit in Gods house on Earth with Christ as the head for a thousand years. But who would set next to Christ? Abraham? Adam? Could it be Paul? Or would it be Gods end time apostle Herbert W. Armstrong? HMMMM. So what would we be doing for 1000 years besides sitting in Gods house? And when does eternity start? Well thats where it gets interesting. First and foremost we are to be teachers of Gods laws and truths. So we get to be tyrannical ministers also? Well the men would but what was a woman supposed to do? We wouldnt be allowed to preach because that was a mans job. Were we supposed to teach how to be good wives and mothers? But are we mortals in the 1000 year reign or mini-gods? And if we are mini-gods then we arent going to be wives or mothers, right? So maybe Ill get to be the mini-god of teaching cooking. (With no lard or shellfish of course.) So Ill be teaching cooking for 1000 years and possibly eternity? But I thought the wonderful world tomorrow meant no more suffering?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Red Flag warnings you are involved in a cult.

Red flag, Red flag!

While I was growing up in The Worldwide Church of God cult there were several things that I knew were a little fishy and still other things I should have seen as red warning flags but didnt. There are many anti-cult sites on the web. The Rick Ross Institute for instance is a popular one. But I try to keep this blog on my own personal experience and so just wanted to mention a couple of the red flags I should have taken heed of.

Red flag warning #1.

A good religious organization does not continually guilt its members into contributions nor require them to tithe to secure salvation.

The leadership of my church continually preached that it was our duty to be long suffering and steadfast in our devotion to the church in supporting it financially. There were repeated appeals for monetary support in order to preach the gospel. Obeying the authority of the church was paramount and many sermons were given to us on submitting to the authority of the church in order for the work to go forward so that we all could usher in the kingdom of God and rule with Jesus Christ. My church told us it was our duty. We were told we would not suffer more than we could take if we truly followed the churches laws. We were told God didnt call many so we had better be steadfast and do everything we could to assure ourselves a place in Gods kingdom.

Red flag warning #2

A good religious organization works for the common good of its members and its community.

My church disassociated itself with the rest of the world. My church preached that members, being merely human, were detestable in the eyes of God. My church put everyone outside its church community into the controls of Satan. There fore considering anyone not baptised pagan, evil, and unclean. Although my church collected a third tithe for widows and orphans, I am unaware of any that benifitted from it. There was not a lot of giving back to the congregation. I remember one family that filed for bankruptcy and was reprimanded by the church for not working hard enough. We were required to support the church first, our families second, and disassociate from our communities.

Red flag warning #3

A good religious organization does not control your personal space as terms of salvation nor degrade and humiliate you.

My church told women they must wear dresses and men suits. Women should have long hair and men very short hair. Women could not perm or dye their hair nor wear make up. Disobeying meant being shamed, guilted, or being put out of the church. My church continually preached that being human meant we were depraved. Cast out from the prescence of God and lowly. That we were lucky to be in the church to have a chance of salvation but that salvation depended on adhereing to the strict old testament laws of the church and obeying the church leadership.

My whole blog was designed to help others recognize the red flags about their organizations so they dont get hurt the way I did. I will continue to post about my experience in The Worldwide Church of God because there are many splitoffs of that organization still out there, as well as other destructive groups. Religion is a freedom given to us in this country . But it is also a safe haven for con-men who can bilk members of money easily and not face prosecution for their crimes. I dont trust that any other man can assure me of my salvation. Do you?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Up close and personal conclusion...

Growing up in The Worldwide Church of God impacted my adult life in ways I wish I could go back and change. I wish I could relive all the lost years but that will never happen. I can only do something now and that is why I speak out. I dont want others to lose their potential to really give of themselves as opposed to being taken advantage of by other people in the name of religion. If I were to sum up my best advice concerning this whole ordeal it would be that no other human being has the right to tell you what salvation God has for you and what your relationship with Him is.

