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The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  144 ratings  ·  46 reviews
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 (incl
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Beacon Press
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3.67  · 
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 ·  144 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, giveaways
The World in Flames is a close examination of the author’s childhood growing up in a doomsday cult.

Walker does an outstanding job of telling the tale through his childhood eyes. I had a little trepidation going into this. Some authors tell their childhood memoirs with too much maturity; you feel like no kid has this much perspective at that age. So you disengage from the story. Or, they tell it with too much simplicity – they belabor the revelations, trying to recapture the essence of what it fe
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I had been a member of the Worldwide Church of God cult for almost 35 years, and so I approached reading Mr. Walker’s book (which I won in a Goodreads Giveaway) with some trepidation. Though I purposefully went through cult deprogramming 18 years ago, the deleterious effects of my involvement in the church were long lasting and deep and there was not one area of my life that it left untouched. Would reading this resurrect feelings from my own experience that would be better left alone, I wondere ...more
Jamie Canaves
I read the title, did a double take and immediately knew I needed to read this book. And I read the first 70% in one sitting because how can you possibly stop turning the page on a black boy's childhood whose family is in a doomsday cult that is segregated. That's right, not only did he not think he'd ever live past his twelfth birthday, but he was also not allowed to interact/befriend any of the white folks in his church.

Usually when I read cult stuff there is a voice in my head that can't unde
Rachel Van Amburgh
May 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
I'm admittedly a little obsessed with cults...and I was very intrigued to read this account from the perspective of a Black person in the Worldwide Church of God, a group that held many White Supremacist views. Given that this topic is included in the subtitle of the book, I was very eager to learn how Black membership in the church was navigated, but found it very oddly disappointing that the author did not really discuss this aspect of his experience much at all, aside from a brief mention of ...more
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is the autobiography of a man whose family was devoted to Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, a church that preached the endtimes' onset in 1975. He would have been a young teenager; he had known of his own impending demise for his entire life.

He tells the story of his childhood -- his brothers and sisters, his blind parents, his neighborhood friends -- and of the occasional questions that arose for him, questions such as "if the world is ending, why do we go to school?" or "if Black peopl
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Before I picked up this memoir of the author’s boyhood in the Worldwide Church of Christ, I had never heard of the cult. Like Seventh Day Adventists, they celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday. The founder was a racist; Herbert W. Armstrong developed his cult in conservative Oregon in the 1920’s.

“Our only hope is to trust that God knew what he was doing when he ordained not only segregation but also white supremacy, a point we were to deduce from the fact that whites inherited the race of Jesus. Bu
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Rather an odd book. Jerald Walker grew up with blind parents, in poverty, and they were part of a religious cult, The Worldwide Church of God. His parents were devout believers in a specific date, 1975 as being Doomsday. This date was changed several times. The head of the cult was nothing but a huckster, and with everyone's tithes, had access to about 80 million dollars annually. Jerald's parents were physically abusive to the children, perhaps in a "spare the rod" type of belief. I didn't find ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I received this book as a giveaway in exchange for my honest review.

3.5 stars -- The two phrases that jump to mind are "truth is stranger than fiction" and "you can't make this stuff up."

Jerald Walker writes this book from his perspective as a young boy in a large family during the 1970s. Both of his parents are completely blind, which would have made life complicated enough, but they are also members of the Worldwide Church of God, a cult that is an amalgamation of both Christian and Jewish be
Jun 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
I did not finish this book. I just couldn't get into it. I think a large part of this was due to the adult, contemplative tone being paired with a pseudo-child narrator. This novel is told looking back from adulthood but told in the first person, present tense, giving the child Jerald narrator an unnaturally mature perspective and discernment. It just didn't work for me, nor did it convince me to keep reading. I also felt the metaphors were a bit stretched, and the prose was clunky. Overall, it ...more
Danielle Mootz
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was not at all what I expected and am insightful look into the doomsday cult he was raised in.
Sam Wescott
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Oof. That was a lot. So, the title tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Jerry was a young black boy born to blind parents who were part of white supremacist doomsday cult, so like YIKES right off the bat.

I was actually surprised by how... normal the story felt? It's mostly a coming-of-age story, (which I'll admit was a little frustrating, since I was definitely most interested in the cult), but the story of Jerry growing up and the story of his loss of faith were so tightly intert
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was so fascinating! First, it read like a novel and intrigued me endlessly with his details of navigating the world as a young boy on the south side of Chicago growing up in white supremacist doomsday cult. It's interesting to me read his story because typically I do not think of cults (of this sort) as a thing that Black people got caught up in so it's astonishing to read his experiences. I liked that the book is couched by the epi/prologue that allow us a peek into his life ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely memoir that touches on issues of race, disabilities, changing urban neighborhoods while teaching an incredible amount about the doctrine of the cultural phenomenon known as The Worldwide Church of Good. Jerry's parents are both blind and they are raising their large black family in a largely white neighborhood while attending the mostly black congregation of a vastly white and white supremacist church. In examining the ways that belief in an end days tribulation and fire and bri ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Walker grew up in Chicago, the son of blind parents who believed that the world would end soon: that was what their religion taught them, and they believed it—believed that they were among the chosen few who would be saved—because that belief allowed them to believe also that, when they were saved from hellfire and destruction and so on, their sight would be restored.

