Alcoholism And The
Worldwide Church of God
By John O.
Back in the early seventies, I remember that we used to attend the Feast at the Mt. Pocono site in Pennsylvania. Each year, the local Stroudsburg paper gave a blurb about the coming of Worldwide Church of God church for its annual festival. This meant big money to the local area, and the all businesses loved our attendance, even if they thought we were all a little strange.
One year, in the Stroudsburg paper, Worldwide Church of God was given its usual blurb, but on this year they chose to tell the readership more about us and one particular doctrine. Even though they had it all wrong, it brought home a point. "Those members," it mistakenly said, "who do not smoke are allowed to drink." And drink they did. Within the first two days at the beginning of the Feast, the liquor stores were always packed with Worldwide Church of God members. All that week the liquor sales were up, and the state run stores told us that they used to "stock up" for the members during that time.
With his gravel voice, Raymond Cole barked at the membership one evening in services, with one of his predictably long, straitlaced, legalistic, and boring sermons. He yelled that each year, the liquor stores are packed with the Worldwide Church of God folks, and we're all getting a reputation locally of being "drunks." He needn't have bothered with his comments, as it appeared no one listened. This was the Feast. Many a motel room had its assortment of multi-colored liquor bottles, the brethren visited each other, shared tales of the past year, and many consumed their over-fair share of alcohol. Teen pregnancies among singles that incurred at the feast were commonly reported to the ministry as a result of drinking too much.
The reason was simple. It was Ok to drink in Worldwide Church of God, even a little too much . . . just as long as you didn't get really drunk. This was an acceptable thing to do, especially at the Feast, because the church leadership drank themselves, and they set the example.
Herbert W. Armstrong never smoked. If he had, we'd probably have had thousands of later cases of lung cancer and emphysema. But, Herbert drank, and drank, and drank. So did Garner Ted Armstrong, his minions, and most of the higher ups at Pasadena. And so, the ministry drank and drank, and the brethren followed the example. What the heck, many said, we're leaving for Petra in a year or two anyhow. What harm can it do?
In 1957, the medical authorities across the country basically agreed that alcoholism was a sickness, an illness, and/or a disease which you don't catch, but you most probably inherit. The reason, they've concluded lately, is that alcoholics have a defective DNA with a distorted mitochondria which triggers the alcohol craving. For more information on this and many other links for more details, check out: http://alcoholism.about.com/health/alcoholism/?once=true&
However, there are some interesting observations about such genetic problems. Doctors have concluded that alcoholism may never be manifested if a person doesn't either drink, or get into the habit. Simply . . . if a person who has this genetic weakness never drinks, then they'll never show the problem.
Far too many people that I've spoken to over the years have stated that they hardly ever drank before entering Worldwide Church of God. It's the cheapest tranquilizer around and with the pressure of church legalism, disgust with oneself, and pressures of tithing, the tendency is for people to want to relax from the strain of following a set of rigid laws they could never completely fulfill. Since it was acceptable for everyone to have a few, they admitted that they "got into the habit." And far too many people that I spoke to in later years, realize they now have a serious alcohol problem triggered by their continued and regular drinking in Worldwide Church of God. While Worldwide Church of God does NOT make anyone an alcoholic, it can bring out the problem that a person was probably born with, and a problem that could have been avoided if the bright, green light of excess drinking was not there. After all, the leadership drank . . . why shouldn't we all?
Herbert W. Armstrong's drinking was no secret. He drank heavily many times, and was considered an alcoholic by many who had to watch the "apostle" guzzle his way through an excess portion of whiskey, sherry, or wine. Many of the top echelon, who knew of Herbert's excesses, also indulged. Young secretaries who occasionally accompanied him in the G-II, would relate how they would try and prevent an inebriated Herbert from downing full glasses of whiskey on many of his "gospel preaching" flights. Since Herbert listened to no one, the ladies later said that he would drink his fill, then throw up all over the table in the cabin. Invariably, he was drunk quite often, then he'd pass out, and had to be helped to bed in many a situation. But many of the leadership, who knew of the problem, never said a word. And they did set the example of the same excess themselves whenever social time came. I know, because I saw it near the end of my tenure.
