Here on Banned, after reading all of the various and crazy seeming behaviors, ideas and perspectives of the spiritual leadership in the myriad of Church of God splits, splinters and slivers, we often are forced to ask ourselves, "Why do they, the membership, who can't be this naïve and gullible. stay?"
One valid reason is that indeed they are that gullible and naive. Another is the sincere belief that have that in spite of the seeming craziness and prophetic blunderings, "I sincerely believe this is God's True Church."
But also, and perhaps a more primordial and subconscious belief, is the absolute fear of the loss of connection and of belonging. I get that and so do you.
For several years before I departed WCG as both minister and member, I could see it coming.
Originally I thought that my generation of ministry would right the wrongs of the WCG and stop majoring in the minors as well as practice minding our own business on topics which are not actually the church's business.
That idea got crushed early in my ministry , which began in 1972, with the failure of the Systematic Theology Project, in 1974, that addressed just such needs in the church. Herbert would have none of it nor would he yield his supposed authority to others to recognize the need for changes on such topics as healing, divorce and remarriage and a number of other topics that were both meddlesome and troublesome in endeavoring how to apply them in our times. The church nor HWA could err on the side of compassion , love and common sense. It had to be technically and literally correct if it was to be "God's true Church." The rest is history.
But even more than simply choosing to quietly not apply some church teachings and requirements to the congregation because I disagreed with them, it was the loss of community, connection and belonging that also weighed heavy in the background. It is a subconscious human need that goes back a very long ways.
. Being "disfellowshipped" or "marked" is a very old way of stirring up the fear people have of these losses and was used by the Bronze Age Old Testament types and the Iron Age New Testament types to keep the "all speaking the same thing, that there be no divisions among us" family together in peace and harmony. In the OT the penalties for stepping outside the box of the Israelite religion was severe and often fatal. In the New Testament it was a more conscious attempt to make the person lonely and cut off from the herd with the hope that would teach them good not to stray again.
In the ancient history of tribal man, being put out of the group was literally a death sentence. Being put out of the church was deemed a mere death to the flesh in turning one over to Satan, but so the spirit could eventually be saved in the tale of ultimate salvation. I doubt it worked either.
Somehow it never seemed to strike the NT types to wonder just why someone felt as they did, asked the questions they did, had the doubts they did or made the mistakes they did, and perhaps actually get them help and encourage them.
Today with the increase of knowledge, a good thing, that approach has lost much of it's punch in motivating people to pray, obey, pay and stay where they are not comfortable. And yet, the need to belong and the connections people have with family and friends in their faith is still strong and the major reason people stay put.
It is when they find themselves sitting on the outside to Church beliefs but standing up on the inside when they disagree. The inside and the outside don't yet match and may never depending on the degree of loss of connection and belonging a particular person is willing to live with. Perfect love, the opposite of which is not hate but fear, does not strike the NT church as a way to keep a church together. Fear of loss works just fine. It also causes a church to be made up of people who seem one way but are another.
The reality of "why they stay" is perhaps illustrated in the life of Charles Darwin as well in relation to his wife Emma. His "evolving" views on the Origin of Species" caused great distress in his personal relationship with his very religious and church going wife Emma.
But in his personal life and relationship, Emma wrote him of her concerns.
" My reason tells me that honest and conscientious doubts cannot be a sin, but I feel it would be a painful void between us."
Emma, wife of Charles Darwin, upon her recognition of potential consequences to Charles discoveries as to the Origin of the Species.
"May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing until it is proved, influence your mind in other things that cannot be proved..."
Emma to Charles one year later in 1839.
Charles Darwin's "Sandwalk " Path where he often spent time alone in his thoughts.
By the 1840's, Charles is escorting Emma to church, stopping at the door to drop her off and going off to take a walk alone while she is in Church. It was this fear of the loss of his bond to Emma that caused Charles Darwin to postpone the publication of his Origin of Species for another 20 years.
Some do feel that this had little to do with Darwin's fears about either the reactions of his peers or his wife and were more a function of being busy and in poor health, but "all of the above" would seem true with such a revolutionary theory and understanding in that day. Today we have ample proof he was correct where Darwin simply had the concept lacking all but some relatively simple proofs of his time and by observation during his trip on the Beagle.
In modern times and in such cases where walking away from religious practice, people and beliefs that one no longer can support or count as a credible reason to stay put, we can see the same fears expressed when contemplating the losses and realities that will come from no longer being able "going along to get along. " Going along to get along is the dilemma I see many of my former and now older minister peers stuck in because of age and the price of leaving being way too high if not impossible to do at this stage in their lives. I get that. It's a dilemma they never would have imagined when young and it is not a function of doubting their sincerity.
"I have a compelling reason to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians, and would be devastated, were I to to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God...Abandoning belief in God (or a specific faith and church as with the splinters) would be disruptive...sending my life completely off the rails."
Carl Giberson, "Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution" 2008
In my own experience in coming out of ministry and membership in WCG many years ago now, I participated in The Clergy Project. This was a private and secure website for members of the clergy, male and female, to talk with those who have already had the experience, about their loss of faith and how to navigate all the potential emotions and losses associated with it. It was always the fear of loss of a marriage, the love of children and the safety and comfort of belonging to community that held them back or was the stuff of nightmares "coming out." . One pastor asked me if the divorce he feared and his children rejecting him had to happen. He wanted reassurance that it would not. I could not give him that. No one could. It is often inevitable depending on what actually holds a relationship together. If it just church, then no. And if no is not something one is willing to consider at this time, the struggle for one's personal authenticity and the consequences of a loss of faith in faith will come calling again another time to see how it's going.