My History: I grew up in a cult

Growing up, I was part of a church now known today, as a cult. (this is kinda long but really an interesting read)

This church was called The Worldwide Church of God (WCG).  They have since changed their name and have had many branch offs. It was established around the year 1930 by Herbert W. Armstrong

Note: If you have the time read the Wikipedia I linked. It gives the history of this cult and some of it is really jaw dropping. There is also more information at this site.)

My mother’s parents were in this religion. Her father was the head pastor for the Spanish speaking congregation in the Pasadena, CA headquarters. There were branches of this church all over the world.

Along with annual holy days that we were required to keep, for a week, in September of each year, we would keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This is where we would make a “pilgrimage” and visit another place.  There would be convention centers filled with thousands upon thousands of people each year, no matter where we went. So there were convention centers filled in major cities around the world.

wcg_feast

The above photo is an example of a gathering at a Feast of Tabernacles, but in all honesty…this doesn’t even cover how big they could get. I would say about 15,000 people would congregate at one site. At the minimum, 15,000 people.

Because of these once a year travels, I did pull one of a few positive things that came from being in this cult. We travelled to many sites each year. I know now that must have been hard on my parents financially to plan a one, sometimes two, week trip every year for a family of 5 but they did it. We went to many different states and major cities all around this country. My most memorable were Hawaii, West Virginia and Arizona, amongst a few. I know when I was 6, we did go to Spain, but I don’t remember much of it.

Some years, we just stayed in the Pasadena area for the headquarters church services. It wasn’t until later in my life that I realized that when we didn’t travel and stayed in Pasadena, was when my parents didn’t have enough money to travel that year.

And he sure did…

My father was not raised in this religion but converted the day he met my mother. THAT is how much my father loved my mother.  This was something I both respected and yet, did not respect. He loved her enough to follow her into the dark hole of this cult, yet didn’t have enough self assurance of himself, his beliefs and uncertainty about all this, to not follow her and perhaps save her from this dark hole of a cult. It’s sad really.

Anyway, I was born into this church and from my first day of life until the church broke up in 1998/99, it is all I knew. They had youth activities such as camps, cheerleading, basketball etc. It was in these activities that I first learned I was fat, ugly and not-wanted. Later on, probably when I was 17, I did finally start to get some respect because I turned out to be the best volleyball player around. However, up until then, it was awful.

But again, there was another positive to all this. They had a Summer Education Program that I finally was able to go to when I was 16. It was at the Minnesota/Canada border near Minneapolis. I was able to go on a 3 day canoe trip where we basically canoed through the lakes of Minnesota and over into Canada. I banana rafted (which basically meant being  wrapped in yellow life jackets and going down the river rapids) and I cliff jumped and I remember it being fun. I also saw my first Moose and first mega wolf jumping spider thing that jumped from a cliff we were near, and straight at us. I just about jumped out of the canoe and into the water.

image

This is pretty much what I remember it looked like. There were some days where the water got really choppy and it was almost like being out on the ocean.

We slept in tents and made food on a little fire out in the woods. I went potty in a hole in the ground and covered it up with dirt. Blegh. I am not an outdoor type of person but still, it was an experience.

I also went to the elementary/Jr high school called Imperial Schools, located in Pasadena, CA. It was owned by WCG as well. It was a private school, cost a lot of money and was only open to children of members of WCG. The school has since been knocked down and replaced with high rise luxury apartments. In fact, I just drove by there a few weeks ago and saw the apartments.  It was bitter sweet. I had spent many years of my childhood in those school rooms, yet most of them were to be berated by bullies in the form of teachers.