Garner Ted Armstrong also had the same cravings as papa. Many people who closely knew him had experience of his heavy drinking. Garner Ted Armstrong used to crawl into his room, lock himself in with a bottle and a six pack anytime he felt that he was "unloved."
In the late seventies, Garner Ted Armstrong and his entourage traveled the world (for the "work," of course), and stopped off in Sydney. One evening, there was to be a dinner at the hotel where they all stayed, and where the ministry was all invited to hear from Garner Ted Armstrong and others. But when the time came for his appearance, and throughout the whole dinner, Garner Ted Armstrong and the others never showed. The following morning, at near checkout time, one ex-minister related to me that he and others went to Garner Ted Armstrong's suite. They were shocked with what they found. The maids were disgusted.
The whole place stank of whiskey and the stale vomit in the bathroom. Bottles were everywhere, and the hotel staff collected all the half empties for themselves. But the entourage had already left. There was no way of telling how many were there in that suite (entourage plus?), but I was told the place looked like a typhoon had hit it. There was mess everywhere, and the hotel staff were stunned when told that this suite was used as a party place by men who were supposedly "ministers" of God.
With this permissive approach to drinking, it's no wonder that many of the brethren were liberal with their approach to alcohol. Once more, while we're NOT saying that Worldwide Church of God made people alcoholics, their endorsement of over drinking - as exemplified in the top leadership - gave many the tacit approval that most possibly started a decline in many lives. Please remember, many quit smoking because of Worldwide Church of God beliefs and have never started again. How many, who are now full blown alcoholics, could have been spared the inevitability of the disease, if the leadership had never set the example with their overindulgent approach?
Over a short space of time, I watched too many Worldwide Church of God friends drink more and more. Many of us finally realized what was happening and we had to cut way down or quit completely. Others never worried. After all, the leadership drank, so why shouldn't they? In California, many knew of the drunken escapades of the top brass, but dismissed it because they were all "God's servants." Even after I was in the hireling ministry, some brethren didn't care if I knew they had tumblers of whiskey for breakfast, and some that I personally knew had upped their quotas to a quart plus of bourbon a day. After all, the leadership approves . . . don't they?
The Bricket Wood campus always came alive when Herbert W. Armstrong came to visit. Cases of Dom Perignon were shipped to Herbert's home on the grounds, and they were followed by cases of Mateus Ros,. The advanced shipments were so the wines could be properly chilled in time for the apostle's arrival. Caviar (supposedly clean) was also shipped in to complement the rest of the apostolic feasting.
A sad fact should be noted here. Many of the young ladies on campus had little money in those days, and when third tithe year came around, they literally had no money to buy their monthly feminine napkins. I was told this by one lady who went through this situation. Many ladies were forced to use whatever torn up cloths they could find, wash them, dry them, and re-use them. Meanwhile, Herbert feasted each night, with the upper group of the campus, on caviar and washed it all down with liberal bottles of Dom Perignon. The plight of the ladies was obviously of little consequence. The price of just one bottle of Dom Perignon could have alleviated much needless discomfort.
Ex-ministers later told me that many of the "Sabbatical" ministers were called in because of alcohol problems and wife beating. The latter, it was surmised, came as a result of the drinking. For the most part, it appears that the Sabbatical did little good.
By the mid to late 1970's, drinking had become such a problem (but one that was generally covered up), that Pasadena CAD decided to send around to many of the church areas, a man who was conversant with alcoholism. Dale Hampton, a minister and an admitted alcoholic, had been through re-hab and AA. Dale was clean and sober when I knew him, and he went from area to area, to minister to the ministry and brethren, and address this problem which was now becoming serious in Worldwide Church of God. He counseled, he lectured on the subject, discussed the twelve steps, and he genuinely tried to help. The results were not spectacular. After all, why quit? The example hadn't changed. The leadership still drank, didn't they? Not once, during this time, did the leadership rise up and condemn the practice of over drinking, as they were reportedly still happy with their own inordinate consumption of alcohol.
