AR 44 June,1990
Ambassador's Pasadena Campus Folds Up
In mid December, Joseph W. Tkach, the Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), announced that the Pasadena, California campus of Ambassador College would be phased out of operation and that the WCG's college program would be centered only at its Big Sandy, Texas campus. For the time being, however, the WCG still plans to keep its headquarters in Pasadena and use Ambassador Auditorium for the Ambassador Foundation's concert schedule. Rumors of the possible closing had circulated in church circles for weeks. But when Tkach's decision was finally announced, it still proved a major disappointment to most Ambassador students and church members who had taken pride in the beautiful Pasadena campus, which first opened in 1947.
Whether or not the WCG will ever again maintain any kind of college program in Pasadena remains to be seen. There has been some talk of using the Pasadena campus for a graduate school of theology that would offer "certificates" (not degrees), but those discussions have not yet materialized into an actual plan. In December there had been some hope that the Pasadena campus, could be used to at least teach a freshmen contingent of students. That plan, however, was quickly scuttled.
Tkach had hoped that most of the WCG's operations could remain in Pasadena. But WCG department heads informed him that by moving most of the Ambassador student body out of southern California and into the ranch land of east Texas, Worldwide's headquarters operations would be deprived of most of the cheap labor now provided by student workers. So Tkach then decided to move a good number of WCG and Plain Truth departments to Texas, along with the entire Ambassador student work force. Now, however, some department heads in Pasadena are wondering who will be doing the janitorial, gardening, and other lowly tasks currently being done by first-year student laborers.
Why Such Confusion?
The current confusion at Ambassador College comes as no surprise to the Report. In our large 1977 issue we published the thoroughly researched article "The Missing Dimension in Ambassador College - Accreditation" by Margaret D. Zola. The author detailed why Ambassador remained unaccredited after 30 years and what it needed to do to become accredited. Ambassador's administration in 1977 and those administrations since then obstinately refused to pay any heed to the accurate data, logical conclusions, and good sense contained in that article. As a result, for the last 13 years Ambassador College has remained nothing more than an unaccredited diploma mill.
Fortunately, in the last few years, anti-diplorna-mill legislation has been passed in both California1 and Texas.2 In effect, the new laws make it impossible for an educational institution in those states to offer degrees unless that institution is accredited or has achieved a state-defined level of minimum qualifications essentially equal to those normally required by recognized accrediting associations.3 To bring both the California and Texas campuses up to those minimum standards would require the expenditure of more church funds than Tkach finds acceptable.4
Tkach's plan, for now, is to turn the Big Sandy college (currrently a two-year school) into a four-year college and, hopefully, to get it accredited. Toward that goal, Ambassador has purchased hundreds of acres of real estate in the Big Sandy area and has begun construction of a new college administration building.5
That Ambassador College will someday achieve accreditation should not be assumed. College founder Herbert W. Armstrong told the college's first students in the late '40s that full accreditation was not far off. Ambassador students in the '60s and '70s were told the same thing. Now the obstacles facing Tkach's accreditation plans are as formidable as ever. Some insiders have told the Report how a number of Pasadena faculty members have turned down Tkach's request that they move to Texas and how Ambassador is having difficulty recruiting qualified professors and instructors. Others have stated that the fundamental inadequacies that plagued Ambassador's accreditation efforts in the past all remain.
The organization that will determine whether or not Ambassador College gets accredited is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Ambassador alumni who may wish to provide the Southern Association with insights into Ambassador's strengths and weaknesses should write: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Attn.: Dr. David Carter (Associate Executive Director of the Commission on Colleges), 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097. The Association's phone number is: (404) 329-6500.
On Friday, May 18, the last commencement was held at Ambassador's Pasadena campus. As evangelist David Hulme told a reporter a few days earlier, "It's the end of an era." For the immediate future, church officials hope to lease some of Ambassador's classroom space to Pasadena City College." But as one WCG insider told us, "As soon as a wealthy buyer can be found, I think Mr. Tkach will sell off most of the campus."
1. See SB 190, amending Chapter Three, Part 59 of the Education Code of California, sponsored by State Senator Rebecca Q. Morgan of Menlo Park and signed into law by Gov. Deukmejian on Oct. 1, 1989.
Ambassador is not the only college that has run into trouble with the new law. The State Board of Education evaluation team has recommended that state approval be removed from the Institute for Creation Research in Santee (San Diego County), the only creation science school in the country offering Master's degrees. See the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 18, 1990, p. A3.
2. See Subchapters G and H, Chapter 61; and Subchapter K, Chapter 5 of the Texas Education Code. Copies and further information may be obtained from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Universities and Health Affairs Division, P.O. Box 12780, Austin, Texas 78711.
3. Solely through the efforts of Ambassador Report, Ambassador College was accredited in March 1985 by the International Accrediting Assocation of Modesto, California (see our Jan. 1986 issue). Unfortunately, that accrediting association is not fully recognized by the State of California.
©1990 Ambassador Report. Published irregularly (as finances allow) as a Christian service. ISSN 0882-2123
John Trechak, Editor & Publisher Mary E. Jones, Associate Editor
Founding Publishers: Robert Gerringer, Bill Hughes, Mary E. Jones, John Trechak, Len Zola, and Margaret Zola.
4. See Tkach's "Dear Brethren" letter of Dec. 21, 1989; and the Pasadena Star-News, Dec. 15, 1989, p. A-1.
5. The Worldwide News, Dec. 11, 1989, p. 1.
6. See "Graduation marks end for Ambassador school," in the Pasadena Star-News, May 14, 1990, p. A- 1.
Joseph W. Tkach...
by John Trechak
Is Tkach Really Russian?
Since the earliest years of Herbert W. Armstrong's ministry, doctrines concerning race and racial origins have played an important role in the WCG's theology. The WCG's views on Bible prophecy, for instance, are to a great extent built upon racial identity theories. And because HWA read Bible prophecy as indicating both a present and future special role for the "Israelite" peoples (whom he believed to be not just the Jews, but also the nations of northwestern Europe), it was once very common in Worldwide for ministers and members to attempt to find in their lineage ancestral connections to the peoples of northwestern Europe, especially those of the British Isles. That is undoubtedly one reason why older WCG members often express amazement at Pastor General Tkach's frequent references to his supposed Russian roots.
Not only does Tkach claim to be of Russian descent, but WCG publications, especially the Worldwide News (WN), in recent years have regularly played up persons, places, and things that are Russian. Apparently equating Russia with the U.S.S.R. (they are not equivalent), the WN's editors have reported how Soviet officials have visited Pasadena, how the WCG has sponsored tours by famous Soviet performers (WN, 6/13/88), how the WCG has sponsored tours by famous Soviet performers (WN, 6/13/88), how the WCG has financed a U.S. ballet company's tour of the U.S.S.R. (WN 8/22/88), how a 12-year-old daughter of an Australian WCG couple wrote a letter to President Gorbachev and was then able to meet the Soviet Ambassador to Australia (WN, 1/23/89), how a large group of WCG teenagers were given a WCG-financed tour of the Soviet Union (WN, 8/22/88), and how one Nevada WCG member translates Russian for official U.S. inspectors at U.S.S.R. nuclear test sites (WN, 2/6/89).
The WN has openly called for greater understanding of the U.S.S.R. (WN, 12/7/87, p. 2) and has even featured a front page photo of Tkach and Joe Locke, a Tkach aide, wearing Russian winter hats (WN, 2/15/88). Then when Russian cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich came to Pasadena to receive an Ambassador Foundation award from Tkach, the WN (2/20/89) was quick to put the famed musician's words to Tkach on page one: "Thank you, my dear Russian brother."
Of course, AR is not criticizing the building of bridges between nations nor the recognition of the many achievements of the Russian people. Nevertheless, all of this new emphasis on Russia - mainly because Tkach claims to be Russian - is very, very silly. Why? Because Tkach is not of Russian descent!
As I pointed out in part one (see our March 1989 issue), Tkach was born in Chicago and his parents came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia. Tkach's parents were, themselves, members of a minority ethnic group in that country. While often calling themselves Carpatho Russian, the people of northeastern Slovakia (the Presov Region, where Tkach's mother and father came from), southeastern Poland (the Lemkian Region), and Ruthenia (Subcarpathean Rus) are all essentially one ethnic group: the Carpatho-Rusyn, Rusnak, or Slavish people. Because of the Pan-Slavic movement and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in that mountainous region over the centuries, the Rusyns (especially those coming to America) have often thought of themselves as being Russian. But by looking at a map of eastern Europe one will quickly see that they are not really Russian. They are as ethnically distinct as the Welsh are from the English. Separating the Carpathian region of northeast Slovakia and the westernmost part of Russia proper is about 500 miles of the Ukraine. And just as the Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians are not true Russians, neither are the Ukranians. And most certainly the Carpatho-Rusyns with their distinct geographical location, culture, and language, are not true Russians.
Some months ago I wrote a lengthy letter to Pastor General Tkach attempting to help him understand a bit of his own ethnic background. I even pointed out how some historians trace the origins of the Rusyn people to a Scandinavian tribe that settled in the area of Kiev in the ninth century A.D. (the socalled Normanist theory which ties that Scandinavian tribe to the Normans who conquered northwestern France and later England). Apparently my letter and the accompanying materials I sent made no impression for, I hear, Tkach is still saying he is Russian. Oh, well ....
