the painful truth about the worldwide church of god
Kid That Got Away: Responses

I just finished reading the email from Stephen, the young man born into Worldwide Church of God who left at age 14. I appreciated his viewpoint, but was a still taken back by his condescending attitude. It sounded a little to me like maybe he is still harboring a lot of anger about his childhood and he is blaming all of the consenting adults who joined the church and brought or bore children into it. I understand his anger. However, I think there is something that he is not considering in his discussion of how all adults should take responsibility for joining the church.

First of all, I have never gotten the impression that postings on the website are totally trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. It seems clear more often than not that ex-Worldwide Church of God members know that they joined of their own will. The catch, as you pointed out, is that once you are in and you begin to believe that your salvation, YOUR VERY LIFE (and that of your children) is dependant upon obeying God and you believe that this is God's church that he is calling people to it, then the question of what you chose to do and what you have been cleverly persuaded to do gets very unclear.

I also wonder if Stephen's experience, while just as abusive as what most suffered, is still a little bit different than some of the rest of us. Being isolated in Alaska, without TV, radio, etc....I am sure he received a lot of concentrated Worldwide Church of God doctrine. However, I grew up with the TV, the radio, school, neighbors. Rather than highlight the fraud of the Worldwide Church of God, these things served to reiterate that Worldwide Church of God had to be the TRUE church. Seeing all of the evil and deceit of the world around me, made Worldwide Church of God shine like an oasis in the desert. Likewise, the constant persecution for my Worldwide Church of God beliefs reaffirmed that Worldwide Church of God must really be God's church or people wouldn't try to slander it and bring it down. So while we also got the Worldwide Church of God doctrine, we also got a lot of "proof" everyday that we were doing what God wanted us to do.

Stephen seems like a very precocious and intelligent child perhaps maybe even a bit rebellious in his youth (looking to prove his parents/adults wrong). I am very happy for him that he got out of the church when he did. It is remarkable that he did it at age 14 and that it was over real issues rather than leaving just because he wanted to go to dances/basketball games on Friday nights.

My mother didn't join the church until I was 6 years old in 1981. I was raised with YES, YOU, SEP. My allegiance to Worldwide Church of God started out as fear that I might not be taken to the place of safety. I was six and worrying about being tortured. Later the social organization held me in the church. By the time I was 18, it was just the way that life was. I truly believed I was called out by God. I truly believed I was special and blessed. Who in the world doesn't want to feel that way? From my experience I did develop a "relationship" with a higher power. It just took me 22 years to realize that the "higher power" doesn't hang out with the likes of Herbert W. Armstrong and he doesn't belong to the Worldwide Church of God, or United, or Global. But the guilt of leaving still haunts me today even though I know I did the right thing, I sometimes still wonder....but what if ?....

I have been out of the church for 4 years.

I hope that Stephen understands that everyone who joined Worldwide Church of God had a reason for doing so. Many if not most truly wanted to become closer to God and to lead a good life. Most did not join to find an excuse to be a tyrant or abuse their children. Members believed that God was with the church. You have to realize that first. Therefore in order to break the thought pattern, we had to realize that God and Worldwide Church of God were two totally separate things.

Look around today, most people believe that God is in THEIR church. Hopefully, their church is not as corrupt as Worldwide Church of God. But the thought pattern is still the same. People who joined the Worldwide Church of God should continue to tell their experiences and share their stories. I don't consider it whining or trying to pass of responsibility. It is necessary to keep from getting pulled in again. Maybe not by Worldwide Church of God, but by something else.

Thank you again for your website.


From The PT Forum:


Fun stuff! Both sides held their own well and got some good licks in. Can we get Stephen over here? I'd like to take him on. :-) But in the meantime, I have a few thoughts on Stephen's thoughts ....

1. Who says ex-WCGers don't blame themselves for what they did to their lives, their families' lives, their former ("worldly") friends, etc., etc., because they bought into the scam? I've seen plenty of self-castigation and flagellation on the pages of PT, AR, and this forum. Apologies have been made, regrets expressed - both for what they allowed to BE done to them and for what THEY did to others through their own blindness. Many of us hide behind pseudonyms for the shame and embarrassment of having been so stupid, naive and needy as to buy into the program to whatever extent we did. Were this a segment of "Unsolved Mysteries", most of us would be telling our stories in silhouette with voices masked! You can't bare your soul on a public Net site and expect to hide your role in the whole debacle. If we didn't know we were (past tense, hopefully) fools, we wouldn't be here.

