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The World in Flames
Cover of The World in Flames
The World in Flames
A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult
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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 Flames begins, 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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 Flames begins, 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author-
  • Jerald Walker is a professor of creative writing at Emerson College. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Harvard Review, Mother Jones, the Iowa Review; the Missouri Review; the Oxford American; the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Creative Nonfiction, as well as four times in Best American Essays. He is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, which won the PEN New England/L. L. Winship Award for Nonfiction.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 1, 2016
    A memoir in which a young boy comes to terms with the religious cult that had given his family hope.In this follow-up to the author's Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption (2011), a debut that proved a breakthrough in terms of awards and recognition, the focus is tighter and the narrative challenge considerable, as Walker (Creative Writing/Emerson Coll.) assumes the perspective of the boy he was from ages 6 through 14, in a black family belonging to the overwhelmingly white (and segregationist) Worldwide Church of God. Its charismatic founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, had prophesied that only the anointed "chosen" would find redemption upon the Earth's imminent destruction. Young "Jerry" would barely be 11 years old when this would happen, and he accepted the prophecy on faith, though the specifics of his religion confused his young mind. His alcoholic, epileptic father and his mother--both blind--had embraced the cult in part because they thought sight would be their reward. They also had some secrets in their pasts that their son would only learn later. As the predicted apocalypse of 1975 failed to happen and the boy matured and experienced more of the world, he lost faith in the church, as did other congregants and members of his family. He found himself torn between Armstrong's vision of a better life to come and the streetwise testimony of Iceberg Slim and other hustlers. At a pivotal point, he writes, "my life isn't becoming a real horror show, I'm thinking. It's been one for a long time." He asked his older brother, "How do you un-believe a belief?" and he learned "how the world is full of deception, how very few people can really be trusted, how it's important that I learn to think and make decisions on my own." The key to the memoir's cumulative power is Walker's narrative command; the rite of passage is rockier than most, making the redemption well-earned.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review "The key to the memoir's cumulative power is Walker's narrative command; the rite of passage is rockier than most, making the redemption well-earned."
  • Vivian Gornick "Jerald Walker has a remarkable story to tell, and he tells it with a wealth of grace and intelligence at his command."
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A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult
Jerald Walker
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