I believed The Worldwide Church of God leaders. I believed that they were my closest link to knowing and being accepted by God and when I left the church I was afraid I would suffer horribly for my mistakes. I felt like I had an eternal death sentence over my head. I felt this way because this is what they taught me. I started living my life like my life didnt matter because at that point I felt rejected by my mother, my church, and my church society. I didnt care what happened to me because I would never be worthy or able to be accepted by the most important people in my life. My life spiraled out of control. I got into a bad marriage to ease my conscience over past sexual sins. I still tried to make good of the bad in my life but it all seemed to get worse. By the time my first child was born I realized I needed to do something if not for myself than for my child. My childs father was violent and I knew none of us deserved to live the lives we were living. When the divorce went through a nasty custody battle I fought hard to just keep up the will to survive.

I had finally gotten to the point of my lowest lows. I think, at that point, if I hadnt of had a child that depended on me I wouldnt be here today. But I did hang on and eventually someone came along that grew to love and care for me genuinely and is with me today through all of this. I began to rebuild my life. I was starting to enjoy my life and thought I had everything I could possibly want. But still something felt so wrong. I still had this imposing feeling that I wanted to die. I couldnt understand my despair. Where was it coming from when I felt like everything else was so right in my life?

Then 911 happened and I became utterly petrified. What if this was the start of the tribulation the church had talked about? I was literally sick and terrified that now my children were going to be tortured because of my sins. I couldnt sleep because of the nightmares. I went desperately searching for my old church ties but they were gone. Finally through the internet I found old church members . But the ones I found were talking of other things. They were talking of a cult with deceptive leaders and they were talking about the church I was raised in. Suddenly my eyes were opened. My memories were opened up like big gaping bleeding wounds and I read stories of other kids that grew up hurting and feeling the things I felt. I poured over the stories crying because these too were the stories of my life, my fears, and my pain. I wasnt alone and I wasnt rejected anymore.

Im living a good life now. The past is gone forever, I cant get it back but I can speak out about what I went through and hope that it makes a difference. I am angry that others taught me that God was an angry vengeful God. I am angry that The Worldwide Church of God made me believe that I would not get to have a life because the world was going to end and I was unworthy. I think it was wrong for them to take away my joy for living. I dont know why we are here but Im going to take the chance that God put me here to live this life not to wish it away on another world or to rush through it to get it over with. But to gain something from being here, and living, and experiencing. And giving something back.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Up close and personal part 3

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What a moronic question this turned out to be when I was graduating highschool. By the time I was 17 and 18 I was well entrenched in the religion of The Worldwide Church of God. I was on the brink of adulthood. I never pursued college actively because I never thought it would happen. The Worldwide Church of God had taught me that the world would end soon. I clung desperately to wanting to live my own life but I remember rationalizing with a friend at that time that if I really believed God was real, didnt I have to believe what the church taught me? After all, they continually said they were the one true church and we were the select few chosen by God to represent him in a new soon coming world. I was at a tug of war within myself. The pressure was on to be baptised as I was nearing 18. I had started working when I was 16 and was already contributing and tithing up to 30 percent of my income to the church voluntarily because I wanted to do the right thing. But the pull to live in the real world started to win out.

Dating and even friendship in the church was difficult. There was so much space between all the members and we were scattered across the state. I never found anyone I was interested in dating in my own congregation but did eventually in a congregation almost 300 miles away. According to the church a womans place was beside a husband raising a family. As I leaned more to having a work life and attending some college classes that I paid for myself the church member I was dating became resentful and accusatory. I distanced myself from him and began dating someone I had met through work who didnt understand my religion but accepted me regardless. We dated continually while I still attended church and tried to do the right thing but some of the other church members my age were becoming aware that I was more involved with an outsider. Rumours began to fly. Suddenly I was the whore of Babylon, sleeping around, even when I had never before had sexual intercourse. I felt betrayed. Ashamed. Marked like in the novel Scarlet Letter. I started to skip services and the letters started to come. The guy in the church I had dated informed me I was in danger of losing my salvation. That I was going to suffer in the tribulation if I didnt come back. Everyone in the church was sure I was going to lose my eternal life in the lake of fire. I went back and forth trying to please everyone and in great turmoil. Why was it so wrong to just want to live a normal life? Why did God create us and want us to suffer? I couldnt keep it up. I was afraid of being tortured if the tribulation were to come. I wanted to be loved by someone. I didnt want to hurt for just having human emotions anymore. Following the old testament legalism of the church meant that just being and living was wrong at times.

