Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dennis On: "They Come...They Go"

They come....They Go

Dennis Diehl - EzineArticles Expert AuthorHaving been a 26 year pastor in 13 congregations in 5 states, and after having gone through the theological slaughter of the 90's perpetuated upon the membership by "leadership," of the WCG, I have to ask the question, where did all the friends go?

I found myself in an odd situation. I loved the people in my congregations and had many wonderful friendships and friends, I thought.  This final congregation in South Carolina was the toughest by far, even if everything was going well.  They were used to being rewarded by the minister for their loyalty and friends became deacons and included in the lives of all the brethren. There were always three or four waiting and chaffing at the chance to be the real minister.  Ugh!  I didn't work that way so quickly fell afoul of their system. I didn't take deacons on visits to  know and hear the problems of others.  That was not their business and people aren't honest when they feel they are being grilled.  One on one worked for me, because someday I'd be moving on.  At any rate, Church Picnics went from really fun to drama events. We stopped having them.

Some would tell me what the church was really up to at HQ and that this or that really was going to change. Dumb me would call Joe Tkach and simply ask him if A/B or C was true or not.  It was never true according to Joe.  It was ALWAYS true according to what actually came to be. As a result , I'd come back and tell the church all was well and then end up looking like a fool caught between the Administration that lied to me and the members who thought I was stupid and naive.  Of course I was..ha.   Thus, as the baloney in the middle of the sandwich, neither side kept much in touch.  That was my experience with friends.

The only time those who have either stayed with the new and improved version of the Church, which has changed it's name to distance itself from it's own past, or those that have left it for splinter groups that profess to keep the old ways intact, or those that have moved on to greener and more stable pastures, or the disillusioned meet is at funerals or in the final days of some former church friend. Sad isn't it? One has to be dying or dead to find out you had friends after all. But then unless you were having an out of body experience attending your own funeral, you'd not know. It is more comfortable being friends to the dying than the living. And I am sure after I am dead, thousands will once again say that we were friends. Dealing with a dead Diehl is easier than dealing with the real Diehl. :)

When churches implode, as they do, friendships explode. I can count on one hand the friendships that have stayed in tact since my being labeled a minister who "knew a lot about Jesus, but did not know Jesus" and then being terminated.  Don't misunderstand. I was outgrowing the literalism of any church but was in a transtion.  And...I have fingers left over!
It is reckless change and administration of policy that tears friendships apart when associated with churches and the hope the promote in their teachings. Local ministers, who can have their own dictatorial ways, can tear friendships apart as well by causing "friends" to make choices and take sides in endless and stupid disputes or personality cults.

In my own case, I have had more than one former member, whose children I had married and whose husbands I had buried, pass by me at the lobby desk in a hospital where work to make ends meet. I simply do not exist to them because I am no longer one of them, whatever that might mean. I have known minister friends who have drank themselves to death after reckless change confused them and their friends marginalized them for being hurt and confused. One minister even jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge if you can imagine that. That takes planning and a total lack of friends left to help you through. Suicide seems often the mistaken idea that the death of an old idea mistranslates into we think we have to die  It's a permanent solution to a short term problem. . Very sad but I understand it.

So when your church implodes, why do your friendships explode? There are several types of friendships built when we become a part of a church and their dynamics are all a bit different.
First of all, everyone in any particular believes that "we all have to be friends," because, well, we are in the Church. The common bond of similar or same beliefs is what constitutes the friendship. In any other setting, we would not be friends with most of these people as we would really have nothing else in common to hold it together. Thus, when the church implodes, the friendships explode, fall apart and are not salvageable. They are based on being in the common church with a common belief. When that falls apart, that is generally the end of your friendships.

If you leave the church in discouragement, anger or theology fatigue, you are now a seed fallen on bad ground. Those who you leave behind will read about you in Matthew as one of the seeds that fell on hard ground and when trials came alone etc, did not have the ability to survive. Of course, it will be a bullshit explanation, but it makes them feel good to see that they are off the friendship hook with you for being disillusioned, hurt, marginalized or just worn out by controversy. Without the church work, doctrine or goals, you have no friendship. These people will disappear quickly should you ever begin to wake up to the fact that NO church knows all it needs to know about the Bible to be THE one true church. Of course, since no one attends the one false church, you will be labeled, disfellowshipped, avoided and generally cast into the Lake of Fire, Hell or other imagined bad places for the wicked person you are. These are mere not friends that stick closer than brothers, or at least not unless you live in the same house. Since you moved out, you are no brother of theirs.

