Childhood in the
Worldwide Church of God
Was No Picnic
By Bob E.
Many people suddenly stumble across this wonderful deprogramming and therapy website, and write back to ask why we all seem so bitter. Now these people could be totally unaware of the WCG, Herbert Armstrong, and the various splinter groups, or they could be actual members of the splinter groups who are in their first blush of infatuation with Armstrongism. Or, they could be the same types of folks who think that the world would be a better place if, for example, the Jews suddenly decided to drop all of this silly nonsense about the Holocaust, to just "get over it." Whatever the background, anyone who would like us to "get over it" needs to realize that that is exactly what we are all trying to do. You have to understand the word therapy. The goal of therapy is to force one to confront that which has produced the damage, in such a way that the person can not be hurt again in the future. Hopefully one can avoid the same or very similar situations, and thus experience a better life. How do you compensate a person for time that he has been falsely imprisoned, actually or figuratively? I confess that I really don't know the answer to that one. You see, my own personal sentence only lasted approximately eighteen years, ten of which were during my childhood. The last nineteen years of my life have been spent in freedom from the cult, but there was much repair work which was required in order for me to become the successful graphic equipment sales professional that I am today, and to be well-adjusted, and basically happy.
Growing up in the WCG was no picnic. There were many opportunities for young people to discuss among themselves the horrors which were being visited on us all, and it seems that the more diligent the parents were in applying every detail of Garner Tetanus's child rearing thesis, the less chance a child had of achieving any sense of normality. I knew of one young man who has gone on to be very influential in working with children, who was shocked to find that his entrance tests for Ambassador College indicated quite a number of personality disorders. Many of the parents in the WCG during the '50's and '60's were blue collar or very poor. They had no real background against which to compare the WCG's teachings, and took everything the Armstrongs taught very literally. And, much the same as what has been discovered about the church's teaching on alcohol, if you tell a parent who was abused as a child themselves that you should regularly spank your children, that parent is really going to go totally out of control with punishment. Thus, the largely blue collar membership of the WCG created a veritable holocaust for the children and teenagers of that era. And the Painful Truth is that this condition is still ongoing and creating yet another generation of young people which will require future therapy in the splinter groups.
As I mentioned above, part of therapy involves confronting and diffusing that which caused the damage. Others have written very eloquently on this subject, and I've largely overcome the adversities caused by my own misfortunes, but let's have a little fun recalling some of the things which might have happened to a young person, being raised in the WCG in the '50's and 60's:
Being terrified as your parents read to you a recent collaboration between Herbert Armstrong, and acclaimed cartoonist Basil Wolverton, entitled "1975 In Prophecy". You were told that there is nothing you can do to prevent all of the horrible depictions in the book from happening to your carnal relatives (whom you loved infinitely) because God was going to use the Germans to punish them. And, you'd better be on guard to make sure that you yourself made it to the place of safety!
You and your family being uprooted from your close and loving (but unconverted) family, and being moved to a little pissant redneck mountain town where everyone who happens to be a little different is made fun of and tormented.
Things which were once wholesome, such as riding your bicycle on Saturday mornings with your friends, are now sinful, i.e., "breaking the sabbath".
Always becoming the oddball and feeling left out as you have to decline invitations to your friends' birthday parties.
Being forced to answer all adults "Yes, Sir, No Sir, Yes Ma'am, No Ma'am." While this might have been done by everyone in certain regions of the country, I can assure you that it was done by no-one in Pennsylvania excepting WCG members' children. HWA had written an article in the Good News entitled "Why Certainly, Sir!" responsible for spawning this teaching, and certainly setting up WCG children for merciless ridicule by peers, and uncomfortable feelings amongst teachers and other adults so addressed.
One would actually fear meeting other young people in the church, because when the adults got together and compared notes, they would always share ever stricter ideas which would inflict more misery on us. That is how we lost our comic books, and that is why we often had to spend whole weekends not being able to eat until we memorized entire pages from the Bible, such as the long form of the Ten Commandments, word for word.
Being made to eat lots of beans, so that your parents could send ever larger offerings to headquarters for Herbert W. Armstrong's never ending crises and emergencies.
Fearing that during family prayer, one of your younger siblings would not be able to control the resulting flatulence, and that you would be severely spanked for disrupting someone's prayer with uncontrollable laughter.
Fearing the shower, required after P.E. class at school, because you were ashamed of the horrible black and blue stripes which always covered your butt. These were the result of daily pants-down 40 lash with a belt, switch, paddle, or spatula, spankings. It was absolutely amazing that one could take two to three of these per day and still walk. And, it was totally infuriating to watch your 3 and 4 year old siblings receive this punishment simply for not singing the hymns loud enough on the Sabbath. This is the singular most damaging aspect which comes to mind resulting from the WCG+ experience. There are people who still have nightmares about this well into middle age!
As a natural athlete, being restricted to only participating in Track and Swimming, because they were the only sports which you could go out for since the meets were not held on the Sabbath.
Having to sit in the school office during the Christmas pageant, as all the other students passed by the office on the way to the auditorium. Virtually everybody thought you had done something terribly wrong, and it only made things worse when you explained that your family didn't keep Christmas.
Being forced to wear deliberately out of style clothing. A Christian was supposed to stand out! (how about standing out for the right reasons?)
Learning at school how evil segregation was, and how immoral it was to hold people back for reasons of race, then wondering why deacons and ministers always seemed to be creating special sections or services for the "Negro" or "Colored" brethren at church, feasts, or socials.
