It’s strange to look back, somewhat sentimentally, on the habits and idiosyncrasies I was raised with. A now defunct fringe religious group (some would say cult) had an enormous part to play in making me who I am today — for good and for ill. Through my own memories and research, and with the perspective of time and distance, I can’t but feel that much of my experience was so utterly bizarre, so ultra specific and so locked into a by-gone era, that it is nearly impossible to explain to others not raised in a similar circumstance. And, so, I find it nearly impossible to explain a large part of myself to others.

If I had to sum it up to an outsider, I would say that, from my experience, this is the most destructive thing the Church did: It took simple, everyday experiences and gave them undue cosmic significance.

Dinner time was not simply a family meal. It was a religious event. Families who did not eat dinner together, with the father at the head of the table, were bad families. Recess was not as simple as going out to play in the playground. I had to carefully guard myself around these outsider children. I often just read alone, though I was a perfectly social child. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play, but figuring out a paradigm of “in the world not of the world” is not easy when you are six.

My parents think it was adorable that, for years, I had Santa and Satan confused. I don’t think it’s so cute. We can certainly talk about the moral issue of fibbing to children about Santa, but any way you look at it, allowing your child to be afraid that Satan is going to come down her chimney is probably worse.

I remember being in grade three. It was Valentines Day and I had one of those teachers who made the kids give everyone in class a Valentine if they were going to be giving any at all. I walked into class to find my desk covered in these sinful cards! I wasn’t angry at the kids who gave them to me, I just didn’t know what to do with them! So I chucked them, wholesale, into the garbage. Well, one girl saw me throw away the cards and candies without even opening them and she burst into tears. I really didn’t mean to hurt her, it was just overwhelming!

Every part of life had a sacred significance. And every mistake afforded cosmic consequences.

When I was small, I recall my father calling for me. I either didn’t hear him or “didn’t hear” in that way children do. He stormed into the room and said, “Why don’t you come when you’re called!? What if I was calling you to go to the Place of Safety and then had to leave you behind!?”

Simple behavior management issue = an issue of eternal significance.

From the time I was young, probably about ten, my dad had printed up and taped to my bedroom wall Armstrong’s Seven Laws Of Success. Periodically, he would tack on laws of his own making. The last law (pretty sure this is my dad’s contribution) was Failure is Not an Option. Now, what kind of fucked up message is that to tell to a little kid? If you fail, you have broken a law. So, above all, don’t fail. Let me tell you, this sets you up for a world of neurosis.

My father also included some personal family lifestyle rules in line with Armstrong’s teaching. No dating until you are 16. And after that, only group dating. (To clarify, group dating is any social situation where there are males and females my age.) And, naturally, we only date within the Church. Besides that, I was constantly admonished to “date widely,” as was the encouragement at Ambassador College.

Now, it was around age fourteen that my libido started to take take a critical look at my situation. I mean, my make-out opportunities were not only severely limited by my parents idea that any mixed-gender event constituted a date, but, by the fact that, due to living in such an isolated area, the only contender was a somewhat awkward boy who attended services infrequently.

It was not with any great thought or significant study that I fell away from Armstrong’s teachings as an early teen. I think, in large part, I was lonely. I was tired of being isolated. And I was so bored. In grade 9, I fell in love with a saxophone player who was in grade 12. After seeing each other in secret for about a month, I was counseled by well meaning adults to just tell my parents, who, they were sure, would understand! I mean, this was a very normal, age appropriate situation I was in. I wasn’t cutting class to have sex (yet). It was just a sweet, high school romance. So, with my heart in my throat, I went to my parents just before Christmas to tell them I liked a boy.

The shit hit the fan. I have no idea why I though they would be OK with this. This night set me up for four years of absolute hell. As I said in the beginning, simple, everyday things, like a teenager falling in love, are given cosmic weight. I was a bad daughter. A bad person.

I tried so desperately to get out. I researched emancipation from your parents and fantasized about this constantly. Ryan, the saxophonist boyfriend, was even willing to marry me, if such a thing could be arranged, in order to help. I called Child Protective Services a number of times, only to hang up. If I tried to report what was going on and then was not removed immediately, my abuse, I was sure, would increase. There was mild physical abuse (slaps across the face, that sort of thing) but that wasn’t the worst of it. There were periods where I wasn’t allowed to sleep in a bed. I wasn’t allowed to be in a room with the door closed. I wasn’t allowed to speak to my grandmother, who lived in the same house.

