Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Book: Cults and Closets: Coming Out of Chaos

Buy it here:  Amazon

(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.

Fitzgerald says:

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. 

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.
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.


Head Usher said...

Ahh. This is the old WCG that I knew. It's almost enough to make one nostalgic, except for how the nausea keeps interfering.

Is Troy Fitzgerald his real name or just a pen name?

It's hard enough for a straight guy to function in that environment, let alone a guy with even more "evil urges" than me. I can't even imagine.

The thing I identify with most closely is how Armstrongism interferes with people being able to be good parents to their children...

"'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."

That's what I remember. My parents were so indoctrinated with garbage dogma like this that they weren't able to pay attention to stuff just like this that was going wrong in my life when I was school age. Even though I now know it wasn't true, the message that I took from it at the time was they just didn't care that much. Besides, good children were robotic children, invisible children who didn't interfere with the important things going on in the important adult world. Children themselves were not important, and what might be going wrong in their lives was also not important. Unfortunately, there was no thought as to how such parental attitudes should be expected to transform such insignificant children into adults of significance. Certainly in spite of it, not because of it...

Anonymous said...

yeah yeah yeah, you can't be happy unless you are doing what you want to do....

the world is full of that attitude.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand this correctly...

The "world" is full of the "attitude" that you can't be "happy" unless you are "doing what you want to do."

To start with, "happiness" is very poorly defined word even among academic researchers, subject to many cognitive traps, as Daniel Kahneman makes very obvious. Do you mean, being "happy" in your life, or being "happy" about your life?

All other considerations aside, is it possible to experience a prevailing state of wellbeing if you are being prevented from doing what you genuinely want to do? I suppose you think it is possible. Even if doing what you genuinely want to do is going to bring destruction and death upon your head, not doing it is only likely to be better by comparison, not in absolute terms. That's still not "happiness" or "wellbeing" because the needle on the "happinessometer" is still firmly in negative territory.

Is being manipulated, coerced, and otherwise forced to do what someone else says to do, such as a cult leader, likely to make you feel a sense of wellbeing? Having someone else rob you of your free will, is that likely to make you feel "happy" about your life, or "happy" in your life? If you think so, you're weird, and definitely not like the average person. There are some people who function better in structured environments though. There are diagnoses for these people...

Anonymous said...

I read the comment of, "yeah yeah yeah, you can't be happy unless you are doing what you want to do...."

and then I re-read the text in the post,
"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."

This reminded me of the polygamous Mormon Fundamentalists church, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

I remember seeing an interview with some polygamous brides in the FLDS, and they talked about how extremely happy they were because polygamy was inspired by God and how wonderful it was for them.

From watching the interview, it was clear that the FLDS "isolated them from the world through fear and intimidation", and they believed "The world was Satan's world filled with all kinds of evil ready to devour the TRUE believers" and that "Friendships remained inside the church", and that church "activities filled the life of the members that they were expected to go to.", it was the voice of TRUE BELIEVERS, unable to see the damage done by what they believed in and practiced.

They seemed to have become devoid of the natural loving motherly instinct when it came to the fact that many of their sons had been driven out of their compounds and dumped on the side of the road like unwanted dogs to fend for themselves, since a polygamous society like theirs requires many less men than it does women.

I've seen a similar "becoming devoid" of natural love for family within the COG and splinters, because of their teachings and indoctrination.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:00AM....

your last paragraph shows the difference between someone attaching to The Church on an intellectual basis, as opposed to someone attaching to The Church due to God's calling.

Steve said...

Head Usher said...

"Is Troy Fitzgerald his real name or just a pen name?"

MY COMMENT: I think I know his real name. They lived in our area. His dad was our "pastor". His first name is real.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:53-

When you say "The Church" and "God's Calling", you say that exactly like one of Anon 7:36's FLDS wives would say those very same words.

As for your theory that I was never "called" in the first place, the only way that could be true is if your "God" is a liar and does NOT sanctify the children per 1 Corinthians 7:14. My parents have been members in good standing of an Armstrongist cult from my birth all the way to this day. How do you weasel around that?

Here's how I explain it, no weaseling required. There's another way that could be true...if this COG "God" never existed in the first do agree with you, that I was never "called" but then again, I feel that no one was ever "called" into Armstrongism by any "God", and that includes you...

So no, I didn't "attach" to the church intellectually, nor did I dis-"attach" from it all happened at the visceral gut level!

-Anon 12:00