January 1995 (AR57)
As has been the case for over two decades now, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), with its Ambassador University and ever-evolving Plain Truth magazine, continues to be one of the great soap operas of the religious world.
Sabbath in Crisis
Since its very inception the WCG's sabbath doctrine has been one of its distinctive features. In fact, it was church founder Herbert W. Armstrong's study of the subject in 1926 that led to his initial religious conversion. The essentials of Armstrong's teaching on the subject were that the sabbath of the Ten Commandments is the seventh day of the week and that its non-observance constituted a sin which had to be repented of for salvation. Strict sabbath observance therefore constituted a requirement for Christian living.
When Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) died in 1986, it was inconceivable to WCG members that such a fundamental doctrine of Armstrongism would ever be questioned by those that had followed him. In recent years, however, as HWA's successor Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. changed scores of WCG doctrines, many WCG observers openly wondered whether Tkach would eventually change his predecessor's sabbath doctrine as well. But numerous ministers of the WCG, particularly church administrator Joseph Tkach Jr., from the pulpit repeatedly scoffed at such suggestions. Nevertheless, the Report has now learned that the entire sabbath doctrine is indeed being reevaluated by a very large number of WCG ministers and particularly by the organization's top leaders. Not only is the old doctrine being questioned, but preparations have already begun for the eventual watering down that many insiders say is inevitable.
A key ingredient in those preparations is the widespread dissemination of the 345-page book Sabbath in Crisis among WCG ministers. Sabbath in Crisis was authored by former Seventh Day Adventist minister Dale Ratzlaff who now heads Life Assurance Ministries. In his book Pastor Ratzlaff argues quite effectively that under the New Covenant, observance of the Old Testament sabbath is simply not required. While the argument has been made before, what makes Ratzlaff's book so remarkable is the thoroughness with which he approaches the subject. While his book is very easy to read, Sabbath in Crisis contains over 800 scriptural references. It is perhaps for that reason that his book has had such a profound effect on the thinking of so many WCG ministers. We have learned that although WCG headquarters does not yet want the book widely disseminated to its members, hundreds of WCG ministers have already purchased and read the book. Pastor Ratzlaff tells us that WCG headquarters in Pasadena has even purchased bulk shipments of the book for distribution to key church personnel. (We have had this information verified by headquarters executives and sources in the field ministry.) Sabbath in Crisis is available in many Christian bookstores, but it can also be ordered directly from Life Assurance Ministries, P.O. Box 3745, Sedona, AZ 86340-3745; tel. 602-282-4319. The price is $14.95 per copy (plus $2 for shipping to destinations outside the U.S., and California residents must add a 6% sales tax). Those who would like more information before ordering, or who would like information about bulk order discounts, should send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the above address.
While it appears inevitable that the WCG will in time be modifying its sabbath doctrine, does that mean that the WCG will soon be keeping Sunday? We asked a number of WCG insiders that question. While demanding anonymity, one frankly said, "Mr. Tkach knows he can't go that far yet because sabbath keeping is important to the members' feelings of being special. But what will probably happen is that Mr. Tkach will slowly modify church policies regarding the sabbath. I think we are going to start by allowing members who have to work on Saturdays to go ahead and do that without being disfellowshipped. Besides, it will help church income. How open that policy will be, I can't say for sure right now. But frankly that has already been quietly happening in some church areas. In some congregations, as long as the member continues to tithe and does not create division by openly opposing church authority, he may go ahead and work on the sabbath without being disfellowshipped. Of course, that is not yet the policy with all of our pastors, but it is a policy we hope will eventually be the norm."
(Note: the above was written months before the January 7 announcements described at the end of this issue. We have left this article in to show how calculating the WCG's top leaders really are - ed.)
Been Reading the PT Lately?
No, we're not kidding. Every AR reader should subscribe to the Plain Truth (even if you're disfellowshipped and have to use a pseudonym to get it). Why? Because it's so funny to see the PT's writers systematically decimating every last vestige of Armstrongism before our very eyes.
For instance, take the October issue - please! (Sorry, couldn't resist that.) There on page eight began an article in praise of "Contemporary Christian music" - what the article explains as the Gospel (read "Protestant") message when combined with rock music. Could you imagine what Handel-loving HWA would have done to a writer who submitted such an article to him? Yet there it was in the PT, complete with photos of all the latest Christian-rock stars.
Then there was the Nov./Dec. issue. On page 14 Neil Earle explains that the gospel is "your invitation to the Kingdom." Sounds OK, but then a couple of pages later he tells us most emphatically what the gospel is not: It's not "the Social Gospel" (ironically, the very thing many say Joseph Tkach has been preaching the last few years), it's not "the Health and Wealth Gospel" (what many Protestant ministers preach and what some WCG ministers in the past have preached), it's not the Gospel of Works (what Herbert Armstrong was accused of preaching), and most certainly it is not "the End-Time Gospel" (what Herbert Armstrong most definitely preached and what Garner Ted Armstrong, Roderick Meredith, Gerald Flurry and others preach today).
©1995 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
But turning to page 20, we get an even bigger shocker. There, John Halford does homage to Mary, "the mother of Christ" and "the first Christian." The article comes complete with 12 (count 'em -12!) different paintings of "the Madonna" by mostly Catholic painters. Remember when the WCG eschewed everything Roman Catholic? No more. It's all great stuff now.
Here at AR we wondered about the phrase "mother of Christ." On the surface there might not appear to be anything wrong with it. But HWA avoided the phrase - undoubtedly because it comes so close to the Catholic phrase "Mary, Mother of God" which, itself, comes so close to the biblically condemned worship of the "Queen of Heaven" (Jer. 44:17,25). So we contacted one of our "inside sources" and asked, "What gives with this new recognition of the Madonna? Is the WCG trying to capitalize on the new goddess worship thing? Or the wave of fervent Marianism that has been sweeping the Catholic world in the last few years?" Our insider replied, "Not at all. Mr. Tkach simply recognizes the importance of women, not only in modern society but throughout the Bible." "Fair enough," was our reply. "But isn't 'mother of Christ' simply a euphemism for 'Mother of God'?" After a long pause, all the man could say was, "Well... let's be honest. Jesus is a hypostasis of God. Therefore Jesus is God. So, yes, yes, I guess that's right, Mary is the Mother of God, in a sense. But please, PLEASE don't quote me by name."
How Many Members?
