OIU Volume Three - Pt. 5 of 5
OUTSIDER'S INSIDE UPDATE™
By Thomas Holshouser
A recent business trip took me to Los Angeles, CA. With WCG HQ (cult central) in the vicinity, I decided to drive over and check things out. It happened that my trip had me in LA on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath. Initially, I planned to visit Cult Central only on the Sabbath, but I found that I had some spare time on the afternoon on the "Holy Day" so I went then also. I arrived at the Auditorium just as Mr. Tkach was winding up his sermon. I only caught the last five minutes or so, but since I got to hear him making desperate attempts at defending himself and recent doctrinal changes, I was happy to have at least gotten the "gist" of it.
Since I arrived so late, I watched Mr. Tkach by remote TV in the Auditorium lobby with a small group of members who were huddled together out there. Following the sermon, I went inside for the closing song. I spent some time looking around for recognizable faces; after all, this was a Holy Day and I reasoned that there should be several evangelist ranked ministers in the crowd. Mr. Tkach had mysteriously vanished, and try as I might, I could not spot a single other prominent minister. The only face I recognized was Ralph Helge's. I wondered at this, since on a trip here a couple of years ago I had seen at least a half dozen evangelists, including Herman Hoeh, Rod Meredith, Dean Blackwell, Joe Jr., Carn Catherwood, and David Hulme. Hmm, could it be that they've all left? Or maybe some have been sent to Texas to quell the "uprising" there. I didn't know. I asked a friend who attends there if either of the Tkach's were ever present for Sabbath services. He said that they rarely were, but went on to make the same excuse we always made for Herbert W. Armstrong--that they were either traveling or busy and probably had the sermons "piped" into their homes.
The following day was the Sabbath and I arrived with time to spare. I didn't want to miss the services that day because I was curious to hear the content of the sermon. Would it be on some irrelevant topic like the sermons back home had been before I stopped attending? If the topic were relevant, would it be full of double-talk like so much of the church's published material these days? I was anxious to see first hand. The sermonette was given by the editor of YOUTH magazine. His purpose was to defend the continued existence of the magazine. I thought that it was interesting that one of his main justifications for the publication is that it "gives the Church positive PR." Well, I thought, at least he's being honest. He went on to mention that the magazine would now carry a subscription price and that church members were encouraged to subscribe and also give gift subscriptions. This reminded me a lot of the 1970's QUEST magazine. The sermon was given by Bernie Schnippert, head of "Media Relations." His topic, I was glad to see, was mostly free of double-talk. The subject was on "Grace vs. The Law." I thought it was quite good and to the point. It sounded almost as if he had been listening to some tapes put out by Mr. Earl Williams.
Immediately following the sermon, I approached Mr. Schnippert and told him that I enjoyed his sermon. I mentioned that I found it very clear and helpful. I went on to ask him, however, why this kind of clarity was so lacking in local church areas and in the church's publications. His reply was that this was characteristic of a church "in transition." He said that I could not expect to see old ways of phrasing things, etc., eliminated right away. I could have agreed with him on this if it were only in local churches that the "old" ways still linger--but surely there could be some control of the publications at the editorial level! Given the quickness and nature of his answer I felt that I had received his practiced reply when fielding the same question from the "cult watch" media.
While we were talking, he mentioned that Holy Day attendance was down 27% compared with last year (while offerings were up 3%). I asked him if he thought that this drop in attendance was a positive sign or negative one? He emphatically replied that he thought it was negative. "Why?" I asked, "Wouldn't this indicate that people are getting it?" That is, that they really aren't required to keep the Feast under the New Covenant? "Well, they need to keep them even if they aren't required!" he stammered. Here is the double-talk that was missing from the sermon, I thought.