While there were indeed some in Worldwide Church of God leadership that were against any excess of any type, many were not. It was the latter that people saw as their example. I sat in one evangelist's office in those days to discuss a management decision relating to the church. He never heard a word I said. He was falling asleep after a heavy lunch date with his buddies. I don't know how many he'd had, but it was enough to put him out for the rest of the day. But, that was Ok. He was an evangelist . . . right? I'm sure he didn't even remember my leaving his office.
People have the choice to drink or not. But when the people you most respect are drinking to excess, then if the genetic weakness is already there, it doesn't take much for that person to go the full distance. If leadership example is what you consider to be Ok, then the chances are that a latent alcoholic will ultimately manifest himself and/or herself. Women were not exempt from this problem either.
In a recent article, one contributor remembers her church experiences in that particular area. She recalled that there were alcoholics in the congregation, and apparently one of them decided to leap and go crashing through a window in the building. That was the last service Worldwide Church of God was permitted to have there. I too remember in the areas that we attended, there were people openly drinking way more than moderation, with the excuse that it's Ok, as Pasadena would approve. Again, while there were some in Pasadena who would have criticized the practice, there was no open condemnation of this problem which they KNEW was happening. Many who didn't approve of the drinking problem in Pasadena, openly said nothing, because of the obvious retaliation. So, Dale Hampton was recruited to "instruct" people and churches individually, rather than any leader should show himself, and have the courage to stand up, and give an open condemnation of the problem that the Pasadena leadership knew about and chose to ignore.
While any organization does not make people alcoholics, how many ex-members who are now full blown and manifested as alcoholics could have been spared the needless suffering IF that leadership had been less tares and more human? Unfortunately, as is the case with other areas of needless suffering, Worldwide Church of God didn't really care about the consequences of its untoward actions. The gratification of the leadership was more important than the lives, stability, and future sanity of any of its members. Like any corrupt business, it produced NO product, charged a fortune, and left human debris in its path. Part of that debris is now evidenced in the tragic lives of full-blown alcoholics who might never have reached that level if it wasn't for the disgusting, abhorrent example set by the tares and leadership in the cult of Worldwide Church of God.
Blessings. Wanna chat?
The email is: [email protected]
After thinking it over, I have decided to allow you to use my letter (see attached) as you see fit. You must keep this confidential, please. Do not use my name in any way, shape or manner. My purpose is to possibly be of help to others who are also out there struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. Perhaps they will find some meaning in my story. I will let them be the judge. All of the incidents are true, and I have tried to recall the details to the best of my ability. Keep up the good work! __________________________________________________________________
I found your article about alcoholism to be insightful, embarrassing, depressing, and helpful, all at the same time. It was distressingly all too true. And it's high time someone had the courage to write what you did! I would like to share my experiences with you about alcohol and how it has affected my life.
First, a couple of anecdotes. It was December 1973. Garner Ted Armstrong was to appear at a rally in the city I lived in. I had been following along with Worldwide Church of God for many years. And I had been eagerly studying their literature for about two months leading up to the rally. So I was quite excited. I even took my mother along so we could both hear this wonderful speaker we had heard so often on the radio. But Garner Ted Armstrong never showed up. Ron Dart took his place. I had no idea who Dart was, but it was, none-the-less, a rewarding evening. But I was very disappointed that Garner Ted Armstrong didn't speak that night. I really wanted to put a face and personality to that marvelous voice.
A few years ago a long time Worldwide Church of God member and close friend told me about Garner Ted Armstrong's "girlfriend." He said that he knows this girlfriend personally and that she has told him about her trysts with Garner Ted Armstrong. So I thought for a long time that perhaps Garner Ted Armstrong was busy with his lady friend that night when he let Dart fill in for him.
