book reviews, religion

A review of Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, by John Huddle…

Amazon.com tells me that I bought John Huddle’s book, Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, on June 17, 2021. I don’t remember what prompted me to buy this book. I think it might have been a successful “suggestive selling” effort, as in I was already buying another book about cults and this one was also suggested. I’m assuming this because, before I read this book, I had never heard of the cult that is highlighted in Mr. Huddle’s story. Huddle and his ex wife and children were members of the Word of Faith Fellowship, otherwise known as WOFF. This “church” is based in Spindale, North Carolina, and is led by Jane Whaley, and her husband, Sam.

WOFF is a Protestant, non-denominational church. It began in 1979, when the Whaleys converted a former steakhouse into a place of worship. Ms. Whaley was a math teacher, while her husband sold used cars. Although neither had formal training in divinity, Jane Whaley was known as a powerful and charismatic speaker and a compelling leader. Since 1979, she’s seen her cult grow from its humble beginnings consisting of a few people to a couple thousand followers in countries around the world– Brazil, Scotland, and Sweden among them. According to Huddle, Jane Whaley claimed to be a conduit to God, and she made up a long list of “do’s and don’ts” for members. Those who violated the rules were punished with Jane’s wrath. Huddle writes of loud praying, loud screaming, and physical, emotional, and mental abuse delivered by church leaders.

A news story about WOFF followers who left the church due to abuse.

In functional, stoic prose, Huddle explains how he and his ex wife, Martha, met, married, and fell under Jane Whaley’s spell. While I wouldn’t describe Huddle’s writing as particularly dynamic or exciting, I was definitely interested in his story. Of course I find reading about restrictive cults interesting, but I was also compelled to read because, like me, he is a Virginia native who eventually lived in the Carolinas. I recognized a lot of the places he mentions in his book, since I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina, and later lived in North Carolina with my husband. My husband is an ex Mormon, and I have a cousin who was a Jehovah’s Witness for years, so I have a personal connection to “culty” religious beliefs. And I really had no idea that WOFF existed before I read Locked In.

In many ways, WOFF’s beliefs and rules reminded me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with some twists. Whaley didn’t want her followers to celebrate holidays or birthdays. She didn’t even want them to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, although they were welcome to eat it any other time of the year. She didn’t want them to celebrate Halloween, but it was okay to buy the discounted candy on November 1. When Huddle needed heart surgery, he told his doctor that he didn’t want the anesthesia, Versed, nor was the surgeon allowed to play music during the procedure. But it was okay to give him a blood transfusion, which the JWs would have vetoed. He made these stipulations because of Jane Whaley’s rules.

Huddle also had to get approval for any jobs he took. Huddle’s work was mostly in banking, specifically with credit unions. But Jane Whaley and other leaders in the church wanted him to work with church affiliated businesses, even if they didn’t pay enough to meet his financial needs or weren’t the kind of work he wanted to do. When Huddle was caught interviewing for, and moonlighting at, a non-approved job, he got in “trouble” with Jane, and was fired from his church approved job. But of course, his boss had expected Huddle to get right with God and come groveling back to work. He hadn’t expected that Huddle would finally realize that he was in a cult.

Another story about the WOFF.

Making the realization that WOFF is a cult cost Huddle his family, as they weren’t at the same level of awareness that Huddle was. That’s one of the saddest repercussions I’ve seen of people getting involved in culty belief systems. Many times, people fall into cults because they’re seeking solidarity and connection with others. But then, when the rules are too weird and restrictive, and one or two people can’t bear it anymore, they end up being ostracized by their loved ones. I saw it happen to my own husband, although one of his daughters eventually came around and stopped shunning him. I think the LDS church is also trying to be less “weird”, as they want to be seen as mainstream, even if a lot of what they do and some of their beliefs and practices are decidedly “culty”. Watch the news videos, though, and you actually hear Whaley scream, and hear in their voices what happened. They were literally screamed at and abused by Jane Whaley, whom they were supposed to call “Grandmother”.

And another story about the WOFF’s abuses toward members.
A continuation.

I got quite a jolt from the long list of rules Huddle described in the WOFF church. The main rule was this:

Members were required to live life as if Jane Whaley was the ONLY true source of the knowledge of God or God’s will.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 129). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

And Jane had a very long and specific list of the way she expected her followers to behave. Here’s a list of 144 “don’ts” from Mr. Huddle’s book. As you can see, some of the rules aren’t that unreasonable, but some are totally intrusive and ridiculous:

I first started posting about the “WOFF Don’t” list in February of 2010. Some rules on this list are now obsolete. WOFF Don’t list Don’ts – (this is a partial “living” list, at times, it takes on a life of its own, continuing to grow…)

Don’t drink alcohol (includes beer, wine or liquor)

Don’t cook with alcohol.

