Why They Stay

by Jim Baldwin

 

(Editor #4: This article was written before the death of GTA and the sale of the Pasadena campus.)

Well, I guess my little memoirs helped to answer how I got out. I reached the decision, very late, that the WCG is nothing but a money-grabbing cult having absolutely no spiritual foundation. Herbert Armstrong was a de-frocked minister of an insignificant Baptist off-shoot. He was an arrogant megalomaniac who seduced his own daughter, drank heavily, lied mightily, raised a son as a serial adulterer and cared for no one but himself. He died without a friend in the world -- dying surrounded by sycophants and boot-lickers. Some of that crowd now run the organization. Others are running off-shoots that have gone on to brutalize other sheep as they learned to do so well under Herb's tutelage. I learned I'd been had big time.

But there is still another question. Why do those "friends" of my past still stay in the WCG? Why are they still trapped and I'm free? What goes on in their minds to justify continued support of this organization? Was I just more morally outraged when I learned the facts of the cesspool inside the ministry? To understand this situation of continued involvement I had to consider that I've been free for ten years--free from the continual mental manipulations of the cult. I have not been receiving the indoctrination they have -- the "spin", if you will. I have been away from over 500 sermons of what the handlers want many to believe.

And yes, the spin does continue with regard to the doctrinal changes. The WCG website gives evidence of some of the more recent lying. The section I'll discuss is under "Transformed By Christ: A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God". A critical reading of the paper will show where the lies are.

But first, some necessary background: In 1991 Little Joe sent a letter to a former member stating:

On his deathbed, Mr. Armstrong himself commissioned my father to look into the very changes we have made. Therefore, we are following the wishes of Mr. Armstrong and, more importantly, God.

A year later Big Joe gave the story about how he learned from Herb about his (Herb's) desire to abandon his former teachings in favor of the watered-down teachings now being presented. This story by Big Joe was nearly six years after the fact. Why the long wait when many members were questioning the changes? Why didn't Big Joe point out Herb's wishes right from the beginning of the doctrinal adjustments?

Now if you go to the website this is what they are saying:

After he [Herbert] died in 1986, church leaders began to realize that many of his doctrines were not biblical.

So, it was the leaders who saw something wrong. No mention is made of the earlier statements about Herb wanting changes from "his deathbed".

In 1988, Tkach [Sr.] made minor doctrinal changes. (A brief aside: Being permitted to seek help from the medical professions was one of the "minor" changes. The fact that many died under the old faith-healing teaching is left out. I remember the death of a young woman who decided to exhibit her faith by going off her diabetic treatment.  Another friend, Joanne White died of breast cancer waiting for healing. Her agonizing death was not "minor").

But, back to the spin on the website. 

In 1990, the church peaked at 133,000 in weekly attendance. More doctrinal changes were made as Tkach [Sr.] realized that some of Armstrong's unusual beliefs, though sincere, were not biblical.

Here it is, four years after Herb had wanted doctrinal changes made, some are changed. The wording is to credit Tkach Sr. with the discovery of doctrinal error. This is directly in conflict with the earlier statements.

The point is, that here is the WCG official website discussing WCG church history. Many comments are made about Herbert Armstrong--not all of them flattering. But they could have had a more positive note in the march to Protestantism by stating that Armstrong himself "on his deathbed" wanted the cultic doctrines changed. Here was the opportunity to show that the founder even wanted change. A nice transition could have been had into the discussion of the newly-defined church. Herb's words could have been quoted, had there been such utterances.

The reason this was not done was that many cult-watchers knew the earlier statements of '91 and '92 were simply untrue. I wrote a paper in '94 proving the lies. Gerald Flurry's "Philadelphia Trumpet" brought the subject to my attention. I did some research on my own from the material appearing in the Pastor General's Report. Other observers laughed at the bald-faced lies. The cult now has decided not to repeat the earlier "spin". But the fact is that the people I know who were there ten years ago, heard the same lies and don't care as they are so used to being manipulated.