Those who are interested in learning more about the Carpatho-Rusyn people will enjoy reading Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America by Professor Paul Robert Magocsi (Chairman of the Ukranian Studies Dept. at the University of Toronto, Canada). This 175-page book is published by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, sells for $20, and may be ordered from the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, 355 Delano Place, Fairview, New Jersey 07022. Be sure to also ask for a list of their other fine publications and for information about Carpatho-Rusyn American, the quarterly newsletter devoted to the study of Carpatho-Rusyn ethnic heritage.
Another book that will help researchers to understand Tkach is The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, published by Penguin (and Pelican) Books. Just as Herbert W. Armstrong's theology contained facets reflective of his childhood in the Quaker religion, some see in Tkach reflections of his childhood in the Russian Orthodox Church. Timothy Ware's book provides insights into both Tkach's religious past and the turbulent religious history of eastern Europe.
Helping Relatives and Friends Exit the WCG
by John Trechak
Ambassador Report frequently receives letters from individuals concerned about a relative or friend1 who is about to join the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), or who has already joined and who is now exhibiting self-destructive behavior. Such behavior often includes excessive financial contributing (even to the point of giving away one's home), withdrawal from family and friends (even to the point of leaving for parts unknown), excessive secrecy, arrogance toward non-WCG people, and habitual lying. The concerned individual who writes us often will ask if there is something that can be done to influence the friend or relative into leaving the WCG.
We at AR are not psychologists or professional counselors, but after 14 years of publishing the Report, witnessing thousands exit the WCG, and helping many of those exiting along with their families, I believe we can offer a number of observations and suggestions that may be of help to those concerned about their Worldwide relatives or friends.
First of all, it is difficult to help someone if lines of communication are not kept open. In our experience, communication with the WCG member often breaks down because the concerned individual is not fully aware of the true nature of the WCG and because misconceptions and resulting miscalculations will often cause the concerned individual to prematurely take steps that greatly harm whatever rapport he has with the Worldwider. Let me strongly suggest a number of "Do Nots."
(A) Do not overdramatize the WCG's problems. Even though the WCG is a destructive cult,2 it is not the worst of the modem destructive cults. There are some cults, for instance, that openly advocate drug use, "free love," incest, prostitution, human sacrifice, devil worship, terrorism, etc. The WCG does not. This is important to keep in mind because portraying the
WCG as worse than it really is will only help to put a gulf between you and the WCG member, and doing so will only reinforce a key WCG belief-that deep down everyone in "the world" is hostile to everyone in "God's True Church."
(B) Do not forget that in the U.S. and in most Western nations we have something called "freedom of religion." In the U.S., for instance, everyone has a right to believe any religious idea he or she chooses, no matter how illogical it may appear to everyone else. And with the exception of acts that are specifically prohibited by the law (such as using illegal narcotics in religious ceremonies), conduct based on religious belief is generally still protected, even if that conduct is self-destructive to the cultist (for example, quitting one's job and putting one's family on welfare in order to keep certain holy days). The point is this: All too often well meaning individuals, in an unsophisticated effort to help a WCG relative, show disrespect for the member's legal rights as a free citizen and thereby tear down the lines of communication they have with their friend. Helping the member then becomes far more difficult, if not impossible.
Two specific cases of this problem come to mind. Some years ago, I was contacted by a very distraught Jewish mother whose son had left the Jewish faith to join Worldwide and was contemplating marriage to a young woman also in the WCG. The mother's main concern was keeping her son Jewish, an understandable reaction from a Jewish mother. However, as she spoke to me it became increasingly obvious that the mother was completely oblivious to the fact that her son was an adult (albeit a young adult) with every legal right to choose his own religion. I was simply unable to convince her of that obvious fact, and she pursued her own obstinate course in dealing with her son. Her attitude only furthered the breakdown of communication between parent and child and pushed the son further into the WCG.
Coincidentally, not long afterward I was contacted by a Catholic mother who was in an identical predicament and who had exactly the same attitude as the Jewish mother. Again I was unable to persuade the mother to acknowledge that her son needed to be treated as an adult (even if he lacked the maturity of his parents). The Catholic mother pursued her own intolerant path and, not surprisingly, achieved the same negative outcome that the Jewish mother reaped - there was a giant gulf put between her and her son, with the son drawn ever further into the WCG.3
(C) Do not assume that there is some magical statistical formula as to what kind of people are attracted to the WCG. Those drawn to it come from all age groups, religions, philosophies, education levels, races, nationalities and walks of life. The WCG has even drawn a few college professors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and corporation vice presidents. The majority of WCG members are generally hard working, lawabiding, and self-sacrificing (even if such sacrificing becomes directed only toward the WCG's mission).4 The above caveat is important to keep in mind because too often those trying to help their WCG relative or friend will inadvertantly or even maliciously characterize the WCG as composed entirely of worthless people. This is clearly not so. Any such negative characterization of the WCG's membership will be seen by the member as inaccurate and will only further reinforce the WCG teaching that it is the "One True Church" and "the world" is out to get them. Simplistic characterizations of the WCG are therefore self-defeating for the one trying to provide exit help.
(D) Do not assume that only a certain type of person ever exits the WCG. All types of people leave and often for very different reasons. However, it does seem that people who tend to be individualistic, intellectual, creative, and/or inquisitive do have a better chance of either leaving or, more likely, being thrown out.
(E) Finally, in regard to keeping lines of communication open, do not assume that the WCG member doesn't already have much of the information you wish to offer him. We have discovered that there are some - not many, and by no means a majority of - WCG members who know their church is filled with both doctrinal error and great corruption in its hierarchy. Yet, for whatever reason, that small group has made a conscious decision to remain in the WCG. Frankly, we have a number of such individuals on AR's mailing list. We not only respect their right to worship and fellowship with whomever they choose, but we also still consider them friends.
At this juncture those who would like to help their relative or friend exit the WCG are probably thinking something like this: "Ok, I see the necessity of not disrespecting my relative's right to freedom of religion, and I see it's important not to make assumptions or unfounded accusations. But I love my relative, I believe the WCG is a destructive cult, I am convinced my relative's involvement with the WCG is hurting him and his family, and I feel morally obligated to take some kind of action. I agree that there are some things I should not do. But beyond simply keeping lines of communication open, aren't there some affirmative steps that are appropriate? Isn't there something I can do?"
The answer is yes. There are affirmative steps that can, and should, be taken to help someone who is becoming ensnared or is already ensnared in a cult.5 But determining what should be done (proper strategy), when it should be done (proper timing), and how it should be done (proper execution) is not easy. That is simply because every human being is, in some ways, unique. Even in some of the most radical cults where zombie-like uniformness is mandated, every member is going to have an inner self with needs and desires somewhat different than anyone else in that cult. There is therefore no magic formula that will work 100% of the time in extricating members out of the WCG. Nevertheless, after 14 years of publishing AR, we have noticed that some methods work better than others.
Classic WCG Exit-Assistance Scenarios
Let me be specific. There are some Christians well versed in their Bible, who upon learning that a friend is enamored of Worldwide teaching, will sit down with their friend and attempt to rationally discuss Bible theology in an attempt to disentangle their friend from Worldwide teaching. Preliminarily, let me just point out that this approach often fails because either the one who sincerely believes he/she is "well-versed" in the Bible really isn't, or because the WCG invitee6 actually knows more about the Bible than the one attempting to rescue his friend. But putting aside those problems, here is what we have noticed often happens. A knowledgeable Christian layman or minister counsels with the WCG invitee or member and fairly conclusively demonstrates that a number of WCG doctrines are in error. Very commonly the WCG member will respond like this:
Okay, so we are wrong on a few points, but we have been wrong before - on Pentecost, healing, birthdays, and other things - and we changed. That's because we have God's Spirit; no other church does. Even if we are wrong on almost everything, I don't care. This is God's Work and I am not going to take myself out from under God's authority and protection!
Believe it or not, that is exactly the rationalization used by thousands in the WCG.
Now, let's look at another weak, although not always ineffective, approach-attempting to show the WCG member that the WCG's leadership is corrupt. Typically the way this happens is that the caring individual will find out about Ambassador Report, will request and read a few copies, and will then ask the WCG invitee or member to read them also. If the friend is still in the invitee stage and has not gone too far along in the WCG's indoctrination program, there is a fairly good chance the invitee will see the danger ahead and will turn away from all involvement with the WCG. Sometimes, too, even WCG members of long-standing will read a few issues of AR and decide it is time to leave. This most often is the case where the member is having significant financial, marital, health, psychological, or employment problems and has come to the realization that the WCG has really not provided the answers to those problems and may even be a significant cause of the difficulties.
However, what about the staunch WCG member who is not having significant problems, or who, at least, is not aware that he is really in trouble? In the vast majority of such cases, simply handing the member copies of AR will do no good whatsoever. First of all, members are taught they must never read Ambassador Report, and many are taught they must even burn whatever copies they receive or turn them over to their supervising minister.