2. This is very obvious, but (unless I am reading him wrong) Stephen seems to be missing it: Worldwide Church of God was a fraud - a large-scale version of the kind of stuff the bunko squad goes after every day. Stephen is such a smart feller that he figured that out sooner than most. Bully for him. But he can't take credit for his huge brain any more than the rest of us slobs can be blamed for our smaller ones. Luck of the genetic draw, Stephen. :-) So some people took longer for the light to dawn. So what? It did dawn, that's the point, isn't it? Are we going to set a statute of limitations for discovery of deliberate fraud? (You took 5 years, well, OK; 10 years, you say? Well, that's pushing it, buddy; 25 years??? Outta luck, dumbass! :-)) Is there such a thing as criminal stupidity when it comes to fraud? Does the con man walk because his mark was not too swift? Not under our criminal justice system. (And besides, weren't we always exhorted with (sing along with me now) "He calls the foolish of the world, he calls the weak and base things...."? There it was, right in the Bible - to true seekers and believers, it was practically a badge of honor to be stooopid. :-))

3. For all his exhortations to everyone else to 'fess up to their complicity, I didn't see much of that coming from Stephen. His general logical progression seems to be: 1) "See I smart I was! I figured it out at 14!" 2) "It took you 20 years to figure it out??" 3) "Well, you must be reallllly stoooopid! Nyaa nyaaa nyaa!" 4) "Since you WERE really stoopid, you need to beat yourself up real badly and real publicly, to ATONE for YOUR part in the scam, i.e., for BEING soooo stooopid." (And of course #4 brings us back full-circle to #1.)

But where is Stephen's hairshirt of contrition for the harm he supposedly did to others? And for buying into the program for the short time he did? I'll go re-read; maybe it's there and I missed it. What I saw the first go-round was a general braggadociousness about FINDING OUT he had been conned (elaborately detailed for our edification). Not much of an "owning up" to having been DUPED in the first place and for the amount of time he remained so (14 years) - which is what he expects from the rest of us slobs. "But I was only a chiiiiilllld" - I can just hear him now! :-) But if he was such a smart kid that he figured it all out by 14, why wasn't he smart enough not to be suckered in the first place? Or to have figured it out by age 7? Or 9? Or wherever the statute of limitations falls? After all, shouldn't prodigies be held to the standards they set for adults?

Stephen, didn't your mama ever teach you it's not nice to brag? :-)

I just looked at the article from Stephen and felt mostly numb whilst reading it - I spent the same years as a child in WW but my experiences weren't as extreme as his.
The main thing I would like to ask him is, where is the compassion and understanding, if he is now working with adults who have been in abusive situations?


I think that Stephen is cold, rude, conceited, and needs to learn many, many things about life, before he goes and vomits his bile all over people and expect that he is 'helping' us!!!! He has a different perspective from all of us. We all have had different experiences in Worldwide Church of God and in some ways sees things differently from one another, even though we were all in Worldwide Church of God. It was the same Worldwide Church of God, but at different times, and with different parents, or different ministers,( some were less cruel than others). His parents were very extreme!!! Not all were raised with such extreme measures, so he shouldn't think we would have seen the 'light' about Worldwide Church of God!!!! The *_____* really *P------*es me off!!!!


Your friend,

Re "the kid that escaped" article on PT site. Quite a story, and quite an unusual individual. But what a 'pain in the ass' intellectual! He could be some famous psychologist/psychiatrist, or whatever making heaps of money, but what an ***hole! His whole attitude is "I got out early on, you didn't, you were adult-it's your fault for being hoodwinked! Now GET OVER IT!" Sheesh! I bet it's fun being his wife! As for his patients/customers..I bet they'd find excuses to not attend a BBq at his place. Intellectuals..some of them are so full of pride and superiority, the rest of us mortals don't deserve to exist alongside them do we?
Aha, just had an idea! He somehow 'identifies' us with his parents! That's why he hates us! We adults were in the church, we forced our children to do Worldwide Church of God things, just like his parents did. He HATES us!!!! Doesn't matter that we've come out, here is the perfect opportunity to anonymously slag off at Worldwide Church of God in general, and us adults in particular. After all Worldwide Church of God as is doesn't give him any opportunity to do that does it?. Boy, here's me some dumb adult ex wcger, figured out his problem, and him with his superior intelligence and great understanding of Psych. etc can't see it himself. "Duhhhhhh!!"

