WCG's Meddling with Marriages
We weren't in the Worldwide Church of God for very long before learning about a few unhappy marriages. I remember being surprised by this because I thought that since we were in God's True Church, then God would reveal everything that we needed to know in order to have happy marriages. (Remember the booklet, "How to Have a Happy Marriage"?) I felt bad for couples going through this because it seemed that these couples were looked down upon (as if they needed the additional stress in their lives) for being "failures." As if that wasn't bad enough, it seemed to depend upon the kind of minister you had as to whether the marriage was binding or whether they had permission to finally pursue divorce.
I recall one couple that went through much turmoil in their marriage. The minister would tell the husband that he was unconverted and would suspend him from attending until their marital problems were resolved. So we wouldn't see him for years. Then that minister would get transferred and another minister would arrive. Then we would see the husband with the wife at services again, while they were "working on their marriage" with the new minister. After awhile, the new minister would tell the wife that she was not submissive and would suspend her from attending services and allow the husband back, so we wouldn't see her for several years! This couple suffered this same flip-flop act for 28 years, as new ministers would deem one or the other unconverted!
When we moved out of the area, we discovered that this type of "marriage counseling" (banning one or the other spouse from services) was common. Stranger still was the purpose for this--it was supposed to scare the other spouse into submission. If they didn't work out their problems, then they wouldn't be counted worthy to go to the Place of Safety. It was made clear to them that if we leave, we would leave without them. To make matters worse, very few of the ministers had any professional qualifications to perform marriage counseling. Couples in marital distress did not have the freedom to seek outside help, nor were they allowed to decide what was best for their individual circumstances. One can't help but wonder where these marriages would be today if these couples had been allowed to seek counseling through competent, qualified, Christian counselors.
This couple finally left, but their marriage did not fall apart! They had both come to Christ and realized they would honor each other through Him. They were finally happy. They told me that they had been in for 28 years, and they had never once brought a person to Christ. The wife said that their focus was completely wrong. She told me that they wasted 28 years in the WCG, and now they were free. She said that they couldn't look back at the lost years and lost friendships because they gained Christ. She and her husband were excited about being part of a prison ministry and bringing others to Him. They wanted others to know the joy they were finally experiencing. I was amazed at their transformation toward each other. The nitpicking and bickering were gone and they were actually holding hands and smiling at each other!
Even though our new minister allowed certain couples to divorce, he made sure the congregation knew that they were only allowed to divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. He said that they couldn't grow spiritually because there was too much bitterness in their lives. Can you imagine? A private matter like this being discussed in front of the whole congregation and being publicly humiliated? Sadder still, these divorcees were looked upon as pollutants. The couples would never be permitted to remarry. They would never be allowed to experience a happy, fulfilling marriage to someone more compatible, nor were they allowed the freedom to learn from their mistakes. They had to stifle any feelings of wanting to be loved by the opposite sex. They would never be allowed to participate in church dances or singles' activities, lest they tempt another to stumble. They were kept in a state of detached limbo.
One husband said, "In all my years in Worldwide, the one thing that bothered me the most was the lack of changed lives. Nobody would admit that they had any problems." I think the main reason for not admitting problems was the gossip. (I knew a deacon's wife who would proudly boast, "If you want a rumor spread, just tell it to me!") Everyone was afraid of everyone else knowing their weaknesses, and they were also afraid that they wouldn't be counted worthy to escape if they seemed less than perfect.
One would think that being in God's True Church, marriages would have been happy, but I remember hearing the minister say that the divorce rate in the WCG was equal to that of the world. Focusing on "saving our skin" theology instead of the saving grace of Jesus kept us from truly experiencing changed lives (for the better). I believe that the WCG wanted it this way. Their focus was the End Time Work, not on individuals who couldn't seem to get their act together to follow the program. The Ministerial Refresher Programs were little more than paid vacations where the ministers were reinforced in mind control techniques while being taught how to feed us the "new, latest, exciting program to expand The Work" and how to get the members behind it. They needed scapegoats to blame why the Bride wasn't ready. Members who had problems were continually reminded that they were "spots" that marred our Feasts.
The WCG not only interfered with married couples, they also meddled into the affairs of those contemplating marriage. If you had the minister's favor, even mixed marriages could get approval. But if you weren't on his good side, he could interfere and make life pretty miserable for the enamored couple. It seemed kind of weird to see these peoples' lives be put on hold by the whims of the current minister or doctrinal shift by HQ.
D&R1 was a nightmare foisted upon the membership. It was a piece of history that the WCG would like to bury. When we first questioned our minister about this doctrine, he replied, "Mr. Armstrong, upon sincere study of the Bible, felt that previous marriages were still binding according to his understanding of God's Word. Later, after further Bible study, he came to see this was wrong and reversed his decision on this matter." I did not have enough critical thinking skills at the time to put two and two together. First of all, if Herbert W. Armstrong really were God's True Apostle, with God revealing all Truth to him, then he would never had made a (gasp!) mistake, especially with something as serious as this. God does not play dice with peoples' lives. Second of all, I should have asked whether or not there was an official apology to those whose lives were ruined, and if there had been any type of restitution given to those who had lost spouses to suicide, or lost employment when spouses were forced to move out of the area. Of course, neither was done.2 So I have to ask, are these the fruits of God, or the fruits of evil men who claim to be God's representatives on earth? I was too indoctrinated to see that I shifted my focus away from what Jesus said in His Word, to what HWA had to say about what the Bible said. I gave more credence to a man who claimed to represent God, than I did to Jesus, who was God.
I truly feel for those whose marriages and relationships were devastated by this awful regime.
Exit & Support Network™
December 20, 2002
Footnote by ESN:
1 Read footnote #2 in Did Herbert W. Armstrong Abuse His Flock? to learn more details about HWA changing the D&R ruling and why.