May 1997 (AR65)
More Secrecy at the Tkach Co.
Joseph W. Tkach Junior, the heir to the religious empire started by Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), now rules over a Worldwide Church of God (WCG) so enfeebled that reading the WCG's monthly financial reports in the church's Worldwide News (WN) is a little like reading the medical chart updates for a terminally ill hospital patient. For the months December 1996 to April 1997, the WCG Treasurer's reports began: "Income increase in December needed for stability," "December stable," "1997 starts out fairly stable," "February income stable and within projections," and "Income stable as first quarter closes."
In the new WCG, "stable" translates into a mournful "there is no change." No longer are solemn fasts called when there are three consecutive months when revenue growth for the year dips below 30%. Now in Worldwide the most that can be hoped for is just paying bills on time. At church headquarters in Pasadena, California, mere corporate survival for one more month brings whimpering sighs of pseudo-relief and whispered prayers of pious thanksgiving. The WCG's financial condition is so precarious now that for 1995, the Tkach team and its accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand, were just barely able to get their financial audit done - and not until mid-January of 1997! In explaining the delay to the church's membership, church treasurer Bernie Schnippert, sounding a bit like an exhausted, would-be John Paul Jones, admitted in the February WN that "The audit for 1996 has not yet begun." But what is even more revealing is this statement from the same article:
For some years the church has published the audit, in whole or in part, in the WN. This is helpful for the few who gain some insight into the financial matters of the church, but others have said it is unnecessary and confusing.
Since the audit for 1995 is so late as to be almost irrelevant to our current financial picture, and since the full audit covers numerous pages, we have chosen not to publish it.
Paradoxically, by adopting the new approach, the Tkach group is returning to a style of financial secrecy that permeated the WCG in the sixties and seventies when the organization learned the hard way that such an approach just did not work. It was church counsel Stanley R. Rader who around 1979 initiated the greater levels of financial accountability and openness that are now being obliterated by Tkach and company. Treasurer Schnippert assures us that any church member who really wants a copy of the financial statement may obtain one by just writing to him. Should any of our WCG-member readers ever receive a copy, we would certainly appreciate an opportunity to review it and then, hopefully, dispel some of the nasty rumors now circulating about where Worldwide's dwindling assets are really going.
Not surprisingly, with the increased secrecy has already come increased discontent among the WCG's laity. And much of that discontent has been prodded on by all-too-transparent double talk from the WCG's leadership. Here is but one example. For many years, HWA and those loyal to his vision taught that the properties that the church owned were an important part of the overall mission of the church. While there is no doubt that HWA was extravagant and spent foolishly in many areas, there is also no doubt that the actual physical plant of Ambassador's Pasadena, Texas, and English campuses did serve as very tangible symbols of the better world that HWA envisioned.
Along came the Tkachs and before long there was supposedly no longer a need for beautiful real estate as symbols of a vision (nor, indeed, some might argue, for the old vision itself). Instead, there arose "a new paradigm." So what to do with all that real estate? To the bottom-line-oriented Tkach team there was only one answer: Sell it, of course. But a lot of people couldn't understand the paradigm shift. And so Tkach and company had to come up with an excuse for wanting to sell off all that real estate. The properties cost too much to run, they said. They just weren't efficient money makers for the Work. Well, a lot of members actually bought that story. And then some of those folks began asking why, if the properties were such a
drain on the Work, did not the church just walk away from them? Even worse for the Tkach team, if the church has so mismanaged its income as to have bought so much property that it never needed in the first place, then why should members keep sending money to church headquarters?
Well, of course such logic would never do because the unstated, but very real, fact is the properties are not being sold as any kind of a blessing to the church members or to get out any gospel or to take care of any pressing need. The main reason they are being unloaded is to provide a retirement fund, not for all the many dedicated employees of old, but mainly for the top honchos now running the Tkach Company. Read Schnippert's Q&A pieces in the WN for December and February and it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.
Meanwhile, Schnippert claims that "our income in 1997 in the United States is projected to be more than $100 million less than the church's highest income year" (WN, 2/18/97, p. 11). Actually, it is closer to $170 million less because in 1990 the WCG's yearly income peaked at over $211 million. Today, Schnippert doesn't talk much publicly about yearly figures. He just says he is hoping for a daily income of only $122,000 (WN, 1/21/97, p. 6). And he even admits he is including the revenues from Plain Truth Ministries (PTM) in that figure (WN, 4/22/97, p. 10). From what we have been able to figure out from his somewhat obfuscating statements, Schnippert is making his yearly revenue projection based on a six-day work week (minus about ten no-mail holidays per year). That would give him annual combined WCG-PTM revenues of only $37 million. Of course, if his projection is based on only a five-day work week then that yearly figure will come out to less than $31 million.
It's no wonder that as we go to press, at WCG headquarters there is again talk of more layoffs coming. This, after more than 700 employees have already been let go in the past two years.
Worldwide's Failing Strategy
Worldwide's financial problems have not come about because the Tkach team is not trying. Unfortunately, however, for Worldwide's still loyal members, what the Tkach team is really working hard at is their own little pet business, Plain Truth Ministries, Inc. - not to be confused with Worldwide Church of God, Inc., a separate corporation. What the new corporation is all about is not so much ministering to a flock, but the merchandising of so-called Christian products. Look at the new Plain Truth magazine (PT) and what you see is a lot of ads for books, videos, trips, and even diet plans.
©1997 Ambassador Report. John Trechak, Editor & Publisher. Published as a Christian service almost quarterly - as finances allow.
Opinions expressed in by-lined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher. References to books, ministers, and organizations do not constitute endorsements.
That is not to say that the PT is completely worthless. In the Sept./Oct. '96 PT, for instance, there was an article by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. That the Tkach team should be able to enlist the name and prestige of a former U.S. President to bolster its image is no small accomplishment. And Carter's article, while not necessarily reflective of the views of most Worldwiders, was thought provoking. Among the more interesting comments it contained was this one:
Now leaders of the highly organized Christian right, have successfully injected into America's political debate some divisive religious questions. The most vivid examples involve sexual preference, which obviously have highly personal and emotional overtones....
Since almost all Protestants now condone divorce as an acceptable way of life and rarely mention fornication or adultery, it is much easier and more convenient for heterosexual Christians to focus on homosexuality, refusing to acknowledge that this is a sin never mentioned by Jesus.
In the Jan./Feb. PT, among the books favorably reviewed was Tony Campolo's Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? While Campolo says Jesus is neither, some Worldwiders who read the book were surprised at how liberal his positions were on such topics as illegal aliens and California Proposition 187, environmental activism, support for public schools, gay tolerance, and gun control. While Campolo's views, like some of Jimmy Carter's, may be espoused by many intellectuals, they are not likely the type that will bring in big bucks from those as demographically right wing as most evangelicals or Armstrongites.
Then there was the March/April Plain Truth. It featured a cover story about evangelist Billy Graham. Emblazoned on the cover was the title of the interview-article, "Just As I Am," a phrase Graham often uses to describe the conversion experience and one, coincidentally, that is the title of Graham's new book on sale at most bookstores. The phrase is also one that many Ambassador alumni recall was absolutely detested by Herbert W. Armstrong. Nevertheless, Graham is now being actively promoted by the Tkach organization and WCG members are even being encouraged to volunteer for duty at Billy Graham crusades.
The latest PT, the May/June issue, features interviewer Sheila Graham "Up Close and Personal With Pat Boone" (no kidding, that was the title of her article). Boone, who hawks his products in the pages of the PT, has been in trouble of late with the evangelical community. Back on January 27 Boone appeared at a televised record industry awards show donning a heavy-metal outfit that included a chest-baring black leather jacket, earrings, a studded dog collar, shades, and a fake tatoo. The outfit, which Boone now says was worn merely as a joke, convinced some evangelicals that Boone had literally lost his mind.
Among those offended by the display was evangelist Keith Crouch who heads the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Crouch asked his viewers to "pray for Pat," then pulled Boone's Gospel America program off the network and refused to renew it until he was assured that Boone had not become permanently demon possessed. Finally, however, after noticing that 90% of those writing to his network asked that Boone be returned to the air, Crouch decided to bring him back via a special two-hour Boone-a-thon in which he promised his near-record audience that "We're going to put the devil under our feet tonight..." and give him "a couple of black eyes in Jesus' name." Using a laser gun to zap a photo of Boone in the infamous leather outfit, Crouch then brought out the singer before an audience that included leather-clad Bikers for Jesus. He then got Boone to apologize to those who had been offended. With that performance assuring Crouch that it was again safe to associate with Boone, Gospel America was reinstated on the Trinity Network. Television critic Howard Rosenberg called the Boone-a-thon "The resurrection of Pat Boone." It is not clear whether WCG executives were in the TV audience for the resurrection, but the article about Boone in the latest PT is an important part of the campaign to cleanse the singer's sullied reputation. And, we have been told, Boone's line of Christian products will continue to be advertised in the Plain Truth.
