Monday, June 1, 2015

Childhood Lost: Memories of a Childhood in The Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism)

By early summer, my brothers and I had been rather forcibly introduced to Armstrong's god and he was a demanding piece of work. All unnecessary social contacts with the heathen world, such as playing baseball at school or hide and seek with the neighbor children were terminated. God's people, including their offspring, were commanded by God (through Herbert) to "Come out from among them and be not partakers of their sins!"

The sect's marching orders were simple and succinct coming nearly straight as they did from the Lord via Armstrong. "Fear and Tremble," to question Herbert, his hand picked ministry, or their god. While the enduring task of the laity, on the other hand, was to listen and obey. All else emanated from the evil one.

This new deity didn't mess around. He was extremely touchy. One never knew what might set him off. But there was nothing prejudiced about the way he evidenced, in general, an unbiased and unmitigated disgust for all his children. He was an equal opportunity destroyer.

Besides wreaking vengeful havoc upon rebellious teenagers, lipsticked females, and skeptical males, he was a killer of disobedient children. He waited his chance, bided his time and kept the most meticulous records imaginable of every six year old's felonious crimes and gross misdemeanors. For soon enough they would all add up into a veritable mountain of blasphemy, and carnal depravity which no amount of forgiveness could ever expunge, and they would dwell in the lake of fire forever, amen.


Sooner or later (sooner knowing me) I'd spit on the sidewalk, say "Ah, shit," or be thumbing happily through the pages of the National Geographic to gaze in wonder at the dark naked ladies and remember: HE was watching, listening, taking it all down, and I would be toast.

I discussed this (and other) theologically weighty problems with school yard buddies to get their slant on the matter, but they were all of different faiths and persuasions (if one could believe first graders had faiths and persuasions) and what I learned was shocking. None of them knew the truth, at least the truth as I'd heard it. Furthermore, they'd never even heard of the fundamentalist church I was forced to attend, the Armstrong congregation of the called and the chosen.

That being the case, they could lie, steal, and fornicate to their hearts' content...and still have hope in salvation! That really sucked, and for the first (but not the last) time in my life I looked heavenward and mentally asked, "Why me?" What offense could I possibly have committed to be unfortunate enough to have parents who'd stumbled across "The Way" and worse yet dragged me along with them? For I knew the truth, but instead of setting me free it seemed determined to slit my throat.

I knew the year of my execution as well. Herbert had written a book on the subject entitled 1975 In Prophecy. 1975, he publicly proclaimed, was the year a merciful God had lovingly chosen to show humanity the error of its ways. Privately, however, church members were instructed to be prepared for their Lord's return by 1965. As religious tracts go, 1975 In Prophecy was crude, even for its time, full as it was, of prophetic invective and coarsely drawn pictures.

For all of that, it was still a nightmare booklet designed to strike terror into the hearts of all who read it by purporting to show the ghastly end of a corrupt and decadent world, a world which had stubbornly refused to heed the dire warnings of God's last true prophet, Herbert W.

On top of all that, the church's idea of a properly kept Sabbath bordered, if not wholeheartedly tromped, on the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Sabbath, in their estimation, began some hours before, at sunset the previous day to be exact. From then on, no form of activity outside of reading Herbert W's private interpretation of the Bible was permitted. On the big day itself, the called and chosen bestirred themselves from their mild mannered walks of life, donned such formal attire as they were capable of affording after numerous tithes and offerings and, strode forth to become the future masters of the universe.

A rented grange hall was the arena for this weekly metamorphosis in my neighborhood. A hollow shell of a place with windows too high to look out of and filled with the most uncomfortable fold out steel chairs humans have yet devised. Here the merry throng gathered for at least five hours every Sabbath and the exhausting ritual of rest and relaxation began.

