When I first started attending Philadelphia Church of God, we kept the Sabbath from sundown Friday till sundown Saturday. We did not eat certain things like pork and shrimp because they were “unclean.” We kept the holy days, and we tithed. We did not keep Christmas or any other “pagan” observance because it was sin. These are the basic things I grew up “knowing,” if not actually doing them actively. I had believed God used Herbert Armstrong, and that the PCG was now God’s true church. I don’t even remember what exactly it was I was supposed to believe about these two, I just know it was there.
As I began to attend, it turned out there was so much more to do…or not do. No birthdays. Not even April Fool’s day. There was, in fact, not one, not two, but three total tithes that I would one day have to pay faithfully, no matter what, as well as seven commanded offerings a year But “if you really love God and His Work,” you’d give more on the side, too. Odds are your choice of music, books and movies were wrong too (mine usually were). Your entire persona–who you were–had to be crushed and molded to someone else’s ideal. No makeup. No hair dye (yet a perm was permissible; I guess an important someone’s wife insisted). Not only were your clothes to be modest, they had to be pretty generic, or else you’d suffer the backstabbing of your peers criticizing you for dressing “too dark” or whatever. (When I first started to attend, I dressed modestly as per required, but I liked clothes with a romantic Gothic look; darker colors, old fashioned styles, velvet, etc. Soon I ended up dressing like everyone else). Hearts were wrong to wear, supposedly, but I have yet to find a source outside PCG telling me why. We were not to say “bless you” after someone sneezed. The less medical care, the better. The rules kept coming, and I knew deep down somewhere that it was all wrong, but fear ruled me and kept me compliant. Because, what if I walked away from “the Truth“?
Soon I found that if you are unfortunate enough to be a woman, your best bet is to get a job as a nanny; don’t get a higher education. Wait for a man to show up in your congregation. Don’t get too excited, though, you’ll need permission to even see him more than a few times, much less have a future with him. And remember your place as a woman; he may have to do whatever it takes for you to be a humble follower of his great leadership. So if he hits you, or won’t let you use a contraceptive so you end up pregnant three times in three years with no actual medical care or help from a professional, don’t complain. You are not in charge of your own body, and you better second guess your worthiness as a wife, because you’re probably not submissive enough.1
I also found that if you put into action actual doctrine (along with other people’s ideas), you’d not only abstain from makeup and the like, but you’d probably also never brush your teeth with anything more than natural bleach free, fluoride free toothpaste and never shave your legs/arm pits, etc. About the only thing we were allowed to do like the “worldly” women was be skinny. If you weren’t up to that par, there was a good chance most eligible men would ignore you. If you got frustrated, or impatient, you’d be told that Jesus Christ was, after all, already your husband, and wasn’t that good enough? Shame!
Lots of things in the cult hurt me, and as time goes by I see more of the ways it does or has hurt me. Flashes of depression, anger and sadness still come, but less frequently. The intensity still varies because I’m not dealing with things in order, I’m dealing with them as they come. It does get better. You can get your freedom back. It won’t always hurt. You may have to move past many relationships and broken friendships to get there (that has been a tremendous source of struggle for me lately), but it will happen. Even in the midst of it I can see that. I can pray again, and I don’t have to pray according to someone’s formula on someone’s time frame…because now I can pray at night if I want, without feeling guilty. I pray for the pain to go away, and for those still trapped inside. And I pray for some of those people to contact me someday. I will be here and we can finally be ourselves around each other, without fear of it getting back to a minister. It’s getting better.
By Gretchen Blaize (real name used with permission)
Pain, Guilt and a Lack of Love in Philadelphia Church of God (Gretchen’s first testimony to ESN)
The Way We Were Told to Pray (Includes at end: “If you are finding it very hard to pray”)
Victory Over Depression by Bob George (6 Audio CD Set) [offsite link]
Footnote by ESN:
1 Joel Hilliker, principal of Imperial Academy, further perpetuates this abuse as he wrote a booklet (one out of many he’s written on manhood) entitled, “Biblical Manhood” (God-Given Roles for Men). Also read: Are You Being Abused by Your Husband? (Good article to help in recognizing an abusive and non-abusive relationship.)