Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It Happened To Me: Growing Up Black In The WCG and UCG

Here is a fascinating short story of an African-American woman who grew up in theWorldwidee Church of God, with all of its Caucasian British Israel idiocracies, and later went with her parents into the United Church of God.

IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Grew Up In A Small, Strict Sect Of Christianity That Outlawed Christmas, Easter, Shellfish And Pork
The religion is based on the erroneous notion of British Israelism (the idea that Anglo-Saxon people are descendants of biblical Israel -- an idea actual DNA does not support), and we follow a model of Christianity similar to what first-century Christianity might have been.

DECEMBER 5, 2013

For many kids growing up in New York City, it's not uncommon to have a kid in your class who goes to church on Saturday and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. That kid is usually Jewish. Unless, of course, you were in my class, in which case that kid would actually be Christian -- and that child would be me.
I grew up with parents who were members of the Worldwide Church of God, which was then a non-denominational association of churches that followed a brand of Christianity which more resembles Judaism in its holy days and practices.
The foundation of the church’s doctrine rests on British Israelism, the idea that people of Western European descent are the direct ancestors of the ancient Israelites to whom God gave His law. Under this belief, the church concluded that the modern British Royal Family are direct descendants of King David. This theory has since been disproved with the help of genetics and common sense, but that didn’t stop WWCGs from teaching it. 
Worldwide broke up into smaller splinter groups back in the ‘90s after church officials decided on a series of doctrinal changes which were more in line with modern evangelical Christianity. My parents left Worldwide for one of these smaller groups, the United Church of God, who continued to teach what they believe to be the truth.
I followed them, and through high school, and even in college, continued to worship with them. I didn’t exactly go to church every week, but I still participated in high holy days and kept to the dietary restrictions I followed as a kid. 
As you can imagine, it was not easy as a teenager to grow up in a religion no one seemed to understand.
“Wait, are you like a Jew for Jesus or something?” was a common question when I tried to explain why I couldn’t go out on Friday nights, or why if I believed in Jesus I didn’t celebrate Easter. 
Back then, it was definitely disappointing for me to miss out on so many middle school dances because I had to be home by sundown on Friday evening. But looking back, I am thankful that I was at least spared the extra opportunities for crippling adolescent embarrassment. I had plenty of friends at school, but my religion was a huge difference -- even for hardened New York City kids who have pretty much been exposed to everything. It was clear that school friends would never be able to fully understand my life.
So, I built close friendships with other kids like me in my congregation, some of whom remain my best friends today. It was nice to be around people you didn’t have to explain your entire existence to when you opted out of 10th grade Secret Santa. But as I grew older, a lot of the people I was friends with wound up leaving the church.
I stayed and still attended services. Why? Partially because I didn't want to disappoint my parents, who are a very zealous pair and follow the strict doctrine to a T. They expected the same from me. Unfortunately, I always seemed to come up short in one way or another.
If it wasn’t getting home in time for the Sabbath, it was drinking at a party or not reading my bible enough. So, through my teenage years I cultivated a rather conflicted relationship with my religion. And it wasn’t the standard stock of teenage angst and general feeling of rebellion that did me in. My reasons had little to do with me, and more to do with the fact that I began to see that the church at large was not the bastion of loving Christendom I’d been brought up to believe.
My local congregation was cool. Many of the people I grew up attending services with had known my parents for decades, a few had even been at my mom’s baby shower. It was also a diverse group, as one might expect for NYC. Most of the other kids I knew in the church were from the tri-state area, and came up same as me.
I thought the pleasant, open, and accepting folks I interacted with locally was a sampling of the people in the organization at large, most of whom live in the Midwest. I didn’t discover how wrong I was until I was 13 and my parents sent me to a camp run by the church, where I met other kids from across America (and a few from other countries) who followed my same religion. It was in these interactions that I slowly began to realize how out of place I was in a community within which I was supposed to feel comfortable.
Most people who met me were either dazzled by the fact I grew up in a city so unkind to “good Christian folk,” or eager to ask me every single question they ever had about people of color. After a while, I’d gotten used to being asked what it was like to live in modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah (*eyeroll*), or hearing my so-called brethren express how happy they were for our family to hear that Harlem and Brooklyn were finally getting “cleaned up.”
Indeed, I’d gotten so used to the unbridled ignorance, I could even control my anger when I interacted with brethren from out of town who were so excited to share the scientific evidence they discovered proving that black people are strong runners but poor swimmers.
