In order to begin my personal WCG story, I looked into some things others had written. I clicked on a link Robert had provided in the “Requirements for posters” paragraph of his remarkable website. That click took me to the site called Painful Truth, with which I was already familiar. However, the long list of points provided by former young attendees, the listing under “You Might Have Grown Up In The Worldwide Church of God If…” was new to me. And heart-rending.
Later, I went back and clicked on the Worldwide Church of God link, and that opened a site completely foreign to me — not only new to my eyes but new to any rumor or previous preparation. Beginning with the photo of a bearded Joe Jr. (whom I had known only slightly as an upstart while his father was a deacon), who now sports the title of “Dr.” Shocking on more than one level! I didn’t bother reading any of that site.
Very much appreciated, due to the similarity to my own philosophies, was Robert’s line I copied and pasted here: “…despite my current view of Christianity and religion in general as false, I feel I share a sense of kindred spirit with those who attended (or still attend) WCG, and especially those who grew up attending.”
With this kindred spirit in mind, I felt a need to approach my story with an out-pouring of compassion for so many who came after my time in the WCG.
You see, my time of relating to the sect began all the way back in the early 1950s and actually involved the R(radio)CG for many years. The name change came while I was a student, probably second year, at AC in Big Sandy, Texas. It seems the change happened around 1965, perhaps within months of the death of Loma Armstrong. Interesting that I had not associated these two events until this moment, and I now wonder if perhaps Loma would not allow Herbert to make that name change earlier because it may have sounded too boastful to her. She was a kindly and humble woman. At least she seemed so to me with my limited access to her.
My compassion for those who have written so many great and small memories of their time growing up in the church stems from something I sincerely felt and mentioned when I responded to some of the comments on Joy’s story here in this blog: my own inability to alter their plight.
If you have read any of my posts in the Painful Truth Blog [found under the name, Mark (Salyer) Manning], you already know that I walked away with minimal pain and virtually never looked back. From my own singular and completely self-determined perspective, begun when I resigned, the whole concept of the WCG and even of religion itself fell away into the dust of antiquity. It hurts today to come to the sudden realization that still after 1976, thousands of babies were born to church members and more thousands of children grew up within the constriction of that belief system with all its perversions, inequities and corruptions.
While writing for the Painful Truth blog, I was charged by some to apologize to everyone for my role in the corruption, etc. I found it distasteful to be even asked to do so because I had been as duped and manipulated as anyone else who blindly followed in that tortuous path. So I never overtly offered any apology there, but I feel the desire and the need to do so here. Because here, I find I am speaking to so many young people, so many innocents who without any blame or recourse, were dragged along to adulthood through the grim requirements their duped (and often over-zealous) parents placed upon them. And perhaps the most personally sobering for me is the realization that I was for some of you, that long-winded preacher up there grinding away on the “thou shalt not” bullshit you were forced to hear from your blanket on the floor, or later from your demanded erect and attentive position in the seat next to your misguided parent(s). No, I was never guilty of the Waterhouse-type marathon sermons, but any sermon from those days was interminable to some of you, and I was definitely guilty of following the orders from headquarters to make the service come out to two hours duration. In my defense, I doubt that any service where I was in charge ever went even ten minutes long and I remember surprising the congregation more than once by dismissing fifteen minutes or more before expected. Hopefully I was being slightly compassionate even then, taking pity on your bottom and/or your attention span.
You, all of you, who came along and suffered the throes of the WCG from about 1968 until — well, whenever you managed to escape — deserve my apology and I ask that you accept it. Especially do I ask the forgiveness of those who actually were children attending any of the meetings at feasts or in my own pastorates where I was the offending Lord of the Day, pounding the bible and my words into your brains. You did not deserve that. Nobody did.
Now that I’ve said all that, I will try to briefly summarize my own RCG/WCG life story and shut up.
Sometime in 1953, my older sister (already married – I was ninth of ten children in a northern Indiana farm family), told our mother about a radio broadcast called The World Tomorrow. Mom began to listen devoutly and within about four years or so, she and the sister began making their way on rare occasion to Chicago to visit a service conducted by Dean Blackwell. I believe it was about 1958 when they were both baptized, either by Dean or with the help of a traveling evangelist from Pasadena who came through on one of the baptism tours that were common back then.
In 1961 when I was a new (and always ready) driver at sixteen and in early third year of high school (and even though I had managed to avoid much direct involvement in the church because the all-important father of the family was not converted), the FoT came into play. I was asked if I wanted to help drive my mom, sister and a new sister-in-law, along with four younger kids who were being forced to go, and head for Texas. This meant being excused from classes for more than a week and it meant the chance to drive long distances. Sold!
That Feast turned out to be a mild introduction to Big Sandy, the beautiful countryside of east Texas, the whole concept of camping out and of attending huge services in a huge building. However, I managed to rebel a bit, often dropping off the family at the auditorium door before “parking” the station wagon, then sneaking on out of the lot and into Gladewater for a hamburger or whatever interesting thing I could check out.
Two years later, following high school graduation and looking into the abyss of job searches, career questions, whether to join the military, etc., I accepted again the chance to drive to a new destination — Jekyll Island, Georgia. This time I was to chauffeur two widow ladies in the new Chevy owned by one of them. I was to be the only driver and that suited me perfectly! And the vacation spot on the Atlantic coast was delightful. But by this time, I was not so shy around girls and I managed to get into trouble with one who was also not too shy. To compensate for my infraction of the rules (I believe we had kissed!), I attended a service under the big top where Rod Meredith was expounding (and pounding), and I somehow saw the light. From then on, I was a devoted church goer.
AC, Big Sandy from 1964 to 1968 set me up to be a mouthpiece for the church.
Until July 4, 1976. That day, I gave my last sermon and resigned from the ministry. No one had a clue on that day that I was also determined to never participate again in any kind of religion. The light I had seen under the big top was a blinding light that prevented my having any view of the real world; that new view began slowly to come into focus in the summer of 1975 while my family and I were being tossed about by the sheer (ugly) politics of the WCG. By early ’76, I was ready to admit I hated what my life had become and I knew I needed to change it for myself. No one else could do it.
My story is much different from the many I have read on this site, chiefly because my association with the Radio Church of God and its later evolution was not as forced as were most of yours. My dad never did become a member and that always allowed me to play both sides during my formative years. I still missed out on many extracurricular activities and sports because even though my dad was not with mom in the church attendance business, he was no ally to my rebellion. I also missed out on the Christmas crap (thinking then that I was missing something good but today, see as crap), and was something of an outcast among my youthful peers; but I was not forced to attend many long, boring sermons and never was trapped in the insufferable condition so many of you describe. It is still shocking to me to hear of the horrible misadventures and virtual religious persecution suffered by so many of you who came into this world even after I had stepped away from that world of religion and let it slide from my awareness. The totalitarian regime of HWA was a thing of misery and hateful experience, but in those earlest years it lacked the political upheavals, the struggling for meaning and the divisiveness that apparently raged in the 80s and 90s. Today it’s all quite a mystery to me. If you’re reading this, you must have gotten out. I’m glad.
Thanks for hearing my story, and again, my sympathies to all who suffered.
Mark’s blog is Manning the Neutral Zone.