I spent the next 30 minutes talking with him and Mike Carol, Head of Data Processing. I tried vainly to get either of them to come right out and say that, since there are Christians in other churches, WCG members were free in the sight of God to choose to worship elsewhere if they chose. No luck though. I closed the conversation by telling the two of them that the WCG would continue to be a cult-like organization until it came to the point that it could discontinue holding onto members by psychological coercion and make them feel free to leave if they choose--that is, that they will not fall from favor with God for doing so. The reply was that while individual members are in fact encouraged to find fellowship elsewhere if they are unhappy in the WCG, I should not look for any type of public statement in this regard. [I understand this to mean that "unhappy" members equal "trouble-makers" and are therefore encouraged to leave.]
As I walked around the grounds, I came upon a garden that was once pictured in The Good News magazine when I was a child. I was amazed at how small the garden was compared to the picture that made it look so impressively big. While I pondered the technical considerations of manipulative advertising, it made me think of a metaphor for the ways and means of Herbert W. Armstrong. According to the legendary Apostle who brought to light God's ONE'S TRUE CHURCH after 1900 years, the end was VERY NEAR, the world was VERY EVIL and he was a VERY IMPORTANT instrument of GOD, doing a VERY GREAT WORK. Now we see that that image was nothing but a created, enhanced picture that was planted in every member's mind--technical considerations to boot!
"Fellowship groups" seem to be the emphasis lately, although, many members are calling them "disfellowship groups." In one Canadian city a minister obtained from the head of the fellowship group a list of names of those that were not in agreement with the church and said that he was going to "get them." It appears these fellowship groups will be vehicles to the old "Deacon-Elder" spy and report meetings. This same minister will be moving to California to take over a WCG congregation in July. After his recent visit to California in April, he reported to his Canadian congregation that, "Everything is fine in the church and there are no problems."
I had the opportunity to talk to a Global minister and his wife from Edmonton. They were concerned about how quickly David Hulme went from the WCG to be President of the UCG (isn't everybody?). They also commented on how Richard Panelli had been in Edmonton a couple of months ago and telling people to stay in the WCG; shortly after that he joined the UCG. The people in the Canadian area have always adhered to the government commands and have been obedient to the WCG leaders. Now with the newest "double message," some are finding themselves in a greater state of confusion than in the past.
Frank Brown adds to that confusion quite nicely by announcing to the Canadian church that the WCG has recently lost 20,000 members while nothing has really changed. Frank Brown instructs the Canadian ministers to reassure the brethren that all will continue to honor the Sabbath and keep the Holy Days. It's too soon to tell, but Frank's rhetoric seems to support the UCG development. We may see all of Canada roll over to the UCG before all is said and done.
We still are hearing about people that left the WCG many years ago who are still living in fear that they left God's True Church and his Government. They live in guilt and emotional trauma because of the mind control that was used on them. These people are hurting and are very sincere, yet approach this matter with the WCG leaders or current members; they accuse you of dwelling on the past or of being bitter. When inquiring cult watchers ask the leaders about the past, they are appeased by small talk and statements in the fashion of, "We want to move forward, not dwell in the past." This may sound noble; however, it is dismissing their accountability for the personal destruction they have caused. The leaders have even stooped to stating that the past was in ignorance and they have been forgiven. [UPDATE: Read this footnote on our site which covers headquarters' "apologies."]
Some of the Christian cult watchers are so excited about the evangelical language the WCG is using; they simply accept and forgive the organization at face value. With so many distraught ex-members in Canada, we are reminded that forgiveness does not mean that all accountability is gone. Actually with the forgiveness should come a greater willingness to be accountable and an urge to reconcile with openness and honesty.
The WCG leaders are using the same naïveté to some of the evangelical cult watchers in effort to further their own agenda. MacGregor Ministries of Nelson British Columbia recently met with the WCG leaders. Shockingly, they release an issue of their newsletter and write at length that the WCG can be given a clean bill of health. Individuals who received the newsletter were disgusted and baffled as to how former Jehovah's Witness cultists could possible ignore the cult leaders tactics and play right into the manipulation. What an incredible disservice to the victims of the Worldwide Church of God.
