I was born in the mid `70s and was raised in the WCG. My parents were fervent believers. My father venerated Herbert Armstrong (and still does) as God’s “End-Time Apostle” and “Elijah.” We were a family with a mission: we had to help support “The Work,” so that the “Truth”1 could be preached to the wayward “Israelites” about God’s soon-coming judgment. Our goal of course was to be kings and priests in the wonderful World Tomorrow.
In early memory of mine was that of sitting with my mother in our living room while she tried to teach me about how God received our tithes and offerings. I was clueless. Frustrated, she retorted, “What do you think, the Church puts the money in a rocket ship and sends it to God?” That sounded like a possibility to me at the time. But from this age (perhaps 5 or so) I was instructed that giving to God’s ministers was the same as giving to God. Our family was poor and we bore a heavy burden. My mother later told me that once my dad wrote a letter to Headquarters asking for a temporary exemption from tithing. Our finances were quite strained. A terse reply was written, literally telling us to live off of rice and beans. The tithing must continue. Like a good soldier my dad continued to give his multiple tithes; even if we had to go on food stamps to do it (and we did).
WCG emphasized money. This was core to their message. It wasn’t reflecting the love of God in Christ to the world, feeding the hungry, or caring for the poor. WCG considered that “false” Christianity. This should have raised a red flag right there, but it didn’t with us. Where was all this money going? Although we were so poor, when I was older my dad sold some recently inherited land and was able to scrape up enough money to go to the Feast in Pasadena. I saw items such as a gold-foil ceiling in the Auditorium, and carpet made from the wool of an extinct species of sheep. Was that preaching the Gospel or materialistic self-glorification?
As a very personal case in point, I’ll explain how raising money was so important to the WCG. My uncle and aunt were members. Their son (my cousin) contracted HIV at the age of two because of a blood transfusion he received. Distraught, they asked the local minister to pay them a visit for counseling. The associate pastor came by their house but did not appear to be the least bit concerned about my cousin’s fate. On the contrary, he was shocked and dismayed upon learning that my uncle and aunt were unable to tithe. My uncle now had huge medical bills to pay and he did not have health insurance. From what I heard, my uncle threw him out of the house. My mother disputes that part of the story and said that my uncle was just extremely upset. Either way, my uncle left WCG that very day and has not expressed any interest in religion again. My cousin survived for several years before succumbing to complications from AIDS at the age of twelve.
Another story that comes to mind is how one evening our pastor and associate pastor was over at our home. As they were finishing up their visit, my dad asked him why God was not blessing our family despite his obedience over the years. My dad was often working to 10pm so he could have enough money to both support the family and “the church.” He would always say that he had to “support two governments.” The pastor, leaving, partially turned around to my dad and shrugged his shoulders. He casually said, “I don’t know. Maybe you’re under a generational curse.” Then he turned right back around and walked out the door. My dad took him seriously. I did too. Maybe we were. This influenced a lot of my decisions in life having that in the back of my head. I would tell myself, “I’m prone to fail anyway because of the curse my family is under. After all, that came out of the mouth of one of God’s ministers.”
Later I found that this same minister did not have a lot of credibility. He had been arrested for DUI on the evening of the “Night To Be Much Observed.” A teenage girl was in his minivan at the time and he claimed to be taking her home. He announced at services how he was suing the Police Department because they left that girl in his van when they arrested him. I don’t think that anything came out of that though–or whether in fact that he followed through on this lawsuit threat. Later he was abruptly transferred to another WCG area. He had been was accused of molesting young boys and Headquarters quietly transferred him to another congregation, where it is alleged that his behavior continued. This sounds not too different from the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. But when you place faith in a clique of elite “ministers,” you always run the potential for abuse.