At this school, I was subjected to humiliation (public swatting with HUGE paddles), racism and just plain ugliness. The swats I used to get just about every day.  I would say my worst memories were:

  1. Getting flunked in the 6th grade, that was mortifying
    • This was uncalled for as favorites and White kids were passed all the time with worse grades. Yes, they were VERY racist. When my mother went to the school many years before, they segregated the Black and Mexican kids to another dance, while the White kids had their own dance. Disgusting….
    • I was also humiliated by the teacher on the first day of my second time in 6th grade…just remembering it makes me want to cry.
  2. My second grade teacher (who was an old and bitter woman) liked to make me stand in front of the classroom and my classmates and humiliate me by accusing me of things that I didn’t do. And this was the year I almost died from a burst appendix. I was 6.
  3. Getting my hair pulled for stepping out of line.
  4. Being called racist Mexican names (Rosarita Fried Beans comes to mind) by teachers and staff as a joke.
  5. And of course the swats I’d get every day for just being a normal rambunctious little girl.

These were only skimming the surface of what I went through. My fourth grade teacher liked to humiliate me a lot to as did the fifth and sixth grade teachers to.

My poor parents feel so bad even to this day to have missed all of this because they really didn’t know a lot of it was going on as I didn’t really have very good communication with them. But I don’t hold it against them…I turned out ok.

My parents were semi-brain washed. I saw that first hand. Yet, my mother claims to have always felt like something just wasn’t right and wanted to speak out but the powers that be in this cult never allowed nay-sayers to speak their mind. Any one who spoke against the powers that be were instantly ex-communicated and publicly humiliated within the church.  Announcements were made over the pulpit on Saturday service that XYZ Family was ex-communicated and that no one was allowed to talk or associate with the person or family that was ex-communicated. My mother couldn’t chance that kind of humiliation on our family so, she kept her mouth shut.

See the brainwashing?

Anyway, I went to their college in Big Sandy, Texas in 1995-97, only for two years before I flunked out from drinking to much and not going to class. The school eventually closed down. It was a fairly small school and only those in this church were allowed to attend.

They also had VERY strict rules regarding God, and how to worship God. They frightened their believers into thinking that the end was coming. We would all escape to the land of Petra where God would only save those who followed this religion.  Armstrong (the founder) always stated over his pulpit in the large Auditorium (now owned by Maranatha High School and its affiliate church HRock Church) that still stands in Pasadena, CA, that this was the TRUE religion and God would only save those from this religion. Fear was a major element in this cult.

fear

Armstrong died in 1988 and that was when a lot of things started to change and lots of people started to realize that this church was full of shit. This church did not celebrate Christmas, Easter or any of the other traditional holidays for it declared them pagan and a mockery to God.

When the church broke up around 1998, it split off into many different smaller churches. Some of them preached the same B.S. that Armstrong did which was later called false prophecy.  A lot of old members had nervous breakdowns and didn’t believe that Armstrong was a liar. Some even committed suicide. Many families were torn apart (my own included) and lives were forever changed.  My family was effected in that my aunts and grandfather would not speak to my mother for a long time. We have since all reconciled peacefully.

It is because of this “church” history, I have since been un-easy about organized religion.  Since then though, I’ve seen that Church/Religion are NOT the same as God. It is because of my history with this cult that I can now recognize when I’m getting smoke blown up the bum.

I will not tolerate those who a) push their “holyier than thou” religious agenda, b)claim to be a prophet of God or c) demand money in exchange to sit in their church.

I don’t believe that anyone should tell anyone else how to believe and worship God…it is a personal matter. It is also arrogant to think that anyone can be on the same level as God to be able to judge anyone else. Pure arrogance.

A little bio on the founder, Herbert W. Armstrong:

HerbertWArmstrong

The founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, died in 1986. He wrote some kooky books on God and the end of days. His most famous was a book called, the The Mystery of the Ages.

I still remember alot of his preachings. They were filled with basically “everyone who does not embrace OUR religion and follow me is a heathen and will burn in the Lake of Fire.”

He did not allow holidays such as Christmas, Easter and of course Halloween to be celebrated cuz they didn’t believe in the “pagan” holidays. We also didn’t celebrate birthdays (no cakes, candles, nothing…it was something I missed a lot in my young years).  Also, the women in the church were not allowed to wear makeup.

The Ambassador Auditorium, still stands in Pasadena to this day and is being used by Maranatha Schools (link above).