Nevertheless, even some staunch members are too curious to obey those standing orders and will read a few AR issues. What happens then? Very often the member will simply deny to himself the possibility that AR is truthful. He'll say, "It's all lies!"7 Some, however, will sense that AR is telling the truth, Then what? Here is the kind of rationalization that most often follows (and let me emphasize, this kind of rationalization is very common):
Okay, the church has some problems at headquarters and maybe Mr. Tkach isn't perfect, but David wasn't perfect either.8 We are not to judge.9 Even if everything the Report says is true we still have God's Truth so I am not going to take myself out from under God's authority and protection!
The essence of the above argument is this: "We have the Truth so evidence that the church lacks the Holy Spirit (as shown by major corruption throughout the church hierarchy) is irrelevant to me." Notice that this argument is really the inverse of the previous scenario's argument, namely: "We show evidence of the Holy Spirit (good works, doing the Work of God, etc.) so not having all the Truth is irrelevant to me.
Now, over the years, we at AR have noticed a remarkable thing. If (1) a member is willing to listen because lines of communication have been maintained (and because of a search for answers to personal problems and/or because the member has retained some independence of thought) and (2) one can show that the WCG's hierarchy is corrupt and (3) one can show that the WCG has serious doctrinal errors, then, we have discovered, there is a very good possibility the member will be on his way out of the WCG.10 The member may decide to leave then and there. More likely, however, he will begin asking questions openly in church circles. Before long, on some pretext (usually "you have a bad attitude," or "you lack respect for authority") the local minister will order the questioning member not to return to church and not to talk to other Worldwiders. The member will be out.11
In some cases, all three factors (willingness to listen plus awareness of doctrinal errors and political corruption) are present, yet the member remains in Worldwide. Sometimes the reason is obvious - a good paying job with Ambassador College or the church, or perhaps family ties. At other times the real motivations of the member are unknowable - at least to those of us at AR.
I hope that what I have discussed to this point illustrates some of the difficulties one can expect in attempting to assist a WCG member in exiting. Successfully assisting a friend or relative in exiting the WCG is not impossible but, as the above should demonstrate, it does require wisdom plus a proper mind set: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves [Matt. 10:16]."
Getting Prepared Before You Act
Recall that the first major principle I gave above is that lines of communication must be maintained with the WCG member.
The second major principle in helping a Worldwider exit is this: Before you take affirmative steps to really intervene, you need to have an understanding of two important areas of information. You will need: (A) an understanding of what the WCG is all about in terms of teachings and practices, and (B) an understanding of what destructive cults are and how they operate.12
Let's discuss the first type of information needed - that concerning the WCG's teachings and practices. Obviously, how much of this type of information will be needed will depend on many factors. One important consideration is how long the friend has been involved with the WCG. The longer the friend has been in Worldwide, the more information about Worldwide you will most likely need. Unfortunately, most of us have limited resources. All of us have only so much time, money, and energy that we can devote to the problems of those we care about.13 Nevertheless, let me suggest some minimums.
Besides the issue you are now reading (AR 44), I would strongly suggest that the individual planning an intervention read, at least, AR 30 (Dec. 1984), AR 41 (March 1989), AR 42 (Sept. 1989), and AR 43 (Dec. 1989). AR 45, when it is published, should also prove helpful.
Once those AR issues are digested, I would suggest that the would-be intervenor then watch a few World Tomorrow telecasts, carefully read a few issues of the Plain Truth, the Good News, a few WCG booklets, and perhaps a few parts of the WCG's Bible Correspondence Course - all with a critical eye.14 You will notice that much of what the WCG preaches to the general public is fine.15 In fact, there is much that is very commendable.16 Your research will give you some idea of the kind of allure that the WCG possesses. (An educated and/or astute individual, however, will also notice the frequent use of fallacious reasoning and the pervasive oversimplification of just about everything.) Then compare the niceness of the WCG's public positions with the testimonials of former Worldwiders in AR and with your WCG friend's problems, and you will have a much clearer idea of what you are up against.
At this juncture in the concerned individual's research, it will be a rare person, indeed, who will not feel a bit overwhelmed. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the WCG is not just a branch of Christianity. It is radically different than mainstream Christianity. Second, its unique doctrines do not simply cover ritual and ethics, but cosmology, history, race, health, sociology, international politics, etc.- in other words, everything. There are few people educated sufficiently to take on all WCG teachings in any kind of spontaneous debate. And frankly, I would not recommend that approach with regard to helping your WCG friend.
What about seeking the advice and counsel of respected clergymen? Of course that is something to be considered. Unfortunately, we have found over the years that most clergymen, even theology professors, are ill-informed about the WCG. If you do find one who is knowledgeable about the WCG, he may prove invaluable in assisting you to understand the WCG. Certain religious organizations may also be able to help to some degree. In the past, we have recommended that readers write to various organizations which have former WCG ministers or members on their staffs and who put out literature (or, at least, are able to offer advice) concerning WCG doctrines.17 Many exit counsellors make similar suggestions and even recommend that the would-be intervenor carefully maintain files of all available publications of the target cult and publications by critics who are countering the cult's teachings.
While such diligent research may prove valuable when the time for active intervention finally arrives, it usually will prove very time consuming, especially if the would-be intervenor is not fairly well-educated in biblical theology. Additionally, even if the concerned individual has a fair amount of Bible knowledge and has the time to research and refute dozens of WCG doctrines, such effort will often prove fruitless because the research was directed at issues not central to the WCG members key problems.
Let me give a couple of examples. A relative joins the WCG and soon the rest of the family notices that, among other things, he will no longer eat ham or seafood. Some Bible students in the family will then embark on a Bible research fling to "prove" to the WCG member that the dietary laws of Leviticus were only ceremonial in nature, that the idea that "unclean meats" are unhealthy derived from rabbinical theorizing during the Middle Ages, that the Leviticus dietary laws never applied to Gentiles, and that the early Christian church never applied the majority of those dietary laws to Gentile converts. Now, whether or not such assertions are true is not what is important here. What is important is that the whole issue is not central to the WCG member's main problems! If the WCG member doesn't want to eat ham or seafood, why make it a big deal? Aside from the fact he'll probably be consuming less cholesterol and fat than the rest of his family, why not simply respect his wishes?
Christmas observance is another area where many create needless family strife. Because Worldwiders believe Christmas is really a disguised version of the ancient Saturnalia, they do not observe Christmas either as a religious holy day or as a secular holiday. Many non-Worldwiders take offense at this and will try to pressure their WCG relative into getting the Christmas spirit and may even attempt to refute the WCG's teaching on the subject.18 But why? The WCG's teaching on Christmas is not central to the member's key problems!
What is central to the WCG member's problems (his psychological pain, social dysfunction, career derailment, family stress, and very likely his poverty) is not what days he worships on, what foods he avoids, what clothes he wears, or what holidays he prefers not to observe. What is central to the WCG member's problems is his having been psychologically coerced and subtly duped into a system of controlled behavior that encompasses the four key cult characteristics described in footnote number two: (1) isolation, (2) nonthinking, (3) absolute obedience, and (4) giving everything. If the concerned individual is going to do doctrinal research in preparation for an intervention (and I am convinced such research should be done), that research should center on those four cult characteristics.19
As for WCG organizational policies and practices (as opposed to theological doctrines) there are a very limited number of sources. I believe back issues of Ambassador Report will prove the most valuable, but the books by David Robinson and Marion McNair, as well as John Buchner's Armstrongism Bibliography, can be helpful.
Understanding the Destructive Cult Phenomenon
I explained above that before the concerned individual attempts an intervention, he needs to (A) understand the WCG's teachings and policies, and (B) understand what destructive cults are and how they operate. For years, I have emphasized the first point above. In recent months, however, I have come to believe that the second point - understanding the nature and methods of destructive cults in general - is equally important.
How then can the concerned individual obtain this needed understanding? To that question I respond with both bad news and good news. The bad news is that until the last ten years or so there really weren't too many books that even dealt specifically with the cult phenomenon. Those who wanted to get a handle on the problem had to spend considerable time locating and reading a variety of works (often quite technical) in the areas of behavioral psychology, group psychology, comparative religion, advertising techniques, symbology, semantics, logic, and fallacy. All of this took a lot of time - a lot more than most have been willing to invest, even for the dearest relative or friend.
Now for the good news. In the last two or three years a few really excellent books have appeared which deal very precisely with the cult phenomenon and which offer excellent guidance for those with relatives and friends ensnared by a cult. Let me recommend one of those books in particular: Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan.20 I cannot recommend this book too highly. If you have a friend, relative, or loved one involved with the WCG (or some other destructive cult), or if you yourself were once a WCG member, buy this book, read it, and study it! The money and time you invest in it will come back to you many times over as a result.
Hassan's book contains so much information of value to the individual who wishes to help a WCG member that it is not practical for me to cover all the pertinent parts. (Amazingly, however, nowhere in the book is the WCG so much as even mentioned.21) Allow me, however, to briefly outline what his book covers.
Hassan begins with his own experience of getting duped into the Unification Church and shows what it was like to be a Moonie. As I read this portion of his book I not only found dozens of parallels to my own years in Worldwide, but I was astounded to see that our experiences were virtually 95% identical. Hassan then goes on to show how his parents were able to rescue him from the control of the Moonies in 1976. After a period of readjustment, he was able to continue his college education (he now has a Master's degree in counseling psychology), and during the last ten years has specialized in the exit counseling of cult members.22
Hassan then goes on in chapter three to show what destructive cults really are and their various types, how they recruit, why they are successful, and how they induce phobias in their members. Chapter four deals with "understanding mind control." This chapter has shocked a number of Ambassador grads, who, even though long out of Worldwide, did not realize how they had once been manipulated and how much negative WCG psychological baggage they still retained. Chapter five is on "cult psychology." Again, the reader will see the WCG's methods on virtually every page. Chapter six deals with how to protect oneself from the influence of cults, and there are many insights provided on how to analyze a cult's dynamics.
