The painful truth about Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Arrmstrong and the Worldwide Church of God

 

      A Letter to Worldwide Kids

      If you grew up in the Worldwide Church of God, this letter is to you.  If you were a parent who raised a kid in Worldwide, you might want to listen, too.  And if you are parent or child in any of the WCG splinter groups, this is definitely for you, even though you probably will never see it.  

      One of the most notable facts that have emerged from people responding to this website is that a large number of people who grew up in WCG were severely traumatized by the overpowering brutality of the organization.  Many have suffered lifelong effects, and many still have not healed.  Many still feel guilty for having left, or having failed to somehow live up to the impossible demands that were made on them.  I think it's time we talked about this.  

      You Need To Understand

      If you were a kid in Herbert Armstrong's empire, you need to understand a few things.  The first and most important of these is that you were completely innocent.  Nothing that happened to you was your fault, and the people who beat you down and made you feel small and dirty should be horsewhipped naked on national television at halftime at the Super Bowl...

       

      ...for thirty uninterrupted minutes.  

      It doesn't matter if you were a teenager when your parents joined Worldwide or if you were a babe in arms -- you were guilty of nothing.  Children should not be held to the same standard as adults, because their minds and bodies are not sufficiently developed for the task.  Of course, Worldwide didn't hold children to the same standard as adults, but to a HIGHER standard.   

      Ironically, the church taught that one could not obey the law until they were baptized, and could not be baptized until they were an adult...yet kids were expected to be perfect!  Meanwhile, the elderly (those with the "hoary head") could get away with murder.  Logic would dictate that these old busybodies should have accrued enough maturity and wisdom to set a proper example for everyone else, but that was almost never the case.  

      You, as a Worldwide kid, were thrust into an unnatural situation.  Not only were you forbidden to live a normal life, but on Saturday you were forced to sit quietly for a minimum of two hours while, outside, the world was waiting.  Two hours?  Even public schools have recess!  No school that I ever attended held a kid in the classroom longer than 55 minutes.  Even high schools have a break between classes.  But no, in WCG you had to sit there like a statue and keep quiet.  Kids have too much energy for that.  It was an impossible demand.  

      Guilt Feelings

      If you feel guilty over things that you did (or didn't do) during your WCG youth, you shouldn't.  Not about anything.  Short of killing someone or setting the minister's wife on fire, there is nothing you could have done for which you should feel guilty.  Let's review some of the outrageous and ridiculous things that were forced on church kids.  (The following list comes from my own era, which was the sixties; you can adjust it to match the period you grew up in.)  And this list is by no means comprehensive:  

      Sports (unable to play or attend)

      Dances (unable to attend)

      Dating (forbidden outside the cult)

      Clothing (for girls, nothing above the knee)

      Hairstyles (for boys -- no long hair or surfer cuts)

      Makeup (for girls -- none)

      Music (no rock and roll)

      TV (not on Friday night or Saturday)  

      The restrictive, prison-like atmosphere of WCG made a normal life impossible even for adults, and for kids it was ten times worse.  Nature itself dictates that people interact with one another, compete with one another, and grow.  Worldwide stuffed everyone into a bottle and stifled any real growth.   

      Kids want to be with their friends; in the scattered world of WCG few of their friends were church kids, and even those usually lived in some other town.  Most of my friends were at school, but I remained largely an outsider my whole life because I couldn't take part in the same activities they did.  What few activities the church offered were stilted and artificial (this was before YES/YOU, which were also inadequate) and happened only once or twice a year.  We couldn't attend school sports or the dances that followed, we couldn't date, and we dressed like nerds (which term had not even been invented back then).  I did break the rules and listen to rock music, but I always felt guilty about doing it.  The Beach Boys, and especially the Beatles, were apparently demon inspired, according to the "men of god".  

      Your Personal Feelings

      How did the church's teachings make you feel?  I've seen kids who sat there bored and never seemed to listen, and I think they might have been the lucky ones, because they simply didn't care.  But many others probably believed that WCG really was the "true church", because their parents had told them so.  I did.  I believed it implicitly until I was 44 years old.  

      When you believe something is right, you are naturally going to believe, if you are not completely in step with it, that you are wrong.  That is a dangerous and destructive place to be, because you will internalize those feelings and they will negatively impact your life.   

      As I stated earlier, the Worldwide made impossible demands.  This was by design, because this was (and the splinters still are) a cult, which by definition is not there to help anyone, but to victimize everyone.  By placing impossible demands on people, you render them helpless before you, and you can extort anything from them.  That is what Worldwide did to the adults, and to the kids it was soul murder.  