This building is beautiful and I still remember the inside of it as we went to church there every Saturday. It had marble stair railings, 4 stories, gold lining on the outside next to the tall tall pillars. The carpets were a lustrious purple and the main chandelier was gargantuan. (See link to photos of it below).

It was spectacular and still is. We used to have spectacular concerts there. Also, on the campus site where this building was were some of Pasadena’s most historic homes and buildings.

The Ambassador Auditorium Campus (I will say, this place was truly magnificent)

Photo taken by Bobak Ha’Eri (from Wikipedia)

For photos of the inside of this magnificent building and all buildings around the campus I will direct you to this Flickr photostream I found.

Ambassador Auditorium (Photos by Mark Carroll)

As I stated above, there were a few things that came out of this that I see as positive

1) I was introduced to God, even if it was in an off-sided kind of way. But that allowed me to keep my belief in Him strong enough to move past the lies of this cult

2) I have traveled and seen lots of great things and places. These are experiences most kids don’t have, ever.

3) Having gone through what I have, it is easier for me to recognize religious lies, deceit and hypocrites easier.

I know this was all long but it is what made me who I am.

Thanks for reading!

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27 thoughts on “My History: I grew up in a cult

  1. Wow! You have had an amazing life experience. This series of posts is quite a story – I doubt that I could have survived all those things to end up with such a positive outlook as you.

    • It is actually theraputic to remember some events and type them out.

      And as for a positive outlook….hmmm I wouldn’t say its positive, just careful. I have some serious trusting issues as I pretty much trust no one except my cat 😛

  2. Good pots….I’ve known a few people who were connected to WWCG so I’m quite familiar with it….

    my siblings grew up in a cult as well and sadly most of my sisters are still connected to it…..what sucks is that their religion has all but destroyed any chance of me having a relationship with them…..

    I personally don’t care about the choices they make, if they want to go to their church, whatever….

    but….because I don’t buy into their system of beliefs, they refuse to be close to me 😦

    • I’m not surprised you know people from WCG, It was VERY widespread all over the country and even the world during the late 70’s with its biggest years in the 80’s. As I was doing the research for this post, I found many websites that were made by old members of this church with worse horror stories than me. I think the main significance I had was that I was affiliated with the main headquarters, and that beautiful auditorium, which was very well known.

      I remember my father and his sisters having all kinds of fights over what he was doing. They didn’t like my mother for a while but it eventually changed.

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  7. Wow. Reading your story was overwhelming. A lot of sadness, but also sheer amazing grace. I am glad for you that your faith in God was preserved even with the atrocities you experienced.

    • Thanks! The funny thing is there is so much more to this story but it was already long enough! There were so many other ways that this cult affected my family and my friends. It was good to remember though. I came through ok 🙂

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    • Yup. I actually do occasionally go to a very good church near my home that has a great leader and they never push any kind of agenda on anyone. It’s refreshing to see that not all church organizations are like what I was raised in.

  12. Hi, I grew up in WWCG too, but in the Seattle, WA area. We went to Pasadena for the Feast one year and I still remember the way Ambassador Auditorium smelled inside. Like nothing I’ve ever smelled. I think it was the wood? Not sure, but I still remember the way it smelled.

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  14. That’s scary… I don’t like cults (duh, who does?) and I’m a firm believer in freedom of thoughts and speech. This kind of things, I’d run away as fast as I could. Glad the church doesn’t exist anymore and you got out!

    • It was a very interesting existence, my past. I don’t regret any of it though. All my experiences helped me make different and sometimes better, choices.

      God I’ve NEVER had a problem with. Organized religion, not for me.

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  16. Thanks for pointing this post out to me. It’s great to hear that you used your experiences–which sound pretty terrible–to strike out on your own spiritual journey. My wife went to a Mennonite school and had very similar experiences to yours, although they were down more to religious differences than race.

  17. I am so sorry for this terrible experience. It broke my heart to read about how you were discriminated against and the horrible names that kids would call you.

    I hope that your life is fulfilled and that you don’t suffer from PTSD. I, too, was in a cultish church when I was younger, but it was nothing compared to your experiences.

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