Readers frequently ask how many members are currently in the WCG. The official WCG position is that WCG "membership remains constant at around 100,000 members" (see Mark A. Kellner's excellent article in the 11/8/93 issue of Christianity Today). There are a number of reasons why we question that figure. First of all, the many WCG splinter groups continue to drain away WCG members at an accelerating rate. Rod Meredith's organization alone is reported to have pulled away over 6,000 Worldwiders in just the last year. Flurry and GTA are likewise pulling away WCG members. The drain is plainly visible in Pasadena where there used to be four WCG congregations., but now there are only two. Another reason why we doubt the WCG's claim of having 100,000 members is that the way members are counted appears to have been changed. No longer is one either a member or a non-member. There is now something called "an associate member." Notice the following letter from a reader in Iowa:
Yesterday I spoke briefly to Dan Fricke, our pastor here at the Des Moines Worldwide Assembly. His evaluation was that I had been sending out some strange letters and that it would be more appropriate to communicate by telephone. I am now an associate member. I explained that perhaps the reason my letters seemed strange is that I am actively ministering in at least two other organizations and that I had gotten into the habit of communicating by memos because that's the way we do it at the office.
Of course, I know my letters are strange. If they seem somewhat strange to me, how much stranger must they be to you?
(Editor: According to one Pasadena source, the WCG's actual active membership is now down to about 60,000 members and that number is continuing to drop.)
Gary Alexander - Optimist
One of the most remarkable individuals to have ever gone through the Ambassador experience is Gary Alexander, writer, editor, publisher, musician, financial consultant, lecturer, and bibliophile. In 1993, Gary and his wife Karen (Biedler) were tapped to run the annual gatherings of the Eris Society, which, in their press release, was described this way:
Eris is the Greek goddess of discord, whose golden apple was marked, "To the fairest" (Kalliste). The squabble over this apple created the jealousy that led to the Trojan War. We have adopted that name to apply to a group of highly intelligent free thinkers - sometimes mischief makers - who meet once a year to discuss the arts and sciences, philosophy to theology - the world of ideas beyond our workaday lives.
The Eris Society is a unique organization, if it can be called an organization at all, since it actually has no formal structure. It is not incorporated, is not a partnership, is owned by no one in particular. We pay no dues. We have no by-laws or voting. Rather, it belongs to those who are invited and who attend its annual gathering.
For 14 years, the annual Eris gathering in Aspen, Colorado has brought together some of the brightest and boldest thinkers in the United States: leading economists, college professors, authors, physicians, psychologists, performing artists, and scientists.
Along with his many business activities, Alexander still finds time to lecture and write. In October, he gave a talk before the Northern Virginia Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. His talk, titled "Welcome to the Initial Meeting of Apocaholics Anonymous," began this way:
Hi, I'm Gary and I'm a recovering Apocaholic. I'm currently Apocalypse-free for nearly four years. I left the church of the Religious Apocalypse nearly 19 years ago, and the church of the Secular Apocalypse five years ago. Yes, I still get the urge to proclaim the end of all things from time to time and I read the Crisis Press, but now I white-knuckle my way to a history book for a little perspective. If you wish to join Apocaholics Anonymous, our only requirement is a desire to give up Eschatology.
After the humorous introduction, Alexander went on to talk about his former careers as a Plain Truth writer and financial-world doomsdayer. Today, Alexander is much more of an optimist and his talk - now a paper - has given us much to think about. While we do not agree with all of his conclusions, many would undoubtedly find his 10-page paper edifying. For a copy, send $2 to Gary Alexander, c/o The Eris Society, P.O. Box 161, Vienna, Virginia 22183- 0161. Be sure to also request a listing of his many other provocative writings. Finally, to their old friend John Kilburn, Gary and Karen ask, "Where are you now?"
Literature of Interest
The WCG's new position on the Trinity has already been the cause of thousands leaving the WCG and we continue to get letters from readers wanting more information on the subject. Earlier this year, former Ambassador instructor Anthony F. Buzzard, now a professor at Atlanta Bible College, and former WCG evangelist Charles F. Hunting completed a book titled The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound. The book presents Bible students with an alternative to the Binitarianism of the original WCG and its current brand of Trinitarianism which some see as really a form of Modalism. A number of current WCG ministers who have read the book have privately indicated they agree with the two authors' conclusions. Additionally, in the foreword to the book, religious scholar Sydney A. Hatch wrote:
This book is a devastating indictment of the central dogma of historic or mainstream Christianity - that version of the faith which, unknown to many, stems from the councils and the creeds. Christianity still prostrates itself before the low wrought-gold throne of Constantine. Its dogma has produced tragic and bloody episodes in history. Something is askew.
At the same time, however, the message and purpose of Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound is positive. It does not condemn but attempts to tell the patient about the terrible wound to his body-ecclesiastic and then offers the healing balm of Jesus' own creed. Its very object is to propose ways of believing that more accurately conform to what Jesus believed and taught about God and about himself.
The new, 172-page book is a thorough and scholarly study that is extensively footnoted and contains a six-page select bibliography. Copies are available for $9.95 plus $1.50 postage by writing to either of the co-authors at 185 Summerville Dr., Brooks, GA 30205.
The Worldwide Church of God versus the Church of God (7th Day) is a seven-page paper written by John Kiesz, a sabbatarian oldtimer who knew Herbert Armstrong personally in the 1930s. Those studying HWA's early history may find the paper of interest. For a copy, send $2 to John Kiesz, 820 Woodlawn, Canon City, CO 81212.
While the WCG has toned down its anti-Christmas rhetoric in recent years, the WCG's official position still is that Christians should not keep that holiday. Most of the WCG's offshoots have taken a similar stance. Even Ernest Martin of ASK has reverted to that old HWA teaching (see the December, 1994 issue of his ASK newsletter). In the past, one Bible researcher who was often quoted by the anti-Christmas groups was evangelist Ralph Woodrow. Now Woodrow has published a new booklet on the subject, modifying what many felt was his former Armstrong-like position on the subject. Titled Christmas - Reconsidered, the concise 59-page booklet gives a very thorough analysis of the Christmas issue, covering many of the arguments used by the WCG and other groups over the years. Many who feel they understand the Christmas issue will still find Woodrow's latest study very thought provoking. (As an aside, readers of the booklet will notice two unnamed men mentioned on page 45. The author informs us that, yes, they were WCG officials who admitted to him that the WCG position on Christmas trees was in error.) The high quality booklet is available for $5 by writing to Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, P.O. Box 124, Riverside, CA 92502-0124. Incidentally, sources within the WCG tell us that a change regarding how the WCG views Christmas may be in the offing and that the moderate position taken by Woodrow is close to where the WCG, itself, may be in one or two years.
Christmas: To Every Man an Answer by Julius A. Afolalu. The author of this 70-page booklet is a former Worldwider who tells us he would eventually like to marry a former Worldwider (but, alas, he has still not met the right one). His booklet is a spirited defense of Christmas observance that some will find interesting. A copy may be had for an international money order of $5 by writing to Mr. Afolalu at P.O. Box 135, Ilawe Ekiti, Ondo State, Nigeria. He suggests that all letters be sent registered because of the very high rate of mail theft by postal employees in that country.