The message from Stephan. Wheu! Well, my comments are that he was venting and rightfully so in the beginning, but his vents at the end....turned on the "adult" victims and blamed and shamed all of us that came into the ww as adults.
He called "us" fools. Well for me, I was a very young adult, raised in a small US town, and very sheltered and naieve. I simply trusted the men that came to my door and the bible as I understood it. Does that make me a fool? I think not. As I was recruited, as were most all others, that makes me a victim.

Stephen only sees the victimizations from a child's perspective. He is angry because he was so helpless as a child, and no adult rescued him. He sees himself as a victim but no grown up as one. He is basically furious with his parents. That has expanded to all adults. It is called "transference".

Stephan although exceedingly intelligent has not dealth with HIS problems....those of FEELINGS. He is angry at his parents, and us.
He has figured out that if he as a child, could see thru the bullcrap, as adults we all should have. That is an irrational idea of a child.

Those are the comments I have at this moment on what Stephan wrote.

But you see, therein lays the T.A. I heard the voice of the hurting angry child.

The rest of us? We got "hooked". P***ed us off. That we are being blamed by this irrational child. We didn't look anymore at Stephan's pain, but only looked at what he threw at us as a hook. He is angry, and we became angry. We reacted just like he is.

I am ok and he is ok. He is not where I am or where you are. That is ok. Each life journey is different.

Maybe someday someone will help Stephen to realize that even tho he was a child and some of us were adults, we are all victims in this together. Also, where you are traumatized as a child you will remain emotionally unless you get help and work thru the traumas. Stephan is a hurting child, striking out like a child.

I also just finished reading the "Stephen" article, and saw a person who thinks he has worked thru his "family baggage" but really has not. He carries so much hurt and pain beneath his anger. He was a child and doesn't know how to hold himself responsible, so he blames and projects it onto others also hating all who represent his parents. (We don't dare hate our parents as children who see them as god.)
I also just read Louises "take" on this man from the T.A. perspective, and I wholeheartedly agree. I couldn't have said it better myself!

I feel very sad for this Stephen, because what he holds inside is going to play out onto others until he explores himself and cleans out the long time poison infecting him.

In my less compassionate moment I thought he and John scott would make interesting debate partners. But to no avail since they would only be in a battle of witts with their feelings being buried.

These cases really trigger deep sadness in me for them. We do indeed create our own Reality. They need our compassion.

Um, ok. You have the advantage with all the TA knowledge and terms. You said he was stuck in his 'adult'. Sorry, but looks to me he 's stuck in his 'child' emotionally, as he is still hurting and hating and angry. As he was so precocious, he probably missed out on some essential elements of childhood. He seems to be emotionally 'stuck' as someone said at the point where he was hurt the most. There is a solution for him though. He must forgive his father. Full stop. Until he does that the hurt will continue to fester and stink inside him. That anger and hurt will distort his worldview and also screw up his logic no matter how brainy he is. He has to deal with that anger towards his parents (his dad in particular)


Wow! What a storm of chatter Stephen's letter created! Of course, I have some thoughts on the issues he brought up. It was interesting to note in reading responses that there is a large gradient in feeling of culpability for having entered and remained in Worldwide Church of God. To a greater or lesser extent, I think all of us were culpable of staying around well beyond the point we suspected corruption and moral bankruptcy in the Worldwide Church of God. How much are we willing to admit that we were looking for personal gain, status, or "specialness" in God's eyes --all selfish objectives that could just as easily been transposed into a corporate or political setting--and found it difficult to let go of these objectives?

Although Stephen's tone is filled with anger and hurt and he uses the obtuse to express the simple, he nonetheless brings up some valid points that I've never (or rarely) read on the site before. I hope that these points were not lost in the distractingly arrogant verbiage.

John O's response to Stephen's letter was very appropriate, as it rightly pointed out that all ex-Worldwide Church of God people are basically the same, insofar as they all went into the cult at one point, found it was wrong, then exited. And this is the story for each and every one of us, regardless of education level or intelligence. Stephen seemed to be arguing that stupidity and laziness are not defenses in light of what happened. But as John O indicated, you can't seek knowledge if you don't know what knowledge is or if you're living in fear of obtaining non-biblical wisdom!

1) "Like any good Worldwide Church of God parent, they wanted to secure a high place for me in the kingdom to come." . . . . "Almost everyone I knew was a janitor seeking to become a god." . . . . "Ultimately, most churchmembers were people with low self-esteem seeking a way to feel that they were important (special, unique, select, 'chosen') without actually having to achieve the accomplishments that might warrant that assessment."