I finally just packed it in and gave up. I couldnt keep up the Worldwide Church of God lifestyle. God was going to take me one way or another. I accepted that I was depraved and a disappointment to the church, to life, and my mother. My mother was beside herself. She hated my "worldly" boyfriend. He did end up being a shmuck but the relationship didnt stand a chance with all the crap going on inside my head concerning the church. I didnt know how to have normal relationships. When my mother found out we did eventually sleep together she told me she was sorry I was born. I suddenly had made all the bad things in my life come true. I was unwanted and unloved by God, my mother and society. I just wanted to die and eventually as the years progressed did attempt suicide. The culmination of all the events in my life......the early molestation, the repeated warped armageddon lessons and Worldwide Church of God teachings I grew up on, the disappointment and shame my mother had for me, left me shattered. How could I face life with any sort of hope?

But I did find hope. Some 20 years later. When I realized how the Worldwide Church of God spiritually abused its members. Conclusion coming soon.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Up close and personal continued...

People dont understand how other people get taken in by cults. They think they must be dumb, or losers, or weak. That is why I write this from my personal experience. I want them to know how the manipulation works. I want them to know that when someone, like me, is raised hearing the things I heard, learning the things I learned that their lives are shaped by what they hear and what they learn.

As I grew up my life was shaped by The Worldwide Church of God. Earlier I discussed what my life was like from about 5 years old to 10. But as I entered the preteens things took a different turn. It became an awkward time. I didnt fit in with normal school kids because of my religion and gawkiness in general. "Worldly" kids questioned my religion. When I was smaller and eager to please I would give people a mini religious lesson on why I didnt celebrate Christmas or why I kept Saturday as a sabbath. But as a preteen I was embarrassed and teased by the other kids. I retreated into the solitude of my room and stayed there for hours at a time. The church continually preached that the end of the world was near and that we had to prepare ourselves. "To watch always" so that we wouldnt get left behind in the tribulation. During those hours of solitude I often daydreamed about having a life. Growing up, traveling, marrying, living in my own house. I didnt know if I ever would really grow up before the tribulation and so I would spend all day just trying to imagine what growing up would be like. I cried because I was afraid of dying. I felt unworthy and sinful because of the past abuse. My mother finally noticed that I spent all my time in my room and decided I needed piano lessons to keep me busy. I then would daydream of becoming a famous muscian because I knew in my reality that would never happen.

By the time I entered my teens I sought the companionship of the other kids in the Worldwide Church of God. Scince I didnt fit in at school I wanted to fit in somewhere and so I started to concentrate on the church. Suddenly I found favor with my mother and peers. It became important to be churchly. I studied the bible fervently and started taking notes during the sermons. The ministers had an aura about them. I tried not to be noticed by the ministers. They were stern and authoritarian and beyond rebuke. I tired hard to be perfect. And perfect meant following the laws and doctrines of the church completely. We heard 2 hour sermons about many things. Avoiding the appearance of evil. Seperating ourselves from unbelievers. Not thinking lustfully. Not saying darn or jimeny crickets because those were just replacements for saying damn and Jesus Christ. Not questioning authority. Sacrificing and long suffering because in the long run it brought us closer to God. Preparing for the world tomorrow and escaping to Petra the supposed place of safety for Gods chosen members. All the things the world would suffer for its sins. Sometimes I spent more time on all the things the Worldwide Church of God taught than school work.

By the time I was 17 other parents in the church had told me they wanted the other children to spend time with me because I was such a good example. In fact such a good darn church goer that the congregation took up a collection to send me out of state to the summer camp run by the church. My mother cried she was so proud. Thats the only time I remember my mother crying because she was proud and pleased with me. The only other time I made her cry was in disappointment and she has been displeased and disappointed ever scince. That happened once I left the church.