Now that we have had a good general look at what destructive cults are all about, let’s have a detailed examination of one particular cultic upbringing, namely that of my own so we can see the cultic hurt and isolation in all its glory. This shows the years of emotional pain faced by second generation cult members during childhood and how it follows on into adulthood.
In this chapter, I have chosen deliberately to take advantage of my unusual view of growing up in WCG. That is, from the point of view of a severely vision impaired person. I have not been to the U.S. and so have not had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of the group when it existed. From my viewpoint though, I am very well placed to expose the hypocrisy which existed with WCG for many decades. After all, if an organization can’t show love to its members who have a disability then could it really call itself Christian?
In most cases, not everything about being in a cult is bad and that was also my experience so I will try to describe positive events which I experienced within the organization from time to time.
My earliest memories of WCG are of being told to play quietly by my parents while they listened to many many hours of Church material read for them on tape before being permitted to attend services. I didn’t take long to associate Church with boredom even though I hadn’t yet been to a service.
Not long after my sixth Birthday, my parents were approved by the local Minister to attend Church. I soon found that spending a minimum of two hours each week during services was very, very dull indeed. This was just the time of the service and didn’t include time before and after when we were supposed to fellowship.
During these meetings, most children of a young age were permitted to sit on a mat on the floor and draw, read, look at pictures or colour-in. Of course with hardly any sight, none of this was possible for me.
I already had a good imagination and could visualize just about anything. I soon learned to do this in order to avoid being bored out of my head during tens of thousands of hours spent in Church. I would fly planes, play in bands, go fishing, run, swim and do it all in my mind. It may sound crazy but it was my only escape.
Strangely in later years after learning how to meditate, I’ve found this ability very helpful. In my older childhood when I was supposed to actually listen to the preacher, I would still sometimes sit there while off somewhere in my head and then feel guilty about it later. I guess I had a far away look on my face then but my dear parents couldn’t see it so they couldn’t correct what they were not aware of.
The first services I attended were at the South Brisbane Library Hall (long since demolished) and then the Brisbane Church as we were known moved to the Salisbury High School Hall in the Southern suburbs. This was a large School hall for our City in those days and one horrible memory jumps very clearly to mind from that time.
The group was very, very strongly in favor of corporal punishment for children and messages about so called child rearing mainly revolved around this subject. Both the men’s and women’s toilets were about 5 or more meters behind the last row of seats within the building. It was necessary to open two heavy spring-loaded timber doors in order to access those toilets. Even with such barriers, it was still very easy to hear child after child being clobbered for some misdemeanor or other.
Fathers and sometimes mothers would take children to the toilet to punish them and the screams would start long before the above mentioned rooms were reached. This early screaming only resulted in more severe beatings. Such sounds rapidly brought me back from any imaginary trip I was enjoying and now I can still hear those as I write. Fear was a constant companion for many children then. Although I feared the prophecies of the bible, I must say my parents didn’t treat me that way.
Sometimes people not in the cult would remark on how well behaved children were within the group however what they weren’t aware of is that the crap would be bashed out of such children if they even came close to playing up.
During the so called Annual Sabbaths, we were subjected to at least four hours of services and again, this didn’t include fellowship time before and after. The format would be a two hour meeting in the morning, then lunch for about two hours and another lot of Church for at least the same length of time in the afternoon.
Those days were exhausting especially for a child who hated all of it. My life in WCG during childhood was very, very lonely. I didn’t have any real friends and just simply sat there waiting to go home. I sometimes saw other children playing as they went past but didn’t have enough vision and was far too shy to go with them.
As well as this, I was mostly ignored as if I didn’t exist by other children my own age. Many years later, one or two of those children (then grown up) came to me and said that they would have liked to have played with me but didn’t know how to interact with a vision impaired boy. What a pity their parents didn’t try to teach them how and what a pity WCG didn’t make a better effort to love everybody according to their preaching.
The main issue I had to deal with as I grew up was constantly being different. In the cult I was different due to my disability and even among my mates at school who were also vision impaired or blind, I was different because of the cult. I was the square peg only finding round holes.
During childhood it was fairly easy to escape as mentioned above from the boredom and loneliness. As I reached my teens though the problem only became worse. By then, I actually began to understand most of the preaching and had formed the view that even with all of the painful rejection, Worldwide was really the true Church. In other words, all of that brain-washing worked on me.
