Glynn Washington and I go way back—I used to be a producer on his public radio show Snap Judgment—and I’ve heard him talk loads about his time growing up as a black child in a white supremacist cult called the Worldwide Church of God. But that didn’t prepare me for the whole story.PLAYLIST
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Emily A. Sprague – Star Gazing – Hill, Flower, Fog
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Featuring Glynn Washington
Announcer: The following is a special presentation of The World Tomorrow, with Herbert W. Armstrong.
Armstrong: I speak as a voice crying out in the 20th century wilderness of religious confusion, showing what is soon coming on this world.
The subject of Armageddon and the end of the world has been appearing in the public press, more or less often in the last 25 years. The disciples asked
Jesus Christ for a sign of his second coming and the end of the world, and he replied, as you find in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom
shall be preached in all the world, for the witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.” Believe it or not, He was speaking of this very
Nick: Did you ever go to Petra?
Glynn: I’ve never been to Petra. I’ve never been to Petra. That was the whole deal. We’re definitely going to a place of safety, but I was like, go
live in a cave. I don’t know, I was thinking like a space ship or a weather balloon, the moon, something cool. But from what I understand, this is more
than just a cave, this is one of the stone archeological wonders of the world. There’re statues and frescoes. I’ve never been, you’ve got to tell me
what this like.
Nick: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There’s a scene where they go into the temple where eventually they find the holy grail and that the
entrance to that-
Glynn: That’s Petra?
Nick: Is Petra. Yeah. If there’s going to be some crazy post-apocalyptic Jesus coming down from heaven, it’s got to be in a place like that, for sure.
Glynn: The idea was we’re going to go live in the caves of Petra for three and a half years. And then Jesus was going to come back and set things
right. It was imminent. Any moment, things are about to be over unless you got your act right. I was a true believer.
Nick: From luminary you’re listening to Love and Radio. I’m Nick Van der Kolk. Today’s episode “The world tomorrow,” featuring Glynn Washington. How
the fuck does a black family end up in a white supremacist doomsday cult?
Glynn: I think a lot of my work in general, a lot of my storytelling is trying to answer that question. How do you get into to be in the middle of a white supremacist Jesus cult? They didn’t lead with the white supremacy aspect of it. That was something that came out once you got more into the theology. When I was 11 years old, I was sitting in church next to my buddy. And the pastor starts talking about the story of the flood that you don’t know, the secret story of the flood.
Glynn: Noah, God tells him he’s got to go and make this ark. And Noah started doing it because Noah is faithful. And then animals start filing in two
by two. Cool, people are still partying, being sinful. Noah gets in the ark with his wife and his three kids. The rains come down for 40 days and 40 nights, the ship sails for a year. And finally it stops and the world is clean and it’s new. It’s free of sin. All the sin has been washed away by this
flood that was sent by the Lord. And then Noah gets out and he’s so happy. He’s so happy. He does a dance of joy to the Lord and finally falls down
Glynn: And when he falls down exhausted brethren, that’s when the bad thing happens. One of his sons, one of his sons who was on that boat with him,
one of his sons, defiles him, does something evil to his body when he is in a sense of slumber, it was a terrible, terrible, terrible thing. And when
the Lord found out about it, when Noah woke up, the Lord cursed that son, cursed him. And brethren, brethren, you can see the effects of that curse here
today, because that curse is the color of a black man’s skin, because they are the descendants of the person of the son who committed that evil deed
against Noah. Yeah, that’s what I heard. I was 11 or 12 years old.
Nick: What the hell is going through your mind when you hear that?
Glynn: I’m thinking it’s bullshit. But again, I’m 11. I’m 12. I don’t know how a conception of the Bible. I don’t feel like I’m enough of the authority to be able to push back as much as my feelings want me to. Here’s the dirty thing. This is the secret part, is that as pernicious an evil, an impact that the lie of white superiority has on white people. It has an even more dire impact on black people, because black people believe it too. And that was the case. That was the organization, a lot of the black people, would believe something like that. And they will pass on that sense of inferiority onto the next generation.