Chapter seven covers "exit counseling," Hassan's non-coercive system of helping friends and relatives leave a destructive cult. Hassan's methods (both in their overt and covert forms) are not to be confused with so-called "deprogramming," which is often illegal and has a number of negative psychological aspects, besides. Chapters eight and nine further amplify Hassan's methods, and chapter 10 covers "strategies for recovery." (Incidentally, I'm sure many exWorldwiders could greatly benefit from reading this chapter. Our experience has shown that even some who have been out of the WCG for many years are still being adversely affected by what the WCG did to them psychologically.) Finally chapter 11 covers a number of interesting legal and sociological topics relating to the cult phenomenon.
Because he is a professional exit counselor, it is not surprising that Hassan encourages readers who wish to intervene in a relative's cult addiction problems to obtain professional help. I am well aware of the fact that probably a large majority of those reading this article will not be able to afford the kind of professional assistance Hassan recommends.23 Nevertheless, even if financial resources are lacking, those hoping to help a friend or relative exit Worldwide should still study Hassan's book. In fact, the more inadequate the concerned individual's financial resources, the more time and energy needs to be spent in preparing for the intervention. For such individuals Combatting Cult Mind Control will prove invaluable in planning the strategy, timing, and execution of an intervention.
There is Always Hope
As I have indicated above, there is no simple solution to the problem of how to help a friend or relative exit the WCG. But neither should the problem be viewed as hopeless. There are certain pitfalls that need to be avoided, but there are also positive steps that can, and should, be taken.
In a future issue I hope to amplify a number of points discussed only briefly in this article. In the meantime, I hope this short article will be of assistance to the many readers who continually write to us out of concern for WCG friends and loved ones.
1. In this article I use the terms "relative" and "friend" interchangeably. Either or both terms may also refer to a parent, child, or acquaintance of the concerned individual. I use the term "individual" or "concerned individual" to refer to the non-cultist attempting to help the cult member friend or relative. And, rather than use he/she throughout, I have opted for the traditional "he" to refer to both sexes. Obviously, however, females are just as susceptible as males to the influence of cults.
2. Since our 1976 issue (AR 1, see p. 36), we have used the word cult" to describe a particular type of religious organization--one having four specific characteristics:
(1) Isolation - the encouragement of separation (even if only psychologically) from nonmember family and friends.
(2) Nonthinking - the condemnation of any substantial questioning of the leader's teachings.
(3) Absolute obedience - the development of response patterns in the member whereby he obeys, without questioning, the orders of religious superiors.
(4) Giving everything - the encouragement of members to excessively contribute money, homes, property, and time, even to the point of severely harming his family and himself.
The above definition is in line with the way the major news organizations use the word "cult" today. There are, however, some problems with the term. First of all, a glance at any dictionary will show that the word "cult" can and sometimes still does refer simply to a religion or a religious system, even if generally beneficial to its adherents and generally respected. In AR we do not use the term "cult" in such a broad way. Second, many religious groups use the word "cult" to refer to any religion with which their own doctrines disagree. For instance, many fundamentalist Christians would refer to the Sikh religion as a cult. Even though Sikhism is a cult in the sense of being a religion (so is Christianity) we, again, do not use the term in that simplistic sense. Finally, even among psychologists and sociologists there are a number of different formulas used in defining a "cult." Nevertheless, in comparing the various definitions used by experts with the four point definition we have used over the last 14 years, one will immediately see that the four-point definition captures the essence of what many experts are defining in somewhat different language.
Cult expert Steven Hassan prefers the term "destructive cult" over simply "cult." That may be a clarification of terminology we should adopt in the future.
For more details on the way the term "cult" is used by experts in the counseling fields, see J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, Garland Publishing Inc., New York and London, 1986; and Rachel Andres and James R. Lane (eds.), Cults & Consequences, Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, 1988.
3. As an aside, let me make one observation about young people, parents, and cults. I have seen repeatedly that young people will very often join a cult precisely because their parents do not want them to. In many cases it seems joining a cult can be part of the maturing process of leaving mother and father and becoming "independent" (even if that independence is only fictional). When that is the case, over-insistence by parents for continued obedience to them will often prove to be counter productive. Not only that, if parental insistence and protests are too strong, should the child join the cult, it becomes doubly difficult for the child to leave. For to do so the child will have to openly acknowledge by his leaving that Mom and Dad were right after all. It is my personal feeling that for many unhappy cult members, it is the unacceptability of "loosing face" with family and old friends or the fear of extreme humiliation - that keeps them from acknowledging the giant mistake of their cult membership and from leaving its influence. With that in mind, let me suggest that the concerned parent (or other concerned individual) should not be so openly hostile to the WCG that the child or friend will have to face unbearable humiliation should they later wake up and decide to leave.
4. Cult expert Steven Hassan states that the majority of destructive cults much prefer people with better work habits, social skills, and professional credentials rather than those who are physically or educationally handicapped because the former, being more productive, are able to give the cult more money and service, while the latter often require the cult's financial assistance. This is clearly so with the WCG.
5. There is a very strong parallel between the situation where a family is being hurt because a family member has become ensnared by a destructive cult and the situation where a family is being hurt because a family member has become seriously addicted to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. There is a wealth of published information available showing how families can deal with a family member beset by one of the latter addictions. It is only in the last few years, however, that psychologists have come up with plausible and systematic intervention models for the cult addiction or ensnarement problem.
6. I am using the term "invitee" to designate one who is not yet a member of the WCG, but who is reading WCG religious writings, is perhaps beginning to attend services, and is contemplating full membership in the WCG. Dissuading an invitee from joining the WCG is usually far easier than persuading a long-time member into leaving.
7. Those that kid themselves into believing AR is "all lies" seem to forget that the WCG has a large, powerful, and litigious legal department. And those lawyers have, in the past, leaned very hard on the press - even when the press was reporting on the WCG very conservatively. The Pasadena Star-News, for instance, is one paper that has been sued by the WCG in the past. It no longer does any expose-type reporting on the WCG.
The WCG's lawyers will take on just about anyone for just about any reason. In 1988, a Gerald D. Langenderfer began distributing flyers which equated Joseph Tkach with "the Anti-Messiah." The flyers contained a number of outrageous statements that would have led the average citizen to suspect its author was in need of a bit of sympathy, if not therapy. From the WCG he received neither. Instead, the WCG's lawyers immediately filed a complaint for damages and injunctive relief for invasion of privacy, civil harassment, trademark and servicemark infringement, tradename infringement, and defamation. Langenderfer, apparently too poor to even maintain a permanent residence, was unable to retain counsel and, in essence, lost very quickly by default to the WCG's legal team. He is now under a permanent injunction not to distribute the offending materials. My point is not that Mr. Langenderfer was correct in either his conclusions or in his methods. But the case (L.A. Superior Court case number C681878) demonstrates that the WCG is very quick to flex its legal muscle whenever it feels someone is hurting its reputation with the publication of even the most trivial of false information.
WCG members seem oblivious to the above. There is another curious fact about the members who believe AR to be "all lies." While a good many get angry with us for being "so evil," a very large number take a bizarre delight in feeling that AR articles are "persecution." Obviously, this is a nonsensical notion. AR is not burning down church buildings, nor lynching, shooting, or throwing stones at anyone. That would be persecution. We are only expressing our views and reporting the facts as best we see them. The expression of ideas, even when critical, in a free society's marketplace of ideas is what democracy is all about. Nevertheless, to many Worldwiders AR represents "persecution." The really odd thing, however, is that quite a few Worldwiders actually thrive on this so-called "persecution." Here is what one recent Ambassador graduate wrote me:
I'm sure you realize that for the WCG members, persecution is invigorating and even desirous, as it confirms their belief that they are Satan's main target, and it just makes them pray and study harder and send more money into HQ. I know, I was there. So were you.
Students of psychology will recall the chapters on religious masochism in Theodor Reik's classic work in psychoanalysis: Masochism in Modern Man (1941, now published in paperback by Pyramid Books under the tide of Masochism in Sex and Society).
8. WCG members seem to forget that David was a bloody warrior and a king - not a priest, rabbi, or New Testament minister of the Gospel. Refer to I Timothy 3:1-7. Worldwiders also seem to forget that the editors of the Hebrew scriptures saw fit to leave David's most heinous sins in the record for scores of generations to read.
9. This WCG view derives from an out-of-context interpretation of Matt. 7: 1. For a clear understanding of what Jesus was getting at, keep reading (verses 2-5), then compare with the parallel account in Luke 6:37. For a clearer translation of Matt. 7:1-5 see the Charles B. Williams translation (The New Testament in the Language of the People). Finally, compare Matt. 7:1-5 with I Cor. 6:2-4 and Rev. 2:2.
10. Please note carefully that in making this observation I have not gone into any detail regarding when or how such an intervention should be done.