Don’t eat at places that serve alcohol.

Don’t drink root beer.

Don’t drink Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink diet Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink ginger ale.

Don’t smoke cigarettes.

Don’t dip snuff.

Don’t use chewing tobacco.

Don’t associate willingly with those that do use tobacco.

Don’t watch movies (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t watch videos in your cars.

Don’t enter a movie theater (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t read newspapers not even the headlines.

Don’t listen to the radio.

Don’t read or handle magazines.

Don’t watch television (except when allowed at church).

Don’t read books that are not approved by leadership.

Don’t read your Bible too much (Amplified version is acceptable).

Don’t take notes during the services. Only record scripture references.

Don’t forget to go to bathroom before the service.

Don’t get up to go to bathroom during a service.

Don’t bring knives of ANY type on church property.

Don’t be late for a service or function.

Don’t park alongside the left side of the sanctuary unless you are approved to do so.

Don’t park in the spaces closest to the back steps. Those are reserved for parents with infants.

Don’t park in the first spot along the front sidewalk. That is reserved for those on watch.

Don’t park along the street. Use the field only when not raining.

Don’t park on the drive to the school (unless approved for that service).

Don’t park in the first handicap space unless approved.

Don’t park under the awning and leave your car running.

Don’t speed when driving around the church.

Don’t go opposite to the accepted traffic flow of counterclockwise. It causes confusion.

Don’t be on your cell phone when approaching the school.

Don’t drive your car with expired tags. You will be reminded.

Men: Don’t wear a color of dress shirt except white or light blue.

Women: Don’t get your heart set on a dress until you check with others to see if anyone else has that dress. You may need to return yours.

Don’t “check out” during the singing.

Don’t look around at others when you are supposed to be singing.

Don’t close your eyes when singing. You could give over to a “religious devil.”

Don’t stare at visitors.

Don’t bring your cell phone into a service. Exceptions are rare and you will be told when you can bring your phone into the service.

Don’t take pictures during a regular service.

Don’t make your own recording of a service.

Don’t bring visitors unless you tell someone in the office so they can tell Jane.

Don’t take pictures of Jane or other members unless you are given permission.

Don’t be loose with your camera at any time.

Don’t put large amounts of cash in the offering unless it is in an envelope.

Don’t complain when the offering plates are passed more than once.

Don’t allow your toddlers to eat in the sanctuary.

Don’t bring snacks or dark drinks or chocolate.

Don’t chew gum in the sanctuary.

Don’t fall asleep during the services. If you get tired, take your Bible and stand up in the back of the sanctuary.

Don’t wear muddy shoes or boots into the sanctuary, leave them at the door-outside.

Don’t leave your tissues after services. Place them in the trash.

Don’t leave coats, Bibles or personal belongings in the sanctuary. It gets locked after each service.

Don’t touch the thermostats in the church unless you are approved.

Don’t wear jeans (exception may be for construction work…maybe).

Don’t wear shorts.

Don’t wear sleeveless dresses or tops.

Don’t wear dresses above the knees.

Don’t wear a bathing suit without having it covered with long shorts (below the knees) and a dark t-shirt.

Don’t wear cargo pants.

Don’t wear or own anything with Nike® on it. Nothing.

Don’t wear black tennis shoes.

Don’t wear high-cut, boot-like tennis shoes.

Men: don’t wear solid white tennis shoes.

Don’t wear a baseball cap sideways or backwards.

Don’t wear t-shirts with slogans or pictures.

Don’t wear “muscle t-shirts.” Men:

Don’t leave the house without a white t-shirt on under your top shirt.

Don’t go swimming with boys and girls together.

Don’t leave the pool toys out when you are done using the pool.

Don’t go outside without sunscreen (daily).

Men: Don’t allow facial hair to grow. No beards, of any type. No “pork chop” sideburns.

Men: Don’t let your hair get long or unkempt.

Don’t interview for a job unless it is “under authority.”

Don’t accept a job unless you check it out with authority.

Don’t make plans for college unless you have Jane check it out.

Don’t sign-up for classes unless Jane Whaley or leadership checks out your schedule.

Don’t buy a house unless Jane Whaley can check it out. Don’t even make an offer on a house unless Jane can “check out” and “get a feel” for the neighborhood.