In addition to helping Pat Boone, Billy Graham, and other Christian celebrities, recent Tkach activities have included increased intercourse with Hank Hanegraaff's outreach, the Promise Keepers, Mission America, the Church of God Seventh Day, the American Bible Society, and the Baptist Church. Tkach even spoke one Sunday recently before a Temple City, California Baptist congregation. And in March Tkach was a guest speaker at the National Association of Evangelicals convention in Orlando, Florida. All of these activities by Tkach have enhanced his own public image and that of his new pet business, Plain Truth Ministries, Inc. But how much good has all this effort done for the Worldwide Church of God, Inc. or for the WCG's members? Not much, really. And even with the new PTM, as Worldwiders refer to it, when it comes to business strategy the Tkach team has yet to come up with a marketing plan that makes any sense.
Flurry Wins Big in Court
When talking marketing strategy with his subordinates, HWA would often quote his one-time friend, the great, gay tennis champion William T. Tilden II, who taught him to: "Never change a winning game; always change a losing game!" Armstrong would repeatedly pound that maxim into the heads of his top lieutenants and headquarters disciples. It's pretty obvious that some, like those who are now the WCG's top executives, were just not paying close attention.
One Armstrong disciple, however, who was paying close attention was Gerald Flurry. Of all the WCG breakoffs, his Philadelphia Church of God, headquartered in Enid, Oklahoma, is the one that has most closely followed the old HWA marketing plan, and it is his group seems to be taking the lead in terms of most effectively promulgating the old Armstrong message. Flurry's PCG also seems to have the best financial growth record of all the breakaways. Now, most paradoxically, it is Tkach's lawyers who seem to have given Flurry and his Philadelphia Church of God their biggest boost.
Early this year Flurry announced that his Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) was republishing Herbert Armstrong's book Mystery of the Ages. It was a bold move by Flurry as the WCG corporation holds the copyright to the book and the WCG still has the means to do its enemies harm in the courts.
No sooner had the reprinted books started rolling off PCG presses than WCG lawyers brought suit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, asking the court to bar PCG from printing and distributing the book. Normally, before a full hearing on the merits of a case where an injunction is sought, there is a shorter hearing at which the court decides if there is enough of a case against the defendant (here PCG) to warrant the granting of a temporary restraining order (a "TRO"). Hearing the WCG motion for the TRO was Federal District Judge J. Spencer Letts. The attorneys for the parties were Benjamim Scheibe of the law firm of Browne & Woods (Browne as in Allen Browne), accompanied by veteran Worldwide counsel Ralph Helge, for the WCG, the plaintiff; and Mark Helm, from Munger, Tolles & Olsen representing Flurry's PCG, the defendant.
The February 18 hearing started out this way:
JUDGE: I've read plaintiffs materials. I don't seem to have anything from you, Mr. Helm. Am I right about that?
MR. HELM: That's correct, your honor.
JUDGE: Do you have anything to say?
MR. HELM: Yes, sir, I do.
JUDGE: Outstanding! [At this point some could sense a certain smugness on the part of the WCG's lawyers - ed.]
MR. HELM: Your honor, we have only recently been brought into this case, and so what I will tell you is based on my understanding of the facts as they exist now. Obviously, we'll need to investigate further. We do not think that a TRO is appropriate at this point. The plaintiff has represented to the court that this is a garden-variety copyright infringement case. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a very significant case involving issues arising under the First Amendment, including the free exercise of religion clause....
At this point attorney Helm proceeded to give the court an overview of how the late Herbert Armstrong had left the WCG in the hands of the Tkachs, how the Tkachs then deviated wildly from the doctrinal path of the church's founder, and how beginning around 1989 the WCG's leaders had ceased distribution of HWA's "magnum opus" Mystery of the Ages. Helm continued -
This is not a case where the Worldwide Church of God is exploiting the copyright in order to disseminate and earn profits from Mystery of the Ages. This is a case where they are trying to suppress and not disseminate Mr. Armstrong's books. That's our understanding.
JUDGE: That's mine as well.
MR. HELM: And so, your honor, the founders of my client, the Philadelphia Church of God, were ministers in the Worldwide Church of God who got to the point where they believed they needed to split off and form their own church, which was more faithful to the tenets and the views of Mr. Armstrong. They view his book, in essence, as the scriptures of their religion.
At this point, Helm may have been a little more open than his client would have wished, but, nevertheless, he was being truthful. He went on to explain that Flurry was not charging for the book. Then Scheibe interjected a number of arguments based on cases that Judge Letts did not think were relevant.
JUDGE: [Impatiently and speaking to Scheibe-] For sale?.... Which do you want to do? Are you here to contest jurisdiction, or are you heft to contest the merits?
MR. HELM: [Who was already winning without even having filed a brief but thought he should say something-] Well, your honor, perhaps then we should discuss how to proceed. As I say, I've been on this case for exactly 24 hours, and I....
JUDGE: Well, let me help you. I can't imagine a TRO is going to get granted.
MR. HELM: I'm sorry?
JUDGE: I can't imagine a TRO is going to be granted.
MR. HELM: Okay.
JUDGE: I just thought I'd let you say so....
MR. SCHEIBE: [Unable to fathom that he had already lost the round-] Your honor, I would like to address the merits. I'm somewhat at a loss with the court's suggestion there's not a probability of success on the merits here. I don't think there's any question but that religious materials are amenable to copyright protection.
JUDGE: Of course they are.... Let me tell you why I think you're not going to succeed on the merits here. The copyright seems to me to have two primary purposes, neither of which are at issue here. One is to keep there from being confusion about who is the person publishing the work. The second is to keep strangers from profiting from the work. Neither of those is at issue with somebody who wants to suppress the work entirely. There is no confusion. And what you are talking about, on the strength of your papers, is something that so far as I know no copyright case has ever put at issue. It wasn't a question of whether there would be two publishers or three, but rather whether them will be one or none....
This is admittedly a work by the founder of a religion who has died.... This [the Worldwide Church of God] is an entity that has a corporate structure and it also has a religious structure. The people who inherited the corporate structure are not all of the people who used to have religious position. Some of the people that had religious position have now either been taken out of the corporate structure, or they were never in it. The question is - and it is to me a new one - does the surviving corporation, through its board of directors and a such people, have the right to suppress the founder... the right to prevent there from being future printing of the religious founder's work?...
Scheibe then argued that although Flurry had a right to add upon the teachings of HWA, he should not be allowed to distribute word-for-word copies of HWA's writings.
MR. SCHEIBE: Here they just slavishly copied and they're distributing a direct copy with an altered copyright [notice] which is a crime.
JUDGE: I understand your position but I don't agree with it. The issue is going to be something that I haven't seen yet, and that is with a founder's work - I can tell you, although I don't know to what its germane, my own view of what it ought to take to be a religion - some combination, maybe size, and certainly you have size here, but I think the founder plus the first set of disciples is sort of the rule against perpetuity, a religion that meets the rule of perpetuity certainly is one and should have all religious protection....
I do think that if it is, as I suspect it is, that when you're dealing with the first generation after the founder, that you're dealing with very different religious issues. And you are dealing with a founder's work in the first generation after the founder's [death] and you've had a split in the religion, which was by definition different from the corporation.... the founder did not dream, I suspect - this is what he's going to be saying - he didn't dream that by giving this corporation, which was his corporation that reflected his religion, that those who would come after him would use their corporate power to suppress his religion or to keep any prior practitioners of his religion, or keep any people that were vested with the authority of that religion, notwithstanding they don't have the corporate position, from making that book available on a continuous, freshly printed basis - I don't believe the founder dreamed that...
The scope of Judge Letts' comments stunned Worldwide's lawyers and seemed to come as something of a surprise even for PCG's counsel. Some legal observers who have seen the transcript of the proceedings say they are surprised at the Judge's profound insights into the case. The judge's reference to the dreaded Rule Against Perpetuities, for example, brought ahhs from a number who, after much thought, began to see that HWA's legacy may have been dual - part corporate, part intellectual or spiritual, and that for the latter, there may be significant legal protection available from the courts.
According to Flurry, "Ten days later the Worldwide Church dismissed the case and it filed a new complaint the next business day in Oklahoma in a cynical and obvious attempt to find a more favorable judge." While Worldwide lawyers have been searching for a more favorable judicial climate, Flurry has been taking out huge newspaper ads around the country extolling what he sees as a great victory given by God. In fact, since beginning to re-publish HWA's Mystery of the Ages, he has been telling his followers that their Work has entered a new phase, and that God has set before them a new "open door." No longer does he see his mission as being merely to save "the Laodiceans." Now he plans to get his Armstrong message out "to all the world."
Inching Toward Ishtar
While Flurry seems to prosper with each pro-HWA step he takes, the Tkach organization seems to run into walls with each new liberalization. Not only is the Tkach company having problems in the financial area, even their theological strategies are bogged down. Just two years ago, Tkach Junior was telling friends privately that he hoped to see the entire WCG keeping Easter by 1997. It hasn't worked out that way. Last year Worldwiders were given permission to observe Easter services with Protestant congregations who were observing that religious day. Only a few took up the offer. Many Worldwiders still tremble at HWA's warnings about Sunday worship which he called the "Mark of the Beast."
