Dear Joseph Tkach...... By Andie
I am forwarding parts of a letter which I sent to Joseph Tkach, Jr (he responded). I have no ideas as to what I believe about this man. The letter is dated July 30, 1998.
"Dear Mr. Joseph Tkach:
I recently ordered your new book, "Transformed by the Truth," through the ministry of the Christian Research Institute. I frequently listen to The Bible Answer Man broadcast, and through this organization, I have learned of the more recent events which have occurred in the incredible journey of the Worldwide Church of God. I have a particular interest in this journey. I was "born into the Church," as my parents became believers early in their marriage. At the age of seventeen, I renounced all ties and dealings with the Worldwide Church of God due to its then cultish mentality, much to the chagrin of my parents. I became a Christian last year, was baptized into the body of Christ, and am currently attending a Church of Christ in St. Louis, MO.
After finishing your book, I feel compelled to write to you, although I confess that the composition of this letter is probably more for me than for you. I feel that I need to tell you my story, even though you have probably received many stories exactly like mine. As I mentioned, I was born into the Worldwide Church of God. My parents became Christians because of the Plain Truth magazine. They had married quite young, and both were from extremely abusive families. While I have no direct proof, I believe that the idea of a Utopian "World Tomorrow" and a life as a god with the chance to ultimately reconcile with members of their families seemed extremely appealing. I am certain that many others in our fellowship were attracted for similar reasons.
So, like yourself, I grew up in the Church. There are some particularly good memories of Feast times. I enjoyed keeping the Sabbath with my family as my father would make the Old Testament men and women come alive with the art of storytelling and capturing the essence of the Scripture. There are some less than positive memories of watching friends leave "the ranks" during the late seventies, of being told to have friends only within our fellowship and not at school, of suffering with my little friends during the Day of Atonement, and of long sermons which never seemed to end. I had friends who put notes in their lockers at school to let classmates know what had happened to them should we be whisked away to Petra.
As a young teen, we had Rick and Shelly Baumgartner serve as our pastor for the Muncie, Indiana congregation. The experience was not terrible. I learned a great deal about how to be a godly wife from Shelly; she certainly modeled that for me. I was extremely active in Y.O.U., I served on a Y.O.U. council, I won several talent competitions as a violinist, I had a wonderful camp experience at S.E.P., I participated in all of the team sports, and I went on many summer trips. However, I learned that performance in a church body was necessary for receiving love from the congregation. I often heard deacons (of which my father was one) and elders openly gossip about and condemn kids who didn't seem to comply with the Worldwide Church of God standards, i.e. boys with hair over the collar or an earring, girls with too short hair and skirts above the knee, kids who participated in school athletics, kids who strayed from keeping the Sabbath to be on the speech and debate team or orchestra at school...and the list went on.
In the eighth grade, a family in my church lost a son to suicide. In his suicide note, he talked about being a part of the second resurrection, as he was fairly certain that he had never been converted. Our families were very close; he was like a brother. I am not saying that I blame the Worldwide Church of God for his action, but it was certainly a contributing factor in conjunction with what I believe to have been mental illness. You see, he was one of those kids who was "no good," who hung out with a bunch of "low-lifers," and was a disgrace to his family. While most members were truly sympathetic, some judged this family wrongly by indirectly blaming them for this tragedy.
I feel that I need to interject a critical point here. In no way do I hold any animosity or bitterness for my experiences in the Worldwide Church of God. I admit that I wonder at the ability for conscientious, well-meaning adults to wholeheartedly endorse such obvious abuses of people, but there is no blame for the hurt that I have felt in months past. This is not saying that I never grieved over the losses that I experienced, but God has a wonderful healing power. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good to them that love Jesus and are working within His will...I stand on this daily.
I began attending a residential high school at the beginning of my junior year. I went home prior to the start of the Sabbath, and usually returned on Sunday. I continued to remain in fellowship with the congregation in Muncie, and I continued Y.O.U. activities, although I guarded what I told other students about what I believed to be true. In my estimation, they were deceived, and I would be teaching them in the World Tomorrow, so their salvation at this time was a moot question. I began to study philosophy with a passion at this institution. I devoured John Locke, Thoreau, Hume, Descartes, Santayana, Russell, Rousseau...all the heavy-hitters in the Western world of thought. Amazingly, my father endorsed this study, and he and I had incredible discussions regarding the ways in which western philosophies paralleled the events of western culture. How my dad could have understood so much about logic and epistemology in the field of philosophy is baffling; none of the structure for this line of thinking spilled over into the doctrine being presented by Worldwide Church of God.
During all of this, the doctrines on seeking medical attention and makeup were reversed. As a family, we had never considered medicine to be a salvation issue. Many in the Worldwide Church of God were alarmed when my mother had local anesthesia when I was born, and many were extremely upset when my brother and I were given the proper vaccinations. While my dad was a staunch follower of Mr. Armstrong, my mother often wavered on issues that did not seem central to the "Gospel" or put my brother or I in any danger.