What is "the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" mentioned in Rev. 2:15? Many of us who were in Worldwide years ago can recall sermons in which some WCG ministers would claim that the Nicolaitanes were followers of a Saint Nicholas (actually a fourth-century bishop) who was supposedly later to be mythologized as Santa Claus. We recently came across an article which presents a much more plausible theory. According to C. J. Milosh, "Nicolaitanism" is really clergy elitism - that is, the idea that the clergy are "special" people who have an inherent right to lord it over their flocks. We think Milosh's article is one many would find very eye-opening. The article first appeared in the July-Aug., 1992 edition of The American Christian. Copies of that issue may be obtained for $2 by writing to American Christian Ministries, P.O. Box 2038, Ft. Davis, TX 79734.
Attempting to identify the "Lost Ten Tribes" seems to be an ongoing project with many current and former Worldwiders. During the past year we came across three new works on that subject. They are: The Tribes by Yair Davidy, 480 pages, available from Russel-Davis Publishers, Hebron 1993, Israel ($25 including postage). Incidentally, this book has a "rabbinical approbation." The "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel ... Found! by Steven M. Collins, 3901 Crescent Drive, Sioux Falls, SD 57106, 425 pages ($50 per copy, write to the author for details). And finally, from a more critical viewpoint, there is Shadows of a Better Covenant, an insightful 60-page booklet by Leona McNair. For a copy write to the author at 1875 Paloma Street, Pasadena, CA 91104-4816. (To help cover printing and postage, a contribution of $5 would be appreciated.)
Long-time WCG observers who have read Sabbath in Crisis by Ratzlaff have discovered an ironic fact. Apparently unbeknownst to Ratzlaff, much of his research and conclusions parallel those of Dr. Ernest L. Martin, the one-time head of Ambassador's theology department, who went on to head the Foundation for Biblical Research and now the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. A number of WCG insiders are aware that during the seventies Joseph Tkach, while publicly loyal to the teachings of HWA, was privately indicating that he agreed with many of Martin's conclusions. Those who read Ratzlaff's book may wish to compare his work with some of Martin's booklets on the new covenant: The Law of Moses, the Passover and the Lord's Supper; What Is Progressive Revelation in the Bible? and others. In addition, many will be interested to learn that Martin has just published Restoring the Original Bible ($19.95), a 500-page book which so completely updates and amplifies his 1984 edition The Original Bible Restored that it is almost an entirely new book. To order any of these works, contact Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, P.O. Box 25000, Portland, OR 97225, tel. 1-800-292-4352.
Dr. James Tabor and the Original Bible Project (OBP) have been mentioned in our pages before (see ARs 41 and 56). The Project's main goal is to produce a significant, new translation of the entire Bible by May 1997. The OBP board of directors is made up of Dr. Robert Kuhn, Dr. James Tabor, and Robert Ellsworth, with Dr. Tabor serving as chief editor. Dr. Ernest Martin, although not on the board, has been an inspiration and great supporter of the Project since its inception. Dr. Tabor has recently expanded his group of translating consultants and has announced that Dr. Michael Wise of the University of Chicago would be working with him in this capacity. In September the OBP announced that it had completed work on the book of Genesis. Mr. Ellsworth tells us that the OBP will send a free copy of its preliminary edition of The Book of Genesis: A New Translation with Notes to any of our readers who requests a copy. This is a very generous offer as the preliminary edition is, itself, a very fine reference work for all who study the Bible. We suspect that many who read it will want to support the efforts of the OBP and perhaps subscribe to their newsletter The Chronicle. For more information contact: The Original Bible Project, 408 S. Pasadena Ave., Suite 4, Pasadena, CA 91105; tel. 1-800-848-2731. Incidentally, to learn even more about the OBP, you may also request a video tape they have produced about the goals of the organization. It is available for a suggested donation of $10.
Comments on Waco
Even though almost two full years have passed since the beginning of the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco, Texas, we continue to get letters from readers wanting more information about what transpired. As most readers are aware, the U.S. Treasury Department's report on the initial raid was highly critical of the performance of its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF). But no government report or court ruling concluded that there was a lack of probable cause when BATF agents obtained their original warrant. (Whether the warrant was served in the legally prescribed manner is a completely different matter and is one that, for some reason, has not been addressed in any article we have seen. Nor have we seen a video of the initial moments of the serving of the warrant, a fact that is rather disturbing.) At the same time, the Justice Department's report on the FBI's handling of the 51-day siege that followed the raid absolved the FBI of misconduct, blaming cult leader David Koresh and his followers for the April 19 conflagration's suicides and/or murders. Nevertheless, in that report some of the government's outside experts did fault the FBI for not having heeded the warnings of the government's negotiators. Nancy T. Ammerman, a cult expert and visiting scholar at Princeton University, said, "There was an understandable desire among many agents in Waco to make Koresh and the Davidians pay for the harm they had caused [the deaths of four federal agents].... Arguments for patience or unconventional tactics fell on deaf ears." (Los Angeles Times, 10/9/93, p. A1). As a result of the botched raid and later cover-ups, a number of BATF officials were fired (Associated Press articles of 2/27/94).
In the trial of 11 of the Davidians that survived the ordeal, three were acquitted of all charges. Three of the 11 were convicted of weapons-related charges (possession of a grenade, conspiracy to possess machine guns, and using or carrying a firearm during the commission of a crime), and five were convicted of both using a firearm during the commission of a crime and of voluntary manslaughter (legally defined as the voluntary, unlawful killing of another human being under circumstances that, while not justifying the homicide, mitigate it - usually meaning that the homicide was committed under heat of passion induced by some provocation). The five each received a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison plus fines of up to $10,000 (Chicago Tribune, 6/18/94, p. A2). Another Davidian, Kathryn Schroeder, on a plea bargain was convicted of resisting arrest and was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
In explaining the severity of the sentences, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Sr. said, "those defendants engaged in conspiracy to cause the death of federal agents.... not one single defendant apologized or expressed any real sorrow for the dead or injured agents." In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times (6/18/94, p. A23), "while some Branch Davidians asked for leniency, others had stood before Smith... and hurled personal insults at him, blaming the government for the agents' deaths. Most said that they had nothing to apologize for."