I did really listen some of the time at that age and that’s when the fear of “not making it” really set in. I think it was in the mid 1970s that a youth group was formed within the Church called YOU, Youth Opportunities United. As I was without friends at that time within WCG, I had no interest in it at all.
Some time later, to my absolute horror, Armstrong in his wisdom made it compulsory for all young people aged between 13 and 18 to be members of YOU. I hated it with a passion and would sit there at the YOU meetings being ignored and waiting again to go home. Many of the activities organized for the youth-group were very good and included: shooting, Archery, horse-riding, rock-climbing etc.
With 5% vision though, I couldn’t take part.
I very, very much anticipated my 18th Birthday, not so I could vote or drink alcohol but rather so I could get out of that damned YOU.
In the early 1980s, a Dutch family moved to Brisbane and began coming to Church. All three sons of the family were friendly toward me even with my disability and their oldest son and I began to form a fairly strong friendship. From that point, my social life within WCG improved slowly but surely. This being the case though, I didn’t at any time feel like a completely accepted part of the sect.
During my late teens and on into my 20s, my parents regularly invited a group of members over for dinner. These evenings became a social highlight for me and I would look forward to them eagerly. They were never officially a part of cult activities though.
The last Annual Sabbaths of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day were meant to commemorate the setting up of God’s Kingdom on Earth. As such, the cult actually enjoyed itself for seven days. A 10th of a member’s income would be put aside for this and many good times were had. My parents tried to ensure that I had fun too and bought toys for me in my early childhood. Later, I was able to enjoy fishing, tours and a number of other activities such as flying in a light aircraft, hot-air ballooning and bungee jumping.
We would have enjoyed these “feasts” as they were called in any case but the experience was more intense because of the huge contrast with the regular grind of daily life in the organization. The exciting activities described helped a little to make up for even more time spent in Church during the “feast”.
When I was in the cult, two Church services were held every day during this feast up until about the early 80s. Before my parents and I joined, some days, there were 3 services per day. That’s a minimum of 6 hours of Church each day. It’s hard to keep awake for all of that and as mentioned elsewhere, sleep deprivation as very cultish as it breaks down resistance.
I was baptized as a member of WCG in my own right in 1982 and yes, I actually believed in it. I thought it was the only true Church as we were taught repeatedly even though I couldn’t understand why I had no friends while growing up in it.
During my youth, I would blame myself if I was ignored by my fellow teenagers as that is what we were taught to do. We were constantly told “if you want friends, you must show yourself friendly”. This of course is true and works in normal society but not in WCG or at least not for someone with vision impairment. The confusing part for me though was this, why did I have some wonderful friends at school but not in the “Church”?
At that time, my parents reluctantly allowed me to spend an occasional weekend away with a friend from school and his family. Even more reluctantly Mum and Dad allowed me to attend his Baptist Church youth-group with him and the cult was never told about this. To my absolute amazement, his youth-group accepted and welcomed him even though he also was vision impaired.
How could this be? How could one of Satan’s Churches, as we were taught all other religions were, actually show more love to people with a disability than WCG? I struggled with this question for many years and didn’t really answer it until discovering that WCG was just another horrible deceptive cult.
My school friends are still with me as mates today, and showing myself friendly certainly worked with them for which I will be forever grateful.
The cult had its own public speaking club set up in a similar way to toast masters. This was called Spokesman Club and was only open to baptized men. Membership of this wasn’t compulsory however it was highly recommended by the ministry within WCG as a way men could grow as a man, leader, husband and father.
We usually referred to it as “club” and it sort of became an unofficial right of passage among men within the cult – a way to sort out the men from the boys. I was baptized at age 20 and many years before that, I knew that I would attempt club one day and dreaded it for a long time.
The concepts within spokesman club were sound and it did help a lot of men including yours truly grow and learn to control shyness. As you will read though, many men used speech evaluations to verbally rip other men apart and in many cases, the minister in charge (known as the director) let it go on.
Some men found what was learned at club helped a lot during regular life particularly when they were called upon to give speeches or presentations at work. In my own case, I’m a member of a number of clubs and associations now and have found a public speaking ability very useful at times. Spokesman Club was mainly responsible for this.
I remember the gut-wrenching fear on the night I gave my first speech. This first talk in the 12 speech program was known as the ice-breaker and was designed to let the speaker introduce himself. There were 30 men in club when I joined but of course, I was the only one with vision impairment.
