By John B
Nobody likes to be persecuted. It isn’t fun, and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it can even kill you.
One of the “promises” made by Herbert Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God was that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we would suffer persecution. It was promised in the Bible as well, and history records thousands of incidents of Christians being persecuted to the death, often suffering horribly in the process.
One particular scripture describes some of the apostles “rejoicing” that they were counted worthy to suffer persecution for the name of Christ! (Is that crazy, or what?)
Many who joined WCG in the early days had already been persecuted in various ways. Some had suffered in the war, either as soldiers or civilians. A few had actually suffered under the Nazis, and some others had been prisoners of the Japanese. They understood suffering and persecution, and perhaps were looking for some guarantee of protection if it ever happened again.
For most of the rest of us, persecution was something to be feared. I dreaded persecution, and never understood why anyone would “rejoice” at the “opportunity” to be persecuted – for Jesus or anything else. And yet I did suffer persecution. As did many of you.
I didn’t suffer real persecution, of course; I was never imprisoned, tortured, starved, deported, or gassed. Yet as members of WCG we were promised that those things would happen to many of us, unless we toed the line and really “gave our hearts” (not to mention our money) to the “Work”.
But looking back on it now, it seems rather clear that the little persecutions I suffered could have been avoided. Because the simple fact is that, in most cases, persecution comes as the result of some action on the part of the victim.
While you ponder that statement, let me digress for a moment. Over the past 30 years the phrase “catch-22” has become a staple of American English. It derives from Joseph Heller’s novel of the same name, and describes an inescapable or self-perpetuating situation. There was a character in the novel who, during World War II, wanted to get out of the army. But Army rules stated that the only way one could get out was to be judged insane. However, anyone who wanted to get out of the army was obviously not insane, since you had to be insane to not want out. That was the “catch”. Apparently there were a number of “catches”, and they were all numbered. This one was “Catch 22”.
The Worldwide Church of God also had a number of catches. Church doctrine carefully crafted these catches so that members were trapped. By the time one accepted the doctrines and embraced them, one was completely fenced in.
None of WCG’s catches were numbered, but I have arbitrarily assigned a number to the persecution catch. I call it “Catch 111” (for obvious reasons). Because the simple truth is that we invited most of the persecution we suffered by our own beliefs and actions. It wasn’t our fault, because we had been deceived by unscrupulous men, but we still were instruments of our own misery.
For example, refusing to work on Saturday is an excellent way to invite persecution. First of all, you are automatically eliminated from many possible occupations before you ever get hired. Once hired, you could be fired if your employer suddenly needs your attendance on Saturday and you refuse to come in. That’s persecution -- on a small scale, but persecution nonetheless. People often made snide remarks, or asked embarrassing and difficult questions, or just shunned you altogether. It might seem a minor thing, but it was uncomfortable, and it could affect your ability to make a living, which is certainly no small thing.
I always dreaded having to tell a prospective employer that I didn’t work on Saturday. I hated it! Some employers were cool about it, many others were not. You simply never knew how they would react, and like the coward who dies a thousand deaths, the night before an interview was always an agony of mental self-torture.
I knew several men in the construction industry who were always out of work during the winter months; come summertime, they would find employment, but come October (with less than three months on their new job), they needed a week off for the Feast. They were usually unemployed again before the Feast arrived, and remained unemployed through the winter when construction jobs were scarce.
I knew one man who had his own crop duster service. In Central California, crop dusters are busiest in spring and fall. Just when his busiest time approached, he was out of service for days at a time with either spring or autumn holy days. By the time he got back home again, most of his revenue-generating opportunities had passed him by, and many of the farmers never called on him again. (Why should they? They needed someone who would be there!)
I don’t think any of these men “rejoiced” very much.
We also invited persecution by not observing certain holidays. One man told me he was in a supermarket checkout line on Xmas Eve when the man in front insisted on wishing him a Merry Xmas. My friend hoped the man would give it up, but he had been drinking and was filled with the Xmas spirit. He began to get rude about it, so finally my friend told him he didn’t celebrate Xmas. The guy loudly called him an asshole.
Those who suffered the worst were our kids. Adults usually have enough class to keep their opinions to themselves, but kids will hammer anyone who stands out as different or “weird”. My oldest boy was mortified every year at Xmas because he was not allowed to take part in classroom festivities. This singled him out and stigmatized him. And Xmas wasn’t the worst of it – every time some kid had a birthday it was the same song, second verse. When other kids stood up and said “Happy Birthday, Nabob!”, my son had to stand up and say, “Have a nice day, Nabob!”
I hated having to stock the Plain Truth magazine stands. Even more, I hated having to go out and try to get permission to place those stands. I hated it hated it hated it hated it!
I hated sitting in a restaurant during the DULB and asking the waitress not to bring any bread with the meal. Even worse was trying to get them to leave off the croutons! (I don’t think I ever got croutons on a salad except during the DULB! And then I couldn’t seem to avoid it.)
The absolute worst thing that ever happened to me -- and the most terrifying -- was facing down seven grey-haired men at my draft board in 1967 and trying to explain why I could not join the army. I was certain I was on the way to Leavenworth, and I promise you it would have been much less frightening to just accept the draft and go off to Vietnam than have those seven men staring at me like I was a virus, accusing me of everything from blatant cowardice to ingratitude for the sacrifices made by patriots.
By our actions, we invited persecution. And when we suffered it, as minor as it was, it became “proof” that Herbert Armstrong was right, that the “world” was against us. Because of this “proof”, we then continued to perform actions that ensured further persecution. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Imagine the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their actions especially invite persecution. There is nothing like beating on doors and pushing your religion at people to piss them off. Then you can really “rejoice”!
Of course nobody knows more about persecution than the Jews. But at least the Jews have an excuse – they have inherited their religion for thousands of years. Most Mormons and Jihad-hovah’s Witnesses have also inherited theirs, though only for a little over a century. But COGs are, for the most part, converts from something else. So we were truly asking for it.
Thankfully, I don’t have that problem any more. I now know that Herbert Armstrong lied to me every time he opened his mouth. I now know that God doesn’t require me to do anything that will get me beaten, killed, locked up, starved, deported, or even slapped. The only thing that can get me persecuted now is my big mouth, if I don’t have the common sense to keep my opinions to myself.
If you are still being persecuted, and if you’re getting sick of it – you might be interested to know that it isn’t necessary. These are not the “end times”, and your sacrifice is not building you any treasure in heaven or anywhere else. Indeed, it is enriching those who extort your tithes from you while you harm yourself and your family by “suffering for the sake of the Lord”.
Thirty years ago, the saying was: “If it feels good, do it!” Well, that’s bad advice. But the reverse is good advice: “If it hurts, STOP IT!” Stop doing what you’re doing. When you do, Catch 111 will be released, and you will be able to join the ranks of the liberated.
As Smoky the Bear might say, “Remember – only YOU can prevent your own persecution!”
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