      Ministers thundered accusations and condemnation from the pulpits week after week, demanding unerring obedience from all present and unaccounted for as well.  People were ridiculed and customs condemned.  If you liked a particular rock singer, chances were that his name would pop up in a sermon declaring him to be satanic.  Popular actors were labeled as QUEER!  Popular movies (such as To Kill A Mockingbird) were satanic (I'm not kidding).  Everything was designed to keep you off balance, make you feel guilty. Even if you hadn't done anything wrong, you were guilty simply for having human nature.  

      It was hard enough for an adult to deal with.  What chance did a kid have?  

      How did all that make you feel?  

      In a word -- ashamed!

      Every kid who believed probably felt much the same way.  All of us had done some of the things the ministers condemned, and when the subject came up in a sermon we hoped no one was looking at us, because we knew they would be able to tell who he was talking about.  Shame ran deep, especially if the topic was about sex or masturbation.  We were all guilty, yet the ministry made it sound as if jerking off was done only by rapists and child molesters (little did any of us know that Herbert himself was doing it and keeping a log book about it, or that the most vocal anti-masturbationist, Herman Hoeh, had his own secret stash of child porn).  

      You Have Rights

      One of the most insidious tenets of WCG was the notion that you were guilty by default.  You had no rights.  If someone defamed you, you were supposed to take it, especially if that someone was a minister.  If you stood up for yourself, you were revealing your "vanity".  Vanity was the most evil sin of all.  

      If you are still suffering the after effects of your Worldwide captivity, the next thing you need to understand is that you DO have rights.  The Worldwide denied you those rights, but they are god-given and inalienable, and they are yours.  They always were, you just didn't know about them.  Some of the rights that you had (and still have) include the following:  

      You have a right to be angry.  You were hijacked and forced into a prison camp against your will.  You were given no say in the matter.  Your life was stolen from you, and in its place you were forced to endure a captive existence.  If you feel angry today, that's good.  You should be angry, at least until the healing process is complete.  

      You have a right to disagree.  Worldwide did not tolerate opinions.  It was their way or the highway, and they made damn sure you understood that the highway led to hell.  So you had to stay or die.  Period.  Independent thought was stifled, critical thinking was crushed.  If you read something in the Bible that didn't square with what you were being taught, you dared not point it out, because the problem was with YOU, not the church.  Turns out they were wrong on nearly every count, so your opinion was as valid as theirs.  

      Your feelings were normal.  Kids have emotional issues that vary from age to age.  At some point everyone experiences a rebellious stage.  At some point everyone experiences sexual desire.  Kids want to be accepted, so peer approval becomes important.  Kids want to be respected for their talents, such as music, sports, or writing -- this is normal.  The Worldwide stomped on all of that, screaming "Vanity!!"  They stomped on everything that was good and normal about growing up, leaving you feeling empty, hopeless, and dirty.  By the time they were done, you were quite certain you had no right to even be alive, much less be happy.  It's a miracle that so few opted for suicide.  

      You have a right to be happy.  Many WCG child survivors, even today, grapple with loneliness, guilt, depression, and happiness eludes them.  In WCG you had no right to be happy.  Happiness was defined as obedience, and if you weren't happy, it was your own fault, because you obviously weren't obeying the church.  True happiness was pretty well impossible in the Worldwide, because the laws were so restrictive that simply staying alive was a chore.  But you had a right to be happy then, and you have a right to be happy today.  Hopefully, understanding what you went through will be a step in that direction.  

      The world isn't going to end.  If you lived in terror of the Great Tribulation, as I did, then you experienced a special bit of hell.  I dreaded 1972 with all my being, because the tribulation was going to start.  I dared not even think of 1975, because I knew I would already be dead (I was fully convinced I would never "qualify" to escape the tribulation).  When 1972, then 1975, came and went, my dread did not abate, because I knew that Worldwide was the "true church".  They said it was coming, and it was coming.  By 1975, it was already overdue, so it could happen at any time.  (Stupid?  Yes.  Illogical?  Absolutely.  That's the danger of being a True Believer.)   

      If you had a similar experience, then know this -- it didn't happen then and it hasn't happened on any date they set since then.  It won't happen in 2012 or 2020 or any other date they set.  There will always be earthquakes, famines, wars, and calamities, and we might get hit by a meteor some day that destroys all life on the planet...but the Great Tribulation of the Bible is not going to happen!  You can take that to the bank (if the bank is still operating).  

      Your human nature is not evil.  Worldwide made a big deal of your "evil human nature".  They even showed a picture of a beautiful smiling baby with a caption that said something about the evil that was born inside that little head.  As a result, people began "spanking" their babies within days of their birth.  

      This is truly the evil of religion, to pervert that which is natural and make you try to change it.  Human nature is not evil.  Rather, it is a program of behavior designed to preserve your life and make it as pleasant as possible.  Does that sound radical?  Well, consider this -- one aspect of human nature is fear, the "fight or flight" instinct.  Fear is definitely designed to keep you alive, to help you recognize danger and avoid it or survive it.  Hunger is part of human nature, and without hunger we would all die of starvation.  Sexual desire is part of human nature; without it the species would die out.  And so it goes.  

      But what about selfishness?  What about greed?  What about vanity?  This is where maturity (which the misadventures of youth are designed to teach us) comes in; selfishness can be a good thing if used correctly, as in acquiring the right kinds of things for your well being.  Good food, good housing, suitable clothing, an education, a good job -- the proper kind of selfishness (or more correctly, self-interest) can help you achieve those things.   

      The wrong kind of selfishness, of course, can be destructive to everyone around you.  The key is determining whether your selfishness hurts someone else.  If it doesn't, then there is nothing wrong with it.  Greed is simply the wrong kind of selfishness on steroids.  

      Vanity can also be a good thing.  A person who is concerned with his or her appearance, for example, is more likely to attract a mate and reproduce.  Even at its worst, aside from being annoying to others, vanity doesn't really harm anyone.  

      If you were gay...  Probably the most misunderstood group in modern history is the gay community.  Western society in general and churches in particular have made a horrendous issue out of homosexuality, without ever considering, apparently, the individuals involved.  I confess I only recently came to any kind of understanding, however imperfect, on the subject myself.  Like everyone else, I was raised in an era when "gay" meant "queer".  Only after leaving Worldwide and having conversations with a first cousin who had come out of the closet did I begin to get a glimmer of what the gay experience must have been like.   

      Let's get one thing straight, right here, right now -- homosexuality is not a choice!  No sane person would deliberately make himself a social outcast just to prove a point.  Gay people must be born gay or they wouldn't be gay.  Anyone who grew up gay in the WCG must have lived under a triple curse -- they suffered all the indignities of everyone else, and in addition they had to hide their true nature, all the while condemning themselves for being the way they were.  Imagine, if you can, hating yourself for being born the way you were.  Maybe that's how African slaves felt in past centuries, hated for being black, unable to help it, and held in slavery because of it.  I don't really know for sure, but that must be a little how a gay kid felt in WCG.  

      If you were a gay kid going up in WCG, and it still plagues you, I don't know how to advise you.  Maybe if you can talk to someone else who had the same experience it will help.  Just understand that you were the victim, and what they did to you was inexcusable.  

      "Just Get Over It"

      Numerous critics of this website have advised us to "just get over it".  And most of us have done exactly that.  But how do you get over a rape?  How do you get over being shot or burned?  You don't just grit your teeth and shake it off, as some would suggest we do.  It takes time, it takes understanding of what happened, and it takes healing.   

      I recently saw a documentary about American POWs from World War II.  Those who are still alive are now in their eighties, and only in the last few years have some of them begun to meet and discuss their experiences.  Most kept their feelings bottled up in the half-century since they were captured and brutalized, and many were ashamed of what happened to them.  Only when they began to talk to each other and share their feelings did they finally begin to understand that their trauma was normal.  They discovered they were not alone.  Cult survivors need to understand the same thing.  

      Your Parents

      Don't be too hard on your parents, dead or alive.  Most of them meant well (though I've heard some horror stories of truly abusive parents in WCG), and they were under a lot of pressure too.  As I learned when I began raising my own kids in Worldwide, condemnation came down hard and fast if your children didn't at least appear to be obedient.  If you have any gripe with your parents at all, maybe it should be in regard to their decision to join that cult in the first place.  Just be aware that most of them have already paid a hefty price for that decision, whether they realize it or not.  

      Hooray For Texas!

      There's an old joke about Texas that says it's the only state in the Union where "he needed killin'" is a valid murder defense.  I won't elaborate too much on that in view of the Wisconsin shooting in 2005, but it goes without saying that those Worldwide ministers who perpetrated these crimes against humanity can never be punished severely enough.  I don't advocate shooting anybody (although, as Chris Rock said about O.J. Simpson: "I ain't sayin' he shoulda killed her...but I understand!"), but I would dearly love to see the horsewhipping at the Super Bowl.  In fact, I'd pay tithes for tickets to that.  

      And all the kids who grew up in the Worldwide Church of God should get front-row seats for free.

           September 2008.

 

 

 

 

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