The most hurtful thing was something my mother said after I had been “caught” with Ryan once. We were driving in the van. I am the oldest of 5. The others were in the back seat. My mother is spewing venom and yelled to the children in the back, “Kids, don’t be like Joy. I want you to promise me you won’t be like Joy. Say it!” And from the back of the van came little children, mumbling, “We won’t be like Joy.”

What is hard to explain to those not from the WCG is the religious and spiritual undercurrent to all this. What I was doing was an affront to the Church and to God. I was worse than an unbeliever.

I retain a couple triggers from this time that still set me off. The first is people talking behind closed doors. I struggle with this at work. If my boss is in his office talking to a co-worker, my heart drops and I instantly assume I have done something bad and have been found out.

I am also made extremely anxious if I feel I can’t read the emotions or intentions of others. I am exceptionally perceptive when it comes to reading people and am constantly suspicious as to the motives of others. Each day of my life, as a teen, I would walk the mile from where the school bus dropped me to home in a state of terror. Had they found something? Had I done something and they heard about it? I would try to read my parents and see what state they were in. If they are cold or aloof that day, is it because of something I’ve done?

Like many girls with no real form of self expression or control over their lives, I became anorexic. I remember accidentally skipping breakfast and then lunch one day. By evening, I simply wasn’t hungry any more and refused dinner. And it just spiraled from there. Magically, when I eventually did break free, I returned, almost without thought, to eating normally.

My ticket out, I believed, would be music. I had no money and no hope of getting any. But I could play the piano. I thought if I worked hard enough, I could get a scholarship to university and get the hell out of there! Music also provided me with a social network outside the Church that I desperately needed.

Largely, my plan worked! With one happy surprise. I met Dave at the Feast of Tabernacles (how stereotypical!) We were both the brooding, angst filled teens who didn’t even fit in with the Worldwide crew. He was older than me. Done with school. A writer and an artist. Long story short, I got on a bus with Dave the day after HS graduation and never looked back. My fathers parting words to Dave: “Watch out for that girl. She’s too bloomin’ independent.” And I did indeed get a scholarship large enough to allow me to afford university near Dave.

With our families around, however, it was simply not possible to truly be free. So, when I was 19 and Dave was offered a job on the other side of the country, we grabbed it. Still having a lot of befuddled WCG beliefs and hang ups, we felt we needed to marry if we were going to live together. So we married a few short weeks later and flew out the day after our wedding. We’ve been married 7 years now and still consider this the best decision either of us ever made. Also, I (we) are not the only ones to see early marriage as a means of escape from the Church.

The end of the story is happy, I guess. We’ve both ended up fairly agnostic, anarchistic, polyamorous weirdos. But we’re definitely happy about those things. And with one another. And, sure, there have been bizarre episodes along the way – like that time I almost became a priest. Still, in a strange way, Armstrong lead us to become the happy odd-balls that we are.

But our families are shattered. Personally, spiritually and financially. Both of our sets of parents cling to Armstrong’s ways. I have four nieces in the Philadelphia Church of God I shall never be allowed to know. I still compulsively look for lard on the backs of those little Saltine cracker packs. My mother still sends me audio tapes of sermons by Dr. Hoeh (high five if you know how to pronounce his name.) I still think about sending my therapy bill to “Headquarters.” So there is bitterness too.

I am currently researching for a book that will be part memoir and part examination of the Armstrong Phenomenon from a sociological and anthropological point of view. If anyone would like to be in touch regarding my project, please contact me at


37 thoughts on “Joy”

  1. Hi Joy,
    I just read your post and it made me cry. I can so relate to what you went through. WCG was a nightmare for me. It tore my family apart too. Not only that, it provided ample support for members who abused their children. It was a horrible hate filled place and I’m so glad I’m not in it any more. My husband and I left in 1997, two years after the big split. We left to keep ourselves sane.

    The part that really got to me, though, was your Mom’s comment to your siblings. My own mother said that to my sisters, more than once. “Don’t be like Linda Jo”. It still hurts like heck when I think about it.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say hello and give you a cyberhug. You are not alone.

    Linda Jo Park

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. It really touched me.

    I find it so meaningful to read others stories. And to find others from the WCG. It makes things feel less isolating.

    Were you born into the WCG?

    If you’re ever interested in a longer conversation, please feel free to e-mail. Have you shared your story in any written form?

  3. Hi Joy,

    My sister, Linda Jo, shared your post and it brought back a lot of very similar memories.

