Sunday, 6 October 2013

Cults and Closets

As time has gone on, a number of first person accounts have appeared written by well-placed former members of the religious 'empire' once ruled over by ad-man turned apostle, Herbert W. Armstrong.

Two fairly recent examples have been John Morgan's Flying Free and Ben Mitchell's The Last Great Day. Ben Mitchell is the son of an Australian minister while John Morgan's brother, Rex, continues to this very day (as far as I know) to manage what remains of the Worldwide Church of God in New Zealand.

Now there's a new autobiographical account by Troy Fitzgerald, son of a former US-based WCG minister. Like the others, this is a fascinating account for those of us who have 'done time' in the gulag. Fascinating in this case, not because it brings any new information to light about the church, but because it details a raw and brutally honest personal perspective. It's far from an academic treatment (for that you can't go past David Barrett's Fragmenation of a Sect), nor is there much pretense of objectivity. This is one man's story, looking back over his life, and dealing with religion, sexuality and business. But if you have problems with the thought of a gay man, formerly married with kids, baring his soul, then be warned in advance.

In general the book follows a threefold pattern; Troy's early years under the grip of a demanding religion, the growing awareness of his sexual identity as he came of age and the subsequent choices made, and finally the attempt to find a viable vocation in the economically turbulent period we currently live in. The three themes are, however, also intertwined throughout the book.

Coming of age is rarely easy in the best of circumstances, but particularly fraught for those with same sex attractions. Add to this the overwhelming pressure to conform as a pastor's kid in a rigid, monolithic and repressive church, and the conundrums simply multiply. Troy attempts to shift much of the blame on to the "sociopathic" staff at Ambassador College and their influence, but this seems a simplistic evasion of the responsibility those students had who willingly knuckled under in order to achieve ministerial rank.

Two ex-WCG websites have already recommended Cults and Closets, but I must admit to having some apprehension before downloading the Kindle edition. Overall I needn't have worried.

There isn't a book yet written that wouldn't benefit from the skills of a professional editor, and this one is definitely no exception. While the book rings true, there are simple proof reading errors, and Fitzgerald lapses into self indulgence on more than one occasion, notably when discussing his childhood relationship with his father, and falls for the temptation to preachiness, free advice and aphorisms, particularly in the last chapters.

The author seems genuinely intent on forgiving and forgetting the past, and yet he also seems unable to let go. In this he certainly wouldn't be alone, and hopefully writing this book has both helped him and will help others who have had (or know others who have had) a similar journey.

Cults and Closets - paperback edition
Cults and Closets - Kindle edition


  1. Sometimes I think that these blogs are our own equivalent of television talk shows. Troy's book is making the rounds, and we are getting some interesting perspectives. Gavin, I enjoy reading yours, because you have been known for providing professional level reviews of numerous books in the past. It's one of the things you do. Troy is certainly to be commended for his courage and frankness.

    Now, I'm also anxious to read input from the writers at Silenced and Armstrong Delusion.


  2. The operative word here is "cult".

    It may well be that this sort of misfortune can be found without cults involved, but it's much less likely.

    Armstrongism, in particular, poses a dilemma: To be a member of their cult, you must meet their expectations, but at the same time, as one who has the Holy Spirit, received as a part of gaining entrance to the cult, the expectation is that a transformation takes place from the inside out, bringing a person to "perfection".

    Since this obviously doesn't work, people are left in a horrible state with questions about themselves and their apparent "failure" to live up to the cult religion.

    If this whole "conversion" thing worked as advertised, there wouldn't be a problem, would there? Those born gay would be transformed in the spirit to become viable heterosexuals ready for marriage without the excess baggage of "the old man".

    That it doesn't work for the Cult of Herbert Armstrong is a proof of sorts that something major is wrong with the religion... not that having it been founded by dead false prophet adds one whit to its competence to transform lives in a positive direction.

    Jesus claims, "by their fruit, you shall know them". Alas, the "fruit" borne is aptly described in II Timothy 3. It gives good advice: "From such turn away". And doing so would avoid these sorts of tragedies.

  3. Past experiences in a cult are definitely etched indelibly in our memory and "letting go" is not just "letting go". The memories will be there for as long as the person lives and there is nothing to be done about that.

    Some have said, "get over it" as if there was a way to just forget it but there is no way to do that unless one loses their memory. One may "get over" the cringe effect of hearing or seeing something about the familiar cult or lose any feeling about it whatsoever and get on with their lives but no one will ever really just forget all about it as if nothing ever happened.

    Some may choose to ignore that the cult happened to them and live in a sort of denial and even imagine they have forgotten it and replaced it with the one true religion this time but others may choose to blog about it, write books about it, warn others about it, join forums about it and talk about it for the rest of their lives.

    Forgive? Sure, no problem...but that's never going to make it right, nothing will ever make it right and it will never make the victim not the victim and the perpetrators not the perpetrators. The best one can do is learn not to put wishful thinking and what they want to 'believe' above facts and evidence - there's far less chance of being wrong that way, IMO. Letting go to the point of forgetting past experiences is almost a surefire way of increasing the chance of repeating them.

  4. Yes. I have not read other than excerpts from the book. However, it would appear that one of the huge issues Troy raises is that of transformation. Being quite frank, that does present a dilemma eventually for all Christians. There are most definitely habits and attitudes which are amenable to change, but one can only get so far before realization of the need for transformation by one's higher power kicks in.

    People speak of the molding process via different types of experience. And those are effective. Or, the role of forgiveness in purging one from toxicity and negative energy. However, these processes often are unsuccessful in changing such things as depression, inner rage, narcissism, or a person's innate appetites. There must be countless other aspects of personal makeup of which this is true.

    While acknowledging this seeming riddle, I don't claim to have the answer. Absenting any other viable alternatives, it would seem prudent to attempt to cultivate a relationship with and remain close to the source of healing.


  5. 0tagosh: check BB's apologies for the Nazi regime of WW2 on James + his website!