The WCG's website points out that many people considered the WCG to be a heretical cult. This is not denied but the wording on the website is that it was "an unorthodox church on the fringes of Christianity". That is a good definition of a Bible-based cult. And cults have to have attractants to gain and hold members. The WCG had some unusual and powerful ones at its disposal. People still attending are still responsive to the draws in their own ways.

I am asking: Why do they stay? First off, the ministers, those receiving a paycheck are, for the most part, in it for just that, money. They are hirelings.

This was brought out for me most forcefully and plainly last spring by WCG pastor, Ron Stoddart. He was having to deal with some controversy about the old teachings concerning observance of the spring holy days. He wanted to show his loyalty to headquarters so he wrote in the local church bulletin:

I get money every month that gives me a responsibility to respond to our leadership in every way I can. 

He's on the payroll so he does what his bosses tell him to do. He cites no scripture or biblical principle, he simply says he'll do it for pay. In fact, those still acting as ministers in the cult will seemingly teach anything for pay. Many of the formerly detested doctrines are quite happily embraced by them now. I remember a comment that Dr. Dorothy made back in the mid-70s after he resigned. He was asked why he held on through the teaching of false doctrines. He simply said, "I had five mouths to feed". The paycheck overcomes integrity. It's a very old story played out in many totalitarian systems.

Look, let's call the WCG ministers for what they are: "hirelings". For the most part, the present WCG ministers, should they seek employment elsewhere as ministers, have nothing to offer the Christian community in the way of academic credentials. They are graduates of a defunct Bible college which was run by a church "on the fringes of
Christianity". To the leaders of the mainstream Church, they are seen as quite willing in the days of their cult  employment to teach the most abhorrent Christian heresies for which they now appear to be apologetic. And the thought of taking their somewhat naked qualifications into the free market to compete with others in the secular world is anathema to them. So, they adopt whatever the WCG leaders say is "truth" and run with it. And pick up their checks.

And does the WCG now have the lowest of the low as ministers? They have been squelching whatever they might have had as ethics for years as they compromised their integrity. With each new piece of information gained about the fraud they were helping Armstrong perpetuate, they caused something to die in themselves when they ignored or rationalized it. They got along by going along. The paycheck was all important. Now they are living in fear that Little Joe will pull the
financial rug out from under them when the Pasadena property is finally sold. The WCG ministry is useful now to keep some money flowing into the pot. There are going to be many sufferings up ahead after Joe no longer needs his sycophantic ministry. But the people I am speaking of, my long-time "friends", the ones not on the payroll, they are receiving something else to keep them in attendance. What is it?

They will abandon heretical doctrines, apologize to the members and ex-members,  make overtures to the Christian community, but they cannot give up the power over the people. It's not about doctrine; it's about power and money.

One lady e-mailed me to ask, "We have grown, why can't you?" Yeah, right. They've "grown" into an insignificant Protestant branch with continuing cult trappings in the sense of HQ still having a hierarchical structure. That's the one thing they, the WCG chiefs, cannot change. They will abandon heretical doctrines, apologize to the members and ex-members,  make overtures to the Christian community, but they cannot give up the power over the people. It's not about doctrine; it's about power and money.

Another elder told me as I was preparing to exit back in '92, "Jim, I have been here for twenty-five years and I am staying until the bitter end." So he's now been there for thirty-five years. I guess the bitterness isn't gagging him enough yet.

One also has to consider that there are those still hanging on hoping that a new apostle will be raised up to throw out the present bunch of liberals and return to that "faith once delivered". A search of the various internet sites dealing with WCG matters will show this. Here are two quotes I recently read: 

A hunger for something better than the current COG status quo still seems to connect many of us around the globe. We keep reading, looking, expecting... 

...waiting for God to put the church 'back on the track'.

These quotes were not on the same page but together do express what some are looking for in their prayers.

Cults attract people for different reasons. An examination of some of those reasons will help answer the question of why many old timers stay. Here is a brief list of some of the reasons people turned to cults like the WCG:

1. Idealism and the spiritual quest. The WCG held out the picture of a changed world run by perfect beings guided by right laws. No doubt a worthy objective.

2. Personal difficulties. Some were having terrible struggles with some particular difficulty--alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, overeating, pornography. They were let to believe that possession of some spiritual force would overcome the weaknesses. 

