Questions and Answers (Pt. 3 of 3)
Questions About Recovery:
The following is by L. A. Stuhlman, founder of ESN:
The healthiest ex-members are those who have patiently studied their way through: (1) the deception of the WCG; (2) full understanding of what a cult is, how it functions in society, and the repercussions of cult involvement and, (3) spiritual discernment through: a) learning how WCG [PCG, RCG, etc.] used techniques that spiritually damaged members (such as Scripture twisting); b) networking with others who have experience and sensitivity with the understanding of GRACE vs. LAW and the Gospel as understood by traditional Christianity; c) following through on the booklist provided which leads members into making solid decisions backed up by factual content and not just emotion, which often leads to toxic faith syndrome. That is the basic triangle of healing we use here. There is no particular order in the healing process. It has proven to be most successful when the exiter becomes responsible for his own recovery on his own time schedule. Understanding of corruption and deception within the organization has proven to be instrumental in leading the exiter away from the Armstrong dogma and into clear traditional Christian understanding. Recovery consists of breaking down every facet of manipulation and building a solid foundation on truth.
The following links on our site are helpful for all exiters:
Recovery Info for Exiters (Understanding our Involvement)
A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear that is being triggered. One of the main techniques mind manipulating groups use to control their members is fear. Their literature is saturated with it. Many of these fears may remain for years if the exiter doesn't work on breaking free from them. (Read how WCG made use of fear phobia induction.) Once a person becomes fear phobic, they become submissive to the authority of the group and are vulnerable to exploitation.
If one feels they need further help in recovering, cognitive therapy has been found to be helpful for phobias that resulted from the group's spiritually abusive teachings. However, many exiters, especially child survivors, are unable to read, or hear quotes, from the Bible, due to it being used against them in the group. If the counselor is a Christian counselor, they must understand this and pay heed to how the counselee is feeling about it. Therefore, when searching for a counselor the survivor should choose one that shows consideration in this regard, along with having a good understanding of abusive groups and/or trauma and methods of thought reform (or be willing to learn). The counselor should not try to control the exiter or blame their problems only on what happened before joining the group; otherwise, they could be harmed by the therapy.
It helps to be able to recognize the fear and then challenge it. For example, write the fear thoughts on the left side of the page in a column, and then on the right side in another column, challenge it by writing out what you rationally know is the truth of the situation.
Some good books that might prove helpful are:
Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Singer (Includes aftereffects of fear; fear used as a controlling technique, etc.)
Captive Hearts, Captive Minds (Freedom & Recovery From Cults & Abusive Relationships) by Madeline Tobias and Janja Lalich (Includes info on phobias)
In a system where perfection is the model, no human being can ever measure up. On of the things leaders of abusive, high demand groups use in order to control people is guilt. A common characteristic is to blame the members when they don't (or can't) live up to expectations--or when the promised physical benefits never arrive, which is sure to happen sooner or later. The end result is that the person blames themselves and feels guilty for not measuring up to what the group expects and demands of them. What exiters almost always have is "false guilt." To reverse this involves a process of unlearning false concepts (lies) that we have come to believe about ourselves. Understanding the love and grace of God and how He does not try to control us (as leaders in the abusive group did) can begin to erase those guilt feelings.
An End to Guilt (Excellent message that focuses on the unconditional love of God and gives a clear understanding of grace)
Loyalty and unquestioned obedience to HWA was what was paramount. To understand this is very important before trying to "untangle the mind" from any teachings. Read: Lifton's Eight Criteria of Thought Reform (shows how these methods are used in totalistic groups).
HWA taught that "salvation (and conversion) is a process." That was not true. It was the mind control (thought reform; programming) that was the "process" and it will take time to undo it. If exiters fail to undo the programming they received, they will remain locked into the teachings and/or will be vulnerable to joining another controlling offshoot with similar methods. An individual may have left because they came to see the abuses, but the teachings ("God's way"; "God's truth") can still be implanted in their mind. Many have not understood that these teachings were instilled in them in the first place for the sole purpose of controlling and exploiting them financially.