MacGregor Ministries was well informed by many about the tactics the leaders use. Much material was sent to them, which obviously was ignored. Christians here now question the motives and wonder what made them stoop to the cult leaders. It is puzzling how someone could spend their working life combating the falseness of the Jehovah's Witnesses and then set themselves up as an expert for the WCG while judging them as Christian. How would they feel if a non-JW cult watcher gave the JW's a clean bill of health without getting all the facts? MacGregor Ministries joins the Christian Research Institute, as many view both Ministries as grossly uniformed and a detriment to the thousands of ailing victims of a destructive cult. It is a shame they have lost credibility in the eyes of those who once supported their work.
[UPDATE: In 2008 The Canadian government ordered MacGregor Ministries shut down because they violated Canada's "hate-crime laws." (Read article) The ministry now operates in the United States under MM Outreach Media Ministries.]
Another cult watcher once explained to me that there is a heavy competition between the cult-watchers as to who is the expert. It does seem that there is more deception under some of these cult-watching groups than we're aware of. In MacGregor's newsletter, Set Free Ministries was being advertised. This is the same group under investigation with Hank Hanegraaff of CRI. Allegations were written about Hank being paid by Set Free in exchange for a cult-free status. Some question if the WCG possibly made the same sort of deal after CRI gave WCG cult-free status.
Some of the Christian cult-watching ministries are becoming as dangerous as the cults themselves. They set themselves up as speakers for God and then decide who else isn't. They seem to pride themselves in being experts on all the cult groups, but refuse to work with those who were part of the group. It's hard to believe there isn't an ulterior motive to such behavior, or an unseen dividend. On a funny note, the sign in front of the meeting hall for services in Winnipeg used to read, "Saturday Services 10 AM, All Welcome." A few months ago some former members decided to go to services. Many members complained about the former member intrusion and didn't think the former members should be allowed. So, they have now changed the sign by deleting the "All" and leaving the, "Welcome!"
We continue to receive many letters and will continue to share them with our readers. The following letters are printed in their entirety because the content can be helpful to others. We have many other letters on file; yours may be in a future OIU. Many of you have expressed how you do enjoy the letters, as they connect you to support. We assure you, all letters printed are actual letters. Please let us know if we can use your name.
Would you share your story? We have begun to compile a collection of stories of former WCG members. We deeply appreciate those who have taken the time to write about their experience and share their story with others. If our readers are interested in writing their personal "testimony" please email us. [UPDATE: This section now includes stories from those who were in PCG and other offshoots/splinter groups, plus child survivor stories.]
These stories may be published; however, your privacy is paramount to us. Please feel free to use a pseudonym, if you choose, and know that confidentiality is our top priority.
We at the ESN realize that many of you could write an entire book about your experiences in the Worldwide Church of God. We ask that you keep your "testimony" eight pages or less if possible. This will help keep the task of assimilating, storing and using these documents manageable. If you can, we ask that the stories be typed. This may not always be possible and we appreciate hand written papers as well. Please send your "testimony--we will welcome stories on a continuing basis and add them to the files.
Growing Up in the WCG
The Worldwide Church of God was my mother. She raised me from infancy--she was all I had ever known of the world and of God. For thirty years her doctrines and policies dominated every aspect of my life. Now that I've come out of church I grieve many things, but, most of all I grieve my lost childhood.
I have memories of myself and my two brothers, as young children, playing one of our favorite games. We called it "God's Kingdom." We would strip all the leaves off the bushes surrounding our home and cover the porch with them. These leaves were the multitudes of people who would come to "worship the King, the Lord of Host, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zech. 14:16). The WCG kept the Jewish Holy Days and taught that every one would be forced to do so when Christ established His kingdom on earth. My brothers and I would stand over the leafy multitude and demand in God-like voices (for we would be Gods in the Kingdom), "ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP THE SABBATH, NOW???" One of us would squeak a rebellious "no" and then we would proceed to thrash the "people" with whip-like switches. The switches were our "Rods of Iron" which we would use to rule the world at Christ's return. We would shout at the leaves that they must learn to keep the Holy Days and that Christmas and Easter are Pagan--that Herbert W. Armstrong was God's true Apostle and that they had persecuted God's true people. We shouted and thrashed until every leaf had been shredded to bits by our switches. When we were finished we swept the humbled and broken bits of humanity off the porch and admonished, "Go and sin no more!" This was how we played, "God's Kingdom."
