There Is A Hell, I've Been There And Back
My Journey through Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God
by Patti (c) April 4, 2000
I am a former member of the Worldwide Church of God. This is a brief testimony of my experience as a 14 plus year member. I was introduced to it by a relative just prior to a very vulnerable period in my life. Its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, was a Seventh Day Adventist preacher, a dissident of that movement. He would be equivalent to David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, as Armstrong was an earlier splinter of SDA. This smorgasbord pseudo religion was comprised of selective Jewish Old Testament law, including seven holy days: The days of unleavened bread leading up to the Passover; The Day of Atonement, a 24 hour period annual fast; The Day of Trumpets; The Feast of Tabernacles (a seven day fall festival) and The Last Great Day, the eighth day following the Feast of Tabernacles, and of course Penticost . A seventh day, Saturday Sabbath was mandatory from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Each holy day was a sunset to sunset required observation. HWA also created a litany of doctrine borrowed from many religious organizations including clean and unclean meats from Jewish law; God making from the Mormons, Soul Sleep from the Jehovah Witnesses, a millennium fantasy of a coming "World Tomorrow" where he would be under the direct instruction of Jesus Christ at his second coming to teach the multitudes, with his followers as his fellow teachers. Then as their eternal reward, would be eternal life, gained by works and service to God's Government. One might reach a point of rulership over planets, cities, galaxies as the case may be.
Armstrong invented a three resurrection plan. Those who died and were resurrected in the first resurrection were the 'first fruits' and would rule with him at his and Jesus Christ's side. Those who arose in the second resurrection were those who had never heard the 'word of God Armstrong style' and would therefore be given a chance to learn it and make a choice to either go "God's way" or else into the ranks of the dammed. The third resurrection was reserved for them. The resurrection of the dammed to be destroyed in the lake of fire. There was always a lake of fire to look forward to if one did not adhere to his every word, command, direction. However he could change these at any given time, to his own advantage. As long as one prayed and paid, and blindly obeyed, his salvation was assured, but not guaranteed, for it was always up to the digression of your minister and the hierarchy.
And then there was the three tithe system, set up to support the "Work" of God. The first tithe was 'God's money' and mandatory to be paid to headquarters on a regular basis, off the gross income. The second tithe was to be paid into a special account and used only for the Feast of Tabernacles expenses and offerings, and the third tithe, was to be paid every third year, to support the widows and orphans. All three were off the gross income of the membership.
A series of booklets, with each argument of HWA towards previously believed tenet of other faiths, was his means of persuasion, the Good News magazine which expressed the religious dogma he embraced , along with his Plain Truth magazine, given away by the millions to viewers and listeners of his television and radio programs, "The World Tomorrow". He bragged that he did not solicit money from his audience. He did not, however brag that he squeezed the lifeblood out of his membership in order that he could support his multi-million dollar fiasco.
HWA appeared to be the epitome of honor to his followers (while leading a double life of secretive morally corrupt addictions, lavishing himself in luxury at the expense of those followers), preaching in a commanding voice, the dangers of following in the footsteps of established religions who were based on paganism and tradition rather than the true laws of God outlined in the old testament of the bible. He had his photograph taken with the dignitaries of the political world to convince the membership of his taking the message of the "word of God" into all kingdoms as commanded by the bible. Their bimonthly members only newspaper was filled with his outreach to the world, plus his immediate doctrinal mandates, and reprimands when he felt it was time to invent a new revelation from God to his followers.
The Worldwide Church of God was patterned after the Catholic Church, even though HWA used it as his example of everything that was wrong with religion. It to him, was the harlot of the Book of Revelations, the Whore of Babylon religion. HWA then proceeded to systematically destroy the tenets of that established religion while at the same time building his own hierarchy and setting himself up as Pastor General, or like the Pope of the Catholic Church, in absolute dictatorship. Male dominance ruled. Women were despised and ruled over, mother love being a selfish love! Make-up being worn only by harlots and whores!
HWA was the only human being on the face of the earth that had a direct connection to God through Jesus Christ. If it didn't come through him, then it was not "of God". He was God's only twentieth century Apostle! Only HWA taught the existence of two godheads, The Father and The Son. The Holy Spirit was reduced to a force. It remained an insignificant part of his designed 'religion'. He dismantled the trinity.
Like the Catholic Church, HWA created a hierarchy of evangelists, district ministers, ministers, assistant ministers, local elders, deacons and deaconnesses. A token position for women, who were virtually powerless, except to rule with a rod of iron over other females. Women were to be subservient to men, and men were to be the rulers over their households, their wife and children, an authoritarian hierarchy within each home.