In addition to redefining the entire Bible, Herbert Armstrong redefined history; i. e., his own personal history, biblical/church history and the history of the Worldwide Church of God. There is ample documentation to prove that his own history as reported by himself was a lie.
When an exiter makes their own choice to read the Bible again, it is suggested that they start in the New Testament epistles and stay out of the Old Testament for awhile. Read and believe what the Scriptures say, not what HWA said they mean. Pray for guidance and discernment. Even taking a Bible concordance and noticing how many times the word "grace" is mentioned in the New Testament, along with the context the verse is in, can be helpful. Notice how the focus is on the death and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:1-4)
These things take years and even then we can never claim to know it all. Only cultic groups will proclaim that.
The following sections on our site may prove helpful:
Intense emotions are normal whenever anyone has been coerced, abused and exploited. Be willing to listen patiently and non-judgmentally whenever they desire to talk about their experience and that they feel safe. Avoid being confrontational. Never push anything on someone who has left an authoritarian group, as they are very sensitive to being controlled. It can also feel like a re-programming of their minds if you try to force a particular belief system on them, or urge church attendance, no matter how correct you feel it is. Remember that survivors of mind-manipulating or high demand groups have had the Bible used on them in a very negative way. Therefore, it is normal for them to not be able (or even want) to open the Bible after exiting, due to triggers and fears, or to not trust any religious leaders or organizations. Many survivors struggle with their faith at a very core level and it is common for them to find it hard to even trust God.
It is important to build trust, convey love, and offer support before issues of belief are broached. No one should insist on Bible reading for those who have been in any type of high demand religious group, as it takes years to undo the emotional and spiritual scars. Resolving spiritual issues is only part of the recovery process.
Give them time to rest; to evaluate their goals and identity. Encourage them to make simple decisions. Let them know that there is hope, and that you support them unconditionally.
When they have questions about the history of the group they were in and how mind manipulative groups (a. k. a. "cults") function in our society, don't feel you have to be the one to furnish all the information you can find, or it could prove overwhelming. Allow them to have an active part in their own recovery and to learn to make independent decisions. It is important for them to know they are not powerless. (See Q&A above: How do I recover after exiting an abusive group?)
Recovery From Spiritual Abuse - How You Can Help [good offsite article]
Exiters placed their trust in and were betrayed by spiritual leaders; therefore, it is very common for those who have exited any abusive, authoritarian group to have a deep fear and distrust of anyone in a position of spiritual authority, and not to be able to attend a church for quite awhile, perhaps never. Going into another church can also present many triggers and exiters need to be aware of what to expect. Even attempting to sing certain hymns in some churches can cause problems (i. e., cognitive dissonance), since HWA changed many words in sacred hymns.
Those who have suffered in a high demand group need time to rest, heal, become stronger, and then determine for themselves whom to trust again. It is more helpful to first spend time reading some books on mind control, spiritual abuse, and recovery.
Struggles With Attending Mainstream Churches (several stories from exiters)
Questions About Our Website:
Worldwide Church of God destroyed thousands of innocent lives in the name of "god" through fraud, deception, intentional abuse and exploitation, using techniques of mind control. What happened is a holocaust that cannot be simply buried and forgotten. We expose them in order that the other side of the story may be known as a testimony to the victims and also that others may avoid going into the abusive and totalistic splinter groups that engage in the same practices. Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to suffer the same fate for lack of knowledge.
Read the following:
Loving What's Right Means Hating What's Wrong (Includes: "Is it Wrong to Judge?")
What is Agape and How Did it Work? (does love mean never saying a harsh word or stepping on toes?)
First of all, we do not believe that doctrine should be used to control, deceive or exploit others. Neither do we believe that anyone should force their beliefs on survivors who have suffered mind control and spiritual abuse, since their trust has been betrayed in the deepest sense of the word. Simply stated, we at ESN believe that eternal life is found through faith, by grace, in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Truth, not a particular church, denomination, or organization, and that He completed everything for us on the cross.
