Angela

It’s Christmas morning here in Australia. :-) Anyway I first posted here on Friday, July 24th, 2009 and I just wanted to submit an update. So here follows another moment purging of my pent up angst, in this wonderful sharing environment where I know people will “get” where I’m coming from.

I’m sitting here with the eldest of my three sons – Tom, 12. Tom suggested I write my feelings down again, in this
“safe place” after I had a bit of an emmotional meltdown. I got quite worked up last night (Christmas Eve here in Australia) about my parents and the WCG “no Christmas experience.” My feelings were churned up this Christmas Eve more so than ever, as I was having flashbacks to how I felt at Christmas when I was Tom’s age.

When I was Tom’s age my parents had just left WCG, and consequently my childhood family was celebrating our first Christmas. It’s amazing how when your children are going through the age that something sigificant happened to you… that it brings back the memory that you had of your own experience at that age.

Anyway I was getting more and more stressy last night as my parents were coming over to celebrate Christmas with my children and I — and I really didn’t want them at my place. They are in consistent denial about how the WCG impacted on me and themselves, and I detest “putting on appearances.” I am upset and I couldn’t express it to my parents… the people who I REALLY need to hear my grievances.

But I long ago came to the conclusion that they will not listen, they do not want to know me and they’ll project their own conclusions about my life as they like. Well, I rebel against the misrepresentation of life as they do it. I rebel against the bullshit way they live a lie. I am blatantly honest about everything. My parents were walking through my front door and I had to put on a front to create a pleasant Christmas celebration for my children and husband. All I really wanted to do was bail them up and give them an idea of how much pain they caused me then and now.

My darling husband and Tom came to my aid… and helped me through the night. They hugged me and loved me and let me sook and let me vent, and gave my soul some comfort. ‘Cos thats what hurts… my soul was bruised by my parents’ WCG choices. Anyway I’m honest about the pain and angst it gives me, and that honesty helps me heal. Thirty years after my parents left the WCG I still struggle with the repercussions of my childhood WCG existence.

Lesa

When I went to visit my perfect grandfather— the most beautiful human that walked the earth on his death bed— I sat next to him and held his hand and we talked. He still had a month or so to live. He started to cry… it was only the second time in my life I heard or saw him cry. He told me he was confused about what was going on in “the church” and I asked him what he meant. He had been back and forth from the nursing home to the hospital for a while. He said, “People keep coming to me telling me different things. Some say we can work on the Sabbath and some say we can’t, and it is scaring and confusing me; I do not know what to think about it.” Here was an 80 year-old man dying of cancer, who would never work again any-damn-way! He was the most perfect human I will ever know, who did not know how to read and write, and had to rely on others any way for what the bible says, and these a-holes from both sides were at his death bed fighting for him as a member of their church. It made my blood boil!!

I hugged him and told him of his life, and pointed out what kind of person he was. There was never a person I met who had a bad word about my grandfather— every one loved him: the most gentle honest beautiful soul in my lifetime. I told him of what a wonderful father, grandfather, great grandfather, husband he was. I told him he WAS the reason I knew there was love in the world. I told him if there is a God in heaven, he would know my grandfather and of his great ways. Don’t worry pop pop, what ever the truth is, you are in it, you are it, you are love. I held him and I told him this and it was the last talk I ever had with him. The next time I saw him was at his funeral, and my dad and my cousin gave a wonderful eulogy, and many many people came to see him off. But one person there, a minister (I don’t remember his name) talked of how no matter what was happening in the church my grandfather stayed true to the church until the end, even though others tried to tempt him. I could have gotten up and beat the crap out of that man for turning my grandfather’s funeral into a recruiting tool!! That was the beginning of the end for me. I didn’t know it then— I have so many more things I could say… later maybe. But when I watched that young lady talk on YouTube about her grandfather’s funeral it brought back all those old feelings.

It’s a good thing to share what we walked through in this life with others. It’s good to know others know what we and out loved ones went through.

Christine

Hi Mr. McNally,

Your name seems very familiar to me. I think I might know you and that we went to the same church once or twice. Anyway, I wanted to tell my story. I know that many people have all kinds of stories about growing up in the church. I can relate to almost all of it. Mine is a story of abuse and eventual dis-fellowship by the church. Not only were the hearts and minds of people distorted in a way that harmed them, but some of us were seriously harmed in less subtle ways. The amazing thing to me is that it took me over a decade to realize that I wasn’t the one who was wrong, but what was done to me by the church leadership was wrong. I was so indoctrinated and afraid that I kept thinking that they were right and I was wrong. Obedience and submissiveness was so highly valued by the female members that I struggle with this in my life to this day, even though I “left” in 1992 at the age of 14.

