This article is applicable to not only singles who were in WCG, but those in PCG, or any authoritarian offshoots with the same polices.
Single people in the Worldwide Church of God (or any authoritative offshoot) faced enormous challenges finding a suitable mate within the organization.
Every year our congregation would host a single’s event and invite all the singles in outlying areas to attend. They would be treated to a weekend of scheduled activities that usually consisted of entertainment (provided by talented singles), a dinner, a dance, and a breakfast and Bible study the following day. The main objective was for singles to meet and hopefully marry somebody that was “converted” so they wouldn’t become “unequally yoked” to someone outside of the WCG.
We were newly married and had no children yet, so we became friends with many singles in our local area. We enjoyed having them to over for Sabbath dinner on numerous occasions. During our time together, they would enlighten us about the trials that singles in the WCG had to endure.
We learned that there were two classes of singles–the eligible (those who had never married before and were baptized and considered “converted”) and the ineligible (those who had been previously married and not allowed to date anyone within “the church,” regardless of being baptized). It seemed that classifying singles into these two categories caused a host of problems. The eligible singles were, of course, considered to be the better of the two. If you were eligible, then you could attend singles events. If you were ineligible, you were banned from them. If you were eligible, and fell in love with an ineligible, then you were damned from the start! If you were an eligible or an ineligible who fell in love with somebody outside of “the church,” then you were anathema! If you were an eligible of minority descent, and couldn’t hook up with someone of the same race, you were more than damned–you were sentenced to celibacy! Singles in the WCG had to tow a straight (and thin) line.
Whenever our congregation hosted a “Singles Weekend Event,” we always housed as many as we could from distant areas. We truly enjoyed having them over, and they kept us informed about the successes (and failures) of matchmaking. One of the main complaints we heard from the single women is that they felt discouraged by these events, saying they were little more than a church sponsored “meat market.” The men, they complained, would focus all their energies seeking out the young, rich, or beautiful. They told us that the men didn’t seem to care about the spiritual fruits they had to offer. They felt the men in “God’s church” were shallow. We had witnessed this, as the men seemed to clamor over the one or two popular young ladies oozing with talent and looks. The women we housed were trying hard not to feel disappointed when they returned each evening without even as much as a dance. They had traveled a long distance, scrimped to purchase a nice dress, only to be overlooked as a wallflower. But the men had problems of their own.
We heard from the single men that since they knew that they would never be able to divorce, they were pressured to pick the best of the best. The older men complained that the majority of older women fell into the ineligible category, since, by this time of their lives, they had been married at least once. They also revealed to us that older women usually had a couple of kids, and they were frightened by not being able to support her financially. By the time they paid tithes, they couldn’t see how they could afford a wife and kids. So they felt that seeking a younger woman would avert foreseeable distress.
In addition to the singles weekends, the Feast was considered another “opportunity” to seek out a future mate. Singles had a whole week filled with activities geared toward their group. There was much excitement in the air as the singles had “another chance” to try to find a future mate. After every Feast, we would hear a few declare, “I think I finally found someone!” They would tell us about the marvelous week spent with this person, being wined and dined. This set the poor single up for failure on both sides. It gave the woman the false impression that the man was generous because he had lavished money on her during the Feast.
Later, when they would finally get together again, she would think he was stingy because he no longer had 2nd tithe to blow and had to be frugal again. We would hear, “He’s not the same guy that he was at the Feast” because he couldn’t afford to take her to an expensive restaurant.
Distance was also another obstacle that singles had to overcome. I remember a friend of ours who had met someone during the Feast. Both were considered eligible, but they lived in separate states. This seemed to happen a lot in the WCG. They wrote to each other and talked over the phone. Soon, they became engaged. The wedding plans were set, but my friend backed out about two weeks before the wedding. She began to see that she was feeling desperate–desiring to marry, but suddenly realizing that she really didn’t know the person all that well. Most of us who married outside of the WCG know that we had spent daily time with our future spouse, doing things together and really getting to know each other over a period of time. This was a luxury that many singles in the WCG did not have, since they lived in distant states (and even countries).
Just a few short weeks before the wedding, her fiancée came to visit so they could finalize wedding plans and they spent more personal time together. She began to notice how condescended and controlling he was, and had the courage to call it off. We knew other women who were in the same boat, but went through with the marriage because they were afraid they would never find someone (since it had already taken years to find this one). They reasoned, “Well, if I’m converted, and he’s converted (meaning both were baptized members), then we both have God’s Spirit, so we’ll be able to work things out.” This was a recipe for disaster. Some women realized too late how little they knew of their future spouses. We had a friend who was raped, and nobody would believe her. Needless to say, she called off the wedding. She was pressured to not press charges and made to feel that this incident was partially her fault because she was “alone with him.”