Glynn: Even now I feel sometimes that me fighting that feels like your shadow boxing. And one hand I grew up with these people. I grew up very crazed, religious, were mostly white community. And so nothing like that to put a lie to any idea of white superiority of any type, it was complete madness by these ideas. It’s deeply begged at the American psyche. And this is just one manifestation of it. I think that I grew up in an extreme manifestation of it, but again, the dirty little secret is that as much as whites believe whites superiority. A lot of blacks believe it too.
Glynn: The bee allergy is like, this is crazy. This is going to be hard for even come out of my head, the head of the church Sky Herbert W. Armstrong. There’s a passage in Genesis about Noah, the Lord calls Noah perfect in his generations. And what that means has been argued out by a lot of different people for a lot of different ways. But what head of our church said that meant was that he was the holder of a pure white genetic lineage, and the pure white genetic lineage. Okay, I’m going to do the best I can, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’re making sense to me then they’re making sense to me now, somehow, but this guy, Herbert W. Armstrong was a recipient of this unbroken strain of pure white genetic lineage. And somehow he traced his heritage to the house of Windsor and through the house of Windsor, he traced his lineage back to Jesus.
Glynn: And From Jesus, he traced it back to Noah and from Noah, he traced it back to Adam. It was this pure unbroken white strain that resulted in the head of our organization. Herbert W. Armstrong. Now what I did speak to my father and my parents by like, that don’t make no goddamn sense. And my father to his credit said, “Yes, this is stupid.” We wrote a biblical research paper and sent it in to the headquarters of our church in Pasadena, California, because our good cults are based in California.
Glynn: We sent it in there. They said they were this August group of biblical scholars was going to get back to us, but eventually sent us a form letter. But that was kind of the beginning of the end for me actually. I just thought that the racial thing was insane. And now this was a recent revelation to myself. I think had it not been for this extreme racist aspect of that church, if I didn’t have to confront it so directly. So personally as a black person, that I might’ve stayed in it longer than I did. In that sense, I’m almost happy that the racism forced me out.
Nick: I think that might be the first time that I’ve ever heard someone find some silver lining in racism.
Glynn: Well, it was a hard one. And I tell these stories to my kids and are like, “What in the world are you talking about? This is mad crazy.” And it is mad crazy, and I want them to think it is crazy because it is, and it is hard to go back and say what the silver linings are, but everything was so internalized. That sense of otherness, of being an outsider. Even, though I was born into this group.
Nick: Beyond the theology of it, how did the white supremacy or racism manifests itself? Were inter-racial relationships allowed within the group?
Glynn: No. No. And that was a big deal for me because I’m a young kid. I’m heterosexual male. Like the ladies loved Brown ladies in my area. There weren’t any.
Glynn: One point there’s a church camp, go away for three weeks. It was church camp. I think I was 14 or 15 and they have a dance. Now they pull you aside and they tell you, you’re not allowed to dance with anybody interrupting, you’re not allowed to sit next to a girl of another race, and I’m just like, “What? Really? I mean, I know I heard it. I know y’all said it, but how can it really be?” I’m there, there might be three other black girls. And there’s like, hundreds of white people. I said, “You’re looking stupid and I don’t want this thing.” “This stinks, this is not for me.” And the cutest, most darling, beautiful girl, white girl comes up to me and asked me if I would dance. I thought, well, it’s kind of dark. And if I kind of bend down a little bit and we get right in the middle of a group, maybe I can pull this off, which I try and no I do not pull this off.
Glynn: It takes all of about 15 seconds before I get a tap on the shoulder and I get called at the back room office and get the scolded of how deep I’m out there defiling this white girl, and I should know better and it’s wrong. And then he could call my parents, all this kind of stuff. I was like,” Oh, I’m sorry. You know, it was dark. I didn’t know exactly who was who and what was what.”
Nick: Did you ever keep your personal history, a secret as an adult, or were you always up front about it?