HWA employed Hitler's "Big Lie" theory!!! The bigger the lie, the more believable it is. He began with a slaughter of existing belief systems. Taking the bible and twisting scripture to manipulate it's meaning to his own, bastardizing it's authentic context. Also like Hitler, totalitarianism, terrorism, and isolationism were his weapons. He separated his followers from the world by demanding they 'come out of' the world and not be a part of it. Since he was the only authorized channel for God's word, no other word, either written or spoken had credence. God only inspired him. Scholars and secular information were 'uninspired' and therefore not worthy of attention. His ploy was to enhance the ego into arrogance of being set apart as God's 'chosen'. It was a world of 'we and them', we being the rescuers and they being those in need of rescue. "We" had the "truth", our most valued commodity! And "they" did not, therefore we were chosen to carry that message to the world.
The methods to control the membership were totalitarian in nature. Terrorism was employed whenever things became complacent in a congregation. Dissidents were singled out. Innocent though they may be of any wrongdoing, they were set up as an example to all, disfellowshipped and marked from the pulpit, thereby shunned by all, and cast out, stripped of their salvation, not to mention their good reputation! From coast to coast, and the world around, a new set of dissidents could be heard of for years to come, as those who dared challenge HWA or one of his ministers or tenets. They suffered harangue, accusation, stripping of their dignity and identity in the process, and were left a broken and bleeding cast off, destined to the lake of fire, because if one did not obey and conform implicitly they were condemned for all time, no longer eligible for salvation, once they had turned away from "God's one true church'.
I was raised Catholic, trained from little on, to obey the authority from the top down. When I became disillusioned with the Catholic Church, I just left and did not have anything to do with any religion but retained my concept of God.
Among many things, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) taught that the races could not intermarry. This he touted, was an abomination to God! Since I was white and already in a relationship with a young man who was Native American and French, I was dismayed at this supposed 'law of God' as he claimed it to be. All I wanted to do was obey God, therefore I backed away from my relationship while I began to study literature from Herbert W. Armstron's Worldwide Church of God.
While in the process of indoctrination, I continued a casual contact with my loved one, though at a distance. I didn't believe I could ever resume the relationship due to the racial dictates of God, as I was being persuaded to believe by reading articles written by HWA in his Plain Truth magazine. My loved one, however was not so persuaded, and tried one last time to convince me otherwise. His sincere affection and devotion won me over briefly, and I was to question and nearly abandon Armstronism as a result. Then a tragic turn of events sealed my destiny and his. In a bizarre twist of fate, my loved one was falsely accused of a crime, arrested, and said to have committed suicide after his jailing. He was found hanging in his cell after struggling with police, and begging them for his medication to treat epilepsy which created a life threatening situation for him in his agitated state of mind. His request was refused, his medication instead taken to a lab for testing to determine if it was an authentic prescription or street drug. By the time a social worker approached his cell with verification of authenticity, medication was a moot point. He was dead.
My Catholic upbringing left me to believe that person would go to hell with no chance of salvation. My beloved was destined to hell.
I was in a quandary because I knew my loved one was a very spiritual person, and I could not live with the idea of "Hell" as a reward for a moment of extreme panic or whatever it was that caused his death. Upon visitation with two Worldwide Church of God ministers at the invitation of my relative, I was assured that my loved one was asleep in the grave and would be resurrected at the second resurrection and given a chance to learn God's truth from the teaching ministry of Worldwide Church of God through Jesus Christ. It was sure better than hell, and I could live with this 'belief'.
It was out of my awareness that I made a commitment to Worldwide Church of God that very moment. It took many months and much effort on my part to become eventually a baptized member of the 'church'. It was approximately 15 years later that I was disfellowshipped and marked from the pulpit in disgrace. I had challenged 'if this is God's true church, then headquarters surely would not continue to allow the actions that were taking place in our local congregation to go on'. Much to my amazement, the actions were not only condoned, they were supported by Joe Tkach, Jr. At the time, Joe Tkach Sr. was still at the helm, having taken the position of Pastor General after the death of HWA in 1986.
Within three or four weeks the illusions created by Worldwide Church of God began to crumble. Grief at my loss took over and I mourned for the loss of my brethren. But then something much deeper began to emerge, that being repressed grief that I had never dealt with regarding my loved one's death 14 years earlier. This eruption was full blown post traumatic stress, and now in addition to the original grief, I was feeling for the first time, the impact of my loved one's death. It was as if the death had just occurred.
