My husband Dale1 and I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God. We met at S.E.P. in Big Sandy, Texas in 1986, and we got married in 1991 in Tennessee by a WCG minister. We stayed in WCG until 1994 and 1995. I left first and then Dale. We joined Global Church of God in 1995 and were baptized in 1996 by Larry Salyer. (This was after Salyer had given a sermon saying if you were raised in the church [WCG] and you died an untimely death and were not baptized, you would wake up in the 3rd resurrection, only to go to the Lake of Fire). [Note: Larry Salyer later went with COGWA] We later learned the numbers were down. We noticed problems in GCG and left there in 1998.
I miscarried a baby in 1998 and felt that I must have been Laodicean to deserve that, so we joined Philadelphia Church of God and stayed there for a year. It was the worst year of my life. Dale hated PCG.
Stephen Flurry [son of Gerald Flurry] had been a camper that year Dale and I first met at S.E.P. Dale and Stephen were bunkmates in the same dorm. They even swapped clothes that they took home (camp shirt and a tie). We had to write our names on everything we took to camp so it would be returned back to us when they did laundry.
In 1998 when we attended the PCG feast site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Gerald and Stephen Flurry were guest speakers there. Since Dale and I had been friends with Stephen at S.E.P. camp in 1986, we wanted to look him up. After setting up a lunch date with Stephen and his wife, we met them at a little local restaurant in Chattanooga. Stephen said that he did not know of any other kids that we had been campers with in 1986 that “stayed in the church.” We had a nice conversation, but Dale was very unhappy at PCG and he wanted some straight answers, so he was very direct with Stephen and asked him what his first thought was when his dad had told him he was “a prophet” and that “Malachi’s Message” was the “Little Book” of Revelation 10. Stephen said that he had come home from Ambassador College for a break when his dad asked him to read it (the book was still unfinished at the time). His dad stood and watched over his shoulder while he read it, waiting for a reaction. Stephen said his initial thought was that his dad was crazy. He said his dad kept asking him what he thought. If it was really God’s divine revelation (revealed by a “mighty angel”), would you ask your son what he thought of the book so far? We never saw or talked to Stephen or his wife after this 1998 lunch conversation. (In 1986 WCG printed a camp newspaper as a souvenir for the campers. They printed our pictures and our addresses and the Flurrys later used these addresses to mail the original Malachi’s Message books to.)
[Update by ESN: In spite of Stephen Flurry revealing how he thought his dad “was crazy” after he read Malachi’s Message, Stephen remained in the PCG and later even wrote a glowing story of what it was like for him to grow up in the Worldwide Church of God. (“Growing Up in the Worldwide Church of God” by Stephen Flurry, May 1, 2009).]
This was the only PCG feast we ever attended. We also met Gerald Flurry at this Feast site and Dale asked him about the whole predicting an earthquake thing that he had done and Gerald Flurry said, “I might have gone a little too far with that.”2
I have abusive stories from all of the groups (and we tried almost all of the major ones), but I want to tell about some of them from our time in PCG.
During one sermon my then 2 year old daughter accidentally poked her eye with a magic marker and started crying out of pain. The minister from the pulpit loudly said “Somebody shut that kid up!”
There was a couple that attended who struggled with IV drug use and they had Hepatitis C and were allowed to touch the food and bring food to the potluck dinners at services. Dale refused to allow us to eat there. (Thank goodness!)
Another time our daughter had been sick and had a high fever and we were told if we were sick we should call for anointing and bring the sick person on to services. Anything less would be a “lack of faith.” We brought her to services even though she had a 103 degree fever. She got worse and I was scared to leave during services since it was such a big deal (they locked the doors for “security” reasons during services). I took her in the bathroom and sat down on a metal chair and cried. A lady came in and got very alarmed. She said your child is turning purple and blue! She ran and got an elder and he anointed her in the lobby. As soon as he laid hands on her she got worse. Her fever spiked to 105. We left and took her home and gave her medicine and a lukewarm bath to help cool her off. (We were too scared to go straight to the hospital, as we were afraid they would drag their feet on seeing her, so we felt we had to do what we could for her before going). Then we took her to a doctor in the Emergency Room at the hospital. We were later looked down on by the members for doing this. Her fever came down slowly, but we noticed at services how we were being shunned.