This year the WCG announced that Easter services would be held March 30 in Pasadena at Ambassador Auditorium and in Gladewater, Texas with the Gladewater Ministerial Alliance at an Easter sunrise service presided over by Joseph Tkach himself. At both sites, the public was invited. And that was a face-saver for the Tkach team as at neither site did very many Worldwiders show up. Instead, most remaining Worldwiders opted to keep their traditional Passover, now referred to by Tkach as "the Lord's Supper," with its old Armstrong method of calculation which came out to April 20th. Not only that, privately many Worldwiders are still derisively referring to Easter, as HWA used to do, by its old pagan name, Ishtar.
Insiders claim that fear of financial disaster has forced Tkach to back off this year in instituting mandatory Easter observance in Worldwide. But the betting is that by next spring, or 1999 at the latest, the, WCG will be keeping Easter as a group.
If that proves true, the Tkach church's acceptance of Easter may prove to be just in time for what may well be one of the most important events in the 2,000 year history of Christianity: the establishment of a new and universal method for calculating the date for Easter observance.
To understand a little about what is involved, we must go back to the Nicean Council of 325. That Emperor-initiated gathering of Christian leaders recognized that the gospels placed the death and resurrection of Jesus in relation to the Jewish Passover. They concluded that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover as that feast's date had been calculated in Jesus' time, that is, on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The Jews later deviated from the equinox benchmark and later there were also minor Christian modifications of the Nicean ruling. Nevertheless, there was a substantial amount of Christian harmony regarding the issue of when to keep Easter until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII again "changed times and seasons" (as HWA referred to this proclivity of the popes) by adopting the reformed calendar we know today as the Gregorian calendar. The Orthodox Catholic Churches of the East, not recognizing the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, did not go along with Gregory's unilateral calendar change and instead retained the older Julian calendar (as did Great Britain and its colonies until 1752 when they went Gregorian - which is why for that year in British history the dates Sept. 3-13 are omitted).
Since 1582 the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches have kept Easter - the day that theoretically should unite them more than any other - on different days. Only once in four years do the two ways of calculating Easter bring about the same day for the celebration. Some years the dates are quite far apart. This year, for instance, the Roman church and its Protestant daughters celebrated Easter on March 30 while the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrated Easter on April 27 (as always on a date following the Passover).
Now it appears that this East-West dichotomy of calculation may disappear. High-ranking leaders of most of the world's largest Christian denominations met in Aleppo, Syria, March 5-10 to discuss possible ways of bringing about a unified way of calculating the date for Easter. While barely reported on in United States newspapers, the historic gathering included official representatives of the Vatican, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and many other Roman Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, and Protestant denominations. Then on March 24, in a surprising display of unity, the conference leaders under the auspices of the World Council of Churches announced a proposal by which all Christian churches worldwide would be keeping Easter on the same date beginning in the year 2001 (the year that actually begins the new millennium).
This plan is not without its critics and church politics among Christians everywhere being what it is, it is not altogether certain that the big change will come about. But if it does, will Tkach and company follow? Already, in deciding to keep Easter, Tkach chose to follow the more popular Roman way of calculating the date, rather than the Eastern way which takes into account the Jewish observance of Passover. And with a majority of the world's Protestant denominations likely to follow the lead of the Vatican and the World Council of Churches, we can probably expect Tkach and company to do the same.
No Millennium Needed!
Ever since the death of WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong, the Tkach administration has been tirelessly tinkering with the theological legacy of HWA. One would have thought that by now they would have run out of doctrines to change. Not so! The latest doctrinal "clarification" concerns the millennium, or the biblical thousand-year reign of the Messiah. In an April WN article titled "A balanced approach to the Millennium," J. Michael Feazell and Mike Morrison wrote:
Since the New Testament does not emphasize the nature of the millennium, we conclude that it is not a central plank in the church's commission... Although the WCG has traditionally been premillennial, the church does not require its members to believe that Christ will set up a temporary kingdom after he returns. We are sure that, no matter what Christ does after his return, no one will be disappointed.
Don't you feel relieved? Feazell and Morrison go on to state that WCG ministers, while still required to believe in Jesus, may believe and teach anything they wish, or nothing at all, about the millennium. They say it makes no difference. They go on:
In November 1995, Richard J. Foster wrote the following letter to those on his Renovari mailing list. It provides some helpful comments about speculations about prophecy [They then quote the Foster article and, of course, by doing so in the WN put upon it the WCG's imprimatur]:
As the year 2000 draws near, we are seeing more and more end-time scenarios as apocalyptic zeal rises to fever pitch.
There were early-bird predictions: Edgar C. Whisenant's 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 and a follow-up book The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, 1990,1991,1992,1993... sold several million copies; South Korean Lee Jang Rim convinced followers around the globe that Christ would return in October, 1992; and on the air and in his book, 1994, the popular American radio Bible teacher Harold Camping targeted Sept. 6 as the date for the final trump. [He could have added HWA's 1975, and a string of other dates once favored by Armstrongites.]
The year 2000 is now favored by most prophesy preachers - though it isn't clear whose calendar we are supposed to follow or why God favors round numbers.
(Two heavy hitters on the apocalyptic scene have weighed in with their contributions: Hal Lindsey with Planet Earth - 2000 A.D. and Pat Robertson with The End of the Age, a novel conveniently set in the year 2000.)
This is big business in Christian book stores and at the Christian Booksellers Convention. And in the general public, a prime-time series on ancient prophecies warned that futurists from Nostradamus to Edgar Cayce have targeted the year 2000 for the end of the world.
We are awash in a sea of apocalyptic tabloid books. Not since the Millerite movement [which led to Adventism and Armstrongism] a century and a half ago has there been such a feeding frenzy over the end of the world. We can only expect it to increase.
Foster then gives an excellent explanation as to why such end-time hysteria hurts Christianity. He provides an outstanding historical perspective of the phenomenon, and then concludes with a detailed set of suggestions on how Christians can refuse to demean the gospel by mixing hope of the Second Coming with reckless speculation. So far so good. And many will find the article worth studying in its entirety. (The publisher is Renovari, 8 Inverness Drive East, Suite 102, Englewood, CO 80112-5609.) However, what has caused considerable stir in Armstrongite circles is the section subtitled "A trustworthy model" which concludes the article:
In the fourth century St. Augustine opposed the prophetic literalism of Chiliasm. Instead of the imminent, material, millennial kingdom of Chiliasm, he helped his people see the City of God.
Out of pastoral concern he taught them that the kingdom of God was already a present reality among them in the community of faith and that its full consummation will come in God's time and in God's way in the blessed hope of Christ's return.
Augustine's wise, sensible, biblical vision won the day and influenced the church for centuries to come. May something of that same faith-filled sensibility arise today.
Chiliasm is the doctrine of Christ's expected return to reign on earth for 1,000 years, otherwise called millennialism, something Herbert Armstrong championed for his entire preaching career. And, as many WCG oldtimers recall from Armstrong's book God Speaks Out on the New Morality, HWA considered Augustine one of the greatest heretics of all time. Again, Tkachism has turned Armstrongism on its head.
It won't be the last time either. Just as we go to press, we have learned that there is talk at WCG headquarters of changing the WCG's teaching on the immortality of the soul. HWA emphatically taught that humans were not immortal souls. He spent considerable time discussing it and there is no doubt about what he actually taught on the subject. Now, Tkach has let the cat out of the bag regarding where he is heading on the matter. In February on Hank Hanegraaff's Bible Answer Man radio program, Tkach said:
The suffering of hell is beyond any experience of misery found on earth today, and it's clearly included in the teaching of Jesus, and the reality is far beyond what those symbols say to us, and that there's no cruelty there but perfect justice, and it's eternal, there's no escaping it.
Was Tkach saying under his breath, "Been there, done that"? Whatever the case, a WCG that teaches the Catholic doctrine of the immortal soul cannot be too far away.
WCG Follows Vatican's
Lead on Evolution
Of the scores of WCG doctrines that have changed over the last few years, one of the most significant, yet most underreported, has been its change on the theory of biological evolution. In the HWA era the WCG's position was clearly that of most Bible fundamentalist groups who teach a special creation and view the creation of man as having occurred on a sixth literal day of a literal week only about 6,000 years ago. But recent WCG articles, videos, sermons, etc. have shown that the WCG's position has itself (excuse the pun) evolved. Now the WCG teaches a type of creative evolution - that is, evolution probably did take place, not gradually but in fits and starts, and it was God who was behind the evolution.
Whether or not the new WCG position is reasonable, scientific, or necessarily anti-biblical is not the point here. What is interesting, we think, is the fact that the WCG's new stance is rather close to that of the Roman Catholic Church.
It may come as a surprise to many, but the Roman Church has never really formally condemned the theory of evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII in the encyclical letter "Humani Generis" did strongly caution that evolution could be used to bolster the philosophical positions of atheists and materialists who wanted to remove the necessity of a Creator from the process of creation. Nevertheless, the encyclical stated that evolution doctrine was a "serious hypothesis" that was not objectionable and could be accepted by Catholics as long as it was not embraced as "certain doctrine."