While Ambassador Report is not the place for a lengthy analysis of all aspects of the story, we should pass on some information we received about the Koresh story this past year. A number of readers have made reference to a video distributed by attorney Linda D. Thompson and the American Justice Federation who claim that the government was entirely at fault in the Waco tragedy. Thompson's tape, which contains controversially edited footage of the April 19, 1993 holocaust, is called Waco - the Big Lie. Copies may be obtained for $20 by writing Real World Productions, 7092 Highland Road, Suite 174, Waterford, MI 48327. Those who view the tape may also wish to read the article "Anti-government video on Waco revealed to be a hoax," in the August 1994 edition of Cult Awareness Network News (2421 West Pratt Blvd., Suite 1173, Chicago, IL 60645). The article contained a number of startling claims including this one:
Thompson claims in her lawsuit that the fire that consumed the compound was deliberately set by government agents. Her videotape, "Waco: the Big Lie," includes a sequence that shows an armored vehicle under FBI command ramming the compound. A narrator describes the scene: "You can see that this tank has a gas jet on the front that shoots fire. You can also see the fire quite plainly."
But Mike McNulty, chairman of a privately funded think-tank called the California Organization for Public Safety (COPS), obtained an uncut version of the original private film from which Thompson drew her footage.
The footage had been shot by KWTV in Waco, and was edited by Thompson for her project without permission from the station.
McNulty forwarded the tape to Machine Gun News columnist Ken Carter, who, in a February 1994 issue of the gun enthusiast magazine, described what Thompson's video did not show: "In the COPS version, rather than stopping the video at the point where the illusion of flame is most apparent, as in the AJF tape, the camera continues to follow the vehicle as it backs clear of the building.... As (the) tank turns away from (the) camera, (the) reflection spreads to reveal what appears to be a large section of tan wallboard leaning against (the) turret."
One month before the release of that article, Carter was interviewed for a Jan. 21, 1994 Gun Week article entitled "'Waco: The Big Lie' Revealed as Hoax," "Linda Thompson suckered all of us with that one," Carter told Gun Week. "And she knew exactly what she was doing, since the videotape sequence was edited a split second before the vehicle pulls back and executes a hard turn which clearly shows the 'flame' image stabilize and turn out to be a piece of wallboard."
Soldier of Fortune magazine also has reviewed the tape and concluded that the "flame" really is "wallboard and other construction debris knocked loose" by the tank.
Another fact that comes out in the CAN article is that contrary to numerous press reports, the Chicago cult monitoring group had nothing to do with instigating the raid on the Davidians. In fact, says CAN, they did not even learn of the BATF investigation until the initial raid had already taken place.
One individual who has had much to say about the Waco tragedy is Dr. James Tabor who, along with Dr. Phillip Arnold, had been in limited communication with David Koresh during the siege. In his December 13, 1993 letter to Genesis 2000 readers, Tabor wrote:
Trying to get at the truth of what happened, coming to love and understand the survivors (the so-called "Branch Davidians" which is not a name they wear but was given them by the media), and doing what I can to combat the trend of government intervention in religious freedom (labeling certain groups as "cults," etc.) consumed much of my year. April 19 was a sad day in American history and 90% of what you heard about David Koresh through the media was distorted lies.
Tabor's views about the Waco disaster can be read in the October, 1993 issue of Bible Review magazine; in an insightful Haim Shapiro interview of Tabor that appeared 7/17/93 in the international edition of The Jerusalem Post Magazine (P.O. Box 81, Jerusalem 91000, Israel); in two of his taped lectures distributed by Emmanuel (P.O. Box 442, Athens, TN 37371); and in a book to be published by the University of California at Berkeley in the summer of 1995 (its tentative title is Why Waco? - the War Against Cults and Religious Freedom in America). Incidentally, the Bible Review article by Tabor (along with pointed commentary by John Pinkston) was reprinted in The Herald (Oct.-Dec., 1993) published by The Congregation of God Seventh Day. You can get a free copy by writing to them at P.O. Box 2345, Kennesaw, GA 30144.
Undoubtedly the Waco story is not at an end. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, now in private practice, has agreed to represent the convicted Davidians in a massive lawsuit against the federal government. In the course of that action many startling facts may still be revealed.
The Waco tragedy has been parallelled by many to the tragic Weaver fiasco that occurred in Idaho in 1992. That tragic drama began when U.S. Deputy Marshal William Degan was killed as authorities attempted to arrest Randall C. Weaver, an adherent of the Christian Identity movement, on a charge of selling an illegal sawed-off shotgun. During the strange arrest attempt and its aftermath, Weaver's 14-year-old son was also killed, as was Weaver's wife as she stood in the cabin's doorway holding her baby daughter. (She was shot by a government sniper who was 600 feet away, Los Angeles Times, 10/19/93, p. A4.) What followed was a ten-day siege of the Weaver home that only ended when Vietnam war hero Bo Gritz was able to talk Weaver into surrendering. In January FBI Director Louis J. Freeh criticized some of the methods used by 12 of the agents involved in the shootout and disciplined them with short suspensions. But critics of the government say the punishments meted out were so slight as to amount to mere slaps on their wrists (Los Angeles Times, 1/7/95, p. A4). Nevertheless, with Gerry Spence, considered by many to be America's greatest trial lawyer, representing the Weaver family in a civil suit, it is quite possible that many new and startling facts will yet emerge regarding federal policies toward religious minorities. (Incidentally, those interested in researching the Randy Weaver story in depth should contact Midnight Messenger, 9205 SE Clackamas Rd., #1776, Clackamas, OR 97015; tel. 503-824-2050.)
Like most Bible fundamentalists, Worldwiders have traditionally been fascinated by the subject of demons. And over the years the Report has received numerous letters regarding the subject. Particularly within the WCG's leadership, there are many who take the subject of demons very seriously. One such individual is Dr. Herman Hoeh, the elder statesman of WCG evangelists. A few months ago, WCG historian Bruce Renehan sent us the following information:
For over a decade now, Herman Hoeh has frequently told church members about a 1970s encounter he had with a supposedly demon-possessed Irishman who came to visit him. As the story goes, a red-haired, glassy-eyed Irishman simply appeared at Hoeh's office one day and requested to talk to him. Hoeh allowed the man to sit across from him at his desk and they conversed for a while. Hoeh did not suspect anything unusual until the guest leaned forward and quietly asked if Hoeh could get God to see things from "his" perspective - a perspective he quietly called "the way of competition." Hoeh immediately concluded that the man was possessed by the Devil. So he answered the question by saying, "That's simple. Just repent."
But was Hoeh concerned about who was communicating with him? Not at all. As he tells it, he was as ecstatic as a prison psychiatrist who discovers that he has encountered a true multiple personality. So, he wondered, how could he capitalize on the opportunity? Realizing that openly consorting with a demon-possessed man might have given the appearance of evil to his colleagues at church headquarters, Hoeh decided to drive the man to a secluded location for further discussions. How much each revealed to the other is not clear. But the often-told story does raise some interesting questions:
(1) Jesus was able to discern demon-possessed persons immediately. Why was Hoeh able to perceive the problem only after a lengthy discussion? (2) Paul warned in his writings about the dangers of receiving any messages from demons. Why did Hoeh not heed Paul's warning once he was certain he was talking to a demon, if not the Devil himself, as he claims? (3) The Bible warns that demons are "lying spirits." If so, why did Hoeh want to have discourse with the visitor? Finally, (4) why didn't evangelist Hoeh follow the New Testament example and simply cast out the demon?