    My parents were baptised in the WCG three months before I was born in 1961. The family joke was that Liane was baptised twice. But it was not a joke in real life. My mother was nearly obsessed with this idea that I was her “Samuel” and meant to be her gift to God. When I was very young, she found a chidren’s book about the story of Samuel. I think I may even still have it. It was drilled into my mind that my destiny was to be her gift and to make up for all her shortcomings.

    The WCG instilled this idea that Satan was always out to draw true believers away so you couldn’t trust anyone–not even your own family. I still remember duing the time that the Old man was arguing with Garner Ted that people were dropping from the church in our area like flies. Many of my familie’s closest friends left–including my best friend. I was still in my younger teens and I remember thinking “you can’t allow yourself to care for anybody because Satan could get them”.

    As a result, my sisters and I grew up not trusting each other and in constant competition with each other. My younger sister was ostracized from the family at age 13 because she just couldn’t take the abuse she got from her peers at the WCG and quit attending. It didn’t help that the WCG was turning a blind eye to our father’s alcoholism and the abuse she was suffering from him as well.

    My older sister and I have never had an easy time getting along. My parents were very hard on her–as the oldest. I was taught that she had the family birthright as the oldest (something that was a big deal to my parents). Unfortunately, the psychological and physical abuse they put on her caused her to be shy and an accident in her childhood caused her to have physical difficulties–making her weak in my parents eyes. My mom expected me to make up for any “weaknesses” and I was expected to be twice as strong, twice as successful in anything that my sister did (though I was two years younger).

    I never questioned my parents. I did what I was told and became as much of an over-achiever as I could. I knew my own salvation depended on me being the perfect daughter. However, the WCG’s place for women always flew in my face because you can’t be an over-achiever and also expect to be a quiet, submissive. And there simply wasn’t anything quiet or submissive about me.

    It was the pinacle of my Mother’s joy when I was accepted to AC. She and my Father drove me down to Pasadena. she insisted on saying goodbye to me in the Auditorium lobby. She wrote me a long letter later about how I was her gift to God and how I belonged at headquarters and she had left me at God’s alter.

    I graduated from AC got married the year I graduated and continued to work for the church headquarters–where my husband had a respectable position.

    I was a member of the church for 29 years before my husband and I chose to walk out in 1990. At the time we walked out, we did so knowing that we were going to lose everything that mattered to us. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Both of us lost our parents and siblings initially–in some brutally painful ways. We lost every friend we had. We lost our jobs and community. We stepped into a frightening world absolutely alone.

    The toll of trying to find my way after that long a time in the WCG has been high. My husband and I still struggle to find a community of friends and fellowship–we’ve never replaced what we lost. We tried a number of different churches but simply couldn’t bring ourselves to believe anything.

    Many of the choices we’ve made over the past 21 years have been a direct or indirect result of our time in the cult. We have an extremely difficult time trusting people.

    We repaired the relationship with my husband’s parents before they passed, but our relationship with his sisters is still distant at best. I repaired my relationship with my younger sister, but my older sister and I still struggle with trust issues. My mother passed before I left the WCG and my relationship with my father has been irreparable–to the extent that I’ve given up.

    I can’t say it was all bad. AC was pretty good about marriage counseling and my husband and I were very much prepared for marriage and we’ve have a wonderful 27 years so far together. However, I often wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not joined a cult just before I was born.


  4. Lianne,

    I’m so glad you connected with my story. And thank you for sharing yours in return! That means a lot to me.

    Like you, I lost my best friend around age 10, when her family left the church. She was one of only 3 other girls around my age. (This was a rural area. We drove over an hour to get to church!) I wish I could find her. I want to know if she is alright. This is what happened to the other three girls: Terry was addicted to meth before finishing HS. Jennifer, as I found out several years ago, was regularly raped by a church member. I just went…weird!

    I know what you mean about not getting close to ANYONE. No one can be trusted. I have a major hang up about this. There are very, very few people I truly share myself with. And, even with them, I often question their motives and agendas. As far as I am concerned, everyone has their own agenda. Even those who simply love you.

    I am the oldest of five. 4 girls and 1 boy. I most certainly felt the power of the “birthright” as the oldest. I, too, never questioned my parents. In many ways, I had a good time in Worldwide! I thought, at least, that I was a happy kid. I have no functional relationship with my siblings. And I do feel I was pitted against the sister closest in age to me. Like you, I am, by nature, not submissive. This did not win me any points.

    I remember when AC closed! It was my parents very dearest dream that I go. I remember pouring through the Envoys with longing! This was the place for me! So when it closed, even before I could get there (I was in grade 6 or so, I suppose?) I felt a sense of loss. THIS was what I had been aiming towards my whole life! And remember, that place was a palace! A dream for any little girl!