The second kind of church friends you will cultivate are genuine friends that are friends in spite of church. You have the church in common. You met at church, but you also have kids, ideas and needs in common and develop a friendship outside of just church stuff. Your kids grow up together, make fun of the church and minister together, as do you from time to time and it's just normal. But if you leave the Church or the Church leaves you, they have agonizing decisions to make. If they stay, they might sneak your friendship but if the Church was still the main draw, they eventually will leave you alone, high and dry. They might even leave the church themselves, but if they move on to an even more righteous church than the one they left, and you just became disillusioned and non-committal, they will spend some time getting you to follow them into the truer church, or drop you in time as well. They don't mean it. You're not being theologically tied to any belief and even willing to step outside boxes that lead to different conclusions about religion will leave you without these friends in time. They will feel sorry for you for not moving on to even an more true church in their quest for the one true one. These friends will make you feel icky if you insist on staying around them just because they are all you have left. They will make you feel inferior for your beliefs or lack of them compared to their now new and improved ones, which is always a sign you might need to just forget the friendship. It's not real.

Another group are those that may be somewhat like you in your skepticism and having learned more than the church would have wished you to learn from the whole experience. You'll have all the bitching in common about the past. You will have quality time living in, mulling over and analyzing the past, but when you tire of that and realize that your life is not going forward in the past, these friends will also dry up and blow away.

You may outgrow them and bring your life up into the present while they wallow in the past and you grow tired of it, or you may stay stuck and they move on. Either way, the friendship will dissolve in time, as friendship based on sharing only a bad experience is doomed in the long run. You'll know the "friendship" is over when they keep sending you updates on the goings on the past Church and you don't care. In the world of blogging and email, you may have attracted these types of friends because of your common disastrous experience, but you have never even met these people in real time and would not know them if they sat next to you. But you were friends, until you weren't.

I am writing this while listening to the great hymns of the Church. Me...Mr. Skeptical, listening to the old hymns. I get teary because it provokes the chemistry of a more simple time, when I was younger and didn't know I was going to learn and experience all I was going to with regards to Church, ministers, theology, politics, behavior, humans and reality.
Wait a sec, It is Well With My Soul is playing...gotta get teary...ok, back.

Seems a shame church friends who have suffered through the ridiculous and reckless folly of those who are determined to not think change through, have to meet only at funerals of the wounded and now dead friends of the past. Maybe if someone had been a real friend, in spite of Church, they would still be alive.

Well, I guess that answers in part, where did they all go? People who hop from truer church to truer church in pursuit of the TRUE Church build friendships based on being a member of that particular church or set of beliefs. That is one kind of friendship but they also tend to dissolve quickly when conditions in that church change. That has been my experience in spades.
While the Bible says "a friend loves at all times", that has proven elusive to say the least among the survivors of the WCG debacle.

In reality, I  find that many who say they love you or are you best friend don't tell you it's conditional.

Dennis C. Diehl


Allen C. Dexter said...

Well analyzed. My "friends" are now down to less than I can count on one hand.

One recently contacted me through facebook and indicated he wanted to call and talk to me, so I gave him my number and the best times to call. So far, nothing. I suspect he may have seen my blog in the meantime, as I referred to it, and that may have killed any desire to talk to me.

Still waiting, but I won't hold my breath. Anti-theists aren't too welcome in some circles. Can't take a chance on reason gaining a foothold, you know.

Glenn said...


I have no friends that I do things with on a regular basis. I have "friends" at work and my brother and sister are friends. I have not had friends for at least 20 years, which were spent rearing two children, working, and recovering from armstrongism. I have heard several people say that they have no close friends either. Spending leisure time with other people tends to tire me out. People who do have friends have to invest the time to develop those relationships, and I have discovered that I am not willing to do that. I don't seem to have the energy or the desire. Just saying that it is not unusual for most or all of the people from WCG to have drifted away. The people I knew in WCG who I could be friends with are a long way from Austin - from Portland to Ontario to San Diego to South Carolina.

Anonymous said...

Dennis: I only have two close friends that I know that would be there for me in a crisis. Neither are COG members or former members. All COG members that I knew (literally hundreds) who claimed to be brothers and sisters in Christ have all turned their backs on me. This includes the GCI people who are more cornered about reconciling with the world than they are with former co workers. With over thirty years with the Church I was pushed out the door with a signed card telling me that they would "pray for me." Not one of them has ever inquired as to how I am doing or what I am doing. I know lots of others who are in the same situation. They never truly cared. We were just commodities to be used till they had bled us dry then they disposed of us. GCI/WCG, UCG, LCG, PCG, COGWA and all the rest of the filthy bastards will never amount for anything until they admit what they have done to us all. They are living lives of luxury with guaranteed income for the remainder of their lives while those that put them in those jobs suffer. We, the 99% of the peons suffer while the 1% laugh in our faces.