3. Some were just unfulfilled looking for magic belief or affiliation to add zest to a humdrum life. Eric Hoffer in his book, "The True Believer" wrote:

A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abused which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves-- and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.

4. Cultural disillusionment and dissatisfaction. When I was hooked in the 60s the country seemed like it was about to become unhinged. I was terribly unhappy at conditions as were many. The WCG had large gains in membership during the 60s.

5. Low tolerance with ambiguity. The cult saw everything in black and white terms. Stay out of the gray areas the cult taught.

6. The need for approval from someone. Here was a chance to gain acceptance from others as long as the party line was adopted. It didn't matter how odd one might be. 

7. Susceptibility to trance states. There were those listening to Herb and Ted's radio and TV offerings that were practically hypnotized by the assuring, self-confident, rapid-fire presentations. 

8. Conceptualize problems in a religious framework. Some had the idea that if they could just get in harmony with the biblical laws all would be well.

9. Need for a sense of community. The need to belong somewhere. The cult produced an LP one time entitled "We Are Family", pandering to the basic human need.

10. Structure, purpose, routine, order. Hierarchical organizations like the WCG cult allowed one to build a life around dos and don'ts. You only had to find your pecking order to be comfortable. Pray, pay, stay and obey was (and still is) the life. 

11. Drama. It was once written that "most men live lives of quiet desperation". Well, the wild scenarios that the likes of Gerald Waterhouse could dredge up would set any life afire with zeal to be a part of something absolutely amazing on the horizon.

12. Need to be on the inside. The teachings of the WCG cult allowed one to be able to think they understood history's mysteries. Armstrong even made capital on the word "mystery" in his final collection of blatherings. As a member of the WCG one could be the possessor of secret knowledge. Or so they thought.

Eric Hoffer, again, wrote about this aspect: To be in possession of absolute truth is to have a net cast over the>whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities forseen... An active mass movement rejects the present and centers its interests in the future. It is from this attitude that it derives its strength, for it can proceed recklessly with the present--with the health, wealth and lives of its followers.

13. Need to be free from the responsibility to think. A member could surrender life, fortune, and problems to others who would take on the messy business of what to do in life.

14. Dissatisfaction with the institutional churches. Attending most mainline churches was an exercise in boredom. Pabulum, poetry, and pussyfooting rules them. 

15. Need to be filled with a transcendent purpose. One could think he or she had finally found the "meaning of life" which men had searched for since written records began.

16. Fascination with prophecy. Just think of all those beasts, numbers, nations, and evil men. In the cult all was explained. (Yeah, right).

Those are just some of the reasons people are drawn to Bible-based cults like the WCG. And some of those reasons are intermingled and overlap. The study of the cults is a very young science. There was barely anything about them in the 60s when I was entrapped. Certainly no writings appealing to the general public. Those were to come later after Jim Jones and the Jonestown suicides in South America. (Another aside: Jones had a large sign over the entrance to his little kingdom in the wilderness. On it was the famous quote from the philosopher, Santyana. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It was Jim's little joke. He was using religion to lord it over his captives like so many before him.) If you examine and think about the above reasons people join cults you will see that some of them have nothing to do with doctrines. That is why some still stay after the doctrinal changes. It doesn't matter. Let them be changed. It means nothing to me some thought. One lady still attending told me that she always thought that Herb was a pompous ass. But she loves the people. She treated the body of teachings like a buffet lunch--a little of this, some of that, and no onions.

Another deacon told his brother that the doctrines were not at all important to him. The church is where all his friends are.

Both of these were not shaken by the doctrinal changes. It didn't matter as long as the people and friends were still there. Another reason people stay in the WCG is simply one of denial. Again, Hoffer: It is the true believer's ability to 'shut his eyes and stay his ears' to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.

One also has to consider that it is most difficult to admit error. I know what a painful thing it was to admit ten years ago that I was in a life-destroying cult. That I had thrown away thousands of dollars and 25 years of my life helping evil men pump up a giant soap bubble. And then it exploded as all soap bubbles have to. And like a soap bubble it was all beautiful with shifting colors on the outside but inside it was filled with only air.