An even more amazing story is one that involves Hoeh's leading disciple, Pastor General Joseph Tkach, himself. One of our readers, a long-time Tkach acquaintance, tells the story of how, in the mid-1960s, while visiting with Tkach in Pasadena, Tkach confided to the church member that "a demon" had informed him that he would one day be Herbert Armstrong's successor. The incident is particularly amazing because when it occurred, Tkach, by his own admission, was so far down on the WCG totem pole that the mere suggestion he could ever succeed HWA would have brought guffaws from everyone in the WCG's hierarchy. Yet, somehow, in the mid-sixties Tkach's "demon" knew exactly what was to transpire in the WCG by 1986.
Some years ago in AR14 we reported on a book titled Demolishing the Hosts of Hell by Ken Worley, a Baptist preacher who claims to have successfully performed hundreds of exorcisms. The author claimed that in the course of his work many of the demons he cast out of suffering people had verbally identified themselves. Strangely, there were some who identified themselves by the name Herbert Armstrong.
In 1990, AR received a lengthy letter from a reader who told a remarkable story. During the reader's childhood, her father became interested in Armstrongism and what followed for the large family was years of involvement with the WCG, Ambassador College education, and years of family strife as some family members joined WCG spinoffs and other cults. The woman, herself, left the WCG in the 1970s and found a large measure of spiritual peace and well-being. Yet, in 1987 she was beset by strange physical illnesses that physicians were only partially able to diagnose and treat. The woman eventually concluded that the illnesses were caused by demonic forces and so she began to rebuke the demons in the name of Jesus. Doing so brought relief, but each time the relief was only temporary.
Then one day, during a pastoral counseling session, she had a breakthrough insight. She became convinced that her years in the WCG were somehow at the root of her spirit-induced ailments. During the next few days she began removing from her home almost all vestiges of her years in Worldwide: WCG literature, sermon notes, etc. She immediately noticed an improvement in her condition. But then, a few days later another bizarre incident occurred. She explained:
One day as I set out for my regular two-mile walk, I opened my mouth to sing one of the hymns I learned in the WCG, "O, sing a new song to the Lord, For wonders He has done..." but nothing would come out! I tried again, but my tongue. literally would not work. I noticed that even the melody seemed garbled in my mind. What in the world... ? I opened my mouth a third time and as the blockage remained I became convinced that the Lord had stopped my tongue.
When the woman returned home, she took out the WCG hymnal, which she had kept, and read the introduction by Herbert Armstrong. She continues:
I had my answer.... The principal thing is not that the WCG songs were scripturally correct. They were penned to promote the cause of the "land" of Captivity and Confusion. The Lord was telling me, "It's time to sing the songs of Jerusalem and Zion. You're out of captivity now." And then there was the very poignant verse: "If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth." That day marked the end of WCG hymns for me. Out they went.
Amazingly, the woman's physical condition improved. On another occasion, during a period of stress, she accidentally discovered one of her old Ambassador textbooks complete with marginal notes from the lectures of evangelist Ron Kelly. Out went the book. And, again, she felt better.
Her many years of experience with the WCG and its aftermath have led this woman to conclude that the WCG is not only filled with "lying spirits," but that its demonic forces can have lingering effects even upon those who think they have escaped its clutches. The woman above has concluded, "Satan, not God, is the founder of the WCG, and the only way to set anyone free is with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Are such experiences actually the result of WCG demons? Obviously, for some people the answer is yes. But what are these demons really? To Worldwiders and most Bible fundamentalists, demons are nonphysical, fallen angels that rove the earth causing all sorts of havoc. Others see demons as personifications of psychic entities or controlling, personality-splitting complexes. To find answers to such questions, some ex-Worldwiders have looked to the writings of the Human Potential Foundation Press (P.O. Box 6, Falls Church, VA 22040), the Great Lakes Foundation for Biblical Research (P.O. Box 63, Jenison, MI 49429) and even to the books of Zechariah Sitchin (author of The Twelfth Planet and Genesis Revisited). Others have found plausible explanations in the writings of psychologists. Those with an understanding of Jungian psychology may wish to read the extremely interesting book Demons of the Inner World by Swiss psychiatrist Alfred Ribi, Shambhala Publications, 1990. Whatever one's view, the subject of demons and exorcism has increasingly been gaining the attention of millions of Americans. (For an outstanding report on this phenomenon, see the article "Deliverance or Denial?" by Roy Rivenburg which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 6/25/91, p. E1).
Finally, one important point about the WCG's views on this subject. For many years most WCG ministers, with their anti-intellectual bent, routinely labeled as "demonic" virtually all psychological problems and illnesses they could not understand (most, in other words). The harm this caused to hundreds, if not thousands, was truly devastating. The following story from one of our Texas readers is not unusual:
I only lasted in Armstrongism about 18 months. At the Feast of Trumpets in 1976, the local elder put me out of the assembly for being "demon influenced." Then in 1982 when I made an effort to attend a holy day service the same local elder had me arrested for trespassing. It was only after being freed from the bondage of the Armstrongs that I started making progress in my life. I learned that my so-called signs of demon influence were, in fact, caused by a major mental illness. There is no complete cure for my illness. However, it can be treated with medication. And for the past seven years, I have been able to lead a fairly normal life.
Thankfully, in recent years the WCG ministry has begun to recognize that for many mental problems there is medical help available. Undoubtedly, much of the change has been due to the fact that Joseph Tkach's wife (and the mother of church administrator Joe Jr.) is, herself, schizophrenic and dependent upon medication to maintain her mental equilibrium.
I have been happily reading your reports for years but was disappointed by your last one. In AR56 you were too sweet on the WCG's leaders. Why congratulate them for accreditation or anything? I even get the impression sometimes that you think Herbert Armstrong had a good side to him.
Editor: I do think HWA, for all his flaws, still had some good in him. While it is clear that the organization he started was, and still is, a destructive cult, that fact alone should not get in the way of recognizing that HWA had some good points. Personally, I can think of a number of things that he taught that were correct and even ahead of his time. Just a few: (1) He emphasized the importance of "cause and effect" in human conduct at a time when most of the media seemed to be ignoring that very elementary concept. (2) Contrary to the majority of intellectuals of his time, he did not assume that human history had an inevitable upward and ever-improving moral evolution built into it. (3) He recognized the pagan origins of much of what has come down to us as mainstream Christianity. (4) He taught about the significance of the breakdown of the traditional family. And (5), he recognized that the world was heading into increasingly precarious times and that technology alone could not be our savior. I could go on.