What Do We Believe? (our statement of beliefs for informational purposes)
Pseudonyms, initials, or first names only, are often used on the site for two reasons: (1) Survivors of abusive and controlling religious groups have had their trust severely broken, and they do not wish to take the chance of being harassed or threatened by their former group, receive criticism from family still in, or have to explain their involvement to friends or employers. Therefore, anonymity is often chosen unless the former member or survivor requests their real name be used. (2) Basic Internet Security bulletins put out by officials, including police agencies, recommend several ways to stay safe on the Internet. One of these is to not give out personal information such as full names and/or addresses.
Questions About the Law, Works or Salvation:
The Ten Commandments constituted the old covenant, and there is nothing in Scripture stating that they were ratified as a separate covenant. The Law of Moses (which the Ten Commandments are a part of) was given to the children of Israel. This Law consisted of 613 points of law. All is considered the Mosaic Law. The Scriptures state that one cannot pick and choose from these 613 old covenant laws. If you are going to try and observe them, you are obligated to do the whole law, including the New Moons with their sacrifices. See Galatians 3:10. After Christ came, there is no more need nor obligation for Christians to observe the Mosaic Law and the ceremonial types.
Besides, no one can keep the Law perfectly in thought, word or deed. Trying to keep it actually stirs up the sin nature. (Romans 7:8) It will always condemn us and say we are guilty. The Law is called "the ministry of death" (II Corinthians 3:7-8) In contrast, the grace of God through Christ Jesus is what releases us from sin and death. The purpose of the Law is to lead the unconverted (those not under faith) to Christ. (See Galatians 3:24-25) We must not mix up this old covenant Law of the letter which brings condemnation and death with God's spiritual law of faith which leads to life. (See Romans 3:27; Romans 7:6 and 8:2)
"Why the Ten Commandments were Given" by the late J. Vernon McGee (excellent)
[see our Links to contact the ministry and receive this sermon]
Links (helpful resources in understanding more about law and grace)
The Sabbath was the sign between God and ancient Israel. It was part of the old covenant, which was a national, temporal law for a national, temporal purpose. The Israelites first received the Sabbath command from God through Moses. (See Nehemiah 9:13-14 and Deuteronomy 5:2-3). It was a covenant between God and the Israelites and no one else.
Leaders of certain authoritarian religious groups emphasize the Sabbath and teach that it is a "sign" of God's "one true church." This serves to control members (in order to exploit them) and leads to a dogmatic insistence that one couldn't be converted unless they were in this "one true church."
We find no mention of Paul instructing the Gentiles that they must keep the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath command is not mentioned at all in any of the Pauline epistles. Romans 13:8 mentions five of the Ten Commandments and then states, "if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself." There is no mention of the fourth commandment and that Christians need to "keep it holy." When our motive is love (the love of Christ in our hearts), there is no need for any other laws. The "law of Christ" mentioned in Galatians 6:2 refers to "love one another" (John 13:34; 15:12), not to the Ten Commandments. The Christian is to live on a much higher plane than the Ten Commandments, and that is love. (Romans 13:10: "Love is the fulfilling of the Law.")
The early church fathers wrote that the observance of the Sabbath was demonstrated to have been temporary. (An Answer to the Jews 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, p. 155) [offsite link]
If one chooses to rest on the Sabbath, they are free to do so, but it does not affect one's salvation. (Romans 14:5-6; I John 5:12a)
For further study:
Should the Sabbath Be Observed Today? (will cover Colossians 2:16)
The Sabbath Law (6 MP3 messages by Aaron Budjen; free download; excellent study) [offsite link]
Seventh Day Adventism Renounced by D. M. Canright [offsite link]
Canright spent 28 years in Adventism. He was taught that to give up the Advent faith was to give up the Bible. A classic book which not only shows the errors of Adventism (a group that HWA received and plagiarized much of his teaching from), but goes in depth concerning why the Sabbath was abolished. (Important chapters are: "Did the Pope Change the Sabbath?" and "Forty-Seven Prominent Texts Used by Sabbatarians Examined.")