What happened to me was atrocious. During the time that I was in the church, I suffered several years of abuse that was known to several people in the church and was covered up until I pulled the plug by telling a school counselor. The people that covered up my abuse got in trouble with the law, but not the church. One minister can’t live in the state of California because of the incidents that happened so the church just moved him out of state. The church actually sanctioned keeping me in a situation where my abuser still had access to me because the alternative probably would result in me losing contact with the church. I went along with it like a good WCG girl. I was only 12 years old. I trusted those people to take care of me. However, I was further humiliated by having to tell the details of my abuse to another person in the church who was grooming me for further abuse. I didn’t realize this until years later after “detoxing” from church doctrine and learning that this adult male who was developing a relationship with me was also acting inappropriately with friends of mine.

There was more to it. Even through all of that, I still wanted to be in the church. I wanted to be saved. About 2 months after being placed in a children’s shelter as a result of what I told my school counselor, when I needed friends most, I was disfellowshipped from the church. I was told that I was a “bad apple” by an elder because I was hanging out with a boy from my high school outside the church. On top of that, my mom wanted me to have sex education that was not sanctioned the church. In his opinion, I should be ashamed of myself for these things and needed to be punished by the church. He came into my home and made me feel ashamed of what I was doing to my friends by doing these things. I carried the guilt of hurting my friends by what felt like choosing certain behaviors over them for years, even though that wasn’t the case at all. I loved them very much and still do.

It hurt a lot to have them allow the people who abused me to continue to attend church and cover up what they did while I wasn’t allowed to attend services or go to any YOU (youth group) events. For years people thought I made a choice to leave because everyone was told lies about me. They heard that I left because I wanted to date outside of the church. This wasn’t at all the reason I was no longer there.

When I left the church, I had yet to realize all the damage that was done to me. Not until a few years ago did I understand the impact of the spiritual abuse that I underwent. I was abused for years under the guise that this is what God wanted for me and that I was bad & wrong for not immediately forgiving what was done to me. There was a minister who counseled me and kept me in what he knew to be an abusive situation for 2 years. He counseled my abuser too all the while telling me that they were working on making it better. Yet I was still being abused and told that I should pray for my abuser and learn forgiveness because that is what God would want from me. Needless to say, I lost all faith in God back then. Fortunately, I have been able to sort all of it out for myself.

No one has all the answers. We are all on a journey to find answers and I have no right to point fingers at anyone’s journey. I do have the right to point fingers at those that caused me harm to protect and heal myself, not to prove myself right. One thing that the church teaches us is that only perfection will be rewarded. I have learned that people make mistakes. Those people made huge mistakes and harmed me greatly. I have no ill will towards anyone anymore. I guess I learned how to really forgive (not the BS forgiveness that was fed to me by that minister) and that has set me free. Thank you for giving a voice to those who are trying to sort this whole mess out.

Thanks!

Josh B

I’m a 30 year-old agnostic/atheist and stopped attending the WCG around age 16. I haven’t given the church much thought over the past 10 or so years but after stumbling onto this blog and reading all the posts, so many memories of that stupid church have flooded my mind and I feel compelled to tell my story as well. It might be somewhat therapeutic for me because I’ve always held a grudge with the church, but had no real audience that would understand… until now.

I grew up in the church with both my parents. My mother was born into the church as well, and my father was baptized into the church before they were married. Most of my Mom’s family was also in the church at the same location so to me, it seemed normal… until I started school. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t go to other kids birthday parties, couldn’t participate in any extracurricular activities because of the risk of violating the precious sabbath. I couldn’t even do class activities for all the “pagan” holidays. There always seemed to be a Jehovah’s Witness kid that would color some bullshit picture with me while the rest of the class colored pumpkins, or christmas trees. And then the Feast— how do you explain that to your friends and teachers? I remember doing hours and hours of homework in the car ride and hotel, going to church every day, what kind of vacation is that? Everything about the church was abnormal but I didn’t know any better. Two-hour services, taking notes on the sermons as a child— WTF? Complete fire and brimstone preaching with zero tolerance, lake of fire bullshit, fucking “place of safety”, are you kidding me? The church made up about less than 1% of the Earth’s population and we were the ones that knew better! We were the ones that would be saved from Armageddon? That last one never made sense to me even as a kid. When I brought it up, I was shot down and told to have faith, faith, faith. How the fuck could a grown adult ever be so naive? I’m not really mad at my parents because obviously they weren’t the only ones being swindled; we actually have a good relationship now and they are terrific grandparents… but back to venting.

My early life was greatly affected by the WCG. I am a shy person by nature and being in the church just made it near impossible to have good friends and relationships at school. The WCG separated itself from the world and me along with it. The rules were intolerable, no holding hands, no kissing, no sex before marriage, no activities of any sort on Friday night (Really? the best night of the week to go out and I’m stuck at home and can’t even turn on the TV.) No Saturday college football, no pork, and then there was the tithing. I had to tithe my fucking allowance growing up, for what? So some crook in Pasadena could get rich off us, that’s why. I didn’t have my first girl friend until almost the end of my Junior year of high school. The biggest concept that comes to my mind whenever I think about the church is that I was cheated out of a normal childhood. Luckily I had just enough time left in High School when I left the church to start making friends. Life got better instantly, and it didn’t take long before I made some really good friends that I still hang out with 13 years later.

