Exit and Support Network

My Nightmare in Philadelphia Church of God

I was baptized first into the WCG in March of 1990. The day after I was baptized, a long time friend in the WCG called to tell me that I'd been baptized into the "Laodicean church." I didn't know what that meant, but I didn't like the sound of it. I read Herbert Armstrong's booklets and became aware of church eras. The thought of having to go through a horrible prison camp existence scared me, and I looked for ways to escape. Of course, some people would say that shows I just wanted to save my own skin. Quite the contrary, I sincerely wanted to do whatever God lead me to do, and go wherever he wanted me to go.

I became acquainted with the Philadelphia Church of God within their first few months of existence. I became a member early on, and attended the very first PCG Feast of Tabernacles in Oklahoma City in 1990. I lost my job immediately upon my return home. My boss had become increasingly displeased with me since I joined the PCG. I had been a front-office receptionist, but suddenly had to give up a polished professional groomed appearance to conform to what the PCG taught were "God's standards" of beauty.1 I didn't really mind losing the job, after all I'd heard Gerald Flurry tell us at that first feast that we'd be going to the place of safety very soon, in the next one to four years.2

Some of the teachings I didn't think were any big deal. I mean, although I didn't really see anything wrong with eating "unclean" foods, if that little thing would stand between me and God, what's the big deal about giving it up? So I left it behind without a second glance. Same with many other things in my life, I didn't think they were wrong, but they were such little things compared to the glorious future that I learned would await me, how could I refuse? I learned more about church government: God was in charge and He spoke directly to Gerald Flurry, who handed down judgments straight from God, down through his ministers under him. To disrespect a minister, especially Gerald Flurry, would be like spitting in God's face.3

The healing doctrine left a deep impression on my family. When my son was around 8 or 9 years old, he became quite ill and began to have hallucinations that lasted in total around 6 to 8 months. Early on, I asked the minister to anoint him, as I believed was right and had been taught. The minister was quite concerned over the hallucinations, thinking maybe my son was possessed by demons, but then he "tested" him and decided it was something else--he didn't know what--and anointed him. I was told that it would be a bad idea to take my son to a doctor, that they would use worldly treatments on him and that God would see that I didn't rely on Him for healing. So my little boy was sick for a long time, and I can't begin to tell you how it broke my heart knowing he was seeing disturbing hallucinations, but there was nothing I could do. It took me a long time to find out he'd had extremely severe lead poisoning. The old building where we were living was condemned and we had to move immediately. If only I had gotten him to a hospital early! As it was, he lost so much time. There's about 2 years that he doesn't remember at all when he was so sick.

We still held fast to all we were taught. I sent in my tithes and offerings, and when my third tithe year came around, I sent that third tithe in also. By then I'd worked myself up to making a big $7.71 an hour, so you can see I was very good at budgeting to pay tithes, taxes, rent, utilities, daycare, and all the other expenses. There were times, though, that we didn't have enough to eat, and I couldn't afford to buy clothes for a growing boy. But it was okay, we were "doing it to help the Work." This was "God's church," and we only had a short time left. At the end of my third tithe year, everyone told me to expect a great blessing. I met a man, a church member, at the Feast of Tabernacles, and all my friends convinced me that God had picked out this man especially for me, as my third tithe year blessing, so I ended up marrying him a short time later.

It was not exactly roses and candlelight. It was a bad marriage from the beginning, but I can't blame the PCG for that. What I can blame them for is their calloused way of telling me I had to stay in an incredibly abusive relationship "to teach me a lesson." The regional director (at the time it was Dennis Leap) thought that if I stayed in a marriage with a man who was on drugs and threatening to kill me and my son, that if I stayed and "stewed in my juices" for a while, then I'd be more--what? Pliable? Whipped? The local minister, during the 5 years I was trapped in this loveless relationship, was less than useless. I'd had 2 miscarriages, both while driving 1200 miles each way to go to the Feast of Tabernacles, during that time. When I found myself pregnant again, I went to him immediately because I could not bear the thought of losing another child. He anointed me and told me that if I had faith, God would not let this baby die. What relief, what calmness overtook me! I knew beyond a doubt--not the slightest shadow of a doubt--that everything was fine. I picked out names; I began to make baby clothes. And I lost the baby in the 16th week of pregnancy. And worst of all, I lost the baby because my faith in God "wasn't strong enough."4 Now I had to deal with the loss of the baby and guilt over it being my fault. This minister caused so much emotional damage over that one thing, I'm sure he thought nothing of it, but it haunted me for years.