DennisCDiehl said...

I think it is really so that you only really end up with two or three good friends and in doing so can call that a success. Friends tend to come from your current situation so it's understandable. Those that carry over from youth or all sorts of changes are friends indeed.

It is just that when you leave a church, and it is any Bible reading fundamentalist group for whom this becomes true, you become a "scoffer", "twice dead," "bad seed," "fallen away," and such. Of course that is stupid in this day and age of thousands of denominations, sects, splits and such. We have lost track of the true players.

Glenn, you have been a true friend to me as well as Allen. Now if I go back to church...well...ha. You're safe!! I intend to stay home from church and save 10% or more depending. :)

Andrew said...

"Church" is a nice idea, but rather cruel, because in reality, there is no such thing. It is just one more way that humans associate and dissociate with one another. People are going to do what they're going to do, they rarely change, at least, not necessarily for the better, and just because they associate here or there with these or those does not make them any better people, or special people, or more trustworthy, or more reliable, or more ethical. The cruel part is that the idea of "Church" promotes the false expectation that all of that ought to be true.

What makes the people at Church any different than the people you would meet at a boy scouts meeting, a 12-step group, a hiking club, a college class, the people sitting across from you at a restaurant, or the person behind you in line at the checkout? Expectations. Nothing else.

I ought to expect roughly random distributions of people AND behaviors, everywhere, including at "church." People are going to be just as good and just as rotten to you at "church" as anywhere else. But you have no preconceived expectation that the guy who cut you off in line at the filling station and took your spot at the pump was supposed to be "nice" to you, like you do with the people at "church." "Church" is just a trick of the mind.

Lake of Fire Church of God said...

I echo the comments of Allen C. Dexter, Glenn and Anonymous January 3, 2012 9:18 PM. My personal experience is the same.

I have asked the same question in recent years, “Where did everybody in the WCG go?”

During my years of attendance in the WCG (1968 – 1976) in the Baltimore/Washington churches, attendance peaked at 600+ in Baltimore and 500+ in Washington, D.C. Around 1973, a smaller congregation was started with much fanfare in Maryland state capital of Annapolis – billed as the first Church of God congregation in the original U.S. capital city. Carl Fowler was the pastor.

While the new Annapolis church congregation took members from the Baltimore/Washington churches because of its very close proximity, it added about 100+ net new members to my local area drawing brethren from Delaware and Maryland eastern shore who previously traveled all the way to Philadelphia, Pa. AM & PM local churches to attend WCG. I visited Philadelphia PM on a couple of occasions – Walter Sharp and Abner Washington were pastors.

So, where did 1,200 people in my local WCG church area go? And, this doesn’t even account for the churn rate in the church – people who came and left to be condemned to Lake of Fire eternal damnation. Throw in the church churn rate, and we are really talking about 2,000 people in my local WCG area. Where did the "local fruits" (and I don't mean that in the wrong way LOL) of Herbert W. Armstrong's worldwide work go?

I find very small remnants of them (and, I do mean very small as in a “very small fraction of them”) on the internet. The Annapolis WCG eventually migrated to the eastern shore. One of my friends in the 1970s from the WCG now “shepherds” the UCG congregation in Delaware, for example.

Lake of Fire Church of God - ministering to the children who grew up in the WCG.

P.S. - please send tithes, tithe of tithes, offerings, special offerings, Holy Day offerings, Emergency Fund offerings, and please don't forget your contributions to the all important Building Fund because "time is short".

Richard said...

Building a friendship requires time. The more time you're with someone, the more likely a friendship is to grow.

Facebook has been wonderful in restoring friendly contact with people I knew in high school - when I interacted with them five days a week.

In COG's, that's usually not the case. Many groups are now so scattered and splintered that a few hours on Sabbath are all "brethren" share with each other every week, outside Feast seasons.

In the WCG "golden era" with athletics on Sunday, Spokesman Club on Tuesday, Bible studies on Wednesday and worship on Sabbath, there was a better opportunity for friendship-building.

