A reader from Arkansas writes:
Hello, Mr. McNally. I saw your web site where you listed yourself as a former World Wide Church member. I am a former United Church of God member who is reviewing Karen Armstrong’s book, The history of God. It’s very informative to say the least.
How did you get over your fear not keeping the Sabbath? I’m really wrestling with that commandment. I still feel that eternal damnation is at my heels.
I’d really appreciate your input.
As long as you still think of yourself as a believer, then you’ll be wrestling with various “commandments,” because you’re trying to figure out what God wants you to do, and you ascribe special significance to things like the Ten Commandments. Eventually, I came to the place where I saw the Commandments as I see the rest of the Bible: not divinely inspired, but rather a work of folk literature created by humans. In this light, the Commandments are really just “suggestions” from a time and culture that no longer exists. And while some of them may still carry ethical validity depending on how they are interpreted, that in no way vindicates them all.
If you think you would enjoy reading an irreverent parable that discusses this concept in a humorous way, I recommend Kissing Hank’s Ass.
A young person recently wrote to me with a seemly simple question: “Is the Worldwide Church of God a cult?” I’ve decided to repost my response here.
I wish I could give you a simple “yes” or “no,” but the question is a bit more complex than that.
I don’t object when contributors to the blog call the WCG a cult— I understand the hurt and anger so many feel, and the term is definitely useful as a “snarl word” used to express that pain. But the word “cult” is one I personally try to avoid because it has no single clear meaning. Some people who study “high demand religions” prefer that term instead of “cult,” because it better describes what members go through. I have seen “cult” defined by one “anti-cult group” as, “A closed system whose followers have been unethically and deceptively recruited through the use of manipulative techniques of thought reform or mind control.” But in my opinion, this definition could also be applied to most “mainstream” religions as well. A better definition I’ve seen is simply, “Cults are religions that espouse an alien belief system that deviates strongly from the traditional faiths with which most people have grown up.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that the WCG lay on a spectrum of demand, between extremely low-demand religions and extremely high-demand religions. In my experience, the WCG as it was when I grew up in it was in the moderately high-demand range, but there have certainly been other organizations that were much more demanding, and destructive. Organizations can also change their demand level over time, on one end becoming “death cults” that demand the sacrifice of its members and/or the death of its enemies, and at the other end becoming moderate religions that tolerate open society and that are tolerated in turn. Fortunately, this latter direction is the one in which the WCG (now GCI) has moved.
A final thing to consider is that different people have had very different experiences within the WCG over the years. The organization’s doctrines and practices established a certain level of demand, but some individuals had it far worse at the hands of elders, ministers, and congregational cultures that were far more oppressive or abusive in some times and places than others. Again, I think this is nothing unique to the WCG— many religions contain abusive elements that are not readily apparent and that do not affect all members equally.
I hope this discussion helps. You can find more information on the benefits and problems of the Anti-Cult Movement (ACM) on the web site of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
I’d like to ask for a little advice. I was born and raised in the WCG. Inevitable result: I am completely unable to understand why anyone, ever, would choose to be part of any church.
This causes problems.
Baffled and mildly disgusted at any mention of faith, I “shut down” when the subject is even hinted at in passing, and lose some respect for the speaker. I just can’t get past my knee-jerk dismissal long enough to learn about their beliefs and accept them.
So now for the question: How can I learn to appreciate the value of other peoples’ religions? It upsets me that I can’t have a conversation with friends without sneering whenever they say “pray”.
Clearly plenty of people here have gone from loyalty to WCG, to disdain for all religion, to acceptance. Any hints and resources on how to fast-forward to acceptance?
Thanks for reading.