When I was first exiting, I was sensitive to any criticisms against Herbert Armstrong. I didn’t trust anyone that had anything negative to say about him. We had been taught that disfellowshipped members had turned their minds over to Satan, and that they’d do anything to cause members to stumble. I wasn’t about to let this happen to me, so I steadfastly clung to the belief that HWA was “God’s end time Apostle” and that it was my duty to protect his image as such.
One year, we had befriended a couple at the Feast of Tabernacles in the Poconos and we spent a lot of time together. A few months later, we received a letter from them, telling us about Herbert Armstrong, and that they left the church. I immediately reacted with, “This is only a bunch of lies and rumors started by bitter ex-members to discredit God’s Apostle.” I simply didn’t believe it, nor could I be convinced of any of it. I was told that reading false reports about HWA would lead to demon possession–allowing Satan to enter into my mind and allowing Satan to plant seeds of doubt which would fester and grow into discontent and rebellion.
I immediately gave the letter to our minister to read. He later began questioning me about these people and the contents of the letter. I affirmed that I was a loyal member and refused to believe what I had read. Then he said, “Aren’t you over-reacting a bit?” He gave me a condescending look which made me uncomfortable. That statement stunned me for two reasons. The first being that the minister didn’t even care that these people were headed for eternal death. The second reason was fear that he would think that I could possibly agree with anything they had said. Once he seemed convinced, he returned the letter and I promptly tore it up and threw it away. I was afraid to have this kind of “dissident material” in my house. He asked me if I had spoken to anyone about this letter, which I had not. I wanted to prove to him that I could not be swayed against HWA. And truly, I was distraught that anyone could say anything bad about HWA.
My total devotion to Herbert Armstrong would excuse all his vices. I told myself, “Sure he has a temper and yells at us, but we deserve to be yelled at.” “He deserves all his fine things because he entertains royalty and is spreading the gospel. After all, God loves quality. He’s just giving them a foretaste of the coming World Tomorrow and all the prosperity everyone will experience.” “We should never question how God’s Apostle uses tithe money. He is directly accountable to God, so we needn’t worry,” etc. But there was a nagging feeling that said, “What if? What if all this were true? What if Herbert Armstrong really isn’t who he says he is? What if I have been wrong?” It was a difficult place to find myself in–still devoted to the image of HWA on one hand, and completely mortified by the knowledge of his sins on the other.
I was afraid to probe deeper–truly afraid of losing my salvation if I found out too much. My mind would shut down from fear. To criticize Herbert Armstrong in any way was a guaranteed ticket to the Lake of Fire, so it was best to kill any bad thoughts or doubts before they took root. I didn’t realize at the time that the sensitivity was caused by all the programming we received to “protect God’s Apostle from Satan’s lies at all costs.” Yet I struggled with fear–fear that I had allowed Satan to turn my heart and mind against God’s true church. I was warned this would happen and I suffered from feeling that I had allowed myself to gain forbidden knowledge. One day, I would be convinced that HWA was a false prophet, and I would feel relief that I had left the organization and that I had made the right decision. The next day I would be doubting everything I read about HWA, and not trusting anyone, even those who tried to help me see the truth about him. I was sure I had fallen into the trap that I had been warned about for years. It tortured me for some time, going back and forth between loyalty and doubt.
Finally I took HWA’s advice to heart–“prove all things.” I decided that “if” these reports were false, then I should find concrete evidence against them. The more research I did, the more I discovered that the allegations against HWA were true. The first-hand testimonies by former members and ministers that I had refused to read earlier were neither vicious nor attacking towards HWA.1 Many had attempted to humbly work out problems and were thrown out of the organization. I didn’t like finding out these things about HWA. I didn’t want them to be true because I knew it would change my life, and I didn’t want to relinquish the belief in the one true church. I sacrificed so much. I felt there was so much at stake if I was wrong about HWA. I was desperately wanting help but feeling mistrust towards those who were trying to help.
Finally, after much prayer, reading and research, I had to conclude that Herbert Armstrong was indeed a false prophet and certainly not an Apostle from God.
I always thought of HWA as the fatherly figure that I didn’t have. I didn’t want to believe that he was capable of lying to me. I have found that many members who have come from dysfunctional, alcoholic, and/or neglectful homes have a tendency to show this kind of undeserved loyalty and devotion toward HWA. Having no examples of real, unconditional love, it was easy to allow HWA to control us. He made us a part of something big, and promised us unimaginable status in the coming world. He assured us that giving beyond our means was a small price to pay in comparison to what we would gain in the future. And he guaranteed that we would reap these benefits in the “very near future.” It really hurt to find out that he’d been saying this for decades.
In the beginning, I was afraid of Exit & Support Network™. I was sure they were just an extension of the devil’s arm, making up sensational lies. But now I understand that they cared enough to show me the truth about HWA and desired that I leave the organization for my own good. They did not want to see me continually exploited by the falsehoods of HWA, nor by those who attempt to hold up his image. The information answered so many things. For the first time, I understood that the organization used “control of information” to keep me blind all those years. They used propaganda to keep up a “respectable image” of HWA, and it was made very clear that we were never to tarnish that image. I was in love with the image of HWA–that he was this dear, humble man that God used to do great things. He was painted as a devoted husband and father, and as a tireless worker for the gospel. But when I honestly thought about it, I never really knew who he was, and what he did in his spare time. I just believed what I was told by the organization.
Yes, it was difficult to read negative things about Herbert Armstrong, but I did wake up and realize that I could no longer ignore the track record he left behind. This “apostle” destroyed lives and I could not knowingly uphold an image that was false. I realize now that I should have been mortified by sins committed by HWA, and not by the people that have exposed those sins.
By Kelly Marshall
Exit & Support Network™
NOTE: If you are a former member of Worldwide Church of God, we recommended that you read the Outsider’s Inside Update™ Newsletters which were read by many exiters during the time of the changes. (OIUs available as PDF download)
“In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
~II Corinthians 13:1 (also see Matthew 18:16 & Deut. 19:15)
1 See: Worldwide Church of God History.
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