Christina: Epiphany

I was in the Worldwide Church of God from birth (1975) until midway through my freshman year of college – although the seeds of doubt started well before that. We moved quite a bit when I was younger, and I’d lived in three different states by the time I was 8. In the early going, church gave me consistency. There were always YES activities and a built-in set of people who are all thinking the same thing and doing the same thing under the guise of welcoming Christian fellowship.

There were whispers of things that troubled me. My father was ordained an elder at our second stop in Ohio, and he began counseling people along with the minister. I remember hearing vague stories about a man beating his wife and their receiving counseling on how to save their marriage. There were stories about “unequally yoked” members who were, on the other hand, swayed toward making a decision about whether they should stay married and whether their marriage was godly. After I left, I heard about a teen, slightly younger than me, who’d been molested by another church member for over a decade and nothing was done. But when I was young, these things didn’t surface fully. I enjoyed the annual vacations to the Feast – even if it meant going to church service every day. Sure, I had nightmares on a regular basis about Satan creeping into my room and stealing me away or, once, his showing up at a church picnic and making me eat human flesh. Satan was a big player in my early childhood, and thoughts of him sent me to sleep in my parents’ bed many nights. I believed he was roaming the earth like a lion. I also had an ongoing fear about coming home from school and realizing Christ had come and taken everyone in my family but me to the Place of Safety. I just assumed these fears were a healthy part of being Christian.

My real breaks with the Church began when we moved from Ohio to Texas in 1984, and we began attending Dallas West (and later Dallas North). It might have been moving into the South. It might have been inevitable as I got older and more aware, but I never really felt the racism of the Church until I got to Texas. Looking back, it’s utterly amazing any Black person would sign up to be a member of the Worldwide Church of God. A cornerstone belief of the Armstrongist church was British Israelism, which I now realize is a misguided tenet shared by white supremacists to redefine God’s chosen and exclude the Jews. I had to stand up during Bible Bowl, and when asked why God prohibited interracial marriage, deliver the answer given to me on the printed Bible Bowl study sheet, “Because God gave each race special talents and he doesn’t want those talents confused.” What talents are Black talents, I wonder? And what does “talents confused” even mean? I watched as my older brothers were singled out for lectures at dances for dancing with white girls. I remember being expected to attend these dances as I got to be a teenager even though I knew there was only one black male teen besides my brother. If he didn’t show, it was an evening of sitting at the table with my mother while my friends danced away. His parents knew better, and I don’t think he ever showed. But my dad was an elder so there we were. No one would even ask me to dance. It’s an insidious kind of humiliation to be forced to accept this kind of treatment because the alternative is to be cast out into “the world” and into the arms of Satan.

What if all of this is wrong? I started thinking hopefully and yet fearfully when I was about 13. I thought Satan was attacking my faith. I threw myself doubly into YOU activities. Eventually, however, I realized it was all bunk, but I felt forced to continue. I had one friend who had basically quit attending, but her mother was “outside the Church.” I had another friend whose home life was troubled, and she got married at 17 so she could move out. Early marriages were frequent in the Church. It hit the fan when I went away for the summer before my senior year of high school. I applied to a writing program at a college in Minnesota. My parents gave me the name of a family who’d agreed to pick me up and take me to church every Saturday while I was up there. I never called them. I lived for three free-wheeling, free-thinking weeks reading Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes and Alice Walker. You don’t come back from that and want to go to WCG services. So the next Saturday, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to church. As my disassociation from church grew more evident, my mother had told me that if I ever really wanted to stop, I could. Well, not so much. My father threw a fit, and we got into a huge argument. And I went. I went dutifully until I graduated high school. I got a car that summer and would drive to church and leave right after, talking to no one. Everyone thought it was weird that although I’d been accepted to Ambassador College, I was choosing to go to Southern Methodist University instead. I had a full scholarship. Were they crazy?

