Divide and Conquer
By Michelle V
I'll never forget one warm summer night, 12 years ago, as I worked alongside three AC students in the darkroom at SEP in Orr, Minnesota. We were feverishly trying to print the photos from Mr. Tkach's historic visit that day so they could make the camp newspaper which was going to press the next morning. I was the lowly "high school worker" on the photography staff, which meant I normally wouldn't have been allowed special dispensation to be out of the dorm past curfew. However, I had been accepted to begin AC that August and thus was considered trustworthy enough to stay up all night in a stuffy little darkroom inhaling chemicals. We pored over pictures of Mr. Tkach's car coming up the dirt road lined on either side with smiling, waving campers, Mr. Joe Tkach watching campers perform camp activities and Mr. Joe Tkach shaking hands with sweaty, grubby, dusty little campers.
At the time, Joe Tkach, Sr. was full swing into his "We Are Family" campaign and Russ Jutsum's "We Are Family" was a staple of our Saturday evening hymn sings that summer at SEP. Maybe it was the late hour, or possibly the chemical exposure in the darkroom, but as the evening wore into early morning, we all got a little goofy. At some point we started belting out a rather funny perversion of the church's current theme song. It went something like this:
"We are famileeeeeee...
Because we have to beeeeeee...
For all eterniteeeeeee...
Living in misereeeeee!!"
We were having a great time, whooping it up and dancing around the tiny little closet when we heard a stern voice from outside the curtain. We emerged from the darkness, squinting and blinking, to find two security guys (also AC students) glaring at us sternly. We were ordered to cease and desist our little impromptu concert immediately as it was "Not respectful!!" As I recall we ducked sheepishly back into the closet and continued working, still softly singing to ourselves...those Jutsum songs had a way of getting into your head!
I got to thinking recently about the "family" concept as it related to the church and realized, like many other things the church professed to preach and teach, we weren't really a family at all. Not only were we not a family as a church, the church did much to destroy the individual family unit as well. The methods were varied and insidious, but the overall effect was a "divide and conquer" technique that made us all weaker as individuals and more susceptible to control by the cult. It's troubling to recall that Hitler used similar techniques in his quest for world domination by separating the youth from their families and indoctrinating them with his evil philosophy of a master Aryan race.
The first and most obvious method of dividing and conquering was to require prospective church members to sever all ties with non-believing family and friends before "acceptance" into the fold. This, of course, is a common method used by cults to gain control of members. There's good ol' memory scripture: II Cor 6:14 "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers..." which was used to address every situation from marriage to a non-church member, fraternizing with "unbelieving" extended family members and making friends with kids at school. We were also admonished with regularity to "...keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27) with the "world" defined as ANYONE not called by God into His True Church and endowed with His Holy Spirit. This left us alone, emotionally and physically, and created a dependence on the church "family" for needs which are more appropriately met by close family members and neighbors in our community. I remember overhearing some men who had participated in a roofing work party for an elderly church woman complaining that her able-bodied, thirty-something year-old "non-believing" son had surveyed the entire day's proceedings from a lawn chair, frosty Bud in hand, never lifting a finger to pitch in and help. Why should he?! His mother's church "family" was taking care of her!
Another manifestation of the "divide and conquer" technique was apparent in the weekly church service. All the truly faithful and involved church members had "jobs", whether they needed them or not. We had people to show us where to park, to greet us at the door, to give us a song book and still another to give us a church bulletin. All this before even entering the hall! Once inside, there were folks setting up and taking down chairs, ushers to show us to our seats, someone to lug the podium up on stage and yet another poor sap to make sure the minister had ice water on hand. There were coffee servers, tape library people, teachers of YES lessons and mother's room monitors. Someone else cleaned the bathroom while another body manned the information table. Then there were people involved in the service itself, such as speakers, piano players, choir and choir directors, etc. What did all these "jobs" serve to do? They splintered our individual family units from the moment we arrived at services and made the sabbath a chore! Young children ran riot, without adult supervision, because the adults were too busy with their "jobs". Teenagers congregated in the back row to whisper and pass notes during the service (I know, because I was one).
In families with young children, at least one of the parents missed a large portion of the service every week dealing with babies who weren't allowed to make a peep! I remember being mortified one week when, after feeding my 4 month old daughter in the mother's room and sneaking back into the service as quietly as possible, she let out the loudest, most resonant burp I had ever heard! The minister stopped in mid-sentence and glanced around to find the offender as the entire congregation swiveled their heads in our direction. They probably thought it was my husband!! The entire system of weekly worship was not a family event as certain members of the family were not welcome, such as small children not yet old enough to endure sitting through a 2 hour long service.
The weekly service was not the only way the church dissected and divided our families. Church activities were another strong tool used to split us up. Who had time to spend together as a family with men rushing off to Spokesman's Club on a weekly basis? I recall many Wednesday evenings spent doing my homework during bible study and sleeping in the car on the way home. Weekends were often occupied with YOU activities, such as basketball, volleyball and track meets. Families separated once again as teenagers piled into a van or church bus to be carted several hours away to participate in these activities. Within the framework of church activities we had various groups, such as YES, YOU, Singles, Seniors, etc. All these groups also fractured the family unit as we scurried about, individually, to attend our appointed activities.
Unfortunately, the church's long established pattern of dividing and conquering also made it more difficult to for many of us to leave. As Joe Tkach Jr. began his rise to power and we became increasingly disillusioned, we all had to face the pain alone as we questioned our entire belief system. Time and time again the cry of ex-WCGer's is "I feel/felt so alone!" It's not our fault that we feel alone. We have to heal the relationships that were destroyed by the church among our extended families and friends. Some of us have to learn how to appropriately handle relationships with close family members and friends who are still attending Worldwide Church of God or one of it's offshoots. This can be very difficult... trying to build a new life and learning to think for ourselves while receiving harsh criticism from those still embroiled in the mind control. We have to trust ourselves to build new relationships in the communities we live in and draw strength from the people around us.
The summer I was working at SEP, another song was very popular, although it was not composed by Ross Jutsum. In sharp contrast to his "We Are Family" message, this song was called "We Are the World". It was a collaborative effort by many popular artists to help give aid to famine stricken countries around the world. The words to this song also ring in my head from that summer and have a deeper meaning in retrospect.
"We are the world, we are the children, We are the ones who make a better day, so let's start living. There's a choice we're making, we're saving our own lives. It's true, we make a better day, just you and me."
I am now very happy to consider myself a person of the "world" instead of being sequestered from mainstream society by a money-grubbing, power hungry church. I also draw strength from the knowledge that I am not special, I am not set apart and I have not been "chosen" specifically for some greater purpose.
Most importantly...I am not alone.
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