In my experience in Bethlehem, these remarks ring all too true. Sure, there were adults that were professionally accomplished and socially integrated in their communities. But their numbers were small, probably under 5% of the congregation. The rest were there, at least in part, to escape reality and the rest of the planet by adhering to the arbitrary policies and rules dictated by the local Worldwide Church of God ministers. In this way, they could gain status and rank by being viewed favorably by fellow members and ministers, and ultimately, "God." Sheeplike behavior was rewarded. Many good traits that help people become financially and societally successful in "the world" were irrelevant, even contraindicated to possess -such as intellectual curiosity, purposefulness, drive, critical thinking, resourcefulness, humanitarian instincts, etc. As such, the much "smaller" and "simpler" world of the Worldwide Church of God, which demanded little besides obedience to church authority, was a refuge from the harsh realities of the world. The attitude, "NOTHING matters except the Kingdom and our salvation" was pervasive. The most lazy and spellbindingly passive people I've ever met were in the Worldwide Church of God. The "nothing else matters" cop-out was a brilliant excuse to avoid tending to real needs of family, self, and community. The fewer actions and works a member had that stood to be scrutinized, the safer the person was. Many members would actually boast each Sabbath about how many hours they spent fasting, meditating, studying and praying during the past week. Those were usually the very laziest people of the flock, attempting to get brownie points by making assertions that could not even be validated!

Sure, there were many notable exceptions and sincere individuals that cared for their families and prospered while adhering to the Worldwide Church of God rules and regulations, even committing large sums of money and time to the congregation. But in my experience, the vast majority of folks in attendance became totally lost after the Worldwide Church of God gradually became more "liberal" after Herbert W. Armstrong's death and imposed a less rigid framework. For example, we had a much more reasonable minister enter Bethlehem in 1988 who encouraged men in the congregation to spend more time with their families and to take more personal responsibility for family finances instead of begging the local church deacons for assistance! You can imagine how unpopular he was! 2) "And yes, in part, I did them to please my parents, particularly my father, who like many Worldwide Church of God fathers was a tyrant, but who, in contra-distinction to most, actually *was* a powerful and fearsome man, as you might imagine someone who lived in primitive conditions in the Alaskan outback to be. Mostly, though, I did them because I was self-motivated, and I was self-motivated because I *believed* and I put my whole heart into being worthy to be 'found righteous'."

Doing things in order to earn personal salvation was the name of the game in Worldwide Church of God. This obsession with self often led to mammoth displays of self-righteousness--perhaps in its rawest form as parents and children would turn against each other in many cases if and when they felt threatened by each other's misbehavior or unholiness. Calibrating the minimum of what was needed to earn this salvation according to the Worldwide Church of God ministry was the preoccupation of the majority of members in Bethlehem. That's why a large percentage, probably upwards of 50%, of members would run to the ministers about personal problems and situations and ask for advice in order to shirk as much personal responsibility for gaining salvation as possible.

 3) "To walk away from the church meant losing the affection of my parents and having to begin to earn my keep in the world at fourteen." . . . "In doubting, you should have followed the mandate you accepted to prove all things. But you chose not to; it was too much effort or you were fearful of the result."

I would conjecture that most, if not all, members of the Worldwide Church of God asked themselves from time to time, and much more often as the doctrines and leadership changed, what would happen if they left the church. For old and young alike, leaving the church would have cost them the "affection" of the Worldwide Church of God ministry, and, by extension, "God." Pettiness, hypocrisy and invasion of privacy was visible at all levels of the congregation and affected almost everyone personally in some way or another--enough to cause significant doubt or worry as to whether or not the Worldwide Church of God was really the true church through which they could attain eternal salvation.

But, alas, the vast majority were resilient through thick and thin, many even through overnight reversals or changes in doctrine and policy, desperately hoping that the "truth" they believed in for many years was still the "truth" and that they hadn't wasted their time and resources. People stuck it out in the Worldwide Church of God out of fear of leaving the "true church," even if the possibility of it being the right one was increasingly low and doubts continued to multiply; this fear overshadowed the need to escape hypocrisy and start anew in researching the bible and religion on an indpendent basis. I would therefore argue (contrary to Stephen arguing that these people were either stupid or lazy) that these people hanging in there, seemingly out of fear that the Worldwide Church of God really was the true church even if corrupt and hypocritical, were cowardly, not stupid. Others honestly had no notion of what they should do or where they should go if they left the Worldwide Church of God. As you see in correspondence sent to you, John, some folks haven't a clue of what to do unless they're told exactly how they should be praying, studying or living! The major irony is that the Worldwide Church of God actually left the brethren in the end rather than the brethren leaving the church! Some people are still clinging onto a name, or acronym "Worldwide Church of God" because they attended it for so many years. The institution may well still be corrupt and unapologetic as ever, but its doctrines and teachings bear little resemblance to what it was when most old-timers joined. The Worldwide Church of God, as such, no longer exists!

Certainly among both the young and old, there were those who chose to stay in the church with the hope of climbing the ladder of achievement peculiar to the Worldwide Church of God, i.e. becoming deacons, local elders or ministers, minister's wives, employees of the church at Ambassador College or overseas, etc. With a little luck, there were plenty of rewards for those willing to understand the internal workings of the system and go along with and perpetuate them. In particular, the young in the Worldwide Church of God (in its fiscal heyday) were trained and educated to thrive in a such an environment rather than the "real world." Many had no marketable skills. And many, even upon discovering or suspecting the bankruptcy of the Worldwide Church of God, were afraid to leave it because of the comfort factor in staying. Can such people be blamed for their protracted participation? Only insofar as they were cowardly. But Stephen goes a bit too far in assigning culpability to those that grew up in much different environments under much different circumstances than his in the Alaskan outback. As someone responding to Stephen's letter wrote, "never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins."

The Stephen letter was very provocative, and, as provocative contributions do on the PT site, it caused me to rethink again what happened in the Worldwide Church of God and why. I'm still having trouble understanding what drew so many people to it and how so many people stayed in it SO long.

Thanks for posting the letters.

Best regards, Sharon


 I read John O's article, and am glad he took the time to write out his questions.
My first inclination is to give a person the benefit of the doubt, but I've had a credibility problem with Stephen since his first post.

Judging an entire group by the actions of a few didn't seem at all consistent with a person who is supposed to be a counselor.

Also, I truly sympathize with anyone who has been abused, but abandoning her children with the abuser and leaving town with bikers? It sounds like a Lifetime movie.

And if it is all true, why didn't he share his books and easily found knowledge with her, so she could free herself (and eventually her children), as he did?

I guess that is the fault of all adult Worldwide Church of Goders too.

Name withheld

 Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice -shame on me. I am not buying "Stephen's" second "story..."

I have had college courses in literature and writing, and as I have stated before... There are many kinds of odors -physical, emotional, mental and "spiritual."

"Stephen's" second letter reeks of Bull Shit -and contrivance. His last fairy tale is just a little too "convenient." Personally, I smell a setup.

I have many problems with "Stephen's" story...

1:) Who said it was "date rape?" Stephen claims to have outsmarted the "world" at age 14, yet he got third hand information about his "former girlfriend" (isn't he married)? But then he proclaims this third hand gossip as if it were the "gospel." You know -like it was "written in stone."

Oopps -we don't believe something just because someone "says so." (Been there, done that, and bought way too many T-shirts.) And I am not buying this one...

2:) What the hell is her name? Stephen (who is now married with children) speaks of his former girlfriend in such glowing terms -but he does not seem to remember her name...

3:) Stephen's "angel" walked out and deserted her three kids... Any women who deserts her kids under "Stephen's" conditions -has severe and "very dark" problems. And it seems that "Stephen's slut" didn't even try to contact her children for many years.

4:) "Stephen" wrote many words about "himself" before his current marriage, and he wrote many words about his girlfriend "slut" -but what about his wife and family?

5:) "Stephen's" slut-girlfriend decided to better her life (and escape abuse) by joining a motorcycle gang...

And then she had "many" abusive men afterwards -but she didn't even try to contact her children... (yeah, right).

6:) "Stephen" claims that all he was trying to do was "contact his girlfriend" on our website, as well as many other websites -oopps...

He already knew she was in a Florida prison... He is married and has children -where the hell is his wife in all of this?

7:) "Stephen" seems to have a mental problem -he likes to write "glowing" stories with a hook on the end that blames "us," for all of the worlds problems...

Go to hell "Stephen" -I have had all the "blame" that I need for a lifetime. And I can see your chicken-shit, cockroach tactics exactly for what they are...

8:) "Stephen" is a plant -a spy if you will. And he is a lot more screwed up than any of us are...

9:) I was right when I asked the editor not to place "Stephen's" messages in the "hate" mail. "Stephen's" messages belong in the "insane" mail. Or the "spy" mail at best...

10:) Editor -I repent of my stupidly for believing "Stephen's" first "story." I will send in a generous offering and penance, in "Stephen's name" -to the Catholic Foundation of Churches...

Jim V

PS: May "Stephen" and all of his kind rot in hell... (if there is one).




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