Book Review: The People Of The Sign

The People Of The Sign, by Wade Fransson

At its core, The People Of The Sign is a personal memoir that ends Jonah-like, incomplete, examining the wreckage of the author’s decades of life spent in the Worldwide Church of God and explaining to a larger audience the general theological, psychological, and political markers of that group. The account is gripping, dramatic, and remarkably free from bitterness given the great deal of suffering that many families had to deal with during and after their time with the Worldwide Church of God. The author provides a relatively sympathetic view of the organization in an accessible way that will do much to counter a great deal of the misinformation that exists about the group while presenting at the same time a warts-and-all view of the all-too-human realities for children and young adults within the greater Church of God culture, including the particularly poignant way in which broken families and broken people were summarily abandoned by a lack of loving concern by leaders of all different theological and political viewpoints. The author shows a grim awareness of a church culture that shoots its wounded, a culture I know very well from my own personal background.

The author’s portrayal of his life as a kidnapped child growing up in Sweden, his youth as a rebel, his young adulthood as a gung-ho believer, and his increasingly difficult attempts to chart a moderate course in the post-HWA world of the Worldwide Church of God read like the screenplay to a movie, and chart the wreckage of broken families, struggles against alcoholism and workaholic tendencies in an atmosphere of brutal conformity and a general lack of love and concern for others, and where the hope of peaceful and gentle releasing of the strictness of WCG’s past turned into the horrible abuse of unwelcome and unbiblical doctrinal change that divided Worldwide and scattered its bitterly squabbling fragments into a shocked world.

Reading this book was a bit painful for me personally because of the many unexpected and highly troubling ways in which my own personal experience has mirrored that of the author. I was born into the Worldwide Church of God, but my story too is full of many of the same sorts of problems that the author had to deal with. For one, after a very abusive early childhood, at the age of three my mother took my younger brother and I without letting our father know and spirited us away to her folks in Central Florida, where it was years before I would see my father again and where I grew up as an alien and an outsider in a culture where I did not belong. My natural tendency to stick up for the underdog and my intense hatred of hypocrisy in high places has tended to get me labeled (rather falsely) as a liberal and a rebel, while my love of debate and my conspicuous tendency to serve (even internationally) have sometimes struck others as being a bit too pushy. I too feel a great deal of discomfort with intimacy, though I was better able to develop friendships even if romantic relationships have proven difficult for me as well. I too have longed to steer a middle course between firm commitment to biblical truth (even if that leads me in unusual directions as I wrestle with God) while avoiding a rigidity that fails to love and care for people who are hurting and struggling and need comfort rather than haranguing. Ironically enough, the author and I share views on tithing and a deep concern about brokenness that extends from our own broken family background and our own cosmopolitan and international experience. We also share interactions with the same sorts of ministers (both of us had notably positive relations with Mark Kaplan and Bill Jacobs, for example, and the similarity of my name to Greg Albrecht has brought a great deal of unintentional humor to my own church experience). The author and I even share a passionate love for rock & roll music as well as a concern about its legitimacy and an appreciation for the ability of music to convey powerful emotion.

The openness and honesty of this work should appeal both to people who grew up in the Worldwide Church of God and whose ugly and brutal downfall in the mid-1990’s has forced us to wrestle with the complexities of our inheritance from that organization and its leaders as well as those who are curious about reading an insider’s look at the church. Both those driven to understand and explain what happened in the Worldwide Church of God will find this book to be a valuable aid to their efforts. This does not make the book pleasant reading–it is not, but then again what has happened to many of us, even those of us who have worked hard to overcome any “root of bitterness” (to use a catchphrase of WCG) about our experiences there, was not pleasant. Nonetheless, those experiences were instructive, and the gentle hand of God was present in His providential care even in the darkest moments. This book is a reminder not only of the suffering that results from human frailty, but also the gentle hand of God in guiding us graciously to growth and maturity, forgiving us for our own human frailty and telling us to forgive others for their own also. Hopefully, this book may help encourage those of us who are people of the sign (namely, the Sabbaths) to also become people who exhibit godly love for others, whether within or outside of our splintered fellowships.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Book Review: The People Of The Sign

  1. wfransson says:

    Nathan, thanks for your review of my book. I’m honored by the time you’ve devoted to this, and touched by the fact that we have so much in common.

    • You’re very welcome. Thank you for taking the time to write this work about your own life, even without knowing the extent to which your own experiences have been shared by so many with our experiences growing up in Worldwide Church of God. 🙂

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  5. Raymond Ramlow says:

    Sounds like a worthwhile read. Thanks for the in-depth and reflective review.

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  12. It seems Wade Fransson would like to set himself up to speak for everyone who came through and out of the Worldwide Church of God when in fact he knows little of what others experienced because he really does not care what others went through or have any understanding of what others think. He relishes the idea other dissidents, i.e., its a cult of brainwashed, unlearned recruits who were constantly abused, and yet when there was no money offered to pay him any longer as a minister he went to the United Church of God that teaches exactly what Herbert W. Armstrong taught. He refuses to give his reasons for this.

    He is now a member of the Bahai faith yet wants people to believe he is still a Christian and when confronted he tells people “Bahais believes just like Christians.” (Actually Bahai is closer to Islam.) He has little understanding of Christianity except to parrot passages from the Bible with no true discernible knowledge of what they mean and becomes very upset when people disagree with him; he has his own belief system with his own understanding such as, “The ego is the anti-Christ.”

    He thrives on being in charge of what he thinks others think but he has little insight into his own bitterness and warped view of the WCG as he makes clear on his Facebook group. Recently when he had a member kicked off someone responded with, “Kinda makes me wonder with all the things [Wade] doesn’t like, if he’s thinking about shutting down the group (or kicking out all the “violators”).”

    It seems he is still that “arrogant punk,” (the words of a minister describing him in the book) that liked the drugs, secret sex and pornography that he bragadociously acknowledges in the book. Unfortunately he still behaves as such in his dealings with others. He thrives on being in charge. He blames his parents for most of his problems.

    As for his writing skills Wade is pretty good though a little too much reliance on the thesaurus and hyperbole for my liking and he likes to talk about things instead of what things are about.

    As a member of the church for more than 40 years I knew of many errors in the teachings but it is seldom talked about that when error was discovered it was corrected. Wade give no space to talk of the good that many experiences such as the much used tithes for the financial helo to widows and children — and college students. I and others have hundreds, maybe thousands of stories as well as spiritual-based friendships that have lasted my life time. It is too bad Wade chose to be a loner that he missed out on these stories of the good stuff.

    • Yes, you have discussed many of these concerns at length elsewhere, but I will let them stand here. Clearly people write with a particular goal in mind that frames what they include and what they do not.

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