I think that my mom really wanted and currently wants to know Christ, and I think that she was somewhat intimidated by my father's supposed wealth of knowledge of prophecy and British-Israelism. She would take a doctrine, see the common sense in it, and apply it when necessary. When she would give my dad a common sense application of why to follow a teaching or not to follow a teaching, he was very apt to agree with her. Yet, we did so in secret and in fear of being disfellowshipped.
In my senior year of high school, I decided to read the New Testament to understand more of the Gospel. I wanted to be converted, and I wanted to do more than just ride on my parent's coattails into the Kingdom. I prayed that God would open my eyes, and I earnestly prayed for wisdom and understanding. I started with the book of Matthew, and I began reading. As I think about it now, I probably read it like a philosophical argument; I read with a great deal of scrutiny and meditation upon why a certain word may have been chosen and what exactly the author was attempting to convey.
Matthew 24 was a passage that I had nearly memorized. As a child, I had been terrified by Mr. Armstrong's depiction of a beast power. The images of the beast with the leopard, lion, bear, and dinosaur-like heads and ten horns scared me beyond belief. I knew all about the people who could deceive me, the nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, the persecution that my family and I would face, how if I persevered to the end, I would be saved...I was well acquainted with this text. But it was Matthew 28:18-20 that stuck with me. "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." Three things immediately struck me. First of all, God gave ALL authority in heaven and on earth to Christ. This made me wonder how I could become a God, because I didn't remember a scripture that promised that Jesus would give me any authority. Second, I was asked to make disciples of all nations, not exclude them from my fellowship until they had reached a specific level of enlightenment. How could I make a disciple of someone that I had little or no contact with? Finally, I realized that I knew very little about what Christ himself had commanded me to do. I knew about James and Peter and Paul...but I knew nothing of Jesus.
I wrote your father a letter at this time, and I had all of these topics in mind. By the time I had finished the letter, I had decided that I did not want to be a member of this Church, but I knew that I couldn't find any other arena or fellowship where "the Truth" was being preached. The antithesis of the Worldwide Church of God in my estimation was Roman Catholicism, and I began talking with a priest from the Catholic Church next to the school which I attended. My boyfriend, who I secretly dated, was a Catholic, and it seemed like a good thing to do. I spent a great deal of time on my knees in the tiny chapel. I prayed for my future. I prayed that God would take pity upon me. I knew that I was headed to the lake of fire, but I needed peace within my soul.
I stopped attending Worldwide Church of God services upon graduation from high school, and by this time, there was enough anger within me to "permanently" disassociate myself from Worldwide Church of God. I talked with my best friend in the Worldwide Church of God prior to leaving, and it was highly emotional for both of us, for we knew that we would not see each other again. I entered college in the fall, and I attended a small Quaker college in Richmond, Indiana. There, I continued my pursuit of truth. I regularly attended a Catholic church, and I attended RCIA classes. However, I had a difficult time with sprinkling and purgatory, both of which seemed unbiblical.
I transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington, and God really allowed me to hit rock bottom. I was drinking very heavily, and I was fairly convinced that I could not find another fellowship. I think that I resigned myself to believing that I was on my way to the lake of fire, with no possibility of salvation in sight. I discovered all sorts of new sins, and I was open to them. Instead of finding relief, I found more torment. I was on the brink of destruction, and I thought about suicide to end the nightmare. To interject, the Worldwide Church of God did not have a corner on the market of the issues in my life. In addition to those I have described, I began to deal with the fact that I had been sexually abused by my grandfather at a young age, and I began to remember a great deal of the events about the time that I turned seventeen. I was filled with rage, with depression, with cognitive dissonance of all types. It was a painful time for me. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Yet none of the counselors that I talked with ever really understood the impact of the Worldwide Church of God in my life, and I still couldn't bring myself to reveal "the truth" to them for fear of persecution.
By the way, at the age of seventeen, I was counseled by our Worldwide Church of God pastor at the time AGAINST seeing a counselor for the abuse, and was given a book entitled, "Psychological Seduction" to dissuade me from such a foolish idea. Now I think about the cognitive dissonance (great term...excellent application in the book) in this: we were the only ones with the Truth, yet I was given an "outside" book to read about why I shouldn't do something. Amazing how far the Worldwide Church of God has come...I still can barely believe it. As I reread these past few paragraphs, I find myself being so grateful to God for saving me from this torment.
Back to the story. I had taken a job as a sales representative for AT&T to help get through school. I was home for lunch one day and saw the 700 Club on television. Something compelled me to watch. Pat Robertson was talking about the easy acceptance of Christ and offered people the chance to pray the Sinner's prayer. While I do not agree today with all that this man teaches, he was preaching Jesus and the cross. It was very appealing as a way out. It was not the way out of which my dad often spoke -a way of divine revelation to a few elect whom God chose because of His assurance that they could keep the law like Jesus. This way out, in contrast, was so simple. I called the number on the screen, and a man prayed for me. He prayed that I would find a congregation that would help me spiritually.
