Herbert W Armstrong started his group in the 1930s and it’s a reason for conjecture among former members as to whether he intended to be a cult leader or not. My own view is that he had most likely genuine motives at the start to make a difference but as the years went on and he became more and more powerful, he was distracted by his influence over others and by his notoriety, and also by the huge amounts of cash flowing into the cult from its often struggling members.
He felt that he was given a job to do by God himself and that he was chosen to alert the people of the Earth to what he saw as the coming wrath of God.
Older readers may remember The Plain Truth. This was a magazine published by the cult with a large circulation in the millions all over the World. To give it some credit, the publication was well respected and the articles were researched carefully for the most-part. It was a news magazine but concentrated mostly on what was seen as proof that the times of trouble were close.
The cult also enjoyed a lot of air-play with its The World Tomorrow radio show and later, a TV program of the same name. The cult’s magazine and radio program spread across the US and Canada during the 1940s and 50s then onto Europe and the UK as well.
British authorities didn’t allow the program over radio on the mainland so the cult, not to be defeated, placed its message on pirate stations off the Coast. The magazine and electronic media shows found their way to our nation as well, and it was through the radio program that my parents came into contact with the group. Later, my own dealings with WCG will be discussed in more detail and you will see how my life was badly disrupted by this former cult.
For years, the modern-day “apostle”, as Armstrong liked to be known traveled all over the planet, bringing the group’s message to many world leaders who actually granted him an audience, such was his charisma and influence. He did this in a private jet, all paid for by the cult members apparently limitless pockets of course.
Armstrong saw mainstream Christianity as being weak, wishy-washy and as lacking direction. He said that so-called Christianity focused too much on Christ himself rather than on the message he brought during his time on Earth. He strongly believed that the writings of the old Testament were not just there for us to learn from but rather that the old Covenant between God and Israel was still to be largely lived by even today.
Because of this view, the cult strongly adhered to a belief that the Seventh day Sabbath should still be observed strictly. This in my view was one of the worst aspects of life within the sect.
Many people who were nurses, police officers, ambulance officers or in fact anyone who had a job which involved the likelihood of having to work on the Sabbath was forced to give them up if they wanted to become cult members.
In one case which I am aware of, a member was allowed to remain within the Queensland police service and was permitted to avoid Sabbath work by his employer, however, he was not eligible for normal promotion opportunities. In other cases, unemployment resulted, or people were obliged to take lower paid jobs even though they had fine qualifications, in order to avoid Sabbath work.
Work was not the only activity banned during the Sabbath. Sport, even as a spectator, shopping (except for essentials), volunteer work to help others and activities such as dancing or fishing were outlawed as well.
In my own case, during my teen years, I had an opportunity to tryout for some disability sport because of vision impairment. I may have possibly been good enough to represent my state or my country as some of my non cult member friends did but due to the ban on Sabbath sport and even training, well I’ll never know now.
WCG was typically cultish in many respects and believed that it and it alone was the “one true church”. It also believed that all other churches were deceived and of the devil. This lead to a lack of trust towards it from most other religious groups and Worldwide was therefore on the fringes of Christian religion.
WCG did not keep members physically isolated as some cults do. There were no gun-wielding guards, no barbed-wire fences and we lived in regular houses in regular Cities and Towns. There was though a strong effort by the cult to monopolize the time of its members not only due to Church services but also because of entertainment and sporting activities just for members and their families within the group.
Such activities may sound good on the surface and indeed, they did have a positive side however they also served to restrict the time that we could spend with nonmember relatives and friends.
As well as the weekly Sabbath mentioned above, the cult practiced the annual Sabbaths covered in the Old Testament and such observances appeared positively weird to the uninitiated. For example, usually in March or April, the cult observed the “days of unleavened bread”. Leavening agents such as baker’s yeast were supposed to typify sin due to their ability to puff-up and members had to remove all such leavened products from homes, cars and work or school bags, etc. Try explaining that to a nonmember child friend at school and see how weird that seems? I tried to make sure my school mates didn’t find out about any of these strange rituals because I didn’t want to become a laughing-stock.
Another really strange observance was “the day of atonement”. This was to typify the blame for all sin in the World being placed on the head of Satan. We celebrated this by going without all food and liquid for 24 hours.
My parents were very ill when they observed this for the first time and older children were also encouraged to do this as well. Going without food and water (fasting) was often encouraged as a tool of correction within the cult.
Also the cult saw food products from the pig or shell-fish as unclean and forbade the eating of them. During a sporting trip to Sydney with my school, bacon and eggs were served for breakfast one morning. Of course I tried to be a loyal cult child and didn’t eat the bacon, I ate only the eggs and although they tasted great, it was hours before we ate again and I found it hard to compete on only half the food eaten by everyone else.
Such weird beliefs and behavior certainly did socially isolate WCG members from the rest of society. Even now at the age of 47, I don’t have close relationships with extended family such as cousins which is at least in part due to the cult’s social isolation for so many years.
This is not an attempt to provide a concise history of Worldwide however it is an introduction to it and will at least give you some idea of what it’s like to grow up in a cult. Such was the control the cult had over the thought processes of people within it that some former members just couldn’t cope with life away from it after leaving. During a conversation with another former member and close friend, we came up with the names of 15 people whom we knew or knew of, who committed suicide because of being unable to cope with life outside the sect.
During the coming chapters as we discuss cults in general, further aspects of life in WCG will be described as a way of placing you at the “coal-face” so to speak of cultic life.