11. An important caveat needs to be made at this juncture. All too often individuals attempting to assist a relative out of the WCG assume they have solved all the member's major problems once the relative exits Worldwide. Unfortunately, that is all too often not the case. There are two major reasons for this: (1) The problems (emotional, family, psychological, etc.) that initially caused the relative to get interested in Worldwide may very well still be there. And (2) any extended membership in the WCG (or any other destructive cult, for that matter) tends to put onto the cultists even more problems (psychological, physiological, medical, financial, marital, etc.). For these two reasons it is not uncommon for ex-Worldwiders to experience great difficulty in adjusting to reality after exiting Worldwide (this is true of those exiting almost all destructive cults). It is also not unusual for those exiting to go through a phenomenon psychologists call "floating" (slipping back into a cult-altered state of consciousness). Unfortunately, we have seen this occur all too often, with some former members returning to Worldwide or joining cults even more destructive than the WCG!
The solution appears to lie in some type of post-exit rehabilitation program involving family, clergy, and/or psychologists trained in the cult phenomenon. If that is the case, there is a direct parallel to the rehabilitation programs advocated by physicians when dealing with drug addicts who have gone through "detox." For a thorough discussion of rehabilitation as it applies to former cultists, see Rachel Andres and James R. Lane (eds.) Cults & Consequences. This helpful book may be ordered for $14.95 by writing the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, or call (213) 852-1234.
12. Actually, there is another area of information that is important - knowledge about what the member or invitee is really like. I will assume that the concerned individual is close enough to the WCG friend or relative to have a fairly good idea. However, this is obviously a very big assumption. We often do not really "know" those very near and dear to us. I will not attempt to say more about this potential problem, however, as it is clearly one for those trained in psychology and counseling.
13. Not everyone, of course, is so constrained. In the last year, for instance, we have received letters from a number of highly educated individuals who, in preparation for intervening in a WCG relative's situation, have read a half dozen books on Armstrongism and then sent the Report a check for $150, requesting everything we ever published. Such thoroughness, while admirable, may be overkill for most individuals planning an intervention. On the other hand, we have found that that degree of study is often terrific therapy for the friend who has recently exited Worldwide and finds himself in a highly tense and confused state, attempting to find out what really happened to him and around him during his WCG years.
14. Notice carefully what I have italicized for emphasis: "with a critical eye." I stress those words because, in fact, when the would-be intervenor begins to study WCG publications there is a danger that if the materials are read passively the would-be intervenor can, like his friend, get sucked into the WCG mind set. It has happened. In fact, the same phenomenon happens with other cults as well. So if you are not fairly well-educated in theology, and in studying WCG materials you find yourself getting hooked, do yourself a big favor - contact a competent clergyman, theologian, or one of the organizations listed in footnote 17 and get a different perspective. Don't let overconfidence in your own intellect and education propel you down the same path of error previously taken by the one you are trying to help.
15. The would-be intervenor needs to understand the basic outline of the WCG indoctrination program. The World Tomorrow telecast is aimed at the general public and is almost never of a controversial nature. Most of the positions taken are very mainstream (condemnation of drugs, promiscuity, crime; concern about the environment, the arms race, and the breakdown of the modern family). The main underlying purpose of The World Tomorrow TV program is to continually get new subscribers for the free and also fairly noncontroversial Plain Truth magazine. The Plain Truth then leads the more religious-minded onto The Good News magazine, a more theologically oriented publication, and onto the WCG's doctrial booklets. These, in turn, lead Bible students onto the WCG's Correspondence Course where the WCG's key doctrines are more openly expounded. Usually, by lesson seven the student is introduced to the WCG's tithing doctrine. If he swallows that one and starts tithing to Worldwide, it is usually not too long before he is invited to attend WCG Sabbath services. It is in church services (where tape recording by members is prohibited) and especially in personal counseling that the WCG promulgates its truly cultic doctrines: absolute obedience to the ministry, spying on fellow members, distrust of all WCG critics, disfellowshipping and "marking" of ex-member critics, divorce of mates too critical of Worldwide, the cursing by God of those who do not comform to the WCG's triple-tithe system, etc. In recent years, the WCG's legal advisors, fearing continued bad publicity and lawsuits, have advised the church's ministry not to put such cultic teachings in writing. Hence those doctrines which exemplify the WCG's use of mind control and which show the WCG's truly destructive nature are not easily found in the WCG's official publications or even in letters written by WCG officials.
16. AR agrees with many positions taken by the WCG in its Plain Truth magazine. There is often a lot of common sense in its articles on the breakdown of the modern family, the drug problem, the evils of the arms race, the deterioration of the world's environment, race relations problems, the horrors faced by many of our senior citizens, crime and violence in America, and the rank materialism of the Western world. To understand, however, how we at AR view some of those "good words" by the WCG, let me resurrect one of WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong's favorite allegories. In putting down the teachings of some of the famous preachers of his day he would say in effect, "Take a glass of 100% pure water. It's natural, healthful, and life-sustaining. But if you add just a few drops of cyanide to the glass and drink it, the contents of that glass will kill you-even though 90% or more of what you drank was natural, healthful, and life-supporting." I personally can think of no better analogy for describing the WCG's doctrinal brew.
17. Among the organizations in this category are: Concordant Publishing Concern, World Insight magazine, Association for Christian Development, Focus on Truth, Academy for Scriptural Knowledge, and Reunion News. See AR 43 (our Dec. 1989 issue), pp. 7-8, for addresses and details.
Additionally, let me make a further recommendation. One individual who has helped thousands of Worldwiders over the years (including the entire AR staff) is former WCG pastor and Ambassador College instructor Howard Clark. Although saddened by much of what he observed during his years at WCG headquarters, and although the WCG's hierarchy has turned their backs on him because of his criticisms of the WCG's leaders, Howard still says, "I never met a Worldwide Church of God member I didn't like."
Because Howard, a few years ago, suffered a severe heart attack which left him chronically weakened (on top of the afflictions he's borne from the Korean War), I am reluctant to give out his northern California mailing address for fear he'll be swamped with lengthy letters. However, Howard says he is always willing to talk to any Worldwide member or friend of a member who is having a problem. Howard Clark's phone number is: (707) 457-3147. Many WCG members having church-related problems or individuals who would like to help a relative exit the WCG will find that Howard's understanding, compassion, and knowledge of the WCG could be of great help.
18. Most fundamentalist Christians who attempt to refute the WCG teaching on Christmas find that the WCG has some pretty good arguments against its observance. Nevertheless, the very best counter to the WCG's position, I believe, came from the late Walter Martin of Christian Research Institute (P.O. Box 500, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693).
19. I don't mean to suggest that the WCG's hundreds of doctrines are not of any significance. But the world-be intervenor normally has limited resources. By limiting doctrinal research to the central problem areas, the preparation phase for the intervenor becomes far more manageable.
There is another reason why I suggest limiting research mainly to the central cult issues. If the Worldwider can come to understand that he is in a destructive cult and he makes the decision to come out from that mind-control environment, he has a whole lifetime ahead of him in which he can pursue knowledge in the fields of theology, philosophy, psychology, history, etc. Once his mind is freed from the shackles of cult mind control he will be able to work on those doctrinal questions that may be affecting his life, but which are not central to his key problems.
In a future issue I hope to cover a number of scriptural passages relevant to the four major cult characteristics described in footnote two. Of course, those researching the subject now can begin with Strong's Concordance, Bible dictionaries, and other Bible helps, or may consult with clergymen who have some knowledge of the cult phenomenon.
20. Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan (copyright 1988, 199 pages plus chapter notes and appendices) is published by Park Street Press, One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767. It is distributed in the U.S. by Harper and Row and in Canada by Book Center, Inc. of Montreal. Most larger bookstores in the U.S. either carry the book or can order it for you. It may also be ordered over the phone by calling Harper and Row's toll-free book ordering number: 1-800-638-3030. Hassan's book, available only in hardback, sells for $16.95. If ordered directly from Harper and Row there is also a $1.50 mailing fee if one can wait four weeks for delivery or a $7.50 mailing fee if one wants express mail delivery. Those who cannot afford to purchase a copy should check with their local public or college library. If your library does not have a copy, talk to the head librarian, explain what Hassan's book is about, and ask them to order a copy.
21. I recently heard the funny story of one WCG member who started reading the Hassan book to learn more about what those crazy cults - not her own "True Church" - were all about. By the time she finished the book she came to see that she was in a destructive cult! She has since left the WCG. Let me say, however, I would not recommend that the concerned individual just give a copy of Hassan's book to the WCG friend expecting such dramatic results.
22. Bostonian Hassan has become recognized as an international expert on cults. He served as National Coordinator of FOCUS, a support and information network of former members of destructive cults. In 1979 he founded Ex-Moon, Inc., a support group composed of more than 400 former members of the Moon cult. For the last 12 years, he has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Oberlin, and the University of Pennsylvania. He has appeared on virtually all the major talk shows (Larry King, Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Geraldo, etc.). And he has been interviewed and quoted extensively in the press (see, for instance, the "Trends" section of Newsweek, Oct. 23, 1989).
