Updated: Jul 30, 2019
When I wrote Part Two of this series and it was shared with people on another blog that posts about Armstrongism, it generated the following comment on that blog:
The post said...." So, really, what did he do that was so bad?"
MY RESONSE: ARE YOU KIDDING??
* People DIED from the no medical treatment concept, including children!
* Multitudes of happy marriages were wrecked because of D and R
* Retirements and Financial well being were severely wrecked by endless hounding of money.
* A culture of submission and minimizing denied 100s of thousand of people the opportunity to grow , explore and prosper
* The promotion of child abuse and beatings.
AND MANY MORE!
Incidentally, the poster fantasized about "confronting HWA to his face". At least from 1970 on, it was impossible to gain access to HWA face to face. His appearances at the auditorium and at FOT sites , were very carefully laid out, with entry from side door s or from stage sides. I NEVER saw HWA just casually talk with the brethren out in the audience , not even one time. Ted on occasion would do that, but never Herbert. He had an entourage of handlers and body guards to prevent anything even remotely close to the posters imaginations coming true.
Obviously this person didn’t catch that my “What did he do that was so bad” question was rhetorical and served the purpose of posing a question that so many people have often asked me if only so that I could answer it in context. But that’s not what I want to point out to you.
What I want you to notice is how passionate this person is in even just scratching the surface of what was done to cause irreparable damage to hundreds of thousands of people.
The last thing on the commenter’s list is “the promotion of child abuse and beatings.” I hadn’t planned on getting into this so early in my series, but now I feel that it is something I should at least touch on.
I want to be very clear that was one of the few lucky WCG kids that was not beaten. That’s only because my mom wasn’t strong enough to get the job done and I didn’t have a dad in “the Church” to help her do it. I’m sure she thinks that if she HAD been able to give me that level of discipline that I wouldn’t have “strayed from the truth.”
One of the strongest memories I have is of the last spanking I ever received from my mom. I don’t remember what it was for, but I do remember that the pastor told her to hit me with a belt. Luckily my mom didn’t have anything more menacing than a high fashion slender gold colored feminine clothing accessory no wider than a grown man’s index finger. She brought it out and tried hitting me with it. I laughed at her (which made her even angrier) and basically told her, as only a 6 year old can do, to give it her best shot. A few minutes later, exhausted and embarrassed by my continued laughter, she gave up and never tried to spank me again. My sister rarely if ever required spanking because
1. As the “first born” she had special privileges and different expectations.
2. She honestly wanted to be just like her mother in every way that she could.
So that’s why we weren’t physically abused like so many of the other kids at church were. And I knew that my mom (even though she never even came close to saying it out loud) recognized that by being expected not to remarry after she and my dad divorced, she was also being excused from the physical abuse that she should be expecting from her husband.
Now it’s time to tell you about the room.
First, a little bit of background.
The Worldwide Church of God only owned a handful of physical properties and church buildings. Its members met in a wide variety of rented facilities. WCG members that lived anywhere too far from WCG HQ in Pasadena, California or the Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas had their weekly church services in thousands of different locations over the years.
I remember lots of different places that the WCG used for church services when I was little. There was my favorite place, The Garden Center, located in Downtown Dallas, Texas very close to the Aquarium. The Garden Center was amazingly beautiful. (I remember lush beautiful plants everywhere, outdoor gardens, water features… oh man it was so perfect. Sometimes there would be a wedding ceremony with a potluck reception and dancing after church services were over. Those Saturdays were the best!) But it for whatever reason, the rental agreement ended and we moved on to other spaces for our unusually long Saturday services. I remember several school auditoriums and/or gymnasiums, a Chiropractic college that was formerly a Baptist church, a few other places that I was too young to identify, and the place I hated the most out of all of them, the VFW event hall.
All of these places were distinctly different and had their own features that the WCG congregation would adapt to their own needs. One feature that you could always find in every rented WCG space around the world was something called “The Mother’s Room.” Even just thinking about the term “Mother’s Room” puts a knot in my stomach and I get an overwhelming desire to crawl under the nearest table and hide.