Some deacon or elder would hop up on stage, bid the congregation be seated and, once it was, to rise. The first of four hymns was then thoroughly butchered...and they were no ordinary hymns either. Herbert W. had a brother who fancied himself a song writer and musician. He'd taken many of the more bloodthirsty of the Psalms and added what he thought were appropriate melodies, most of which sounded like lugubrious variations of the funeral dirge played backwards. Once the joyful noise had been replaced by blessed silence, the called and chosen were told again to sit, and they did. For the next four hours.

The ministry of the church labored mightily under the illusion that they were experts in every field of human endeavor. Their training and education did little to relieve them of this happy burden. They were, to a man, all educated at Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. This college had been invented by the big man himself to teach young minds his version of God, the universe, and the hereafter. Among other things, the curriculum fostered a humble attitude of self importance, spiritual arrogance and personal conceit. They were, they were told, the most called of the called and chosen.

The rest of the curriculum at A.C. was decidedly simple. The entire universe was six thousand years old, modern science was all wrong, contemporary educational institutions were tools of the devil, as were medical doctors, dentists, and especially psychiatrists. If you had the faith (and were as nearly perfect as they were), God would cause all you did to prosper. If you had the faith, he would protect you from all manner of evil and heal you of all maladies...except mental illnesses (these were, and remain to this day, in private church theology at any rate, products of either self deception or demon possession).


The order of worship in a standard disfellowshipping, which is to say that of a lay member, was precise and prescribed. It entailed verbally flaying the flesh off the unrepentant, vocally roasting their heretical remains over brightly burning cauldrons of collective self-righteousness, then figuratively holding the still smoldering carcass up before the entire congregation for spiritual edification and formal disfellowshipping.

When a member was disfellowshipped, all regular sermons were temporarily preempted to deal with the juicy allegations. Questioning the authority of the ministry, divorce and remarriage, use of tobacco products and poor attendance were all capital offenses, spiritually. Once a member was amputated from the body they were regarded as dead, spiritually now (unless they humbly and abjectly sought the pardon of the ministry) and literally later when God returned.

On the great day of a disfellowshipping, the pastor would mount the podium with that dejected air of reluctant regret which only the hopelessly self-righteousness can muster, the consummate spiritual executioner too weary to wield his axe.

He would then stare out over the sea of gathered faithful and begin. But he wouldn't just solemnly announce the distressing news and get things over with. No, he would begin softly, sadly, blending shadow with shade, color with hue, till, in the middle of his discourse, the lurid portrait of a vile sinner would slowly begin to emerge and take horrifying shape. Toward the end of the sermon this despicable creature, once known as a Christian, was conclusively identified and their craven deeds of rebellion and intransigence fully and finally described in a crescendo of sound and fury from the pulpit that would have had even Satan quaking in his boots. And members would park pitiful expressions of dismay and shocked disbelief on their incredulous faces and ask each other, "How could this be? How could Brother or Sister... have fallen from grace so horribly?"

But in reality none of them were surprised in the slightest. Everyone had been discussing the situation for weeks as befits concerned responsible Christians and, as a rule, had socially ostracized the poor bastard many Sabbaths previous. The obligatory casting out was a mere formality. Except when it involved, as it sometimes did, the ministry. In those cases, the hell fire and brimstone was kept to a minimum with little or no information on dastardly deeds forth coming; other than "by the way," asides to the flock to pray for an endangered brother who was fighting a deadly one man battle in hand to hand combat with Satan himself.

The sense of relief at any sermon's end was palpable. More than a few of the called and chosen would quietly (but wholeheartedly) whisper "Thank God!" as the minister wrapped things up, and not for the spiritual sustenance they'd nearly gagged on either. But even this wasn't the end. Two more uplifting hymns were essential, plus a closing prayer.

Read the entire book check it out here:
In pdf form
Online book form


Connie Schmidt said...

For the sake of historical accuracy, the WCG never taught that the universe was only 6000 years old. It did teach that man and civilization was only 6000 years old.

Also, dentistry was never verboten , but was often overlooked because of financial dire straits by many.

Sweetblood777 said...

