Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reader Testimonials -- John of Ohio

From time to time we get letters from our readers. I like to know how people were drawn in to Armstrongism and how they left. My favorites are the stories of challenges overcome and second chances. I think you’ll find that in this story today, but you’ll have to look hard for it. Because in today’s personal experience letter from our readers we’ll see how escaping Armstrongism is not always a bed of roses.

I know from personal experience that there are some callous and inconsiderate souls out there who deny that anyone had a bad experience in Armstrongism. I’m sorry, but that’s delusional. There is a very real, very serious reason why we have links to suicide hotline and help groups here on ABD.
I want everyone to know this: just because you leave Armstrongism, doesn’t mean Armstrongism has left you. Even if we come to grace and step into the New Covenant in the blood of our Lord Jesus, some wounds remain. Sometimes we have gotten ourselves into something and those situations have lasting effects. God isn’t going to whisk those things away. They have to be worked out. He will help us, but we have made our own bed.
Take me for example. Time was lost and loved ones have passed away while I was preoccupied with my splinter group. I will never get back that time nor my loved ones, who should have been my business all along. I have to deal with this for the rest of my life.
These are the hidden things, the damage we do that we don’t see until it’s too late. It is very real. It is very serious. And so far as I have control over it, I will not allow the first word from a person so cold and wretched as to deny that people have had their lives damaged and even ruined by Armstrongism.

But if you would allow me a bit of speculation, I have noticed that the most common problems for people leaving Armstrongism are marital problems. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but that’s what I’ve seen.
Marriages in Armstrongism are often a world apart from marriages in a grace-based system. Like all relationships in a legalistic system, they are conditional. The entire marriage could have rested entirely on conditions (of belief, action, submission, or whatever.) When the church changes, the conditions change, and the dynamic of the relationship either changes or disintegrates. Often there are scars left that need time to heal. Sometimes, one spouse cannot bring themselves to overcome those scars.

I wish I had better resources available for those of you who need marital counselling. I am working on it. Please contact me if you believe you can help people with this need! My email is listed in the menu to the right.

John from Ohio wants to share his experience with you, warts and all. He wants anyone who feels as he does to know they aren’t alone.