Returning from the Feast of Tabernacles in Georgia to find that one of the well-liked football players in school has spread the rumor that your father is a Grand Dragon in the Knights of Ku Klux Klan, and that your family had to travel to the South for a gigantic Klan rally.
Always being looked to in a mocking way as an authority on religious matters by classmates and teachers.
Being the brunt of ridicule every time a teacher asks for an opinion, because the opinions you've learned at home which are based on the WCG's teachings are so out of touch that they are laughable. (We didn't have Rush Limbaugh back in those days!)
Getting up each morning to do vigorous calisthenics, because Rod Meredith has just prescribed this as preventative measure to homosexuality in his article "The Shocking Truth About Queer Men" Later, as a student at Ambassador College, I was counseled to soften up a bit, as it seemed that my concept of manhood was like that of an animal. I was asked if I wanted to end up being a truck driver or biker. They had it only half-right, as I never did learn to drive a semi.
Not being able to listen to the very popular rock'n'roll, or to watch popular TV programs, thus providing more areas where one could not relate to one's peers. Even programs from the golden era of TV which are now recognized as having been very wholesome were off limits. As an example, the lessons taught in "Leave it to Beaver" were worldly solutions, not Biblical ones, Beaver, Wally, and their friends were all rebellious teenagers who used slang, and their father was regularly portrayed as being somewhat buffoonish, as opposed to the strong authority figure preferred by the WCG.
Slang was forbidden. So severe an offense was this that when my brother and I were discussing chemical properties of various compounds, hydrogen sulfide was mentioned, and I commented "It's a gas!", we both had to do some mighty fast talking to avoid my receiving a very severe spanking.
Frequent forced fasting for reasons of health or punishment. In cases of punishment this was tied directly into the tribulation. After all, God was going to punish those poor unfortunates until they looked like the awful Holocaust pictures Herbert W. Armstrong regularly published in the Plain Truth. Sometimes, we were told that it wouldn't be surprising, judging by our behavior, if we turned out to be the Beast or the Antichrist. The WCG always gave parents really neat things with which to scare their kids into compliance.
Getting a taste of Imperial Schools thru Summer Educational Program. While discipline was certainly less stringent than in my home, I would have to categorize some of the counselors as being downright brutal and sadistic. One especially egregious example concerned a young fellow camper with asthma, wheezing and almost collapsing during the morning several mile run. The counselor came back to determine why he had fallen behind, and commanded him to stop wheezing! Hardly shocking considering the church's teachings on matters medical. I believe that the asthmatic camper was paddled for falling behind on several occasions.
Finally, moving to a major city with two years left of High School. You are pleasantly surprised to find a significant Jewish population, so that you can blend in and actually appear normal to your peers. Also at this time you've had your fill of the old WCG "Goody Two Shoes" schtick, so you begin doing such wonderful things as smoking in the boys room, and drinking Colt 45 in an old Oldsmobile with some of your Black buddies from the track team before class. You are having fun for the first time, at least during school hours, and your grades go in the dumper. However, at the height of this, your Pastor gives you a glowing recommendation to Ambassador College, Pasadena California. Off you go!
Now, as I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this article, I've been fortunate in having had the past 19 years to recover from the aberrations of a WCG upbringing. So, that provides an opportunity to help some people who may still be struggling. I especially hope that some young people from the splinter groups get to read this, as it would have helped immeasurably during my own personal holocaust to know that there is a good life waiting just ahead, as long as you use good common sense, plan carefully, and don't get self-destructive. Remember, time is on your side. Wait it out. Don't blow your education. There is a lot more knowledge available today in terms of therapy. And, by the way, therapy is not the satanic thing that these churches make it out to be. Hypnotherapy was very helpful to me in boosting self-confidence (which the WCG destroys), in helping me to understand that my life is the sum total of the daily decisions which I make, and in taking back a measure of control of the important facets of my life.
Remember all the things which the Church taught you were of Satan, or evil, only they weren't really? When you leave, you get to go on a remedial cultural program! That means that if you want to go see the Sprintcar Races, you can forget what the church taught you about auto racing, and follow the races just like most people do football. Do you feel like you missed out on music. There are lot's of enjoyable rock and country concerts on tour. Nothing like live! Go see them. One thing the WCG+ did teach that passes the test of time was moderation. When you're having fun, just make sure it's not to the point of you or someone else getting hurt. There are many classes which you can take which will elevate you to the point where you are immunized against all of the psychological drivel which the church laid on you. Some folks have been so badly beaten down that they see a huge mountain they need to move before they can have their lives back. You can move that mountain one shovel-full at a time. And, guess what? Every shovel full will feel good!
Focus on what you have left! If you do this properly, you'll realize that you have much more left than what you think has been taken away. When I think about some of the positive things that the WCG+ has left me with, I always have to thank them for getting me out of Viet Nam! Moderation in all things is a concept I can use. The stringencies of the tithe and offering structure surely taught me how to budget and utilize resources effectively. Thinking that the Germans were coming shortly gave me a real zest for life. Believe me, I appreciated every new day! And, don't forget the people. That was the singular largest good about the cult. Some say, the only good thing about it. If any concept of God was involved in that totally FUBAR organization, He would have to have been evidenced in the overall goodness of those longsuffering people. The pages of this website, and of the Ambassador Report are a constant source of help, and a way of exorcising the Herbert W. Armstrong demon, a little piece of which all of us must contend with. Having been a member of the WCG+ is like smoking. When you quit, you can't return everything back to the conditions which might have existed if you had never done it. But you can certainly improve the factors in such a was as to mute most of the damage. Be happy!
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