I will say that there were some good people that attended my location, and I did enjoy the YES and YOU sports. The dances and activities were always train wrecks though. I’m so happy that my children will not be exposed to such a separatist, fanatical organization. I’ve learned that you don’t need spirituality of any kind to be a kind, contributing member of society. I’m a very brief and concise man and this is where I’ll stop for now, but I could have gone on for just about forever. Thank you for reading this.

Josh B
Ohio

John Craig

I grew up in the WCG from the time I was 3 until the time I left when I was 13. I am a Satanist/Atheist and in my free time I volunteer my time with a team of individuals who deconstruct the notion that religion is above criticism on Facebook by speaking our minds out against religion in groups that we have created dubbed the Fuck X series (Fuck >insert religious belief here<).

How I came across your site was in a discussion topic I had created The Worldwide Church of God; a cult that I grew up apart of, in response to a link “Jesus Camp” where someone had informed me of your site.

Even though I left the church behind when I was 13 (more or less) a lot of the things which I am sure everyone can relate to (if they were a part of it) still stuck with me: the fear of eating pig products, seafood, the fear of what would happen to me seeing everyone else would be taken to a place of safety in an apocalypse. But the older I got, the more research I did, the more I came to the realization that there was no such thing as many of the events that took place in the Bible. I later realized there are no gods or anything supernatural, and I began to look towards a scientific truth, and live life how I chose or saw fit in this world while I am alive, as opposed to denying whatever the Church had placed its members through for the so called glories of an afterlife.

The aftermath of that cult left left me with a father I have not spoken to since I was 23 (I am a couple of months shy of being 32 now,) a mother that I somewhat reconciled differences with a year previous to her death, seeing I was thrown out of home because I turned on the church when I was 13. I did turn to crime initially to feed and clothe myself, but that later led to being more involved with crime. It took me years to reach the point that I am at now: I have a pardon, I am an author of a science fiction series (in the midst of looking for a better publisher) I am a single father who raises my child to whom I have full parental rights. Even though things are looking up for me, I say that cult has robbed a lot of people of not just 30%+ of their annual income, but their individuality, tore apart families, and gave the ultimatum to only fellowship with people in the church as opposed to people in the outside world or risk being blacklisted from the church or being made a public spectacle from within the cult.

With that said, it is an adult’s choice first and foremost to join such a place as it is made on their conscious decision; but to involve children in such a place and thus deprive them of a better education in preparation for “Jesus'” return, etc. and focus more on YES, YOU and AC studies— it is not healthy for them. It is too bad that there was not much exposure of the church back then from people that had left, but even saying that I can see why people that had left were not so vocal as they were probably more than likely drained and feeling alone, isolated and made to feel that they had done something wrong by leaving or being kicked out. I felt that way as a kid, and I can imagine how adults must have felt as they were paying into the church back then.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and feel free to contact me anytime you wish. Also feel free to become a part of our series as we encourage more people to speak out against religion imposing its way on people: stripping people of their rights, forcing ID theories or creationism to be taught in classrooms alongside science as a means of “truth,” etc. You can find Religion is NOT above criticism.

John Craig
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(Toronto West congregation 81-91)

Evan R

The Worldwide Church of God forever changed my life…and not in a good way.

I can only imagine what my life would look like now if my mother hadn’t chosen to join the church in 1975. I was seven years old and had a brother who was a teenager and another three years older than me. Everything about the church makes me cringe when I think about it now.

My mother lost her father when she was nine, and her family of 14 kids was broken up … the youngest ones were sent to live with the older ones who were already living alone or married. I’m not a developmental psychologist, but I think she needed to control her life (or have it controlled) to ensure that she never, ever had to face an unknown element in her life again. Imagine feeling lost without a father figure your whole life until you meet an elderly man who has every answer for everything that has ever existed. He’s the father you’d dreamed of your whole life, but never had…AND he has the secret answer to what you’ve been searching for…

Lucky us.

When a parent tells you something, I suppose you have a choice as to whether or not to believe them. My older brother questioned a lot of things and tried valiantly to distance himself from the radical life changes that the church demanded. I somehow just went along with everything. I guess back then I thought anything was possible.

When I think about the effort it took to live a life that no one else I knew had to live…to be the only one of my friends, relatives, and 99% of anyone else I would meet, who had to live by special rules that had such convoluted reasons for existing..it was exhausting…not to mention stressful.

