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The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult

av Jerald Walker

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
8641239,959 (3.74)4
A memoir of growing up with blind, African-American parents in a segregated cult preaching the imminent end of the world When The World in Flamesbegins, in 1970, Jerry Walker is six years old. His consciousness revolves around being a member of a church whose beliefs he finds not only confusing but terrifying. Composed of a hodgepodge of requirements and restrictions (including a prohibition against doctors and hospitals), the underpinning tenet of Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God was that its members were divinely chosen and all others would soon perish in rivers of flames. The substantial membership was ruled by fear, intimidation, and threats. Anyone who dared leave the church would endure hardship for the remainder of this life and eternal suffering in the next. The next life, according to Armstrong, would arrive in 1975, three years after the start of the Great Tribulation. Jerry would be eleven years old. Jerry's parents were particularly vulnerable to the promise of relief from the world's hardships. When they joined the church, in 1960, they were living in a two-room apartment in a dangerous Chicago housing project with the first four of their seven children, and, most significantly, they both were blind, having lost their sight to childhood accidents. They took comfort in the belief that they had been chosen for a special afterlife, even if it meant following a religion with a white supremacist ideology and dutifully sending tithes to Armstrong, whose church boasted more than 100,000 members and more than $80 million in annual revenues at its height. When the prophecy of the 1972 Great Tribulation does not materialize, Jerry is considerably less disappointed than relieved. When the 1975 end-time prophecy also fails, he finally begins to question his faith and imagine the possibility of choosing a destiny of his own.… (mer)
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Jerald Walker's story of a young black boy is a story of hardship and struggle. The Worldwide Church of God got so many things wrong - theologically and socially. While they allowed black folk to be part of the church, they weren't allowed to integrate and so were kind of separate from the whites. As a young child of blind parents - this had to have created some difficulties for Jerry and his siblings. The church's heavy emphasis on the end of the world coming soon must have been confusing for small children and when the prophecies didn't come true on the dates expected, caused even more confusion and some disillusionment.

Jerry's story is compelling and sad. He doesn't sugar coat or glorify the difficulties of the family, but treats it matter-of-fact-like. Not only are both his parents blind, his father is also epileptic and a heavy drinker. Though his father continues to provide for the family, I can't help but wonder how his drinking affected the family.

Fortunately he ultimately rejects much of the WCOG's teaching and begins to think for himself as a teenager. It would be interesting to know what happened to the rest of the family as well. ( )
  TerryLewis | Jun 12, 2017 |
How do we really know what goes on within a family?

Jerald Walker recounts a childhood which seems nearly unbelievable. His parents raised their children with love, but with elaborate strictures based on their faith that seem more akin to abuse than nurturing.

This telling of a very unusual childhood is punctuated by moments of bravery, moments of cruelty, and moments of pathos, which never quite descend into bathos. Walker shares his recollections with insight and wit, and surprisingly little bitterness. The adult writer retains compassion for his parents, his siblings, and, most importantly, himself.

Although the content makes many parts of the book tough to read, it’s nevertheless a page-turner. I finished it with conflicting emotions, however. This is a good read -- does that make it a good book? Is the telling of Walker’s tale a good thing, or is it somehow exploitative? What became of the rest his family after the closing of this narrative? The fact that these questions remain in the reader’s head is evidence of Walker’s power to make us care about the Walker family. No small achievement. ( )
  LNDuff | May 30, 2017 |
It’s just possible that Jerald Walker and I ran into each other as boys in the 1970s in a building “as nondescript as an airline hanger, and probably larger” in Wisconsin.

We were both children in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) aka the “White Supremacist Doomsday Cult” of the subtitle.

I’ll confess that when review copies of this title came up on LibraryThing, I rolled my eyes. I am, at best, indifferent to things that smack of minority memoirs about the demon white man.

But, I do like reading about doomsday cults and, when I saw which cult Walker was talking about … well, I had to read it.

For a while, reading the open third, I cynically wondered if this was another bogus victimization autobiography.
There is enough on the WCG online and in print, doctrines, publications, and memories of its former members, where you could fake such a book. But why would you want to? Hardly seems like a plausible ticket for big sales.

And there is an emotional truth to it that is not, I believe, faked.

It was a quicker read for me than most I suspect. After all, I wasn’t traversing an odd, apocalyptic landscape. I’d seen the markers before: Saturday mornings with no cartoons, the embarrassment of discussing your church with “worldly” friends, excusing yourself awkwardly from school Halloween and Christmas parties, weird diets, your parents sending money away while you were poor, “deleavening” your house every spring, and chess champion Bobbie Fischer being an odd totem of respectability.

I think Walker had the harder time of it. I lived in rural poverty, not the poor parts of Chicago. My parents were not blind, literally blind, like his were. And the dynamics of his family in the number and ages of his siblings was very different. There are the secrets in Walker’s family that mine never had.

Walker makes much of his apocalyptic fears of the pending “Great Tribulation” when the Four Horseman will ride but the elect will be sheltered by God in Petra. (Yes, that’s Petra, Jordan – a popular tourist attraction.) I just wish he had told it in the past tense instead of resorting to the gimmicky modern fad of the present tense.

The fear of that future Tribulation provides the flames of the title, the flames that will consume your friends down the street because they aren’t “called out of the world”. Same with your cousins.