23. Experienced exit counsellors usually require a three-day period of counselling with the cult member to assist him in making the initial break with the cult. Such counsellors usually charge a fee of $500 to $1000 per day plus expenses (airfare, food, and lodging). Additionally, many exit counsellors require the assistance of at least one former member of the cult. Such assistants often charge $200 to $300 per day plus expenses. Thus a three-day exit counselling program can easily run $3,000 to $5,000, and there is really no guarantee the exit counselling will be a success. On the other hand, even a mere five to ten years in the WCG can cost a member $20,000 to $100,000, or more, in contributions alone, not to mention the potential destruction of career, family, health, and mental well-being.
New Support Groups
Exiting the WCG, like exiting any other destructive cult, can be a stressful experience for the member and also for the member's family and friends. One of the best ways to alleviate some of that stress is by having friendly contact with people who have themselves gone through the WCG exiting experience. Such contact can provide insights into the kinds of problems the Worldwider can initially expect,, information about sources of help (books, organizations, cult-aware psychologists, understanding clergy, etc.), encouragement that the Worldwider can eventually overcome cult mind control and personal problems, and, most important, understanding friends who are both willing to listen nonjudgmentally and to share their own experiences.
Although some of the WCG "spin-off" groups do provide satisfactory assistance to those who are comfortable with the teachings of those new groups (and a number are a big improvement over the WCG), we at AR have noticed that many in need of a support group are simply not comfortable turning to another religious organization for help. That is why we are very pleased that a number of nondenominational support groups composed of former members are springing up around the U.S.
One such support group that deserves special mention is "Help Net" of Merrill, Wisconsin. Composed of men and women who have exited the WCG in Wisconsin in recent years, "Help Net" is a nondenominational (although predominantly Christian) group that meets every two to four weeks for mutual support and provides assistance to those facing WCG exiting problems. The group recently wrote AR:
We are only too happy to talk to anyone who has a problem regarding the WCG: members who are considering leaving, family and friends of members, and even WCG members who wish to remain members, but wonder why some of us have left. We are willing to correspond with those in need of emotional support. We are willing to visit with WCG members and relatives. (We are not a wealthy group, but we are willing to drive, or fly, a few hundred miles occasionally for a visit if travel expenses can be provided.) Presently, our group is preparing several packets of information dealing with different WCG facets: doctrinal, historical, biographical (HWA, Tkach), and cult analysis materials. We are also compiling a bibliography of materials relating to Worldwide. We emphasize that it is only our desire to help those in trouble. We are not attempting to steer anyone toward any particular religion.
For information on our support group, send us a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope, along with a summary of your needs and situation. You will receive a personal reply along with a list of available information, Write to: HELP NET, P.O. Box 811, Merrill, Wisconsin 54452.
Another support group may soon be forming in the northern New Jersey area. One of our readers, Warren J. Carlson, wrote us:
I think there's a real need for some sort of support group for those of us who are suffering our own sort of PTSD after the WCG/AC experience. Like Vietnam veterans (of which I am one), we ex-WCGers are an isolated lot often with no one to share our unique experiences.
I would like to form a Worldwiders Anonymous support group for ex-members in the northern New Jersey area who would be interested in getting together periodically to rehash and let loose old experiences which I know have had a profound influence on most of us. There is no one, other than ex-WCGers, who can completely understand the "Armstrong experience" without having lived through it. I learned this recently in trying to explain to someone untainted by WCG propaganda just exactly how one becomes a member of that church. He found it extremely hard to believe that one couldn't just walk into services when he/she felt like it, as, for instance, in the local Methodist Church with its "All Welcome" sign out
I have plenty of my own experiences to relate regarding the WCG "life." I was a member from 1970 until 1979 and attended AC (Pasadena) for a semester in 1976. I went back to a local state college and will receive a B.A. (Honors) in History this month, and at the ripe old age of 45!
Those ex-Worldwiders in the New Jersey area who would like to get together should write me [Warren J. Carlson] at 67 Clark Street, Glen Ridge, NJ 07028.
Editor: Ambassador Report is not intended as simply a vehicle for the personal views of its editor or founding publishers. Unlike many publications dealing with religious subjects, we do not pretend to have the answers to all of the major theological and philosophical questions that confront mankind. Please keep that in mind as you read the following two articles which are presented just as submitted. All the views they present do not necessarily reflect our own. Nevertheless, we believe many of our readers will find them as thought-provoking as we did.
Can Christians Be Demon-Possessed?
by John Buchner
If Herman Hoeh [a WCG evangelist] really teaches that a Christian (that is, one in whom the Spirit of God dwells) can also be indwelled by an evil spirit ("demon"), he is not far from the kind of teaching that is common among modern pentecostals.
A review of several books on the topic, in pentecostal bookstores, indicates a fairly high preoccupation with the spiritual dangers faced by Christians. Titles such as Conquering the Hosts of Hell, Pigs in the Parlor, The Adversary, and Demons Defeated represent the field of popular, somewhat neurotic ideas on the topic. Somewhat calmer in its approach, Dickason's recent Demon Possession and the Christian nevertheless proposes that true Christians can be "possessed." However, a more conservative range of opinion is found in Montgomery (ed.) Demon Possession.
The autobiographies of many religious (mostly pentecostal) leaders abound with tales of demonic onslaughts in their early ministry; Herbert Armstrong's case is no different. A more subtle form of "satanic influence" is recounted by a professor of psychiatry (Wilson, in Montgomery - above). He says that "there seems to be a pervasive personality influence that results in evil." Such people become "wolves in sheep's clothing," intruding into religious organizations for their own gain, while appearing normal. Occasional aberrations are tolerated, because the individuals have built up what is called "idiosyncratic credit." As long as these people give their followers what they want (and cult members are quite often complicit in their situation) their position is secure.
The psychiatric literature (an interesting source is Checkley's The Mask of Sanity) abounds with inexplicable behavior and mental disorders that lend themselves to supernatural explanation. However, it is beneficial to consider a number of possible ways in which "demonic" influence is effected. The notion of the existence of supernatural beings, identities with characteristics and personalities which attempt to colonize human beings, with evil intent, is rather oldfashioned. No one (let alone Christians) need fear such a "possession."
Any "demons" may well be unresolved conflicts in the human psyche, manifesting themselves in a number of perplexing (and sometimes distressing) ways. Manic-depressive illness is more common than admitted, and in extreme cases may be attended by bouts of hysteria followed by profound melancholia. The thought processes accompanying this condition may give rise to fantasies and paranoid states, and there are a host of complex psychological states that can dominate and adversely affect those predisposed to them.
An "evil spirit" is often thought of as an attitudinal disposition, especially in authoritarian regimes where the legitimacy of the elite and the system depends on unquestioning obedience from the followers. Therein lies the manipulative power of terms such as "demonism": all thoughts, feelings and actions that show independence in the face of church hierarchy are defined as being of malevolent supernatural origin (the oxymoron being that a "normal" member would not have these attitudes, so the attribution of spiritual intervention follows).
Normal people, however, experience a range of fluctuating emotional and mental states and are not absolutely consistent with their behavior, so it is necessary to accept that we all come under negative forces (mostly arising out of our own psyche) and are capable of having evil thoughts and of performing the most unfortunate and cruel acts. To the extent that we love less than we ought, disregard the needs of our neighbors, and shunt God into some irrelevant corner of our lives, we all are culpable of wickedness. Such a state (despite the fact that we are by faith saved and filled with Christ's righteousness) can be compared to the demonic personality.
Christians are not exempt from these stresses (which may arise from social and relational disorders), and it may be that people who are inclined toward religion evidence a fairly high tendency toward neurotic and delusional personalities. It is easier for such people to interpret "normal" psychological variation as spiritual oppression. It may just be a case of "self-fulfilling prophecies."
Arguably more important, and mostly overlooked by person-oriented religionists, is the "demonic" nature of the oppressive, demeaning, exploitative and inequitable social structures - and consequential relational disjunctures - that characterize our human society. The corrupting influence of power, wealth, status, and competition may be the real "demons" we need to confront and declare impotent through faith in the living Christ who conquered "the world," and through responsible participation in the affairs of mankind.
The "devil" must be exorcised from religion, perhaps more urgently, as he is the embodiment of all those wicked structures that keep in power the enemies of the Gospel's liberty and grind the weak and pitiful under their fascist heel. Those who speak most vehemently against the devil in their midst are often the most authoritarian and unspiritual merchandisers of religion. They exercise the "spirit of fear" that shrivels the love of many.
Within these parameters, there could be no more demonic organization with its elfin rulers than the Imposter Church in Pasadena. Hoeh could be right, but he would find it hard to accept that his whole company of "christians," from "apostle rank" to lowliest third-tither, inadvertently are deceived and "possessed of the devil." As long as that arrogant and oppressive system (the details of which have long been cataloged in AR's pages) exists and opposes the liberal Spirit of God, every deluded supporter is an enemy of Christ and is in Satan's bonds. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ will save them.
Editor: Mr. Buchner is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis and is associated with the Macarthur Institute of Higher Education (mailing address: P.O. Box 555, Campbelltown, N.S.W. Australia 2560). He is the author of the outstanding Armstrongism Bibliography (1984, 130 pages), which is currently being updated and revised with annotations.