I decided my life would be a secret from all but a very select few. It was far easier than explaining things over and over to everyone who asked why can’t you have a hot dog?…school just started, why are you taking a week off?…what did you get for Christmas?…why do you go to church on Saturdays?….why is your church in a school?…how come you don’t have to practice for the Christmas concert?…and on…and on…and on…

The irony was lost on me. I listened to purportedly holy, righteous people as they ridiculed, sneered, condemned, denigrated, and otherwise slandered anyone who had a religious belief that wasn’t the same as ours. THEY were evil. THEY were blind. THEY were being fooled by Satan. THEY were wrong. THEY pretended to be religious but lived for sin. THEY stole money from their congregations. THEY had mistresses. THEY lied. THEY were in love with power. THEY thought they knew everything. THEY were wrong. THEY were false prophets.

But WE were blessed. WE were special. WE knew the truth. WE were chosen. WE were hand-picked by God HIMSELF!!

Painful, beautiful irony. It’s life’s most poignant lesson.

When I was 19, the concepts and laws of the church so scared my girlfriend’s parents that I was ordered to stop seeing her and never come back. We snuck around and tried to continue our relationship. Her father stalked me… constantly warning me that if I didn’t stay away from his daughter, I would be very sorry. I shook my head and rolled my eyes. “That poor man. He thinks I’m a bad influence when really I’m part of god’s Chosen People. He’s obviously deranged…and stupid…and evil. God will protect me, and teach him a lesson.” Meanwhile, he was just a regular father trying to protect his daughter from a cult member who was slowly influencing her away from her family. “But Jesus said, ‘I’ve come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…blah, blah, blah… Your father is just blind to the truth.” If I were the father, I would’ve broken some knees first and asked questions later.

To this day I am disgusted that I had anything to do with that cult. Even at an early age I was creeped out by most of the other people at church…a combination of submissive nerds, arrogant elitists, liars, secret addicts, the lost, the mentally ill, the gullible. I didn’t know why I was turned off, but looking back now I think it was because the whole thing reeked of a secret society with ridiculous rituals, constant threats of holocaust and the ever-present promise of eternal death as punishment for imperfections.

My father had to save every penny he ever made so that we could take expensive trips-for-five every year to some of the lamest places I’ve ever been. It may have seemed fun at the time…but looking back it was barely tolerable. I’m sure that many, many people have had positive experiences during the fake holy days, but it never seemed like a vacation to me, with every aspect of it controlled by the church’s requirements: where to eat, where to stay, when to attend services, how much to give, who to fellowship with…like I said, exhausting. But then again…nothing’s too exhausting when you’re punching the clock for god and the afterlife!! Ooooh, you’ll be rewarded alright. With riches and happiness and god status…heck, you’ll probably be requested personally…by Jesus…to teach the billions of plebes who weren’t chosen the first time around. And you can take your pet lion (with a lamb riding on his back) with you to your special Jesus-awarded teaching position..probably on another planet…after all, what did you think all those planets and stars were created for?

I can’t tell anymore…were the Islam-like paradise stories AND the LDS planet-ruling stories intentionally imported, or were they a coincidence?

I begged god to choose a girl for me and lead me to her at the feast…any feast…any year…just one…so I wouldn’t have to be alone and I wouldn’t have to face the scorn of those who tsk, tsked me when I dated outside of the church. I think I met one girl in Wisconsin Dells (ugh) who didn’t appear to be a reject from an Amish colony. She had a boyfriend already, so I guessed god picked him for her. I wasn’t about to interfere with the obvious work of god that was going on right in front of me.

When HWA, or “The Most Narcissistic Man Who Ever Lived” died, I was completely confused. Since god had chosen him from the billions of people on the planet, and was obviously keeping him alive into his nineties to lead the chosen people to whatever tent we were all suppose to meet under when the stuff hit the fan…why would he allow him to die? Well, surprise, surprise…a perfectly obvious explanation existed for that too.

When the church changed (almost) completely, it was perfectly obvious that we were STILL so incredibly special that we were chosen to be a part of the most complete, god-influenced theological transition that had ever happened (sooo special, we are). Sure, we were wrong.. completely wrong…so embarrassingly, shamefully, ironically, totally, obviously, why-didn’t-anyone-see-it-earlier wrong…but NOW we were being led out of blindness because of how committed to being wrong we were! So crazily committed to being wrong that god saw how hard we had worked, and how persecuted we’d been, and – even though works were now said to be pointless and futile – how we had more sticktoitiveness than any other religious group…that he was now hand-picking us to be saved!! YYYYYESS!!!

At least that’s how it was explained to us by our chosen-all-over-again pastors.

That was the last straw for me. I couldn’t have been more relieved. Twenty of the most influential years of my life spent standing on my head, jumping through hoops, chasing my tail, and piling up enough guilt to last 100 lifetimes. All…for…NOTHING. I was suddenly farther behind in life than I would’ve been if you would’ve locked me in a box at seven years old for the same amount of time. But I was happy. I don’t know how you can be happy when the floor is pulled out from under you when you’re already halfway to heaven…but I was.

I’m now 41 years old. Single. Never been married. Never had children. It took me almost another 10 years to learn how not to be so secretive. Keeping secrets and other bad habits I picked up along the way…like thinking that anything that didn’t go my way was a direct result of something I did to deserve it…were interfering with most aspects of my life. I was convinced that any woman who was interested in being with me would find something out about me in time that would make her think I was strange and impossible to be with. This of course was (and is) untrue. I suppose a mind-controlling cult can leave some holes in our ability to think logically.

Anyway…I’m happier now than I’ve been since childhood. I really feel like I missed out on a more normal life, but I know there’s nothing I can do about it, and I’m OK with that. I don’t blame anyone for making the same decisions, errors in judgement, and leaps of logic that I did. Even though I was behind the eight-ball, being a child and all, when this garbage was thrown at me. I don’t hate my mother for what she did, or my father for avoiding the whole thing and just going along with it for my mother’s sake.

I do however, despise the Armstrongs for their deceit, their lies, their arrogance, their deception, their criminal activities, their narcissism, their selfishness, their haughtiness, and their all-around manipulativeness that bled into millions of peoples lives over the decades. I pity them, and anyone else who still pointlessly clings to Armstrongism out of fear, arrogance, or sheer stupidity.

I’d pray for them if I thought it would make a spit of difference.

Evan R
Canada

Ann deBlecourt Waker

I was so happy to stumble across this website. I am an agnostic that grew up in the WCG, and I was happily surprised to find so many others had come to the same conclusions about religion that I have.

I was saddened to read stories of the horrible abuse that happened to many children in the WCG. I knew of some of those abuses, but my story is benign by comparison. I was about five years old when my mother joined the church in 1974. My father is an immigrant from the Netherlands, and he never joined the church, but he always attended all the services and festivals with my mom, and older brother and sister and myself. I asked him once when I was a teenager why he never joined, and he told me “Religion isn’t important to me, but it’s important to your mom…and your mom is important to me.” Thus you can see that I didn’t have a dictatorial father, but rather a kind and loving one, and that spared me from much of the heartache so many have written about.

But that being said, there are still ramifications from the church that echo down to me even today. I was a “good girl”, and believed everything I was told — though I did question things at times. My mother’s greatest wish was that I would attend AC, so applied and was accepted there in 1987. I had good grades, and could have gone to other schools (and in my heart I wanted to), but my mom was overjoyed that I was accepted at AC. I wasn’t prepared with how different AC would be from the local church area I had grown up going to. In general, the people in the local area (with some exceptions) were kind and well meaning. At headquarters I was exposed for the first time to a lot of the hypocrisy and some of the corruption inherent in the church, and I found it a rude awakening. I was fortunate to make some good friends, though, and that saved much of the experience for me.

The biggest turning point in my life came when I was at college and accepted to go on an Ambassador Foundation foreign project to Sri Lanka. While teaching English there I became friends with students of the Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic faiths, and I was exposed to a whole new world of ideas. Ambassador foundation was, by necessity, a secular wing of the church (because you couldn’t go into the countries we served in if you were part of a religious organization), so I couldn’t discuss church beliefs at any time with my students. I was, however, not prohibited from asking them about their beliefs, and I did it often.

I came back from that experience questioning everything I had ever been taught. I returned to a church in turmoil, with Mr. Tkach making changes left and right, and after a period of a year of two of slowly going less and less often to church I finally broke it to my much loved mother that I was leaving. She had a breakdown. Literally. It was an awful time. She blamed herself for teaching me “lies” (because she came to see how wrong the church teachings were), and regretted so much. A few years later she became ill, and in the early hours of the morning, almost 10 years ago now, I held her in my arms and she passed away. We had totally reconciled at that point, and the last words I think she heard of this earth was me telling her that I loved her.

Once I left the church, I felt so confused and alone. I searched out other religions to see if any made sense. I attended churches, temples and mosques, but in the end I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter to me. I had no need any more to believe anything. I wasn’t bitter — just happy to be free of religion. For the first time in my life I finally felt free. It was like breathing for the first time. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what happened to me when I died, that I don’t have the answers, and I don’t care.

I met my husband shortly after that time, and we have been happily married for almost eleven years and have a daughter and a son. My husband is not a religious man, and when I told him of my experiences with the church it made him more that way. I have encountered some difficulties trying to explain my lack of belief to my five and seven year-olds. I have talked to them about other religions and given them some basic understanding of what religion is, and then explained that I don’t believe these things, but they are free to do so when they are older.

The biggest long term ramification for me of the church was that it lowered my expectations of myself. I was a bright student and had dreams of pursuing a career in archeology, history, science — anything! I was so excited about learning, but that was repeatedly, verbally beat out of me with the constant talk that “women are meant to be wives and mothers”, and that’s it. I truly believed that I couldn’t have a job that would require me to work on Saturdays (and we all know how limiting that can be to career choices.) Because of those faulty beliefs I made some poor choices about my education, and as time has gone on I’ve been more limited than I wish I was. I’m only 41, so it’s not like I couldn’t go back to school, but I feel like the ship has passed me by. I have two young kids, and lots of obligations on my time and our money. I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world, but I wish I hadn’t believed all the garbage I was told and I could have made better decisions and pursued things I was passionate about when I was younger. I also spent a lot of my time regretting being female — thinking I was simply less of a human being because of it. That really warps your thinking after a while, and works a number on your self esteem.

But I am among the fortunate ones. I was not abused or tormented — just misled. And I have seen the light now, and have my freedom and the love of my family. So in my book, things have turned out well.

To all those who still suffer, my heart is with you. And to all the atheists and agnostics out there — it’s nice to know I’m not alone!

Ann deBlecourt Waker

Ruth

Dear Robert,

I recently came across your website when searching for an old friend, and just thought I would like to send a note to you for use on your very important site if you think it would be helpful.

Thank you so much for going to the trouble to put together a site like this. I think it is a tribute to the journeys which so many of us began feeling very isolated and nervous of sharing our thoughts. Perhaps now we realise we were in fact going through the same process as others, and there is a kind of comfort that can come from that. I would like to think that in some ways what the people who have written for your site have in common – along with so many others who haven’t but I know from honest conversations would completely recognise the feelings and the process – is that we share a lot more than a childhood and background steeped in a belief system we now very much reject. We have all had to struggle for honesty, thinking for ourselves and all that in the face of questioning extremely powerful authorities in our lives. We have sometimes paid heavily for that process, but I think we all really value the ability to be ourselves and to think freely and to treasure that with our children.

It feels to me like a journey into the sunshine and open space – not with so many answers and certainties, and still with loss and sadness of course. There are also still aches and lingering consequences, but we are now writing our own stories. And there is a kind of personal achievement in that which I feel should be honoured, and perhaps most of all by us who understand it.

So that’s why I’d like to write my story in case it helps anyone else.

I’m now 44 and was born into the WCG in the UK, the eldest daughter of a local deacon who in time became a local elder. For me of course, all seemed ‘normal’ because a child assumes what they experience is life as it is. I had a loving family and just felt sorry for the rest of the world who didn’t have our priveledged knowledge. I was not as aware then of the costs being paid around me when life conflicted with belief or teaching.

As the years went on though I did touch on some things which jarred briefly. I remember a minister crying when he read out the corrected teaching on divorce and remarriage, presumably guilty at what his own teachings may have led to in people’s real lives. I saw a young man be forced to choose between his family/church when he fell in love with a young woman of another race. I got to know friends at school who were coming out as gay and sensed a gulf between real people and dogma which I did not understand how it could be bridged.

As a bright schoolgirl, I was offered a scholarship at an outstanding school. It was not pursued, in part I think because of our perspective on education and women and what the future held. I was particularly good at literature and drawn to novels, but bothered by an AC student who told me at SEP that theatre was not allowed in the auditorium because it would involve thinking like a sinful person! I knew that all novels and plays involved empathising and crossing into other lives and thoughts. I felt divided, as reading had been for so long my exit into other worlds and ideas. Instead I felt I had to face up to my natural tendency to fully join in with life and have boyfriends, etc, and so at 18 got baptised and went to AC. My local church and family were proud to see me embark on this adventure.

I arrived in a new country and new culture, desperate to do things right and to soak up teaching. But what I found was far from what was expected. In front of me was an ideal of how to be a success as a woman and as a believer based on some kind of 50’s American fundamentalism which was absolutely anathema to me personally. I tried and failed to suppress my own personality and my curiosity. In the end I came to the conclusion that any god who had created me was not in the business of destroying me, and so something must be wrong. I re-found books and took never-before read novels and poetry out of the library annexe and choked my rage at women’s clubs and lectures by middle aged American men on true femininity. The absurdity of it now makes me laugh in disbelief, at the outrageous foolishness and cultural bizarreness of it all.

As time passed though, I found more and more cracks I could not fill. I came across dear friends who I realised were gay and trying to hide it, at all costs, or fruitlessly to overcome it. I realised that sexual ‘frailty’ was prevalent at every level from the faculty to the students, and the impossible aims were oppressive to them as much as me. Because of my job and friends, I gained unusual insights into the lives of ‘evangelists’ and even the church’s leaders – the Armstrongs and Tkach’s senior and junior (Mr Armstrong died while I was a student and a poem I wrote about his death was published in the student newspaper – based on what I later learned was the myth of the end of his life rather than its truer, more moving story.) So I learned from those who lived and worked with our leadership at the very closest and most personal quarters of frustrated and repressed homosexuality, affairs, illegitimate children, abuse ignored by ministers, mental illness denied – even in the partners of church leaders, pornography hidden, and on and on. I began to see them as people, perhaps as much or even more victims in hindsight than we were, wrapped up in a mythology which was addictive and almost impossible to live healthily within.

Still I held on though to the innocence and integrity of my parents idealism, and the loyal faith of the people in my local church area. I hid from them what I’d seen, and tried to bridge this frail humanity with my own efforts.

I came back to the UK at the end of four years and, not at all by design, ended up working in the church offices. As a woman I regularly wrote letters and sermons for senior ministers and also articles, allowing this to be done by them or with a male name as clearly it could not be done by me. I also saw utter tragedies amongst those we knew – including the accidental death of the children of a dear friend – which made it less and less credible for me to hold onto the view of an intervening, healing god I’d been taught so idealistically as a child. The gap was harder and harder to ignore. I strained at the effort.

As the church began to assess itself, and split into ‘new’ and ‘old’ thinking, I had a new life. My lovely friend and husband was already ill at ease with the church and its certainties. And I was restudying literature at university and questioning how we know what we know and the stories we tell. At last in a simple act of letting go, I realised I no longer accepted the first principles I had been taught. I was not sure god existed. I did not accept the Bible as a ‘manual’ for life to be read simply and applied directly. And I did not see ‘the church’ as the sole guardian of revealed knowledge. In one week, I knew I had to resign my job and walk away. With as little fuss as possible, I did.

Of course, it is not as easy as that. Our families retained allegiance to one or other version of the church as ministers and defenders of those faiths, and found it hard to see us make our own way. Such different perspectives would make connections almost impossible, without the love which also allows us to understand and forgive to an extent. I do not look at them or my past as all wrong. I see it as misled, and a warning at how far ideals and a lack of ability to appeal against power can make vulnerable even the very best of people. I buried my beloved father with this thought still in my mind.

Since then, I have given birth to two wonderful sons. My gift to them is their freedom and my openness to who they are. They are treasured without any certainty of their future or requirement on them to be anything other than who they are. This is also love.

To all who are still angry, I think that is because you care about justice and you are right. Any of the churches which followed, including the reformed WCG, still seem to me in denial about the real issues but then I care less and less what they think other than the harm they may still do. I would hope that in time you can let go of some of the pain as you rewrite your own story. But then I know that I have suffered less than many.

I hope this story helps, and maybe it is time that it is ‘out there’ and on the record. We who have written on this site are not a ‘family’ any more. We are not special. But maybe we have learned something special, and it is up to us to treasure that freedom and to share it in our own turn.

Ruth

Andy Z

My parents were members of the WCG since my earliest memories. My family and I, including two older brothers and younger sister, attended church services for most if my life until the early ‘90s when the church’s doctrines were changed.

I am lucky in that, as a teenager in the church, I was far more interested in hanging out with my friends than listening to the sermons. My face was invariably buried on a novel during the painfully long 2 hour Saturday services. So my days in the church came and went without ever making a deep impression on my worldview. I can, however, recall in my “tween” years a great deal of fighting between my oldest brother (then in his late teens) and parents regarding his social behavior, taste in dark music and other behaviors that didn’t fit well into the WCG. I now recognize that his rather extreme behaviors were a classic example of the rebellion of someone who has been “protected” from any dissonant points of view. When he finally got a taste of something different, he ran to the polar opposite of the spectrum, much to my parent’s horror!! These “battles of will” were long and painful to everyone in the family. In the end there was an agreement to disagree, but my brother was rather shunned from family events for the next few years including wonderful trips to places like Arizona to attend the Feast of Tabernacles.

To my parents everlasting credit, they never attempted to force the church doctrines on me or my other remaining siblings. By this time it was the early 90’s and the church was imploding. I credit my parent’s more moderate tone with allowing me to find my own way in the world without the weight of a dogmatic belief system dragging me down. Yet until recently, I had always struggled those deep “meaning of life” questions about the existence of god, a “higher power”, and the conflicts between science and religion. My parent’s departure from WCG left me with absolutely no context in which to begin integrating acceptable answers to these questions into my view of the world around me. The context did eventually come to me and the seeds were planted by a most unexpected source!!

A few years ago I was given a copy of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” by (of ALL the people in the world!) my FATHER!! He absolutely insisted that I read this book and proclaimed it one of the best books he’d ever read! Given his long past with the WCG, that’s saying something!! I read it and loved it. I then read almost all the Ayn Rand material I could find. Once I had digested it all, I realized two important new lessons. 1. I am an Atheist/Skeptic (and always have been) 2. If I’m going to make sense of the world around me, “Reason” must be the guide.

I do not consider myself an Objectivist today, despite Rand’s best efforts to tell me that her way is the only rational way to live. I think I am “blessed” with a natural skepticism that sorta throws up a Red Flag in my unconsciousness any time I hear anyone make an absolute statement that cannot be easily substantiated. But I do credit my dad, Rand and her heir, Dr. Leonard Peikoff for getting me started down the path of using Reason and Logic as the basis to begin formulating my views on religion, mysticism, pseudo-science and all my moral values.

I learned an important lesson from those painful battles between my brother and parents. A lesson that became very important when we recently decided to send my son to Catholic school as the only alternative to the horrible public schools in my town. My son will learn things that I think are, at best-flawed, and at worst-lies. I can’t stop that and I justify it by knowing that the quality of the other education he is getting is worth this risk. I have found (with the influence of author Dale Macgowan’s “Parenting Beyond Belief”) that the best way to combat the indoctrination of my child into a dogmatic belief system is to let him learn it! But then make sure he a proper context for these beliefs by allowing him to learn about other religions of different points of view, as well as non-belief, polytheism, cults, etc. They’re all different except they all think they’re right.

The lesson I learned is the value of free thinking and open mindedness. If I can provide for my son the understanding that no religion, cult, or charismatic leader holds the monopoly on “The Truth” then I don’t have to be concerned about him flying to the polar opposite of my worldview the way my brother did to my parents. With a strict application of reason and a healthy dose of critical thinking, my son will always have the tools to arrive at the best point of view for himself. This point of view may not always be the same as mine but I will most likely not be the opposite.

Ben Barnes

Wow. I had no idea there were so many former Worldwide Church of God members out there and especially had no idea how many had become atheist like myself. Finding your blog has somehow made me feel relieved because for so long I felt like I was the only one dealing with these personal and religious issues related to “the church.” I guess I had it lucky because after reading some of these posts I had no idea how strict and violent others were in enforcing the rules of the church. Reading all these other stories has made me want to write my own, perhaps just to help get some of these issues off my chest.

My parents both attended and met at Ambassador in Pasadena. I know my mom’s parents started going to the church in the 60’s when she was a child, but don’t know much before that. My dad started going to the church after he got back from Vietnam but I don’t really know how he found it. They don’t really like to talk about it either, although they have apologized to me for bringing me up in the church.

I grew up in the church in the Atlanta area, but towards the end of its run as the united WCG (before it split up.) I was born in 1983 if that gives you a point of reference. I have very vivid memories of the church because, as probably everyone knows that’s reading this, the church was your life. All my friends were in the church, I grew up thinking I was going to have to marry a girl in the church, and for the most part was excluded from participating in activities with kids outside the church.

We never celebrated birthdays. I remember being so jealous of other kids at school. They always brought in cupcakes to share with the other kids and I never understood why I wasn’t allowed to celebrate my own. The first birthday I remember celebrating is when I was 10 and I remember my mom made me a cake and my parents got me a card but that was all. By that point, the early 90’s, the church was really starting to fall apart and so I guess my parents felt less obligated to enforce the rules.

I was never vaccinated for anything as a child as I guess this was standard practice in the church, and I remember it was always a big ordeal to get me into public schools. I was sick all the time as a child, but somehow I think this worked out in my favor as now that I’m an adult I never get sick. I remember when I did get sick we didn’t go the doctor but would call our local deacon and he would come out and anoint me with some kind of oil on a cloth and say a prayer.

It was always difficult making friends and having to try to explain how I didn’t celebrate Christmas or Halloween or any of the other holidays that most kids did. And how I went to this thing called the Feast and met with other church members for a week every year. I have many memories of sitting in the corner with the Jehovah’s witness boy, that always seemed to be in my class, coloring some generic picture while everyone else made ornaments or went on Easter egg hunts. Not to mention not being able to watch TV or listen to music from Friday at sundown till Sunday, so having friends over outside the church was pretty much inconceivable.

I also remember the 3 tithes. But not really understanding why I had to give up so much of the little money I had as a child to the church. One time I remember my father and mother getting in a big fight because the company he worked for was requiring all the employees to come in and work on a Saturday and of course he said he couldn’t go into work because he had to go to church. He ended up losing his job because of that. He would rather go to church and lose his job than face the wrath of God I guess, that’s something I still don’t understand.

My last memory of the church, because it’s the last time we went to the church, was from about the mid 90’s when things were going down hill fast and grace was a point of contention. Which I now understand was basically the adding of the teaching of the new testament. There was a big outburst during the service and someone got a bullhorn and was passing it around so members of the congregation could voice their opinion on the matter. It was pure madness and we didn’t go back after that. My grandparents still attend the church as do a few other family friends.

There’s so many other stories I have about the church, but I feel like these are the most vivid in my mind. In some ways it’s so nice to hear others’ stories because I’ve felt so alone and lost for so long, because of the church. I’m 26 now, and lead a pretty normal life but I find I have trouble relating to most people because once you get past small talk if anyone asks about my childhood I have to drudge up these stories that seem to make most people sorry they asked. Thanks for making this blog, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. I would love to talk with anyone my same general age that has had a similar experience to my own or possibly reconnect with friends I had in the church but haven’t talked to in years. You can email me at barnes9000@gmail.com.

Ben Barnes