I must start this chapter with a word of congratulations to the current leadership of WCG or as your organization seems to be known now in theU.S., Grace Communion International (GCI). This is because you actually acknowledge the cultic past of your Church. Also I see on your website that you openly state that the organisation’s founder Armstrong was plainly wrong in many of his teachings.
As well as this, I see that GCI has been accepted into the broader evangelical religious movement in the United States and although I will never be a member again, I view this as a positive. I don’t identify as a Christian nowadays, however it’s most pleasing to me that your group no longer teaches that all other religions are deceived and are of the devil.
Of course such teachings are very cultic and these new views appear to mean that you have definitely left your cultic roots back in the past where they belong. I feel safe in saying that a child growing up in GCI would have a good chance at a normal life and wouldn’t go through the sorts of abuse described elsewhere here.
You have probably gone further than most if not all other former cults in facing your past and this can’t have been an easy process so I say, very well done to all of you.
My view of your Church as a former member of 31 years isn’t entirely rosy though and let me say why this is so. I left the former WCG in 1996 and in the same year your leader issued a letter of apology for the harm that your earlier teachings caused to current and former members.
This letter was sent to some members as far as I know but only to those within the U.S. Is it too late to remind you that your former name wasWorldwide Church of God? Meaning that in my view, it should have gone out to members everywhere, not just in America. I understand that the letter was read out in Church here in Brisbane but that didn’t reach out to those like me who had already left the group and we didn’t all have the internet back then. People all over the world were greatly harmed by the teachings of the former cult and some went onto suicide here as well as in the U.S.
I knew some of these people personally and went through Spokesman Club with one. A letter of apology was a start but in Australia at least, that’s where it stopped. Did you actually put any serious thought into how former members were really doing in the hugely difficult task of rebuilding shattered lives?
I have recently become aware of an organization called ORM which means Office of Reconciliation Ministry. This seems to be an arm of GCI and is dealing with huge issues such as racism and religious conflict. It works in places such as the U.S. and Northern Ireland and appears to be doing a great job of healing many wounds. I am delighted about this and wish such an organization operated here in this country.
ORM has apparently helped a number of former WCG members in the painful process of facing their future after years or decades of cultic abuse and I would have given a lot to enjoy such support in my life some years ago.
A letter of apology is easy to write. I could write one even without much education but where were you when those who experienced on-going fear and nightmares here in Australia fought so hard to move on? The letter of apology is in my view heart-felt, very genuine and I imagine it caused Joe Tkach Junior (your leader as I write) some pain as he confronted the past of WCG as well as he could, but where was help of a practical nature for thousands of people trying to rebuild our lives?
How can a Christian Church as you like to regard yourselves just ride off into the sunset so to speak leaving former members to their own devices? I don’t see much Christian love in that, do you? This was and still is the reality of life for former members in this country.
As the ORM seems to be doing such a great job in reaching out to former members in helping some to rebuild and heal, then why is it so small? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to expand it as fast as possible to encourage such healing for ex-members all over the world?
If WCG damaged lives in any particular country then in my view, the ORM should also be working in that same country in an effort to reach out and heal. Do I hear you say we can’t afford it? Well put simply, if many years ago you could afford to damage and hurt people all over the planet, then you must try very, very hard now to undo that hurt when ever you can.
Instead, you have the gall to actually try and attract new members who are most likely largely unaware of the real and dreadful damage your religion caused. Are you so afraid of litigation that you felt it necessary to dodge and weave your way around the worst aspects of WCG’s past?
Joe Tkach Junior’s letter addresses very clearly and without reservation the hurt caused by the scriptural and spiritual errors of the former WCG but I find no mention of emotional and financial damage cause for decades by the group. Also I failed to find a mention of the suicides among former members. I only hope that this isn’t because he is unaware of them or because he can’t bring himself to confront the dreadful truth. That is, that WCG and Armstrong’s fear-filled teachings actually drove some people over the edge.
