Ooh. I know this is going to rub my actual friends, who follow me on social media, in all the wrong ways. Before you get offended, read all the way through. Just saying…
I grew up in a cult.
There’s just no other way to put it.
It took me, well, until about now, to be able to even say that, because my religion was a huge part of my identity.
Those of us who were in it since birth, usually say, “I was born in ‘the church.'”
The organization was called The Worldwide Church of God (AKA WCG – you’ll see how funny these acronyms get as we go along; also, watch this video I’ve embedded, if you don’t want to read a dissertation on a cult that doesn’t exist anymore).
The Radio Church of God
The first thing you’re going to read about WCG is that its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, had — drumroll, please — a background in marketing and advertising. So, he was skilled at public relations, very charming, media-savvy — also, a self-declared prophet of God.
WCG was originally known as the Radio Church of God because it started off as a radio show and then moved into print, before he finally found a literal cult following.
I was still pretty young when the church started to fall apart but I think the general gist was that Armstrong picked a few dates for the New Testament idea of Jesus Christ’s return. He implored all the members to be prepared for the first date. But… nothing happened.
And then, he picked a second date and, well, nothing happened again.
(This happened a couple more times…)
You won’t read about this much on the “reputable” sources but, rumour is that he also publicly dared God during a sermon, that if he wasn’t a real prophet, that He should smite him down.
And shortly after that, he died from illness. So… coincidence? A big sign from the actual Lord? I dunno.
The church, as we knew it, dropped Armstrong’s teachings, and tried to go mainstream after that.
Droves of people left. Some narcissists started their own splinter groups. (I say narcissists because, find me a cult that doesn’t have a narcissist for a leader. I dare you. You won’t find one.)
Why Cults are a perfect place for predators to find victims
I’m not going to explain to you what a cult is. I suspect that you have some basic idea.
I’ve often been caught saying that cults are perfect places for narcissists and their victims.
I always say there’s two types of people in the church: The ones who want to serve and the ones who want to be served.
Sometimes, the ones who want to be served, look like the ones who are serving.
(There’s nothing wrong with service. I’m strictly talking about it in the context of this “religion.”)
Looking back on our previous discussion on narcissism, narcissists tend to be very charming. They are very successful. People admire them. They look up to them. And they often land leadership positions because of those traits.
But, narcissists also need what’s called supply.
What ends up happening is that they’re put in these leadership positions, where they lead a group, say, a ministry. And then they have all these people below them who look to them for guidance, but they exist to do what the leader ultimately decides. The narcissist gets their supply: People who look up to them and admire them, and the victim fills their gaping emotional hole with service. It gives both sides existential purpose.
If you have unseen traumas, like me, you were probably told that serving and sacrifice was love. And that if we’re suffering, it’s because God loves us, and we’re being tried by fire. Refined like iron, sharpened by iron (Proverbs 27:17).
I can’t tell you how many times growing up, I was told by my mom that it was important to lay your life down for your brother (John 15:13). That if you were suffering for the benefit of another person, you were doing God’s work, and therefore, God loves you.
What this equation leaves out is that God wants you to be happy.
Suffering has its purpose. It teaches us lessons. But we’re not meant to suffer all the time. Otherwise, what is the point of living?
And it’s this very crisis, that I believe led several of my fellow church-goers to commit suicide, even as recent as a few years ago, even though WCG hasn’t existed in its original glory since the 90s.
A skilled manipulator can go to someone who may have some deep-seated attachment issues, and use this concept to their advantage.
“I’m your (biblical) brother or sister. I’m a widow. You should be taking care of me. The bible says so. Give me some money. Fix my house. Buy me groceries.”
I’m obviously over-simplifying. It takes more work than that. But, I hope, you get my point.
The church alphabet
I went through several splinter groups in my youth: Church of God International (CGI), United Church of God, an International Association (UCGIA), United Church of God (UCG not the Sunday-keeping Pentecostal version), Global Church of God (GCG), Philadelphia Church of God (PCG), the newest one is COGWA (yes, say it phonetically; it stands for Church of God, a Worldwide Association) — I could go on.