I remember always knowing that I was different from everyone else - chosen, called out and blessed with special knowledge that no one else had. I remember sitting alone at a desk in the school hallway as my classmates celebrated Christmas. The gifts, the lights, the food and the laughter all looked so inviting but I would think of God's Kingdom and be comforted. I remember leaving the room for birthdays, Easter and Christmas and the curious stares and innocent questions from the other children that made me feel so alone. I always gave the careful answer that I had been taught, "It's against my religion." The children responded, "That's weird, I've never heard that before." And, "Don't you believe in Jesus?" This served to reinforce the teaching that Satan had blinded the eyes of every one in "the world" so that they could not understand what we knew. I knew with smugness and certainty that one day they would see.
I remember always carrying with me the knowledge that this evil world would at any moment end in a holocaust of human suffering from which I, if I remained faithful, would be spared, I was certain that I would never marry and have children. This world would end long before I had time for such things. At times I felt a great sense of loss over the fact that I would never marry--but I would quickly repent of such selfishness.
I remember having a recurring nightmare over the years, which I have since learned, was shared by many in the cult. In the dream I would come home from school and find the house empty. I would try to find my extended family (all members of the WCG) or other church members and they would all be gone. I would realize with horror that they had all fled to the "Place of Safety" and that I had not been counted worthy to escape. We were constantly admonished in church services and Bible Studies that the call to flee could come from Mr. Armstrong at any moment, and we must be ready and willing to leave everything and everyone behind. All those counted worthy would be protected in Petra, Jordan--the place God had revealed to his Apostle as the Place of Safety. I could not afford the luxury of a frivolous childhood.
The WCG taught that to train a child properly he must first have his spirit broken and, secondly, he must be punished for his attitude as well as his actions. My parents took to heart the things they were taught. I was often told that a "wrong attitude" left my mind open to demonic influences. Many nights I lay awake terrified that demons would possess me because I had allowed myself to cry too long over a hurt or because I had been angry at my parents.
We were taught that a spirit of rebellion was the ultimate sin--after all, it was the sin that Satan committed. Next to rebellion against God's government (i. e., Armstrong and his ministers) was the sin of deciding for one's self what was right or wrong (in other words--THINKING). The WCG held us all in a grip and we were bond slaves to all it dictated. Life for me was a constant battle to measure up to the church's standards. We were encouraged to "see yourself as God sees you--a self-centered, hostile, shriveled up, rotten, vile, filthy, sinning hunk of rotting human flesh not worthy to breathe the free air God gives you. To be so sorry not only for what you have done but for WHO YOU ARE." (Herbert W. Armstrong, What Do You Mean the Unpardonable Sin?) I never received medical care, dental care, vaccinations. I also never ate pork or shellfish, and feared becoming physically ill should I accidentally eat a cookie with lard in it. I never dated anyone in high school--it was forbidden. I never attended a school dance or ball game at my school. I was baptized at the age of 20 after fasting once a week for a whole year.
I eventually did marry--within the Church of course--and gave birth to two sons. My husband was also raised in the church. Sometime after my marriage to a wonderful man, we had begun to do the unthinkable--question the church; I began to have my own doubts. I repented and fasted about the doubts, but the more I did so the worse they became. At one point I fasted and prayed to God all day and had come to the point that I thought I should leave my husband because he was dragging me away from God's church. I asked that day for my eyes to be opened to the truth. I was ready to begin the difficult process of facing reality. Although I felt wrong for asking such a thing, that day was the beginning of the end of my association with the Worldwide Church of God.
