(Earlier this year Damon recalled his life experience in the historic Worldwide Church of God. This time he has a new angle. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that the historic WCG was a totalitarian society (except those who profit from the system who are in a state of denialism). Totalitarianism and collectivism does not believe the individual counts and that all competition is evil and bad. Totalitarians and collectivists preach a “gospel of co-operationism” but don’t be fooled by that nice sounding concept. It is nothing more than to make everyone and everything the same bunch of yellow coloured pencils. Usually a culture of mediocrity is produced, where the misery is shared “equally” upon everyone. Damon, in his wisdom knew the whole system was a facade from the beginning. Damon’s story is a real story of “rugged individualism” and courage against a system which represses individuality, creativity and produced absolutely nothing for mankind for it’s betterment and well being—only to produce fear, tyranny and destructively dysfunctional congregations. For standing up to a totalitarian system Damon, we salute you! —The Editor)
The purpose of this article is to discuss my socio-cultural experience in the Worldwide Church of God. I was born and raised in the church. I experienced many things that a child normally would not experience. I had the special ability to sit quietly in church while most of the other children were blanket trained. Blanket training is where the parent(s) bring a blanket for the little ones to sit on during services. Along with the blankets were “quiet toys”. Quiet toys are toys that the little ones could play for example, cars, trucks and colouring books. The sight could be comparable to a daycare centre. I sat on the hard metal chairs listening to the sermon, quietly turning the bible to the scripture with my mother and father. My fathers’ logic was “well if my son can sit quietly at school, he can sit quietly at church”. Around me were men that were hooked on every word, scribbling down notes with their briefcases on their lap. The women were busy tendering to the little ones crying, taking notes or staring at me like as if they have never seen a black child sit for two hours without crying or causing a disturbance. The positive thing was getting compliments from members about how “well behaved” I was. It made my parents very proud of me.
The only social event I looked forward to during my pre-YOU years was the annual softball tournament. This tournament was viewed as a major social gathering. Single women would come and watch “eligible” (defined by me as some guy in his 20’s and 30s, living at home with mom and dad, underemployed but he can play softball and is an Ambassador College graduate—marriage material!). My father played on the team. I was just a spectator (and a critic—urban legend has it that I booed the team for bad play. One time I wore a paper bag over my head to protest how awful the team was).Usually they had a YES game and I was the kid who could actually play baseball but I was told “I was too competitive” so I was barred from playing. After a long, hot and humid day of watching the softball team lose games like the Toronto Maple Leafs, I was rewarded with a BBQ. There were some women who stopped to chat but I couldn’t understand why. Maybe they thought I had dating “potential”. I played on the team during my YOU years and I liked going to the USA for the tournaments (got to meet a ton of cool teenage girls) but the politics of playing on my WWCG softball team, diminished my enjoyment of playing.
One word that would describe my local church area, the word would be “apathy”. It was OK to act like a downtrodden person, it was OK to appear meek, it was OK to have members look down at one another and it was OK to be culturally insensitive towards female members and visible minorities and it was OK to suck up to the minister, local elder and those who went to Ambassador College. This culture was a stark contrast to my time in elementary school. My elementary school took pride in doing our best, giving it all and being proud of our accomplishments. My pride and joy was watching the high school kick ass in football. I loved watching the high school team play. They played with spirit, determination and it was clear to me, they had fun playing football. The students had fun going to the games and cheerleaders! It made me feel like I wanted to be a part of it. To a pre-teen, it was a distorted reality. Here are these people, who have no inkling about religion, having a good time while in the church, I hear preachers condemn the same people because “they were not called”.
My older brother played on the football team one year. I was happy for him he made the team and got some playing time. It was tough because he missed one game due to our forced observance of the Feast of Tabernacles in Niagara Falls, New York. My brother was a backup wide-receiver. He made a key catch late in the game to help the team make it to the finals. The city final was on a Saturday which was the Sabbath. This Sabbath day was pure torture—especially this one since my brother could not play (that day, the high school team won the city championship). Sitting in church, I did not give a damn about what was being preached that day (in fact I wrote on my brother’s note pad “This sucks, local elder droning on about “worldly teens and how being a YOU member is better because teens do not face peer pressure in the church!). As an indicator of the kind of teammates they were—they pitched in 5 dollars each to buy my brother a championship jacket). I think it was that moment. I chose to “do things my way” but I would have to be intelligent about it. You see, it was preached in the WWCG that if one quits, that person is viewed to be a parasite. There were those that bought into this line of thinking as part of the culture. A culture where asking questions was viewed as being “rebellious”.
This was the culture of the WWCG, “don’t ask questions, do as you’re told and all will be fine.” Culturally, the WWCG did not have a lot of culture in it. My 13-15 year old years was filled with “can’t do this, can’t do that filled with illogical explanations”. For instance, one of the highlights of the YOU year was the track and field meet. I stated above that my church area had a mentality of losing. I signed up at my high school to get the proper training and guidance. My coach saw some potential in me. He placed me in hurdles because “if I made it to the provincial championships, it was on a Friday so I could participate”. My grade nine year, I did well. There were some kids who, by WWCG standards were good at track, but most were not. There was a YOU dance the night before. At church, it was announced that there shall be no mixed race dancing because of “the potential of black males being sexually aroused by our fantastic YOU girls.” What bothered me most was the attitude of the other black people in the WWCG. The attitude was met with deadpanned blasé. I expressed my displeasure in a language that is not fit to print. The night at the hotel, I stayed by myself while my parents met up with their friends to discuss this. I recall some blamed me for “having a bad attitude”. I’m sorry but when a minister preaches why the policy on interracial dancing and his response was, “the potential of black males being sexually aroused by our fantastic YOU females.” I think I will be a little bit pissed off. Combined that with the pressure on me to win (my YOU track team was lazy, unmotivated and the athleticism of the character Wimpy from the cartoon Popeye) made for a socially-uncomfortable weekend. That year, I obliterated the competition, won all the gold medals and began what I call “the state of Damon”. My thinking was, if this is how the WWCG wants to operate fine with me. I choose not to support their views and I will not give an offering to this church.