My son still has much resentment over the years the PCG insisted I stay with the abusive husband. The third tithe year had come around, and there just wasn't enough money for everything. My husband made a decision that he got first pick of food in the house, and what he didn't want then my son and I could have it. He ate fine, but the two of us would go weeks at a time without meat or vegetables or milk. Most days the two of us would just lie down all day because we were too weak to even sit up. Although my husband was well-fed, he certainly wasn't providing for us. The local minister told me to rely on God to provide. When the regional director, Wayne Turgeon [Flurry's son-in-law], came to town, I tried to talk to him about this, but he just brushed me off, saying that it couldn't be as bad as all that, and "maybe I should learn to clip coupons." It took him two years to come around to listening to me before he would believe what I said. During that time, I thought about suicide a lot. I felt I had no one at all, not even God.5 My son became withdrawn, and although he is grown now, it has left a lasting mark on him.

Even years after leaving the PCG, my son still suffers from problems associated with lack of proper medical care--under strictest orders from the minister, Wil Malone,6 that we would not be found worthy by God or be protected during the Tribulation if we sought medical attention. His condition is potentially life-threatening, and has resulted in two hospitalizations this year alone. His medical problems were brought to the attention of Gerald Flurry, who said to "pray about it in faith."

My son's life would have been much better all along if he'd had proper medical treatment 15 years ago. Instead, he not only went without medical care for the years we were in the PCG, but he also was ridiculed by ministers, and verbally abused by such high-ranking ministers as Dennis Leap and Wil Malone, due to his lack of athletic ability. His condition, combined with an orthopedic problem he has had from birth, makes him a poor athletic, but he's still a great kid in every other way! Dennis Leap was a disgustingly abusive power-hungry little bug who should never be in charge of teens in a summer camp setting; i. e., Philadelphia Youth Camp.

From the time I got involved with the PCG, the ministry and the members let me know that I would have to break ties with my family and any outside friends I had. They quoted Scripture about how two can't walk together unequally yoked, things like that, and eventually, the more I became indoctrinated into the PCG mindset, the less I had in common with outsiders anyway. Just in flipping through my sermon notes I see that (and I have them all, every sermon I heard from 1990 to 2001).

Here's some things that Gerald Flurry said:

April 1991: He said that your relatives or WCG members will turn you in to the authorities and you will be put to death.

September 1991: He said you must be willing to give up your family, friends, everything you have, even your own life.

March 1993: He compared what was happening in Waco, Texas to the persecution that would happen to us. He told us the Branch Davidians were an example of the persecution coming upon us because they used many of the same terms we did. David Koresh talked about a "little book," he said the "lion roars," he said Christ was the "Key of David," he claimed his predecessor was "Elijah," and he preached about the "Millennium."7 Gerald Flurry also brought up Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple during his examples of the persecution to come, and he said Jonestown was their (The People's Temple) "place of safety."

Now that he is saying we are getting closer and closer to the end (and who remembers when it was revealed to him that we were in the "last end" which was before we were in the "last hour"?8 ) and he is getting more insistent about people giving more and more money, that if you don't give until it really hurts, until you are sacrificing a lot, then your attitude is wrong and God will not protect you during the Tribulation. If you give your tithes and generous offerings on the holy days, then you still aren't even doing enough, because that is only the minimum requirement, and the minimum will have God calling you "unprofitable."