“Unbound” and Eligible
For some reason, if a woman had been previously married and divorced before she came into “the church,” she would be considered eligible, but “damaged goods,” and if she had children, that made her more avoidable. I remember a friend of mine (Sherry) that was completely frustrated by a young man in her congregation who wouldn’t even consider dating a young mother whose husband had passed away some years ago. There were very slim pickings in her church area, and Sherry said the young mother was one of the sweetest people she ever knew. Sherry thought a certain young man would make the young mother a good husband, since they were about the same age, so she asked him why he didn’t ask her out. He told her, “She’s not a virgin.” It seemed that there was some kind of bias against women in the WCG if they weren’t virgins, even though they were considered “eligible.” We knew a young lady, who grew up in the WCG, rebelled when she was a teen, got pregnant, and returned after having her baby. She was treated as an outcast, even though she was baptized and considered “converted” after her return.
Even older singles had their challenges. I recall one singles’ event where an older woman attended, who was finally unbound from her failed marriage and declared “eligible.” I don’t think she was really looking so much for a future mate, as she was simply exercising her freedom to go out and enjoy her life for the first time (her ex-husband had been very abusive and controlling). Instead of accepting her in Christian love, some people saw her there and started making snide remarks about her. “What’s she doing here? Who in the world would want her?” we heard a few muttering. So even if one became eligible, the stigma of being divorced remained.
We knew several divorced singles that would wait months, even years, for headquarters to declare them “unbound.” Other people we knew would be allowed to divorce, but were told that they could never date or remarry. We used to make fun of the Catholic Church approving and annulling marriages, without realizing that the WCG was no different than the Catholic Church in this area! It seemed that divorced singles, even though they would be told that they were “unbound,” were subjected to arbitrary rules. If the minister liked them, getting approval to date wasn’t difficult. But if the minister didn’t like them, then he would make their lives miserable. One week he would say it was okay for them to date, the next week he would change his mind. We were acquainted with two young single men, both divorced because their spouses unexpectedly left them. One of them got his approval to date within a year, while the other one waited years and still heard nothing. He was trying hard not to complain, and would approach the minister to question why he hadn’t heard anything. The minister would brush him off, and our friend was feeling very, very frustrated and depressed, because he wanted to get married and get on with his life. He was also tired of feeling like he was being punished indefinitely for a past mistake. The first gentleman was well liked by the minister, and the second gentlemen, wasn’t.
The ministry could also use “dating approval” to keep certain people away from each other as well. For instance, if a young man was interested in an elder’s, or minister’s daughter, and he wasn’t somebody “special” (an Ambassador College graduate), they could ban the young man from her, even though he was baptized and considered “converted.”
Even though being in the “eligible” category was better than being in the ineligible category, it didn’t make things any easier. “Getting approval to date” was another hurdle singles had to jump. We learned that just because a single was eligible didn’t mean they could date whomever they wanted. They had to get “permission” from the ministry–and they had to do this regardless of how old they were! As if this weren’t tragic enough, the minister had to make sure that “races” weren’t being mixed. It wasn’t about mixing black and white since that was clearly forbidden–it was “how white is white?” If you were Hispanic and Caucasian, could you date someone that was Indian and Caucasian? What next? DNA tests? It was so bizarre. [Also see: Herbert Armstrong’s Racial Views]
I knew singles who got baptized in order to be approved for dating and marriage (not because they were converted in their hearts). One gentlemen came into the WCG, fell in love with a young lady, got baptized so they could marry, and two weeks after their wedding, he quit coming. The minister told her that she could divorce him because her marriage was considered a “fraud.” Instead, she stayed married out of her love and devotion to him.
Once the single person came into the WCG, discovered they weren’t allowed to date outside of “the church,” and realized they had to become baptized in order to obtain “dating status,” they would seek baptism out of pressure. Of course, once baptized, then the single was considered a permanent “member” and couldn’t leave the WCG (because he would be thrown into the lake of fire if he left). It was a great way to trap a single person.
