My Memories of Gerald Waterhouse
When I think of Gerald Waterhouse,1 the first thing that comes to mind is Buzz Lightyear's commentary to Woody: "You are a sad, strange little man." We had only been in the WCG for a few years when GW was expected to be in the area. Herbert Armstrong had recently passed away, and Joseph W. Tkach, Sr.2 had ascended to the throne. The minister announced GW impending visit at several Sabbath services and how we were expected to be there for "God's Traveling Evangelist." He kept joking about Waterhouse's L-O-N-G sermons, and being fairly new, we were clueless to the joke. He played a tape by Gerald Waterhouse (GW) the Sabbath before his arrival, as an appetizer, I guess, and I remember it being about 2 hours long.
The fateful day came (it was a Sunday) and we had to drive about 45 minutes away to see this important man. GW's "special service" lasted 5 long hours!! (And from what I understand, that was a short service). To make matters worse, it was identical to the tape that was played the day before on the Sabbath!!! So we had already spent a long Saturday listening to the same sermon that was repeated over and over the next day. Talk about torture!
I remember how GW talked about how God chose JWT because, "He was the only one who didn't want to become the Pastor General." Then he went on to discuss how "Joseph means 'prosperous', so God is going to prosper the Church" and "William means 'Wilhelm,' a German name, which means 'warrior' so he's going to be a fighter for the truth; and Tkach in Russian means 'weaver' and he's going to weave all the churches together." I did not understand at the time that GW's true purpose was to perpetuate "sacred myths" about our new leader, and that he did shamelessly. He kept making jokes about JWT being part of the mob while living in Chicago (he kept picking up a violin case and pretending there was a machine gun in it and chuckling about it. After the 3rd or 4th time he did that, nobody was laughing anymore). He talked about how JWT lost his job for keeping the Sabbath, and how the workers at his job started a major protest to have him reinstated. He continued to discuss how JWT was a WWII hero. He told us how JWT was the only one who faithfully stood beside HWA during the California receivership, and the "rebellion of the 70's." He made JWT seem so human, so tenacious and respectable--a leader to be admired without question.
Waterhouse's purpose that day was to make us think that JWT was "one of us" and to create "sacred myths" about our new leader, lest anyone doubt that he was "handpicked by God." He repeated this same story over at least 3 times that day! Talk about a brainwash job! There was an unmistakable glee in his eyes when he would start the same sermon over again and you could hear people groaning under their breath. For some weird reason, he thought it was amusing to treat us this way. And just to make it all seem worthwhile, he would talk about Petra and what all we would be doing there and how we would be "God's Army," how we would sell all our belongings and "flee" to the Place of Safety on Boeing jet planes, and how we would "set up camp" and go into our "final training." (I'm so thankful that it never became a reality with us).
The following Sabbath, our pastor was angry because so few people had shown up (only us foolish new people who didn't know any better!). There should have been over 700 in attendance and maybe 200 showed up that Sunday afternoon. I guess the older members knew what to expect and didn't want to sit there for 5+ hours listening to this man go on and on about the same thing. Thank God we didn't have children at the time!
Looking back on this experience, I keep wondering why in the world we sat there and took such abuse from this man. I guess our hunger for new knowledge and titillating prophecies about the place of safety somehow blinded our better judgment. I have learned that cults engage in such practices (placing members in "unfamiliar" territory so they are more susceptible to mind control, wearing out members by endless hours of indoctrination, and not allowing members to leave). The WCG did engage in these practices.
I am so thankful that healthy mainstream churches do not engage in such deceptive practices. They focus on Jesus as our personal Savior--not on glorifying a human leadership while stringing us along with bits and pieces of fearful prophecies to keep us in our place.
Exit & Support Network™
March 21, 2002
Footnotes by ESN:
1 Gerald Waterhouse later left Worldwide Church of God and joined United Church of God-AIA in 1995. (See: Waterhouse Alert in OIU Newsletter, Vol. 1, Pt. 1 about his incredible "Tkach sanctioned sermon" given in 1994 and which was distributed to all congregations.) He died September 4, 2002 at age 76 after a long illness (swollen prostate, collapsed bladder and extreme toxemia).
2 Joseph W. Tkach died September 22, 1995 of cancer at the age of 68.