Glynn: No, this is the thing. It’s like, I was an outsider within that group, but I grew up in, but I was very much in the group. But as a black kid, you’re just kind of on the edges of it. And then realized that I was leaving. I had to go away and I wanted to build a life outside of that. I was going to college and I go, and I’m an alien on top of an alien. I had to fake normalcy. Like I had never been to a birthday party. Birthday parties were not allowed. You can celebrate your own birthday. And I didn’t know what to do when all of a sudden people threw me a surprise party. I was petrified, confused. What is happening?
Glynn: All the things that people take for granted in the United States, the prom, the homecoming, all that stuff. I didn’t have any history of that. I didn’t know any of that stuff. I didn’t have a high school experience that paralleled anyone because everything that we did, I had to be in church. I never went to a football game. I never asked a girl to dance. I never did any of that stuff. And I had to pretend like I was like, everybody else. I wanted all that to be the biggest secret ever. I do not lead with how you doing darling. I grew up in a cult, so I’m not sure how this step goes or what
this dance is or what to say. It was almost like I was at a middle school or trying to pretend like he’s a high school senior.
Nick: Do you think there’s any other secrets that has had a bigger impact on your life?
Glynn: Yeah. Yeah. The thing that kind of drove my family that just shaped all of our histories. When I was three years old, we were at my grandmother’s house, one of my uncles got into an altercation with another one of my uncles, over something for treating my grandmother properly or something of this nature. And one of my uncles had a gun, told his brother to back off, talked to him again, his brother is screaming at him, screaming at him, “Come on, do it, do it, do it, do what you go the gun, do it.” I believe I’m under the table. And one uncle shoots the other uncle and kills him. So my earliest memory is that. My second earliest memory is of my grandmother holding my hand. Saying, “It’s going to be okay, baby. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay baby. It’s going to be okay.”
Glynn: These tears are streaming down our face, even as a little kid, you know when your grandmother was crying, that it’s going to be okay to nothing’s ever going to be okay. That incident, in my grandmother’s back room, that incident shaped everything.
Glynn: It gave the impetus for us to leave Detroit and leave my family behind. I was kind of ripped from that bosom of a big warm family. It drove, I think my parents tried to set up a barrier between that family and us, the way they did it was through this wacky church. I wonder if we would have ever have been involved with all that craziness, if that bullet missed or when something like that happens, you can trace some implications for generations, my uncle who pulled the trigger, he might as well aimed at himself because it took two lives.
Glynn: What I remember the most is like the sense of having to all of a sudden walk around eggshells around my grandmother, the sense to see the light go away. My grandmother was a lively spirited, cantankerous person. And to see that, to see her suddenly shrunken was just weird and hard. And as a kid you don’t have the vocabulary to understand what’s going on. When that kind of thing goes on, it was ever present in all of our lives. It made me think of my own. Like, “What would it take for me to do that to my own brother? How can anyone ever get to that point? I’m mad at him, but can I ever do that?”
Glynn: You question every single interaction under a new filter, when that happens within your own family, do I have it in me? Is this something I could do? Is this a rage thing in me? You know, when you see that in your family, it feels like there is nothing you can do to prepare for it. I’m really mad right now. “Am I that man, am I out of control? Could I do something to somebody? Is this in me in this way?” Am I crazy? A certain amount, some of my people have acted crazy in the past. “Am I one of them, am I immune?
Glynn: I’m stunned the white people that I grew up with don’t recognize the extreme racist environment that we grew up in. We didn’t really have any racism growing up. What! What! We created books of white supremacist theology that were, are in fact used by clan groups that came from our organization. A few years ago, we had a reunion of our youth group that I grew up with in church. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to go. And I was like, “Okay Mr. Storyteller, you don’t want to go? This is the story. And you wouldn’t talk about it if you’re not going to go. So I was like, all right, I give him a plane ticket, a flight back to Michigan, get in a rental car, go up to the little hall somewhere outside of Lansing. It’s middle of winter. It’s cold. This is VFW hall.