Since reading your article, now I am not so sure. It could have been an actual emergency Garner Ted Armstrong had to deal with. I don't know. And it also could be that he was having a swinging time of it with his bimbo, boozing it up at some motel that night, instead of fulfilling his speaking engagement. I guess we will never know. I mentioned this to Ron Dart via his CEM forum and he said he would try to reply but I haven't bothered him with it anymore. He doesn't really like my religious views anyway since I left Worldwide Church of God.
Another incident took place in Oakland, CA, in 1976. I was living in the Central Valley at the time and we all drove over there for a Garner Ted Armstrong & Tony Brasil concert. After services we went to some other rented facility for the music. It wasn't too long before Garner Ted Armstrong was swigging down the beer on stage. And we had an ice tub about the size of a small swimming pool overflowing with wine and beer. I didn't drink much at all (more about that in a minute) back then. But I could tell that several members were drunk, both men and women. There was a constant crowd around that tub. And what the heck, with GTA up there guzzling them down, people were just following his example.
Now, back to the point of why I wrote this letter. I had have some wild times in my B.C. days as a teen-ager and young man. I started drinking beer when I was 18. I got in with a bad crowd and did not realize how much influence one's "friends" can have on a person. I didn't really drink a lot then like I did later on. Maybe three or four beers, and then I was pretty stoned. I did this only on weekends, for the most part, you know, the usual parties and poker games. And there were times when I would go for weeks, or even months with no booze. So I wasn't really what you'd call an alcoholic.
I used to smoke in those days too. I might go through 1/2 pack per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And I managed to quit a few times. One time, after reading one of Worldwide Church of God's publications about smoking, I went almost four months without a cigarette. But I always drifted back into the habit. I was young and didn't associate it with death & disease, although I never really liked the idea that I was hooked on nicotine and what it was doing to my physical endurance.
In November 1973, I quit smoking and drinking. I didn't know it then, but God was starting to deal with me in a big way. I had felt his presence for many years but this was serious. And I began an intense study of Worldwide Church of God literature. In 1974 I was baptized.
For the next few years, I drank very little, and only beer at that. But after I moved to California, I discovered the wonderful world of wine. I lived with my mother (who was then divorced) for a year or so. My mother's friend, who was of Italian ancestry, always came over for dinner and we always had wine with it. He himself and my mother were not alcoholics. In fact, I don't think my mother even enjoyed the stuff. But she went along with him.
And so did I. I started drinking nothing but wine. At $1.98 per gallon (remember, this was California and this was the mid 70s) it was cheaper than beer and worked better. My one glass for dinner soon became two. And then an after dinner glass. And sometimes, on weekends, yet another one. I slowly began to realize that this was not good. So I would cut back from time to time. Sometimes I would just cut back to beer. And sometimes I would just not drink during the week. I would wait for weekends. I went along like this until the early 80s.
But by the mid to late 80s, I was putting away 2 or 3 gallons a week. I knew I was heading for trouble. My wife and kids were getting concerned. It was not affecting my job, but it did affect our home life. I never, ever drank on the job. But when I came through the front door in the evening I would always head straight for the wine rack.
I have tried to quit several times on my own. Sometimes this would last for a few days. Other times it would last for a couple of weeks. But after awhile I would always think that things weren't so bad, I could handle the stuff. And I would start again. And the funny thing was, every time I went through this, I noticed that my tolerance for the stuff dropped remarkably. The hangovers came back. And it would take me several weeks to build back up to my previous level. And the stuff didn't really taste all that good. In fact, a couple of times I caught myself saying, "I'm spending my money on this stuff?"
Right now, I am struggling again. And while I sit at this computer, keeping up with my job skills, writing letters, faxing out resumes, I can really chug the stuff down. Sometimes three liters per day.