Now comes Pope John Paul II. On October 22, 1996, in a formal statement sent to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the pontiff said that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." While many laymen did not understand what the Pope was getting at, members of the scientific community understood very well the portent of the announcement. "A theory holds greater weight as a coherent explanation of natural phenomena that has passed critical review, is accepted by most scientists in the field and can correctly make predictions. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation that is not yet widely accepted but may have significant evidence behind it and may in time be elevated to the status of theory" (Robin Smith of Mission Viejo in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, 10/29/96, p. B6). Thus, the Roman Church has, indeed, in a very precise way advanced the acceptance of biological evolution concepts.
What the Pope exactly meant by "fresh knowledge" has not been formally explained by either the Pope or the Vatican. It is interesting, however, that just months before the announcement, there was an international conference on God and evolution at the Vatican Observatory headquarters in the Pope's summer residence near Rome. Among the invitees were some of the greatest names in the world of science, including physicist Paul Davies, recent winner of the Templeton Prize, who suggests that science and Christian theology are now coming together. While the conference was not widely reported in the press, our own sources in Rome indicate that what may have prompted the gathering was leaked information that NASA was almost ready to announce, as it later did in August, that meteorites found on earth and believed to have come from Mars contained evidence of extraterrestrial life. Some Vatican insiders feel that the Pope and some of his closest advisors were thrown into a needless panic by intelligence reports of the upcoming NASA announcement. Ironically, while the NASA announcement did come in August and the international press was very quick to play up the new evidence for life on Mars, not long afterward a number of leading scientists at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratories indicated they disagreed with the NASA report and some have privately speculated that Congressional calls for reduced funding of NASA's unmanned space missions (in which JPL in Pasadena plays an important, even central, role) may have biased some researchers in favor of finding evidence of life on Mars when, they claim, there really is none.
Whatever the reason behind the timing of the pontiff's October 22 statement, many religionists in the United States were aghast at its pro-evolution wording. Christian columnist Cal Thomas, for example, viewed the Pope's statement as an outright attack on the book of Genesis and concluded that, "With his statement about evolution the Pope has caught up with the times. He has accepted a philosophy that stands at the core of communism."
In contrast, however, most Catholics could not understand what all the hullabaloo was about. Most we talked to said that Catholic schools have been teaching the theory of evolution for decades and Catholic intellectuals pointed out how some Catholic scholars have long been in the vanguard of promoting pro-evolution concepts. For example, one of the important teachings of Teilhard de Chardin was that God, in his great love, has afforded mankind the opportunity of participating in his own evolution. Teilhard, once described in Henry Luce's Life magazine as "the greatest living thinker-prophet of the 20th century," was not only one of the century's greatest Jesuit scholars, he was also a leading paleontologist who beginning in 1923 led scientific expeditions into China where he found traces of paleolithic man, a prelude to the discovery of Peking Man in 1929. Nevertheless, while Teilhard's intellectual influence on the Catholic Church has been profound (and as some conservatives see it, very negative), some modern Catholic scholars see hints at the necessity for evolutionary thought in the writings of some early Catholic theologians. For instance, Father George Coyne, the Jesuit priest and astronomer who heads the Vatican Observatory has pointed out that "In the Augustinian tradition that God is absolute goodness, there is almost the necessity for goodness to reproduce itself, to pour itself out." Naturally, the implication is that both biological evolution on earth and life forms on other planets would be manifestations of God's love.
John Tagliabue, writing in the New York Times (10/25/96) pointed out that, "The [Pope's] statement appeared to be the latest action in the fulfillment of frequent urgings by the pope to Catholics that the church should be prepared to amend wrong teachings adhered to in the past." Yes, the Pope, like the WCG's Pastor General, is bringing about paradigm shifts. But who, even just three years ago, would have thought that the two religious leaders ever would have so much in common?
Of the many insensitive teachings promulgated by the late Herbert W. Armstrong, probably none was more "politically incorrect" than his view that the Roman Catholic Church was "Babylon the Great" of prophecy and "the Great Whore" of Revelation. Of course, that idea did not originate with Armstrong. Over the centuries many Protestant denominations have held similar views and, in fact, a good number still do. In attacking the legitimacy of the Roman Church, HWA and his subordinates often relied on information contained in the book The Two Babylons by Rev. Alexander Hislop (1807-62) who had been the pastor of the East Free Church of Arbroath, Scotland.
Because of the teachings of Herbert Armstrong and the book by Hislop, for decades many Worldwiders harbored a near paranoid distrust of, and often open hostility toward, anything even vaguely Roman Catholic. The Catholicism-bashing ideas of Armstrong and Hislop spread well beyond the WCG and its offshoots. Contributing to the anti-Catholic mood in Worldwide and elsewhere was evangelist and author Ralph Woodrow who, although never a WCG member, was well-known in WCG circles because of his writings which often buttressed certain concepts taught by HWA. One such book, Babylon Mystery Religion, purported to expose the pagan origins of Catholicism and among Worldwiders it eventually became even more popular than Hislop's Two Babylons.
In recent years, however, Woodrow has questioned a number of ideas that he had promoted, and in particular those that had come from HWA. He has now come to believe that Hislop and HWA were wrong in many of their conclusions about the Roman Catholic Church's history. In an April 3 letter to the Report, he told us:
As you know, in my earlier Christian experience, I was influenced by the writings of Herbert Armstrong in some areas, one being the teaching about pagan mixture. The textbook quoted by many was Hislop's The Two Babylons. Because it was very detailed, with a multitude of notes and references, Hislop's work seemed to be well documented and became the basis of my book Babylon Mystery Religion.
Eventually, however, a history teacher in Colton, while appreciating other things I had written, began pointing out to me that Hislop is not a reliable historian. Then through your paper I learned that the Worldwide Church of God had sent out a memo that questioned conclusions based on my book or on Hislop, or which built too heavily on assumed details about "Nimrod." These factors prompted me to thoroughly restudy Hislop and do further research.
The subtitle to Hislop's book is "The Papal Worship proved to be the worship of Nimrod and his wife." Hislop claims that Nimrod was a big, ugly, deformed black man; his wife, Semiramis, was a most beautiful white woman with blond hair and blue eyes, a backslider, known for her immoral lifestyle, inventor of soprano singing, the originator of priestly celibacy and many other religious practices. These claims and many others appear to me now to be based merely on an arbitrary piecing together of mythology. I discovered that many of the books cited by Hislop clearly do not support his claims. In fact, many of his claims could not be substantiated by any recognized history book!
That realization has prompted me to discontinue publication of Babylon Mystery Religion - despite the fact that orders do not cease to come in for it. I have now replaced it with a 122-page book titled The Babylon Connection?
While Woodrow's new book most certainly is not an endorsement of every Roman Catholic practice and teaching (he is still critical of a good number - just as are many Catholics today), he nevertheless does shed much light on many false ideas about Catholicism that have been circulating in Armstrongite and Protestant denominations for decades. The new book, which incidentally has received strong praise from the Tkach team, is available for only $7 at many bookstores or by writing to Ralph Woodrow, P.O. Box 124, Riverside, CA 92502.
WCG Congregation Votes to Exit
Tkach's efforts to convince his followers that the mainstream churches were right all along is apparently getting results. In early April the WCG's congregation in Geneva, Ohio, voted to exit the WCG as a group and to seek affiliation with the Christian Church in Ohio (Disciples of Christ).
According to an official press release issued by the group in April, the Geneva Independent Christian Congregation - which formerly called itself the Geneva Congregation of the Worldwide Church of God - also voted to switch its day of worship from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate the needs of many of its members who could not always meet on Saturday. "We were finding that with single mothers, Saturday morning was the only day they could get the kids to the doctor or dentist. Employment conflicts kept other members away. There were just always conflicts coming up," said Bill Meyer, the congregation's interim pastor.
The congregation also voted to cautiously continue to explore the possibility of merging or affiliating with other local congregations - possibly with an eye toward initially cooperating in joint youth programs. A few members seem inclined to remain in the WCG, but Meyer said the decision to seek affiliation with the Christian Church in Ohio, headquartered in Elyria, was passed with no dissenting votes.
"I was really surprised by the level of unanimity. The basic issue prompting the separation from the WCG was the maintenance of an absolute hierarchy within the denomination that reserved all essential decisions to a Pastor General in Pasadena, California," said Meyer. "The denomination wanted to collect and administer almost all funds from Pasadena. Members were expected to mail contributions there, and then a fraction would come back to the local church. That was just unacceptable and in fact most of our congregation had declined to contribute this way for months."
To Meyer, the Christian Church in Ohio looked like a good fit because of its congregational autonomy, its accountability mechanisms for pastors, its openness to the full participation of women in the life of the church, and its broadly open understanding of the universality of the church. Said Meyer, "This has been a long journey for us as a congregation. We've systematically studied in our congregational Bible studies the themes of religious tolerance in Romans 14 and 15, the theme of Christian freedom in Galatians, the priesthood of all believers in Hebrews, and the need to translate faith into action in the book of James."