    Regarding where to find fellowship — While I would call myself primarily agnostic, I have found a fantastic home in the Anglican Church, called the Episcopal Church in the USA. Remember how, in the WCG, everyone always agreed on everything? Or else? (At least, in theory.) Well, in the Anglican church, nobody agrees on ANYTHING! It’s great! I love it! However, you will never feel that intense fellowship with a group again, I do not believe. The sense of community in Worldwide is unmatched. And the world outside can be so lonely. However, I have chosen to focus on finding this spiritual connection in individuals, rather than in groups or communities or labels. Another way to put it is: For the first time in my life, I have friends.

  5. Joy –

    Your story really hit me. I totally understand the idea that everything has eternal significance and how it makes you live in constant fear – fear of Satan, fear of God, fear of your parents, fear of judgment from the community, fear of “fill in the blank.” The number one thing for me to learn was to live life more fearlessly. That’s still an ongoing struggle for me sometimes.

    And it’s a strange thing the incredible camaraderie you could feel with the Church while at the same time you wall away parts of yourself either because they’d be considered shameful or even just so you have something that’s your own. And in a weird way, one of the reasons I didn’t go to another church before I became agnostic was that if the church wasn’t dogmatic and hardline, it just didn’t feel COMMITTED — like people were half-assing it. I carried that judgment with me for a long time. An us vs. them dynamic, plus the constant fear and, in some cases, abuse does forge strong, if dysfunctional, bonds between people. Things are much better for me now as an adult, and I’ve sought new communities with good friends. It just takes time.

    One piece of advice I recently heard has stuck with me – people don’t connect over their perfection, but over their imperfection and then feeling safe with the other person. I think that’s why it was hard to connect for a long time. I spent so much of my time in the Church feeling like I needed to project perfection, no errant thoughts or misdeeds. Everyone was projecting perfect home lives, perfect faith, perfect Sabbath keeping, perfect children — truth be damned.

    It’s much less stressful to be able to screw up and just move on.


  6. “And it’s a strange thing the incredible camaraderie you could feel with the Church while at the same time you wall away parts of yourself either because they’d be considered shameful or even just so you have something that’s your own.”

    I feel this keenly and I think a lot of people who spent their formative years in the WCG do as well. Especially the need to have something of your own. We are, many of us, repulsed by anything that hints at control, whether it comes from another person or an institution. Many of us are secretive, suspicious, often coming across as “not team players.”

    I so know what you mean about other churches just not feeling committed! I can’t fathom a religion where you merely go to church on Sunday and then go on your merry way, living life as you please. I feel like, if it doesn’t hurt, it can’t be True.

    I have managed to make some wonderful friends in life, which is all you really need. Still, even with those I am close to, I bristle at intimacy and am selective in what I share of myself.

  7. Hi Joy,
    “Were you born into the WCG?”

    Technically, no. My parents joined when I was about 2 years old. I don’t remember anything pre-WCG.

    “If you’re ever interested in a longer conversation, please feel free to e-mail. Have you shared your story in any written form?”

    Thank you for the offer. No, I have not shared my story in written form. I do have a wonderful husband and inlaws who share the experience with me and we talk about it, though less as time goes by.

    I have tried writing about it but can’t seem to find the right words. Especially now. I’m at a place in my life where I just want to leave it all behind and move on to the future. I have had professional counseling to deal with all the bad aftermath of having an alcoholic father and abusive mother as well as coming out of the cult and my life is the happiest ever. I love being alive and I am thankful to be free from the shackles of religion. I am atheist and recently joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