Once a person in the WCG was declared “ineligible,” they were on equal footing with lepers. Ineligibles in the WCG lost their right to be “people” and weren’t allowed to have needs, or desires, for companionship for the rest of their lives if the ministry so deemed (there was an underlying belief that “they should devote themselves to prayer”). There was an attitude of contempt toward them, as if their failed marriage was evidence of their lack of spirituality. It also seemed that ineligibles would be accused of adultery, or lust, for merely speaking or sitting next to another person of the opposite sex if they did it too frequently. As if they didn’t have enough problems, ineligibles would really get in a lot of hot water if they expressed interest in anyone “outside” of the WCG, which many of them were pushed into doing. They weren’t allowed to date inside the WCG, so some would take their chances on the outside. “Being unequally yoked was better than being celibate,” they reasoned.
Single and “looking outside”
I remember a few singles who had married “outside” of the WCG. They were treated as third class citizens. They were looked on as “failures” for being “unequally yoked” or for “looking outside of the church for a mate.” They were usually not invited to anything. Nobody seemed to know what to say to these people, or how to relate to them. If they had any marital problems, they would be told, “You married an unconverted person, so you are reaping what you have sown.” Whenever the member would stop attending, they would be used as an example. “See what happens when you marry outside the church?” Young singles would be told, “Pretty soon, you will end up outside of the church!” We knew one young lady who married outside, and we asked her why she did. She said, “My husband treats me with more kindness and respect than anyone I ever dated in the church.” She was right. She stopped attending because she was tired of being judged by people in “the church,” not because her spouse “pulled her away.”
Some singles lived a mysterious, double-life. They were dating a nice person outside the WCG, but still hadn’t stopped attending services. They would go to the Feast and hang out with several different “church” guys because it was what singles were encouraged to do (“make sure you all socialize”). But the guy or girl back home would find out about it and get really jealous. It ended up causing problems between the two until the single decided to leave the WCG and marry the person outside the WCG.
I think the single minorities had it the worst. We knew a lady who didn’t bother attending singles’ events because there would never be anybody of her race there. We had a friend who was a minority, and she told me, “Eligible minority men in the church are few and far between. Singles’ events are awful because several women will fight over one man, and the man usually gets a ‘big head’ over it.” She even went on to tell me that the women even attempted to “buy” the man’s favor at the Feast by spending large amounts of money on him to get his attention. She told us that, “Some of them learn how to use the women to get what they want.” She refused to stoop this low, but she was clearly frustrated.
We knew another minority lady whose husband had passed away, leaving her to raise her three teenage children. Whenever the WCG had a “Spring Dinner/Dance event,” she would attend. Of course, there weren’t any minority men her age attending, so she would have to sit alone and never be allowed to dance. Some friends of ours, an older married couple, would sit and talk to her throughout the evening. The husband, Dave [name changed], realized that it wasn’t fair to this woman to not be allowed to dance with someone just because of her skin color. His wife had no problems with him asking her to dance, so he whisked her onto the dance floor. It wasn’t long before he was approached by the ministry and told to stop. (Even though he had been a long time member, he thought that the racial boundaries were only for single people looking for mates, and did not feel that he was violating that rule since he was married). Dave was upset because he knew that they weren’t doing anything wrong. When Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. came to our congregation’s area, Dave went right up to him and said, “If we are all Christian brothers, than we shouldn’t treat our minority brothers as second-class citizens. I should be allowed to dance with my sister-in-Christ regardless of her skin color.” “We’re working on that,” JWT responded. It would be years before the racial ban was lifted.
The singles’ scene in the WCG left much to be desired. My friend who called off her wedding has lamented, “I wasted all those years–my best years and my youth–trying to find a mate in ‘the church.’ ” I had met several men that I was interested in that were outside of the WCG, but I didn’t allow myself to date them. I have so many regrets. Now my biological clock is running out and I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a family that I’ve longed for.”
The Apostle Paul, out of love, warns believers not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. But Paul didn’t insist that Christians come to him to get approval before dating “other believers,” and he certainly didn’t scrutinize the individual’s racial background.
In all of the group’s prolific literature, not once is there anything mentioned about how a member will be categorized depending on their marital status. Only after they come into the WCG are they “informed” about the rules of dating and marriage. This is clear deception, and the unwary single is trapped by the cult’s control through restrictive rules over their personal life. Finding a mate is difficult enough without outside interference! It says in the Bible that “…every fool will be meddling.” (Proverbs 20:3). I think that is what the WCG was doing–meddling in people’s lives. It ended up creating much sorrow and unhappiness.
Exit & Support Network™
April 20, 2004
Last updated March 20, 2005