Herbert Armstrong taught that Jeremiah 10:3-5 was talking about "Christmas trees"; however, if one reads the chapter in context, it is clear that God is speaking about the heathen custom of idolatry, not Christmas trees. This verse is actually directed toward the house of Israel and refers to regulating one's life according to the Zodiac or being troubled by such things as eclipses or comets, which were believed by these idolatrous nations to be signs of coming events given by the gods. Verse 5 is talking about how the idols they were carving out of trees had eyes, ears, mouth, legs and feet, but they could not speak and had to be carried from one place to another. They also covered these idols with blue and purple clothing (verse 9). A similar reference is seen in Habakkuk 2:19: "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it."
Some aspects of Christmas have pagan origins, but we must realize is that nearly everything in our culture is rooted in paganism; i.e., names of the months, days of the week, planets, weddings, rings, neckties, honeymoons, etc. That does not necessarily make them evil. Evil lies in the heart of man, not in any particular day. But if a Christian believes that observing any of these days is wrong, then it would be a sin for him/her to participate in them. However, he should refrain from condemning others who decide the pagan element has lost its significance.
If one chooses, these days can be used as a time to show love and kindness to friends and family, eating dinner with others, or spending time together, something members avoided for many years while under the control of the group leader and which caused much division and hurt feelings. They can also be an opportunity to help the less fortunate. Worldliness, drunkenness, revelry, covetousness and idolatry are condemned in the Bible, but HWA made it sound like everyone who did something on these holidays was guilty of such. He emphasized the negative elements in society in order to isolate people into his exclusive group. This fostered judgmental attitudes, self-righteousness, pride, and a lack of love and compassion toward others.
The main thing to ponder is: Which harmed us more--Christmas, Easter and birthdays (especially if we grew up observing them)--or leaders with deceptive motives who used days to control us, while they programmed our minds and exploited us in the process?
Therefore, whether to acknowledge certain days, or not, must remain an individual matter of Christian conscience (remaining true to our own convictions) and not judging others in these decisions. (See Romans 14:5-6) God accepts His children not because they don't observe "pagan" days, but on the basis of what His Son has already done for them on the cross of Calvary. The thing to remember is that Christ Jesus was born, and He was resurrected, and we should remember that all year round, not just at specific times of the year.
Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? [brief offsite article]
We need to first understand that the observance of holy days in high demand groups is for the purpose of controlling members. It is much easier to have authority over someone if their lives are molded around the "church."
Leaders of totalistic groups have always taught that if healthy members didn't show up for the Passover service, they were gravely sinning and were in danger of "losing the Holy Spirit." To the contrary, the Scriptures show that the Holy Spirit and eternal life cannot be lost or taken away, and we are sealed the moment we place our faith and trust in Christ. (See John 14:16; John 10:28; II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)
Passover was not given to commemorate the death of Christ, it looked forward to His first coming. Christ, our Passover, has already been offered. Therefore, to continue to observe the O.T. Passover is to say He never came.
Today many Christians observe what is called the "Lord's Supper" (often referred to as Communion), which looks back to His death. This was the teaching of the first century church.
Also read: The Quartodeciman Controversy which covers the Passover dispute in the early church.
We must not take one Scripture out of the Bible and try to use it in order to compel someone else to do what we think they should do. Verses in the Bible must also be viewed in the context of the historical and cultural context in which they were given in. In the first century when the book of Hebrews was written, Christians were facing severe persecution, and the words in this verse, "as ye see the day approaching" could probably referred to the time when the temple would be destroyed, which was in 70 A.D. These early Christians would not have a meeting place then, and would have to meet in private homes. Apparently, some of the Christians at this time were losing interest in Christ, or had defected from the faith, and were no longer meeting with other believers.
Also consider the many Christians who are unable to attend a church or even a visible fellowship due to living in countries where they are experiencing severe religious persecution (even from their own families). The only fellowship many have overseas is to listen to Christian radio with only wind-up radios (Saber devices).