I barely batted an eyelash when I was asked to explain why "my kind" was so devoted to “baby mama culture.” I learned how to calmly divert the conversation when folks tried to trap me into a conversation about illegal immigration, as if I was some sort of expert on the subject.
I ignored the ignorance because I really believed that in spite of it all, that I was getting the truth and that this was the right path to God. I was born into the religion and followed it because I'd been taught that it was the right thing to do, and it should be done regardless of who I was ultimately affiliated with. I just accepted what was presented to me without really thinking about why I did it. That is, until I started to actually sit and read the bible for myself.
It was in my own research that I began to realize that many of the church’s doctrinal stances didn’t make sense. Naturally, I took issue with the erroneous and borderline racist theory of British Israelism the church purported as biblical fact. I also wondered why we kept to certain traditions, but were not obligated to fulfill others.
The church is unique in that it follows many of the laws given in Deuteronomy, including those commanding celebration of Jewish holy days, and the dietary restrictions mentioned in the book. I did find it quite odd, that although we were to consider pork and shellfish as unclean meats, we didn't have to follow the law against wearing a garment made from two different fabrics. I’d heard plenty of sermons about staying away from bacon, but none about the danger cotton-wool blends bring to your salvation.
I had grown increasingly unsure about my place in the church. Not only because I simply didn’t fit in culturally, but because no one could really give me answers about what I was taught versus what I was reading with my own two eyes. But I didn’t decide to leave until last year, after one very illuminating conversation with a few members from out of town.
I was chatting with a small group of about four other people at a church retreat. We got to talking about our childhoods, in which we ‘80s and ‘90s babies waxed poetic about how awesome the ‘90s were (great economy, internet pre-social media, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Spice Girls, etc.). Not to be outdone by us young guns, an older gentleman in the conversation piped up. 
“The best time in America was the 1950s. This country had values, and we were safe -- you didn’t even have to lock your door at night.” 
“Oh, really, the best time in this country?” I answered, hoping he might sense my sarcasm.
“Darn right,” he responded. If there was any appropriate time for a real-life headdesk.gif, it would have been then.
“I guess it was pretty awesome if you looked a certain way,” I replied, hoping he might catch my drift. Hoping he would realize that for someone who might have been, oh, I don’t know, BROWN, that decade might not have been so great. Surely this fellow was aware of our country’s history.
“No, it was pretty much great for everybody. We were safe! There were values!”
I didn’t know how to reply. I just stayed quiet because I was shocked that anyone could say such a thing.
“I think what she’s trying to say is that the ‘50s were not too kind to black people,” another clearly keener woman explained. DING, DING, DING!
Now, people in the church have said several ignorant things to me over the years, but this particular comment really stayed with me. The fact that this fellow, someone I was supposed to call my spiritual brother, couldn’t even stretch his imagination enough to realize that in his little utopian image of the world, life might not have been so good for someone else was troubling, to say the least.
Isn’t part of being a Christian thinking of others? Nobody’s perfect, and the man might not have realized what he was saying, but for me, that comment was the last straw. I decided then and there that the church was no longer a place I could call home.
This is not to say that there aren't plenty of wonderful people in the church, or that my life there had been all bad. I had a fantastic upbringing, and for a long time, church was family time and I have many wonderful memories tied to a lot of church-related activities. Indeed, some of the people I love and know me best are in my life because of the church. It has been such a huge part of my life, and I am thankful that I've been able to know so many remarkable people because of it.
Still, the underlying, downright un-Christian bigotry and doctrinal dissonance compelled me to distance myself from the organization. Why would I participate in or give money to a church I didn’t believe was really teaching what Jesus intended? Christianity is not about following every law to a T or tithing, or being part of some sort of genetically elect group.
It’s about treating your family, neighbors, and enemies with respect, and showing selfless love for others and God. Of course, these are things my parents always taught me, but they believed their particular brand of Christianity is the only way to do it. 
I wouldn’t say I practice any religion today, to the great dismay of my parents. I wager they are extremely concerned for my salvation because I don’t follow the same set of rules they do. I don’t go to church anymore, I go out on Friday nights -- and, heck, I've even eaten shrimp scampi (sorry, dad).
But I don’t think that this makes me less of a Christian, nor do I feel further away from God. In fact, I’d say that simply trying to do right by people has brought me closer to Him. Doing those “good works” have already made me a better Christian. And, to top it off, I don’t feel guilty about supporting a dubious organization. 
I’m no angel. I have a ton of flaws. I occasionally hit the sauce a little too much; I curse, and sometimes covet Charlotte Olympia flats a little too hard. I'm a work in progress, but I do feel like I'm getting closer to my goal, whatever it is, than ever. But I do feel more forgiving, patient, and loving. Isn't that what it's all about anyway? 


