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

Gwen

Hello,

I grew up from an infant in the WCG. I remember moving from Texas at about 3 and going to church at The Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita, KS. I was put out of my mother’s home at age 14 when I began to question why church officials such as Charles Reitmeier were allowed to beat me and my sisters. My older two sisters have passed away very young and most of their adult life was spent hating and hurting over things done to us as children. Both of them spent many years on drugs and self medication to bury what was done to us. I have spent many years wondering if we were just singled out because we were weak or whether it was because we were poor.

I had a sister who died a long, horribly painful death in 1965— as you know doctors were evil and possessed by Satan. I was the youngest of the four and remember beatings for such minor infractions as speaking to someone when I was not asked a question. I remember coming home from a “feast” and there being fleas in the house due to a construction project near our home. Mother beat me and beat me because I was scratching and refused to believe it was fleas— she even said, “I will beat the devil out of you; there can be nothing else making you scratch like that.”

We spent many years living with my grandmother who also paid the price for WCG and Herbert Armstrong’s fanaticism. Mother physically abused her and took her social security checks, most times she gave the bulk of the money to the church and we went without food or clothing other than some rags she picked up from other members of the church who felt sorry for us. The remainder was spent on new clothing for herself or gifts for her “boyfriends” who she also put before her daughters. Anything we did get from anyone that was not a rag was given to the most prominent person she could find that would take it.

There was an older man who went to church with us that was like a grandfather to me. I called him Grandpa Smith. He is the only truly warm and loving memory of the church that I have.

I am happily married now, have been for 23 years to a man who has listened to my horror stories and held me while I cried. We have 3 sons and they are all aware of the evil that was done and have been taught that church and God are not always what the are portrayed to be. We do not practice an organized religion although we do have a belief in a spiritual being. He refuses to accept my mother’s excuses for what she allowed done to us and we both agree she is not welcome in our home. She has left WCG from what I am told, but has never accepted responsibility for what she allowed them to do to us. Her only explanation for 48 years is “I didn’t know any better.” Brainwashed? No, just inherently evil. To this day she will not tell me who my biological father is and still holds to the belief that she is not accountable.

Have any of the abusers ever faced charges or been brought into the light for the world to see who they really are? I have a list of names but the above person (Reitmeier) is the one who stands out greatest in my mind. The damage he did to my oldest sister’s body in the name of God is unforgivable. The mental damage done to all of us is unforgivable.

I remember a few that were good to us or tried to be. The Haines family from Wellington and the Woodbridges were good kind people. The Boren family from Wichita and Mrs. Garcia. The rest are all a blur, just people I was terrified of. Did the rest of the people know? Did they care? Would they have intervened if they did know? How do I forgive and forget? How do I even just forgive?

Gwen Talmadge

Gene

This is my story, you can post it, delete it, whatever you want to do, I felt compelled to write it.

I was born in 1966 and somewhere around that time my mother, who already had some issues, became what I would regard as a hardcore christian with the church. She actually trashed a Christmas tree and some gifts in her spin to follow what Herb Armstrong said.

I grew up practically living in a vice. No friends outside the church, they were all evil in some way, no rock music, Satan inspired that and most movies and TV shows. NEVER miss a sabbath, and you will tithe if you starve to death doing it. I have always been a bit of a goth and because I had slightly different tastes, she felt that, as she put it, Satan had taken over my mind.

I went to summer camp three times, twice in Minnesota and once in Texas. I will say those were great times except that I was broke, and due to her Carrie’s mom mentality she had warped my thinking and made it hard to pursue friendship.

We were poor because she loathed work and lived on welfare, her kids, and on church financial assistance for years, which made pastors feel they had the right to own us, and dictate our lives to us.

I was shunned because I was the poor kid, and the other church kids avoided me with a few exceptions. I became very withdrawn. As a result I went through depression, wrote suicide notes and very nearly succeeded. I also married wrong which has had dire repercussions.

On the other hand, there was a time when the ministers took all of the music I owned and condemned it all as anti-Christian (we are talking fifties and sixties rock music, none of the stuff we have nowadays) and told me to destroy it and take up classical music because that was the only kind God allowed. I guess he must have sent them an e mail and I missed it.

That was the first spark of free thinking for me. I spent a day or so analyzing the music and what it meant to me and decided they were all wrong. Of course we were banned from birthdays and all other holidays also.

When the WCG announced that they were selling Amy Grant’s country music Christmas album and changing other beliefs, I quit completely and that was the best thing I ever did. I learned so many things in the following years. I let my hair grow and actually got compliments on it when I realized a man’s hair length does not make him a heathen. I evaluated music based on what I liked about it rather than how it aided Satan in destroying me. I also asked what was wrong with honoring birthdays, and stopped trying to ban my family from everything.

I had embraced gothism from early years, and it had been condemned as absolutely Satanic by people like my mother. She disowned me and turned the rest of the family against me, all the while staying tight with the old church ways.

I soon found that the gothic community was filled with Christians also, and that the idea with them was to live and let live. No condemning of people over music, sexuality or whatever. A few years ago we turned Halloween into a family event of just dressing up and having fun and it was one of our best family oriented experiences.

It took years to pry away from the old beliefs and the damage that was done, but most of it is done now. Do I believe in God? I’d love to see a second coming and see the Utopian society come to pass, ending the evil in the world. But I’m not the one to swear to anything. I don’t know where I will go when I die. I believe most of religion is based on people who attend church for their own reasons, and much of what they preach is not even biblical. Most of them attend to appease God and wind a place in heaven.

I dress in gothic clothing now partly because I like it and it is me, but also because it sets me apart. The shallow minded still condemn me as evil, but people with depth get to know me and ask why I do things.

I like rock music, I also like movies ranging from kid movies to horror, to action to comedy. No Satan hasn’t corrupted my mind. He might get a good laugh out of my mom though.

~Gene