Most survivors of spiritual abuse are unable to attend a church due to it being too triggering for them, or because they have been unable to find a good Bible church.
Nevertheless, messages abound today from other Christians or Christian leaders (especially in the United States) to make exiters feel guilty if they aren't "in church on Sunday." This is similar to how members and children were made to feel guilty if they didn't show up for Sabbath services in the WCG (or other offshoot).
We worship God in spirit and in truth, not at any particular church or location. (John 4:23-24)
Hebrews 10:25 by Aaron Budjen (mentions how those who have been beaten down by a legalistic system want and need to take a break from assembling together) [offsite link; scroll down to Heb. 10:25]
Jesus tells us He is able to save to the uttermost all those that come unto God by Him. (Hebrews 7:25) All that come to Him, He will not cast out. (John 6:37) He also says that He gives us eternal life and we will never perish, neither is any man able to take us out of His hand. (John 10:28) We are sealed with His Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. (II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) We are preserved in Jesus Christ. (Jude 1) We have an inheritance (that does not fade away) reserved for us in heaven. (I Peter 1:4) We may backslide or stumble, but we will never perish because He holds on to us, not vice versa. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He will seek His lost sheep (those who wander away). He will not lose one of them. (John 6:39)
It is encouraging to know that when we turn to God and place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for all our sins (past, present and future), we have assurance of eternal life now. (I John 5:13) To teach otherwise is to deny the finality of the cross.
Leaders of totalistic religious groups redefine grace, salvation and faith. "License to sin" is covered in several places on our site; i. e., our critique of Mystery of the Ages, Chapter 6, "GRACE."
My Position in Christ (accepted and secure forever)
Verse by verse teaching through the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:26-17 is covered in Message 42; excellent study by Aaron Budjen) [offsite link]
Eternal Security of the Believer by the late H. A. Ironside (Written many years ago, but very good. Page two answers 24 questions; i. e., question #11 discusses Hebrews 6:4-6 and while question #12 discusses Hebrews 10:28-29, it also covers Hebrews 10:26 about "no more sacrifice for sins.")
Is it Possible For a Saved Person Ever to Be Lost? (offsite PDF download by J. Vernon McGee)
There is no act of sin that you can commit for which there is no forgiveness because Christ died for all our sins, past, present and future, and therefore He does not hold any sin against us anymore.
The Holy Spirit cannot be lost (John 14:16) and if we have believed on, and trusted in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we have been reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:18), and have the assurance of eternal life now. (I John 5:13)
Believing you have committed the "unpardonable sin" brings fear instead of peace and assurance. Such teaching is prevalent in groups which control members by fear and guilt.
The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is covered in our critical review of chapter 3 of Mystery of the Ages. This also includes footnote #8, which quotes J. Vernon McGee from his notes on Matthew 12:29-32.
What is Antinomianism? (covers forgiveness and how our God no longer holds our sins against us)
The Apostle Paul (who was personally taught and commissioned by Christ) said the Gospel was the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. (See I Corinthians 15:1-4) It's the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ, what He has accomplished and how He has forgiven all our sins. To teach contrary to this is to deny the Gospel and to teach another gospel. (II Cor. 11:4; Galatians 1:6)
This part in "What Were the Lies and What is the Truth?" (N. T. scriptures tell what the gospel is)
What is the Gospel? (shows what the gospel is and what it is not)
It is a commonly held belief in the HWA offshoots (those who call themselves as "churches of God") that the true believers--those who believe Herbert Armstrong restored the true gospel--were all scattered when the WCG changed its doctrines. However, Jeremiah 23:1-2 (which they use) is not applying to them. The word "pastors" in these verses refers to the kings, politicians, those ruling at that time in history, the ones who were responsible for the laws of the land (and which God did later judge). Ezekiel 34 is another verse used where it talks about the "shepherds" and the flock being scattered and later regathered. But the "regathering" mentioned here and in other places is talking about the nation Israel, not those who left WCG, PCG, etc., and "shepherds" is what Israel's rulers and leaders were often called. It doesn't apply to any WCG or PCG pastor or teacher. Those in the offshoots who hold to British-Israelism have wrongly interpreted these scriptures to be speaking to them, especially if they were treated harshly by the leaders of the group they left.