So, those "friends" of mine still supporting the madness have put in 25, 30,40, and 50 years and are simply unable to admit the wasted lives they built. To do so would be unbearably painful if not an actual threat to mental stability. They simply cannot admit to themselves they are a part of such a loathsome organization. The enormous investment in time and money is too great to cast aside.

Cult researchers have written of other reasons it is difficult to exit the cult: 

Paranoia--People are afraid of the world outside the church. They still have in their minds the "us versus them" mentality fostered by the cult for decades.

Keeping people wounded--Some enter the cult with terrible mental hangups and there is no help from a ministry untrained to give professional aid. So the people go on for years thinking if they only could study more, pray more, fast
more they would get the "spirit" they need. They are the walking wounded. Leaving is not an option.

Misplaced loyalty--Cult propaganda teaches that disloyalty to the ministry and the church is the same as disloyalty to their god. Fear keeps them trapped.

Scare tactics--More propaganda teaches that if you leave "God'll get you." 

Humiliation--Fear that if you leave terrible things will be said about you. "Oh, he was never really converted anyways."

Loss of friends--After decades of ignoring your former friends and family, it is very difficult to start over again outside the church.

Those still in support of the WCG cult need to ask themselves if they would have become members back in whatever time if they had known that:

Herbert was a defrocked minister from an insignificant Baptist spin-off. He had made dozens of false prophecies in the 30s and 40s.
He had to leave the northwest because of those utterances.
He had seduced his youngest daughter in the early days of his ministry.
He was a liar, an alcoholic, and a borrower of other's doctrines.
He hated his son Ted, who, in turn, hated him.
His false D&R doctrine would ruin the lives of thousands by breaking up perfectly good marriages.
His false "faith-healing" doctrine would take the lives of many. Later it is to be described as a "minor" change when it is dumped.
Millions of tithe dollars would be wasted to further Herb's image, satiate his desire for fine things, and buy business jets to visit tin-pot dictators. Many more millions would be wasted teaching heresies over the radio, television, and in the pages of the Plain Truth.
The three college campuses would be closed.
Millions more were to be spent on "The House For God" that is now a white elephant no one wants.
Ted was (and continued as) a serial adulterer, admitted by himself.
The church would break up into hundreds of competing businesses.
The basic prophetic structure would be abandoned.
The church would become praised by Protestantism for "changing."
Loathsome Protestant doctrines would be embraced as "truth."

I ask you, just how many would have become involved with the WCG had they known what was to come? And the above is the short list.

As it is, none can look into the future. But some of these things, particularly Herb's early history, could have been known with a little research. But who was ready to look into the matters when the booklets and the correspondence course lessons were flooding the mailbox? We were so dazzled by the concept of having found the "true church" that any questionings were suppressed. We wanted to believe. Those still in continue to do so. They want to believe. So they will. Pity them.

I was recently musing on this subject of decision-making without the full facts. I had turned on the TV one morning and the channel was set to one of the cable offerings. To my complete surprise there was old Garner Ted still spouting off his usual religious propaganda. I thought back to the time 40 years ago when I first heard him on radio. I thought of the way he just captured me with his rapid, confident delivery of all the answers to life. Back then I did not realize I was about to embark on a journey that would waste a quarter century of my life and tens of thousands of dollars. If only I had known then what a completely immoral man he was. I had no idea that he represented a cult. I was so naive. Who would have thought that men would lie, cheat and steal in the name of a supreme god. Then I thought of his present TV audience who are being drawn to him today. People much like myself back in the 60s --ignorant, naive, and bothered by the world's condition. And he is having a measure of success in spite of his corrupt life. He is after fools and there is a whole new generation of them. The good part is that today one can turn to the internet and find out the story of this man if they care to. I didn't have that kind of access to helpful information during the early stages of my involvement. 

I recognize that those still trapped in the WCG cult are exercising their constitutional right of freedom of religion. But they should also realize that right guarantees neither taste nor truth. How well I know.

I welcome any comments or questions. Jim Baldwin [email protected]