Anonymous said...

I've always found it strange when British Israelism is cited as a foundational doctrine of COGs. I, after 46 years, would never consider British Israelism as anything but a possible prophetic truth, but not of any great importance to me as far as salvation.

If your faith is based on how other declared "Christians" behave, you will always be disappointed. All humans are flawed and "Christians" fail to live up to what we truly hold to be true and righteous on a daily basis. Anyone here, at this cite, name one day you haven't fallen short. I'm not making excuses. I too have difficulty seeing truly Christ like behavior on a regular basis from so called "Christians", including myself. It has obviously very insensitive for a white person to look at the 50's without considering the abuse of black back then.

Being the ideal Christian example 24 hours a day seems to be "the impossible dream".
That's where the need for a proper balance, which includes God's mercy and forgiveness is needed, but is often missing in COG preaching.

In Gods Plan, as far as I understand it, humans have fallen short forever. And from what Bible prophesy shows, mankind's future looks bleak until the bottom of the ninth with 2 out and 2 strikes and a rally, a reversal of miraculous nature brings a happy ending to most.

Byker Bob said...

Awesome contribution, and with a happy ending!

Armstrongism assumes that the same groups (nationalities) of people who were present in Old Testament times (and their various hierarchies and animosities) are present today. Armstrongites recognize migration, but fail to take assimilation into account, or in some cases, annihilation. I'm so thankful that today, heritages can be traced by genetic markers, rather than by ignorant theories. There is something in each individual's background of which they can be proud. Thank God for Henry Louis Gates!


Byker Bob said...

Over the past years since the mapping of the human genome, British Israelism, quite understandably, has been "soft-sold" by the ACOGs. During the time leading up to 1975, and subsequently, during the "back on track" era that HWA claimed to have been raised from the dead to institute, line item veto of any of the doctrines was not allowed.

Let's take a look at the major teachings of the church which would have been lost or impacted if belief had not been required in British Israelism. First, there would have been no basis for the "Armstrong" understanding of prophecy. That is, unless other than genetic support were found for considering the US and BC to be modern Israel. Now, you could do that via Paul's statement that Christians were the new Israel, and by postulating that Christians travelled from England to found the USA, but that raises problems with the sabbath, since the vast majority of the Christian founders were not sabbatarian Christians. Any admission that Sunday-keepers are Christian kills the idea that Herbert W. Armstrong's church is the only true church, and that he was God's end time apostle called to preach a gospel that the world had not heard for 2,000 years. Issues are also raised with the holy days, since these were not kept by the pilgrims. So, what does that do to the "plan of God" which HWA taught that the holy days portrayed? it pretty much shoots "6,000 years for man", which also calls the end times and start of the millennium into question.

If these are not the end times, there is no urgency about the prophecies and the "work", (warning the world). You could not select an era from the bogus church era doctrine.
Also out the window would have gone the Petra place of safety and final training (for which Armstrongite ministers claimed to be the gatekeepers). No British Israelism renders the speculative theories about German Assyrianism, and Native American Canaanism moot. British Israelism is a keystone component of the Armstrong religion. Much is based upon believing in it. If Armstrongism were the exclusive gateway to salvation, you could not get there without all of the things that supposedly hinge on British Israelism.


nck said...

British Israelism is not a halmark of COG christianity since the year 0.

It is however the pinnacle of Armstrongism and its very foundation.

It intrinsically linked with HWAs Scottish ancestry, his identity and the culture that pervaded the organisation he founded and based ON COG christianity.

His tracing his genealogy to David, the imminent return of christ to sit on an existing throne were Armstrongs hallmark and proof that Gods promises will either be fulfilled or are lies. The tkachian removal of BI was the end of WCG.


Anonymous said...

You're on your way, girl. Keep going. Oh, and wait until you try lobster tail and crab legs. Umm! I'm back to enjoying good hickory smoked crisp bacon and eggs fried in the fat. Of course, it doesn't bother me anymore because I long ago now found out the entire Bible is mostly made up fiction and the Christian religion is an invention of the Romans and guy named Paul. The whole concept of a godman is Roman, not Jewish. The pain of finding out is well worth it. All gods are pure fiction.

Allen C. Dexter

Connie Schmidt said...

We all have our story. No one, not even ministers, (consider some of the stories from Dennis Diehl) escaped the WCG without some type of abuse. Heck, you are nobody in the COG universe unless you have been disfellowshipped, or put out of one of the churches over time, including WCG in 1995.