Don’t decorate your house unless Jane or her helper can help you.

Don’t buy a car without checking with Sam first.

Don’t sell a car or truck without checking with Sam first.

Don’t get major repairs done without checking with Sam.

Don’t buy insurance without checking with the approved church source person for insurance.

Don’t plan a vacation or time away with your family unless you check it out with Jane.

Don’t assume you can go to the funeral or a wedding of a family member without checking it out and/or someone from the church is going with you.

Don’t celebrate Christmas.

Don’t give gifts to others unless you are “under authority.”

Don’t celebrate Easter.

Don’t celebrate other holidays.

Don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Don’t celebrate your birthday or others in your family or group of friends or co-workers.

Don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries.

Don’t go hunting. Don’t go fishing (well unless it is on an approved “ministry” trip).

Don’t hunt or fish just for sport.

Don’t have bumper stickers on your car (Political season is an exception).

Don’t have “dingle dangles” hanging from your rearview mirror.

Don’t have a slogan license plate on the front of your car.

Don’t buy or drive a “race car” looking car.

Don’t play games on your computer. Erase/delete the games.

Don’t play games on your cell phone. Erase/delete them.

Don’t own or use a “game boy” or other hand held electronic game device.

Don’t play with regular playing cards.

Don’t play hide and go seek.

Don’t play Monopoly®.

Don’t play football.

Don’t ride in the back of a pick-up truck.

Don’t play ping pong.

Don’t play pool.

Don’t play or imitate an “air guitar.”

Don’t play music without singing the words.

Don’t whistle.

Don’t let WOFF children play with children outside of WOFF.

Don’t let children make animal sounds (maybe).

Don’t let children play toy musical instruments (maybe).

Don’t forget to read your Bible before you go to bed.

Don’t let children play with camping toys.

Don’t let children play with “play tools.”

Don’t let children have Bibles with stories and pictures of Jesus (maybe…).

Don’t be late for anything. Be early.

Don’t iron double creases in your pants.

Men: Don’t use urinals that are not enclosed.

Don’t store personal garments unless they are folded neatly in the drawer.

Don’t go to tanning beds.

Don’t ride motorcycles.

Don’t ride ATV’s or dirt bikes.

Men: African American- Don’t shave your head bald.

Don’t start a relationship without checking it out with Jane Whaley.

Don’t decide who you will marry without checking it out with Jane.

Don’t talk to the other person who you are in relationship with unless someone is listening and “guarding the conversation.”

Don’t talk loose and joke around.

Don’t be foolish.

Don’t complain about the list of “don’ts.”

Don’t place the toilet paper on the roll unless it rolls over the top.

Don’t speak to those who have left WOFF unless you ask Jane.

Don’t ask anyone but Jane about those who lately have not been seen in services.

Don’t go in the sanctuary with “sin in your heart,” deal with it before service.

Don’t expect someone else to clean-up your mess.

Don’t back-talk or give excuses for your sin.

Don’t “attack” those in authority.

Don’t question Jane’s authority to run WOFF.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (pp. 118-124). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I appreciated reading Locked In, because I honestly had never heard of this cult before, and I enjoyed reading about Huddle’s experiences in places that were familiar to me. But, if I’m honest, I think this book would have been better if it had been written by someone with more of a flair for writing. Huddle’s writing isn’t terrible, but it’s not very exciting to read. And there was one particular phrase he used twice that made me cringe. At the beginning– prelude– to the book, he writes:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult . Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Then, at the end of the book, he includes the same passage:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 165). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I get the sense that he was trying to be very descriptive about his wife’s strange and unordinary behavior. The trouble is, he doesn’t use these kinds of phrases throughout the book, so it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb and becomes a little contrived. Most of the book is written in a more mundane style, without any fancy similes. I’m not trying to say I would have wanted more descriptions like the one above, which struck me as a little bit over the top. I’m saying that a more relaxed, conversational style might have made the simile work better, and seem less out of place. But I don’t think the book is poorly written. I just think the language is a little bit stiff, which may make the book less interesting and harder to read for some readers.

Personally, I’m glad I took the time to read Locked In. I learned something new from this book, although I highly doubt I ever would have been tempted to join the faith. I’m glad to know about it, just the same, and I think some people will be very interested in Mr. Huddle’s story. I give it three and a half stars out of five, in spite of my misgivings about the writing style. I think the topic is original and fascinating, and the story offers valuable information and a warning to others, which makes it well worth reading. But I also think it’s worth watching the news videos about this church, which really drive home how very abusive and dangerous this cult is.

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