One time we were told that even though we had been traveling and attending other PCG congregations this was a serious problem. We had missed three out of four or five weeks. We were told we needed to be in our “home area” so they could monitor us and see if we were doing anything wrong that we would need counseling for. We were told if we went on another trip we would be disfellowshipped. I did not realize they were serious, but really did not care at that point. We went on our trip as planned and that was the last time I ever saw my mom alive!!! I am so thankful that we went!
After I related a couple of stories of miracles in our lives health-wise, Wayne Turgeon (Flurry’s son-in-law) commented, “I wonder why God would help a Laodicean?”
At a potluck dinner after Pentecost services a minister and a few men sitting by us couldn’t stop talking about personal experiences with demons.3
On one occasion the minister’s grown daughter was sent into the bathroom to check up on me and see why I was going in there during services each week. (It was mostly because I was so depressed and the services made it worse). She stood on a toilet seat to look over the stall to see what I was doing.
Another time (during a Spokesman Club meeting) I was helping in the adjoining kitchen at the building we rented and was washing dishes. I started talking small talk, but no one was responding. The women in the kitchen would whisper occasionally as to where to put something, or ask where someone was. They would give me looks and I thought they were not very friendly. Then one lady felt sorry for me and told me of the rules and said that the women were not allowed to talk because the ministers wanted it to be absolutely quiet so we would not disturb them in any way. She also told me that in Washington state and Oregon the women were not allowed to talk at services at all4 I guess she felt privileged that we could talk when permitted.
One time while we were out to eat, some friends from the Global Church of God were there and they came over to talk to us. The PCG minister would not usually speak when this would happen and would ignore them. When I saw how they treated others first hand I cried and went outside and sat in my car. Some of the PCG members came out and asked, “Why are you crying? Do you want to be like them?” (You know, “Laodiceans.”)
A guard was placed by the outside door and the door locked. If you were late to services, they would not unlock the door to let you in.5 If you had car trouble, you were expected to make other arrangements and come any way you could.
There were phone calls to check up on you constantly. Even people you believed to be friends would be expected to divulge any information that could be used as a reason for us to be counseled by the minister.
I cried during one sermon so badly that immediately after services two deacons (we called them “scouts fishing for information”) approached me as to why I was crying, since not agreeing with the sermon fully was not tolerated. The sermon was on how, if you had attended WCG and died at any other group besides PCG or WCG, you would go straight to the Lake of Fire! My grandma died in one of the other groups in 1995 and I missed her terribly. I watched as the deacons reported the information back to the minister. Then the minister came over and pretended he knew nothing and asked me why I was still crying? I told him I loved my grandma and he had not known her and she loved God. I remember her always reading her Bible every spare minute she got. I told him I did not want her to die forever. He had the nerve to ask me why I cared.
We were told we could not wear hearts and there had been a note about it on the bulletin board; then a reminder in a sermon. I finally asked a minister why and he told me it was the shape of a woman’s body and that the arrow was the male part.
I became fearful of everything I did. I could not eat or sleep and my life was falling apart. While at PCG I went from a happy person wearing a size 12 to a severely depressed size 4. The PCG minister once told my husband that I would never be in God’s Kingdom because I wasn’t good enough of a person. Then they would take me to the side and tell me that Dale was unconverted. They even came to our house and told me that. They said he was unconverted because he was always fighting church government. Dale and Wilbur Malone6 had it out in front of the congregation by the microphone one day about church government. Dale told Malone that he did not want him coming to me separately and saying things about him. Dale told Malone that he (Wilbur Malone) was not following church government since he should not talk to me without him present. Dale was trying to protect me from them since he knew how depressed I was and desperately wanted to get me out of there. Dale was not a bully, or a controlling husband at all.
Dennis Leap gave a sermon in 1999 on the Sabbath before Pentecost on “Church Government” where he said that people sometimes ask him why they have to do something a particular way. He said, “Sometimes there is no real reason, or scriptural proof. You just do it because I said so!!!” That sermon made us walk away from PCG and never go back. (We did attend Pentecost for my mom’s sake that year.) Dennis Leap counseled everyone there in a curtained-off mother’s room area. He was so mean. The whole congregation there got counseled, except my mom, and maybe a couple of others. It was unreal.
CRUELTY EXPERIENCED AT MOTHER’S FUNERAL:
My mom had joined PCG, but she died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999. She had been so worried about me since I had left PCG two months prior. My dad, who was never a member of the WCG, or any of the offshoots, for over 25 years, because of the way he was treated for being an “outsider,” asked me to call the PCG minister when Mom had the heart attack and have him come comfort him, which the minister never did. In fact, not only that, but they refused to perform her funeral since a long time friend of the family, also a Living Church of God elder, was asked to share some “stories” about my mom.
