I spent 15 years in the Worldwide Church of God. I never attended any other church much, so I didn’t know any better. I followed their doctrine, trying to never miss a beat. I tithed faithfully; in fact, so faithfully that I had a choice: give the WWCG up or give my house up. Most would think this would be a no-brainer. Who would ever give up their home? I did. After all, the WWCG made it very clear that the flames of the lake of fire awaited anyone that left “The Church.” My wife and last son spent about 3 years in a refurbished basement that was converted into an apartment.
My family went through many hardships because of the WWCG and its “Ministers.” Incidentally, since when do men who are cult leaders one day become knowledgeable ministers of God the next day? My children were deprived of many activities, such as celebrating innocent birthday parties with other children in our neighborhood, or Christmas and Easter activities at school. God forbid that they should have their own birthday party.
Of course, life in the WWCG had its pecking order. It went like this: first came the rich lay members–they ranked high on the pecking order, higher sometimes than the WWCG graduates from Ambassador College. Next came the brown nosers–everywhere the ministers went, his loyal brown nosing, tale-bearing extension was right behind. Then came the local elders, the enforcers of the local congregation. They did all the leg work for his majesty. And then came the lowly deacons. These guys were the ones that were the pack mules for the elders and the minister. Ordination into the deacon’s office was a much cherished-after office by the lay members. It was not as high rank as an elder, but at least was not on the bottom of the heap. A deacon and lay member were treated with some sort of respect.
The deacons were the “hit men.” They ran the show, and believe me, it was a show. Everything happened at the same time, the same way, every week at services. And excuse the expression, but “it was hell to pay” if things were not right. The minister had no qualm about pointing out the culprit who stepped out of line–right in front of the whole congregation.
When it came to mind control, the WWCG was in my opinion the very best. No one could do it any better. Once one minister literally said that it was true, we were all being “brainwashed.”1 We all laughed when he did–you had better laugh or you would be told about that, too. Then after a quick pause he added, “brainwashed with the Holy Spirit.” This might be hard for some to understand, but the local minister was treated with much fear and respect–after all, one swing of his axe and you were out of there. Then you would be shunned by all your friends, well not really shunned, more like snubbed.
I once heard a man say that if the minister told him to jump off of a tall building he would do it. I asked this man, “Why would you do that?” He said, “Because if the minister said to do it, it must be God’s will.”
Life in the WWCG was like a smooth ride on a sheet of glass. There was never any bumps, or at least there better not be. Any problems in any way would be swiftly addressed and the poor soul who caused these bumps would soon become a marked man or woman. The ministry, however, never had much trouble coming from the fairer sex, they knew their place. They were treated like children–be seen, but not heard. Maybe, if they were good, they might be put in charge of the coffee and refreshment table. Then maybe someday they might even become a deaconess. This was just a little higher in respect than a common lay member.
Have you ever sat through a two-hour sermon, shaking your head at the right time, jotting down all pearls of wisdom from a “Minister” who, incidentally, was jotting down his own mental note of your reactions, your facial expression, to later come and ask you, what was your problem during service? God forbid that you were caught chewing gum during the sermon, because the loving pastor would not hesitate to “help you” by looking at you and making a face of disapproval. Many a member swallowed their gum just by the unapproved look coming from the pulpit. Sort of brings back school days in grade school doesn’t it?
I often think how could I have allowed myself and my family to be put through the ordeal of the WWCG? It wasn’t hard, after all they promised us that someday we would become like God, as the God of the WWCG. Herbert Armstrong put it, “To be as God is God.” Who would ever want to turn that down? Well just like E. F. Hutton puts it: when Herbert W. Armstrong spoke, everyone listened.
For many years I went out to nursing homes and visited them. I took other church members with me. This did not sit too well with the WWCG Ministry. They saw it, I believe, as a way for me to have a certain amount of control and respect over those in the WWCG that visited with me. One day the minister came over to my house to counsel me. Now you might think, “That was nice of him.” You must understand that usually when a member was called by the minister for a “counseling session,” it usually meant a butt-kicking was in store for him. This was the case for me.
My knowing, all-loving minister, came to work me over. He came to inform me that I was only to go out to nursing homes with his permission. He said that he was in charge of the goings on of the members of “the church.” He asked me, “If I asked you to stop visiting nursing homes, would you do it?” I quickly got the point. He thought that somehow I was usurping his authority by taking some of the people from the congregation with me. After all, as he put it, he was in charge of everything. We played a game that day, I told him what he wanted to hear, and he let me go out to nursing homes with people from “his” congregation.
Soon after “the changes” took place, my wife and I found a ministry that went out to nursing homes and held church services. They took us in with them. After about a year with them we quit going to the WWCG. We started going to a church where the nursing home minister was going. I have been recently ordained. I am now a full time worker in the Nursing Home Ministry. We hold church services in 12 nursing homes. I am with a ministry that loves me and my wife. It has been nearly five years since I have left the WWCG. My wife and I are still having to deal with the fact that our family, sons, daughters, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and son-in-law’s family have been terribly affected by the cult that is known as the WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD [name changed to Grace Communion International in 2009]. There was never even an apology other than a generic one from the pulpit.
I did not have a job that had a retirement plan and I could not afford to tithe three tithes and save for retirement too. So here I am, 60 years old, no retirement to look forward to. What really gets my dander up sometimes is that those false ministers of the WWCG will be receiving their pensions, of which I helped pay for. Just two years ago I had a stroke. I often think, wouldn’t it be nice if I had some of the probably $100,000.00 I tithed to this cult. Now I am on disability, and my wife is forced to work.
What have I learned from the experience? I’ll have to tell you much later because there are too many wounds that are still laid wide open. My only prayer is this, that as I continue to grow closer to God I might truly be totally forgiving to those that led us astray for so many years. I think, however, that I can never be forgiving of what they did and who was behind this terrible cult, Satan Himself.
I write this letter in the hope that others might see it, and if they are still in this cult they remove themselves from it. In my opinion this cult is more dangerous today than they were. Now they are coming off like they are “Transformed by Truth” but are they really? Only time will tell.
By John Miller, Jr.
September 29, 2002
Updated with title change on February 13, 2013
Also read the following by John Miller:
I Pray God Would Shake WCG to Their Foundations! (August 2003 testimony)
The WCG Has Changed Little in Their Tactics (2003 letter to ESN)
Grace Communion International and Their Evolutionary Views (letter sent to HQs)
Grace Communion International and Their Universalism Views (letter send to HQs)
1 Tkach, Sr. also mentioned “brainwashing” at the 1993 FOT (tape with ESN). Also, in 1995 he mentioned “brainwashing program” in his 1995 video sermon to the members.