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Isn't that special?
There really is nothing you can't find on the Internet nowadays. I think I've mentioned, albeit only glancingly, that I was brought up in a super-conservative sabbatarian Christian sect that some viewed as a cult...yeah? Well, if not, I was. I figured out that I no longer believed in God's existence about the same time I figured out that I no longer believed in Sean's heterosexuality. The initial transition was rough, but I got things together, stopped going to church, was up-front with my parents, and really haven't thought much about it since. One or two people I knew from my abortive semester at the affiliated Bible college contacted me a while ago--they comment here occasionally--but otherwise, the whole experience felt like a distant relic of childhood.

Then a few days ago, someone I grew up with in church found my blog while Googling for something..."cynical Japan bitch postrel kylie libertarian," presumably. She wrote very politely to say she'd like to get back in touch and indicated that there's a website (of quite long standing, it turns out) for people who used to belong to the Worldwide Church of God and left. Who knew?

I followed her link and was struck by a few things. For one thing, a lot of these people are really, really bitter about the effects of church teachings on their lives. I'm not sure what to make of that. My parents had financial difficulties at times--the '80s weren't kind to the families of PA steelworkers--and my little brother and I could be something of a handful. But they handled life fine without calling the ministers or elders in to put them on a budget or tell them point-by-point how to bring us up. Those writing in to The Painful Truth with horror stories about idiotic counsel that broke up families, turned parents into undemonstrative martinets, and destroyed relationships with non-believing family members are surely expressing bias. How could they not? But even if what they write is somewhat embellished, it's plenty bad in the essentials.

People in the church certainly noticed Herbert W. Armstrong's (even all these years later, I feel bizarrely disrespectful for not typing "Mr. Armstrong's") naked social-climb-y streak and preference for a tacky, rube-ishly ostentatious version of the good life. My parents and their friends were all very devout, but they had a healthy sense of mischief and would joke about the Gulf Stream and the Mercedes at times. Their view of things was that even the highest living servant of God was only human, that he worked hard flying all over the place trying to get the gospel out, and that he'd earned a little understanding from laymembers about his creature comforts. (Having been reared Catholic, my mother found those working in the higher echelons at headquarters to be relatively abstemious.) There seem to be a lot of charges out there that Armstrong was not a mere pious fraud but a thoroughgoing huckster. I don't know how true that is. Frankly, it doesn't interest me much at this late date.

But maybe it would still interest me, even twenty-odd years after his death, if my parents had gotten divorced or hit me with a belt or forbidden me to have friends at school under the orders of ministers in the church he ran. My first instinct, when reading some of these accounts, is to say that some people need to get a life and move on. After all, no one was coerced into buying into the cult of personality of Herbert W. Armstrong the way people were coerced into buying into the cult of Kim Il-sung. Maybe that's too harsh, though. I recognize that my happy life has been enabled to a degree by unearned good fortune rather than by my own strong-mindedness. Having a homosexual atheist who lives in Tokyo as an elder son is not what my parents would have chosen, but they love me and have always recognized that adults are free to make their own way in life. When I got to college, my friends were mostly from comfortable, intact families (like mine, only far more prosperous). We all did our age-appropriate chafing against our parents' expectations, and despite the occasionally major difficulties, we all got through fine. I don't remember feeling that the religious-ness of some of my adjustment problems made them special. Everyone had things to work out with the family.

The guy who runs this site (and this more current blog), who apparently ended up an atheist like me, says he feels a special kinship with people who went through the experience of being brought up in the church. Do I? To a degree, I guess I must. I attended services from ages three to twenty-three. That's a long time. I just wonder whether the church was seriously screwing up the lives of people we knew closely in our congregation and I just didn't recognize it.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Like a little child
  2. Isn't that special?
Posted by Sean on 2007-11-08 18:46:30
Maria (mail):
Sean,

Did you happen to check out the part of Painful Truth's website about the suicides? Apparently, there wash a rash of teen age and young adult suicides in the Bethlehem/Wilkes Barr, PA area. What do you, or your parents, know about that, if anything?
11.14.2007 3:21am
Sean Kinsell (mail) (www):
I remembered one of them in Bethlehem, which was our congregation; another two in Wilkes Barre happened after I was attending church in Philadelphia, but I vaguely remembered those involved from YOU. The remainder I remembered after having my memory jogged by the old friend from my congregation who first wrote to me.