My mom died on a Thursday morning and PCG never activated the prayer hotline. (There was maybe an hour in between the heart attack and her death.) In fact, the PCG congregation was not told about her death until Saturday and she was buried on Sunday. The PCG minister was very rude and cold to my dad (on the phone, he never came in person). The PCG people were told they could attend the viewing, but not the funeral service. If they attended the funeral service, they would be disfellowshipped! The funeral room was packed with standing room only. Mom was always serving and helping others, never thinking of her self. Three people from PCG came to her viewing. The rest were too scared or judgmental. Out of the three that came a very close friend of my mom’s later told me that they made fun of the fact that my mom had makeup on. All dead people have makeup on for the funeral, or else they would look bad. My mom fell from the heart attack and broke her cheek bone in her face and they had to build it up with wax for the viewing. Plus, the heart attack exploded her heart and turned her skin a dark gray. None of the PCG members brought food to the house. All of the others did.
My dad mailed a letter to Gerald Flurry asking him why the minister was so cold-hearted to him and why he refused to perform my mother’s funeral. Of course, he never received a reply and we did not really expect that we would ever hear back. It just showed us who they really are. Unloving and uncaring.
I wrote my mom a note telling her all of the things that I never got to say; telling her how much I loved her. It brings me great happiness to know she is in Heaven now and not deceived anymore. They stole that comfort from us, knowing our loved ones are in Heaven who loved Jesus. The day of her funeral I told my best friend I thought I was pregnant. My mom never knew that. It was such a happy way to end one of the worst days of my life. God gave me a beautiful little boy we named Daniel. (We already had a beautiful daughter, Miranda.)
RESTORED CHURCH OF GOD:
Dale and I visited Restored Church of God (David C. Pack) a few times in Ohio. David Pack once called us to ask us why he was not receiving our tithes. He had promised that he would never look into the tithe records. Then he followed the call-up with a letter stating that we had contributed zero dollars!
LIVING CHURCH OF GOD AND UNITED CHURCH OF GOD:
We started attending Living Church of God in 1999 after my mom’s death. I was horribly depressed. We attended LCG until 2001 and then went to United Church of God-AIA. Then we started attending UCG and LCG off and on. My husband had started noticing things in 1999 that were not scripturally correct, but I would not listen since I thought we would die forever if we left the teachings. I also thought I would never see my mom again.
STARTED REALIZING ALL THESE GROUPS WERE CULTS:
In February of this year I started realizing that all of those groups were cults and I did not ever want to be deceived again, or ever join another HWA group. Reading some Plain Truth issues going back to 1934 that someone scanned onto a website helped me to see that Herbert Armstrong was a false prophet. Our decision to leave all of the beliefs behind was gut-wrenching and like going through the same grieving process as a death. It was a death of a way of life to me. It was like being in a spiritual concentration camp and starving spiritually and then one day Jesus came in and liberated us and led us out by the hand because we were too scared to come out on our own. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why God was not listening to me. Then I realized I was not listening to Him. When I did start listening, my whole life changed overnight. Suddenly the Bible came alive and I could not get enough of it. I thought about Mary who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears, and how much hope is in her story, how much she overcame and how Jesus loved her in spite of everything. I asked Jesus to forgive me, to help me, and to love me. I asked Him to save me and rescue me. I had felt hopeless.
I knew I personally needed the companionship of other Christians but remember feeling overwhelmed, not knowing what I believed, or where I belonged. One night I got out a large phone book and cried because I did not know where to go, or who to trust–not to mention I wanted to preview the sanctuary first to make sure there was nothing that would trigger a panic, like statues or other things like crosses that we were told were idols.
