Even while I was still a True Believer, I already knew that Worldwide Church of God was wrong about some things. Not that I doubted the virgin birth of the ministry (who could question that!), but when you have seen something happen in your own life, and you see someone else denying that it happened--you know that an error has been made.
The Tkaches could have changed Worldwide Church of God's doctrines and kept perhaps 80% of the church intact. They could have, but they didn't--because they were stupid. They were arrogant and stupid, the worst possible combination (which turned out to be the best for me, because it was so blatant that even a 40-year veteran robot like myself could not deny what was happening six inches in front of my face).
For example, they could have explained to us that the church had been previously in error about certain doctrines, showed us the proof, and kept us on board. Instead, they attacked us. "You people are superstitious!" little Joe Tkach squealed at Palm Springs in 1991. "Where do you get these superstitions from?"
Whereupon my wife leaned over to me and whispered, "Didn't Mr. Armstrong teach us that?"
And yes, Mr. Armstrong had. All Little Joe had to do was explain that Mr. Armstrong was wrong. Instead, he accused us of being superstitious. And gave up millions of dollars in income.
Because he was stupid.
Stupid. Stupid. STUPID!!!
The most glaring example of little joe's stupidity was his insistence that self esteem was a sin. I remember he dedicated an entire taped sermon to this subject (circa 1990) that was distributed to the outer church areas. At the time I was incensed, because I knew he was wrong. What I couldn't understand was why? Why did he insist on calling self esteem a sin?
I had just spent five years learning the opposite.
To backtrack, I take you to 1982. I had been raised in the church, and while I was a true believer, I was a beaten-down believer. I was terrified of the ministry, lived in daily dread of the tribulation (which I was certain I would not survive), and I was at the bottom of everybody's shit list. Then we had a change of pastor, saying good-bye to Alton ("Don") Billingsley [excellent riddance!] and hello to Glen White, whom I had never heard of.
Glen White was a different breed of cat. Right off the bat he warned people: "Don't ask me what kind of car to buy, or whether you should change jobs, or where to send your kids to school. You people have to take some responsibility for yourselves!"
God! What a novel idea!
I was impressed.
And more than a little scared.
Who was this bearded backwoodsman, anyway, and why had I never heard of him? Turned out, he had spent twelve years in Canada, raising up fledgling congregations. He had just spent five years in Seattle before coming to us in central California. At that time I had been in and around the church for close to thirty years, and I had never met anyone quite like Glen White.
To make a very long story short--Glen White was a bit of a maverick. He believed in HWA and Worldwide Church of God and all the doctrines (as far as I know), but he was not popular at HQ. When he hit our church area, he immediately ran afoul of some of the oldest and hallowedest families in Worldwide Church of God, people who had joined in the early fifties and knew Dick Armstrong, Herman Hoeh, and Rod Meredith personally. These people, though mostly unordained, were considered "pillars" (fine Nazi families, the backbone of the 4th Reich). They immediately took a dislike to Glen, and instead of staying with us for the traditional seven years, he only lasted five.
But what years they were!
If ever there was a "golden era" during my affiliation with Worldwide Church of God, those years were 1982-1987. Although he didn't know it, and certainly never intended it--Glen White laid the foundation for my eventual awakening. Had he not come to Fresno, I would still be in Worldwide Church of God (or one of the spin-offs) today, defending it like an idiot.
In addition to the standard biblical doctrine taught by the Worldwide Church of God, Glen White had his own doctrinal mission. That mission was a message about alcoholism, its cause and effect, and other forms of dysfunction as well. Unfortunately, he had to tread cautiously, because this message was not authorized by HQ. Dale Hampton had, apparently, been cashiered back in the 70's for spreading the AA message too vigorously (I got this from Glen, but am not sure of the details. Reference John O's article for more on Dale Hampton). Glen believed in the message, but did not want to lose his job, so he gave sermons that vaguely referenced things many of us did not understand, and spoke privately to those individuals whom he believed needed help.
For better than two years I wondered just what the hell he was talking about? What meetings did he attend through the week? Who were these "people helping people" that he talked about in sermons? What was going on?
Through a quirk of evolution, Glen and I became close friends. This was not ever supposed to happen--he was a pastor-rank minister, I was not officially even a member (I had been disfellowshipped in 1973, resumed attendance in 1978, but as of 1982 had never been reinstated). We became friends because 1) he was interested in computers and I was a programmer (this was before every school kid had a PC on his desk); 2) because the company I worked for had access to a health club and he liked to play racquetball; and 3) our personalities just clicked.
Through my association with Glen I discovered that I had alcoholic tendencies. I had always liked to drink (but never could afford it), and when I had booze in the house I would nip away at it until it was gone. Its lifetime would be measured in hours. It always seemed that if I could ever once just sit down and "drink my fill", I would be satisfied, but that never did happen. Long before I could drink my fill, I would have passed out.
However, because of my association with Glen, I saw the handwriting on the wall. Before he was done with me, I would have to quit. I didn't want to quit, but quitting was in my future. So I tried to "drink my fill" before that happened. As a result, in less than a year's time (1983-84) I sank into a situation that was incredibly dangerous.
I began to drink every day (couldn't afford the good stuff, drank the cheap shit). Drank in the morning, drank at noon, drank on the way home in the car. Many times I woke up in the morning and wondered what had I done with the bottle. Was it still under the front seat? Had I thrown it out? Frequently I could not remember the thirty-mile drive home. Trying to just hold the wheel steady as the trucks passed me.
