On February 24, 2014, Greg Albrecht published a piece in his Plain Truth magazine where he says:
I was once a card-carrying cult member. I bought into the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong (the collective body of these teachings today is often called Armstrongism) hook, line and sinker. I was a true believer.
It's fascinating to see the reactions of people when I tell them I was once in a cult. If I'm talking with a group of people and the subject comes up, it's as if all the air has suddenly been sucked out of the room. Everyone gets really quiet, while they wait for me to start telling lurid stories about how I once sacrificed goats and defaced cemeteries. Polite society, especially "good, church-going folks" tend to regard someone who is an ex-cult member as being roughly equivalent to an ex-convict. The typical, usually unstated reaction is something like, "How could you have been so stupid?"
There is no doubt about it—I was a sucker. I bought into a spiritual snow-job. Armstrongism seemed so plausible, because it was based on my ability to make God happy. Of course, I believed what I wanted to believe. I believed I had the spiritual power to please God. According to Armstrong in-speak, I could "qualify" for the kingdom of God. I could "make it" if I built enough "holy, righteous character."
Armstrongism appealed to my vanity, because I was told that the vast majority of people didn't "have the truth" like I did (in retrospect, I can only say "thank God" they didn't!). It was a religion, in that it filled me with fear of God's punishment if I failed to measure up. Like any and all religions, my experience with cultic religion manipulated my guilt and shame. I didn't know it at the time, but Armstrongism "shut the kingdom of heaven" in my face (Matthew 23:13).
Reading his article has brought to light a lot of different reactions by ex-COG members. On a COG recovery group a person shared their response to Greg's letter. I have the person's permission to post it here though I have removed the authors name for privacy concerns.
Dear Mr. Albrecht,
I just read your piece in the Plain Truth dated 2/24/14. And I read the comments on your page as well. On the one hand I am happy for you that you have found peace in your faith and on the other I am furious at you and the others. As I was reading through the emails and letters sent to you and the corresponding responses, I could only think, “This is the abuser acting as the counselor!!” I find it interesting that there are no survivor accounts from former WWCGer’s listed in this section.
As a survivor, a child survivor of this cult, I felt compelled to write to you and demand for you to tell the Plain Truth. Not the Sugar Coated Truth…the Plain Truth. You talk about how you were sucked in due to vanity or wanting to please God. I HAD NO CHOICE. I was brainwashed and spiritually abused by you and the other ministers of the WWCG. And I have no frame of reference to normalcy or to a semi-normal relationship with God. I have no ability to say “I chose this.” I did not choose it. It was a matter of being born to parents in the WWCG. They who believed: one who made the choice to join, the other who was brought in by her parents.
I watched “Called to be Free” and that was sugar coated, too. I’m sick and tired of people calling WWCG a cult, but then when asked to list the reasons why it was a cult, it gets sugar coated. Even when I read the various lists out there, or read the list you have provided in your article, I have to pull myself back from saying “well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was just a birthday, it was just Christmas, it was just no bacon.” All of those things sound benign and on the surface, they are. It’s when you delve in to the meat of the doctrines and the consequences of not following the doctrines that one finally begins to see the blackness that pervaded every pore of the WWCG. You alluded to the “punishments” in your article, but go the extra mile. Tell it like it was. Own it. Own what you did. Own what the church did. Don’t gloss over it like it was a bad dream, because for so many of us, that dream still wakes us up in the middle of the night. For many of us that dream haunts us while we are wide ass awake.
Let’s talk the Plain Truth.
Plain Truth #1: As a child who was born into the church, my consequences were learned early through blanket training down in the bowels of the Ambassador Auditorium. How more evil can a religious organization be? It was directed by HWA and his son Richard, with the article reprinted in the Good News Magazine from I believe May of 1981, that children WERE to be in services, and they were to be QUIET. Children as young as a few months of age were “trained” to sit on a blanket and not move and not speak for two f****ng hours. Do you remember the consequences for the child if they didn’t obey the command to stay and shhh, as if they were a dog? If you’ve forgotten, maybe you should peruse another fine publication written by another of HWA’s sons, Garner Ted, and perpetuated upon the membership. It’s called the Plain Truth About Child Rearing. Now fast forward 39 years and consider what it’s like to realize you are still very much blanket trained. Imagine how weak you would feel, to recognize that the training goes so deep that it is second nature and you don’t even realize it’s happening until someone points it out to you; or something in your psyche finally wakes up and says “what are you doing??” This type of training was started very early in a child’s developmental stages. How could you and the others not see how this was harmful? The brainwashing tactics were top notch. I have to give HWA and his ministers that one. Since I was trained so early in my life, as were others, we didn’t know any different. All we knew was to stay and shhh.
Plain Truth #2: It wasn’t just a birthday party. If there is one thing that just irks me it is when someone says, “so have a birthday party!” I wish I could. It wasn’t just a no-birthday doctrine. Oh, no, it wasn’t that simple. It was “you cannot have a birthday party because it shows vanity and selfishness. God does not like vanity or selfishness, and if you break this law of God then you may go to the Lake of Fire. Oh, and remember, bad things happen on birthdays. Don’t forget John the Baptist was beheaded at Herod’s birthday party.” What kind of evil tells children that they are not worthy – that to celebrate the day they came into your life is selfish? What kind of evil tells children beheadings are a potential consequence of a birthday? What kind of EVIL tells children that they will go to the Lake of Fire, where they will cease to exist in even the memory of their parents? And I wonder why I have a panic attack when my birthday rolls around.