I am delighted to say that my efforts to rebuild my own life have largely succeeded however if this were not the case, would I be able to visit a service or go to your office in Queensland and ask for help? There is no ORM here so I would most likely receive a lecture from the Bible and be told about forgiveness. Or I might simply be told, we’re not like that anymore. That of course is all true but if I needed cash for example and could actually prove that I was a former member, would I be given any?
WCG was happy to take hundreds of millions of dollars over the years from people all over the globe but where are you now if some of us need a little help? I needed counseling some years ago to get on with my life and the cost of it was very minimal because it was organized by the good old Salvation Army. How does it feel to know that another Church had to come to the rescue of one of your former members? Shame on you.
As is obvious here, I respect your efforts to come to terms with your past but would have respected you a lot more if those efforts actually benefited those of us who were at the coalface of life in your organization here in Australia. Instead, I admire the progress you have made but view you as largely weak and lacking guts.
In order to offer practical help, why didn’t Tkach cover the existence and value of cult survivor support groups? This would have pointed the way forward to people as we started the process of life rebuilding. See what I mean? Practical help was not dealt with at any time especially here in this country.
As you move forward, please, please don’t forget the lessons of the past. Will you allow another leader like Armstrong to take control of your Church and become a cult again? I feel that this is most unlikely however it is at least possible in theory. Fanaticism in any form is dangerous so please be sure to keep your teachings balanced and continue to maintain the new and much needed cooperation with other Churches.
It’s probably a bit too late now to seriously reach out to former members as most of us have rebuilt our lives in one way or another even in countries where ORM doesn’t exist. But then you have the internet these days and sites such as facebook. These can be used or even your own site to see if any assistance can be offered to ex-members – think about it.
During my time in your group, I personally saw a lot of harm which was done to not only me but to other members as well. Try this for example, in one case I am aware of, a local man in Queensland was married to an “unconverted” woman. She didn’t like his involvement in your former cult and made him decide between it and his marriage to her. Of course, as you would expect, he decided in the cult’s favor. To make matters worse, he and this lady had a daughter and this man’s marriage fell apart. To my knowledge, there has been very little contact if any between him and his daughter since.
These lives were badly damaged by your former teachings and did Tkach’s letter of apology truly sincerely as it was meant really help?
If that situation doesn’t move you then perhaps this one will? In another case I am aware of again locally, a married couple experienced major problems in their relationship. They separated and wanted to divorce. WCG at that time (during the early 70s) didn’t recognize divorce and the couple were forced back together. Of course the relationship again founded and they had to go through the pain of another separation a second time. Some years later, the man shot himself.
The point I am making here is that the letter of apology is a great start but do any of you really and completely understand the true and dreadful harm Armstrong’s teachings actually did? If so then please realize that a letter of apology won’t do much at all except act as window-dressing.
I understand that you are a Christian Church and in Tkach’s letter he quotes a scripture from Philippians. This I suppose will reach out to those who have maintained their Christian faith but may I mention to you that not all former members have done so. Some of us have been turned-off that faith for ever by your former belief system. If you ever try and reach out to members or former members again, please try not to quote the bible at us. After all, Armstrong did that many thousands of times as he rammed teachings down our throats which tore our lives apart.
I wish you only the best as you move on and also wish to say here that I have forgiven the former cult and as much as possible, the individual ministers who were responsible for the harm and disadvantage which I experienced within Worldwide.
My focus now is on helping other former cult members of your group and hopefully a lot of others as well. Out of a spirit of honesty, why not make sure that your current membership is informed about what really happened in WCG from it’s beginning until Armstrong passed on? Perhaps asking some former members to present talks at some of your services would be a good start. This is not to forever dwell in the past but rather to understand it fully and then move on determined never to allow it to happen again. This would also show just how much real progress you have made.
I will also try to encourage other former members of the religion to forgive as much as possible. As we know, it’s the best and really the only way for all to move on.