I have had sexist things said to me right here on this forum. NCK invited me to "join his 4 wives in the basement". (what a jackass!)

Not trying to minimize here experience in the least, but being of German descent, it was always a drag to be told, "and Connie's people , the Assyrians, are going to be the one that put us into the Great Tribulation". So yes, there was hierarchy even by what kind of "white folk" you were too!

BTW- I like Olympia Flats too!

Helen Wheels said...

I can definitely identify with this, enough so that I could write my own.

"Wait, are you like a Jew for Jesus or something?"

What's funny is COG religion comes at it from the exact opposite directions—we were christians for Moses!

"I ignored the ignorance because I really believed that in spite of it all, that I was getting the truth and that this was the right path to God. I was born into the religion and followed it because I'd been taught that it was the right thing to do, and it should be done regardless of who I was ultimately affiliated with."

Same. I don't know how many times I heard the ol' chestnut that "you shouldn't let other people interfere with your relationship with god..." It was used to excuse every abuse perpetrated within the church. But you want to be in the first resurrection, don't you? Well, then, this is the only way. This is the only place you'll hear "the truth". If you're not one of us, you'll be sorry.

"It was in my own research that I began to realize that many of the church’s doctrinal stances didn’t make sense."

I came to realize the opposite, that sure, the doctrinal stances "made sense," from a particular point of view—but that given the nature of the bible, and how contradictory it is, almost any doctrinal stance could be made to "make sense," even ones that are diametrically opposed to the ones I was raised with in WCG, and were taught by HWA were doctrines of "christianity falsely-so-called." Just because HWA didn't like those doctrines didn't mean they weren't equally biblical, they were just supported by parts of the bible that HWA did not like to emphasize. So my criticism did not end with the church, but also went on to include the bible as well as a fatally flawed document.

"The best time in America was the 1950s. This country had values, and we were safe -- you didn’t even have to lock your door at night."

It is extremely strange that HWA built a church around early 20th century Americana. But that's what all the COGs are to this day. They think their "kingdom of god" is going to look like Leave It To Beaver. Jeff Sessions would be right at home there.

"Christianity is not about following every law to a T or tithing, or being part of some sort of genetically elect group. It’s about treating your family, neighbors, and enemies with respect, and showing selfless love for others and God."

I've realized that right from the first century, there were folks who thought true religion ultimately boils down to lawkeeping, and others who thought it boiled down to grace and love. That's why you'll find both sitting uncomfortably together in your bible. It's why I can't believe any longer that one can use the bible taken as a whole to arrive at any rationally supportable "path" to "salvation." And if it did, I'm not sure I'd approve on moral grounds of the "good" place any more than the "bad" place. Ultimately I realized that "the truth" was just a pack of lies shaped to serve preachers, not those suckered in by it.

Anonymous said...

i too grew up as a black child in wwcg and was an adult in lcg...its really too bad that people get offended by certain teachings of the carnal minded, and rightfully so in many cases, then subsequently throw the baby out with the bath water...

i have always looked through the meat headed bigotry of the church hierchy to the righteousness and refuge of the Word of God; the Word of God is armour against such foolishness...

i also have accepted the Scriptures validation of certain beliefs that the Church has taught, for example, they have said that the brits are of ephraim: if you look in Isaiah 11:12-14 it clearly describes how judah, the jews, would be Returned to the land of Israel, and would be making peace with ephraim, the brits, and would be oppressing the phillistines, the palestinians...

this is precisely what happened, and whether one believes it to be prophesy or mere coincidence seems to run along "party lines" as it were...

and, of course, non believers typically offer only disparaging remarks (and their respective predispositions) and hidden agendas along with second hand science from suspect sources...

Anonymous said...

Why does NCK derail every conversation here with his silly rants? It is the same crap every time, just tailored for a new subject. Give it a rest.

nck said...


I was going to remove my posting at your request. I am willing to go that far to accomodate honest discussion of topics.

Looking into this specific one, it is just a sharpening of BB's expose, which was an answer to 11:14.
According to HWA himself. There is no Armstrongismm without BI. There can however be COG ism with a more political interpretation of BI instead of a racial one. Lets be very clear. The early church had no concept on BI. Although Paul did preach to the Celts in Galatia.

So I am leaving the posting since your remark is moot in this specific regard.

Now to remain completely on topic.

To me the author of this piece looks like an honest, nice person I can relate too. Instead of the usual drab negativity about wcg. I think it is an honest account of her experience.

I will leave it up to others how much of that experience was a direct result of wcg biblical interpretation and how much of it was a result of american culture, its lousy education system and the prejudice and bigotry of individuals raised in such environment.