At first, when we started attending on Sundays, I was scared and excited at the same time. We had some good experiences and some bad. We attended several different kinds of churches before choosing the one we did, although we consider ourselves Christian and not limited to a denomination. Even the minister where we attend told us that man had created all of the denominations and not God. He said that we are all Christians and part of the Body of Christ. That was important to us not to belong to anywhere that considered themselves “special” or divided from other Christians. I knew I was doing the right thing since God kept encouraging me by showing me that he would remove all of the doubts and fears from me. The more of my life that I turned over to Him the better things got. I wanted to prove to Him that I was willing to make whatever changes were necessary to follow Him no matter what. Also, I was determined that even though I have lost a lot of my life to the years in the WCG and offshoots that I refused to let them ruin the rest of my life. Moving on and attending a church that we were told was wrong closed a door to my past and helped me to stop living in the past and make a new life for our family. It has helped us to heal spiritually, although I know there are no perfect churches out there. I like what Colossians 1:13-14 says, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:”
YOU WILL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS:
The Bible says that we will know them by their fruits and WCG only had bad fruit, but the other Christian Churches have good fruit. I love the pews in our new church, too. They are cushioned and you feel more like a church family and not separated by those cold metal chairs we had to sit in all of those years. Our kids have Sunday school and they talk about Jesus. We can actually sit through a whole sermon now without being in the hall, because our kids have a class to go to during services. Sometimes I sit in church and stare up at the beautiful stained glass and think of how amazing it is that God does love us and how He completely restored us. God is so real to us now. We have made new friends and still grieve for all of our old friends trapped in all of the Armstrong offshoots.
We have had a very healing experience leaving all of those teachings behind and we are no longer separated from our family. (I lump all of the groups together now when I talk of them because they are all the same. Some are worse than others, but all are still built on Herbert Armstrong’s false teachings, having no foundation.) We now can all enjoy the only true foundation, our chief cornerstone Jesus Christ. Like it says in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” I have a peace I have never known. I have a personal relationship with Jesus I never had. There is no more depression and I am finally free. My kids are happy, too. They are no longer scared. They love the Christian church we attend and beg to go there. My husband is happy beyond words that we are both out of there and in a good church. There are several ministers, and some retired ministers in our church and they are so full of love. They share in our joy and comfort us in our sadness as we start fresh, learning the real truth of the Bible and not something men made up.
LOST MY WILL TO LIVE, BUT GOD CARRIED ME THROUGH:
My one regret is that I was so severely depressed at the time we were in all of those groups that I was unable to do more for others around me who were suffering. I lost my will to live in PCG. That is how destructive that group is. I love the poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” I am living proof that God does have to carry us through experiences like that and He does have the power to turn even the most hopeless situation around and completely restore us in ways that we never thought were possible. There is no way we can ever repay Jesus for what He has done in our lives, but if we can just reach out to those who are hurting and help them who are without hope, I know it would really please Him. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore he (Jesus) is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Luke 18:27 says, “And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Romans 8:35-39 says that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Acts 4:12 says, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” We are so blessed to know the true Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Jesus promised us He will never leave us or forsake us.
What you all have done on your website has made such a positive impact on our lives and some of our friends’ lives who are former WCG members. I am so glad you decided to set it up. There really is not another one quite like it where stories like this can be posted. We just can’t thank you enough. It is having an eternal impact on others’ lives to save them from harmful churches and harmful teachings. It is like you said, very good to know the freedom and grace we have today through the Lord Jesus Christ. We will keep you and your workers in our prayers always.
By Katrina (Child survivor of WCG, former member of Global Church of God and Philadelphia Church of God; attended: Restored Church of God, Living Church of God and United Church of God-AIA)
Profile of a Sociopath (A number of abusive, religious leaders may exhibit many of these behavioral characteristics.)
Footnotes by ESN:
1 All names and locations have been changed.
2 In his December 21, 1991 and October 30, 1993 sermons, Gerald Flurry said it was possible that a major earthquake could strike California on Jan. 16, 1994. (“God Punishes with Earthquakes,” Isaiah’s End-Time Vision) When an earthquake occurred in Northridge, California on January 17, 1994, he said he was only off by one day. But, in the same booklet, he stated, “That was also a mind-splitting prophecy of a potential disaster!” The book, When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger shows how, in spite of failed prophecies, members in apocalyptic groups will usually make some other excuse and go right on believing.
3 Abusive religious groups overemphasize demons. It is one way they are able to place fear into the members and cause them to obey the government in their group.
4 This PCG congregation was trying to use I Corinthians 13:34 in order to silence its women members (“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”) The context of this verse is “tongues speaking.” The Apostle Paul was saying that women should not speak in tongues in the church.
5 Another reason for locking the door (also common in WCG congregations in the early years) was to keep an “uninvited guest” from walking into services undetected.
6 Wilbur Malone, a pastor in Philadelphia Church of God, died on January 27, 2004. He was previously a minister in WCG, joining PCG in April 1990. In 1991 he became a regional director. In 2002 he moved to Edmond, OK. His wife Patricia died February 9, 2021.