If someone is going to take the time to write a book, at least be truthful. There were many errors or outright lies quoted in the post from the book. When authors do such things it is a big turnoff rather than an eye opener.

Cindy said...

Really, Sweetblood? The only error I see was that we had 2 hour sermons, not four hour sermons, but oftentimes the entire dirge would be a four hour ordeal. I would wager you're still involved in the cult somehow to post your comment. Might want to wake up and smell the real world outside cult life.

kal said...

Ironically, I just read this book yesterday. I found errors, or rather discrepancies, between what was stated and my 20+ year experience with the WCG. I reminded myself, though, that he wrote this book having attended the church in the 50's and as a child. As often as HWA changed doctrines (often to suit his own needs/desires), I am not surprised what one person may remember as doctrine at that point in time and the doctrines that I was exposed to. So to say that something was "never" taught, -may- at times be inaccurate as well.

As for sermon length, I can say that I don't even recall many two hour sermons, let alone four. During my experience in the 70's and 80's the entire church service was two hours, not the sermon - unless blowhard Waterhouse was speaking or another overly-winded pastor on occasions. Regardless, much too long to sit in those horrific metal chairs! Sermons may have indeed been longer in the 50's and 60's as I recall my grandfather, a devout Armstrong follower, lamenting that sermons were too short and watered down by the 80's.

Anonymous said...

Growing up in the church in the late 50's and 60's I can say that I suffered through many 3-4 hour sermons by some of the biggest windbags the church ever produced. As for the 6,000 year old earth he mentions I heard this said many times from the pulpit even though they knew better. The young earth thinking was just as stupid as people only being on this planet for 6,000 years. I found his account to be a light heart interpretation of life in the cult.

Anonymous said...

I agree there are inaccuracies. They never taught that the universe was 6000 years old, only humans and life on this planet. Remember the creation account in Genesis was supposed to be actually a re-creation. The earth and dinosaurs predated this re-creation and the earth had been wrecked by the big battle between God and Satan (something like that). Also they allowed dental treatment, but many of us didn't think we needed it because the world was ending.............ah, still suffering the consequences of that belief.

Anonymous said...

I started attending the Worldwide Church of God at the age of 9 years old in 1963. I attended services for 38 years until they went off in a direction that I couldn't agree with. My wife and I still keep the Sabbath and Holy Days at home.
What is recounted by the author of this book as life in the Worldwide Church of God was not my experience in any way. I went to doctors and dentists and participated in all school activities with my many friends not in the church, albeit not on the Sabbath. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to travel with my family all over for the Feast every year.
99.49% of what is written by the author was not the life that I experienced in any way in the church or that of the hundreds of other kids I grew up with in the Church. As Satan is the father of all liars and the accuser of the brethern, it has never surprised me that he is able to walk and chew gum at the same time and do both together.

Anonymous said...

Personal accounts are going to vary quite a bit depending on the pastors the local congregation had. Some of them were degrees more authoritarian and prone to greater fits of megalomania than others. While my own WCG experience was pretty awful, I don't doubt that the people who were stuck with a Dave Pack, for example, had it worse than I did.

Byker Bob said...

As I read this, I had to be fair. So, I also noted the errors with regard to the age of the earth, dentistry, and the length of the typical sermon. Also, some of the secular courses taught at Ambassador College weren't totally useless. But, they were more on a high school level, and had been overwritten with Herbert W. Armstrong's theories and non-mainstream beliefs. I extracted some nuggets from those secular courses which have been helpful throughout my life.

That, having been duly noted, the author has pretty much nailed the essence of the experience. I haven't read the book, but generally these works also dedicate a chapter to chronicle the savagery of and permanent damage of the church's child rearing techniques. Every time a new book such as this is published, I find myself saying, "Another one?" But writing such books is cathartic to the author, and, the books also serve to lovingly warn people against getting involved with an applied religious philosophy which is in reality a defective product. If applied as intended by its originator, vigorously and faithfully, that philosophy will cause great damage to the user, and make all of those close to the user codependents to the toxicity. So, the more books, the merrier.