  8. Hi everyone! I too grew up in the church. I am now 33 years old, married and a mother of 2.
    I have often thought of writing a book about my adventures of growing up in WCG and CGI. I would have to say that is was a cult. My mother was disfellowshipped from WCG because she was asked to take off her mke-up and would not do it. I can remember being little and going to church with my dad and wondering why she wasn’t going. So I gathered up the courage to ask her and she told me the minister “warned” her about the make-up. She then found CGI which was members from WCG. My father still attended church with WCG. The good-ole Garner Ted Armstrong…not! If I remember correctly doesn’t the bible say that there should be no gods before me. If you ask me, GTA was treated like a “god” and that made me so mad because I had grown up learning the ten commandments and here is this man who thinks he is the almighty God!
    Now I can honestly say I did enjoy the Feast of Tabernacles. I met some great people and have managed to keep in touch with some of them. The feast was more or less a vacation for me and not having to go to school made it even better. Then there were times that there would be two services that I would have to sit thru and that sucked.
    My mother and I attended the feast one year in Panama City Florida,and there was a big auditorium and then a big tent outside. I don’t remember who was speaking that day but I do remember it was packed inside and outside and we of course had to sit outside in the 90 degree weather. Now my mother made me wear this big dress and hose and I just about died! How I hated that.
    As the years went on my father still attended WCG until his death in 1996. He had been brainwashed and believed that WCG was the one and only “true” church. I believe my mother was depressed and brainwashed as well. She would read the bible everyday and at nights I would wake up and she would be saying bible scriptures in her sleep. I even remember on Friday nights being back in my bedroom and listening to them argue over the church. My mom telling my dad that WCG was brainwashing him and that their believes weren’t the true meaning of God.
    I still believe in God but yes I have often questioned if there is a God. I will be honest in saying that the whole church thing has messed with me emotionally. I too have battled depression and then things really hit me when my parents passed away 8 days of each other in 1996. I really found myself questioning God because he took my parents, but that is a whole other story.
    This blog has helped me because I now I know I am not the only one out there “suffering”(as I like to call it) from WCG and CGI syndrome.
    I hope my story can help someone else too.

  9. I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist and just about everything you have shared resonates with me as well. I too am the oldest and have at times thought that my younger brother (only sibling) was spared a great deal of the bullshit since all of these “expectations” were heaped on me and he was by and large left to do as he pleased.

    Your description of panic when you cannot read other people is a perfect example of me. I have been trying to understand this since I was probably 15 and I am now nearing 30. I literally trembled when I read what you wrote, especially the mantra “in the world, not of the world”. My mother burned that into my brain from a very early age and I have had an EXTREMELY hard time making and more importantly keeping friends my entire life. I have talked to a number of people that were raised Mormon and other flavors of Christianity and it seems to be a common theme. Every “flavor” thinks they are the only true believers and it has taken me a long time to realize its all bullshit. Worse yet they indoctrinate kids that other people “outside” the Church cannot be trusted. Looking at this from a logical perspective it is just absurd. Humans have to trust each other, if we didn’t we would not survive.

    I was also home-schooled from kindergarten all the way to to getting my GED (I had to get my GED because my parents pretty much dropped the ball on my schooling as soon as I hit the 8-9th grade) except for a brief stint in the 5th grade that was not a pleasant experience. Needless to say this has not helped my social development AT ALL. If you are reading this and you home-school your children please do them a service and stop. Everything you have ever heard about home-schooled kids not getting enough social interaction is true. Kids need to be exposed to all that crap good and bad in order to learn from it. And what has happened in my case it has lead to a lot of resentment towards my parents as a result.

    I could go on and on but just putting this down has helped.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, I hope it will continue to help other people do the same.

    Remember you are not the crazy one, people that try to push their beliefs on others are the crazies.

  10. Miss Joy, your post has been therapy for my torment. My life was directed also by thoughts of cosmic consequences for my actions. One time after denying my natural desire that I had for women for almost a year after my repentance I broke down and entertained a lustful thought. Which is itself just as bad as the actual act. Afterwords I felt that God would surely punish me for lusting after a woman and that I had really let myself down and worst of all God.
    I practiced celibacy and clean foods and tithing and the sabbath but the human heart is not perfect, and these things after seeming so real for true happiness revealed themselves as nothing but self-righteousness and as an outward show to make ourselves appear perfect when deep inside we knew we were not. They eventually in 1986 suspended me from fellowship with God the church, the only people I trusted. I would rather have been given the chair. After all wasn’t this God’s true church? And if they say you are lost what else is there? God is saying it through the church, right? I was doomed for many years after.

    I also was deeply moved reading your post. It is an honest revelation and I look forward to your book. I can tell you I was hurting so bad tonight I did a search to see if I was the only one whose life was altered by what we were taught. I quit a career in the Army after “repentance” to keep the Sabbath and not commit murder, I was set on a destructive pattern believing the world would end in 1996 I took nothing seriously of the world.

    I feel isolation and unreasonable guilt too, bitterness is a kind word to use. But we all were just “deceived” weren’t we and there is no fault to blame? I still, also think sometimes, of making the WCG pay for my therapy in any case. I do still believe in and love God and seek Him, but in a far different way. By asking for forgiveness and mercy. Seeking His righteousness for my salvation.

    Thanks for letting me share with you, you shared with me.

