Are You Free?

 Joyce Rutter

 

    Are you a ďsecond- or third-generation Christian?Ē A former or current attendee of the Worldwide Church of God (ďwcgĒ)? Or maybe you attend one of the offspring congregations of the wcgóUnited or Philadelphia. Perhaps you donít attend any church, but you do consider yourself a Christian.

     If any of these descriptions fit you, you are part of a multitude! The wcg experience was one that has had a tremendous impact on many lives. Where do you go from here? Maybe youíre content with your life as it is now, but the chances are good that you have questions in your mind about the past, present and your future. You may wonder just what was the purpose of all the years you spent in the wcg, or why did your parents believe certain things and behave the way they did? What should you do about it, if anything?

     If you have questions, thatís wonderful! Asking questions about everything is the ticket to freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the control of men, or women, who want your money, and power over your mind. Maybe you think you are already free. After all, most likely, youíre not in prison, and if you live in one of the modern, industrialized nations of the world, youíre probably free to live and work wherever you can afford to live. But, are you really free? How many of the beliefs that you accept as absolute truth have you dared to question?

    It takes courage to question everything youíve been taught. The willingness to question is a hallmark of an inquisitive mind. Many of the belief systems that we carry into adulthood entered our minds while we were young children. Those beliefs were planted there by our parents, extended family, teachers, and the influence of the society where we grew up. Most little children have inquisitive minds, but somewhere along the road from child to adult, many of us stop asking questions. Millions of people all over the world live their entire lives without questions related to their moral and religious beliefs, their thoughts regarding sexuality, marriage, government, the origin of lifeÖthe list could go on, endlessly.

    For some of us, certain beliefs are so ingrained, and so much a part of us, that we feel it would be wrong to question them. We are afraid to even allow such questions to reside in our minds, for more than a fleeting moment or two. I was that way, once.

    I was taught to believe in the Christian god. I believed he created the universe and all that is in it. I believed that he was the only god that had ever existed, and that he loved all of us as his children. I believed that he had a son named Jesus who died for our sins and was resurrected. I believed that I was a Christian, a follower of Christ.

    I did not grow up in Godís one true church, but after reading the Plain Truth magazine for several years, I did choose to attend Godís college. There, I met Herbert W. Armstrong. I shook his hand at the dance that was held to welcome incoming freshmen. I also shook hands with Loma, Garner Ted and Shirley. I remember being surprised at how short Herbert and Garner Ted were. They were small men, but they had big ideas. I was about to learn just how big their ideas were.

   Over the course of the next three years, I learned all about Godís Work and Godís Church. I allowed the doctrines of Godís Church to permeate my mind and crowd out any common sense that had been there. I learned that a womanís place in the world had been mandated by God. That place was really low, barely above the ground, and just slightly above dogs and children. This bothered me a little, but I knew that it only bothered me because I wasnít converted enough. If I would just fast, pray and study more, I would have more of Godís mind, and he would show me that, only by accepting my place just above dogs and children, could I experience true happiness.

    I learned why my Christian beliefs, learned in the Presbyterian denomination, were all wrong. I found out that such beliefs were part of a Satan-inspired, counterfeit Christianity. I learned that, in the whole world, there was only one source of knowledge with the truth about Jesus Christ and the message of the soon-coming Kingdom of God. That source was, of course, the Worldwide Church of God.

   On the campus of Godís college, we were told that we were at the West Point of Godís Work on earth. Not only were we part of a few who had been called out of the world into Godís Church, we were also part of an even smaller number who were being specially trained to be leaders who would teach all of mankind how to live Godís Way when Christ returned to set up Godís Kingdom on earth. I was awestruck that, among all people in his creation, God had chosen me to be one of those few. It was humbling knowledge. Ironically, it was also knowledge that encouraged us students to be a little self-righteous, but in a humble way, of course.

     Because we were so privileged, we took seriously our duties as Ambassador students. Our lives were full. Not only did we carry an academic load of 15-17 hours per semester, we also worked at least 20 hours per week on campus, and we were expected to attend Womenís Club meetings, or Ambassador Club (for the male students), language club meetings, Friday night Bible Studies, all basketball games on Saturday nights, all music recitals, student assemblies, four student dances during each academic year, any other social events that were scheduled, and of course, all Sabbath services. We were also taught that truly converted students would be praying and studying the Bible for at least an hour each day, without fail.

    In those days, from my point of view as a sheltered Ambassador College student, Godís Work was the most important thing in the whole world. When an announcement was made that the Church was going to have advertisements placed in the Readerís Digest magazine that would reach a readership of many thousands of people, we were excited to know that we were part of such an important Work.