We had no way of knowing back in the day that there were other groups, some of them even larger than ours, that somehow managed to keep many of the same cherry-picked oracles from the Old Covenant, but without all of the false prophecy, intrusive and authoritarian ministry, the child abuse, the financial fleecing of the flock, the ridiculous theories embraced as revealed truth by HWA, the separatism from non-members, and the constant fomentation of fear as opposed to concentration on traditional Christ-like virtues, such as love and healing. Which day one keeps as the sabbath, dietary habits, and encouragement towards giving reasonable amounts to one's church don't necessarily cause a constant need to fight attitude, a feeling of oppression, or present an aftermath of bitterness over spiritual rape. In that respect, the oracles themselves, though a different culture, are quite neutral. After all, Mexican people celebrate Cinqo de Mayo just as joyously as citizens of the USA celebrate July 4. The added extraBiblical beliefs and theories of Herbert W. Armstrong were what made the product damaging and bogus.

You would imagine that spiritual enlightenment would allow the human spirit to flourish, enhancing life, and promoting joyous, victorious living. Armstrongism crushes the soul. There is no mistake about that. Some have an uncanny knack to compartmentalize, to make excuses on behalf of the failed teachings, and to misidentify the cries of their soul as a bad attitude that must be constantly repressed and dealt with. Armstrongism makes one aware that there is such a thing as enlightenment. It just isn't that enlightenment itself.


Anonymous said...

I'm no apologist for WCG as was. In the interests of accuracy however, I would like to say that the account given does not accord with what I saw in WCG since starting attendance in 1967. People who were disfellowshipped were never mentioned from the pulpit. It was a private matter and often involved issues of immorality. Only those who were "marked" were mentioned from the pulpit. The marking was done with a single sentence during the Announcements. Marking was usually done for disagreeing too openly with doctrine (and should never have happened in my opinion). Things may have been done differently in different areas but to apply the account given to the whole of WCG is a misrepresentation. I read this Blog to gain an accurate understanding of what is happening in the COGS. To clog up the Blog with exaggerated accounts, no matter how colorfully stated, is surely harmful to the Blog's reputation.

Karl Cranford said...

This is fairly accurate to my experiences from back in the late 50's and early 60's. The 4 - 5 hour church services might be a bit of a stretch, but I do remember it being announced that services were going to be “limited” to only two hours from (whenever) on. I also remember having three, two hour services per day, all eight days of FT. Then, as I got older, the evening service was dropped on all but the two high days, and so on.

Back in the early years of late 50's and into the 60's the Church did in fact teach a young earth. I was shocked to get to AC and learn that the earth was old in my Geological History class, but that was mid 70's. Depending on the local ministers, the young/old earth teaching varied, I'm sure. I know degrees of abuse did as well of even what sin was. I remember one minister telling us from the pulpit that R rated movies weren't necessarily bad (he was talking specifically about “Patton”), that we had to find out why it was rated R and if it was something we could “handle”. The minister said that no Christian should ever go to an R movie and that most PG movies weren't fit to watch.

As for the “no dentist” thing, I remember going to the dentist at a young age. I just didn't get pain killer when a cavity had to be drilled out. Anything else medical or psychological was demonic and/or a lack of faith.

The important thing to remember is each of us had different ministers, different regional directors, and different parents. Even for siblings, the experience of Armstrongism varied. Also, the further back you go the more severe the teachings were. So, accusing someone of lying simply because they had different experiences than you is very inappropriate. In fact, it's a favorite tactic of abusers. The act of calling someone a liar when they are explaining what they've experienced is a learned tactic designed to belittle them, shut them up, and dominate with your version. To say “it's not what I experienced” is one thing, but to call those of us with different memories and experiences liars is exactly the type of treatment we had from the Armstrong cults.

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah. Stop your whining, people, and read the actual book.

The chapter titled "LAMM" is worth it. Hilarious.

Trust me, there's far more fact than fiction in what this guy wrote. Good for him.