A New Perspective on the Afterlife
by Robert L. Jackson*
Every time I read the section on new religious groups in Ambassador Report, I'm surprised at how many new church groups have been formed by former Worldwide Church of God (WCG) ministers and members. What amazes me the most, however, is that these ex-Worldwiders, after being lied to and mentally abused for years by the WCG often opt for another religious group that is little more than a clone of the WCG as far as doctrine is concerned. Having worked with the WCG doctrinal committee and editorial department for years, I learned firsthand that the majority of the WCG's teachings are based on dubious research, specious reasoning, quoting scripture out of context, and just plain intellectual dishonesty, and over the last 14 years Ambassador Report has printed article after article exposing this. Yet a number of these new groups who have read the AR regularly still continue to cling to WCG teaching uncritically.
I can almost see these people look at me in disbelief, shake their heads, and say: "What do you expect us to do - go back and join a Catholic or Protestant church and adopt their beliefs, beliefs we rejected when we joined the WCG? Or are you suggesting we should explore different belief systems that offer non-Christian explanations about our purpose for being on this planet, how God is judging us, and what awaits us in the afterlife?"
A Unique Alternative
Ten years ago just after my wife miraculously recovered from cancer a close friend of mine gave me two books that gave us a totally different perspective on our purpose for life and what awaits us after this life. Those two books were entitled Life After Life and Reflections on Life After Life (both published by Bantam Books). The author, Dr. Raymond A. Moody Jr., received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia and later returned to school and obtained an M.D.
Since leaving the WCG, I had sought to understand our purpose for existence and what happens when we die. I always felt the answers of many Christian denominations were inadequate. Some churches, for instance, stress that salvation depends on baptism by immersion and receiving the holy spirit. Others offer sprinkling as a form of baptism, infant baptism, or baptism for the dead, all apparently intended to ensure that you get to be in God's presence in the afterlife.
Dr. Moody's books offered me a totally new perspective on this subject. What Dr. Moody did was rediscover and document an experience that is widespread in the human condition. He called it the near-death experience (NDE). People who have an NDE appear to be at the brink of death or may even have been pronounced clinically dead from a heart failure, a bad accident, a drowning, etc. In general an NDE consists of a person leaving his or her body in spirit form and traveling through a tunnel or passageway to a world beyond that glows with love and understanding. In this realm the "dead" person meets dead friends and relatives bathed in glorious light and is guided through a life review by a Supreme Being, who sends the new arrival back again to live on earth.
Dr. Moody first heard of the NDE as a philosophy student at the University of Virginia. While working as a philosophy professor and later as a medical student, he began compiling case studies on NDEs. Today Dr. Moody has studied more than a thousand case histories of adults and children who have clinically reached the point of death and survived. He has devoted his entire psychiatric practice to counseling patients who have had NDEs.
But how common are these NDEs? Dr. Moody writes in his latest book The Light Beyond on page 6 that pollster George Gallup found that eight million adults in the U.S. have had some form of an NDE.
What Are Near-Death Experiences Like?
Dr. Moody derived nine descriptive traits that define the near-death experience, but he explains that not all people who undergo an NDE have all nine traits. One of the traits is a sense of being dead. The person may find himself floating above his body watching the physicians trying to revive him or he may pass through a wall into another room and observe what other people are saying. Later when he is revived, he can recount the details of what he saw and heard. A person having an NDE has a real sense of peace and painlessness and finds himself in a spirit body that some describe as a cloud of colors or an energy field.
At some point in the experience a tunnel or portal opens to the person, and the person is propelled through the dark space toward a brilliant light. Some people go up stairways instead of through a tunnel. Once through the tunnel, the person usually meets beings of light glowing with a beautiful luminescence that seems to permeate everything and fill the person with love. Some see beautiful pastoral scenes. One woman told Dr. Moody that she saw a meadow surrounded by plants, each with its own inner light. Occasionally people see cities of light that defy description in their grandeur. People communicate in telepathic ways that result in each person immediately understanding the other.
As the experience progresses, the person is drawn to a Supreme Being of Light who radiates total love and understanding. This Being takes the person on a total life review in which the person sees every action that he has ever done and the effect of that action on all the people in his life. The Being of Light helps him put the events of his life in perspective and points out that the two most important things in life are love and knowledge. Time is greatly compressed, and the experience is so pleasant that many become upset that they must return to their body on earth.
When I first describe an NDE to someone, he usually responds by saying that the NDE must be just a dream. But NDEers claim the experience is much more than a dream in that the experience transforms them. After the event NDEers say they no longer fear death - the obliteration of consciousness or self. One NDEer Dr. Moody spoke with was a fire and brimstone preacher who commonly told his congregation that "if they didn't believe the Bible in a certain way, they would be condemned to bum eternally." When the preacher went through his NDE, he said the Being of Light told him not to speak to his congregation like that anymore because it was making the lives of his congregation miserable, but the Being of Light did it in a nondemanding way. When the preacher returned to his pulpit, he offered a message of love, not fear, Dr. Moody recounts.
Upon their return, almost all NDEers say that love is the most important thing in life. Most find it the hallmark of happiness and fulfillment. They return from "death" with a sense that everything in the universe is connected and carry with them a newfound respect for knowledge. They become acutely sensitive to the immediate and long-term consequences of their actions. One sociology major told Dr. Moody:
The most important thing I learned from this experience was that I am responsible for everything I do. Excuses and avoidance were impossible when I was there with him reviewing my life.... I remember one particular incident in this review when, as a child, I yanked my little sister's Easter basket away from her, because there was a toy in it that I wanted. Yet in the review, I felt her feelings of disappointment and loss and rejection.... But when I was there in that review there was no covering up. I was the very people that I hurt, and I was the very people I helped to feel good.... It is a real challenge, every single day of my life, to know that when I die I am going to have to witness every single action of mine again, only this time actually feeling the effects I've had on others. (See pp. 46-47.)
In all my years in the Worldwide Church, I never heard such a clear and beautiful explanation of God's judgment. The WCG stressed gehenna fire, death, and three resurrections, one of which was to cast the evil people of the world into a lake of fire. While I can't prove the above passage by the sociology major is true, it does seem to reflect how you would expect an all-loving Supreme Being to treat his children.
NDEers Become More Spiritual, Less Religious
NDEers "tend to abandon religious doctrine purely for the sake of doctrine," Dr. Moody writes. One former seminary student reflected this attitude when he described his NDE to Dr. Moody:
My doctor told me I "died" during the surgery. But I told him that I came to life. I saw in that vision what a stuck-up ass I was with all that theory, looking down on everyone who wasn't a member of my denomination or didn't subscribe to the theological beliefs that I did. A lot of people I know are going to be surprised when they find out that the Lord isn't interested in theology. He seems to find some of it amusing, as a matter of fact, because he wasn't interested at all in anything about my denomination. He wanted to know what was in my heart, not my head.
You can guess after reading the above passage that proponents of the near-death experience might receive some opposition to their writings from conservative ministers who tend to very zealously protect their tithe-paying supporters against teachings contrary to their denomination. And sure enough there is opposition from them. Dr. Maurice Rawlings, M.D., writes in his book Beyond Death's Door (published by Bantam Books) that a person's initial encounter with the Being of Light could represent "merely a sorting ground. It could also represent a deceivingly pleasant situation to imply security and sanctuary and to prevent a desire or need for changed lives. This could be a satanic deception according to Charles Ryrie, Billy Graham, Stephen Board and other Christian spokesmen who quote II Corinthians 11:14" (p. 70).
And on page 100 of his book, Dr. Rawlings, himself a staunch Christian, explains that many theologians take issue with the concept of universal forgiveness offered by the Being of Light to patients having "good" experiences, whether their lives were good or not or whether they were believers or not. Dr. Rawlings reminds his readers that Satan, seldom appearing in a bad light, is capable of appearing as an angel himself.
While there is no way to prove or disprove the theory that Satan is deceiving those who have an NDE, there is also the unprovable possibility that Satan is using these Christian-professing ministers to deceive people about the Supreme Being's true personality. Perhaps the Supreme Being is far more merciful and forgiving than these ministers have ever grasped, and perhaps this Being has an agenda for humankind that none of us have truly comprehended. I think you have to judge the NDEs on their own merit. Are people who have had an NDE becoming atheists, or are they more certain than ever that a Supreme Being exits? Are they more despondent after the experience, or do they have a new zest for living? Do they seek to be more loving and kind than ever, or do they dive into materialism?
While Dr. Moody's three books will help you answer the above questions, you should also read Dr. Kenneth Ring's much lengther and more scholarly works titled Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience (published by Quill in 1982) and Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience (published by William Morrow & Co. in 1984). Dr. Ring is a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, the only organization devoted to the spread of information about the NDE to professionals and the lay public.
I found rereading my NDE books and writing this short article to be an exhilarating, emotionally moving experience. I hope all AR readers will pick up one of the NDE books I have mentioned. I guarantee you that reading such a book is a joyous and captivating experience - especially reading the dozens of personal accounts from those who cheated death and lived to tell about it. Another nice feature about the NDE concept is that it is not the product of any religious group. Therefore, reading about the NDE will not lead you to some weird cult that wants to clean out your pocketbook. Knowing about the NDE, however, may broaden your outlook on life and give you an inner peace of mind by offering you answers to questions on the afterlife unavailable from most churches.
*The nom de plume of one of AR's much appreciated longtime friends and advisers.
