Phoenix Church Of God Suicide

Cecil Maranville, a former United Church of God Phoenix East elder who left UCG for COGaWA, writes on the January 24, 2011 COGaWA blog -  "We Lost A Family Member To Suicide Last Week"  
This is a difficult subject. It isn’t the first time it has happened in my personal community of family and friends. I am certain that it has happened to someone close to you, as well, because it is all too common...

AR reflects on this latest COG tragedy. Suicide is indeed "all too common" in Armstrongist Churches of God. Another entry will have to be made here for the long list of suicides related to the Worldwide Church of God and the successor churches.  

Ambassador Reports asks if this is somehow related to Armstrong's bizarre selection of recycled doctrines taken from others, ministerially enforced on others by use of whatever is the current "iron rod" standard in the Churches of God. Such doctrines as God's one true church; church divisions tearing families apart; inconsistent rulings on Sabbath observance; reliance on miracle faith healing, shunning effective medical treatment; harsh divorce and remarriage rulings; rules on mandatory triple tithing; and constant melodramatic emphasis on a cataclysmic end of the world as we know it, can all put cumulative stress on the members to the breaking point. The approach to Christian ministerial counseling the COG takes, and how the ministry authority mistreats the members are sadly, contributing factors to the many suicides resulting from Armstrong's ministry and his teachings.  

Our sincere condolences to Cecil Maranville and his family.


Douglas Becker said...

We are sorry for your loss.

The National Institute for Mental Health claims that 90% of suicides are a result of a mental illness, usually depression or bipolar disease.

It is the case that those with mental illness are attracted to Armstrongism. Additionally, for children who have been born to those who were attracted to Armstrongism, it is likely that the genetic predisposition to mental illness may be present. When a stressor, such as those found in the Armstrongist churches of god occur, it is likely that those with the genetic predisposition will have a psychotic break and begin their life of mental illness.

With both the parents and the children having difficulties with mental illness and a ministry prone to serious mental disorders, it is a lose-lose situation. Armstrongism is based on proveably totally crazy propositions in the first place, which makes it difficult for even those nominally stable, particularly when faced with obvious cognitive dissonance.

Untreated mental illnesses are often deadly. A higher concentration of those with mental illnesses within the Armstrongist churches of god are quite problematic.

DennisDiehl said...

Suicide is despair gone viral. A permanent solution to a temporary problem. But when the mind gets confused and the brain chemistry in disarray, it happens.

There was a run of suicides among baptists and baptist ministers this past year in this area. So much so that all the radio types addressed it publically because it is hard to explain when religion is supposed to give you life, not take yours.

Sometimes the battle goes hard against one and falling on one's sword seems the only out. It leaves the survivors with all sorts of issues to deal with for the rest of their lives as well

Stan said...


The members came to the WCG as they were. If they fit into the ministry's desired mold, they were permitted entry into the church.

One aspect of this equation that can be focused on is the tremendous amount of cultish control the ministry has over the lives of the membership in the COG.

Mass suicide took place by members of the People's Temple, an American church cult led by Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978.

While I don't believe anything like this will happen in the COG, it does serve as an illustration of the level of mind control the ministry can have over members of other small church cults and sects.

Jim Jones is the type of minister Armstrong would have promoted in the church.

Stan said...

Are there others today in the COG ministry who can be compared with Jim Jones?

Dave Pack might considered an outlier or anamoly of the COG ministry, but he went through the same Pasadena propaganda school the others did.

Others might say it's not the ministry that's the problem in the COG, it's the church's system of government.

From AR 32:

The letter describes Pack's ministerial leadership as a "Reign of Terror."

On the cover page, addressed to WCG headquarters leaders, they wrote: "David's power-crazed quest to totally dominate the mind, body, and spirit of church members has not been done in a corner and has been done clearly in view of all to see at headquarters in Pasadena."

On the following 13 pages of their letter the allegations about Pack read like a horror story. The authors contend that Pack constantly intimidates members, uses threats and mind-control methods, is given to extreme emotional outbursts, is highly political, believes in winning at all cost, has disfellowshipped members for trivial faults, prescribes diets while "playing M.D.," insists on being addressed as Mr. Pack, enjoys wearing skimpy, skin-tight shorts to sporting events, has actually worn a wolf costume to church socials, enjoys putting down women, and told one married woman with children, "It would be better for you to shack up one night with a man than wear makeup."

The letter quotes Pack as having said, "Everyone who has challenged me has either died, been seriously injured or has been eliminated from the work." And, "God backs me even if I am wrong."

On page 7 the authors made this statement to Pack (emphasis ours):

Doesn't it bother you that while you were in charge of the Rochester and Syracuse area there were three suicides?

One can only wonder why they chose to kill themselves while you were their main advisor in the area. Perhaps you suggested to one or more of them that they would in no way make it into the Kingdom of God.... A statement such as, "You are no longer in the body of Christ," could have caused one to give up and kill himself.

The above quote was written well before the Elliott family tragedy.

Stan said...


Long time no see around here :)

I don't know what caused those ministers in your area to “check out”. Paradoxically, suicide rates are shown to be higher in low religious environments.
World Health

In some areas, it is becoming a little more acceptable for pastors to seek treatment.

Actually, you are in somewhat of a unique position to understand some of the factors at play in their lives, because of all that you have had to process.

