John Morgan's Flying Free is now available in large soft-cover format. Here's an edited version of two earlier posts on AW about the first edition (which was only released on CD ROM.)
John Morgan is a member of the Kiwi diaspora living in the Big, Dry Country, west of Eden. He is also a former member of the Worldwide Church of God.
He’s the latest to put his story in book form, but unlike some others he doesn't appear to have a sectarian axe to grind. He’s put together a valuable resource.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the preface:
“I believe that to be successful in completely moving on ... it is important to understand more about Herbert Armstrong – answering critical questions like: what was his background, and where was he coming from? It is important to understand the actual reality of the organisation WCG members were a part of. ...
“In Flying Free I have addressed these issues. This book contains never previously published research on Herbert Armstrong’s Holiness Quaker upbringing. It includes extensive research on the WCG’s comparison to a cult, and the characteristics that actually define a cult. There are also many pages devoted to scanned material from original WCG literature – the content of material read from an external perspective, is assimilated and interpreted completely differently to the identical documents read from within the organisation. Reviewing this material can give new insight into the journey taken by WCG members and ex-members.
“Further to this, Flying Free also contains an open-minded assessment of the origins of the Bible, the authority of the Bible, and an appraisal of organised Christianity’s influence on the individual Christian.
“Flying Free documents the impact of the Armstrong teachings on individual lives, but then goes on to show a priceless freedom – found in life beyond fundamentalism.
“Flying Free should serve as a warning to those contemplating entering a fundamentalist church.”
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.) Good people, good books.
Then there are the less worthy tomes. 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. 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 one's 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?
A full review can be found here, once again based on the first edition. Back then I also commented that it would be wonderful to see it appear in hard copy, and it's great that Flying Free is now available in book form. You can order a copy through lulu.com, either as a $10 download, or in paperback format at $38.95. It is expected by be available on Amazon shortly.
To repeat something I said when the first edition came out - "My advice? Get a copy."