My wife was frantic. Every day she expected the worst. An accident. An arrest. A lawsuit. Everything I had always worked for was in jeopardy. I stood to lose my house, my job, my family, my freedom. Even my life, if I got into a wreck.
By the spring of '85 I was helplessly in trouble. I talked to Glen, told him what was going on, and he took me to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The eventual result was that I quit drinking in June 1985 and never touched another drop (except Passover wine) until May 1990. (Today I drink infrequently, usually wine or champagne on holidays.) I became a disciple of AA and the Twelve Steps. I got myself an AA sponsor (not a church member) and went through the program for several years.
As a result of the 12-step program, I learned about self-esteem.
These 12-steppers, these "christians without a license" as Glen White called them--were in many cases much better Christians than the Worldwiders that I knew. They didn't have the "truth" as I (thought I) understood it then, but they did have something that was sorely lacking in the Worldwide Church of God. They had honesty.
Honesty was and is the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12-step groups. Without honesty you can't face the cause of the illness that compels you to drink, shoot, snort, overeat, cheat on your spouse, or whatever your particular sickness is. Without honesty you are lost.
Worldwiders were head down in denial at every level. I came to see it clearly. And I couldn't understand why Pasadena did not shout this (AA) message from geosynchronous orbit to every congregation in the world. If ever any church cared about its members, it should be teaching them the message that was routine knowledge at any skid-row Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Learning about self esteem was, for me, like an emigrant coming to America after a lifetime of persecution in some "old country". It was freedom. It had nothing to do with vanity. Rather, it was the realization, for the very first time in my life, that I had a right to be alive, all by myself, without any qualification. I was valuable as a human being, church or no church. Christ had [I believed at that time] died for me as much as for anyone else, and that all by itself made me worth something.
It was a new concept. What a revelation!
And yet almost no one in my congregation believed that about themselves. Perhaps eighty percent of the entire membership were beaten down, wallowing in worthlessness, paying and praying and living a life of shame. Many of them drank, but many who did not drink manifested other symptoms of the same sickness that causes alcoholism--more than anything else, the lack of self esteem, a sense of self worth.
And that was the message that Glen White tried, with only limited success, to bring to our congregation.
During my early months in AA it took a little time for the idea of self esteem to take hold. It sounded an awfully lot like vanity to me.
So I did what any good Worldwider should do--I sat down and did a study on the subject. What I found reinforced everything AA had taught me, remaining consistant with my christian faith, and flew in the face of what the church was teaching.
In a nutshell, the Bible talks about "esteeming others better than yourself" (don't ask me where--I've flushed my memory of most of that stuff. You can look it up). This was a favorite scripture on those occasions when the ministry wanted to shove our faces in the toilet. We were not to love ourselves, because that was a sin. But the word the Bible used was "esteem".
What did that mean?
I went to the dictionary. The word "esteem" in English came from the Latin word "estimare", meaning "to appraise". The same root applies to the word "estimate". Any idiot can think it through from there. An estimate is a judgment, a valuation. It is not vanity. It is simply an assessment of the value of something.
Ergo, "self-esteem" equals "self evaluation".
Hey! Remember Passover? Didn't they tell us to "examine ourselves"? Then what the hell was the difference between self examination and self esteem?
I knew plenty of people in the church who treated other people like shit. These same people had the lowest self esteem of anyone I knew (the worst of them were deacons and deaconesses). It occurred to me that they were obeying the scripture to "esteem others better than yourself", but since they valued themselves so poorly (in the negative numbers, if you will), then their best efforts at esteeming others more highly came to nothing, often translating into abuse.
Certainly these people needed self esteem, and needed it badly. Not only for their own survival, but for me to keep from hating them.
The bottom line, as I came to believe it (and still do today), is that a Christian--a true Christian (if any such exists)--has a duty to have self esteem. To assess yourself in the negative as we were taught would be an insult to Jesus Christ, would it not? After all, he supposedly died to save us, to make us better than we are. If we insist on having low self esteem in the face of that sacrifice, that is an open and outright rejection of that sacrifice.
Think about it--if you believe in Jesus.
Therefore, any church that teaches that self esteem is a sin is lying, and must have an ulterior motive. What could such a motive possibly be?
But Pasadena fought against it, declaring self-esteem to be a sin.
The little Russian with the black beard took every opportunity to slam self esteem. He called it "a lie", a "tool of Satan", etc. And I couldn't understand it. It made no sense. He had to be smarter than that. I never had liked him, not even when he was a teenager, but he was now an adult, an ordained evangelist, supposedly possessed of the Holy Spirit. Where was his head?
Not only little joe, but Big Joe, as well. Same song, same verse.
I knew they had to be smarter than that. They had to be. And what infuriated me was that, in our congregation, we now had a few dozen people who had crawled out of their holes during Glen White's tenure, and were barely hanging on to a few tenuous threads of self-worth--and the damned Tkaches were deliberately trying to destroy that hope!
It all came clear to me, finally, in 1992. It falls under the "I Should Have Known" category. The "missing link" in the whole story was the understanding of what the WorldWide Church of God really was, and really always had been. Until I understood that, I could never grasp why they would suppress self esteem in the membership. Now I understood.
The last thing a slave-owner wants or needs is for his slaves to have self esteem. If they feel good about themselves, they just might try to run away.
If any of you reading this labor under the misapprehension that self esteem is the same as vanity, stop. It is not. Self esteem is nothing more than a dispassionate assessment of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your value as a human being. Lack of self esteem leads to suicide. Lack of self esteem leads to depression. Lack of self esteem leads to slavery in the WorldWide Church of Tkach.
Self esteem, on the other hand, is truth. Truth about yourself.
And it can set you free.
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