Slowly, my attendance dwindled and then I stopped completely. I never looked back. I felt conflicted at times until my junior year when I studied abroad for a semester, which was a part of my scholarship. I was on a metro in Paris when I had an epiphany. I looked at all the different people, people who’d probably never heard of Herbert W. Armstrong, and yet got up every morning and lived their lives as they saw fit. It occurred to me that there’s not judgment at WCG that could substitute for my own. And in the end, we’re all just guessing anyway – even the Church. I’ll remember that moment forever. I got home feeling more free than I’d ever thought possible. Who I am – more so even than what I think or what I do – is wholly incompatible with their legalistic, fundamentalist thinking. On what basis is any one religion better than another? And once my mind broke open to that idea, I began questioning the point of religion and how one arrives at believing in God. Now, I’m agnostic, much to the consternation of my father who once told me over a plate of Tex-Mex that there was a right, godly and perfect way to do everything even if we as humans can’t know it. “Even to walk from this table to the bathroom?” I asked him. “Yes,” he declared. He’s moved on to another church with a charismatic founder who rakes in millions while much of the flock is poor, a hierarchical structure, and special seats for elders and ministers that are the equivalent of orange car stickers at the Feast.

My mother passed away last year, and we’d had numerous conversations about religion since I left it behind. She apologized profusely for not standing up and telling my father that at 17, if I didn’t believe, I shouldn’t be forced to go to a church service. Warming a seat serves no purpose. She had long stopped attending any church, but she died a strong believer in God. I can appreciate the comfort it gave her, but it still leaves me cold. I do feel some camaraderie from living life in these particular trenches. My brothers and I can laugh now about how “the Feast,” “the Transmission” (my college roommate was baffled by that one), and a whole list of other things have this meaning for us that they have for no one else. I’ve run into people, started conversations, and then something gets said and we both just know we were in “the Church.” It’s like waking up from a strange and twisted dream.

12 thoughts on “Christina: Epiphany

  1. I can’t tell you how much your post has meant to me.

    I was born and raised in the church. My parents met at AC and graduated there. We lived in poverty and enjoyed watching Mr. Armstrong on the special video each Feast as he lived in luxury.

    I have a vivid memory. I was perhaps 9 or 10. My father called me and I either didn’t hear or “didn’t hear” in the way children do. My father stormed into the room and said, “Didn’t you hear me call you!? What if I was calling you to go to the place of safety and had to leave you behind!?”

    Like you, Satan roamed the Earth for me. I am still haunted. But, hey?, that’s what it means to be a good Christian. Always on guard. Constantly suspicious.

    I so hope you are well now, My Sister.

  2. Thanks – One other thing I remembered that I can believe I’d forgotten. The next Saturday after the incident with my father, I woke up with a crippling headache that got worse and worse until my right side went numb. My mother took me to the emergency room, where they gave me a shot of Demoral (nice!) and did a spinal tap because there were cases of meningitis. Turns out, it was a stress migraine. The next Saturday, I was back at church.

  3. Christina, — Hi, Im glad that i found this on the internet and i have to say that i feel less alone now. I too was a child who was in the cult from age 8 until i ran away from home at age 16. i was 16 in 1983. (44 now) the cult affected my life in many negative ways. i always felt like an outsider in my own family and after leaving in 1983, i never really felt that i fit into the rest of the world either thought about suicide many times throughout the years but i am ok at the present moment. when i was 8 and first adopted by the family that was in the cult i thought the world was going to end soon becaue that’s what they would say. i remember always trying to be a good kid but would get severly spanked for every little thing. i now believe that may have been at least in part–the churh influence. i also think now that the reason that they adopted in the first place was because the church told them to. i always felt that my new mom never realy wanted kids. i always thought that maybe there was something wrong with me and that i was the only one who experienced thhings the way i did. there is a lot more i could say but i dont want to go into too many details here. i just want to say that there were so many things wrong with this cult and that yes i do remember the racist attitude of the church and i would wonder too why some non-white people woud want to be there. i feel bad for all of the other people who suffered and lost money to this cult and feel bad for the ones still brainwashed by it today. but at least now i know that i am not alone. and i hope to maybe meet with some fomer members someday because i think it would be very healing. especially people who think like i do that all churches are for the most part cults–that are out to take peoples money and leave them with mental wounds that may never fully heal.

  4. To Christina, Donna and others,

    I will say here something I wrote yesterday following Joy’s post: I wish I had been far-sighted enough and had the ability to “save” some nice younger folks from that strange world after I had left it.
    1975 was the year being hyped as the time for the “end of the age” – “the return of Christ” – for those of us in the old Radio CoG, renamed Worldwide CoG in 1965. And in 1972 we were to be taken to that “place of safety” talked about so often. Frankly, I’m surprised to see people who were active in the CoG many years later still speaking of the “place of safety.” Are people STILL talking of it? I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.

