Whitehorse Leader - Australia June 2, 2011
Former Box Hill student tells of life in a doomsday cult
BY ANNA PRYTZ
AUTHOR Benjamin Grant Mitchell is no longer ashamed to tell people he was born into a doomsday cult.
The writer and former Neighbours actor has self-published his debut novel, The Last Great Day - a fictionalised story about his family’s life in the infamous Worldwide Church of God.
Now 42 and living happily in a sprawling Warrandyte home with his wife, Pauli, and their nine-month-old daughter, Honey Rose, Mitchell speaks without bitterness about the atmosphere of deceit and oppression that shaped his early years.
“We left when I was 10. I had a hard time as a teenager and in my 20s,” he said.
“So for a lot of years I didn’t talk about it and felt shameful and thought, ‘What will people think?’ But I’m happy to be honest and talk about it now because we didn’t do anything wrong.”
Co-founded in America’s northwest by former advertising executive Herbert W. Armstrong and Mad magazine comic artist Basil Wolverton, the cult prophesied the world would end in 1975.
Contact with non-members was discouraged, the sect forbade celebration of birthdays or medical intervention and followers were forced to give 30 per cent of their income to the church.
Armstrong became so wealthy he purchased his own Gulfstream jet.
“If they told you everything at the start, you wouldn’t have joined,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s father was a minister in the church in Manchester, England, when Mitchell was born.
The family was ordered to move to Australia in 1970 to spread the word.
Despite his young age, Mitchell’s memories are still vivid of the terrible consequences of the church’s ban on hospital treatment.
His aunt died in labour and his mother lost newborn twin boys.
“Obviously Mum chose to comply, but she was bullied by a very oppressive atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone was afraid of being told they were going against the church.”
The Mitchells left the cult after the prophesied 1975 armageddon failed to eventuate and because the church was being investigated for tax evasion and child sexual abuse.
“Armstrong was always talking about us all going to Petra, the place of safety and salvation,” Mitchell said.
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