(I also hope you see why the acronyms just get ridiculous. By the time I left the church, I had been asking people, what alphabet group they were a part of. It’s an inside joke. It’s a thing between all former believers.)
There were a few common denominators that often split these larger splinter groups into even smaller offshoots:
They could never agree on who should be the ultimate leader of the entire organization.
They could never agree on where their headquarter should be.
They could never agree on how to spend the money they collected — and it was often a lot of money because of imposed tithing. (GCG’s founder was eventually kicked out after they found out he was using the church funds for personal gain. Don’t worry, he made out just fine. He just started another acronym. Those who believed him left, and followed him.)
It was mostly political in-fighting and, let’s face it, a battle of egos. It was rarely over a difference in doctrine. It was rarely ever about God.
The cultures in these groups tend to be the same. Even on a smaller, more local level, the hierarchy is there: Having an ultimate leader (the pastor), take reigns of the local chapter. And those leaders lead the leaders of the smaller ministries. And then you get the sheep who just serve, serve, serve. Because service is suffering. Suffering is love. Masochism means God loves you.
Doesn’t the bible warn us about this? Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Narcissists in cults, searching for their victims.
The church as a bully
The church pushed a lot of ideas that would be considered hate by today’s standards.
There was no interracial marriage.
There was no fornication.
No writing fiction because it was lying.
You couldn’t be a doctor because you’re not God.
You couldn’t be a police officer, a soldier or anything that was of the world.
You couldn’t vote because there is no one who is in power who wasn’t put there by God. God makes these decisions. Who are we to think we have any say?
There’s no such thing as mental illness. You just need more God.
Otherwise, you’ve been dabbling in spirits and witchcraft and you’re just possessed.
There was absolutely NO DIVORCE.
You are the chosen ones
The first-fruits never made any sense to me.
It’s the Book of Revelation idea that 144,000 people, out of the world’s 7.5+ billion current population, were going to be the first chosen to be part of God’s kingdom when Jesus returns in the future.
We’re basically like grains in a field.
God is the farmer and he goes through the field of 7.5+ billion people, and picks the best 144,000. The Philadelphia. The chosen first-fruits.
(I’m not a farmer, but I don’t think that’s how farming works.)
So, if you are a chosen first-fruit. And your husband is a chosen first-fruit. Your children are saved by grace. You’re a sacred family.
God chose you.
He made this situation happen.
So, you would be going against his will, if you got a divorce.
This created a culture of victims, who were already too psychologically damaged to find the will to leave their abusive spouses, who stayed with their abusive spouses, because their suffering meant God loved them, and their salvation (their future, never-ending life beyond this physical one) would be compromised if they left.
The church also pushed that if you spared the rod, you spoiled the child.
The church not only asked spouses, many of them women, to think of ways not to trigger their husbands into beating them but, they also were told they needed to abuse their kids.
Without getting into it today, I have very clear memories of my father, who physically abused my mom, working his way up through the ranks at church, and having the leaders come to our house, to ask my mom to inspect her flaws, and to ask herself why my dad would beat her.
I have said that I find my mom to be a difficult person. But there’s never any excuse for abuse. It is never okay.
It’s definitely never okay to blame the victim and to ask the victim to take responsibility for a situation they weren’t responsible for.
But anyway, that my friends, is a huge part of the culture of my youth.
Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This is only my second post.
We’re still getting to know each other.
I hope you stick around.
I need to say this because I know it’s going to come up: Just because you belong to a religion, does not mean I’m lumping you into “the church.”
I have absolutely nothing against religion, in general. I, myself, believe in a higher power. It’s just not the same concept that I was programmed to believe in from a young age.
If you are part of a splinter group, and you have roots in WCG, I’m also NOT accusing you of being in a cult. Many people have healed from Armstrong’s damage and now meet with other former members, in a much more loving space.
However, I also know of groups that have absolutely no history with WCG who operate just like it, and have similar teachings, despite its members never growing up in the church.
If you’re offended, ask yourself why. I’m not necessarily talking about you, unless I explicitly say so.