Meyer sees the WCG as attempting to harden the hierarchy by issuing church charters to clarify the relationship of the local churches to headquarters. And ethics documents were being drafted that would require all pastors to pledge loyalty and obedience to the hierarchy. [This is exactly the type of organizational model HWA called "the Image of the Beast" when referring to the Roman Catholic Church's imitation of the Roman Empire's hierarchial governmental system - ed.] To Meyer and his congregation that was unacceptable. Meyer says that the dramatic process of reform in the WCG has now largely stalled.
"We were very excited to be moving away from an exclusivist, legalistic doctrinal stance. And our congregation had strongly supported the breath-taking process of reform that took place in 1995. But we had expected, once the crisis atmosphere had calmed down, that a newfound doctrinal orthodoxy would soon work its way into logical and biblical changes in the church's governance and culture. Orthodoxy of doctrine should lead toward orthodoxy of action, and we didn't see that happening."
In addition to the above changes in the Geneva group, the congregation has voted to celebrate communion weekly, a departure from current WCG practice. Additionally, Meyer says, "We are allowing women to preach in Geneva. Most of us don't believe Paul's household codes permanently restrict women any more than they permanently sanction slavery. In fact, if anything, the early church pushed freedom for both to the absolute limits of what law and surrounding culture would bear."
Pastor Bill Meyer may be contacted at 6004 Cork-Cold Springs Rd., Geneva, Ohio 44041-9325; tel. 216-466-7910; email: [email protected] The Geneva Independent Christian Congregation has posted a number of documents on the web site set up by Dr. Mark Tabladillo, a site some exWorldwiders consider akin to the Wittenberg Cathedral door in Martin Luther's day. The address is http://www.quango.net/Tabladillo/wcgweb2.html.
Executive Exodus Continues
The flight of executives and ordained ministers from the WCG, which began over twenty years ago, continues and seems to be speeding up. The 3/18/97 WN announced the retirements of. Robert Bertuzzi, Arthur Docken, Ken Swisher, Rowlen Tucker, Donald Wendt, and Robert Whittaker.
The same WN also listed the following as having left the employ of Worldwide: David Carley, Jess Ernest, Mark Flynn, Steve Gerrard, Warren Heaton, Felix Heimberg, Benjamin Johnson, Terry Johnson, Paul Linehan, Jeff McGowan, Stanley McNeil, Coty Myrtil, George Pinckney, Joseph Scott, Paul Seltzer, Norman Strayer, Terry Swagerty, Eric Weinberger, and Gerald Witte.
United Moving to Sunny Cincinnati
Meeting March 8-10 in Louisville, Kentucky, the United Church of God held its third general conference of elders in two years. The conference was mainly devoted to discussions of procedures for church governance, always a preoccupation in Armstrongite groups. The most important vote of the conference resulted in a decision to move the church's Arcadia, California "home office" to Cincinnati, Ohio, the town made famous by Pete Rose, Jerry Springer, and Joe Bauer. One WCG evangelist now with UCG is reported to have said:
Why, any nit wit should be able to see that God has chosen Cincinnati to be the headquarters of his representatives on earth. Its on the Ohio River. That's significant! Ohio is an Iroquois word that moans "something great." River is water, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Cincinnati has ten letters and that represents the Ten Commandments. The city was named after Cincinnatus, a famous Roman nobleman and patriot. You see, he was loyal to the government that God had set up, not to some young upstarts who were wet behind the cars, and God chose him during a crisis to serve the crown city of the empire against invading pagans who were bringing heresies to the very seat of government, and he was noble - he know how to speak the language properly and how to dress properly because he had been educated at a school for the empires top leadership. He demanded his troops obey orders that were given top down. There was no democracy. They knew better than to question his orders. They obeyed. They won. And he retired. There is a message here for us. A very clear message. The United Church of God is being led by a mighty patriot of the coming Kingdom who has been taught noble ways and has been hand picked by God to lead the end-time Work to do SOMETHING GREAT with obedient followers who keep the Ten Commandments with the power of the Holy Spirit that is flowing like a river through the leadership top down to the brethren as the leadership RULES an obedient church only for a little while before he leads the church into the wilderness to the place of final training....
Whew! When asked what the WCG's leadership thought of the UCG move, one Pasadena insider was more concise: "Around here some are calling them the Sin City group."
One other interesting piece of information to come out of the Louisville conference was the fact that at least three of UCG's home office executives are making close to $100,000 a year. Not bad for a denomination that has less than 20,000 members, especially when you consider that the UCG leadership admittedly had difficulty staying within budget during 1996. The group's financial problems were bad enough that in late January UCG President David Hulme, the evangelist (not David Hume the Scottish philosopher of Olympian intellect), had to publicly apologize for handling certain church business matters in a way that was, in effect, much like HWA would have handled them. So, while the UCG does not openly criticize HWA's legacy, they are wisely moving away from at least some of his ways. As for UCG's financial status, it is apparently such that some Arcadia employees, who don't seem to be all that keen on moving anyway, have suggested it may take a very long time for enough funds to accumulate to finance the voted-for move to "Sin City."
As Ambassador Closes
With Ambassador University about to hold its last commencement and close its doors for good, we have one suggestion for all Ambassador alumni. If you do not have a transcript of your Ambassador academic record, you need to obtain one now. Even if your degree is unaccredited, having some proof of what classes you took at Ambassador may some day prove valuable. For information, write The Registrar, Ambassador University, P.O. Box 111, Big Sandy, Texas 75755 - before there is no more Ambassador.
Tom Hall, 1940-1997
Tom Hall (Ambassador, Pasadena 1968) has passed away. One of the most personable individuals we ever met through the Ambassador experience, Hall worked for the World Tomorrow television program as an interviewer and producer of considerable talent until the mid-seventies when he became disillusioned with the Armstrong organization. After Worldwide, he decided against an ongoing career in religion. At a chance meeting at the Pasadena Public Library some years ago, he humorously told AR editor Trechak, "I decided to get an honest job." Putting his love of people and public service to good use, he developed a successful career in broadcasting. Nevertheless, he remained a committed Christian and once even turned down an offer to work for the Pat Robertson organization. The following thoughtful obituary appeared in the April 16 Los Angeles Times:
Tom Hall; Popular Radio Talk Show Host
Tom Hall, popular African American weekend radio talk show host at KABC for 19 years, has died. He was 57.
Hall died Saturday of lymphoma and leukemia, KABC spokesman Bill Lennert said Tuesday. He said Hall's last broadcast was March 15.
Hall was one of Southern California's earliest and most respected minority radio hosts. Hall, who began working for KABC-AM (790) Talkradio in 1979, regularly interviewed experts on politics and local issues. He was particularly known for his astute and humorous handling of "People's Forum," a segment for call-in comments on a variety of topics ranging from science to sex therapy to the national economy.
The radio host had also worked as a public affairs reporter for KNBC television for "The Saturday Show" and "The Everywhere Show." Hall made a brief appearance in the motion picture "The Formula" starring George C. Scott and Marlon Brando.
Before his talk show, Hall spent five years working as interviewer, writer and producer for a television documentary crew. The experience took him to Africa, Europe and the Middle East as well as throughout the United States and earned him credits on more than 40 documentaries. He also had a private consulting company.
Hall is survived by his wife, Luana, and four children. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Tom Hall Scholarship Fund, KABC Talkradio Community Relations, 3321 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90016.
Where Are They Now?
Long-time WCG administrator Richard Rice, 60, has been retired and has moved back to Louisiana with his wife Virginia. Evangelist Dean Blackwell, 64, has been retired by the WCG and is currently working on a master's degree in religion at Azusa Pacific University. It is not known what denomination, if any, Blackwell will be serving in the future.
Former Ambassador faculty member Mark Kaplan is currently a USC candidate for a Ph.D. in religion. He previously earned a degree in history from Brooklyn College, another degree from Ambassador, Big Sandy in 1971, and an M.A. in Hebrew studies from the University of Texas in Austin in 1976. A former WCG minister, Mark is now a UCG church pastor in Southern California and is also lecturing for the International Bible Learning Center in Hawkins, Texas.
Joseph C. Bauer Jr. (Ambassador, Pasadena 1967), the director of the Ambassador band in the late 1960s, the coordinator of Garner Ted Armstrong's national campaigns in the early 1970s, and once the holder of numerous WCG/AC administrative positions, was recently spotted by founding AR co-publisher Margaret Zola at a travel industry convention in Las Vegas. Seems that "Broadway Joe" is no longer in the religion business, but hosts a sometimes-controversial radio talk show while also teaching communications at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
During the Ambassador-Pasadena school year of 1969-70, Larry A. Taylor (class of 1973) was a resident of the infamous 360 Grove Terrace dorm which included, among other characters, PT writers Keith Stump, Charlie Vinson, Jeff Calkins (currently practicing law in Orange County), and AR editor Trechak. Over the years, Taylor, a Mensa member, has researched and written on numerous philosophical and scientific topics (see AR63, p. 9). Currently a UCLA Computer Science Dept. Ph.D candidate, Taylor is also AI Sr. Software Engineer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Larry, whose e-mail address is: <[email protected]>, recently sent us this message:
I have been telling people that the Hubble Space Telescope has "photographic proof" of evolution. Years ago, the "nebular hypothesis" was still speculation about the origin of stars and planets. In recent years, however, the now powerful telescopes and techniques have discovered stars and planets in various stages of growth and development. Some of the photographs are quite beautiful. Check our web site, <http://www.stsci.edu>, especially the Orion, Helix and Eagle nebula pictures, and the accretion disk around Beta Pictoris.
