Philadelphia Church of God nearly destroyed my family and me. I was delivered just in time, or I would’ve lost my career, family, my mind and soul.
I was first drawn to Herbert W. Armstrong and his organization while watching him on TV on Sundays (The World Tomorrow). I was never officially in the WCG but I followed HWA, obeyed the rules, sent them money and studied their material for a few years. I tried to convince others to watch him because he seemed so sincere. I thought we were in the last days and he had the answers! With his shaking jowls and intent voice, he practically hypnotized me.1 He was not like the others who I thought were preaching just to get us to mail in money. Instead, he never mentioned money and condemned the others.
Had to keep beliefs a secret
I began to send away for literature and study Herbert Armstrong’s word. It made so much sense to me. I had a wife and children whom I tried to persuade the HWA teachings to. I mailed letters to my extended family, trying to convince them of “the truth.” They all thought I was a fanatic and disassociated themselves from me. After awhile, I had to keep my new beliefs a secret from my family and friends because they wouldn’t understand “THE TRUTH.”
In my heart, I thought I knew the truth. This is when I secretly observed the holy days on my own, and while I did go through the motions on “pagan holidays” [Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc.] for my children, I hated it. There was no church in the area at the time, but I prayed that one day I could be a baptized member. That was at the top of my prayer list.
Denial and rejection
As time went on, I studied more and more literature and became engulfed in the beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God, even though I was not able to fellowship with other members. I knew I was a “true believer,” so I felt that one day I would be baptized. Then we were transferred overseas and I lost track of WCG. I figured that it wasn’t my time to be a member yet. Still, I studied the material with the intent of being baptized one day. I wrote WCG Headquarters several times and spilled my guts out with 20-page letters, but they would not allow me to receive sermon tapes for some reason. I was really hurt and thought that my sins caused my denial.
Life went on. I was a “sinful person” denied into “God’s true church.” Then while traveling in Europe one night (and while turning to God), I fell in awe to my feet as I received the Holy Spirit. I cannot explain the feeling. It was so warm and soothing. I became a new person that night. I was blessed and reborn.
But I felt I needed to find “God’s church” again. I searched and searched. I even went to a chaplain and told him about my experience of being filled with the Spirit. I earnestly shared from my heart and told him what had happened, but he didn’t understand me and just wanted me out of his office, thinking I was crazy! This had been the greatest thing that ever happened to me and he just dismissed me.
Denied membership again
A couple of weeks later, I was flipping through the channels and came across the “KEY OF DAVID” broadcast on the TV and heard “HWA, Jr.“–Gerald Flurry. He had me sold from the start. He seemed just like HWA and I was amazed! It was HWA all over again and this time I wasn’t going to be denied. I knew I was “called” and needed to do whatever I needed to do to get into God’s “only church.” I didn’t know what happened to WCG, but Flurry had “all the answers” and after realizing that HWA died, I thought Flurry took his place.
I wrote Philadelphia Church of God Headquarters and immediately begged to be a member and they referred me to Mr. Michael Okimura (later disfellowshipped from PCG) and we corresponded. (I still have his letters.) After speaking to him about being a member, he asked Headquarters, and again I was denied for unknown reasons. Now as I look back, I realize it was because I wasn’t tithing all the time. I remember the administration department even sending me a letter, asking if the money I sent was tithes or just donations!
I still continued to study all the PCG literature for about two years–and it was all I did in my spare time, even though it caused problems in my family. My wife thought I was going crazy on Saturdays as she held all the responsibilities with the children, while I was locked away in my bedroom listening to the PCG tapes; being hypnotized. I guess I was fortunate that there was no congregation where I lived. I still felt I was “called” though.
Had me inches away from jail
Then we moved across the world. I felt I needed to get serious! I immediately called PCG Headquarters to see if there was a congregation there. I was very upset when they told me “no.” I felt I needed to get baptized. They referred me to the Pastor that covered the Western U.S. (Craig Winters) and I spoke to him on a regular basis on the phone. He began to “work” on me. This is when I got really serious and started to tithe religiously. Oddly enough (after about five months), I was allowed to become a prospective member while being counseled over the phone. I had to beg and plead with him2, telling him that I had been denied into God’s “only church” two times already and I knew I was “called.”
He knew I was desperate and that’s when I fell prey to him. He called me all the time and had me inches away from going to jail. His words were: “Mike, I’m telling you now, if you are ever asked to work on a holy day or Sabbath, you must refuse and go to the brig to prove yourself.” He told me that many Apostles went to jail for their beliefs and actions and I needed to do so for my salvation. I freaked out because being in the military I knew the chances of me working on a Saturday were quite possible. This is when he started to convince me to leave the military after many years. I would have to give up my career and retirement and possibly my family. He said he could probably get me a job (!).
Willing to leave everything
The mind control, fear tactics and fasting continued. I was ready to be baptized and willing to leave everything, including my family, behind me. “If you are truly a ‘chosen one,’ you will have to leave your life behind you.” I thought that I had to obey God and do this. I became very depressed, but thought this is what I had to do because I knew the “truth” and couldn’t let God down. If it meant giving up my family, then so be it. It was that or give up God and His will as I understood it at the time.