I think Cecil Maranville may have attended Pasadena about the same time you were there.



Douglas Becker said...


As you say -- and it is true -- people came to the WCG as they were and if they fit the mold, they were accepted.

Two things might be noted. First, the nature of the WCG itself attracted a certain type of person. Many of those were subject to accepting and even seeking hyperbole: The world was going to hell in a handbasket, and wouldn't you know, the WCG had very nice looking handbaskets. It seems that the kind of people it attracted were mostly highly analytical. What ever other appeals the WCG also seemed to attract people who had mental disorders.

After entering the WCG environment, people were subjected to cognitive dissonance. Things inside the WCG just weren't at all the picture of the perfect world tomorrow as portrayed by the well groomed Ambassador College. Part of the appeal was that by being part of the WCG, people assumed that they were better off. They were told that they could have affluence in this life and be kings, priests and gods in the world tomorrow. There was not only the promise of a better life now, but if people were feeling miserable with the reality of their lowly worldly status, all they needed were the fantastic insane future history as portrayed by Gerald Waterhouse to distract them with their shared psychosis.

The true unfortunate innocents born into this craziness were the ones to really suffer. Parents trapped between the fantasies of what should be and what really was, had no effective way to cope with the dysfunctional environment. By the time they were teens, the children began to perceive the insanity their parents could not and either left, embraced the environment enthusiastically with all the attendent empty promises of the future or they simply went quietly mental to live in sad misery.

The WCG was not a mentally healthy environment, and if people admitted the truth, the Armstrongist environment is still pretty much an abberation of mental disorder.

Stan said...


One way of looking at it is the Plain Truth, Ambassador, Churches of God and the environment in which they germinated and functioned were the result of the mental product of primarily one man, HWA.

Beginning with the first 'Plain Truth' in February 1934, jumping to 1947 when the first group of innocent AC dupes arrived, the ministry class learned what to say. They graduated and became his professors, or wound up repeating it or variations of it endlessly, tirelessly every Saturday, added to it when Herbert approved of it, and none dared say or write anything that Herbert didn't approve of, later including Garner Ted.

GTA and family grew up in that hyperbolic, dysfunctional environment. Gerald Waterhouse (as you highlighted), Gerald Flurry, Dave Pack, and all of the other current COG notables we could name- all paid their initiation dues and went through Herbert's dysfunctional AC training system.

The splinter group beliefs, for the most part, do not differ profoundly. Herbert's viral beliefs, buildings, and booklets are venerated, confirmed and copied. There are few original thinkers allowed in COGville. All dish out the same proven “Rocky Road” formula they began parroting at Ambassador.

A dysfunctional training system for (most of) the ministry maybe, and certainly the church, but highly functional and very effective for HWA. He controlled the AC factory, and AC produced what he wanted.

An army of ministers and employees would be created and paid for who would do exactly what he wanted, write what he wanted, photograph what he wanted, say what he wanted, or face finally getting fired, cut off and disfellowshipped with nothing to show for years of unquestioned loyalty.

An exception to that nothing to show might be their nearly unmarketable AC degree, because HWA refused to get accreditation. Accrediting AC didn't suit his purposes for control, for getting what he wanted out of his bible-based school of propaganda.

You've got questions? "Ambassador College has the answers to your questions".
You don't agree with our divine answers? The Church of God says "Get lost".

Regardless of what cohort of people got “called” by God and entered the COG, few claim they experienced Armstrong's claimed “benefits” from his cult experience when they exit.

Armstrong's unoriginal, and false biblical teachings have caused suicides. Not only suicides, but bankruptcies, job losses, loss of educational opportunities, led to binge drinking and drug abuse, and resulted in hundreds of premature deaths. They have broken up thousands of happy marriages and families, wrecking the lives of all involved. His triple-tithing system continues to trap thousands of COG families into a lifetime of financial worries and poverty.

Douglas Becker said...

Well said Stan, you are on a roll!

Stan said...

Quality input from buyer may result in quality outputs, but do not create seller's warranty of quality output. Caveat emptor. ;)

Byker Bob said...

Suicide is always a tough one, regardless as to what environment in which it occurred. It goes against all of our survival instincts. Actually, there are some close parallels in terms of human behavior, such as giving up one's life as a martyr, or for country, or a loved one or fellow human being. Those last three activities are considered selfless and always heroic, whereas suicide is regarded as being selfish and tragic.

In my lifetime, I've known several people who did kill themselves. In the aftermath, we were able to discern that they had problems which they considered well beyond resolvable in this lifetime. I also had an opportunity to speak with two individuals who told me in advance that they planned to kill themselves. They ended up not going through with their plans. Both of them had a hard road ahead of them, but at least they were alive.

I don't know that we as humans are granted to understand what might happen to these individuals in God's judgment, because we don't know what was in their hearts in their last lucid moment. It is always most grievous when they take others with them, as in the Living Church of God massacre involving Terry Ratzmann.

Clearly, whenever anyone takes this final step, there is always a confluence of many things which had gone wrong. All of the normal checks and balances and support systems failed to do their jobs, or in some cases, the proverbial smoke detectors had been rendered inoperative.

My condolences to Cecil, his family, and any others who might have been impacted by this.


Anonymous said...

Time for a new post