I Grew Up in a Cult

It taught me a lot about real life

Fleur Brown
Human Parts
Published in
12 min readMar 17, 2018

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Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of The Worldwide Church of God. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

WWhen my mum lost her dad in her early twenties, she was looking for answers and a soft place to land. It was the early 1970s — a confusing time to be human, amidst the Vietnam War, the continuing struggle for equal rights, and the disruption of all kinds of traditional values.

She found sanctuary in the Worldwide Church of God, an American fundamentalist religion that offered a road map for the meaning of life, infused with a little self-help theory and some healthy eating tips.

Aside from its conservative dress code and ban on makeup, the church was full of fairly normal-looking people. At its peak, it boasted millions of followers — families big and small, rich and poor joined from almost every country in the world.

The 1970s were a time of huge upheaval of traditional values. Photo by John Olson/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Every cult has its currency — ours was fear

The first ten years of my life were dominated by apocalyptic biblical predictions. The fear of these catastrophic events kept church members focused and contributing — emotionally and financially.

As a child, I believed I would never have time to finish high school, marry, or have children of my own. We were always just a year or two away from global famine, pestilence, and World War III. The church taught us that when the end times finally came, we — “the special ones” — would be whisked away to a “place of safety” in the Middle East for three and a half years, until Jesus Christ finally returned.

This was prophecy pre-Google, and, given few alternatives to focus on, my childish mind reluctantly accepted this environment as reality.

Not exactly a chilled-out perspective to grow up with. Even so, my main concern as a kid was whether I’d be able to plug a curling iron into a mud wall in our Middle Eastern hideout.

This god we were so invested in seemed like an off-centre, unkind sort of character with a bleak outlook on life.

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