Within a short period of time, the reality struck me, that if indeed Worldwide Church of God had lied about everything else, it had also lied about WHERE my loved one now was. That reality sent me reeling!! As it impacted my conscious awareness I became immediately frantic to know where indeed my loved one existed. Thus began my search for truth.
I was like Rip Van Winkle, coming out of a deep sleep, waking up to a world I did not recognize. Everything--everyone had changed. Who was I? Where had I been? Where was I going? How did I arrive here? Where am I? Nothing I had believed for so long, was true at all. My bubble had burst and I was reduced to total aloneness, aware of my absolute isolation. But for His grace, I did not lose God. (Many others less fortunate had transferred God to "HWA and Worldwide Church of God" and lost Him in that process of transference) I now learned the meaning of "I and the Father are One". It was all I had. It was me and Him. And I wasn't sure who He was, and was totally stripped of my own identity.
The road ahead was insatiable, like running into the wind. I had to know everything!!! Yet I could not read. That ability had been robbed from me, along with my ability to think critically!! In spite of that, ever so slowly, I picked up my Bible and eventually a brand new one with several versions, and began to read. I read every word, though I could not begin with the old testament. I tried. So instead I began with John l:l., "In the beginning..... " When finished with the New Testament, I read the old. And for the first time, understood it as much as I could, in its true context. I set aside my old church bible, and observed critically for the first time, the innumerable notations I'd written within the text and margins, from the weekly sermons and sermonettes of two hour durations.
I could now begin my search. It started with several books found at various books stores. "Chariots of the God's by Erich Von Daniken was instrumental in teaching me how to critically think once again. Its title interested me, as one that may have been forbidden by HWA. It taught me that earth indeed was inhabited prior to the 6,000 year bible version of six days and six nights. It also taught me that civilizations existed long before recorded history, and remnants of those civilizations were spread throughout the world. A journey to explore that ancient pre recorded history ensued! One vitally important book I found was "Life After Life" by Dr. Raymond Moody. That book gave me hope that perhaps our spirit survived physical death. I could not dare to believe, however. I could not risk trusting that possibility. Soul sleep was still deeply ingrained, as my only hope of ever seeing my loved one again. Another book I found was, "My Religion" by Helen Keller, a woman I'd always admired.
I shuddered and shook with fear as I read Helen Keller's words. I was in absolute FEAR, but then recalled something I'd read in the Bible, about perfect love casting out fear. I meditated on that, and realized that if I truly loved God then I needed to love Him in perfect love, I also had to trust Him and get rid of my fear. So with shaking hands, and trembling in my very spirit, I began my quest into the world of the unknown, the hidden, the "occult". I was consciously aware when I crossed that line, that God as I understood from my Bible, would not let me go unprotected into that world. I knew I was safe to explore, that He would pull me out if I treaded into territory that I should not go. Helen Keller introduced me to Emanuel Swedenborg, a 19th century mystic. Through him, I learned a whole different story of a spiritual world that he himself experienced.
I could not, would not read anything that was written by anyone knowingly associated with religion in any way. I read secular books, the kind HWA forbade us to read. Then I read "50 Years in the Church of Rome" by Charles Chiniquey . I laughed with him and I cried with him, as he took me along with him on his journey out of the Catholic Church. How I could relate to his journey!!!!! It paralleled my own! Soon I was reading every book I could find on the paranormal. I found I could best relate to the Native American understanding of the spirit realms. I read every day for at least five years, all day, every day. When I would become over saturated I would visit with my deceased loved one's family and an old friend who had known me in the past. I pieced together my life like a jigsaw puzzle, one tiny piece at a time.
It was at a Native American funeral for a member of my loved one's family, that I began to hope once again, that there may be life in spirit after physical death. Yet I dared not really believe it. Not until an old friend from College offered to channel my loved one, so that I could actually communicate with him in spirit, did I gradually make the transition into belief of a spiritual survival directly after physical death.
I gradually studied myself right out of religion, to a place I call, 'beyond religion'. It was there I found God. I found God in spirituality. I found spirituality in the Creation. I found the Creator in the creation, including within myself. In my agony, I went inside of myself to discover exactly what I would find. I was terrified that I might be that horrible, despicable human being that I'd been told I was all my life. But then the voice of my spirit came through and I discovered that I was indeed a child of God. That was the beginning of my healing.
I had discovered "worthiness". For the first time in my life, I believed I was worthy of love, God's love. It changed everything. I was enabled to forgive myself and everyone, because it became a possibility. Until then, it was beyond my grasp. Until I was worthy of this unconditional acceptance of myself and my Creator, I was unable to truly connect with the "source" (i.e. Creator God).
