I remember lots of people wondering if they had committed the unpardonable sin. The very idea of a sin that couldn’t be forgiven was pretty scary, and the church was always pretty vague on just what that sin was. I think the best explanation I heard was that it had something to do with cursing the Holy Spirit; they said that if you were worried about committing it, then you hadn’t committed it.
The whole idea of sin, of course, is bogus. “Sin” is a man-made concept. What it boils down to is committing a crime in a religious context — it isn’t something you can go to jail for, but if we can dupe you into believing in religion, we can threaten you with death and control your life.
Not About Sin
In spite of the title, this article is not about sin. It’s about something much worse. A few months back I posted an article entitled “When Should You Forgive?”; this article is about forgiveness, and things you can do that should bar you from ever receiving forgiveness.
None of us is perfect. We all know that, and if we ever forgot it, the WCG leadership wasted no time reminding us. We’ve all made mistakes, we continue to make mistakes, and we will always make mistakes. To err is human. Because we aren’t perfect, most of us find it within our hearts to forgive others when they offend us. Doing so not only releases the other person from guilt, but relieves our own frustration as well. But there are times when forgiving others is not, or should not, be an option.
Most of the time, when people offend us, they don’t do it consciously. I’ve offended people without realizing it, and I’m sure they didn’t always tell me about it. No doubt there are still people holding grudges against me that I know nothing about. Without knowing who or what or when, I can’t make it right. Until I’m made aware of the problem, I can’t correct it, and until then, it isn’t my problem.
Almost anything can be forgiven, if the guilty person acknowledges his offense and makes it right. Spouses have forgiven their significant others for cheating, for example, and that would be a hard one to forgive. Many ex-members of the cult have forgiven their pastors for their brutality (which I am not willing to do until the bastard stops doing it to others). Each person must choose what he or she is willing to forgive, and I offer no judgment for or against their decision, even if I don’t agree with it — it’s their life and their peace of mind. I can’t argue with whatever will offer a person relief.
The Unpardonable Sin
But there is one “sin”, one pattern of behavior, which cannot, in my estimation, be forgiven. That pattern of behavior is child abuse.
Everyone knows about child abuse. Many of you reading this have experienced it. The media talks about it all the time, and the courts are pretty severe with people who commit it. From time to time we are stupefied by stories of people beating, burning, starving, even chaining children in closets. We hear all the time about the sexual abuse of children. These are criminal acts which merit a very, very long prison sentence.
Such crimes are clearly inexcusable, and it doesn’t take a warp-scientist to understand that. But I’m not talking about that kind of child abuse. As bad as it is, there are laws and agencies that deal with those kinds of abuse. The abuse I’m talking about is, in many ways, even worse, and there is no one out there to take action when it occurs. No statutes exist to punish the offenders in these cases. The offenders go free, and only the victim can free himself from the effects of his trauma. But in order to do so, he or she must recognize what has happened and what life-long effects he is suffering.
Religious Child Abuse
For lack of a better term, I will call this kind of abuse “Religious Child Abuse”, although you don’t have to be religious to commit it. But it seems to be most prevalent among people who practice religion, who have been brainwashed by some preacher somewhere (and not just in the COGs).
(In the paragraphs that follow, I will be talking about a few specifics that might offend some of the holiest readers. You have been warned; unfortunately, anyone who stops reading now is probably the very person who needs this information.)
What is religious child abuse? How do you define it and what kind of damage does it do? Simply stated, religious child abuse is when you use the concept of God to crush a child’s spirit and ruin his or her life.
There are many ways this can be done, far more than I am aware of. But I can give you some examples, and from there you should be able to identify other instances of religious child abuse when you see it.
One of the major concerns of most Christians is the behavior of their kids. This was especially true in WCG, where “child-rearing” was a major topic. Everyone wanted to be a “good” Christian parent, and wanted people to view their kids as well trained. To accomplish this, many parents visited horrors upon their kids that were worthy of felony arrest.
Moms and Masturbation
There is a terrible irony when you look at the facts of life in WCG. Parents subjected their children to codes of conduct drawn up by some of the most horrible people on the planet. Men like Garner Ted Armstrong and Herman L. Hoeh set the standards that church children were expected to live up to. This was especially true in sexual matters.