The Mother’s Room was a place for three specific events.
1. Changing diapers
2. Nursing babies
3. Beating children
Imagine a room that smelled like a hundred dirty diapers and was full of the sounds of angry women’s voices, the smacking of wood on bare skin, and children screaming in terror.
If you think it sounds like the stuff of nightmares, you’re right. I still have nightmares about it.
Most of the kids at church got hit with a bible or a hymnal at least a few times. We all knew that we deserved to be hit, although we were rarely clear on why. Making noise during the service, running after the service, or failing to have your Y.E.S. (Youth Educational Services) bible lessons fully completed seemed to be the most common offenses. And if you didn’t shape up after a trip to the Mother’s Room, then your Dad would take you to the Men’s bathroom (if it wasn’t in use by other men) or out to the car for some discipline that was beyond what your mom was physically capable of delivering.
Wives almost always received their “corrections” at home after services. Usually those corrections were related to the misbehavior of the children at church. And then, as if that weren’t enough, there was always a good dose of “gaslighting” for mom and the kids from dads, who got it from the pastors, who got it from HQ in Pasadena.
For everyone who manages to make an exit from Armstrongism there is a time where nothing seems real and nothing can really be trusted. People who get out often find themselves unable to really believe or trust anyone or anything for an extended period. Our lives are an endless series of questions that nobody is able to answer for us.
o Did I see what I saw?
o Did I really live that life?
o What it really as bad as it seemed?
o How could that have actually happened and have been accepted as normal?
o Who am I if I’m not in “the church” anymore?
I think what’s really the most challenging part of it all is coming to accept that not only are the people who did these things NEVER going to apologize for them, but they aren’t even going to acknowledge that they even happened.
My entire childhood was shrouded in secrecy and deception. The only way that I know that I’m safe, sane, and not going to suffer at the hands of an angry and vengeful God is through the stories told by others who made it out and remember what happened to them too.
And again… I was one of the lucky few who weren’t hit with bibles or oversized homemade paddles. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of hell those kids experienced. What I do know is that the thought of living one day in their houses was both my fantasy and my nightmare at the same time. I always wanted to live someone else’s life, but I never forgot how lucky I was that my mom was so obsessed with staying slender and feminine instead of being strong and independent.
If you were one of those kids and you’re reading this now as a survivor, please know that I heard your screams. I still cry for what was done to you. It was real and you didn’t just make up that story to hurt someone or make them feel or look bad. What they did to you was wrong, they knew it was wrong, and they lied about it to make themselves feel better. Each and every Saturday was nothing but theater and behind the perfect scenery there was the worst kind of darkness and fear. But the echoes of Armstrongism are dying out and with them all the horrors of “The Mother’s Room” are fading away as well.
So let me ask the (rhetorical) question again.
What did Herbert W Armstrong do that was so wrong?
I think, if I had to sum it all up in one short statement it would be this…
Herbert W Armstrong used fear as a weapon to commit armed robbery. He was, in essence, a spiritual and financial terrorist.
In his wake he left millions of broken people who had been terrorized to the point that they would do ANYTHING to get to the “Place of Safety.” The world is so lucky that Herbert just wanted money and status. He could have made his followers into killers if he wanted. Not anywhere close to all of them, but enough to make Jonestown look like a minor traffic accident.
There really is so much more to explain and explore.
I have no idea how many parts there will be in this series.
If you’re reading this and it means something to you in any way, please take a moment to comment and let me know.
Please share it with someone.
There are so many people like me who fight their way out of the darkness only to be overwhelmed and confused by the brightness of the light.
We need to know that you know that it happened. We need to know that you understand that we are not asking for sympathy or support. We, the ones who made it out and are trying to find our place in the real world, need to know that we are seen and at least slightly understood.
Thanks for reading.
I will be back again soon with Part 4.