Look at where the "profits" are going, and then figure out who really thinks you're unprofitable, and it's not God. Look who keeps claiming to be humble, as he rides in limousines from his office to the new compound site. That swimming pool is being paid for by thousands of underpaid people who will never use it, most will never even see it. Gerald Flurry made a choice to build a pool instead of bringing all the ministers to the ministerial conference, as he did in years past. Not that it makes any difference, he will lie to the ministers in the conference the same way he has lied to us all along.

He has also lately given the ministry some very strict rulings concerning what the ministers should do if a person in the congregation talks to them about something they think is wrong. Gerald Flurry has told the ministers that "even if the person is right," they should never agree with the member because it would be disloyal to "God's Prophet."

The sad thing is thousands of people are trapped in the PCG because they were like me, people who really wanted to be close to God, but who were deceived into believing something totally wrong. When I entered the PCG, the World Wide Web didn't exist, and I didn't have access to much of the historical information that is available now to anyone who can connect online. I would have never fallen for that story about church eras9 if I'd had a way to check their "facts" early on. I gladly sacrificed for "the Work," which I thought was God's work, but it really wasn't. I gave in to silly and capricious governmental rulings, because I was convinced that "God would straighten it out" if the ministry was wrong, and for me to dispute with a minister was akin to asking to die eternally.

Some of the rulings were just weird. In the summer of 2000, Gerald Flurry cracked down on women wearing skirts too short, by which he meant that he could see a portion of a woman's knee when she sat down. He said he was merely holding fast to what Herbert Armstrong had taught, and read a portion of an old article by Herbert Armstrong. I was in the St Louis area congregation, and the regional director, Wil Malone, put the full text of that long article by HWA on the bulletin board, where it remained up through at least June 2001. In it, HWA specifically was addressing the middle-aged women, and said that if a woman wore a skirt that was too tight, the minister should take her in the back room, bend her over his knee, and spank her! I honestly never heard of this happening, but when I asked some of the other women what they thought of it, they said it wasn't anything to worry about. Another situation where God would straighten it out.

It's weird how the ministers all kept talking about how we needed to grow spiritually, but then since they were so concerned with regulating our lives down to the tiniest detail, there was no room left for a person to discover on their own how best to live a life that pleased God. People were so focused on conforming to the outward rules, that some of them (a lot of them) were downright mean-spirited. Some were flakes; several had bizarre mental problems. But the main focus was on conforming.

The last sermon I heard, the one Stephen Flurry gave, the whole message gave me the creeps. I take pretty good notes, and when I look over those sermon notes now, it looks even worse than it did when I sat in church and knew I'd never go back after hearing it. He said things like: "Most of our time, in the last hour, when we are not sleeping, working, or at "church" functions, should be spent with God. Family is secondary." He said that you need Godly balance in your life, and if you are spending time watching movies on TV, surfing the net, sports, or talking to friends, this is not Godly balance. He said we are to pray three times a day, at morning noon and evening, and evening means sunset, we are not supposed to pray at night (he quoted Psalms 55:16-1710). He said the book of Ecclesiastes was put in the Bible to teach us that we weren't supposed to enjoy physical things. We are not allowed to waste time. We need to spend our time in service, and the singles and older people should spend even more of their time. People who murmur will end up dead (he gave the example of Korah's rebellion).

I saw Gerald Flurry on Pentecost when he spoke in Columbia, MO. He spoke to us then again about the "Last Hour"; that this began when God revealed I, II, and III John to him on May 5th. He said a man had asked him what was next, would he be giving a sermon entitled "The Last Minute"? He laughed and said that if he did, he'd probably give the sermon and then we'd go directly to the "place of safety."11

When the announcements were made in 2000 about the land that was being bought for the college, one of the tapes from headquarters told us a great deal of what was planned for the future of this land. They are putting in their own sewage treatment system, so that, if things reach a critical stage, all the members could stay on the property; they would be capable of handling over 7000 people on site. There was also an old airstrip in the property, which they thought could be refurbished and utilized to either "further the work" or to fly people out to the "place of safety" when the time came. The swimming pool (announcement made in 2001) is also to serve as an emergency water supply in case of fire or other needs. Even the first time I heard these things, it gave me the chills.