The next week, I went on a sales call to New Hope Ministries in Bedford, Indiana. It was a small church with approximately 40 members. The pastor and I met to discuss their telephone needs, and he was extremely nice. On my second visit, something compelled me to ask when their services were, and I went that Sunday evening. Talk about culture shock...it was a charismatic congregation with very little money and a whole lot of desire to preach the Gospel of Christ. I felt instantly loved and cared for, and I began studying the Bible with this pastor on a weekly basis. One day, I sat across from him and knew that I needed salvation. I was convinced by Scripture that it was a free gift to anyone, and that God's will was that none would perish but that everyone would have everlasting life. I needed that. I needed to know that I wasn't lost or doomed to a lake of fire. So I prayed earnestly to God to save my soul. A few weeks after that, I lost my job. The little church helped me scrape by with prayers, meals, and lots of love. I found another job, and I was offered the opportunity to transfer to St. Louis. The opportunity was interesting to me, and I took the position.
My parents were convinced that I was indeed crazy to call myself a Christian, although Mom conceded that there were Christians in other denominations, in accordance with your father's later teachings. My father, although not openly, struggled with this notion. He received a great deal of his self-esteem from being one of the "elect." I basically resigned myself to loving my parents regardless of what they believed. This was a step in my healing; I had always been taught to put off those who did not agree with me and to embrace only those who believed as I did.
I became involved with the Mid-County Church of Christ in November of 1996. This fellowship was dedicated to the teachings of the Bible and was decidedly silent where the Bible was silent. In August of 1997, I was convicted by Acts 2:37 38 -"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And I took the plunge, feeling remarkably clean, as you said that you felt.
I now am actively involved with a St. Louis campus ministry and a ministry in St. Louis's inner city. Imagine my surprise when I learned through CRI of the transition of the Worldwide Church of God to Orthodox Christianity. I have gone back to speak to the same Worldwide Church of God congregation in Muncie regarding the inner city ministry, and I am always greeted with loving and open arms. Jim and Becki Valekis are wonderful people, and they often express their concern for my parents. What a difference Christ makes! My parents are not attending church anywhere; both are still filled with a great deal of pain, although I believe that my dad is far more disillusioned than my mother, who seems a great deal more resilient. I am engaged to be married on October 17 to a very godly man named Ron Becker, and he has been able to minister to both of them by showing them the love of Christ. In fact, my brother joined Ron for a Promise Keepers rally in Indianapolis this past weekend, and he spent a great deal of time talking alone with me about his own experience with the Worldwide Church of God and the culture shock of men openly praising God and loving each other in Christ.
In fact, on our last visit to the Muncie Worldwide Church of God congregation, Ron got the opportunity to hear you speak via video. As I heard you, I was floored and could barely speak, but Ron seemed as if the message was easily understood and good, but nothing outside of the realm of normalcy. He is still trying to understand my roots, and while he understands them cognitively, I doubt that he will ever understand the impact on so many lives. I am continuing to pray for those who have splintered off; they are hurting, confused people. I am confident that God can convict them of Christ's love, grace, and forgiveness as well. And I pray for those who are bewildered at what truth is and do not attend anywhere.
I believe that God honored those in the Worldwide Church of God who sought him honestly, and He will bring them to faith in a loving Savior. How relieved they will be to discover that it is not about obeying a series of laws perfectly, it is about a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. I would like to do some informal counseling with those interested Worldwide Church of God members who struggle within various stages of their healing. I personally feel that it is necessary to talk with someone who has been there, as it is a very peculiar background..."
And so I sent this. I was, at the time, floored by the "New Covenant" changes that I believed that the Worldwide Church of God had so boldly made. It is only now that I realize that these people are very skilled in the art of mind control. My husband and I now agree that in order for the Worldwide Church of God to fully repent, it should trust God in taking the steps that would prove a repentant heart. These would include:
1) A formal apology (with no doublespeak) that would speak to the abuses of Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God's use of social and psychological manipulation tactics, the Worldwide Church of God's misuse of funds, and the ministry's lack of training in dealing with difficult psychological situations.
2) A confession of past sins, acknowledging that each of these were committed. This is different than an apology, in that it takes specific responsibility for teachings and actions taken.
3) An attempt to refund monies to current and past contributors through the sale of church properties.
4) Ending the hierarchical structure of the church, where local, freewill offerings stay with each congregation to be managed as the congregation deems appropriate.
It would be nice to see them admit that they were a cult and disband the organization for the sake of conscience. I doubt that this will happen, but this is a mountain that I am asking God to move.
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