None of the above should imply that HWA was a truly righteous man or that he did not have some terrible sins in his past. But just as we should not ignore those faults, we should neither ignore his better side. The same applies to Tkach. He is most certainly a self-promoting politician. Nevertheless, we should not ignore his accomplishments. Accreditation will be a blessing to all Ambassador alumni. Just as Tkach's change in the WCG's old healing doctrine will save lives. Not all the changes made by Tkach are beyond criticism. But let us not be so critical as to lose all balance.
Now I've heard it all. Ex-Worldwiders joining neo-Nazi groups! But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Haven't those knuckleheads heard that some of us fought a war to prevent the Nazis from taking over the world? Don't those idiots understand that Hitler and his bunch wanted to destroy Britain and the United States? I suppose they think that just because Hitler was a Christian of sorts that that made him OK.
Editor: Actually, even though Hitler had the war-time support of a number of Christian denominations, he was not a Christian. It has been well-documented that Hitler was a practicing occultist who intended to turn Germany toward the worship of ancient gods after the war. You can read the amazing details in The Occult and the Third Reich by Jean-Michel Angebert (Macmillan, 1974).
I am not in sympathy with the practices and beliefs of the Branch Davidians. But I see a sinister side to the attack by the U.S. government.... The U.S. appears to be going the way of Nazi Germany. While my friends insist that we are Israel, I have to suspect that the United States may really be the prophesied Beast Power.
Editor: We have had a number of letters from readers who say they now see the U.S. as the Beast of Revelation. One such reader pointed out that the U.S. got its legal and government administrative system from the British who got theirs from William the Conqueror, a Norman, and that the Norman system traces back to the ancient Romans. Another reader claims that the American idea that all men are created equal actually traces back to a decree of Roman Emperor Caracalla who, in 212 A.D., granted full Roman citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire. A third reader pointed out that during the Pax Romana of ancient times, Roman soldiers were the Western world's policemen, just as today, during what is often called the Pax Americana, the soldiers of the United States seem to have taken over that role. A fair number of readers have also made the rather interesting observation that while the U.S. considers itself a democracy, the actual fact is that, like Rome, we have a small but very powerful ruling class and a growing de facto slave class (even though no one dares call it that publicly) - that is, millions who live from paycheck to paycheck and dare not question or speak out about anything. Finally, some have dug out their history books and made the discovery that even though many of the signers of the U.S. Constitution were nominal Anglicans (quite willing to take up arms against the head of their church for economic and political motives) or nominal members of other Christian denominations, the majority seemed to have been Deists (the Enlightenment's equivalent to modern humanists) who were far better read in the Greek and Roman classics than they were in the Bible. These readers point out that the Founding Fathers' love of Greco-Roman ideas is evident in the Greek-columned architecture of many Washington buildings and in the fact that atop our very Capitol's dome is not a Christian symbol, but the statute of a Greek goddess. Apparently, such facts have convinced some that the United State is the heir to the dark powers of the Roman Empire and is therefore the final reincarnation of the Beast. If any reader has seen an article on this theory, we'd appreciate receiving a copy.
In WCG and ex-WCG circles at the present time there are at least six views regarding the identity of the end-time, ten-horned "Beast" of Revelation: (1) HWA's old view that the Beast will be a ten-nation United States of Europe; (2) Ernest Martin's view that the ten will be an alliance of mainly Arabic nations that surround the state of Israel today; (3) the anti-Jewish view that Rev. 11:8 identifies the great city of the Beast as Jerusalem and that, therefore, the Beast is the pro-law legalism of Rabbinical and/or Messianic Judaism, (4) the view, as stated in the letter above, that the United States and its allies constitute the Beast, (5) Joseph Tkach's view that no one can know anything about prophecy and that even if you could it wouldn't matter anyhow, and, finally, (6) the view that the Beast will be some type of economic-political arrangement that will encompass the whole world. Note the following letter:
On December 2, the headline in the Los Angeles Times read "Senate Approves Sweeping Pact to Revise Global Trade Rules." As I went through the article I became alarmed at how incredibly broad the world's new trade agreement is and at how little opposition there was to it from our nation's leaders. Many describe it as the most important economic treaty in the history of the world.
However, what startled me even more was the front page of that edition's business section. On its front page was a large chart showing the world's current trade blocs. There were eleven listed: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Andean Group, the Assoc. of Southeast Asian Nations, the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations pact, the Caribbean Community and Common Market, the Central American Common Market, the Southern African Development Community, the Southern Common Market, and Russia. Only Eastern Europe, India, and the Arabic and central African countries have yet to join trade blocs. But there is already talk that most of them will eventually attach themselves to neighboring blocs. Russia, for instance, wants to join the European Common Market and negotiations toward achieving that end begin in 1998.
Now, you may be wondering why I find all of this significant. The answer is simple, Russia is a single nation now. It is not a trading bloc, as even the article admitted. If you take them off the Times' comprehensive list, you see that the world today is divided up into exactly TEN groups of nations.
I read in one magazine how scientists have come up with a way of imbedding small computer chips in people's hands or foreheads as a way to identify people for purchasing on credit without the use of ID cards. Then in the Ventura County Star a few days ago there was a political cartoon showing the flags of a number of nations, but the biggest flag of all was that of the World Trade Organization. The symbol on the flag was the bar code we see on most goods now. I didn't think it was funny.
Now, with our Senate having assured the worldwide implementation of GATT, I can't help but wonder if the end-time Beast is not already here.
Over the years your journal has provided suggested helpful titles to read. WCG members and ex-members alike have much to read. Many troubled people have doctrinal questions, but my observation is that rarely do they question the very philosophical foundation of the WCG and its colorful spinoffs. I'm speaking of questioning adventism, defined as believing in the imminent and visible second appearance of Jesus Christ. Many people would think it madness to question this as it has been so deeply ingrained in them. But that is the very reason to question it. So many teachings of the WCG were, and are, wrong. If this concept cannot stand, then it makes little sense to run after many of the groups you have recently listed. As far as I can see they are all adventists. Those of your readership who are in a true search for the truth would do well to consider other Christian views of eschatology (final things).
To this end I would suggest reading Robert Clouse's The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Intervarsity Press, 1977). The four views are presented by able proponents and equally able opponents provide critical comments. Again, why should people take the WCG's meaning of the millennium as a given? It's a crucial question.
After I resigned from the WCG ministry in 1992 1 did some research into the teachings of the preterists. Preterism is quite the opposite teaching of adventism. I was most impressed with the honest handling of the dozens of imminency statements in the New Testament. Most of these are ignored by adventists or all manner of interpretive gymnastics are practiced to avoid their real import. The interested reader can obtain a simple introductory booklet titled What Happened in 70 A.D.? from: Kingdom Counsel, 122 Seaward Avenue, Bradford, PA 16701. (Send $3.) These people are distributing a number of thoughtful materials dealing with the problems in adventist teachings. One of the best is a book by Gary DeMar entitled Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. It's good for those "tired of prophetic pessimism and failure."