Other early childhood memories involved the long distances we had to drive to get to services. We drove over an hour one way to get there. In reality this was a bit longer since my dad made sure the elderly had a way to get to services. I think his heart was in the right place. Some of these elderly folks were nice, and some were downright strange. I do remember one older man insisting that I sit on his lap. I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that I became frightened of him. Then there was the case of Roseine. We took her to church for years. As I remember it, she was nice to my sisters and me, but she was bitter about the Protestant church she used to attend. She claimed that they worshiped a different god than we did at WCG. She also spoke about demons and demonic activity a lot. I think she believed that they were everywhere, just waiting to possess the unsuspecting. Her stories scared me and as a kid I had night terrors for years afterward. She left WCG and joined Philadelphia Church of God before she died. [Note: Demons can reside inside these cults, but a true Christian cannot be possessed.]
All through school I felt like an outsider. I did not have many friends. I used to talk openly about how my family was going to Petra soon and my classmates were going to suffer through the Great Tribulation. My parents were going to finish raising my sisters and me as “Spirit Beings” (gods in essence). My friends responded with a mix of laughter and offense. Looking back on it I couldn’t blame them. I did explain to my third grade teacher how Easter and Christmas were pagan. She responded, “Well, you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”
Every year my grade school would put on a chorale when our school would sing songs around the holidays. My parents made sure that my teacher would pull me out of the performance so I would not be worshipping a “pagan god.” And they did pull me out of a gymnasium of 300 students. I had to sit there in front of them, the sole student facing 300 kids, sitting there as they sang. I felt like melting. It was a real demonstration about how I was different. I was no normal kid.
My parents did let me get involved in the Cub Scouts around this time. A problem arose about prayer being said at Scouting events. I was faced with a dilemma. Should I pray? I was about 8 or 9 at the time. Quietly I asked my dad if I should bow my head and he said, “Yes, go ahead. Just be sure not to say ‘Amen.’ ” I’ve thought about this years after the fact, and it shows just how much we were deceived. My father has a good heart, but the approach was all wrong. We actually gave God more offense than we did ever serve Him.
Punishments were rough, and continued to get worse as I became a teen. Of course, I was spanked mercilessly when I got in trouble. These were take-your-breath away spankings, sometimes with a paddle and other times with a bare hand. One of my cousins remarked how he became quietly angry with my dad because I was harshly spanked over the most minor of infractions. I remember once I was beaten with a wooden paddle–I can’t remember of it was a broom handle or a piece of trim molding–but it broke in the process and my dad and I both laughed. Good times. My parents found that spankings weren’t that effective as I got older. They approached the local minister over it (the one who was molesting kids) and he told them that children should be spanked up to the age of 18. Upon hearing this, I challenged my parents to try. I would fight back. My dad later took my challenge and punched me on several occasions.
As a teen I started reading the Bible Correspondence Course and various WCG brochures. I remember one day lying across my bed reading a piece of literature asking myself, “Why do they just state something as fact and ask us to believe it? Even though they gave a Scriptural reference, that’s not what that passage is saying.” I think it was something about the meaning of one of the Holy Days. I started asking my mother questions about doctrine that upset her. These discussions quickly evolved into arguments. I was rebelling during this time, too. My parents found that they could not control me, and my dad especially resorted to harsher and harsher punishment. Sometimes I was beaten, and I in turn developed an explosive and violent temper. My mother called me “demon-possessed,” and once told my dad, “Either he goes or I go!” I felt that my role in my family could be quite tenuous. I knew something was wrong. I spent some time living with my grandmother, as she was a more gentle person.
I had it easy compared to some people I knew. I had an infant cousin who I witnessed having her hands slapped. I thought that was brutal. Later my mother said that we were all following Garner Ted’s advice on child rearing. What advice, where? Was this the same man who tried to rape a masseuse?
In 1996, my family left WCG and I followed them to UCG. My story continues in: Why I Left United Church of God.
I have given this synopsis of my time spent growing up in WCG and my experience with UCG in order to expose the delusions of these people. They worship men and, like the Pharisees, make themselves out to be hypocrites. While they teach heresy they speak greatly about the “Truth,” but they are liars. Their love has grown cold and they have estranged themselves from Christ.
By Evan – Child survivor of WCG
Footnote by ESN: