I too am a child survivor of the Worldwide Church of God. I attended the London church from the age of 5 to 14. My father was not in the “church.” I was always made to feel like a second class citizen at services because of this. I didn’t have the “model church family” and in the pecking order we were the lowest of the low. I was seen as being in a single parent family. I remember my friends used to ask me “do you love your dad?” because he was seen as virtually the devil. I used to see these large Stepford-like families with their own Bible hymnals and well groomed kids and wish I could live with them. Outside the WCG I also felt like an outsider not being able to go to my friends’ birthday parties or not ever see them on Saturdays. I became judgmental of them and felt a sense of guilt when I associated too much with them.
It is impossible to convey to those who have not experienced growing up in the WCG how great an impact it has had on a person’s life even to this day and even after all of the scandals and all the doctrinal changes that have come about. Even though I stopped going to services at age 14, the teachings of Herbert Armstrong are locked within my psyche and have made it hard for me to associate with the world in a positive way. Even though nowadays I am disillusioned by religion1 as a whole, there’s a part of me that still looks at other Christians with scorn, scoffing at Christmas and Easter. I am 33 now and I still feel happiness at being able to lie in bed on a Saturday without being dragged to a two hour sermon in a suit!!
What makes the whole ordeal of the WCG feel unresolved within me is that for the most part I enjoyed the kindness of most of the members. I loved Y.O.U and felt such excitement about going off to the Feast every year, I’m sure most of us did. As an enlightened adult I now feel extremely foolish and cheated. I now can remember how large and opulent the ministers houses were and how their families always seemed to observe the feast in far more luxury–the best hotels in the resort, the most expensive activities etc. With the pressures of 30% tithing, our own financial situation wasn’t the best and my mother’s career as a nurse suffered greatly because she refused to work on Saturdays. I used to remember watching the telecasts and seeing the beautiful chandeliers in Ambassador College and the brand new Lear Jet and thinking “wow–we are really achieving something!” instead of thinking “wow–our tithe funds are being misspent!” The “church” made us feel that Herbert Armstrong was a world statesman so why couldn’t he have the presidential trappings of one?
I look back at it now and remember how controlled my mind was. Once HWA visited our congregation and I remember the other kids and I deliberately playing in front of the stage during an interval so that we could get a mere glimpse of HWA. It was as if he was a god himself. I used to like pop music as a child and this was frowned upon. Classical music was the music of choice. Even what we watched on TV was controlled. No Dallas or Dynasty for us!! The control was subtle. A frown or word from the minister was enough to stop us from eating white bread, orange squash, watching a certain film at the movies, or reading a certain book. We had a member of our congregation who was blind in one eye with a cataract in the other. His refusal to seek medical attention meant that the second eye deteriorated and he eventually went completely blind. The more blind he got the more fervently he prayed. He spent the last years of his life blind, and died without seeing the faces of his grandchildren. A simple operation could have solved this.
As much as I disliked the WCG, it is its fragmentation and change of doctrine that has made me feel the most uneasy. It feels as if my old school has been destroyed and a huge part of me has simply been told I was wrong (even though I rejected it anyway). It is the most confusing of feelings and I can’t help but feel an anger about being led to hate for that part of my life. To hate politics, to hate other Christians, to hate the outside world. There is a lot of good in the world but the WCG rejected it was a whole. It was far from an inclusive organisation.
It was a cult, no bones about it, and the saddest thing is that its taken me so long to realise this. This is such a great website and has helped me through the healing process knowing that I am not the only one.
By Kirk – Child survivor of WCG, ex member of WCG and PCG
Footnote by ESN:
1 WCG, as all Bible-based cults, used “church” and “religion” (which is an emphasis on works and rituals) as a front in order to control and exploit others for the leader’s purpose. Such organizations are abusive and deceptive and teach a false god. See: Identifying Marks of an Exploitive, Abusive Group.