There have been many hurtful, destructive, unnecessary acts of intimidation perpetrated in the Church of God cults by their authority figures. Most of those reading this have come out of these organizations just as my husband Fred, one of the pastor-rank ministers of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), and I did.
Despite what many may conclude, by far most of those heinous deeds were the result of false doctrine (and what doctrine said to be authored by a god isn't false?), spurious education, and misguided attempts at leadership for which few are equipped.
Do all who were not in the ministry of a cult realize that the deacons and elders of whatever rank did not come into it as authority figures? In the cult, they were tested and tried in fires of debasement and cold waters of forced deference to their "superiors." They were chosen to conform, not to reform--just as everyone of us who walked into the jaws of the cultic beast were.
Depending on personality and character, perhaps those who endured the most humiliation before and even after they were ordained became either the kindest or the most authoritative in their congregations.
Let me tell you about just a few experiences, however insignificant they may seem compared to what others might have endured, that Fred and I had:
When Fred stepped onto the Pasadena Ambassador College (AC) campus, he was pretty fresh out of a four-year stint in the Air Force (which, naturally, called for repentance)--and he still wore his crew cut. Well, of course, that hairstyle had to go because, somehow, it conveyed "cockiness."
When he was sent to work under Carlton Smith in the Portland, Oregon, area between his junior and senior years at AC, even Fred's "walk" had to be modified. It, apparently, contained too much of a swagger.
During my junior year at AC and before I was married, I went to Paul Royer, who was head of the "Feast Department" (I'm not sure that's what it was called, but it's close enough) to request permission to attend the Feast of Tabernacles at Big Sandy, Texas, with my mother and sister instead of Squaw Valley where the AC students were assigned. I had been unable to go home to Tennessee between my sophomore and junior years because of lack of money.
Royer, however, said, "Betty, I can't let you do that because of who you are and because I would be accused of playing favorites." I thought then, "Well, who the hell AM I?" (Of course, I didn't say that or even express disappointment but simply thanked him for his time and left his office.) At that point, I worked in the Administration Building for ministers such as Rod Meredith, Herman Hoeh, Leslie McCullough, Jon Hill, and Charles Dorothy.
I, also, lived off-campus with Rod Meredith's sister Catherine, now the wife of Richard Ames. Were those the reasons I couldn't use second tithe money to visit with my family for eight lousy days?
One evening when I was working in the penthouse for Herbert W Armstrong (HWA), he came out of his office shortly before quitting time. He said to me, "Betty, I'd like you to stay and type a co-worker letter that needs to go out tonight. I'll have it finished in a little while." "Yes, sir," I replied. About that time, Al Portune, Sr. came through the elevator door, and he and the "apostle" disappeared into HWA's office. I then telephoned Fred and told him I'd be a little late that evening. Well, 5:00 P.M. came and went as did 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00. Around 8:30 P.M. the two men emerged; and HWA said, "You're still here, Betty?" "Yes, sir," I said. "You told me you wanted to get a co-worker letter out tonight." "Oh, it's much too late to worry about that now." He then turned to Al and commented, "Now she's a good example of true loyalty!" And they both condescendingly smiled at me and headed toward the elevator. I closed up the office and walked home across campus in the dark to my husband. It makes me ashamed to think about this little episode and my abject spirit of submission to mere men.
After Fred graduated from AC, he was ordained; and we were sent to work under George Kemnitz in the Seattle area. George loved an entourage and nightlife. Fred and I, of course, were necessarily part of this Kemnitz company. Almost every Monday evening (our time off from the pressures of "ministry"), Kemnitz told us and several of the deacons and local elders whom he especially enjoyed to meet him and Shirley, his wife then, at a very nice restaurant of his choice at a specific time (the meeting places varied according to his preferences). This, ostensibly, was to discuss church matters and plan local events. I just remember, however, that there was a lot of laughing, joking, and drinking. I'm almost sure that few of us who obediently gathered at Kemnitz' command could actually afford these weekly assemblies. To make it more distasteful, both Fred and I are and always have been homebodies, but we had very little time together at home while we were under George's thumb.
When Dorothy Brogaard, my husband's sister who taught at the college, and Bob Flores, an AC graduate, wanted to be married, there was a big uproar because Bob was considered to be of another race than Dorothy. They were finally given "permission" to wed, and Bob and Dorothy telephoned Fred and asked him to perform the ceremony. Fred readily agreed, but then Garner Ted Armstrong decreed that such a marriage could not be performed by one of "God's" ministers. They could be married outside the church, but Fred was not to participate in the wedding. Being the good, obedient "servant of God" that he was, Fred acquiesced even though he was quite disappointed. Bob and Dorothy were then married by a denominational minister somewhere in Pasadena, I believe.
Gerald Waterhouse (the infamous "evangelist) used to stay with us at the church home during some of the [un]holy days when Fred was pastor over Pacific Northwest churches. WHAT A FIRST-RATE PAIN he was! I remember he'd hand me at least 3, sometimes more, expensive suits to steam press by hand for him. I sometimes was asked to do laundry for him. What an honor it was to be able to wash an "evangelist's" underwear and socks--YUK!