This morning I got up and prayed to the Holy Spirit to give me that desire He gave me those many years ago when I quit this nonsense. I know it was God's Spirit. I just didn't do it on my own. I know myself better than that. It's like a gambler or a con artist. When he wakes up in the morning, he is usually thinking about his next big kill or victim. I'm not saying that I would wake up and grab a cold one. I never did do that. But I knew something was up in 1973 when I went cold turkey off the cigarettes and booze.
And so I am hoping for another miracle. I am hoping that God can do this again for me, that he will not just let me continue on like this. Some people might be tempted to tell me that it's too late. I blew it and now I have to do it the hard way via my own willpower and AA. I hope not. I hope God is watching and listening.
Finally, you mentioned about how Herbert W. Armstrong winked at all of this because of his own drinking problems. I was revolted by the stories about the G-2 and his vomit. I hope that is not true. But I would not be surprised if it is. I've read so many stories about him now it would just be one more for the record book, that's all.
This is what I would like to tell the entire Church of God:
Why didn't you stop us potential alcoholics? Why didn't you level with us and tell us the truth about alcohol? Why did you paper over the sins of our drunken leaders? And why, O WHY, when we were like putty in your hands (as I was years ago) why didn't you, for God's sake, warn us about the dangers of alcoholism? WHY, WHY WHY?
I'm telling you John, if the ministry had sat me down and just asked me a few questions I could have avoided this whole problem, this whole nasty habit. They had my complete attention as I was coming into Worldwide Church of God. This would not have been difficult at all for me, to stop all drinking, seeing how I obeyed all those other things I had never done before, triple tithing, Sabbath keeping, Feast days, fasting, etc., etc., etc.
What the ministry should have done is this: they should first of all have asked about my family background. Did alcoholism run in my family? I would have told them, yes, it does. My father was an alcoholic. His own father came from Eastern Europe, and died at age 36 from an apparent alcohol binge. My mother's side (though, as I said, she has basically always been a teetotaler) is Irish. One of her brothers drank heavily for years. So, in that genetic sense, I got the double whammy.
Now the ministry certainly was not about to baptize me if I had still been smoking. So they should have also insisted that I stop any and all drinking and never touch alcohol again, EVER! I would have done so gladly. That was how much I wanted to be baptized and receive God's Spirit. I'll tell you, I would never have touched the stuff if they had just forbid it. I had already quit smoking. Giving up one more bad habit would have been easy back then.
Well, they did nothing of the sort. They were a lot more interested in how I kept the Sabbath than what I drank. And the Church, in general, was a whole lot more concerned about ham sandwiches than how much alcohol we consumed in a day. Yes, it was Ok to sit at the restaurant table and kill a carafe or two of vino, but you'd better watch out for those French fries! They may have been cooked in lard, God forbid!! It was Ok to get snockered at a Spokesman's Club wine & cheese social, but you'd better not put the wrong "type" of crackers on the table!
No, the ministry simply blew it, big time. The passed up a golden opportunity to REALLY help me and thousands of others. But I guess they just couldn't concern themselves with this subject because a drunken Armstrong -or two, told them not to worry. Jesus drank wine. So let's all party! Hey, fire up those G-2 engines and let's go visit another tin-horned dictator. And where's the church key? Anybody know how to work this corkscrew?
I know you've probably read dozens of stories like mine. This has not been an easy task, to write this letter. I am pretty well drained right now. But I wanted to share this with you while I had the courage to.
I also believe that miracles do happen. I've seen them and experienced them. Until then, I will wait for another one. Perhaps the next letter I write to you will find myself back on the straight and narrow, not walking by my own power, but by the sobering power of the Holy Spirit. I hope so
God bless and keep up the good work on the Painful Truth site. Your letters about how things really were are reaching and helping far more people than you may realize.
This person who wrote anonymously in response to John O's article is waiting for a "miracle" to save him from the booze. Based on the dates he gave, he is not a young man any more. I recommend that you or John O write him back and tell him to get his ass to AA now.
Screw the miracle--it ain't likely gonna happen. The only thing that can save his very life is a support group and a healthy dose of the 12 Steps. Saved my ass in 85. They really do work.
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