Along these lines, your readers might like to know of a significant date. This past October 22 marked the 150th anniversary of the collapse of the Millerite movement. The Millerites' final date [for the return of Christ] passed as "The Great Disappointment" but unfortunately the gullibility of the people remained. William Miller, a false prophet, started the modern-day second advent movement in this country. After "the passing of the time" the survivors organized as a new business the Seventh-Day Adventists and it was from this body that the various Church of God groups emerged. Out of one of these came Armstrong's Radio Church of God, later called the Worldwide Church of God. It has all been documented elsewhere.
I am enclosing a copy of a chapter from an old book on the Millerite movement. If you decide to write on the movement (and I hope you will) this article will help. I think people should know how Millerism wrecked the lives of a great many in the last century. It will help in understanding why lives are still being wrecked. Someone once said, "A bad tree cannot produce good fruit."
P.O. Box 320
Charlestown, NH 03603
Editor: We are not currently planning any articles on the Millerite movement, but information about them can be found in many public libraries. Those interested in studying where Herbert Armstrong got many of his ideas should read Bruce Renehan's book Daughter of Babylon (it sells for $15). It briefly discusses the HWA-Millerite connection. Regarding preterism, Bruce recently wrote us the following:
I have done a considerable amount of study about early Christianity and have come to see things quite differently than while in the WCG when I was influenced to believe that we were living in the "last days."
First of all, if one were to take New Testament prophecies at face value then the Preterist interpretation would be the most plausible; that is, the first century followers of Jesus were predicting the "end of the world" in their time because the Romans were crushing every vestige of Jewish rebellion and it was only a matter of time before their Jewish world would cease to exist.
Second, for those who insist that there was a "primitive church," I would agree, but it did not resemble anything that we would recognize today as "Christianity." According to many scholars, the so-called "primitive church" probably resembled the community of Zealots who died at Masada more than anything else we might imagine (Francis Potter, The Lost Years of Jesus and John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus). Later, various sects such as the Gnostics (perhaps the offspring of early Jewish mystical groups) began to call themselves "Christian" and so that term began to get muddled, just as it is today.
In the 4th Century, Christianity as we now know it, emerged from the early ecumenical councils (the one at Nicaea being the first), from the resulting creeds, and from one other important development - the canonization of what we now call the Holy Bible. Many have been led to believe that the Bible as we now have it was preserved intact by early Christians and that the Catholic Church was determined to destroy it. But the second-oldest complete Bible manuscript in existence (complete in the sense that along with the Old Testament it contains all of the New Testament) is the Codex Vaticanus, which, as the name implies, has long been preserved by the Vatican. And the very oldest complete Bible manuscript in existence is the Codex Sinaiticus, which was preserved for centuries in a Catholic monastery (Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, 1968). According to Professor Metzger (p. 47), "some scholars believe that the two manuscripts were originally among the fifty copies of Scriptures which the Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to have written...." Scholars have demonstrated that both manuscripts were composed in the fourth century and both are considerably older than the Textus Receptus upon which the King James version was based. Instructive in this regard is a comment found at the very beginning of Professor Metzger's highly regarded book:
The necessity of applying textual criticism to the books of the New Testament arises from two circumstances: (a) none of the original documents is extant, and (b) the existing copies differ from one another.
After the Christian religion infiltrated Western culture, history proceeded through 700 years of the Dark Ages, 200 years of the Crusades, and 400 years of the Inquisition. Then, around the 15th Century, the Reformation and the Age of Reason began to destroy the traditional Christian paradigm. Intellectuals began to challenge every belief of the Church, often through scientific discoveries.
Then in the 17th Century an antithesis occurred. Recall that by this juncture there had already been the increased dissemination of Bibles throughout Europe made possible by the development of printing press technology. Along with that phenomenon came an increased scrutiny of biblical texts. In 1650 Bishop James Ussher published Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti in which he calculated from the Bible that Adam was created in the year 4004 B.C. It was such factors that eventually led to the Great Awakening, revivalism, and Millerism. It was at about the same time that John Darby (founder of the Plymouth Brethren) developed the doctrine of dispensationalism and, undoubtedly, that idea combined with those of Ussher led many to see God as having a "7,000 year plan." All of these factors have led, in our own century, to a renewed widespread feeling that this is now the "end time." (For further study refer to Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church and Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture).
Having a very narrow view of history, avoiding logic and reasoning, and leaping onto the "end time" bandwagon is, in my opinion, essentially destructive to human progress. This fatalist philosophy frequently leads "end time" advocates to conclude that human efforts toward scientific and social progress are not in harmony with God's will. It further entices, or depresses, individuals into abandoning patterns of life-structuring that lead to personal advancement and well-being. Perhaps we should coin a name for such people: "cosmophobes."
Why do so many Bible fundamentalists insist that we are living in the "last days"? I believe it is because taking personal responsibility for conditions in the world is too frightening for many. So they prefer to believe that when chaos breaks out on the earth God will rescue them by rapturing them away or taking them to a place of safety. Frankly, having seen Ingmar Bergman's classic film The Seventh Seal, I have to wonder if there was ever a time when the trials and tragedies of human existence have not led many to conclude that they must be living in the "last days." Even in Plato's Symposium, written over 2300 years ago and filled with concepts that later turn up in the New Testament, one encounters the phrase "in these later times." When a person gets caught up in this kind of paranoia, every global occurrence, and even arbitrary dates, random numbers, and supposed meanings of names become speciously significant and alarmingly prophetic (Leon Festinger, When Prophecy Fails). While wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilence, false prophets, and injustice continue as they have for millennia, God continues to stay his intervention - to the amazement of the cosmophobes. Nevertheless, the cycle of "end time madness" tragically continues, just as it has for over 2,000 years.
P.O. Box 1551
Tehachapi, CA 93581-1551
The notion that many of the Bible's "end-time" prophecies would find a literal fulfillment in our time was given a giant boost in 1948 when the nation of Israel was formed. Herbert Armstrong was not the only one who saw the potential significance of that historical event. Since then, many Christian fundamentalists have been mesmerized by events in Israel and numerous famous preachers (Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, and Garner Ted Armstrong among them) just can't wait until the Jews erect some sort of Jerusalem Temple complete with animal sacrifices and the full panoply of Mosaic law. Ironically, these same preachers, who claim to love the people of Israel, also teach that once a Temple is erected Israel will experience great military defeats, great loss of life, and near total annihilation. I sometimes get the feeling that what such individuals are really looking for is physical evidence to vindicate the weak faith they have in their own Christian fundamentalism.