Anonymous said...

Those who follow the alternative media know that all of America is so brainwashed that it is basically a cult. Look at all the lies told by the media which anyone who can access youtube can verify are lies. The Armstrong cult is only one branch of this bigger cult which most of you are still a part of. Grow up and get out; you are not yet free. Keep climbing out, you have a long way to go.

Anonymous said...

"To clog up the Blog with exaggerated accounts, no matter how colorfully stated, is surely harmful to the Blog's reputation."

I've been trying to tell them that for years but so far I don't see any improvement. But most people today seem to follow the idea that lies work better than truth. They don't value truth for its own sake.

Anonymous said...

Hey, 4:00, come down off thine loftiest of perches to check out what 3:47 said. Quick whining and read the guy's book. There are more people who experienced things similar to what he writes about than you seem willing to admit.

Anonymous said...

Some of the posters wrote "I agree there are inaccuracies. They never taught that the universe was 6000 years old, only humans and life on this planet"

Bullshit. I was surprised to read this by some supposed members. Good christ, this was taught by the ministry for decades. The world was only 6000 years old was a highlight in the conversations of the ignorant bastards who denied carbon dating.

Anonymous said...

as a black man who grew up in the original wwcg i at least credit church guidance for helping my father raise halfway decent children; and it was not just my father:

my father had four other siblings, one of whom also raised children in the original wwcg; his children and my father's children grew up well and we were not plagued by the stereotypical problems of drug use and having children out of wedlock.

two of my father's other siblings who did not attend wwcg ended up raising children that became things ranging from drug addicts, to being in and out of prison, to chronically having children out of wedlock...

Anonymous said...

The church (at least in the 1960s and 70s) taught that the universe and the earth were indeterminately old (as old as science might determine), but that the earth had been rendered uninhabitable as a result of war between god and satan when satan and the rebellious demons had been cast out of heaven. Dinosaurs had been part of that first creation and were destroyed in that war. God then recreated the earth as described in Genesis and had created man at that time, about 6,000 years ago. Around 1968 or so Dr. Hoeh accepted the fact that the fossil record and archaeology showed that humans had been around for a lot longer time than 6,000 years, so he came up with the idea of "pre-Adamic humanoids" (human-like creatures that lacked the spirit in man) to be able to hold on to the Garden of Eden creation of Adam and Eve as the first true human beings, the sin of rebellion against god and therefore the need for reconciliation, etc. I don't doubt that young earth creationism was preached in a lot of local churches but that was not the official view from HQ, at least after the mid 1960s or so.

Anonymous said...

I read some of the book, and it is interesting. Sounds like the kid had a hard time growing up in the church. As far as the 6000 year earth/universe goes, I found this in the book itself, in chapter 12 (about moon exploration):

"As the primordial battle between good and evil raged, supernatural forces beyond mortal comprehension were used by both sides, the results of which are still visible today. The universe, Herbert maintained, had originally been created perfect, like all of the Lord's creations, but if one looked around now the horrifying results of Satan's rebellion against authority, his dissatisfaction with his lot in life and his ensuing disobedience were clear. The craters on the moon, the disorderly and non symmetrical orbits of the planets, an earth tipped fully thirteen degrees off its axis resulting in desert terrain in one region and arctic wastes in another, these and other evidences bore mute witness to a supernatural calamity of unbelievable magnitude, one which God had determined must never happen again.

Sometime afterwards, the Lord patched up the Earth."

This is what I remembered the church believed. That the universe and earth pre-existed before man was created, and the universe was wrecked by Satans rebellion, and earth was fixed during the 6 day creation period.
I am not defending WCG, I left in the 1970's, and could write my own book about them, (but won't). But this quote just doesn't fit in with the author saying WCG taught the universe was only 6000 yrs old.

Chuckles said...