He, also, had to eat steak for breakfast every day--but never paid for anything. (Even if he had offered, I'm sure we wouldn't have accepted it.) When he stayed with us, he always took a cooler from his car when he arrived and deposited it our spare bedroom. I don't know what he had in that cooler--probably some sort of "health" drinks and/or snacks. And the guys (Fred and whoever happened to be the ministerial assistant at the time as well as local elders and deacons in the different churches who weren't working) were expected to go to the "Y" with him (every morning that wasn't "holy") and run laps around the track until Gerald decided to stop. Now Gerald, of course, was used to this type of "work out"; but the poor guys who were commandeered to keep him company, weren't--and their tongues were "hanging out" at the end of Waterhouse's exercise sessions--and then they had to sit in the steam room until Waterhouse said he was ready to leave!
Fred and I have laughed about this several times during our "post-WCG days."
It's a wonder that someone didn't keel over with a heart attack.
I don't remember that Waterhouse was a good conversationalist on a personal level; but, of course, we had to endure his hours and hours of "sermons" just as everybody else did. I remember once when he was preaching in Seattle on one of the [un]holy days, a loud bang sounded. (I think the wind blew shut a door somewhere in the building.) Most in the congregation (including me) jumped and looked around (it probably woke all of us up)--and I thought Gerald would "bust a gut" as he raked us over the coals for not keeping our eyes on him. "NOTHING should interfere with the preaching of 'God's Word,'" he yelled! I'm just glad we never had a fire in the building while he was preaching.
I could tell you other personal experiences that linger in my mind, but hopefully I've made my point.
About three years ago, Fred received a scathing, heartbreaking email from a young man who grew up in the WCG. He and his sister suffered horrendous indignities from their family, primarily their father. I won't go into specifics because it might cause additional hurt and embarrassment for them should they happen to read this. The young man who wrote felt that Fred should have encouraged his mother to leave her husband because of the terrible abuses they all suffered.
Unlike me, Fred is still a dedicated Christian. Keeping that in mind, I'd like you to read part of my husband's response to this tortured man. If you recognize some of the lines in Fred's answer, it is because I have used a few of his thoughts in other articles I've written. He wrote:
"...I hope my answering your email will help you come to terms with the terrible things that happened to you [and your sister] when you were [children]. I know that many things were handled incorrectly in the WCG, and it breaks my heart that so many children and young people bore the brunt of mistakes and unwise decisions that should never had been made...
"I can only tell you that the WCG ministry was taught that keeping a family together was of prime importance and, basically, a wife should only leave her husband when adultery was involved. This teaching was based primarily on Matthew 5:31,32; 19:9; Mark 10:11,12; and Luke 16:18. We in the WCG were "literalists" and took seriously the dogmatic "commands" of scripture. I realize now that we should have taken into consideration many more times than we did the quality of life of everyone in a family as well as the spirit of the law and not so much the letter of the law as we most often did. We felt our obligation was to "heal" families not break them apart; and that, no doubt,.is what was tried in the case of your family.
"I'm sorry for the emotional, dysfunctional and financial problems you have had throughout your life. Many have suffered because of their Worldwide experiences. My wife and I are now in our 60s; and we are still working full-time and trying to build up some sort of livable retirement. Since the WCG did not take social security taxes from the salaries of those employed in the church and college during [our time of involvement], more than twenty years of [combined] employment with the organization netted us nothing in the form of social security benefits. To you, this is probably a minor problem; but, you see, we struggle, too.
"If I did anything that contributed to your life's difficulties, I'm sorry. I pray that you will find peace. It was never my intention to hurt any of the hundreds of people that I counseled when I was a minister in the WCG...."
After Fred and I left the cult, I urged my husband to go back to a "real" school and get a degree in secular counseling. I felt he was very good with people and would make an excellent non-religious adviser. But he refused, saying, "I never again want to advise or tell anyone how they should live."
So, he started a window-cleaning business from scratch in Seattle after trying various sales jobs. Together, over the next thirteen years, with my working for "temp" agencies as well as keeping the books for Fred's one-man business and sending out bills to the customers, we made a comfortable but certainly not "plush" living. I was so proud of my husband because he was not ashamed to do manual labor.
Some ex-ministers WCG have painted themselves as the "good guys" because they say they didn't bend to headquarters authority--yet they remained in their ministerial positions. They pat themselves on their backs because they refrained from preaching in their outlying congregations the doctrines with which they disagreed. Quite frankly, I consider them hypocrites. If they did not preach the so-called "good news" as prescribed by the church and never made their opinions known, then they were dishonest. They posed as "real" Church of God ministers but were too cowardly to stand up to the powers that were and admit their disagreements--until push came to shove. Those who never did come clean about their differences with the church may have been too accustomed to the "good life"-- drunk with the wine of prestige that automatically came to those in the ministry. Perhaps they loved their fine homes and big automobiles too much. But I can't read their minds or know their motives. I can only speculate about their reasons.
© Betty Brogaard--08/07/05