The storms of space (see "twisters") and the clash of atoms picture not a fixed creation of the Bible, but the continual creation and destruction of many worlds. This does remind me of an ancient text, not Genesis, but Titus Carnus Lucratius' poem "De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)."
On March 2, the popular CBS television news program Sixty Minutes ran a segment dealing with Internet misinformation. Some Ambassador alumni who watched the program were surprised to see one time Plain Truth writer and Ambassador theology lecturer J. Orlin Grabbe (Pasadena class of 1970) being ambushed by CBS reporter Leslie Stahl at the "Area 51" bar in Reno, Nevada. With shoulder length hair, a custom-tailored 'eather jacket, and an in-your-face attitude, Orlin provided CBS with the colorful image and sound bites they wanted while he got some free publicity. Inadequately covered in the interview, however, was the fact that Grabbe, who left the WCG in the early 1970s and went on to get a Ph.D. at Harvard and then teach at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, is the author of International Financial Markets (Prentice Hall), now in its third edition and considered by many international financiers to be the leading college textbook in the field. Today Grabbe lives in Reno where his exact occupation remains something of a mystery. Nevertheless, his writings on international finance, post-modern culture, the illegal drug trade, money laundering, and government conspiracies are so popular in cyberspace that Don Cox of the Reno Gazette-Journal has called Grabbe "a star of Internet gossip." As for his favorite Reno hangout, Grabbe writes:
Gawking X-File wannabes are similarly excised from "Area 51," the bar. Only bona fide galactic travelers, otherworldly spooks, ex-CIA agents, coal-mining Deros, UNR ravers, slumming Blue Lampers, and neighborhood alcoholics are allowed.
We suspect that a few ex-Worldwiders that we've known would fit right in. Dr. Grabbe's popular web site is at: <http://feustel.mixi.net/grabbe/kalliste.html>. Those who want to reach him at a more terrestrial location can try writing to him at 1475 Terminal Way, Suite E, Reno, NV 89502.
Thanks so much for [AR63]. I was particularly intrigued by what you wrote in "Will the WCG Be Scuttled?" I had attached the beginning of it to a letter I put together last month to send to the ministers but decided against it. It's obvious a number of us are thinking the same thing: that Tkach and Co. are preparing their lifeboat and, actually, probably have been for several years.
You wrote that many long-time employees believe Joe Tkach Jr. so abhorred HWA that he set out with a secret plan to scuttle the Armstrong ship. I personally doubt the secret plan part as a means of destroying a financial empire that would have benefitted Joe Jr. personally. Rather, I would posit his secret plan has simply been trying desperately to develop a lifeboat to insure his existence and prominence after the WCG-Titanic, if you will, finally goes under.
I don't believe the WCG-Titanic is still steaming toward calamity. I believe it has been dead in the water since 1986. It experienced the calamitous collision with the iceberg of reality over 10 years ago when HWA died. Most of us did not realize the extent of the damage and we all gave it a good try to prove the WCG was not a personality cult.
Despite our efforts to the contrary, the ship ground to a halt and began to sink. As with the actual Titanic, most did not realize the finality of the situation until many hours later when the SOS flares were fired. The WCG administration does indeed seem to be desperately firing flares now with the launching of Plain Truth Ministries. But, still, the band plays on and there are still some who do not allow themselves to believe the truth and won't until the ship's stem plunges beneath the waves.
The WCG administration has data that is not available to members or outsiders. But, if we were able to obtain this information and graph the WCG's daily income and weekly service attendance from 1986 until now we would easily see that the trend will take the WCG out of existence within the next couple of years. The break with United last summer dropped the income by nearly half, and the hemorrhaging continues. There is a steady stream of WCG members in all directions now: to the offshoot groups, to other Christian fellowships, or simply back to their homes.
It seems to me that the old WCG was held together by three legs: (1) HWA's charismatic personality and leadership, (2) an eccentric and cultic doctrinal framework, and (3) an authoritarian and cultic governmental structure. I believe the cult was broken with HWA's death and there simply was no putting this Humpty Dumpty back together. There were simply not sufficient dynamics of control to hold it together any longer. Now, ironically, there are three major groups attempting to raise the church-Titanic, each one trying to capitalize on one of those three legs, although leaning on the other two as well. There are the HWA personality offshoots: Flurry, Meredith, etc. There is the WCG doctrinal legacy group: United. And, finally, there is the WCG line of succession or government control group: the Tkach Co. church....
Please feel free to check out my new MINISTRY OF HEALING webpage at:
(note: the character after coving is a one, not an L).
It contains the brand new issue #3 of Crossroads, a revised "Resignation Letter" with observations "one year later," a letter in defense of Earl Williams that I never sent, excerpts from a conversation with Greg Albrecht (February 1995) entitled "Further Down the Grace Road" along with his comments about "Herbert Armstrong worship," and lots of other new stuff as well.
(former WCG pastor)
e-mail: [email protected]
A Family Film Becomes a Horror Flick!
As a church kid, I had gone to Ambassador against my own wishes. What I got was an education worth less than the paper my degree is printed on. Even my old church now rejects the "theology" degree they gave me! My wife and I quit the WCG physically in 1993, but we had already quit mentally around 1987 when Tkach Senior decided to become a magician and play with smoke and mirrors. Since then, we started our own little business and we are somehow surviving.
A few weeks ago after finishing a long, hard day of work, we remembered that our local theater was having "Family Night" when tickets are discounted and we can get free popcorn, as well. So we got the kids and went to the theater. There we just happened to run into some old friends who had left the WCG around the time we did. We sat down behind them and started watching what was, for the most part, a fun movie. It was That Thing You Do, Tom Hanks' directorial debut, about a midwest rock group that has a hit single and travels to California to make a television appearance.
So there we sat in the theater, eating popcorn, and enjoying the movie when all of a sudden it happened. In the blink of an eye we were taken back to Ambassador! Gagging on some popcorn, I shouted out, "Sonuvabitch!" My family and our friends started cracking up. For some of the interior and exterior scenes of the TV studio, Tom Hanks had decided to use Ambassador Auditorium as a set. We watched as the scenes filmed at cult headquarters played themselves out into a metaphor for the experience our family, and many others' I'm sure, had had in Worldwide.
In the movie, one of the characters walks into a back stage dressing room in the "House built for God" and throws up in a marble sink. There is smoking, cursing, and talk of fornication! I wonder what would have happened if I had done any of that in "God's House"? I wonder, too, if I had given the Tkachs a big enough check, like the movie company surely did, if I would have been allowed to have an orgy in there. (But then many of the ministers would probably have wanted to come and take over.)
In the movie, the "leader" of the band, making a giant ass of himself, has a big fight with his pretty girlfriend, a dedicated and decent girl, who he breaks up with right there in front of the rest of the band. It reminded me of the way the Tkachs took their big dump on top of all the loyal sheep that had taken so much of the Armstrong's garbage for years and had paid such a huge price for it besides. I thought it extremely appropriate that these movie scenes should be part of the legacy of the Gang of Four now at the helm of Armstrong's sinking, rat-infested prison ship.
The short scenes filmed at Ambassador were like a slap in the face that could have ruined our evening had we let it. But we quickly got over it and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the movie. Afterward we had a good laugh with our friends. Maybe my revulsion at the Ambassador scenes helps to explain why I'll never darken the door of a church again. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!"
I don't want to identify myself in print yet because I still have family in WCG and its satellites. But someday when I do, I hope to apologize to all those people I helped deceive with my misdirected tithe dollars and my time as an AC faculty member. Until then, sign me:
-Still Pissed off in California
I just had such a frightening experience I must write to you. I was doing my Friday morning housework and had my TV on in the other room. About quarter to ten as I washed the dishes, I heard a familiar voice. I recognized that resonant baritone, that authoritative yet somewhat rambling style, and just knew it was Garner Ted Armstrong back on the air. As I dried dishes I just listened passively as he talked about our nation's troubles and about Lincoln and Washington, about his collection of bird paintings, about his views on crime, about how he occasionally drinks a beer and only sometimes has wine with dinner.
But then he started drifting into weird stuff. He talked about how "you live in a matriarchy, but I live in a patriarchy." Yes, I thought, that sounds like the GTA I knew. But then he really got crazy talking about how he puts women in their place and doesn't allow women to speak their mind. And that he knows how to discipline them when they do. I had enough, and walked into the TV room to shut him off. That's when I discovered it was not GTA after all. I had left the TV on channel 39, our Court TV station, and they were broadcasting the latest parole hearing of cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson! You would not believe how much Manson sounds like GTA! I can't help but think they have the same demonic spirit. They also both don't seem to have a conscience. Would you believe that Manson now has his own Web site where you can hear his voice and read his messages from prison? The announcer said that Manson has even been recruiting new cult members into his cult right from his prison cell. It's too bad the politicians let him escape the death penalty. He is a menace to society. Come to think of it, so is GTA.