But I have to say I have more Facebook friends these days who are former co-workers on jobs than in COG's. The difference: more time spent with them - and more of an open "warts and all" relationship - as opposed to the frequent "Sabbath face/caution" often shown in COG's.

The peril of being a skeptic is that you're unlikely to trust any relationship, human or heavenly. The blessing of being a believer is that I accept God and Jesus as the most ultimately loyal friends anyone could have.

Lake of Fire Church of God said...

Dennis wrote, "I am writing this while listening to the great hymns of the Church. Me...Mr. Skeptical, listening to the old hymns. I get teary because it provokes the chemistry of a more simple time, when I was younger and didn't know I was going to learn and experience all I was going to with regards to Church, ministers, theology, politics, behavior, humans and reality.
Wait a sec, It is Well With My Soul is playing...gotta get teary...ok, back".

MY COMMENT - You are not alone, Dennis. I listen to certain Dwight Armstrong hymns avaiable on the internet because it does EXACTLY as you say - it triggers a chemical reaction in our minds to the simpler times of our lives when we were young.

Folks, like it or not, the WCG is our experience - however we got there. There is some truth in "remembering the day of the small thing".

Lake of Fire Church of God - ministering to the children who grew up in the Worldwide Church of God

Byker Bob said...

It was the total picture that formulated our basic attitudes as WCG members, and somehow it seems to have crept forward, setting basic tone for many of us in our post-WCG life.

As members, we were taught that we were unique. We were brothers and sisters in Christ, deeply bonded to one another in a way that even blood relatives could not approximate. The church was the all purpose solution. I believe that the reason I never had such a problem with separation anxieties is that I always hindered and limited the abilities of others to get close to me from any walks of life, be it church, work, or family. And, of course, I applied that especially to members of the ministry, or people in leadership roles.

Because of this concept of deeper than human bonding or brotherhood, which was probably a deceptive or illusionary concept to begin with, what could possibly follow as part of the post partum package but dissatisfaction with reality? It was part of a sales presentation, and part of the constant reselling of the Armstrong package, nothing more, nothing less.

Most humans form friendships for limited symbiotic purposes, and we do it based on our common areas. It is very rare that our friendships would go deeper than this. Through our lifetimes, most of us could count our deep friendships (including family members!) on the fingers of one hand, possibly not even using all of the fingers! That is perfectly normal, and perfectly natural.


Anonymous said...

Although i never was a member of WCG, but came across the PT magazine when young and have in recent times gone to services with UCG for instance, i never really had any friends in the Bible sense that "there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother" or the type of friendship David and Jonathan had that they were entwined like one--To have a friend like that! :-) Most of my friends in my teenage and adult years were the superficial type (e.g. go to movies, restaurants, concerts, mall, etc.) and reflecting on these friendships i reckon they saw me more as "competition" than anything else, a way for them to show up themselves as better than the company they kept(e.g. in higher ed, in career, getting married, having kids, etc.) and i was too stupid and naive to see it--and them--for what it was until it was too late. Since when i really needed a friend they dropped me like a hot potato to pursue their own interests. The only real friends i had were in elementary/middle schools mind you!
But, what i've noticed in recent times with the whole HWA/WCG/UCG/LCG/RCG etc--"alphabetized" soup of splintering cults--is that at the center of Armstrong's cultish brand of Christianity was another form of Satan's lying assertion to Eve that "ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil" or "ego"! And a lot of people naturally became attracted to this whole twisted idea that humans were going to be God beings! Whereas Christ asserted otherwise in saying the resurrected children of God will be "as the angels who are in heaven"--and they're certainly not God! Besides that the target of his audience IMO were predominantly wealthier people who could afford to triple tithe and go on holidays each year for the FOT--Yippee! So self-indulgent! And all in the name of God! But, excuse me what about preaching the gospel freely to the poor, homeless, jobless, sick, widows, orphans, persecuted foreigners, etc. as the NT Church did and Paul admonished so many times in his epistles? And to be honest I think the True Church of God is the Body of Christ--hence it's not limited to one man-made group. Besides Christ said He'd build His Church not another man would, which is what Popery and other similar cults that believe "there is no salvation outside our church" would have us believe.
At present though if you believe it my "best friends" are my sister and her kids, particularly my eldest neice, even though she would've been aborted if her young, unwed mom at the time had known she was pregnant! So I can only THANK GOD & CHRIST she didn't! :) Otherwise my life would've been that much more lonely...

Anonymous said...