Three years later I was finally able to verbalize the fact that I was raised in a cult. What a shocking revelation! It turned my world upside-down. We began an extensive study into cults and mind control. We also began to research the history of the incredible corruption and deceit in the Worldwide Church of God. We made contact with the WCG Exit & Support Network™ and it was very helpful in the recovery process. The veil was lifted and we could see the world and the WCG clearly for the first time in our lives.
Fifteen members of my extended family are still in the church, including three who are local elders and one deacon. When our local minister heard we had left AND had done some research into the church he became very nervous. He immediately met with my family members to do "damage control" and to see if we had influenced them in any way. He instructed them on "how to handle those who have left." He then called us and threatened to disfellowship and "mark" us if we shared what we knew or tried to destroy anyone's faith in God's Church." (This was in the fall of `94).
Many coming out of this cult now are absolutely "shell-shocked." I was one of the lucky ones.
Leaving the WCG
By Yvonne (pseudonym)
Much of my life was devoted to "the one and only true Church of God." They turned out to be fruitless years spent in search of an abundant, peaceful, and happy life promised by Herbert W. Armstrong. They were years spent in anticipation of the soon-coming of Christ to set up the "Wonderful World Tomorrow" which never came. It was a life of striving for perfection, unfulfilled dreams, and misery.
When you're deceived into thinking something is "God's truth" because you really believe you've "proved it," then the fear is put into you not to ever depart from the organization that teaches it (as departing would be considered departing from God and His salvation). Therefore, one of the things which led up to my exit was that I dared to break this rule of "don't listen to those outside God's church."
After coming out of the WCG and re-dedicating my life to Christ and asking Him into my life again, I realized how much my relationship with Him had been hindered for those many years.
Although I have gone through much pain and suffering since I came out, Christ will be there to answer my prayers, strengthen me, and to always send someone to lift me up.
By Earl Williams
I want to thank you all for your prayers for my family and me. God has certainly been with us, and strengthened us through these difficult times. Just knowing that many of you were out there supporting us was a tremendous encouragement.
Many have wondered what happened to me, and how it came about. I'll give a brief story of the events that God used to bring me out of the WCG, and to start Christ Church of Grace.
Looking back on it all, I can identify with Joseph when he told his brothers: "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." I believe this is how God has worked his will in my life for the benefit of many. We have suffered much, but God has taught us that his grace is greater than all my needs and suffering.
It all began about seven years ago as God began to show me that I did not really know Jesus Christ. I knew days and laws, but I did not know Christ and his grace. He began to break me from this by allowing me to experience the full futility of trying to keep the law.
Through brokenness and suffering I learned that I had misplaced dependencies, and that my identity was in the wrong place. I depended on my performance of the law (which I could not keep) for my sense of fulfillment. And my identity was bound up in the approval of men in an organization. I was drinking water that could not satisfy, from a broken cistern that could not deliver.
Out of my emptiness and frustration, God began to teach me about his Son, and his unconditional love. I began to depend on his unfailing love for my sense of fulfillment and well-being. I learned to rest securely in my unchanging identity in Jesus Christ. I was no longer able to be manipulated by the approval or disapproval of men.
I was now free to love, serve, and obey God from the heart. He changed my desires and wants to be his desires and wants. I was now free to learn the truth (Jesus Christ) for the first time. I was free to preach and teach the true Gospel.
I was also about to become a target for the attacks of Satan the devil. I was called all kinds of names and accused of being a heretic by other ministers. About four years ago I began to realize that God would eventually lead me out of the Worldwide Church of God. The more God taught me, the more I preached and the more I preached the more I was attacked, and the more I was attacked, the more God taught me. It was a bittersweet experience.
Then in early December, God convinced me that I should resign, and start a local church. When Mr. Tkach came to Atlanta I told him of my plans, and he asked me not to resign. He said he was going to make some changes. But he also told me that I had done wrong in preaching these things before him, and that I had pre-empted him. I later reminded him that the basis of everything I had preached was previously in church literature, I was just stating it clearer. I also stated that for the last two years I had discussed what I was teaching with Joe Jr. and Mike Feazell and they had no problems with it.