“WE WON’T HAVE MAS-TUR-BAY-SHUN IN GOD’S CHURCH!” — Herman Hoeh, circa 1964
“So I walked up to this kid and I said, ‘WHY DON’T YOU STOP PLAYING WITH YOURSELF!'” –Garner Ted Armstrong, circa 1966
Herman Hoeh kept a photo collection of naked boys. GTA admitted (perhaps “bragged” is more accurate) to having sex with about 35 college co-eds and over 200 ministers’ wives. Herbert W. Armstrong raped his own daughter for ten long years; toward the end of his life he wrote his infamous “flog log”.
Grand paragons of virtue, they!
And you want to raise your kids by their values?
Look, let’s be blunt. Masturbation may be a little embarrassing for some to talk about, but there’s essentially nothing wrong with it. I don’t know how it works for girls, but boys have this thing called a prostate. That little thing generates several gallons of semen a day (sure felt like it, anyhow!), and just like a bladder that fills up with urine, that stuff has to get out. It just does. So when a kid is 14, 15, or 19 years old, and isn’t married, and isn’t allowed to have sex with girls…well, you figure it out. Nocturnal emissions might help, but they don’t happen frequently enough, and the days and hours in between are extremely miserable.
If you’re a mom with a teenaged son, get off his back! You haven’t been through what he’s going through. As long as he does it in private and washes his hands afterward, ignore it. He isn’t going to go blind and hair won’t grow on his palms. If you fill him with shame over something he has no control over, you’re going to ruin his life! There may be consequences far worse than a few stained bed sheets.
And that’s enough about that subject.
Bad parenting comes in many forms, and the parent who is obsessed that his kids obey every jot and tittle is the worst parent of all. Such parents are likely to insist that their kids study the Bible X number of hours per day, refuse to let them partake in normal childhood activities, and closely monitor their friends to make sure Satan doesn’t somehow enter them unawares. Such parents may insist their kids hang out with “church” kids whose parents seem to be important, even though those kids might be the worst possible companions. This scenario has a thousand patterns, and I think you get the picture.
It’s true that children need to be trained, need to be guided. But don’t be anal about it. What does a kid really need to know? Teach him to respect other people, teach him a sense of fair play, and then step back. The rest will take care of itself. You may need to use a nudge now and then, but that doesn’t mean beatings with a belt or episodes of screaming that fill a kid with shame.
The very worst thing you can do is fill a kid with shame!
Kids are kids. It takes time — years — for them to grow up. Those years are important, even vital, because those are the years when kids learn how to interact with others. They make mistakes, lots of them. But that’s what those years are for. Childhood is the time to make mistakes and learn from them. That’s why kids still live with their parents — they aren’t ready to make their own way in the world, and until they are, they must be fed, sheltered, and nourished. You don’t nourish a kid by browbeating him or her. You don’t prepare a kid for adulthood by making him ashamed of his body and its needs. That should be obvious to any rational person, but religion and its tenets blind the most well intentioned to these simple, obvious facts.
Religion creates bad parents!
Give Them A Break
I was always amazed in WCG how hard the kids had it (and I didn’t know the half of it). They taught us that you needed the Holy Spirit in order to obey God. You couldn’t get the Holy Spirit until you were baptized. You couldn’t get baptized until you were “mature” (i.e., an adult). Ergo, kids couldn’t be baptized, and thus did not have the Holy Spirit. But by god! They were expected to toe the line! They were expected to be perfect! Kids never got a break!
By contrast, the worst members in WCG were usually the old people. Those with the “hoary” head (whore-y head? I was never quite sure)! Some of those old codgers (and there were good ones, too) pulled some of the most outrageous crap you could imagine, spreading gossip and divisiveness wherever they went. Many were selfish, petty, petulant, and just plain cantankerous. But did they ever face discipline? Maybe some did, but I never saw it happen. The old people, according to the Bible, were supposed to be “wise and full of years”, and their “wisdom” was to be a beacon for the rest of us to live by. Very few of them were, yet they seemed to have a blank check when it came to bad behavior.
But the kids never got a break.
It was bad enough being a kid with a weird religion. Kids face more severe peer pressure than anyone else on the planet. Kids can be extremely cruel to other kids, and no one knows that more than a church kid. What kids want more than anything else is to be accepted by their peers. Most of those peers are the kids at school, and if you are the one odd-ball in the group, your life is going to be miserable.
So your parents suddenly adopt this weird religion. Not only do you go to church on Saturday, but you can’t observe most major holidays. You have to go to school in January and suffer through other kids asking what you got for Christmas. You can’t go trick-or-treating. You can’t go to football or basketball games on Friday night. You can’t eat hotdogs. The list of what you can’t do is several times longer than the things you can do. You stick out like a sore thumb, and everyone notices you. A lot of people shun you.
