I was a Worldwide Church of God member from 1974 to 1979, attending the Portland, Oregon and Phoenix, Arizona churches. One thing that helped me exit was remembering that I had received Jesus Christ into my life (one-on-one, apart from any church) before I ever heard of the WCG. I knew that He came into my life without the help or influence of the WCG. It was kind of like that song, “Got along without you (the church) before I met you, gonna get along without you now.”
I like to think that it was Providential that I accidentally received a copy of a magazine, “Underground Evangelism,” in the mail while a WCG member. Reading about mainstream Christians in Russia and China who were severely persecuted by Communist, atheistic governments (and some brutally killed) opened my eyes. It was like a light went off in my head: “These are real Christians, just like the first century!” I felt the Holy Spirit was clearly showing me one place in the world where real Christians were putting their faith on the line. I just knew these people were the real thing. On the other hand, I knew of no Armstrongites who were physically persecuted for their faith; instead we were promised a “place of safety” — a guaranteed safe haven from any physical persecution, a rather cowardly teaching, it seemed.
After that revelation, I started gradually reading literature in Christian bookstores, mainstream Christian magazines, and again it was evident to me that Christ was involved in the lives of those outside the WCG. It was a relief and a joy to know, deep down, that I was part of something much, much bigger than the relatively tiny WCG. Christ, an expert builder in his human life, had obviously kept his promise to build his church, 24 hours a day, since His resurrection. He reaches out to everyone who is open to Him, not just to a tiny, exclusivist sect. I also read books like The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin and unlearned much of the false teaching that Herbert Armstrong had indoctrinated me with. I still believed that many WCG members were Christians, but were unaware of Jesus’ activity in the world. I made an appointment with Dean Wilson1, the Portland pastor, in 1979, and he came to my home. I told him that I believed Christ was working through many mainstream churches and individuals outside the WCG. He replied that I no longer needed to attend WCG services. Curiously, he recommended that I join another (non-WCG) church. I think he may have known what I knew, but wouldn’t admit it to fellow church members.
When Wilson left our house, I felt a huge sense of relief. I was out of the WCG for good. I felt like I got my life back. In the WCG I had grown poor from excessive tithing and loss of personal direction. Since “the end” was just around the corner, as HWA repeatedly wrote in his letters, I put off education and planning for my long-term future. I decided to go back to a community college on the G. I. Bill, got a degree in Commercial Art a few years later, and found work in my chosen field. In between there was a five month foray into another cult, the Unification Church (Moonies). But I never joined and this time I began reading anti-cult material while associating with them.
Over twenty years later I look back on my five years in the WCG as a kind of personal “desert” experience. I was naggingly unhappy in the cult and didn’t know quite why at the time. Once I got out and focused on reading the Bible on my own and having a personal friendship with Jesus, the spiritual emptiness was replaced with a sense of well being and purpose. I sometimes wonder what happened to the friends I made in the WCG. I’ve met only one (still a member of the WCG) and we haven’t discussed personal beliefs.
I don’t attend any church, nor does my wife. Someday I may get involved in a church fellowship again, but I’m in no hurry.
I think you really hit the nail on the head with your short article, What Was Missing? I’ve certainly experienced more of Christ in my life after getting out of that cult. And it still feels great to be free.
I’d love to hear from anyone I knew in the WCG. It would make my day to know that others I knew have also exited the cult or at least accepted Christians outside the WCG. My prayer is that many more sincere cult followers will have their eyes opened by reading the encouraging words on the Exit And Support Network™ web site. Thanks for your efforts.
By Harlan Simantel
Footnote by ESN: