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…
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.