Glynn: And I get there and I’m standing outside and I don’t really want to go in there, Oh Lord, I do not want to go in. I do not want to see these people. I do not want to go. I go in, I hear this “Glynn!” Like I was norm from cheers, the hug and the kiss and then its been a long time, this is a group of people we’ve been through a war together and was so amazing seeing everybody. So amazing seeing these people I grew up with at one point we got to sit down and the woman next to me, she’s, “We’re going to have our little cream, corn, mashed potatoes, or a little chicken dinner or whatever it’s going to be the next week.” She lifts a glass to me, just like can you believe we grew up in that cult.
Glynn: I was lifting my glass to toast to her, and a woman directly across from us. She says, ” let go.” And then right there was just like, we were like, are you serious? She’s going to say, are you serious? It was just such an odd thing. Later I get up and I’m walking around, I’m talking to people and I go to one woman who I haven’t seen in forever. And we’re talking, we’re talking, we’re talking. I knew she was very, very close to a youth minister, asked her how he’s doing. And she looked at me and I swear to God, it was a millisecond. It was a millisecond. And I knew that relationship was not appropriate. And I just hugged her. And she cried and she cried and she cried.
Glynn: I’ve since found out that over half of the women that I grew up with that were close to me in the organization were abused by someone in that organization as well. And I didn’t know that, I never saw that. And it kills me that I was blind to their pain. As I’m saying they were blind to mine, how would, you know its just a stupid kid? But Jesus Christ!
Nick: Oh! Glynn.
Glynn: Yeah. Sucks.
Glynn: It’s shitty. I don’t have the psychological terminology for this, but I know that if you talk to anyone on the street, anyone, pick any person at random and you ask them what their story is. More often than not. They’re going to tell you a story as trauma. It’s crazy. Look, what’s your story. And if you really get a real answer out of it, it’s a story of trauma and it stops at a point of trauma. They will stop their story. They’re telling themselves about themselves stops in a point of trauma, except one of these say them, I don’t write up a book called “Narrative Therapy” because really that’s all it is. It’s like, how do you tell yourself your own story? How do you move past that trauma? I think one of the first things you got to do is assign what your story is and what you want your story to be. What do you want it to be?
Glynn: I did get to a university setting. It’s like, everyone goes home for Christmas. Wasn’t going home for Christmas. I thought I just going to stay my behind right there on campus and eat my little canned soup or whatever. One of my buddies he heard I was going to stay as like, “Oh no, you’re not, you’re coming home with me.” I was like, “Okay.” And I had my first Christmas. And it’s my first Christmas. I didn’t realize later on how in might not be the most traditional Christmas as well. Some of my best friends, still one of my best friends in the world, his family is from India and Pakistan. You know, they’re having a Christmas Curry and everybody’s going to be there and everybody’s going to fight and hollering, yell and scream at each other, but everybody loves each other. Because, that’s the way they talk to each other.
Glynn: I’m not used to that and their presence, and their pajamas, and the Christmas with the evil, evil Christmas tree that I grew up with putting a Ganesha figurine on the Christmas tree at the top, instead of a star. Even now, even today, I still put a Ganesha on my Christmas trees with my kids, because I felt that warmth of that household, I’m not, I’m nobody’s Hindu, but it was such a different model of love and appreciation and family and holiday. I still get great joy from it.
Nick: That’s it for 11 radio. This episode was produced by Andrew Gill, Nicki Stein, and Phil Dmochowski. And of course it featured the voice of Glynn Washington, the host of the public radio show, snap judgment, as well as their scary spinoff, the luminary exclusive spooked for more information about the music we feature on the show, stunning episode, art and transcripts, please visit our website, loveandradio.org. Overall radio producer is Phil Dmochowski, Steven Jackson is our contributing editor. We are brought to you by luminary and made possible thanks to its subscribers. Thank you. One last thing, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our brand new secrets hotline podcast firstname.lastname@example.org on Instagram, @thesecretshotline on the luminary app and for free wherever you find your podcasts. I’m Nick Van der Kolk. Thanks for listening.
Nick van der Kolk, Host and Director
Andrew Gill, Producer
Nicki Stein, Producer
Phil Dmochowski, Producer