I am a former member of the WCG. For almost a decade of my life, I found it a very depressing environment, a society in itself with rules, policies, and regulations that ruined most of our lives. I found myself depressed all the time. I was afraid to even counsel with anybody about it for fear of being reported to a minister. I guess I was supposed to smile and be a hypocrite. I found church services like a morning religious show. People there never seemed to get to know one another. Because everybody was suspicious of one another nobody trusted anybody. Was this God's church with so much fear and intimidation?...
I left because the minister in my area was beating up on the people and throwing them out like trash. I saw this, got scared, and left. WCG ministers don't seem to care for their people, other than for their property and money. There's no justice in that church.
My son dropped out of college at the age of 19 and married a girl from the WCG. He has changed from a nice, proper young man to a rude, nasty person I don't know. He was in art and music. He no longer has any interest in such things. He and his wife have been married 2-1/2 years and now have a baby boy 15 months old. In the beginning I got close to the baby, but we had a disagreement and now they won't let me see the baby. I worry about him so much. They have moved and changed their phone to an unlisted number. I cannot tell you how much this hurts....
My son's father-in-law was also in the WCG. He died suddenly in his bedroom at home. My son was living there at the time. He found him dead and called me. I went over there and when I got there they were just taking the body out. One of the pastors from the WCG... was in the bedroom looking for a will. The body was not even out of the house yet. I could not believe my eyes....
The AR helps me a lot. When I read it I know I am not going crazy, that they have brainwashed my son, and he is not the son I used to know. I worry about him so much, but all I can do is pray for him that someday he will come back....
I used to show ARs to my son when his wife wasn't around. He acted like he was interested. But then he wouldn't talk about it in front of her. He seems to be afraid to let her know he read them.
-A Sad Mom in Ohio
Our only son and his wife became WCG members in 1970. Almost 20 years have gone by and things have not changed. In fact at this point and time it has become worse.
Although they live just 25 miles away, it has been a year since our son came by. His wife and two sons haven't been here for years. They treat us like we have the plague, don't answer our letters, ignore checks we send to the boys for Valentine's Day, Easter, and for good grades in school. They don't even cash them. I made the mistake of saying two presents we were giving the grandsons were like the Christmas gifts that we had given our two other grandsons (not in WCG). He refused to take them, making a scene which ended in him telling me to "shut up!" He would only take the presents after his father told him they were not Christmas gifts....
We are 71 and 67 years old and don't need this type of total disregard for our feelings by our son. We are of the Lutheran faith and feel that we are going to heaven. The WCG treats us like we are on the road to hell.
Through research, I came across your address in an article published in the Christian Herald, October 1988. The reason for my research is that my father has become involved with the Worldwide Church of God and has gone through some changes that frighten our family. All of the things mentioned in the Christian Herald article (diet, many holidays, etc.) are what he is delving heavily into at the moment. What is also frightening is their secretive meeting place and how when asked if we could come to a service my father hestitated and finally said we could only come for a visit. I confronted my father one night three weeks ago and told him I felt that he was being bamboozled by this group because a week prior to this he gave them $600. Of course, my comments did not go over too well. I told him I was afraid that the WCG would financially drain my parents. To make a long story short, I am afraid for my father and what will happen to our family.
My father has said that he would require proof that this organization is not on the up and up. He does not want to talk to a minister from another religion.
Please stop sending me your X-rated newsletters about the Worldwide Church of God. In the first place, I don't believe a word of it. In the second place, if every word were true it is not my concern. Neither Mr. Tkach nor any other human runs God's Church. Christ always has run it and always will. If those men at Headquarters are doing wrong, let Christ handle it. You are certainly not Christians to write such garbage. Have you no fear of God?
-Mrs. John Buckwald
This is the second time someone has sent me your "report" that I did not want! The first time it was sent to my mother, who has absolutely nothing to do with the Church of God. After asking her a few times to make sure she didn't ask for it, I promptly BURNT IT TO ASHES!
Now, this time I'll probably do the same. You are wasting your time and effort to send something as your report to me.
Remember one thing, okay? If there is going to be any moving out of people in GOD'S CHURCH, GOD will do it! Not you or any human being. Not even Satan the Devil, unless God permits it, if you can even believe this.
You called me "friend" in your introduction letter. I respect that. But you are going about this report on your whole attitude [sic] the wrong way. But I probably can't make you see that, can I? Whatever does not include GOD WILL FAIL! I am sorry that the things you say about Joseph Tkach, in your research and opinion, are true. Or seem to you to be true. But I'm one who let's GOD JUDGE what will be done. Not some imperfect human, like the rest of us.
-[No name was given.]
P.S. I can't give you my name because it may be used against me. I'm trying to be as sincere, okay? However, if I receive any more copies of your report, I'll burn it and send back the ashes to you in an envelope. That is how serious I am about waiting for GOD TO JUDGE what should be done. It is truly sad that all you are doing, in my opinion whatever that is worth, is making people's lives miserable. The focus is not what GOD thinks, which WCG members should be thinking about. But the focus is to get personal and have personal vendettas. Why can't we all take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror for once? Just once?
P.P.S. It hurt God that someone would try to include my mother in something she knows nothing about. Just leave her out!
Editor: The above letter, postmarked Wisconsin, came to us unsigned and with no return address. If we were the ones sending him and his mother copies of AR (and we weren't, as far as I can tell), how could we take them off our mailing list? The information we presented on Tkach apparently seemed accurate to him, but he neither cares if it is nor indicates he plans to look into the matter for himself. He says he doesn't believe in "judging," but he judges the Report without even attempting to get all the facts. He seems to believe that if something needs to he done then we should just sit back and let God do it. If that is the case, then why is the WCG trying to do "God's Work"? Why not just let God do his own work? And what about HWA's old teaching that "God always works through human beings"? When HWA taught that did he mean God was unable to accomplish anything through anyone other than himsetf or Joe Tkach? I've noticed that the God in my Bible has the ability to work with, or through, any human being at any time he so desires. Doesn't there seem to be a tremendous disparity between the God we read of in the Bible and the God worshipped by the author of the above letter?
I have been out of WCG since 1985. My two daughters are still in the group. Recently, one of the WCG members called me and asked if I had any HWA tapes that I may have kept. She said all the WCG congregations have been instructed to destroy all of HWA's tapes. She said she felt that the church's history was being destroyed.
I told one of my daughters about it and she said that that member feels Joseph Tkach is being led by Satan and that the church is becoming the "lukewarm church."
Mr. Amos, a minister from the Columbus, Ohio church has decided he is one of the Two Witnesses and is starting a new group. Apparently, the member mentioned above is planning to become part of Mr. Amos' following.
Editor: Many WCG ministers privately teach that those who leave the church are inevitably put under a curse. Yet, our mail indicates that just the opposite is usually the case. Note the following example:
I was terminated from the WCG in 1974 at the age of 26 after 10 years in the membership. A low self-image during my childhood, I feel now, made the WCG and its message a self-depreciating structure of great attraction.
I finished high school in 1966 with an A+ average and near the top of the senior class. The WCG minister advised against a secular college and I was rejected from Ambassador three years in a row - which was humiliating and further devastating to my self-image. "Stay in the local church area, where you can do the most good," I was admonished. That I did, while pursuing a career in broadcasting.
When removed from the church for being too "creative," my life metamorphosed quickly over the next year. From writing, I soon was teaching speech and journalism in an area vocational school. At the age of 26 I entered an off-campus college program and completed my BA and MBA while teaching full-time.
In 1978, 1 began my own company, developing and duplicating audio and video sales and training programs. In 1986, I commenced studies toward a doctorate in business communications, which was finished in March 1988.
The years since my break with the WCG have been the most fruitful, fulfilling and exciting years of my life. It was as though a terrible burden had been lifted from my creative processes and my self-image has grown stronger year by year.
Looking back, the years in WCG have given me great insight into the functioning of my mind. Bitterness has now evaporated into appreciation for lessons learned. Life goes on.
-Robert C. Grupe, Ph.D
President, Quality Productions Inc.
4230 N.W. 36th
Oklahoma City, OK 73112
In reading the material I have already received, I was able to get the story behind the story of the official WCG and filled in a lot of gaps. It reads like a drama performed in front of millions, with the uncanny ability of the WCG to suppress the facts of the actual events exposed. Thank you again for revealing what may be the biggest con ever perpetrated on sincere Christians on their journey for truth.
Thanks for the info. I guess it's a little morbid always wanting to go back to view the dead body. But on the other hand, it's nice to hear from others who proved there's life after WCG.
-Former WCG member, California
Thank you so much for all your efforts publishing the Report. AR was mainly responsible for getting my family and myself out of WCG. We were in 16 years.
Thank you! Thank you!
A Note From the Editor
One of the more difficult things about editing any periodical is having to decide what goes in and what stays out. That problem was particularly acute with this issue because in recent months we have received an unusually large amount of inside information, remarkable letters, and even articles dealing with the WCG. Unfortunately, not only are the Report's finances limited, but my time and the amount of time I can reasonably expect our volunteer staff to donate are also limited. (After all, we have to earn a living, and we have family responsibilities like everyone else.) Consequently, this issue represents only about one third of what I had hoped to publish.
I am going to try to complete another issue within two months. Hopefully we can then get out most of our backlog of information, articles, and letters. I hope those of you who believe in what we are doing will continue to support our efforts as you are able. The AR staff and I cannot do it alone. We need your help.
My thanks to all of you who helped make this issue possible.
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