My experiences in leaving the Worldwide Church of God, which happened in the autumn of 1995, a bit over 13 years after becoming a baptized member, are directly related to how I affiliated with the church. It was different, perhaps, than most.
As it happens, I left the church with no rancor, confrontation, or other immediate difficulties with former members. I simply walked away, with a single letter of “resignation” to the local fill-in pastor at the time, and that was it. I had no phone calls, no confrontations, no interpersonal matters of concern.
Why, then, was my leaving the church perhaps as significant as those who left behind now-contentious former friends, or had other unfortunate difficulties? For me, leaving the church physically was really quite easy, a welcome relief, in fact. But leaving it spiritually, morally, and thoughtfully was an entire other matter, one that hovers over me to this day. The mental impact of Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, and the dozens of ministers who so forcefully espoused the doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God still affect me to this day, 15 years after I physically left. I continue to wrestle with all that happened before and during my membership. I am therefore still in the process of fully leaving the Worldwide Church of God. I deeply fear that its impress on my mind will not be fully cleared until I enter my grave or get taken up upon Christ’s return. Until then, as I continue to “leave,” I continue to live, sadly with so much of the effects of the fears and familial disruptions that were necessarily a part of my experiences in the church.
Again, what I’m about to recount is not, per se, matters of leaving the WCG. But in fact, because of their continuing blazes on my memory and thoughts, as I try to wrestle with them and put them out of my mind, they are a direct and continuing part of leaving Armstrongism---if that's even fully possible.
I was first deceived as a high school kid back in the mid-1960s, when I started to listen to the powerfully persuasive broadcast voice of Garner Ted Armstrong. The man had an imposing voice, and he said things that really caused me to think. I was ripe for the unique perspectives Armstrong presented. From my childhood, I had a scientific mind (I’m now a biologist), and searched for little-known or alternative explanations for otherwise difficult problems. Garner Ted had me in his hands from the start. I was a complete sucker for his authoritative-sounding pronouncements.
At college, when on my own, I could listen each night to The World Tomorrow, with the professional introductions of Art Gilmore, followed by Garner Ted holding forth. I become even more hooked and entranced.
I subscribed to the World Tomorrow, and started getting some of the church’s literature. I became further mired in the slick theological slime being offered as profoundly truthful, formerly-hidden doctrine, the New Truths, as it were.
But because of my strong Presbyterian upbringing, and the very clear objections my family would have were I ever to admit even listening to The World Tomorrow or reading The Plain Truth, I did all of this surreptitiously. 
Like so many others in the late 60s, I was knocked over by the booklet, 1975 in Prophecy, which so very clearly said that the apocalypse would begin in 1972. There were to be just a few years of normal life left for me.
But all that while, I could never forsake my family and become a member. I was a secret, under the table “co-worker,” or something.
Then, 1972 and 1975 came and went, uneventfully. That should have been the tipoff. But it wasn’t. I was still deluded into believing the great men in Pasadena had the ear of God, and were the only humans in the modern era into whose ears God himself spoke, revealing astonishing things no one else could know or reveal. But I was learning of them by listening to Garner Ted and reading, when I could, church literature.
But I never revealed any of this to anyone, my family, my new wife—anyone. I was a closet believer of Herbert W. Armstrong and his cohorts, without ever giving even a dime to his operation.
Then, in 1982, while my wife was at church teaching Sunday school, as I was getting dressed for church, I heard Herbert Armstrong proclaim in a broadcast that the Pharisees of Christ’s time were simply going to be tossed into the Lake of Fire. I swallowed hard, realizing that that’s what was going to happen to me, too; as I had learned all of the truths, but was practicing none of them. I distinctly recall Armstrong saying earlier in my encounters with the WCG that “Jesus won’t save anyone who doesn’t obey the law.”
It was clear, if the Pharisees were going to be found guilty of the law, what chance did I have? The Pharisees kept the law to every minor point. I kept nothing of the law. I was doomed.
So, on the side, without consulting anyone, I contacted a WCG minister. My wife was furious, as she should have been. I had utterly betrayed her. She went to two WCG services, with my two pre-school children. That was enough. She instantly sensed her inappropriate, unbelieving presence among the True Believers, among the Elect. She never attended another service, and held a great many church-derived offenses against me, even to this day.
I can’t convey how utterly glad I was when Joseph Tkach, Sr. came down with his pronouncements negating the imperatives of the Sabbaths or tithings, and all the other reformations he generated. For the first time in 13 years of membership, I could see a way out, without eventually being slain by God in an excruciating cauldron of hot liquids and gases. For the very first time, I got a distant glimpse of Christian hope.
One Sabbath, I believe in the spring or summer of 1995, I went to services in the nearby high school, and as I walked in only about a third of the congregation was seated. No one said a thing to me, but I could feel the piercing eyes and questioning minds. Just before services began, under the leadership of a local elder, in the absence of the assigned minister, one of the members in attendance perceived my concerns and said, “Well, John, looks like you don’t know what happened, do you?” He went on to tell how about two-thirds of the congregation had taken offense at Tkach’s new teachings and had left to uphold Armstrong’s truths. I knew of none of this, and pondered how none of the departing “true members” had bothered to contact me and invite me to join them. Clearly, I wasn’t worthy of such consideration.
Here’s why. From day one it was always obvious that I was a non-typical, even questionable member. I was married, and had kids, but they never came or were invited to any church event. I’ll never forget a 70-minute sermon by the local pastor on the necessity of marrying only a church member, and how sinful, even damning, it would be to be married to a non-believing mate. The whole sermon was a condemnation of my so unfortunate situation. I left the service and wept for 20 minutes in the car as I drove back home alone. I was made to feel to be the lowest form of life ever allowed into a Worldwide Church of God hall. I was to be pitied, if not entirely looked down upon.
I have dozens of other, similar memories of utter insufficiencies, errors, and outright WCG sins I was responsible for. For 13 years in the church I never recall a single joyous moment. From the very start, up to the very end, fear pervaded my existence. Would I be disfellowshipped and thereby be irrevocably condemned? Would I be required to divorce my wife? Would she divorce me? How was I going to pay for my children’s college when I had to give 25% of my pay to Armstrong?   
My marriage suffered terribly. My wife had every right to leave me, and almost did. You see, I could leave the church, and did. But how can I, today, leave searing memories of a marriage utterly disintegrated by the teachings and practices of God’s One True Church?
So, thankfully I have left the Worldwide Church of God? But the Armstrongs and the Worldwide Church of God have not left me. Their destructive imprints and mental scars still hover over my life. I live with my wonderful wife, and she still prepares my meals, cleans my clothes, and takes care of me. But she has no interest in touching me, allowing me to give her a hug or a kiss, or express in any normal way the affections that should be normally between a man and a wife. Her residual anger and resentment often are expressed in accusatory and angry episodes of verbal revenge. I have learned not to harbor any resentment against her because of all of this. But it’s been extremely hard.
Again, I left Armstrongism, but it has not left me. Me, my wife, and my marriage, are permanently scared and tattered. My wife and I get along as best we can, but the hurts and mental bruises have not healed. They cannot. In her eyes, I committed a form of adultery so much more egregious had it been with a real women, instead of a religious whore.
Tonight, as I have for the last quarter-century, I’ll go to bed alone. I’ll pray for my wife, and ask God’s forgiveness for all the terrors I worked on my wife and family as I so desperately tried to keep from being slain in the Lake of Fire.
For many who left the Worldwide Church of God, or any of the Armstrongist descendant churches, their difficulties, too, were hard and notable. Many lost close friends, endured harsh words, and left behind wonderful memories of mutual fellowship. But for most of those, learning to live a new life might be a bit easier than it is for me. I can have no new life. My marriage is damaged beyond repair. My sins, so understandably, are to my wife unforgivable. As I did while a fearful member of the Worldwide Church of God, I can only plug along, by myself, hoping someday to find real human happiness.
I left the WCG. It has not, and never will, leave me. What a fool I was.
–John of Ohio

John, you are in our hearts and our prayers. Thank you for your bravery in sharing this with us. I can't imagine this was easy for you.

Valued reader, do me this favor, if you would be so kind - please note the faith displayed in this story. Please note that God is not blamed. Please note the acceptance of personal responsibility. Please note that patience and hope are having their good work. This is not the ideal ending by any means, but the attitude couldn't be on a more proper course. These things make this story a hopeful one for me.

But if you relate to this story, know that you are not alone. We are all damaged goods; some of us more than others. But you are not alone! We are praying for you, whomever you may be. Please pray for each other.

God allows bad things to happen to "good" people. But I believe that it is in these bad times that we see God so clearly in the words and deeds of others. Maybe it's a complete stranger who helps us. Maybe we will never know that we have helped someone. Maybe our pain is for the good of someone else who suffers. Regardless, shine that light of Jesus. Shine it brightly! Pay if forward. Because you never know.

Never give up hope! Never give up hope.

(REV. 21: 4) And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away

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