As a child, Walker did not fully understand any of this. He didn't understand his parents' blindness, he didn't understand that th
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it
This delivers on the subtitle. Walker does a great job of maintaining the perspective of how he experienced life in the World Church of God without bringing in ex post insight. This is a nice literary device but some comment from an adult perspective would have been nice (the story telling was more autobiography rather than memoir). While the founder of the church was racists and some of the theology was racist, this was a very minor part of the narrative, and the description of the church as "w ...more
Jacob Lehman
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sad and amazing; hard to think that this happened in the U.S. to a boy going to public school.

I read this as part of my project to read one book from every aisle of Olin Library at Cornell; you can read my reactions to other books from the project here:

A fuller review/reaction will follow on my website.
Dec 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I was looking for some gory cult details but this was well written in that you could see how religion played a part in Jerald and his family's life. The sub title is a little click baity though as the white supremacy part doesn't play as big a part as you might think. Not the best book I've ever read but kept me entertained on a five hour drive.
Anna Gonzalez
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good God
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good, but not as interesting as it sounded.
Rachel Halleck
Dec 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was one of those books I did not want to stop reading, as I wanted to know what was going to happen. Though I was disappointed in some of the things the kids were into, I am glad it all worked out in the end.

Now, I want to read this author's memoirs to learn more.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction, owned
Today's Nonfiction post is on The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult by Jerald Walker. It is 208 pages long and is published by Beacon Press. The cover is red with flames and a bible in the background. The intended reader is someone who is interested in cults and memoirs. There is mild foul language, drug use, sexuality, and mild violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- A memoir of growing up with blind, African-American parents
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it

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 tha
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “The World in Flames” by Jerald Walker in the Goodreads Book Giveaway.
In “The world in Flames,” Mr. Walker tells the story of his childhood, and, on a superficial level, his family life resembles that of many American families: loving, caring parents; siblings who squabble but also have each other’s backs; money struggles, faith and religion. But, there is plenty that is different about his family: Mr. Walker’s parents are both completely blind, the family i
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're looking for a story about a cult that is like Scientology or a story that has thrills and chills, you're not going to find it here. People looking for stories about a cult that is like Jonestown etc, will not find it in this book.

This book examines the cult group known The World Wide Church of God. It was a fringe Christian sect that sprang up in 1933 and grew throughout the world. Most people don't know about them.

The brethren (church members) keep the sabbath, kept kosher law, didn'
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is another book where the book's description can give the wrong impression about the story. Don't imagine you are going to read about a bizarre family or childhood. Even though Jerald Walker's family did belong to a "doomsday religion" and both his parents were blind, they were still a normal type of family. Much of their lives revolved around their church, but much of it was typical everyday living in the 1960s and 1970s. While the author's parents gave the church money that they should ha ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Truly a rough way to grow up; cults are never a good thing especially for the children.
Jerald Walker had a very unusual childhood. Both of his parents were blind. He had a twin brother, 2 older sisters, and two older brothers (6 kids can get away with a lot). His parents raised the kids in the Worldwide Church of God, a doomsday cult whose leader predicted the Great Tribulation for 1972.

Walker believed in this church. He believed the "no date was mentioned" excuse (after excuse, after excuse) as the Great Tribulation did not occur. He worried about his future, and the fact that he
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it
"And in the morning, while Bubba and I wash our house and clean our lawn, I think about our assailants, imagine God punishing them for throwing eggs and dumping our trashcans, but the overwhelming sadness I feel isn't for them, it's for me."

I haven't read Jerald Walker's other books so I'm not sure if that's why I felt like I was missing some context for this one. This book is certainly tragic and shares some interesting insights about the author's life growing up. He also captures how faith can
Jun 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-read
Jerald Walker's story of a young black boy is a story of hardship and struggle. The Worldwide Church of God got so many things wrong - theologically and socially. While they allowed black folk to be part of the church, they weren't allowed to integrate and so were kind of separate from the whites. As a young child of blind parents - this had to have created some difficulties for Jerry and his siblings. The church's heavy emphasis on the end of the world coming soon must have been confusing for s ...more
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