  11. Miss Joy, I want to say that I realize why you have your hurt and anger. For one, where I was a “convert” and had suffered from a life of “sin” leading to repentance and the church; you were an innocent child suffering abuse from the church and those you loved, which drove you away.

    I was abandoned by something I had learned to depend on for my happiness, the church of God. We both, like many others obviouly, have tremendous resentment.

    But I know God loves you as He does us all.

  12. I will spare you the general rambling I often do in my blog – that’s available to you anyway.

    My heart goes out to you all who are expressing (with great feeling) your individual experiences and difficulties in life caused by the WCG, CGI, GTA, HWA – and the rest of what I call “the alphabet of madness.” What hurts me most is that my own experiences preceded most of yours and I could do nothing to prevent the ongoing madness once I left it so long ago. How wonderful it would have been had I been gifted with enormous foresight along with the talent and strength to somehow “save” all you young folks from the drudgery of the Armstrong life.

    Late in 2010, I was suddenly made aware of the many websites and blogs relating to the old, heavy church days. In February, 2011, I was asked, and agreed, to contribute several posts in the “Painful Truth” blog. Much of my current thinking can be read there if you find you are interested in the decaying detritus from the mind of an AC grad from the sixties (named Salyer then). I also was not “born into it” but my mother and older sister got hooked in 1953 when I was six years old. My story is different, but not drastically, from those shared above.

    Glad to have found this site and wish the best for all,

  13. Markman,

    Your URL is “visible”, but by way of becoming the link associated with your name in the header of your comment. No problem with posting it explicitly though.

  14. Thanks, Robert.

    Thoughtful site, by the way, and you appear to be a responsible editor/manager. My compliments!

    Also, while I’m here again, let me clarify that above comment in which I said I was “six years old” in 1953. No intent there to lie about my age – I simply had a senior moment! I was born in 1945, so obviously eight years old in 1953.

    Again, glad to have found the site and will check in often,

  15. I have been in the process of cleaning out my grandparent’s house with my aunt and they had a lot of my great-grandparent’s belongings still in one of the rooms. My aunt told me that my grandparents left their Lutheran religion that they grew up with and became members of this “different” church. We found a lot of their books for the Worldwide Church of God. I had never heard of it before. We have found many letters from their church friends and my first thought was this sounded very cult like. I’ve been curious about this and have been doing some internet searches looking for information. Thank you for sharing your story and sorry you went through a difficult time.

  16. Dear Mallory,

    Joy has written her heart-felt story in a beautiful way, expressing much optimism and solid bearing on her life of today. She has my admiration which I have said to her personally.
    She also has my offer of any possible help by way of information that I might supply. There may be others available who pre-date my time in the orgainzation, but they are disappearing rapidly. My time associated with the RCG/WCG began in 1953 and ended in 1976 – the last eight years of that spent as a minister.
    The same offer of sharing info goes to you if you might find my input helpful in any way.
    Glad you’re looking into it as history and not as a potential guide for your own life.

  17. Joy, etal:
    I was very glad to find this site and read about your story and everyone’s comments. It brought back a lot of memories and anger I thought I had worked through. My family joined when I was fourteen and I miss the friendships and the feeling of belonging that has never been duplicated but could not reconcile myself to the controlling beliefs. No wonder I lived in the bottom of a liquor bottle for so many years and finally escaped by joining the military. Since my family is still in the church (yeah, my brother-in-law is the pastor general) we do not see much of each other. My anger is directed at my sister and probably always will be since she is the one who tried so hard to shove it all down my throat and still to this day judges my life choices. I am now what I call a new age atheist. I don’t know if I will ever be completely at peace but it is nice to know how others who left the church feel about it all. Unfortunately anyone who didn’t grow up with it will never fully understand those of us who did. Thank you for your story.

  18. Teresa,

    Welcome to the bigger, more available, more rewarding world outside of cult living. It’s good to see another young person escape the clutches of mind-limiting belief. You can have quite a beautiful life ahead; I’m assuming you are still younger than I was when I made my exit 36 years ago at the age of 31. You call yourself a “new age atheist” while I use terms such as Humanist (continually more devout in this effort) or simply “non-theist.” Under any label or none at all, we who can now see the entire universe as our wonderland are fortunate and it’s great to share the little successes in our pursuit of happiness. You’ve come to a good place and we all are glad to have you here and all are the better for your presence.

    I will add that Joy herself is a marvelous individual who invites you to begin to relax into communication with this bigger world. Perhaps through her contact and those others of us you may find helpful, you will begin to walk away from the anger that is no doubt fierce at this early stage. Time is now your friend as well because all of your uncharted future years are really yours, not to be hampered by sectarian madness.