It is not necessary to come out and tell others you were in a "cult" (a.k.a. a high demand, exploitive group). Most won't understand how you became involved in the first place, and if it is Christians you are telling this to, there is the very real possibility that they may unthinkingly say something hurtful, or look upon you as weak or inferior in some way. Read: Amazing Words That Have Been Said to Exiters-or-(What Never to Say to Someone Who Has Been Deceived by an Exploitive Group) Most Christians believe they can never be deceived, and the word "cult" to the majority of them means something along the order of a Jim Jones or David Koresh cult, or the Moonies.
If you feel you want to tell others something about your involvement (especially if you have been asked which church you were previously in), it is better to simply say you were in a "very controlling church" or "a highly legalistic group." You do not need to give them the name of your former group and can simply say you "don't feel comfortable mentioning it."
Sometimes you will run across those who have been in a controlling, or abusive church, and who can identify with much of what you have gone through. Other Christians, however, do not even know what the words "spiritual abuse" mean and its damaging after effects. (If they are interested, we list titles of several good books on our Booklist.) It might work okay to tell them that your group used methods of control, guilt and fear to enforce compliance to their dogma. It is best, however, not to blurt out your whole story to strangers, especially other Christians you do not know very well. Don't blame yourself or say you were "stupid" when you are sharing your involvement, or they may feel they should agree with you. The people that will understand the most are those who have been in an abusive, controlling, or exploitive group. While some exiters have found their church caring and accepting (or at least one or two members who are understanding), this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, it is recommended that exiters always wait until they feel strong enough to answer others concerning their involvement.
This question was first raised in our minds by Herbert Armstrong whose purpose was to try and plant a seed of doubt in the minds of those he was recruiting in order that they might come to distrust all other mainstream Christian churches and their literature and hold to the belief that he alone was God's apostle of the "one and only true church" where he claimed God was working. An crucial question is, "What are the traits of churches that claim they are the "one true church?" (Read All or Nothing Statements for a sample of how totalistic leaders talk.)
What is important is what is going on inside a church or Christian organization. Do they teach that one is saved by faith through grace but then go on to add works, rituals and conditions for salvation? Do they control their members with fear and guilt if they don't obey the leadership? Do they hold to doctrines which center around the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, or do members believe that extra-revelations were given to their founder that must be used in addition to the Bible? Are their ministers humble, or do they have a proud, un-teachable spirit? Can members question or doubt what their ministers teach? Have they given many prophecies or predictions that have failed to come to pass? Do the fruits of their own lives testify as to what they teach, or have they been found to be hypocrites and liars? Do they forbid their members to listen to former members (calling them "disgruntled," "bitter," "Laodicean," etc.?) Do they practice history revision and gloss over the sins of their founder?
There has always been a false Christianity and a true Christianity. Doctrine is used by false teachers for the purpose of controlling their members and to distract others from their true agenda which is financial exploitation. Deceptive leaders (who are not held accountable) will control, abuse and exploit their members over the issue of doctrine in order to receive a following which brings them money and power. While there are many denominations, a false church will lack a basic fundamental understanding of the true Gospel, which centers around the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His vicarious blood atonement for the propitiation of all sins (Romans 5:11; I John 2:2) and His bodily resurrection. If their understanding of the Gospel is inaccurate, then their interpretation of other scriptures will be flawed (and in most cases taken out of context and twisted).
While it was placed in our minds to wonder "why there are so many denominations in Christianity," today we find hundreds of Armstrong offshoots (calling themselves "churches of God") with most of them claiming to be the "correct" or "true" one, yet differing or disagreeing on a number of points.
Why Are There Many Different Christian Churches? [offsite article]