As time wore on, members of my local congregation really thought my parents were Geoffrey the Butler and Mamie the maid. Members came to my parents requesting rides, babysitting, housecleaning etc. I can understand an elderly person needing help cutting the lawn but when able bodied people come to my parents requesting help? I got the “you’re not acting godly” card. One lady “banned” me from dating her sister (Like I really wanted to date her–she lived four hours away, she was fat, had a bad personality and I thought she was repulsive) Keep in mind this was my train of thought in the WWCG at around sixteen years old. However in my everyday teenage life it was sunny side up. I loved going to class, loved playing sports and tried to make hay by working part-time and in the summers working lots to save money. I faced disdain from my parents about my refusal to tithe because of my stance (and the fact the minister called my house to let my parent’s know I wasn’t tithing. He asked why and I told him why—“If this church views me as a ‘danger’ based on stereotypical, irrational, racist and illogical thoughts, why should I support them financially?” The response was pretty bold for a 16 year old kid. I felt I was ‘not good enough’ and was treated like second class dung.
My minster was concerned that I wrote a letter to the popular radio show “American Top 40” with Shadoe Stephens. This was a countdown show of the top 40 radio songs according to Billboard Magazine. Tara Kemp was a sexy R&B singer from San Francisco, California. Her first song was titled Hold you Tight. I wrote in basically saying this “The major difference between me and the other kids at school are that I go to this church called the Worldwide Church of God. This church is not your typical church. I think this church caters to those individuals who like to be told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and oh yes the “Yes minister how high I jump Mr. Minister”. I like Hold you Tight b/c it represents holding on to a goal. Shadoe could you play Hold You Tight. Ps. I think Ms. Kemp is cute.” My minister caught wind of this via another minister. I got called out in church for writing to what was described as “Satan’s music show”. I was told to “be prepared to experience a trial”. Next week, I was on the pulpit, defending myself. It was my sermon (wasn’t really a sermon—think of it as a news conference that president Obama has at the White House). It really opened my eyes to the controlling, sideshow circus, the minister and our infamous local elder liked to do. He was “the boss” According to some, he got showed up by this se17 year old kid and his ego took a major beating.
By then the local church became dysfunctional. The minster was counselling women on their issues, and then having sex with them. His wife was having affairs with a couple of the male members. The local elder stole money from the church social fund to aid the purchase of a motorcycle for his son, who was accused of sexually assaulting a female member at a softball tournament in Toledo, Ohio. One young Ambassador College grad was secretly married due to her getting pregnant by a young man who reminded me of Vanilla Ice. The younger members (the 20-30-somethings) complaining about lack of job prospects (the way I saw it, if an employer schedules you to work Friday night and/or Saturday—show up for your shift!) and lack of suitable dates in the church. I dated one YOU girl. She was the “eye-candy” of my time in YOU. I described her as “a YOU sorority girl”- a putrid person who thought because she was hot, she could treat any guy like she wanted to. I dumped her hard (and it felt so good doing it).In fact, during my YOU years the best relationship I had was with the personable lady at Canada Post. Canada Post had to have rubbed their hands with glee when I came to the post office with letters in hand.
I accepted one date from a 26 year old. She was attractive, had a job and graduated from a real university. The date was fine until she asked about my views on marriage. I was a senior in high school. At that point, my focus was on attending university and not entertains potential offers for marriage at 18. I thought she was very nice but also a little desperate. When it came close to Feast time, dictatorial sermons about how the Feast “is not a substitute for Christmas so don’t buy expensive things”. Yet, the minister’s kids walking in church with $100 Air Jordan’s, designer suits and this minister is telling ME how to spend my second tenth, third tenth and MY feast money that I worked for? Dysfunctional is the word to describe my 16-18 year old years in the WWCG. I describe YOU at this point as “a collection of YOU fratboys and YOU sorority girls” I only knew a couple of guys that I would talk to from other church areas but I was not a part of the YOU sorority/fraternity. From what I recall the Feast that year had drama from under aged drinking, recreational drug use and a couple of teenage girls got pregnant. Yet, I was chastised for not hanging out with this group of “fine YOU members”. I chose not to hang out with them simply because I did not want to. I found a few other YOU members that shared my philosophy and I really had a great time with them. By them, this was my attitude I will use this quote from Rob Base in the song It Takes Two-“if you don’t like me so what I don’t care.”
As my time was coming to a close, there was this special ceremony for the two young men, chosen by God (as they claim) to Ambassador College. Since one of the young men was the local elder’s son, my mom should have rolled over, take it in the ass and bake goodies for the tea. Proud of my mom for standing up and saying no because she felt it was unfair because I wasn’t getting the same recognition. This is what the local church elder said about me. “Damon thanks for YOU track, no one cares about you, and you will never get married, or succeed in life like my son.” Harsh words that would crumble any person’s soul. I recall a hush fell over church as the local elder walked off the stage. I had a look of internal anger. I don’t think I stayed for the tea, I went home. None of those guys even called to say good bye or anything like that. “Being friends” with them meant nothing. Compare that to my last year of high school, the friendships, successs and disappointments are things that bonded my graduating class. It was an easy decision which road I will choose to take. My WWCG chapter of my life ended after my first semester of university.
To conclude, this essay was a reflection of how the socio-cultural environment the WWCG was. It is based on my experience growing up in this environment and opinions expressed are those of the writer.