I left in 1972, back then members weren't allowed to be 'friends' with the fallen and disfellowshipped. I am sure none of you who are complaining about having no friends would have been my friend then either. It was a sad and lonely world for a 21 year old with no knowledge of worldly ways etc., But I was young then and had the energy for a big come back. Pretty soon I made up for lost time and did have a few friends. We got stoned together and had sex, it's what people did in the 70s. Now I am getting old and don't have any bad habits, like religion, sex, drugs, drinking. The friends sort of drift away when there is nothing in common. There are still a few stalwarts and thankfully I had some children who seem to put up with me whether they actually like me or not.

William Ferguson said...

The most difficult thing I dealt with after leaving the WCG behind in 1997 was the loss of friends and the troubling issue of what it was exactly that caused sectarianism. Nobody ever addressed the cause of this division. How could doctrinal interpretations trump Jesus message of love towards fellow man? These people were the modern day version of Peter cutting off ears in the name of Jesus!

I was at the heart of the storm in Earl Williams church. I threw my all into what Earl was saying. I saw the reaction Earl got from the traditionalists, the death threats, the intimidation, the rascist comments about the uppity nigger minister. This from men I once revered. And Earl experienced the baloney sandwich routine too - private assurances from Pasadena that they supported him and the official denials to everyone else. There are no "liars for Jesus". I saw miracles take place in Atlanta until Earl thought it was all his doing - and that was a good lesson too. Then Joe Tkach and Mike Feazell made the same mistake.

I have actually been surprised by how many friends I did keep, even with the belief differences. But then as a "2nd Generation WCGer" I learned to pick my friends very carefully early on. I never did believe everyone in the WCG or in the ministry had my best interests at heart. I witnessed very early on abusive ministers who did not keep confidences. I will never forget the minister in Phoenix who blabbed to the entire congregation from the pulpit what some poor troubled member told him in private. I was 9 years old and I decided I would never confide anything personal to a minister in the WCG. They couldn't be trusted.

I remember seeing Catholic priests on in movies and TV refusing to divulge confessions citing clergy confidentiality, and I wondered why such a thing did not exist in the church Herbert Armstrong founded.

Sectarianism was a harder nut to crack. How could so many well meaning people be so mean to each other? In the WCG we'd justify someone's errant behavior as "they were never converted" as if people were some kind of chemical reaction that never took. The answer lies in the logic system of western thought, Aristotle's binary logic. Binary logic underlays all western law, religion, philosophy and politics.

You can create computers and computer programs with it, but they can't think and we didn't have HAL 9000 in 2001.

Optical computing researchers found the logic was incomplete. They found quantum particles like photons have a four value logic. There's much information between true and false, binary logic forces choices and judgements to the extremes and throws out the middle answers. It encourages zealots and rebels and discourages any semblance of balance and discernment. There's no room in binary logic for common sense, and that is why we don't have HAL 9000.

Its probably not accidental that the greatest period of American literalist fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism happens to coincide with the computer age.

So many people trained in logic arrive quite methodically at the wrong answers. They are of God therefore anyone else is not. But its not their fault, nobody knew any different except for Buddhists (they knew 2500 years ago) and Taoists.

The cure for sectarianism is to use heart and mind. The heart is not evil above all things, but what is evil is telling people not to trust their heart - the seat of intuition. If you don't trust your heart you'll follow what any convincing authority figure tells you.

Anonymous said...

I think we were all spoiled in the WCG with a ready supply of friendship without a huge effort. For some people it went as far as finding a mate and employment with almost no effort too.

In the real world one has to develop social skills to relate to others. Something I found I didn't have when I left WCG.
For a while I migrated to the hippie and drug world. Really it was just another religion and belief system. There is no effort in being friends with people when you are stoned on the same drugs. Alcohol fills the same role, it breaks down human inhibitions. Of course there is the mean drunk who no one likes, but for shy people alcohol can make people more friendly....at least temporarily.
Didn't Marx call religion the 'opiate of the people'? The similarities between drug use and religion are many and once people leave (recover) they often have difficulty fitting into the 'world' again.
This is especially hard if leaving means abandoning your family also, or your family abandoning you.

I was very young when I made this transition and it was hard for me, so I sympathize with those who are older when they change their path. For me I was compensated by the thrill and exhilaration of freedom and all the former denied things I could now experience. Thank you Church for providing so much forbidden fruit. I guess the Church started allowing everything at the end -- divorce, remarriage and doctors to name a few.

We were a little secret, special group, alienated from normal society. We had friends all over the world just based on this. Sad when it is over, but isn't it better to live in reality like ordinary people?