    But my point here is that Christina said she was BORN in 1975! This seems simply unbelievable to me that people who were just babies when I was walking away from that mental mayhem of prophetic guesses and setting dates that became goals, etc., were later as wrapped up in the ignorance as was I when I went off to AC in 1964. How have we all not been rescued from that weird way of seeing life?

    Actually, the whole mess of doctrinal drivel disappeared from my own world in 1976 and when I heard of HWA’s death in 1986, I assumed the whole house of cards would collapse soon thereafter. It did, really, but there are still folks today being suckered in by vestiges of that old teaching. Too bad. And again, I wish I had been able to somehow steer others away from all that and into productive, meaningful lives.

    Glad to see that at least you who are writing here have been able to escape, at least from the framework of it if not the lingering emotional effects.

    The “Painful Truth” site and blog could be helpful to some of you, even though I found it to be a little too self-pitying in much of its output. My own posts there back in February, 2011, tell more of my personal story and current views. I won’t try to write all that here, merely refer you to the old posts in the event you care to check them out.

    Thanks for sharing on this site, and I again compliment Robert for producing and guiding this outlet for us all.

    markman

  5. Christina:
    I loved your story. I was the generation previous to you. I left WCG in 1972 after graduating from Ambassador College. But I was a second generation WCG, brought into the Church by my father. You are lucky you chose not to go to AC but went to a college that was real and taught you something real rather than a huge continuation of Bible Study and Sabbath services.

    When I was a child, the Church was even more racist. Yes we believed in British Israelism, and my pedigree was about the best you can be — English, a descendent of the chosen son. In England there were a lot of black immigrants from the Caribbean countries, and a few found their way into the Church. Society as a whole was quite prejudiced against black people at that time, and the Church even more so. I always wondered why a black person would ever be in the Church even when I believed it was all the truth. What they thought about native American and aboriginals was even worse than what they believed about Africans. There was a large black family with many sons in the Church, and one of the teenage white girls was secretly involved with one of them. The other Church children all kept quiet about it, I don’t know what happened to them. They were only very young at the time. But what could those black boys do, there were no black girls, and they couldn’t date someone not in the Church.
    I wondered even then why the Bible was full of stories of interaccial marriage, it seemed every OT king had a number of wives from every tribe imaginable. Then there was Noah, supposedly he was pure, and yet he produced the 3 major races from his offspring. Of course this is just a Biblical story, but WCG was ready with an explanation so it would fit in with their ideas. Really when I think about it, the Bible is not racist, but WCG was and so was America from HWA’s youth. We all had to continue with those outdated beliefs.
    Not that I have all the answers, but the Church certainly didn’t. I am so happy you found freedom.
    Jacky

  6. I am a black male who grew up in the WCG as a child and then came into another one of the most radical splinters of the WCG (name withheld because I still have family in that splinter and I would rather keep the family peace). I dreaded church dances and church events (formal dinners, Spokesman Club etc etc) because there were never any single black girls around to be my date for these events. The one thing that really used to bother me was the fact that dancing, having dinner etc were all considered “dating experiences” …. heck, even seating next to a single member of the opposite gender and sharing a hymnal was also a “dating experience!”

    I never understood why if dancing was dating, why would siblings be allowed to dance together? Why would father-daugher, mother-son dancing be allowed? Why would some of the caucasian men be “encouraged” to ask the older ladies (widows who were old enough to be their mothers) to the spokesman gala or to a suitably paced dance?

    The first time I went to a worldly night club (while still attending *CG), I had a very miserable experience because I couldn’t even entertain the thought of dancing with a total stranger who I couldn’t tell their race, nor could I stand all the “improper” dancing going on. My buddies thought I was wierd because I mentioned that dancing is dating and I didn’t want to be part of it. Even up to this day, I cannot go to a club (thankfully, I am older and have a younger family so there is no clubbing pressure anymore!)

    Going back to the lack of godly racial pairings, whenever I got to a multi-congregational event (combined services, feast etc etc) my eyes would be busy scanning the crowd for any young black girls. And I was not alone in doing this: other young black men and women admitted to me that they do the same thing. Black girls were rarer than black men and it was always a “hidden competition” to “snab” a girl. Some of the girls knew it and they preferred the older, working men (hey, they had more second tithe for feast dates etc etc) to us younger, often struggling students. Looking back, I am glad “the gold-diggers” ignored me at that time because I ended up meeting and marying a simple lady who is hard-working and is not crazy about material possessions and when I look at some of those girls, my family is light-years ahead of them in terms of living standard, mental health and general satisfaction in life.