Nevertheless, there are many first-rate Christian scholars who scoff at such simplistic approaches to the biblical literature. In fact, some say that it is the height of foolishness to be encouraging Jews to be Zionists and to rebuild a physical Temple in Jerusalem. One such scholar was the late Cecil J. Lowry, Ph.D, D.D., who once headed the Southwest Bible Institute and was editor of The Christian Vanguard. In his booklet Whither Israel?, which first appeared in 1955 and was reprinted in 1987, he showed how scripture should be interpreted, showed the true nature of Judaism, and in particular, debunked the myth that there is such a thing as a racially pure Israelite. I could quote dozens of passages that have relevance to the issues faced by those re-examining their Armstrongite beliefs. Here is but one (from page 67):
I can see no special miracle in the preservation of Judaism as a religion any more than I can see a miracle in the preservation of any other religion. In the light of the Bible and scientific facts, Twelve Tribed Israel can never be restored to Palestine, simply because they are racially Absorbed in the stream of humanity. Talmudic Zionism can at the most establish a nation in Palestine of men bound together by religion and by Jewish cultural traits. The tribes of Israel can never be numbered as Moses numbered them, for such tribes do not exist.
Dr. Lowry's booklet is still available (for only $2.50, incl. postage) from: Chapel Library, 2603 W. Wright, Pensacola, FL 32505. I think all who still cling to Herbert Armstrong's ideas on prophecy would do well to read it.
I can't believe you would suggest to your readers a book that says get rid of your TV. I just watched the baseball history series that ran on public television stations here. What a great experience. Surely you are not suggesting that we do not watch such programs.
Editor: Of course not. I saw the series you referred to, and it was both educational and entertaining. But that Public Broadcasting System series is not typical TV fare. PBS does have a large number of outstanding concerts, plays, and documentaries such as the recent four-part, historical exposi on communism. But as a nation, we are continually watching more and more prurient soap operas, TV sex-talk shows (even Johnny Carson has lambasted the genre as essentially programs by, for, and about dysfunctional people), sitcoms that are frequently badly written and mindless, insipid variety shows, religion programs that are often mere entertainment shows, sensationalistic and superficial news programs which many rely on for their view of the world (as though everything TV reports is accurate), plus the endless materialistic propaganda of frequently dishonest commercials. While one can find some quality entertainment and education programs on television, for most people the addictive and hypnotic attraction of TV results in less time being available for real thinking, reading, exercising, conversing, meditating, etc. A recent op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times (9/23/94, p.B7) was titled "Culture, Behavior: We Are What We Watch." Here is the way the article by Professor Donella H. Meadows of Dartmouth College began:
New reports come out every month or so about the decline of the American mind. Every study shows a direct correlation between poor intellectual performance and frequent television watching. No surprise. There are roughly as many studies showing that television rots the mind as there are studies showing that junk food rots the body or that cigarette smoking rots the lungs - as if we needed studies.
The Gerry Mander book that I recommended in our last issue may at first appear a bit extremist. But his view that television is the greatest propaganda tool ever invented and one that seriously harms its viewers and our entire society is supported by a very large body of research.
I tuned in to Tkach's around-the-world Feast of Tabernacles satellite transmission on September 20. At one point Tkach held up a super market tabloid with the bizarre headline "Moon Turning to Blood." He said some of the WCG's past attempts at interpreting prophecy were as crazy as this. To me, his comment seemed insensitive and stupid. I also noticed that standing 15 feet behind him were two security thugs. Were they expecting trouble this year?
In a recent PT editorial Tkach seemed soft on the Feast of Tabernacles. But to the members he addressed by satellite he said it is "God's law." He keeps on saying that "we cannot earn salvation by keeping the feast." Of course, this is like saying every so often "the world is round, not flat." It's so obvious even HWA understood it. I see such comments as a red herring. Such talk just muddies the waters so that the glaring contradictions in their doctrines cannot be too obvious. For example, they have thrown in the towel on Colossians 2:16-17 but they still observe feasts to "see Christ's saving work." However, if it is still God's law, why don't they point out to other churches that they are sinners for not observing those days? Tkach said that with the changes some are thinking they need not tithe. I know one member who not only doesn't tithe, but skips the feast altogether to take an alternative vacation with his family and avoid flack from fellow members. Tithing and the feasts are Tkach's next big challenges.
By the way, during the Tkach satellite sermon a cheeky cameraman caught Gerald Waterhouse in the audience looking at the notes of the guy next to him as Tkach slammed prophecy.
My sister-in-law likes to listen to "The Wave" - our southern California "New Age music" radio station. She recently got their monthly program guide and in it there is a listing of recommended "clubs." At the top of the list, right above the Baked Potato and Birdland West was Ambassador at 300 West Green Street in Pasadena. Yes, just call the club at 1-800-CONCERT for tickets to New Age music events. Weird.
My husband and I were in the WCG for 28 years, but after this year's Day of Atonement we said, "This is the last time." We attended the Feast of Tabernacles with CGI. When we returned home our local WCG minister visited us and asked why we had attended the CGI Feast. So we told him. He then told us, "You can believe anything you want to and still be a member of the WCG. Your salvation doesn't depend on your agreeing with all the changes the church has made." He asked us to promise to attend WCG services on Oct. 1 and we did. That day the sermonette and sermon were directed at us - "obey and stay" was the message. On Oct. 8 we attended CGI services. A few days later we received a WCG letter informing us that we were now "former members of the WCG."
Tkach Says Sabbath, Holy Days,
Tithing Not Mandatory!
In a videotaped announcement to virtually all WCG churches on January 7 (coincidentally Russian Christmas), Pastor General Tkach took the bold step of telling his followers that the WCG would no longer demand a legalistic observance of the Old Testament Sabbath, Holy Days, or tithing. Said Tkach, members are now free to use the Sabbath day to go to work if circumstances required. Edited out of the tape, but heard by hundreds in Tkach's live comments at Big Sandy, Texas (where the tape was produced) was the statement that it would even be OK to play golf on the Sabbath if one so desired. Additionally, Tkach "clarified" HWA's teaching on unclean meats. Apparently, HWA never thought it was a spiritual sin to eat "unclean" meats. While Tkach is not endorsing pork and shrimp as healthy foods, eating such foods will supposedly only make one physically unclean for a few hours; it will not interfere with one's membership in God's Kingdom. While the new doctrines have long been anticipated by the Report, the announcement put many oldtime WCG members into total shock. How many thousands of WCG members will now leave the denomination remains to be seen. But already dozens of leading ministers say they will soon be leaving the WCG. And a number have indicated they plan to start their own competing organizations. We will have further news on these major developments in our next issue.
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