I wrote about Flying Free a few days ago, but all I had to go on then was the publicity material. This is part 1 of a review.
I've read quite a few books by ex-WCG members. Some of them have been shattering (Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web springs first to mind) while others have been facile. In recent years I've reviewed – favourably – Pam Dewey's Field Guide (an excellent primer on American religions), Dennis Embo's The God that Prevailed (a testimony by an ex-member who converted to Catholicism), and Henry Sturcke's Encountering the Rest of God (a theological dissertation.) I keep promising to put them online again (sorry Henry, I hope you haven't been holding your breath!) and hopefully that'll happen when I find a bit of spare time. Good people, good books.
Then there are the less worthy tomes: Willie Dankenbring's stuff, Fred Coulter's New Testament "translation", and a copy of Peter's Story that I have yet to crack open the covers of. These are filed away in box where I can blissfully ignore them, side by side with ancient “literature” sanctioned by the church.
Flying Free is in a category of its own. It looked promising from the preview material on the website, but now having had the chance to dig into the actual text I can honestly say my expectations were exceeded. In fact I've read nothing like it before. Author John Morgan captures the spirit of growing up in the old WCG. Looking at it through his eyes put a lot of things in a fresh light, and as I read through the first chapters I found myself thinking: man, we really were weird!
I was blessed with the rare opportunity to come into the church during an atypically “liberal” period. It lasted a few brief years – an Indian Summer of relative sanity – then was swept away in the “cultural revolution” that saw Garner Ted dumped, Stan Rader facing off against the State of California and Herbert taking a final extended trip into megalomania. I didn't hang around much longer – Christ was using an extremely caustic “spot remover” to tart up his Bride, and the local minister wisely decided I was a definite liability (thanks Jack, you did me a favor!)
I mention that because your experience of the WCG is determined to some extent by when you were actively involved. John was there long before me as a kid growing up in the “Truth”, and stayed with the church through till the changes. With a measured style he sets about detailing his story – our story – with great fairness. Warning: if you're anything like me you'll be entering the “flashback zone.” So many things I'd forgotten about. So many fanatical teachings, so much manipulation! Being a part of the church came at a cost. If it wasn't so downright tragic it'd be hilarious.
Unlike some others, John isn't pushing a particular barrow, nor is there any sense of bitterness. It seems he just wants to put it all “on the record”, and he does a magnificent job. No nutty conspiracy theories or cheap apologetics, no strange interpretations of Bible passages, just an amazing story, all the more bizarre for its familiarity. There's also a personal touch to John's account. You can't miss the fact that this church, these doctrines, had an effect on real families, people just like you and me. The personal asides add a great deal to Flying Free.
And oh, those quotes! I'd forgotten just how blatant a lot of Herb's writing was. The thinly veiled threats of eternal damnation if we didn't do this or that. I read them again with a sense of disbelief... was I really taken in by this rubbish?
I'd love to see a print edition of Flying Free, but the CD version has its advantages too. Publishing a 300 page book is no easy task, and the cost to the reader would be a further disincentive. In this form its affordable, and hopefully it'll be widely read. I recommend it without hesitation.
Want to know more? Check out the Flying Free website.
(Part 2 in a few days time)