I'm not sure what to think about the role of the church. You were encouraged to go to the ministry for counseling of any kind, as you no doubt recall; however, there were people who also went to reputable, trained psychiatrists. Some may have had family and mental health problems that were unrelated to their involvement in the church.

What I can say is that after the suicide I'd remembered unaided, when we had our next YOU Bible study our pastor (an ignoramus about human nature at the best of times) berated those who had been close to the girl who'd killed herself. She was no longer attending church at that point, I don't think, and the implication was that she'd fallen away from God, so presumably the righteous thing to do was to cut her off dead and let her stew in her depression, or something.
11.14.2007 10:44am
Maria (mail):
Wow. How sad. I've enjoyed your postings referring to WWCG. I also enjoyed checking out Painful Truth. Did you see the section, "You know you grew up in the Worldwide Church of God if..." One of my favorites was: "You know you grew up in the WWCG if you realize that the 8th law of success is how to convince 100,000 people to give you 10% of their gross income."

I was also fortunate. I don't know if anyone told my mother she had to divorce my father because he wasn't in the church. If someone did, she didn't listen to them--thank goodness! Reading PT, it sounds like not all children of WWCG members were so lucky. In some ways, I was lucky I didn't have both parents in the church. And, I'm sure my life would have been different if Dad was in and Mom wasn't, since he was the sole breadwinner of the family. From reading a lot of the postings, I also realized that I was lucky to get the ministers that I did. It appears that people have had a wide spectrum of experiences, depending upon location, which era of the church they grew up in, and how devout their parents were.

I'm glad the sites exist for those who need the catharsis of venting their pain. Too bad they didn't exist while I was at Ambassador College...oh, yeah, that's right, that was WWCG's school. ;-) I need a site to vent about AC...

I have one other recent interesting observation I've made that I want to share with you and your readers, to help them understand the sharp professional persuasive videos that we would see at the FOT about the church's work and Mr. Armstrong's worldwide activities. One thing's for sure, the WWCG was a master at mass communication. Anyway, I just recently saw the video, not really by choice, for Pat Boone's song, Thank You Billy Graham. It's a tribute song with Kenny Rogers, Bono, et al. (Ok, I don't normally see those names together, either). So, I'm watching this video and it's like watching those videos of Mr. Armstrong visiting the Queen of Thailand, the uppity ups in Jordan, the leaders in Sri Lanka, etc., except it's not Mr. Armstrong in the fast moving layered photos, it's Billy Graham. Now I never saw any black and white footage of HWA with John F. Kennedy, so Billy Graham's got one up on him there. :-) On the surface, what is the difference?! It's all a matter of who and what you want to believe.
11.15.2007 11:52am
Sean Kinsell (mail) (www):
Maria, you remember by best friend at AC, of course. (He used to post comments here occasionally under the name "il principe," so I assume he doesn't want his real name mentioned.) Anyway, once during the Feast at St. Petersburg, we were watching the usual yearly movie about HWA's fast-paced life of glitter and prophecy-dispensing, and during one of those cliché shots of the jet taking off, he turned to me and whispered, "As one of my friends says, 'This is where your money goes!'" I practically had to bite through my lip to avoid erupting into gales of unwholesome laughter.

BTW, a tribute to Billy Graham sung by Pat Boone and featuring Kenny Rogers and Bono sounds like something you'd make using a Build Your Own Musical Hell kit. Yeesh.
11.15.2007 1:18pm

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