Plain Truth #3: Christmas is Pagan. I haven’t fully dug down to find the root of my fear in this one. But I can tell you this: I celebrate Christmas and I get no joy from it. I watch people putting up their trees, having great family time, going to church, celebrating Jesus Christ and I still think they are all heathens and will end up in the Lake of Fire or at the very least, demon possessed. When my daughter was born 20 years ago, and I had essentially been out of the church (at least as far as going to weekly Sabbaths, I was still attending the FOT with my dad) for 4 years or so, I heavily argued with my now ex-husband about whether we would celebrate Christmas. He was not a WWCGer and had no idea where I was coming from with this argument that Santa is really Satan; that Christmas is really a pagan holiday and Christ was not born in December; how I didn’t want to lie to my daughter, yada yada yada. It didn’t even phase me that I was about to take a childhood joy from her that celebrates the birth of Christ (oooh look at that, celebrating a birthday!!) and I argued with my husband for hours. I never once talked to him about growing up WWCG. I don’t think I’ve done so yet. I was still stuck in the mire of the doctrines but was still too afraid to talk about it. I married him, but considered him an outsider. I had a daughter with him, and considered him an outsider. And is it any wonder that I was able to cut him out of my life like he was an outsider? But that goes to Plain Truth #4.
Plain Truth #4: The Outsiders. When I started going to therapy, just last year, one of the first questions my therapist asked me was what I am like in a grocery store. This was when the light bulbs started going off in my brain that I was still “trained” like a good little WWCGer. I go in to the grocery store, I run through the store like I’m on mission impossible and I NEVER make eye contact. If I see someone I know, I try to pretend like I didn’t. Why? They are outsiders. I’m still afraid of being seen talking to an outsider. I still don’t trust “outsiders.” I’m so damn scared of people one of my diagnoses is Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. When I go to the gym, it’s the norm that my heart rate is 120 before I ever step foot on the treadmill. And why? Because the jerks, including you, at WWCG and at Imperial, drilled into our heads that we were to be wary of the worldly. That we were not to form relationships with those outside of the church. When I left at 15, I went into this world I was terrified of, and I have had panic attacks every day of my life since. The panic attacks were so normal to me that I didn’t even realize what they were. I have been ruled by fear every day of my life, and that was NORMAL. It wasn’t until they got so intense that I went to the doctor for an EKG and she said “it’s just anxiety.” But it’s not “just anxiety.” This was my NORM. This is the legacy of the WWCG: FEAR.
My daughter had no idea why I was so emotionally numb, and neither did I for a very long time. It took her cutting me out of her life for me to figure it out. I have since opened up to my daughter and our relationship has gotten back on track. But how many years, how many experiences did I deny her because I was so emotionally stunted from my years in WWCG? You talk about being rescued. I’m still waiting. And before you tell me to invite God, thanks to you and the other ministers, I am still AFRAID of God. Deathly afraid.
When my therapist asked me to imagine that fear I feel in the pit of my stomach, I did. It came in the form of the paddle from Imperial. When she asked me to walk towards it in my mind I did. When she asked me to pick it up, I could not. She then told me to “open your eyes. You are still scared to death.” I have been out of the WWCG for 18 years, and I am still scared to death. The damage that church and its doctrines caused is like a cancer. It goes so deep, I have no idea how many years of therapy it’s going to take for me to feel safe or whole. And don’t ask me to go to a church, or any church. I don’t trust anyone claiming to love Christ. I don’t trust anyone at all.
Plain Truth #5: I am not worthy. Not just because I am human, but because I am female. I’m sure you don’t like cussing, but I can’t think of any other way to describe what was done to me. The mind fuck that was done to us kids is just indescribable and in my opinion, it was criminal. My career has suffered, my self-esteem is radically retarded in its growth. Here’s a good example. We had a 360 peer review at work. My boss and I discussed the results. And his first words to me were “What the hell is wrong with your self-esteem?!” I had scored myself lower on 99% of the categories than my peers had scored me. He had never seen such a thing. And to me, in my deepest recesses, it was always better to score myself lower, to view myself as lower, because that was what I was taught to do. I was taught to devalue myself as a human being and as a woman. It was a central doctrine. If you need reminding, see Rod Meredith’s wonderful booklet titled “True Womanhood.” It is so frustrating to recognize that the contents of that literature are wrong and evil, but I’m unable to root it out. I still feel guilt for doing simple everyday things because it would be viewed as a betrayal to the femininity I am supposed to be displaying to please God.
Plain Truth #6: Fleeing to the Place of Safety. Jim Jones killed or coerced his members into committing suicide. How far removed were we from that? If HWA had said “It’s time” there is not one of us that wouldn’t have dropped everything to follow. Once we got to Petra (and to be honest, my therapist tries to make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the chosen POS) what was going to happen? Would we have taken extreme measures if HWA told us to? I believe we would have. I’m thankful that didn’t happen, but let’s not gloss over the fact that it was a very real possibility.
These are only some of the Plain Truths as it relates to WWCG. And here’s one more: the leadership has only pontificated about their role and bragged about how they’ve changed. When they sold the Pasadena Campus for millions of dollars, did they contribute any of that back to help those who had been so severely damaged? Did you offer counseling? What steps did you or the leadership take to right the wrongs other than completely changing the doctrines and changing the name? You can sit there at night and feel good about how you were rescued. You can look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you brought about change. But what did you do to help those you hurt?
And quite frankly, don’t expect me or anyone else who grew up under the madness that was WWCG to trust you or your words. I don’t believe you will print this or respond. I have many more Plain Truths to share with you if are truly a changed man and minister. But I don’t believe you are.