My Pain With Other Churches Was Great
When I attempted to attend a mainstream church after leaving Herbert Armstrong's "church," I felt as if the words, "I was in the Worldwide Church of God" were stamped on my forehead. I felt like a spotted sheep that didn't fit in with the white ones. I wondered if it would have been better to have refrained from telling Christians what I was involved with (a "cult") in hopes that they would accept me as "normal."
I remember the first time I sat in a Christian Sunday school class after I left WCG. The elderly lady next to me wanted to know what church I had previously been in. When I told her it was the "Worldwide Church of God," her eyes widened and she said, "Oh my!" That was the only conversation she had with me that day. Another time in this class, I remember asking another lady if she'd like to know what kinds of songs we sang in the WCG. I was hoping to help her see that we weren't really such "freaks" after all by telling her they were songs taken from the Psalms. In a somewhat hesitant tone, she said to me, "Do I dare ask?"
I don't think very many ever found it in themselves to believe that my experience was anything more than weirdness. Others acted like they had to walk on eggshells with me. Many times mainstream Christians assume that those from a cult are "weaker and less intelligent," which isn't true. For example, I was invited by an Associate Pastor to what I thought would be a class that was composed of those who exited a cult and that would cover the emotional trauma. Imagine my surprise (and disappointment) when I found out that it was a class for those that were "new Christians who didn't know much about the Bible." There were only about seven people in there and one man didn't even know where the books of the Bible were (he was a former Roman Catholic). At least I felt pretty smart in there. When our teacher went around and asked us what church we had come from, I answered, "A dangerous religious group," and that went over fine.
I felt like I was dealing with a whole different group of people in society when I attempted to go to a true Christian church. This was because of the isolation and exclusivity that Herbert Armstrong ingrained into us. One of the ways his cult did this was through the theme of "unity" and "family." Some exiters may remember the brochure that members received with the list of all the ministers worldwide (pictures included for the top ones) that was entitled, "The Family Album." There is a picture of Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. standing behind the podium with arms and hands outstretched. The whole booklet can now make me think, "How ugly and sick this whole organization was (and is) to make us believe such a hideous lie!" To understand the depth of such betrayal, and the extent of the corruption, is overwhelming.
For a long time after this church, I could feel deep hurt whenever I would remember what I had experienced with them. At the time, I think that it greatly hindered my recovery and took something away from my individuality and made me feel that I had to conform to how other Christians are thinking and doing. After I left, I felt like I lost a part of myself that I had and I lost the concept of who I was or what I was really like. I didn't attend services anywhere else for several years after that. I couldn't handle any kind of pull to get me to attend services every week, or join in with their activities.
Later my husband and I attended a few "gospel hymn-sings" that would come around yearly and where churches from all over were invited--usually at a certain Assembly of God church in the evening. It wasn't until the last one we attended that somehow it didn't feel right. I was picking up how ecumenical the whole thing was becoming and how there didn't seem to be much emphasis on mentioning the gospel, or focusing on Jesus Christ at all. It seemed that they wanted everyone to have "a good time."
I believe that these church experience served a purpose for me. It probably was what I needed at the time, but it wasn't where I was to stay. Jesus works with each of us in an individual way and knows what we are going through. We don't need a church experience to have fellowship with Him, and we don't need a building full of church members in order to "make it." He is able to bring other true Christians into our life at the time we need it and in the way we need it.
I would caution any WCG exiter against jumping immediately into another church and thinking it will be just like the WCG fellowship. Upsetting incidences can trigger abusive situations that happened in the WCG. If you are unable to attend a Christian church--for any reason--don't feel guilty about it, because you are not alone. You are not out of fellowship with God, you are not a sinner, and you are not "headed for the Lake of Fire." He will never disown you, or forsake you, as He is faithful to His own. The Holy Spirit will teach you and guide you as you read the Word of God and stay close to Him in prayer. The important thing to remember is that our relationship and our peace is with a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, not with a church, and only He can fulfill our deepest needs.
Read Karina's other story: Some Results of Attending a "Bona-Fide" Christian Church
Trauma With Another Church (stories by Karina)