   We enjoyed occasional Saturday night sing-a-longs, with Garner Ted singing and playing guitar, Charles Dorothy playing accordion, and Jim Thornhill and some of the students as backup singers. We knew these men, and many others, as co-workers with us in Godís Work. Yes, we respected them as evangelists and ministers, but they were also part of the same team we were on. Being part of Godís Work could not have been more real and thrilling than it was during those days.

   After leaving Godís college and marrying an Ambassador College graduate, I became a church member with a family. Our children were brought up to believe in the doctrines of the Church. As parents, we worked hard to train our children to live their lives according to Godís Way. We did not go to doctors, our children were not vaccinated against childhood illnesses, they did not celebrate their birthdays, and they did not participate in pagan holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

   We attended many Feasts of Tabernacles in places like Squaw Valley, Jekyll Island, the Poconos, and Lake of the Ozarks. During those years, Herbert and Garner Ted would each fly to more than one site during the Feast, and the members would look forward to hearing Godís inspired words from the lips of these dedicated servants.

   From time to time, a solemn announcement would be made during church services that a member, or sometimes, even a minister, had fallen into the bonds of Satan, and was causing division in Godís church. That person would be disfellowshipped and ďmarked,Ē meaning that we were not allowed to have any contact with, or talk to him or her. There was great sadness over these announcements, because we understood that such a person had likely missed out on his chance to have eternal life in Godís Kingdom.

   Herbert would mail letters to the members each month, asking for money for the Work. Frequently, we would be told that there was a crisis, and we would be asked to send in extra money, even if we had to get a loan from our bank. Giving to the church was the same as giving directly to God and we believed that God needed our money to do his Work.

   Herbert also wrote that we should prepare to lower our standard of living. I thought our standard of living was already pretty low, and I resented those letters, just a little bit. Many of us lived in poverty, or near poverty, because we gave so much money to the church that we didnít have enough for our own needs. But I knew that such rebellious thoughts were of Satan, and I squelched the questions that were growing in my mind.

   As the years passed, some disturbing events triggered more questions and further resentment. We would often sit in Sabbath services in Pasadena and watch Herbert shake his jowls from side to side while his voice thundered, ďYou just donít get it, Brethren. Nothing matters but this Work. Nothing.Ē I thought that I did get it, and I also thought that my family mattered.

   In the 1990s, the Worldwide Church of God began to unravel. In 1995, thousands made their exit, and I was one of them. The reversal in doctrinal teachings was a welcome change, I thought, but I couldnít understand how once proven truth was no longer truth, and how that which was once counterfeit Christianity taught by Satan was now proven truth.

   My leaving was accompanied by fearófear that I was leaving Godís true church, fear that I was possibly missing out on salvation, and fear of the future. I thought that I would have to find another church to attend, but which one?

  Since I no longer answered to the government of wcg, I began to read many things that wcg members were forbidden to read. No subject was off limits anymore. I learned that there is something called ďcritical thinking,Ē but few ever learn what it is, or how to do it.

  I allowed my mind to wake up. I read about mythology and was astounded to learn that the story of Christianity is virtually identical to numerous other stories that were around many years before the baby Jesus was ever born. I remembered that the ministers in wcg would sometimes acknowledge these stories, but would tell us that they were invented by Satan to confuse humanity. There is a word for thisódiabolical mimicry. The ministers had an answer for everything, didnít they?

   If you wonder how the wcg got to the condition it is in now, or whether any of its daughters are Godís true church, instead, or if you attend church services with another denomination, be willing to search for answers to any questions you may have.

   What should YOU question? Everything! Have the courage to question what your parents taught you, no matter how old you are now. Question what your Sunday school or Y.E.S. teacher taught you. Question what your local wcg minister taught you. Question what your college professors taught you, no matter where or when you went to college. Seek out logical thought processes, and donít be afraid of the answers to which those processes lead you.

   Readerís Digest published an article a number of years ago, titled, ďDo You Risk Enough to Succeed?Ē For me, leaving wcg meant taking a big risk. Asking questions also seemed like a risk and threatened the basic belief system that had guided my entire life. It was hard to leave what had been a type of security blanket for many years. What if the answers meant that I had to change what I believed?

  After discovering answers to my questions about wcg, I went on to question many other ingrained beliefs. Being free to ask questions and obtain answers has brought me to a peaceful state of mind that I could not have foreseen when I first left the church. Asking questions and finding answers is part of a process that makes life exciting. Asking questions has set me free from the tyranny of religion.

 

What about you?

 

Do you ask enough questions to be free?

 

 

 

03/02/2004


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