The World in Flames by Jerald Walker
Beacon Press: 9/6/16
advance reading copy; 208 pages
The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult by Jerald Walker
is a highly recommended memoir.
Walker's family were adherents to Herbert W.
Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, a religion which ruled its members
by fear, intimidation, brainwashing, and threats. This memoir basically
covers Walker's life from 6 (in 1970) to 14, a particularly
impressionable time for a child, especially when you are first taught
that the world will be ending in 1972. (This was a date that Armstrong
later rescinded and changed to 1975, after the 1972 date passed. He then
changed the 1975 date to another new, nonspecific date.). He is taught
that at this time his family is part of the chosen ones who will be
taken to a place of safety during the great tribulation.
Worldwide Church of God was also a profoundly racist and sexist
organization and encouraged segregation and male dominance. It is rather
surprising that Walker's parents, both black, accepted the racism of
the organization, but perhaps less startling during the 1970's the time
on which this memoir reflects and because of their family circumstances.
Both of Walker's parents were blind and the church promised their sight
would be restored. Additionally, the family of nine who were living in
a hard Chicago neighborhood was promised relief from their hardships
and financial struggles. The toll the Worldwide Church of God extracted
for these future hopes, however, was steep.
Walker writes about his childhood with his twin and family, and the
strict guidelines they had to follow, such as no celebration of
birthdays, Christmas, or Halloween. There were other church designated
activities in which they did participate. It was especially hard as a
child to hear the prophecy of the destruction that was to come, and
things like a plague of boils, when he had no real understanding of what
everything was (like a boil) and had context in which to place this
information. He did know that his friend Paul was doomed so he tried to
get him to switch from his Baptist church to the Worldwide Church of God
so he wouldn't perish.
At age 11, when the 1975 date passed, Walker began to thoughtfully
question the Worldwide Church of God. When he is 14 he asks his brother
"How do you un-believe a belief?" As his brother tries to help Walker
with facts that will help him survive in the real world it marks his
maturation and transition to realizing that Armstrong was a con men, a
hustler taking advantage of people's faith, trust, and hope for a better
This is a well written coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a
boy going through the experiences. His voice and recollections are
clear and concise. This memoir should resonate with many people. It
would have been nice to read about Walker's transition into adulthood
after he realizes the Worldwide Church of God was a cult and that he
actually does have a future he can look forward to rather than expecting
the world to end.
Support page for Survivors of Worldwide Church of God
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher via Library Thing for review