    May you live fully and freely, Dear Teresa.

  19. Actually I left the church back in1979 but when your family IS the church you can never get completely away from it unless you want to completely cut yourself off from your family. When I said my brother-in-law is the pastor general I meant that my brother-in-law really is Joseph Tkach, Jr. Unfortunately I will never be completely free as long as I have family.


  20. Dear Teresa,

    If I may further clog the comments area of Joy’s story, I would like to share a little more from my past which might be somewhat helpful.

    My family is very large; I am ninth of ten siblings. At the height of the madness in the early seventies, almost half of my immediate family (including in-laws) were in WCG. Most of the others were somewhat cut-off from the church side by our super righteousness and devotion to the new “spiritual family.” Many things have shifted over the years and today, as best I can surmise, three of the original siblings are still attached to something of the old religion of HWA. However, they do not seem to be attached much to each other or their individual tenets.

    My point is, I still have a modicum of familial association with practically all of the blood relatives, but I find no reason to ever pay attention or be influenced in any way by their entrenched beliefs. Therefore, we have only minimal contact but I suffer not at all at the heavy hand of religiosity. From what I hear of the slide of the old WCG under Jr. into slack requirements of their vague tenets, there certainly should not be much pressure on you to live up to anything but your own conscience and zest for life.

    My own brother Larry is very likely more devoted to strict Armstrongist teachings than is your brother-in-law today, but Larry and I have a calm and comfortable arm’s length relationship that doesn’t seem to threaten either of us. If he ever tried to pull me back into any tiny parcel of belief, he knows full well we would simply cease any contact. I am independent and fiercely so. I am a free-thinker who feels that my brother could be so much happier if he were to throw off the shackles, but he never hears that from me because I am pleased to still have him as a brother and we agree to disagree. Simple!

    Thanks for reading, and you are always welcome to contact me directly at or through my own blog if you prefer. It opens when clicking on my user name here on this blog.

    May all good things enrich your life, Teresa.

  21. WOW! All of these years I thought I was alone. When I was 5 my parents joined the WCG. They told me there would be no more holidays or birthdays. I was not allowed to participate in any school functions or neighborhood celebrations. I was an only child and became very isolated. When my class was having a Christmas party, my father made me write a report on why Santa was pagan and read it to the class. I was removed from school several times for not being vaccinated, my mother almost died from cancer because they refused to get medical treatment. I came home from school in the second grade and found my mom unconcious on the floor and dialed 911. She had ovarian cancer and a 10 pound tumor that was keeping her from breathing. My father never forgave me for breaking the rules and saving her life. They said it was God’s will that she lived. He lost his job with the fire department for refusing to work on the sabbath. When I was 13, I called them hypocrites and moved in with my grandparents. I have been so confused and guilt ridden my whole life from the teachings of this “church”. My friends often tell me I should write a book about the exploits of my family and the things they did in the name of the “church”.
    Thank you for this website and your stories. They are so needed to let me know I am not alone anymore.

  22. Tina,

    Assuming you still don’t affiliate with religion, I’d love for you to contribute your story to the front page! It doesn’t have to be a book. :)


  23. For some reason, I randomly googled “former members of wcg” and came upon this site. Thank you very much. I can explain my childhood to my wife or friends, but they will never truly understand. Only someone who experienced it will fully grasp what I/we went through.

    I am not agnostic and my story doesn’t seem to be as extreme as others, but there are still everlasting effects on my life. When you’re constantly brow-beaten and told what you MUST do, or what you’re NOT doing, and what will happen if you DON’T do them, it definitely lowers your self-esteem. No matter what successes I have, there is always this sense of inferiority. I resent my parents for raising me in the church, so I speak to them as little as possible. I missed out on a basketball scholarship because I couldn’t play on Friday night. Depending on the time of sunset, I couldn’t play on Saturday night either. Always missing school or leaving the room when the Christmas party started. And don’t get me started on 30% tithing!

    Anyway, my email address is If there is a book written, I would be happy to contribute. Thanks.

  24. Also, my brother committed suicide in 1999 at age 19. While not excusing his alcohol and drug use, I am convinced that it was a complete culture shock to go from our ultra-conservative cultish lifestyle into “The World”. Again, he was an adult and responsible for his actions, but no one can tell me our upbringing had zero to do with his death.