Hello Friend. I just finished scanning the [home page] summary of the AR. I am pleased to know that this information is available to the public. I too was a part of the WCG. But what I would like to know is why does this report omit the fact that African-Americans were not even accepted to the Big Sandy campus until the year (1987?) when the campuses were combined and that they just happened to appoint an African-American that year for [student body] president? What about separation of the sessions at SEP camp so that a certain class of children wouldn't mix in with the "better children" at Orr, Minnesota? It really is interesting to me that nobody even acknowledges these facts. Maybe you all need to interview some of those former AC grads that are not white who were turned down from Big Sandy and had to go to Pasadena based on some ridiculous foolishness about not enough of males-females to date each other. Maybe u might want 2 interview some of those African-American counselors at SEP that have their story to tell about the humiliation that they had to suffer while watching their younger brothers and sisters be singled out. I figure since your report is so good at telling it like it is and was, u might want to touch up on this in your summary on the Internet.
My best friend is a f@#%#&@ moron. He left the Armstrong church and now spends his life reading everything put out by the exers. He can never get enough of Heap, Smith, Cox, Flurry and the Prophecy Flasher. So a while back he says to me the Hail Boop Comet is coming, and I says, So what? Well he says it's a sign the end of this rotten world is here. Well the day finally comes when Boop arrives and he calls me up to go out and see the sign with him. It took me a long time to find it. I was expecting a real comet like on the opening of Superman on TV. You know, a big light and WOOOSH! So what do we get? It was this little pin prick with a little bit of hardly noticeable haze behind it. And speed? Hey, we're talking slower than a sidewalk slug here. So I knock on my friend's head and says, YO! Hello in there! Don't you think if God was sending us all a warning message he could do better than this?! No response. The guy's a f@#*#&@ moron.
-New York City
At the risk of seeming to practice pop psychology, I noticed in "Tkach Goes Ecumenical" a certain detachment in your comments, even perhaps a bit of pooh-pooing of this trend and the WCG's efforts to learn from other religious communities. I hope I'm wrong, but I would urge anyone who dismisses the WCG's new ecumenism to reconsider. While it is true that the new Pastor General has not moved in a democratic way to implement reforms, the exposure of the church to leaders from other faiths - and vice versa - can only bring good things. When leaders - and members - see that other churches can function without the top down tyranny of past WCG leaders (and maybe the present ones, but I'm not close enough to tell), all sorts of good things might result....
This cross-fertilization of the WCG might well produce good things. When people see how other churches operate, it's harder - not impossible, but harder - for an authoritarian style to go unchallenged. That, in turn, may explain the potential "autonomy" move of the congregations you report about on the second page. Once the WCG moves into a congregational style of government, one of two things can happen. The group may weaken, as my impression is of the COG-7th Day folks who I believe are essentially congregational, and become more oriented towards an outreach of sorts while leaving local matters to local boards. Or the other alternative is they may become more vigorous, as we see with the Southern Baptists who call and fire their pastors locally, but whose "convention" is a powerful force in evangelism and other areas.
Bottom line, in my view - the WCG does well to expose its people to other Christians, if for no other reason than to give members some preview of where they can go when the WCG collapses.
-Mark Kellner, author
God on the Internet
I was once a WCG member in the St. Petersburg, Florida congregation and I have fond memories of the camp outs, canoe trips, pool parties, yard sales, softball tournaments, picnics, spokesmen's clubs, dances and dinners - the "good old days" of "we are family." But now I have moved on and am studying in a monastic seminary, a cloister, for ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood. I hope to become a pastor as well as a hospital and prison chaplain.
I would welcome letters from friends new and old.
-Fr. Richard Makuchan
St. Norbert Abbey
1016 North Broadway
DePere, WI 54115-2697
Even though I am no longer an "Armstrongite," I really think it is important for all of us to watch world news. Mr. Herbert Armstrong made many errors, but in my opinion he was right about a few things - this world is in terrible shape, evil abounds and seems to be spreading, there is much suffering, there is much injustice, and there most certainly are many false teachers and crazy preachers!
I think you are doing a great job in revealing who some of the phonies are. But you also deserve a special thanks for continuing to provide the names and addresses of some remarkable organizations. I often check them out. When I do I often confront views that I don't completely agree with, but I also frequently confront new ideas that prove to be worth my consideration. Over the years I have learned much from Dr. Martin, Dr. Tabor, Concordant Publishing, and others. Now I have gotten interested in the work of Dr. Robert Bowman who was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and then went on to become a top military rocket scientist. Now he is a Christian writer who has some pretty profound ideas, I think.
You mentioned him in AR58 and since reading some of his articles I have become convinced that many of us who were in Worldwide had many ideas that were really quite anti-Christian. Frankly, in our legalism of old, I think many of us were confusing the compassionate and empathetic Jesus of the New Testament with that law and order conservative of the same era, Pontius Pilate. Garner Ted Armstrong, with his church's helmet and crossed swords shield (it reminds me now of the black skull and crossbones symbol for poison) is still teaching that Jesus is a conservative Republican who just can't wait to apply an iron fist to all those who are not sending GTA their tithes....
Dr. Bowman's article on Christian economics in the March issue of Christianity In Action was one of the most eye opening articles I have ever read. I was particularly amazed at how many scriptures show the answers to the world's economic problems, yet are virtually never quoted by preachers today. The Armstrongites, in particular, I think, have been sold a bill of goods....
One thing that bothers me about Dr. Bowman's ministry, however, is his title of Most Reverend. It doesn't offend me personally and I understand that he is a bishop in a Catholic Church offshoot, but I think it is an instant turnoff to many Bible believers who might otherwise read his writings and at least give his ideas the consideration they deserve. What do you think about all this?
Editor: I agree with you that for many of us who were in Worldwide, religious titles like Reverend, Bishop, or Father can prejudice us against a man and against what he is saying. I also agree with you that Dr. Bowman is a profound thinker and, I would add, a courageous Christian. The article you referred to is one that will likely make him enemies in high places. It will be interesting to see if televangelist Pat Robertson and some others will respond to the comments Bowman made about them. More importantly, however, I would like to see how they would respond to the scriptures that he quoted For those interested, the address for Christianity In Action is 5115 A1A Hwy., Melbourne Beach, FL 32951.
With the Churches of God in the confusion that they are, I suppose it is not surprising that we are hearing some of the most bizarre rumors. There are some who see grand international conspiracies everywhere, even in the churches! One member told me that he had heard how the WCG was now being controlled by space aliens from a hidden base in Nevada! I try not to listen to such insane rumors, but one about Ambassador Report did catch my attention and has me concerned. Someone said that one of the PT's former editors has been writing a book that is a biography of John Trechak and an exposi of Ambassador Report. What bothers me is that they supposedly have a lot of dirt on you because they have had investigators sifting through your office's trash bins and also they know how to listen into conversations with electronic devices. We are worried that somehow such people might see our name on your mailing list and that bothers us because we still have many relatives in the Church and we don't want to be cut off family-wise. Is there any truth to these stories?
Editor: Except for the part about the space aliens, which would really explain a lot (just kidding!), I don't think so. First of all, any book about me personally and about Ambassador Report is going to turn out to be a very small book. There is just not any kind of a big secret story here. Second, if someone wants to go through my trash cans, they certainly would find some dirt, also some banana peels, coffee grinds, etc. Why would anyone do such stupid stuff.? As for your privacy concerns, let me assure you our mailing list is very secure and not available to the public. I seem to recall that about twenty years ago we did give some addresses to a local Christian publisher who wanted to mail out a catalog of religious materials, but it was a one-time-use arrangement. Since then we have thought it wise to adamantly refuse all requests for information about who is on our mailing list. In fact, we are so careful about safeguarding the identities and privacy of our readers that we do not even discard mail we receive without it first going through the shredder.
As for people who might want to spy on us through electronic means, I suppose such things are possible, but such efforts would certainly be a waste of time. The AR is just not engaged in any kind of criminal or exotic activities. We heard years ago that there were certain assistants to HWA who went about doing electronic snooping on members and former members, but they apparently ran into some serious legal difficulties and are now long fled from Worldwide circles. While I really don't think any kind of activity like that is being directed against AR or myself, I have a hunch as to how that rumor may have gotten started.
About two years ago, I noticed that each evening a van (with tinted windows, no less) would park across the street from my home and it would not leave until daybreak. Although this pattern went on for about four months, I didn't think much about it until one day a neighbor said to me that he had peeked through the van's tinted windows and had seen a large array of lit LEDs on a substantial amount of electronic equipment. He laughingly said he wondered if I was being monitored by the FBI or some other government agency! Well, that evening I went up to the van, knocked on the door, and when its lone inhabitant poked his head out, I asked if he would mind coming out so we could talk. He agreed to listen and I simply explained that as he was not known to any of us who lived on the block, some of us were wondering what he was doing there every night.