But now things have really changed. I do not have to live in fear of the Germans coming to get me, or worry if my family will turn me in so my own government will kill me (like Waco or Jonestown), or live in abject submission to the whim of a man in order to "develop patience." I can finally begin to make plans for the future. I can finally believe there will really be a future to plan for. What a relief!

PCG's "work" is a sham. Now that the compound is being built, I expect they will get all the media attention they want. These people will truly follow him to their deaths.

The only parting words I have for Gerald Flurry are: "You have no power over me!!!"

To anyone else out there who is wavering: Do your research. Check into the historical groups they claim are various eras of the true church. Most of the early ones did not keep the Sabbath, did not observe the Old Testament holy days, did not even have that name "church of God," which was supposed to be some sort of sign. There was not any sort of direct line of any kind from the apostolic age to Herbert Armstrong. The only references you will find that say those things existed were either from someone in Herbert Armstrong's organization, or someone from another of his earlier churches. The doctrine is false; the whole church system is false. Get out while you still can!!

By Sue Hensley
July 2, 2001
Last updated June 11, 2004

Footnotes by ESN:

1 More about PCG's makeup rule is covered in the story: Had to Observe Makeup and Tithing Rules

2 Flurry was saying in 1996 that Christ would return on the Feast of Trumpets, which meant the "church" had to flee six months prior which would be during the spring Holy Days. By 2004, Flurry was figuring another 19 year cycle from January 16,1991, which meant he was suggesting January 16, 2010 as a target year. Jan. 16 is the month and day that Herbert W. Armstrong died in 1986. (The Philadelphia Trumpet, July 1995, "The Place of Safety." Ezekiel, The End-Time Prophet," pp. 87-88. Ezekiel--The End Time Prophet, by Gerald Flurry, 2002, p. 142; "The Mantel of Elijah," Royal Vision, July/August 2003.)

3 Read: Why do members emphasize the government of God? (Q&A)

4 Involvement with HWA's religious cult, which did not teach the true God, can destroy any faith one thought they may have had. However, we find others who have gone through unspeakable tragedies, but whose faith endured and was strengthened as they found peace and refuge in the true God.

5 PCG teaches a false, cruel god. The true God, whose love is everlasting, and who is full of mercy, grace and compassion, manifested His Love to us by revealing Himself through His Son, Jesus, who saves us eternally by His grace. Read: It's Hard to Get Close to God After Being in an Abusive Group.

6 Wilbur Malone, a pastor in Philadelphia Church of God, died on January 27, 2004. He was previously a minister in WCG, joining PCG in April 1990.

7 David Koresh and his members all kept the Seventh Day Sabbath and also believed the books of Daniel and Revelation had been unsealed. They claim to have the Key of David. They teach that the Daily (a.k.a. the "Continual") has been taken away. They give the identification of the tribes of Israel today. They teach about the Elijah messenger. They hold to clean and unclean foods. They teach about the two trees, and the two witnesses. They also claim to understand the firstfruits harvest. They claim New Truth and New Revelation. They distinguish their faith as special and unique and they believe they are God's chosen people and are living in the end times. [More can be read about this in: An Open Letter to our Acquaintances in Worldwide Church of God.]

8 According to Flurry, the "last hour" began on May 5, 2001. Update: Flurry later claimed that the last half of the last hour began on June 4, 2005. (The Last Hour, 2004; Dear Brethren and co-workers in Christ, 2/2/04; Jude, 2005, PCG sermon by Wayne Turgeon, 12/24/05, etc.) In 2006 he denied that he was preaching the last hour. Then in 2010 he extended the last hour for another decade (April 2010 sermon).

9 Herman Hoeh, evangelist in Worldwide Church of God, was the one who began teaching the 7 church eras to members in 1958 (with WCG supposedly being the Philadelphia era). Today a number of splinter groups, especially PCG, claim to be the "Philadelphia era."

10 "As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalms 55:16-17)

11 Read: Philadelphia Church of God and the Place of Safety.


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