Wednesday 25 May 2016

Going for the package deal

Back when WCG congregations often had over 500 members and were growing fast, most had at least one Spokesman Club to hone the men's communication skills.  In our area, our club met on the second and fourth Monday's of the month.  In one meeting in late 1985, the topics session got off to a slow start.  However, the astute Topics Master knew how to remedy the situation and deftly lobbed a softball question to the club... "Can anyone tell us how were you called into the church?"  The hands began to shoot up in the air - everybody in WCG had a story to tell about their calling.  The floodgates had been opened.  A barber told his story about  the wind blowing a magazine onto his leg as he walked to his mailbox one afternoon. He shook his leg again and again and yet the magazine remained - it just wouldn't break free.  He reached down and grabbed the magazine and what do you know - it was the Plain Truth!

My father had a story, too.  His parents had not attended church and neither did he.  He was not at all interested.  However, while driving to work one morning, he turned on the radio and - Boom! - Mr. Armstrong's voice bellowed from the speakers and it grabbed his attention.  He became hooked.  Shortly thereafter he was reading the Plain Truth, WCG booklets, and the Bible.  His mind had been opened and he began to understand the Bible even better than those who had been trained to become priests.

My mother followed his lead and their excitement soon rubbed off on us kids.  During high school, the excitement had waned a bit as it had for many church kids.  Early in my fourth year of college, a friend began to talk about how it was time for us to get off of the fence, one way or the other.  This made sense.  How could we keep going if it was merely to please our parents?  Shortly thereafter, I experienced my own calling.   On a Saturday morning, while searching for something interesting on the radio... BOOM!  I heard a voice crying out of the wilderness and I was hooked.  It was a familiar voice yet new at the same time.  It was actually a young HWA (perhaps a re-run of a 1950's program) and this dynamic man had grabbed my attention.  All the sudden 'the truth' became exciting once again.  It was time to set the school books aside and work through the correspondence course and, what do you know, it all made sense!  All those things taught to me as a child were actually true and I could prove it from the Bible.

During the same time period, about 30 miles across town, my uncle had been called.  His mind was also opened, he learned 'the truth' and he had proved it from the Bible.   And just five or six houses down the street, my friend was called.  His mind had been opened and he now understood 'the truth'.  Now the three of us all had something very important in common with each other - we had been called by God and could now understand the 'truth', unlike the vast majority of humanity.  It is amazing how it worked and what are the odds?

Of course, our experience would not make sense to most people external to the 'true church' but, for those in it, it made perfect sense.  We knew what we knew because  we had been called by God, given special understanding, and we because we had proved everything that we believed straight from the Bible!

Oops.  The was a small problem.  Even though my uncle, my friend ,and I had very similar experience that led to a complete change in our lives, we also ended up with a few significant differences.  I had been baptized into WCG.  My uncle became a Jehovah Witness, and my friend became a Mormon.

How could this be?  Well, obviously my uncle and my friend were deceived.  Although they were sincere in what they believed, they were sincerely wrong. I knew that to be a fact with absolute certainty.  At the same time, they felt exactly the same way that I did.  They knew that they were right and they knew that I was wrong.  We even had a bit of arrogance in common!  The sad thing is that although we could each recognize the error in the beliefs of the others, none of us could see our own error.  And there is the real problem.  We all had become blind regarding some truths that were obvious to others.  As a  result, we had each become slaves to organizations that had elevated themselves above God, merely because they were effective in tying up their core beliefs into attractively wrapped packages.  They had all the answers to life's most important questions and we liked what they taught.  We were special and we were going to fill some mighty important positions in the kingdom.

Looking back, it would have been nice had the internet been invented 25 years earlier.  Maybe we would have realized more quickly that not everything was quite what it had appeared to us initially.  We might have determined early on that they were not actually joining the 'one true' church being directly led by God as the organizations had claimed.  We might have realized that the neat little packages they had given us actually contained errors and half-truths, and had to be re-wrapped now and then to cover up erroneous prophetic predictions from the past and teachings that were conveniently reversed along the way.

My question to anyone still believing UCG, COGWA, LCG,  RCG, or any of the other splinters from WCG to be the only churches with 'the truth', please explain to me how you can know that for sure.  If we are dependent upon revealed understanding to make sense of the Bible and 99.9% of the world is deceived, how can we be sure that WCG's 'package of beliefs' had been the pure truth rather than merely a mix of error and truth?  Because we liked it?  Because it was wrapped up so well?  Because it made sense to us?

Nearly every member of every cult had a nearly identical experience as to ours when we had joined WCG.  They felt it, believed it, and proved it.  Just like we did.  Once we liked what we heard, we wanted to prove it.  Once we believed that we had proved it, we did not want to let go of it.  And then we surrounded ourselves with others that reinforced the fact that we had all proved it and that the worst thing in the world was to let go of that belief.  No wonder we were so sure.

But what had we actually proven?  Maybe just that we were human. We proved that we could be fooled just like the thousands of intelligent people that had been more recently fooled by Bernie Madoff.  He was self-confident.  He was convincing.  He was connected.  He gained people's confidence.  Yet he was a con man.



Byker Bob said...

I got dragged into it by my parents who had been looking for answers following a family tragedy, and heard the broadcast. Although I always found some of it problematic, I did at some point put in an honest effort, and found that in practical application, it neither worked, nor delivered. The misery and paranoia it caused were a daily affliction. Part of that involved the fears of Laodiceanism, the Germans coming in 1972, and the probability of all my "unconverted" loved ones suffering the brunt of it all. When none of this came to pass, I knew instinctively that had WCG actually been God's church, or if He had indeed had anything whatsoever to do with them, He would not have allowed them to have been wrong on something this big. I left, looking for new more substantive answers, and sought to repair as much of the damage as possible.

Eventually, I became more aware of my gift in life, and began to apply that to helping people. I don't nourish peoples' souls, I'm involved in keeping the equipment working that makes their businesses profitable so that they can put food on the family table, and make it possible for their employees to do the same. There is a certain purity in that.


Anonymous said...

Kevin: Excellent analysis. The model you describe fits my life well. The details are just a little different. But there are a couple of observations I would make.

One, it took me a while after exiting Armstrongism back in the Nineties to finally realize that my experience had not been special. It was, alas, a tawdry, run-of-the-mill cult experience. It was a cliché. I believe most people who are captured by the slick salesmanship of cults believe that something very special and divine happened to them to get them into the cult. As long as they are in the cult, they can maintain the illusion of specialness. It makes it difficult for people with low self-esteem to ever exit.

Two, Armstrongism pulls people toward cultism but the mainstream churches push people in that direction. The mainstream churches are quick to condemn cults but they never admit to their complicity in the affair. I attended the Church of Christ and the Baptist Church before being snared by Armstrongism. My experience with these two evangelical denominations was a soul-starving tour through boredom and irrelevance. The whole package was soporific. Armstrongism seemed exciting, vital, urgent and relevant by comparison. I credit Protestant movement and its loss of vitality and meaning for many people joining cults. You will not read this in the pages of Christianity Today.

Unknown said...

I am a Sabbatarian. Life went along , with all its ebbs and flows and then...

BOOM! I heard a voice crying out of the wilderness on the radio and I was hooked...

It was HOWARD STERN, and my life has not been the same since!

Anonymous said...


At least the voice wasn't Rush Limbaugh's. Rush is who most of the conservative evangelicals worship like he was some kind of divinity.