The end-time flames were prophesized in a Worldwide Church of God booklet called “1975 in Prophecy”. (That was actually a fallback from an earlier end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it date of 1972.) The year came and went, and Christ didn’t return. Walker and I are different people. I don’t remember even reading that pamphlet though it certainly exists and, as far as I can tell, the quotes from it are accurate.

I wasn’t as sensitive a soul, evidently, in my concerns as Walker. The armor of my faith was pried off for different reasons and later than Walker’s.

There are a couple of odd omissions in Walker’s account. His family was fond of the Jackson Five – enough that they “sinned” by dancing to them on the Sabbath. But he doesn’t mention church founder Herbert W. Armstrong’s (HWA) denunciations of rock music. Girls get mentioned, worldly girls that interest the teenage Walker in adulterous pleasures but no mention of HWA’s conservative tract The Missing Dimension in Sex which had much to say on that topic.

Walker charts the doubt that began to creep into his family about the church’s teachings after 1975 came and went.
It was Walker’s brother Timmy, once a devotee of Bobbie Fischer, that introduced him to the works of author Iceberg Slim. His Pimp: The Story of My Life shares the epigraph page with HWA.

WCG was just another scam decided Walker who then entered “nearly a decade of drug and alcohol abuse, petty crimes, and street violence”, the subject of his first memoir, Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption.

Walker has said in interviews that he struggled with his racial identity. I don’t know what conclusions he came to, but the Walker family learns that the dirt of Chicago’s white South Shore isn’t really magical. The neighborhood becomes a ghetto following white flight. Of black culture, the Walker of this time says, in his cousins’ minds, it’s nothing but “foods and vices”.

Was WCG a “white supremacist doomsday cult”?

Well, “white supremacist” gets us into “race” and “racism”, two words almost value free and totally subjective in modern discourse and conveniently slippery when political debate requires it, so I’m going to address the question more precisely.

I can tell you that Walker is absolutely correct in that WCG did preach against interracial marriage. HWA certainly preached racial segregation.

It did not preach white supremacism.

But there was a difference between how things worked on the ground in the local churches and official teaching. I believe Walker’s account that some white members did interpret these teachings as sanctioning white supremacism.
I do have a problem with Walker calling WCG a cult and even comparing it to Jonestown. WCG worked by social pressure, the painful ostracization of wayward members and household visits by officious deacons (another thing I was spared living in a rural area). But there were no armed guards keeping me or Walker from running into the jungle for freedom.

Intellectually, I understand Walker’s anger at all those tithes wasted by sending them to WCG

Like Walker only telling his family and friends about his strange upbringing in his middle age, it took me awhile to revisit those years in conversation. However, I don’t feel a lot of anger about the whole thing now.

Well, maybe I do about one thing.

I think Walker may agree with me that it wasn’t the money conned out of members or the waste of Saturdays or the awkward social embarrassments of youth that was the worst thing about being a kid in WCG.

It was the lost future, the shortening of horizons in our youth. It was the part of us that should have been thinking about our future that the flames of WCG damaged most.

We both spent a few years of our youth off balance, but Walker and I made it. His career seems to be going well, and he seems to have a nice family. I wish him luck.

And he even made it to Petra after all. ( )
1 rösta RandyStafford | Feb 14, 2017 |
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewer program.

This is a very poignant book, the fact that it's from the perspective of a young boy makes it all the more compelling. I find it a difficult book to read yet I am also very intrigued. As of writing this I have not yet finished the book because I honestly needed a break from it but I'm excited to see where it leads.
  anh_off | Dec 26, 2016 |
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewer program.

I was unsure what to expect going into the book, however the subject interested me. I was hoping for an understanding of why someone would willingly join a cult and raise their children in that setting. With the viewpoint of the author as a young boy, I was able to receive that.

I could understand and feel for his parents desire for a better life and restored sight. I had heard of the religion he was a part of before and having an inside view of how he and some of his siblings were able to move away from the church gave me hope for others who may find themselves in organizations that exist for no other reason than to take money from those hoping or a better life. ( )
  oraclejenn | Dec 26, 2016 |
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A memoir of growing up with blind, African-American parents in a segregated cult preaching the imminent end of the world When The World in Flamesbegins, in 1970, Jerry Walker is six years old. His consciousness revolves around being a member of a church whose beliefs he finds not only confusing but terrifying. Composed of a hodgepodge of requirements and restrictions (including a prohibition against doctors and hospitals), the underpinning tenet of Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God was that its members were divinely chosen and all others would soon perish in rivers of flames. The substantial membership was ruled by fear, intimidation, and threats. Anyone who dared leave the church would endure hardship for the remainder of this life and eternal suffering in the next. The next life, according to Armstrong, would arrive in 1975, three years after the start of the Great Tribulation. Jerry would be eleven years old. Jerry's parents were particularly vulnerable to the promise of relief from the world's hardships. When they joined the church, in 1960, they were living in a two-room apartment in a dangerous Chicago housing project with the first four of their seven children, and, most significantly, they both were blind, having lost their sight to childhood accidents. They took comfort in the belief that they had been chosen for a special afterlife, even if it meant following a religion with a white supremacist ideology and dutifully sending tithes to Armstrong, whose church boasted more than 100,000 members and more than $80 million in annual revenues at its height. When the prophecy of the 1972 Great Tribulation does not materialize, Jerry is considerably less disappointed than relieved. When the 1975 end-time prophecy also fails, he finally begins to question his faith and imagine the possibility of choosing a destiny of his own.

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