I usually read peoples opinions about that on this blog.


nck said...

"I have had sexist things said to me right here on this forum. NCK invited me to "join his 4 wives in the basement". (what a jackass!)"

Ah Connie.

I see what you mean.

It was meant as a disparaging comment about myself. As I have been portrayed as one hermit sitting in a basement in trainers by some.

I know see that you took it as a "sexist" remark. Unfortunately I cannot apologize for how you interpreted my remark.

I will also refrain from pointing at the biblical examples like Abraham, Moses and the like with multiple wives. You being from German descend would NOT understand. Even Tacitus wrote in his "The Germania. "They are husband to ONE wife, the wifes bath in the river and the men value their opinions."


RSK said...

Nck is just a bit of a pontificator.

Anonymous said...

I just ignore this BI ain't true cause of DNA 'proof.' It is so easy to deceive or mis lead someone if they know nothing or little about a certain topic. Unless you are a knowledgeable expert, it's easy to be hood winked. Which is why for instance, members are initially deceived on certain biblical 'truths,' which proves to be hot air. Church government being one example.
I don't think the DNA apostles here are ignorant of this.

Byker Bob said...

No problem, dude! We've also got holocaust deniers here, climate change deniers, and even incest deniers.


Anonymous said...

The holocaust and incest are easy to comprehend. Did you read what I said. It's a principle that if a person knows little on a complex topic, but the other knows a lot, it is easy for the knowledgeable party to mislead the other.
Which is why the DNA 'proof' is not proof to ordinary people. If truth is in your side, why revert to such a dishonest ploy?
So called climate change is a different debatable issue. It use to be confidently called climate warming until they discovered that the planet is cooling.

Byker Bob said...

You do know about the Larsen C ice shelf?


nck said...

10:01 PM

I believe it would be very interesting to discuss topics that you know a lot about.
I'm sure many would welcome your comments on topics om which you are confident.

Of course on these type of blogs you will also find a lot of opinions. But placed in the right context opinions have value too on occasion.


Byker Bob said...

What's true is that in our discussions, we must introduce all levels of factual materials which demonstrate that Armstrongism and its theories are in error, and will cause damage rather than the edification that people are seeking through it. Addressing all levels might mean that some may not understand some of the materials, or that others feel that their intelligence is being insulted. But, at least an effort is being made to reach everyone.

There may be some readers/posters who could be fooled if we started a quasi-serious fake post on the pagan origins of all the subliminal aprobioconfabulosis practiced in Armstrongism, but I believe that over the past decade, we've moved beyond the cruelty in pranking others. The discussions are of a more serious nature, reflect concern, and that's why folks still in the ACOGs feel comfortable participating here.


Anonymous said...

What I am saying has been articulated by Saul Alinsky in his 'rules for radicals. These include:
"Never go outside the expertise of your people." It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone."

"Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy." Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty."

What I am saying is that the DNA 'proof' is a deliberate application of 'go outside the expertise of the enemy' rule.

Byker Bob said...

And, yet there are people who have posted here who left Armstrongism specifically because dna toppled British Israelism, and took out half the rest of the doctrines with it!


Hoss said...

Byker Bob wrote ... since the mapping of the human genome, British Israelism ... has been "soft-sold" by the ACOGs

Yes, and I'd say Bob Thiel is the most overt propounder of BI. He regularly posts articles like "Clues that (European nation) is (Israelite tribe)" with the latest pair being Sweden/Naphtali.

Indeed, as BB pointed out, without BI (and some of Dr Hoeh's skolarship) the framework of COG prophetic misunderstanding would need to be retooled.

But if one has found the COGWriter website, one may also have found Google.

Anonymous said...

I was in spokesman/graduate club for 5 years, so I have a good idea of the educational level of church members. I never heard a knowledgeable speech on a complex topic. So I find it hard to believe that members could become conversant enough with DNA, to base a major life decision on.
The reason people give for making a decision, and the real reason, are frequently very different.
So I take with a grain of salt claims of people leaving a xCOG because of DNA proof.

Anonymous said...

Considering the fact that COGs have looked down on education, unless you are a minister with letters after your name, then it is ok, you have misguided teachings dripped consistently over time and mingled with some truth.

"Don't believe me. Believe your Bible." Problem is, when we do, we are told we do not understand the true mind of God. Right LCG leadership. Oh that's right, we can't discuss that, gotta keep tithes flowing in, even if it is from what you mistakenly call your "gentile brethern". Give a sermon on the word "gentile" and reveal how little is actually understood by your leaders on how God views his beloved creation called mankind.