I called Craig Winters for every little decision I had to make. He said he was sending a deacon (perhaps it was himself?) from across the country to spend the Sabbath with me, but I was not impressed after he arrived. He was very rude with the waitresses and stared through their dresses and it was so obvious. He was disgusting and I was really discouraged to see a man of God act this way. I walked away from that meal in disgust at whoever this person was.
Cut off by Craig Winters
Finally, I was a couple of days from leaving to get baptized. (Winters told me to come to his house and stay during the spring holy days and possibly be baptized after more intense counseling.) I was intent to go, but Jesus Christ changed my plans. I went to the library and was doing some studying on the Sabbath since there was no church nearby, and came across a book on “Churches.” It listed 30 other “offshoots”3 from the WCG. This is when I first realized this! I began to question the PCG. If all others claimed to be the “only true church,” I was going to find out about them before I was baptized. I wrote all of them and found out they all had different doctrines. I told Winters I had doubts and he was very angry! He sent me a nasty letter and immediately cut me off from receiving sermon tapes and Co-Worker letters, etc., and told me I was “picked off” by Satan. This was an awful time in my life, thinking I was ousted out of “God’s church” and Satan was now controlling me.
I then bought Transformed by Truth and my eyes ironically began to open because it disproved PCG. (Incidentally, I don’t support the book because it hides a lot of abuses.) That’s when I found a local WCG congregation in my state. I had to see what was going on in “so called” Satan’s church. I had a “sit down” with the visiting Western Area Pastor, Curtis May, from Pasadena. He welcomed me to the congregation and prayed for me out loud after I spilled my guts to him for hours about my history with the PCG. I told him about the things I had been learning on the Internet and he told me to “stay away from that garbage!”
But something struck me wrong when he said he never heard of the lawsuit between PCG and WCG4 over publishing of Mystery of the Ages. At the time it was a major issue with both, but this minister didn’t know it existed? The next sermon was geared directly at me and I felt so uncomfortable in front of all those people. He was telling me that I had to “stay where God put me.” (WCG)
The people in the congregation and the sermons did not leave me feeling any different. It was more like a meeting place. The sermons were mixed with Old Testament and New. When I saw the videos from Tkach, claiming how poor “the church” [WCG] was and asking for more money and I found out their finances are not held accountable, I left. They kept calling, asking me to come back, but I told them that I needed time and had questions. When I asked them why our tithes had to be sent to Headquarters when the congregation needed it, they answered “for legal purposes.” I began to wonder why we even needed a Headquarters to worship God anyway!
The services, by the way, were held in a broken down, rented Chinese Temple with statues all over (and I think there was a Masonic hall next door). I remember a large idol or shrine-type statue in the background of the pastor during services. Sometimes they forgot to cover it. I got creepy feelings and the atmosphere was not good, but instead was filled with emotionally sick people with open spiritual wounds. I only lasted five services after I left the PCG.
PCG’s deception exposed
I had been against buying a home computer for years. I finally gave in to my wife and bought one. This is what opened the door to truth for me. I realized I was not alone and there had to be questions answered that the PCG answers didn’t satisfy. When I found the Exit and Support Network™ homepage [I emailed and later talked on the phone], it cracked the code and blew the top off the PCG’s deception! Thank God!
Two experienced people in the ESN, that I feel were inspired and sent to me from above (and whom I call “angels”), led me from the depths of darkness to the LIGHT OF JESUS! They also exposed Gerald Flurry’s reputation. I was led to see the lies, deceit and evil going on in this world. I know that this world has many hidden powerful things going on with mind control. I know this because I was just one experiment.5
Was like being released from solitary confinement
Since I left what I know now was a cult, I had to re-discover my way of thinking and re-learn how to make decisions for myself. After all, I hadn’t done anything or made a move unless I first consulted with a minister, since they were “of God”–or so I thought. It was like being released from solitary confinement after years. I compare my experience to being raped emotionally and spiritually. I was a complete mess.6 It is hard to admit you are wrong after believing so strongly, but now I have never felt better spiritually in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I have scars–and I’m still recovering and re-learning trust in men–but those scars remind me where I came from and who saved me from the death of my soul. I am finding that Jesus Christ revealed Himself to me as He brought me out of the PCG. I have never been freer and He is that freedom!!
True fellowship with Christ
I finally found God’s true church! It is not in a building; it is not led by a convincing man. Instead, it is so simple; His church is in my heart and that is where I choose to attend services for now.7 I don’t have to dress up; I don’t have to act. I don’t have to worry concerning the ministry, their vision, their objectives, the congregation or the hypocrisy. I fellowship with Him and His few servants in the world and get true edification from Scripture instead of false doctrines or “feel good” sermons, as we see so much of today. I am confident in peace only with Jesus. We can’t rely on a church, but Jesus Christ and the grace He gave to save us. No man can save us, not even Flurry.