You can’t date anyone at school, you can’t go to parties, you may be forced to dress in clothing that is years out of style. If you’re a girl, you’re forbidden to wear makeup, or some of the more stylish fashions.
All of that is bad enough. Up to this point, it’s just plain hard to be a church kid. But then it gets worse.
The Really Unpardonable Sin
Not only do you belong to a weird religion, you are a member of a cult! That cult has a high-profile leader who screams and foams and threatens his followers with extreme violence if they fail to obey his voice. Enforcing that leader’s desires is a task force of men called ministers (though they do very little actual “ministering”). These men scream and foam and threaten people at the local level, browbeating parents and kids alike. The parents, beaten down already, try to enforce this abject lifestyle on their children, often screaming and foaming and threatening.
This is religious child abuse. This is the unpardonable sin.
But it gets worse. Common sense goes out the window. Not only do the parents force their kids to live this lifestyle, they often make stupid decisions that, on the face of it, should be obviously wrong. Girls are sometimes forced to date men many years their senior, men who seem creepy to them. Sometimes these girls are date-raped, but does anyone believe them? Hell no! If anything happened, it’s the girl’s fault!
What happened to common sense? Can’t you tell that there is something weird about a 35 year-old man, still living with his mother, who wants to date a 16 year-old girl? Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you? Have you ever heard of child molesters? Have you ever heard of stalkers? Have you ever heard of perverts?
Granted, the guy may still be single simply because he lives in a cult with very few eligible women, and is not allowed to marry outside the cult. But a 16 year-old girl? What happened to common sense?
Now here comes a kid with a dream. She wants to be an artist. She has a lot of talent. She does beautiful work, and doing it brings her a great deal of satisfaction. Will she find any support from the people at “church”? Not on your life! More likely, she will be encouraged to learn cooking, cleaning, and all the domestic skills she will need to become a “Proverbs 31 woman”; i.e., her only role in life is to be someone’s wife and bear his children.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. The girl may even have that goal as part of her dream. But she can be a wife, a mother, and still be so much more! She can be an artist as well, pursue a career, and find fulfillment in life. But not in the cult. People in the cult (and probably her parents as well) will tell her to forget it — God didn’t “call” her to draw pictures. God expects her to live a “godly life” (whatever that means)! Who does she think she is, anyway? She can’t be an artist. She can’t be famous. That’s vanity! Why should she waste her time drawing pictures when she can be praying and studying instead? After all, she needs to prepare herself to raise godly children, doesn’t she?
Enough people tell her that, and her parents don’t back her up, and her dream is crushed. Her spirit is crushed. And she is miserable for the rest of her days.
Here’s a boy who excels in sports. He’s a gifted baseball player. He has the talent to make the pros. But he can’t pursue that dream. If he plays high-school ball, he may have to play on the “Sabbath”. So he either doesn’t play at all, or at best has an understanding coach who lets him play when he can.
Let’s assume the latter. The coach lets him play the Wednesday games and those Friday games that start before sunset, though he has to step out in the 3rd inning because the sun is going down. The kid at least gets to play, and he excels. Word of his skill reaches a major league scout. The scout watches the kid play and, upon graduation, approaches him with an offer.
What is that kid going to do? He desperately wants to play major league ball, but no franchise is going to put him in the roster when he can’t play Friday night or Saturday. They just won’t. Not even Jewish players get that kind of break, and when one steps down for Yom Kippur, it makes network headlines.
The boy makes his decision. He has to obey God. He walks away from a once-in-a-lifetime career that most people only dream about, but he might actually achieve. His spirit is crushed. He will never be the same again. Perhaps, in 20 years, he will come to recognize that what he thought was “God’s true church” is nothing more than a blood-sucking cult, and he gets out. But what then? He’s 38 years old, the age he should be retiring from his major league career. The window of opportunity closed years ago. Now it’s too late.
What do you say to that boy, now a middle-aged man, when he realizes he could have had that career, that he should have signed that contract? What do you say to him now? What do you tell him to console him? How do you make him feel better?
The answer? You don’t. There is nothing you can say!
That, ladies and gentlemen, is religious child abuse.
That…is the unpardonable sin!
There are so many more scenarios, every one of them true to life. There are tens of thousands of people out there with stories to tell even more horrible than anything I have related. Perhaps you have a similar story. I encourage you to share it with the readers of Painful Truth. Send us an email. It’s important that people realize, that people understand. Why?
Because the unpardonable sin is still being committed every day in the splinter cults and the WCG!