(From Amazon) This is the compelling story of how one man was raised in a fundamentalist, Christian cult -- the Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism) -- as the son of a pastor, later became what he calls a "devout" agnostic, and then came out of the closet as gay after marrying a woman and having three sons (and remaining close friends with his ex-wife). He learned along the way that cults and closets come in many forms. He explains how we are all responsible for creating or supporting cults of various forms and driving others into closets of various forms, but we can liberate ourselves and others, come out of the chaos and find peace and true unconditional love.
Cults are not just extreme, fundamentalist religious institutions and closets are not just about sexuality. We are all responsible for creating cults or supporting cults of various forms and driving others into closets that take many forms.
This is not just the story about how I grew up in a religious cult as the son of a pastor or came out of the closet as gay after marrying a woman and having three sons. This is the story about the chaos created in my life as a result of listening to and living for others rather than listening to and living for myself and how I finally figured out how to identify the voice that would lead me out of chaos, point me to my passions and help me find greater peace.
This was not an easy story to write and it won't be – for some – an easy story to read. However, despite how raw and painful it might be to look at the real truth, it's the only way we can begin to heal and move forward, individually and collectively. I hope at the end of the story, all who read it will feel the same cathartic release I felt, which only comes when we finally speak our truth.
But more importantly, I hope those who read it will be empowered to liberate themselves and others around them from the many types of cults and closets in our society that create chaos in our world, torment our souls and destroy our capacity to love ourselves and one another. I hope those who read it will be empowered to find their own path out of chaos and into a place of greater peace and help others do the same.
So far this has been a very interesting book. While many books about life in the Worldwide Church of God are written from the viewpoint of lay members, this book is the view through he eyes of the son of a longtime WCG minister.
Whatever impression you may have of what a "ministers kid" should be this guy breaks all the stereotypes. He talks about his father a lot leading up to his coming out process. His father was one of the uber-legalistc ministers who demanded full compliance of the rules and laws of the church.
We were taught that we really should not have friends outside of the church because we needed to avoid being influenced by “the world.” My father would preach often, quoting from the Bible, “Do not become unequally yoked with unbelievers.” He taught that this meant we were not to associate too closely or have close friends outside of the Worldwide Church of God. We were to be “in the world, but not of the world.” So the fact I had no friends at school didn’t concern my parents at this stage. Plus, my parents had far greater issues on their minds than what was happening with my elementary school social life. From the time I was five, in 1975, until my early teens, they were dealing with the overwhelming reality that the world had not yet ended and Jesus Christ had not yet returned, as the leader of our church had predicted and the members expected.
One of the most fundamental elements of the church’s culture was the concept of “God’s Government” which was pounded into the members regularly. The way God apparently wants things to work according to the WCG: It starts with God the Father, then Jesus Christ, then Herbert Armstrong and on down the line. Male church members were to be subject to the authority of the pastor, elders and deacons, but above women and children. Democracy was “of the world.” Males ruled. Authority was not to be questioned. If you did so in my father’s congregation, there would be hell to pay. But he meant well. He was doing what he thought God and his superiors expected him to do. His own eternal life was on the line in his mind. In his mind, he had no choice, this was what God expected.
My father was loved by many of “the brethren” in the church, but while he helped many, he also hurt many due to how he was condi- tioned and trained to operate. Perhaps I’m too eager to place blame for his actions upon those who trained him, but while I have held re- sentments against my father in the past, I do believe he was a victim who was brainwashed by sociopaths and he was acting on that train- ing. His own fears and insecurities only served to magnify his zeal- ous approach to “protecting the flock” from perceived internal or external “spiritual” threats.
He believed it was his job as a pastor to root out rebellion before it surfaced. He became obsessed and consumed with whether every- one in his congregations had a “good attitude” and was receptive to his authority and direction and gave him his full undivided attention at all times. It mattered to him what you might think in your heart, but what mattered to him most was the attitude you exhibited in front of others. If you were humble, respectful and obedient outwardly, you were okay in his book. If you expressed public or private disagreement with anything (regardless of how respectful
your presentation) – from the teachings of the church to what activities the church did to how the congregation was operated – you were marked as being “divisive” or having a “rebellious attitude” and he made it his mission to find you before you infected others too much and “deal with your attitude.”
My father’s mentors and superiors brainwashed him to believe that if his congregants did not fear him, they would not respect him and if they did not respect him they would not follow him, meaning he could not control them. My father lived in fear of losing control – control of his wife, his children, the local elders, deacons and church members, even the youth. If he did not feel like he had complete control over everything, it was important to appear as if he was in control by proclaiming and reminding the members of his authority and the awesome importance of “God’s Government.” Nothing was more important than respecting the “authority” of the church leadership.
Fitzgerald points out in his book how the Church created it's own closet for members to dwell in. It isolated them from the world through fear and intimidation. The world was Satan's world filled with all kinds of evil ready to devour the TRUE believers. Friendships remained inside the church. Activities filled the life of the members that they were expected to go to. Church members hid inside their own church closet.
While his personality combined with his authoritarian style was hurtful to many church members, his genuine love, concern and good intentions was recognized by many, which bolstered loyalty towards him. Many ministers in the church were accused of emotional abuse and behaving like “sheriffs” rather than “shepherds,” but it’s important we not forget it was sociopaths or those with serious sociopathic tendencies – who were trained by Armstrong himself – that trained my father and the rest of the ministry of his generation. It does not excuse the behavior but helps guys like me get a little closer to forgiveness.