  25. Joy,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry for the difficulties you had growing up in the church but I must admit that it takes away some of my loneliness to know someone else who grew up with the same hardships I did. I, too, was raised in the worldwide church of god and was robbed of the love and support of a family because of it. I still have family members who belong to some of the splinter groups. My mother, my only sister, and my sisters’ husband finally left the philadelphia church of god about a year ago but their beliefs and actions are still the same as if they had never left. My sisters’ husband has actually started a church of his own since then and ministers to my mother and his own family and another couple over the phone and internet each week. So they have really not left at al in my own mind.
    My parents joined the wcg in about 1970 when I was six. I left the church, as I left my parents home, on my 18th birthday in 1982. I am 48 yrs old now and yet I have stiil never gotten past all the heartache, loneliness, alienation, and psychological damage I recieved from the church and my parents. Relationships with my family are so bad that words cannot even describe them. I have always wanted to write down everything to try and purge it from my mind but have never had the guts to do it yet. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago and it was about that time that whe left pcg. we still cannot have a relationship even though we both know she is dying. I have 4 neices and nephews that I have never even met because my sister told me she did not want me in their lives because I was to “worldly.” No one can know how bad it was and still is unless they have lived it.

  26. Julie,

    Hard to believe it has been perhaps 10 months since I checked back here on Joy’s comments. I used to follow this thread carefully and at least weekly. Now here is your comment and I have not had the chance to welcome you to this site and to say as I usually do, please enjoy the communing with us all and I hope your future is much, much brighter than the past had to have been.

    Since you posted here, I have been through my own bout with cancer and am now recovering well from two surgeries in June. But the cancer trouble, some of it apparently on-going, is insignificant when compared to what my brain went through for the many years of my youth and up to age 31. At nearly 69 years of age now, I am much less constricted in life than I was back then. Now I have only to deal with cancer! Light load in comparison.

    I wish you well and I hope you will allow happiness to overwhelm sorrow.

  27. Wow, thank you. I was born in the WCG in Canada and experienced so many things…Although, not to all the same extremes. People in our congregation were doctors and vaccinations weren’t a sin. We all got medical attention etc. when required. Education outside of AC was not frowned upon, and in a lot of ways I believe without some of the financial support my mother was given my life could have been worse and more difficult.

    So many bad things happened though while I was being raised, and up until I read this commentary and the many posts on this blog I didn’t associate it completely with the church. I always just blamed my idiot mother for being well…. an idiot. Maybe I should cut her a bit of slack for being brainwashed in addition to being an idiot.

    I suffered sexual abuse (not rape) but abuse by members and non members alike as did some of my sisters. If my mother said anything, the ministers just counselled her and went on their way. These men, old and young alike were never removed or charged or even given slaps on the wrist.

    You grabbed me Joy when you commented how you get anxious when you can’t read people. This is my whole life. I sit here and I feel that ever minute of every day. And you are right they make little day occurrences seem like they have catastrophic life consequences. And until you put it in your piece so eloquently I didn’t see it as a result of where I was raised. And to think, I can see myself parenting some of these paranoia’s on….YIKES…That’s changing.

    My friendships were all the in the YOU and when I left at 17 I lost all of those too. Not to say I didn’t have friends outside, but not the same level.

    This site has helped me today. So thank you.

  28. Are you still writing your book Joy ? I sure would like to read it when its done I would be happy to add my Mom and my stories to it The Both if us to this day to not feel at home in other Churches its done something to us ,

  29. Dear Joy! Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences with the Church. Until reading your post, I had no idea how it had affected me and could not pinpoint why even with therapy I was continuously feeling a certain way. Your post nailed it and now I get it :). I am now 46 years and while growing up in the Church I had my share of questions, challenges and feeling of inadequacy and undeserving to be alive as a human being. I always questioned everything and was punished for it. At times, I would seriously struggle between the indoctrinated-me and the ‘ME’ I had chosen or wanted to became as an adult. Your story has helped me put into perspective the pain and suffering that lots of us as children we silently endured as being part of WCG. For so long, I though I was the ONLY one who had gone through this and somewhat I was the ‘crazy’ for trusting my experiences and challenging the doctrines. ( I handed up leaving the church twice: first for being hurt and chastised and second from my own choice after I realized that this organized closed loop system was crazy making stuff). Not long after I left, others started to voice their opinion and the church went under serious changes. If you have finished your book, I would love to purchase to read it. Thanks again for bringing your voice so lots of us can heal and bring closure to these painful events. And most of all a deeper understanding of the root cause and nature of the abuse that I could not be pinpoint.

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