Content warning: This series discusses the preventable deaths of two infants, one newborn and one 11 month old.
Sometimes I feel like calling my grandmother a cult leader is taking things too far, that we grew up Christian and strict but not necessarily that different from other home schooled kids. When many of my family members still believe that grandma is just a sweet, old lady currently half hanging on in a nursing home, it gets a little harder to be certain that my interpretation is correct.
But anti cult activists, whether Christian or non, don’t have this trouble. They recognize my grandmother as not just a cult leader, but as someone who inspired other cult leaders to go to further and further extremes. Today I’d like to write about one of those leaders, and two of the children I count among my grandmother’s victims.
It all started in 1976 when Roland and Georgette Robidoux left another cult, the Worldwide Church of God. That group had several similarities with my grandmother’s teachings and with the group Roland would eventually lead “The Body”. WCG’s dictatorial leader Herbert Armstrong encouraged avoidance of medical care and the medical neglect of children, preached that the end time was nigh, and fostered a distrust of the government.
Another couple left the WCG at the same time, “Reverend” Brian and Donna Weeks. All four felt that the group had become too controlling and swore to “never be involved in that kind of group again.” Tragically, recent membership in a cult is the greatest risk factor for being recruited into another one. The unhealthy coping mechanisms and survival strategies that helped us in our first cult make a second cult feel like a more natural fit than the outside world, where we will always be aliens and strangers. In the absence of a recruiting group, former cult members may recreate the situation they escaped.
Roland and Brian Weeks began to hold weekly Bible study meetings in the Robidoux’s Massachusetts living room with other ex-WCG members. Over time the attendance at these meetings grew, so that in 1977 they rented a meeting space, named themselves Church of God of Mansfield, and legally incorporated the group and registered with the IRS as a church. Reverend Brian, who had not attended seminary and was only “ordained” in the WCG, began to feel apprehensions about their wisdom and capabilities in leading a church based on their own understanding. He and his wife left the group.
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