Well, here is where it got a little strange. With an expression that reminded me of something you would expect on a robot in a science fiction movie, he explained that he was a follower of Rev. Moon and that his leader had married him to a woman in the Philippines who he had to support but whom he had never met. He said that between supporting that wife in the Philippines and tithing to Rev. Moon he could not afford any living accommodations other than his van. And, he said, he just happened to like our street because of its seclusion, peace, and quiet. As he refused to let me see the inside of his van, I can't say what, if any, electronic equipment he had I assume that like a lot of van owners he may have had a stereo system or short wave radio. Whatever the case, I have not seen him or his van since, and I can only hope he has come to his senses and left the Moonies by now. I have mentioned that odd incident to a few and suspect that perhaps some have blown a rather innocent story a bit out of proportion.
No, I don't think you need to be concerned
Keep up the good work. I like the information - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is only those who wish to hide things that want the press and freedom of information stiffled.
-Richard P. Trecek
Just a note to say thanks for the tip on Ellen Hart's mystery The Oldest Sin. I enjoyed it immensely!
-William T. Voyce
Des Moines, Iowa
Editor: A few readers wrote that they had trouble locating a copy of Ms. Hart's book. The author informs us that copies may be ordered directly from the publisher by writing to: Ballantine Mail Sales, 400 Hahn Road, Westminster, MD 21157. U.S. phone orders may be placed by calling 1-800-793-2665 (you will need a credit card). If wanting to place a phone order from outside the U.S., you will need to call 410-848-1900 and ask for the ordering department. The book costs $4.95 plus $4.00 S&H and sales tax if applicable.
About 12 years ago, I wrote AR a letter expressing my dismay with the Worldwide Church and voiced my apprehension over a post-Armstrong administration. I solicited your staff to draw up a few scenarios concerning its prognosis and was delighted that you reserved a good portion of your next newsletter to that request. A much belated thank you is in order here. Well, after leaving that organization, my zeal for Bible study hit a low ebb, and I lost contact with the membership and all interest in the activities of that church. I felt I had wasted a lot of time and it was about time to get a life.
Recently, I invested in a computer and while browsing the Internet, BOOM! There it was. AR's home page. Scrolling down the list of back issues and reading the topics chronicling what can only be described as the total disintegration of the Armstrong empire left me completely awestruck. I couldn't stop shaking my head as I reeled in my jaw after it hit the floor. I felt like Rip Van Winkle after twenty years of sleep.
In that letter to you years ago I made mention about the WCG membership being scattered to the four winds. But I see now that there are more splinters in the church than there are in an old picket fence. Simply amazing. A comedy of horrors. Keystone cop evangelizing and revolving door theology are some impressions that come to mind as I review this sad history. You've been watchdogging this organization for over twenty years now. How would you encapsulate this entire experience? As for myself, I consider my tour through the WCG as a rite of passage. Because in the process, and through your newsletter, I became acquainted with the Concordant Publishing Concern where my faith revived. And, with its links to similar faiths on the Internet, I will never hunger for spiritual food again. Far from being a negative avocation, I believe your exposis produce positive fruit for many who would otherwise be fleeced sheep headed for the slaughter. Once again, my heartfelt thanks for the work that you do. You know, thinking back on it now, it really hasn't been just so much "wasted time."
A Big Time for Cults,
A Bad Time for Cult Fighters
Since the Heaven's Gate mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego in March and the subsequent flood of articles on the tragedy, many have noticed some scary parallels between the Heaven's Gate cult and traditional Armstrongism. Both groups staunchly believed (and still do) that we are in "the end time" and rapidly approaching the dawning of a new world. While cult leader Applewhite and his followers waited for a space ship, Armstrongites waited (and some still wait) to be taken to Petra or some other place of safety. Both groups had their special inspired leader who had special insights given by God. Applewhite's bunch waited for "the change" while Armstrongites wait for the first resurrection. The Heaven's Gaters had "the two" while many Worldwiders have thought "The Two Witnesses" must be in their midst. Both groups used scripture in unorthodox ways. Both regimented the lives of members. Both encouraged alienation from family and friends. Both emphasized their own insider's view of world events. Both ridiculed outsiders, no matter how well-educated, as being "of this world." Both made very skilled use of the electronic media and even the Internet. Both encouraged members' docility and pacifism. And, of course, both encouraged outrageous levels of self-sacrifice.
The news media revelations that have come out about the Heaven's Gate cult only reinforce something the Report has pointed out for over twenty years. Cults, as we have been careful to define the term (groups that encourage isolation, non-thinking, absolute obedience, and giving everything - see AR1, p. 36), are not simply "new religious groups"! They are a distinctive type of pathological social organization that tends to destroy the lives of those who become enmeshed in them. Unfortunately, as we have seen in recent months with the Aum Supreme Truth cult in Japan, the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Quebec, and now the Heaven's Gate people, bizarre and dangerous cults are popping up ever more frequently. And, with so many millions apprehensive over the approach of the year 2000 with its number two followed by three zeros (OH NO!) we can expect more religious lunacy and cult pushers than ever before. We will also be seeing some of the more zany WCG spinoffs making headlines before too long (more on that next time).
For about as long as our own publication has been around, one organization that has helped tens of thousands of families involved with cults has been the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). There has probably never been a group more dedicated to studying and exposing the methods of unethical cult leaders. And over the years we always considered the very dedicated people who worked for and with CAN as among our best friends.
Unfortunately, CAN - or, at least, the real CAN, the one dedicated to battling the cults - is no more. As we reported in AR62, CAN became the principal target of a massive campaign by Scientologists bent on silencing critics of their cult founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The Scientologists' campaign began with directed rumor attacks and anti-CAN publicity salvos. Then around 1991, CAN and its local affiliates and individual staffers were hit with a barrage of lawsuits filed by several dozen Scientology members and others. In one week alone during 1992, Scientologists filed 12 different suits against CAN. Most were civil rights claims which alleged that CAN was denying membership to Scientologists (who CAN saw as wanting membership only to disrupt CAN operations). Most of the suits were dismissed, but in time the lawsuits wiped out most of CAN's annual budget and brought the group financially to its knees.
CAN was forced into bankruptcy and has now closed its operations entirely. But, in an additional development that should make all Americans seriously question whether our judicial system has not lost its rational moorings, bankruptcy proceedings resulted in CAN losing its name, logo, post office box, and telephone number to the highest bidder, a lawyer named Steven L. Hayes, who, it turns out, is a Scientology member! Since then, CAN's old personnel have been fired and replaced with Scientologists who, under the old CAN logo, put out booklets that promote Scientology while attacking the anticult movement and leading cult fighters such as Dr. Robert Lifton, Dr. Margaret Singer, and Dr. Louis J. West. This is no different than if the cigarette industry could win a lawsuit against the American Cancer Society and then, with the help of the courts no less, take over the mail address and phone number of the cancer fighting organization in order to promote cigarette smoking under the American Cancer Society's very own logo!
"It kind of boggles the mind," said David Bardin, an attorney who has represented CAN in Washington. "People will still pick up the CAN name in a library book and call saying, 'My daughter has joined the Church of Scientology.' And your friendly CAN receptionist is someone who works for Scientology!" (The Washington Post, 12/1/96.) In helping to bring about this outlandish fraud on the public, the courts are seemingly blind to the great harm they have thereby wrought on both the public and the reputation of our nation's judicial system.
The actual lawsuit that proved to be the straw that broke CAN's back had been brought by an 18-year-old Life Tabernacle member named Jason Scott. He sued after having gone through an involuntary deprogramming session with famous exit counsellor Rick Ross, a long-time friend of the Report. CAN became a joint defendant only because a CAN volunteer had unilaterally recommended Ross to Scott's distraught mother. Ironically, a few months after getting his judgment from the court thereby driving CAN into bankruptcy, Scott became disillusioned with his Scientology lawyers and replaced them with a lawyer who had previously battled Scientology. Scott has since reconciled with his mother and settled out of court with Rick Ross. But as for CAN, the damage was already done and it was permanent.
The whole episode points out not only how vicious some cults can be toward their perceived enemies, but it also points out how precarious the cult fighting business has become. Even as this is being written, for example, our Christian friends at Watchman Fellowship are facing a number of lawsuits that have been brought at the behest of Scientologists and others. Fighting cults in the press has increasingly become a tough thing to do.
With the rapid financial decline of the WCG, somehow a rumor has gotten started that we have decided to discontinue publishing the Report, as though all we have ever cynically cared about is seeing a corporation go under. As a result of that widespread rumor we have lost some of our contributors. Nevertheless, the rumor is just not true. The increase in cultic activities around the globe, the massive increase in religious anxiety caused by the approach of the next millennium, the continuing transformation of the WCG, the related question of what will become of its assets, and the ongoing life of Armstrongism through new religious organizations all tell us that there are still many questions to be investigated and many amazing stories to be told.
My thanks to all of our long-time readers who support our efforts and know from experience that we are not quitters. With your ongoing support, we will continue on. And, we will do so in the spirit of that old journalistic tradition that powerfully commands us to "give comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable."
Next Issue (AR 66)
Back to Index