Before he left Atlanta he asked me what I was going to do, and I told him that I would stay. That was a big mistake. God did not tell me to stay if Mr. Tkach made changes, He told me to resign. I disobeyed God, and I have had to learn some hard lessons.
In late February, I wrote Mr. Tkach letting him know that I was resigning and that the attacks and pressure upon me and my family had increased tremendously after his visit to Atlanta. I told him that I was being made an escape-goat for the changes he had made, and that was not right.
I also told him that since I was being harassed out of my job, I felt that they should be held responsible for our security.
This was a mistake on my part, and I have repented of it. I withdrew my request. (By the way, I never brought a lawsuit against the church.). I made the request out of my hurt at the way we had been treated, and especially because of some of the things that had happened to my wife.
We have forgiven the parties involved, and wish them well. We are thankful to be free to be able to preach the gospel. We look forward to a bright, and growing future in Christ Church of Grace. Please remember us in your prayers.
Christ Church of Grace
2531 Berwick Walk
Snellville, Georgia 30278
Such a Waste
By Mary Free (pseudonym)
My purpose in writing is, you know and understand the false doctrine that members of the WCG have been taught. I contacted the Christian Research Center in Calgary; spoke with Dean Crossley who referred me to you.
For 28 years I've believed everything I was fed. Now 1995 the old covenant is done away and the New Covenant is in!?
Well excuse me folks; I knew this as a child in Sunday school and it fine now to do away with all the old covenant stuff because God has shown Mr. Tkach truth!?
I've waited 28 years listening to a false doctrine, when I could have had 28 years of learning about my beloved Savior?! If I had stayed where God had placed me in the first place, my mind wouldn't be so screwed up now, by such wicked abuse.
Today April 1995, I rejoice that my family was never members of the Worldwide Church of God. My husband of 32 years still shakes his head, on how his daughters were so poorly treated and like sheep I allowed emotional and psychological abuse the likes the world, if it be known, would be stunned.
I've just completed the book: Out of the Cults and into the Church by Janis Hutchinson. It was excellent.
One thought nags me: The WCG seems finally to be on the right track. Is this truth or something I should guard against?
Mr. Tkach, from his video series, has called us stupid, dummies and thieves. I guess that should tell me if he's on the right track.
Thank you for listening and "being there."
These four letters [above] are representative of the letters the ESN receives ongoing. When we place an excerpt, it is difficult to capture the true heart of each message, although space and costs will not always permit us to write the full accounts, we will continue to print as much as possible. Please keep writing; others need to hear from you.
Once again, current events dictated what was written in this Volume of the OIU. As we look to strengthen the OIU with therapeutic topics, we felt it was absolutely necessary to provide our readers with the full accounting of the "inside story." Printing a letter or two does not encapsulate the real picture. We diligently strive to report everything accurately and look forward to comments or corrections.
The OIU stands for honestly, we deal with issues others "sweep under the carpet." Religious deception needs to be exposed; it operates like organized crime, with a high percentage of success. The masses submit to religious rhetoric and ignore the actions.
The next OIU will begin to unfold the story of the 1970's and report on topics listed in Vol. TWO. The topic of Mind-Control and Hypnosis will also be covered. We recommend you read the article on Brainwashing and Hypnosis: The Battle for Your Mind by Dick Sutphen. It is excellent and will provide a thorough explanation on its use to manipulate the masses. [UPDATE: Sutphen is a New Ager. ESN does not endorse all material on this site.]
Special thanks to all who continue to help the ESN help those in need. It takes all of us to care and make a difference.
L. A. Stuhlman, Editor
The OUTSIDERS' Inside UPDATE is published as a Christian service for those
researching and investigating the reasons behind the events
of the Worldwide Church of God demise.
All rights reserved. ©