A new man in Christ,
Exit & Support Network™
“For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” ~II Timothy 1:7
Note: Mike made contact with ESN in 1998. Mike’s Enlightenment Page went up in 2000 and has been called “Mike’s Page.”
Update: In October 2021 Craig Winters (age 67) and his wife Colleen (age 61) were disfellowshipped and marked.
Predators–How Dare They!!! (by Mike)
My Exit Letters to Craig Winters (faxed by Mike in 1998; final one had copies sent to Gerald Flurry and Stephen Flurry; courageous testimonies)
Updates from Mike 2000-2002:
Nobody, including myself, asked to be controlled and tortured by these false leaders/apostles in God’s name! I was a true seeker of God and wanted to do everything that He wanted me to do. I ran into WCG/PCG and followed them for awhile but the results after years were terrible.
We are not deliberately seeking abuse, in my opinion. We were, in fact, seeking God with the exception of a few who have been abused all their lives and sought another group to find a “comfort zone” to make them comfortable. For others, I feel they were seeking God but, as Jesus warned us, we need to avoid false teachers and prophets. [Matthew 7:15] Sometimes this is hard as they are so convincing. And if you are in a church, ask for their financial records.
It was a lesson. From God. I learned that the Word of God is TRUE. He warns us in Scripture. I can now see that they are wrong. Jesus taught me through these false teachers. He knew my heart and dedication to God, my search, and I think His best way to teach me was through false teaching first. After that, He opened my eyes and now I can see night and day, thanks to Him. He let me live the Old Testament [old covenant], but then relieved me by showing Himself to me. It is no longer the Law but His Love! Trust Him and the way He takes you on your learning and lessons, but don’t be angry. He disciplines the ones He loves and that could be going through a cult experience for example. No, I do not believe “cult” members ask for it. All I asked for was “to know God.” Satan might have put me into a cult, or maybe Jesus allowed him to let me learn my lesson.
Let us learn from our past. If you believe in God, He was/is with you and you were in a “cult” for a reason. Learn and live on and thank Him for that, even though it might have been painful. He loves you and obviously you needed the lesson. You wouldn’t be you without the lesson. Don’t blame God for your experience. I learned from mine and am a Christian as a result!
For those still tied up in the WCG [name changed to Grace Communion International in 2009], let me ask this: Aren’t you concerned about the lies and falsehoods of Herbert Armstrong and that there could be a possibility of the same thing with the new leadership? Before you condemn what people say about the current WCG leadership, let me ask you this: Have you checked into their background and agenda? What about their spiritual beliefs? Not what they say, but do you know where their heart stands? Ask them. And when you do, let your heart listen and not your controlled mind! I did and it made me walk away. I could read through the “dollar signs” in their eyes! I saw WCG as a cult–but sorrowfully pronounced by today’s “Christian” churches as a “church.”
I don’t belong to a church except Jesus’ church. He lives with me in my heart. I do believe He loves me and I know I love Him. Do I sin? Yes. Am I forgiven? Yes. Trust Jesus as your personal Savior and to come into your life. Ask Him to discern for you!
I am happy to hear of all that are out of the PCG. Those that seem to think I “hate” Gerald Flurry, I truly don’t hate the man. I will leave his judgment to the Lord. I think he is a man who needs help and that he is a dishonest man also. I believe he uses the word “church” as a front5 for his business. His business is ruining lives and making tax free money from his sheeple. I don’t hate the ministers or the members either. I do think they are duped and I know there are many very good people in the PCG but they are just fooled. I know this because I was one of them. But not anymore. There are also some very evil people in the upper echelons of the PCG.
Jesus freed me! How can I be unhappy? I have complete and utter free grace as a gift from God and not grace with works anymore. That HWA burden has disappeared from my thought processes. I believe what Jesus told me and not what HWA told me. I cannot do any works to gain my salvation, but instead, freely accept the grace given to me through Jesus Christ.
Take an honest look at Herbert Armstrong. Please take a look at why you believe he spoke some truth and research this carefully. This man taught exactly what Gerald Flurry teaches. How can HWA be right and Flurry be wrong?
“So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” ~ Hebrews 13: 6
Footnotes by ESN
1 Refer to Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change by Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman. Altered states of mind and personality can happen quickly or gradually when influenced by these groups.
2 It is known that cults enjoy having prospective members and/or members to beg (or to wait a long time for an answer). This is part of the psychological tactics used in order to manipulate and control the person.
4 This court case was finally ended in 2003 when WCG accepted approximately $3 million from Gerald Flurry in exchange for the copyrights to Mystery of the Ages and other HWA literature.
5 It is alleged that many groups known as “cults” are fronts for a hidden agenda and work together to create a passive people. They have similar methods of deception and abuse are often fronts for intelligence activity.
6 Totalistic, abusive groups can cause tremendous trauma due to the intense spiritual betrayal.
7 We worship God in spirit and in truth, not at any particular church or location. (John 4:23-24)