Many years before being baptized while still a teenager, I went along to club as a guest with a member. I enjoyed listening until I heard what I thought was a great speech being absolutely torn apart. The speaker was verbally torn asunder as well and the evaluator/humiliator actually laughed at this poor man. Equally horrible, some other men at club that night joined in the merriment and the director didn’t intervene at all.
I was hoping to avoid such a fate and although my time in club was very tough, I was treated better than that. I heard older men say that club when I was a member was hard but not as bad as years earlier.
For almost all my time in club, I deliberately avoided any mention of my vision impairment in case the other men thought I was looking for an easier ride through the course. With one speech though, I decided to speak about life as a person with vision impairment. The title of it wasbreaking down the barriers and it was meant to show the realities of life for people with this disability on a daily basis.
One aspect of this was the fact that eye-contact is often very difficult if not impossible for us. In my own case, my left eye looks in a somewhat different direction to the right and there’s nothing I can do about it. The speech was well received and was passed by the director. It was the next time I spoke though when I realized that for the most-part, I was wasting my time. After the end of my following speech, the evaluator criticized me for, wait for it, “not having enough eye-contact with the audience”.
Can you believe that? After all that work to present vision impairment during the speech before, this ignorant idiot obviously didn’t listen to a word of it and yes, he was there during the breaking down the barriers speech.
I then realized that many men were too busy looking for fault with the speaker rather than listening to what he actually said. I am convinced that many real valuable learning opportunities were missed because of that.
We were taught never to back-chat the evaluator but on that night as he mentioned my poor eye-contact, I wanted to do more than back-chat the drip.
Strangely enough, although club was very hard, I didn’t hate it like I did with YOU. I think it was because even with vision impairment, I was able to measure-up and to pass all 12 speeches on the first try. As I proved to have some public speaking ability, I gained a bit of respect and wasn’t treated like a retarded idiot. This meant a lot to me but I had to earn it the hard way.
The director decided whether or not a man passed his speech assignment and had the power to fail him. Many men were failed and some repeatedly meaning that they had to try several times to obtain a pass on one assignment or another before moving on. Being a cult, of course no chance to appeal against repeated failures existed.
Even with the respect I earned, I still didn’t really make any new friends at club and the men who were friendly towards me there were blokes I already knew.
I was absolutely and deeply disgusted by the treatment meted out to another club member who also has a disability. He is a stroke victim and as a result, has an impaired memory. This meant that he had a heavy reliance on notes. We were taught to use only key-word notes to jog the memory.
As mentioned, this man didn’t have much ability to remember and yet almost every time he spoke, some dipstick would harshly criticize him during the evaluation for an over use of notes. Where was the brotherly love there? Where was the Christianity?
At that time in WCG, the dating scene was heavily controlled by the local minister. This meant that it was almost impossible for a young man and a young lady to develop a friendship without the minister sticking his nose in.
There were 2 extremes, people who wanted to date had to hardly see each other or be counseling for marriage. No time was allowed to actually develop a friendship first. The average time of a typical engagement in WCG during the 80s when I was involved in the dating scene was about 8 to 12 weeks.
No wonder then a lot of marriages later went on to fail including my own. I am not certain why this hurry was the case, the only explanation I have is that WCG was so paranoid about people fornicating that they wanted to make it “legal” as fast as possible.
Local ministers enjoyed a lot of power over the every-day lives of WCG members and the following example will show just how this was wielded. It also shows just how much fear particularly second generation members had of ministers and how obedient we were.
Not long after Joan and I were married within the sect, we were visited by the minister who was the second in charge in our Church area during that time. Our spare bedroom was untidy as it was being used as a “junk room”.
We closed the door before this man visited so he wouldn’t be offended by it however during a trip to the toilet, without our permission, he opened the door and took a long look inside.
After returning from the toilet, he proceeded to give us a 15 minute lecture on how Adam was charged with keeping the Garden of Eden clean and that also meant we must fix the spare room immediately.
Of course being totally obedient cult members, we didn’t even think of challenging such a directive and took it all right on the chin. If such a thing happened in my life now, I would give him 10 seconds to get off the property before calling the police. I hope this means that I have progressed as a free-thinking adult.
As I look back now on my cultic up-bringing, I know that the time was tough but being able to use my experiences to help others puts some purpose back into my life.
Although I am not a psychologist or counselor, I have a good general knowledge of how cults work and feel safe in the knowledge that I should be able to spot a religious, commercial or political cult with relative ease.