Over the years I continued to read, and began also to view various movies and programs like Star Trek. Movies had been forbidden. I began to realize all of the potential of this wonderful universe, and how ignorant I was to ever think I knew it all!! I found humor, in order that I laugh at myself in my folly! The joke was on me, and I could die from the trauma or I could laugh with them at my foolishness to follow so blindly and be lead down the path of Worldwide Church of God madness! I saw the cosmic 'joke'!
What I learned on my new journey was of love, joy and truth. The joy of discovering that I was created and loved by my Creator, not some insignificant piece of dung spewed out of the mouth of some angry god. It didn't come easy or quickly. Each new possibility had to be weighed. I learned quickly that there was a tremendous amount of misinformation, that HWA had a great deal of company is his campaign of corruption!!! I sifted through it, piece by piece. What didn't make sense or compute in my brain, I set aside and left the door open for possibility. Eventually, basic truths remained, while the fallacies disappeared and held no bearing on truth.
I found threads of truth that ran through all religions. I found that no religion encompassed all truth. I found that religion had little to do with actual truth, and that indeed it was a force used to control the masses and subjugate them into believing in superstitious deceptions. I found that religions had little to do with truth or God, but that they were man made systems of belief, based on dogma, not truth. I found truth to be as simple as the 'rising' sun, and the sound of the water running in a stream. I found I was part of the creation and the breath of my Creator was felt in the wind, and if I listened carefully, I could hear the heartbeat of the earth, the living being beneath my feet. I learned that She is my mother, that my body encompassed the water and minerals I'd nourished from her since my conception in the physical. I also learned that I was a spiritual being, living in a temporary dwelling upon the earth in a temporary physical body. And I learned that I was created in the beginning, as part of the body, as a cell within, what is called Christ who I believe embodies us all. Not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as the 'first born' of the Mother/Father God, our Creator. I found an androgynous Creator who out of itself divided the yin and the yang, the light and the darkness, the male and the female. And I discovered that this same Creator, took care of us, nourished us, as we traveled lifetime after lifetime, journey after journey into the physical, with guidance and trusted beings at our side, leading us back to our source, enriching our spirit a facet at time with each adventure.
I discovered that life beyond religion is life based on ancient truths handed down in creation myths, aboriginal oral histories, such as were the Native American and ancient Jewish. I discovered historical documentation to force me to question all of my prior belief systems, and abandon them as mere fiction. Today I honor my Creator by honoring myself with self respect and dignity, and by reaching out to my fellow human beings with that same respect. And by living my personal integrity, and being my own best friend, trusting myself, knowing that I will never allow myself to follow the drumbeat of another's drum. I will forever listen to my own. That small still voice within me, is my Creator. (not the voice of Satan as Worldwide Church of God taught!)
I owe this journey and enlightenment to Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God. I have learned that the darkness always serves the light! Without having been totally deceived by them, and brought to my knees begging for the fruit of the Holy Spirit as I had been taught to do in Worldwide, I would never have gone on this quest for truth (When I prayed for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, little did I know that the Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Truth) . This is the irony of my Worldwide Church of God sojourn. Little did I know that the Holy Sprit is also the feminine aspect of God, the Shekinah of the ancient Jews, the mother Goddess, whose significance was obliterated by the patriarchy set up by the ancient religious systems. It took the witch hunts, plunder and murder of millions of innocents, the Crusades and the Inquisition to destroy her memory, but it did not destroy her! She is back and in full glory infusing her energies of nurturing and unconditional love upon this planet, as prophetized by the White Buffalo Calf Woman of the Lakota. This prophecy is being fulfilled today, by the birth of a white buffalo calf in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1995 (living proof of the prophecy), unlike the untold false prophecies of HWA whose only significant fulfilled prophecy was that a house built on sand cannot stand. The Worldwide Church of God has crumbled and fallen, as will all spiritual untruth eventually be eradicated from this earth. At least now, with my ability to critically think and believe as I see fit, I have the opportunity to hope. Plus I have the unconditional love toward my fellow human beings to allow them that same opportunity to believe as they see fit, and if necessary agree to disagree.
Today I don't arrogantly believe that I have all of God's truth as I once did while in Worldwide Church of God. I don't need to believe I know it all. I know no one does know all the truths of God, nor is mankind required to. However I also do not have the contamination of illusions perpetuated by Armstrongism nor the delusions of grandeur instilled by his hideous cult!
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