  7. I just love all the posting. I know this is a very real and horrifying event that took place, but I can’t keep from laughing my ass off.

    I do remember my mom saying to me “what if was the end of the world and you didn’t listen to me. You would have been left behind.” Parents beloved this stuff, my mom would get so worked up and start crying because we were kids and didn’t listen a lot of the time.

    They just new the end was coming soon. Going to take us to petre and slam the great walls shut. Only we would be saved. The rest if the world would just die.

    This forum has been very cleansing for me. Thank you for all you comments and support.

    I attended the San Jose Bay Area congregation.

  8. I have just found this blog and read your posts. Christina’s was particularly moving as I often wondered about the racism in the church. I am a PK and asked my dad recently about this, I know he is uncomfortable about it and is definitely not racist but was no doubt preaching about mixed marriages [the subject was changed]. There were more than a few in the churches I attended and I was chatting about them recently and suddenly thought how terrible all of it must have been for them – and they were one of the most lovely families you could wish to meet.
    Which is what makes me wonder the most about WCG – it was so wrong, so obviously wrong, yet how did it pull in, hoodwink etc so many incredibly wonderful people? So many intelligent, worthy and thoughtful folk all attending this judgemental, abhorrent cult? It is a question that will never be answered.
    I am glad I found this blog.

  9. David,

    I’m also glad you found the site, as I did almost two years ago.You are one of the fortunate EX-WCGers. Many still struggle for some kind of grasp on the reasons people were swamped in the “…judgmental, abhorrent cult.” My devotion of thirteen years to this (or any) cult remains a mystery me, but I walked away seemingly without many of the pains and questions others have endured. I’m glad you have now found a place to at least exchange thoughts and comments with others who were dragged through the mire and escaped.
    Welcome “home!”

  10. I really enjoyed reading these posts. I’m a 2nd Gen WCGer who had similar experiences in “worldly” public schools before heading off to AC. I’ll share one of those that struck me the hardest. During my HS senior year, a co-worker of mine suggested I ask his shy sister for a date. He’d already told her he thought highly of me and that I would behave as a gentleman. I called her & she eagerly accepted. Our date was for a Sat. night b/c I worked at Mickey D’s after sundown & my parents would accept my absence. Problem was that my sister overheard my phone call to the girl & told our parents! My Dad confronted me at dinner, just before I planned to drive away. He took pity on me & said he was disappointed that I deceived them, but I should proceed with the date. My Mom, however, began to cry! With tears running down her cheeks, she wailed that I’d get this girl pregnant, have to marry this worldly girl, our family would be disgraced, etc. I was stunned, because I was looking forward to some pleasant female companionship & MAYBE a goodnight kiss! One of many strange episodes in the life of a WCG kid in the ’60s.

  11. I want to thank you for this site, it has helped me understand my childhood so much better! I grew up in WWCG from the age of 3 yrs old till I was 18 when I moved out and refused to attend. I attended with my older brother our Mom and her dad (my grandpa ). Olatha, KS My dad refused to attend and called it a cult from the very beginning. When My mom &’Grandad first started attending, my dad thought it was just a phase and she would stop soon. She didn’t. He was so mad that for a short time she would take us to church on Saturday and he would take us to the Baptist church on Sunday! That’s was Crazy!! It didn’t last long because my dad wasn’t a religious man. Oh he believed n God, just not organized religion. It drove a wedge between my family but he loved my Mom An stayed but they pretty much lived separate lives vets under the same roof. . My brother rebelled and complained to my dad and at age 13 Dad said he could drop out so he did. I on the other hand was stuck! I was afraid of loosing my mothers and grandpas love if I didn’t go to church with them. I remember being constantly worried about having to flee in the middle of the night to the place of safety. I could go on an on an on…… I never attended College cause why bother the end was coming soon! Got married at 18 cause I had to hurry the end was coming soon! The sky was alaways falling and we were never good enough, that ias what I learned from HWA! Oh and The GUILT this church imposed on our lives is unbelievably! Paying tithes was more I,portent than food! My mother still attends a splinter group to this day. Thank you for this support site! Jesus saves us by his Grace!
    Sincerely, Dooms Day – WWCG child cult survivor 1972-1989

    Sent from my iPad

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