Really, Cindy 7:08. If that is the only inaccuracy you see then you are either blind or haven't read the book, and there was no need to slam sweet lord the way you did and bet they were still in a cult. I found parts of the book full of blown up, trying to be colorful statements that stuck out like a sore thumb, and full of exaggerated truth as well as many errors. We can all see where this guy is coming from if we were in the WWCG, but it definately wasn't like he blew it up to be.

Anonymous said...

The author is a very talented writer. His life, incredibly sad. He paid an enormous price for his refusal to conform and be controlled by an evil organization. It has always troubled me that the WCG was never held accountable for its atrocities. Who among us haven't been harmed by the WCG, some more than others. I have truly come to loathe religion. Fundamentally, they are all the same: money, power, control, abuse.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the guy took liberties. I mean, can you recite full conversations you had with people, in that much detail, when you were 13? Unless he has a photographic memory, he embellished a bit. So what? The thing reads like a novel. Very entertaining, albeit rather uncomfortable at times in that it hit close to home.

A Mom shrieking at him over various transgressions? Been there. A brother acting like a big shot and threatening to meet out punishments to younger siblings? I didn't experience that directly, but had friends in the church who did. A dad who gave up a good job because an idiot blowhard minister told him to, and then bottomed out? Same. The one major difference was that I only thought about running away, and he actually did.

And disfellowshipping people? Good grief, in our neck of the woods they were ALWAYS announced, because if someone was disfellowshipped, the power-drunk ministers couldn't wait to get all dramatic and mark their ass at the same time.

I agree with 3:08, the author is a good writer, and a remarkably funny guy, for all he went through. That story of slipping the self-righteous hypocrite dude some hi-test jalapenos was classic stuff. When I was about 9 or 10 I had a drill sergeant deacon grab me by the neck and haul me to my dad after church one day even though I hadn't done anything, but he thought I had, after which the guy practically ordered my dad to punish me, which Dad felt obliged to do. The deacon prick left the church a few years later, and I was glad to see him go. I only wish I'd been as quick and glib with my remarks as this author was, because I laughed out loud at some passages.

What a clusterf--k. You people that get all defensive about Armstrong and his jackboot lieutenant splinter leaders can have them. Don't forget to check your brains at the door.

RSK said...

One of the common tendencies with any religious group focused on religious law is that no written law can ever cover every question, every situation, every random coincidental occurrence specifically within its text. This is why where there is law, there will be the need for those appointed to judge via it. And when those are appointed, there will always be people wanting to know how to apply it in situations outside of the text. And on the other side, there will be judges and teachers who will enjoy trying to establish what the law "would mean" in various unlisted scenarios. The Orthodox Jews do it, the Wahhabis do it, and Armstrongists do it - and that's just a very small sampling.

In that environment, anything you may read about past acts in the churches of Armstrong is just as likely to be that sort of law-beating as it is exaggeration. I went to five or six WCG congregations regularly in my lifetime and I heard all sorts of variations of laws about things that "headquarters" was never particularly firm about.

Anonymous said...

Dentistry was not outlawed? Perhaps so, but the use of novacaine, if I recall, was. So, who wants to have dental work done with anesthetics? Two hour worship services were my recollections. But, when everyone's favorite guest speaker showed up, Gerald Waterhouse, his sermon might have been 2 hours, just to get warmed up. My word, could he not read body language of his audience? I wonder if RCM had anesthetics when his detached retina was repaired? I am not concerned about their crazy doctrines (I graduated from AC) but what troubles me the most was their arrogance and their hypocrisy. The top leaders lived on Waverly Drive and had all of the benefits of modern medicine, while the rest of the church suffered. RCM was a boxer in his early days. It takes some courage to engage in any form of martial arts. But in one way he is a coward. He is a coward intellectually. In "First Year Bible" if you had a question or challenged a belief, he would shut you down. You might be accused of having a "bad attitude". He was nothing but a bully. As someone once said, RCM would have made a good Nazi.

Anonymous said...

Is this really all you have to do with your life? Twist and turn the pure 180 degrees until you turn it into the vile reflection of your own mind? Sad.