A Brief History of
Herbert W. Armstrong
Herbert Armstrong had a profound impact upon people in the Twentieth Century. He affected millions with his vision. He was personally known throughout the world by prominent leaders such as Indira Gandhi, Eisaku Sato, Anwar el-Sadat, Mrs. Golda Meir, Ferdinand Marcos, and Haile Selassie. He founded a Church which broadcast on Radio and later Television, founded The Plain Truth Magazine, established Ambassador College, and promulgated a unique doctrine of prophesies and the afterlife.
Born July 31, 1892 and died January 16, 1986, Herbert Armstrong married July 31, 1917 to Loma Dillon and remained married until her death April 15, 1967. They had two sons and two daughters: Richard David, Garner Ted, Beverly, and Dorothy. He remarried in the mid 1970s and divorced after five years or so. Richard David died in an automobile accident in the latter part of the 1950s.
Herbert Armstrong managed to finish eight years of school before leaving his parent's home in Iowa. After a number of false starts, he began a mediocre career in advertising. One of the most significant things about Herbert Armstrong was his moods. He recounts:
"In those days I worked sporadically in streaks. I seemed to have my 'off' days and my 'on' days. When I was 'on,' I was 'red hot,' and, as I fancied, at least, very brilliant. But on the 'off' days it seemed I couldn't sell anything. I became very uncomfortably aware of this great fault, and I tried to fight it.... Actually, during these next few years, I did not work more than four or five days a month.... I did not need to have too many of the brilliant days to make a good year's income."
It is clear from these statements and other events which occurred later that Herbert Armstrong had a severe case of bipolar disease--better known as manic depressive illness.
During the 1920s, Herbert Armstrong deteriorated rapidly. He wrote of his business reverses:
"I had been knocked down, stunned, made groggy--but not knocked out. Desperately I clung on, hoping to climb back on top."
He had to move his family from the mid-west to Oregon in 1923 to stay with his father. He had been reduced to going hungry. Then in the Autumn of 1926, his wife challenged him with a religious doctrine. He wrote:
"And so it was that in the fall of 1926--crushed in spirit from business reverses not of my making--humiliated by what I regarded as wifely religious fanaticism, that I entered into an in-depth study of the Bible for the first time in my life."
Herbert Armstrong had an arrogant independent spirit from the beginning. Throughout his life, he refused to submit to anyone but himself and always wanted to "be somebody." He wanted to be known and respected by those who were prominent and accomplished in the world. He had a great deal of drive to build his ego on the carcasses of others. As a vain little man, he continually wanted others to acknowledge his greatness. This was a factor both before and after he founded his religion.
Note his words from his Autobiography:
"But I had been beaten down. God had brought that about--though I didn't realize it then. Repeated business reverses, failure after failure, had destroyed self-confidence. I was broken in spirit. The SELF in me didn't want to die. It wanted to try to get up from ignominious defeat and try once again to tread the broad and popular WAY of vanity and of this world. But now I knew that way was WRONG! I knew its ultimate penalty was DEATH. But I didn't want to die now!
"It was truly a battle for LIFE--a life and death struggle. In the end, I lost that battle, as I had been losing all worldly battles in recent years.
"In final desperation, I threw myself on His mercy. If He could use my life, I would give it to Him--not in physical suicide, but as a living sacrifice, to use as He willed. It was worth nothing to me any longer.
"Jesus Christ had bought and paid for my life by His death. It really belonged to Him, and now I told Him He could have it!
"From then on, this defeated no-good life of mine was God's. I didn't see how it could be worth anything to Him. But it was His to use as His instrument, if He thought He could use it.
JOY in Defeat
"This surrender to God--this REPENTANCE--this GIVING UP of the world, of friends and associates, and of everything--was the most bitter pill I ever swallowed. Yet it was the only medicine in all my life that ever brought a healing!"
For many of us who have had experience with those who have bipolar--manic depressive--illness this account is a clear case of a psychotic break. Based on the evidence of his life and the lives of his children, Herbert Armstrong was very likely genetically predisposed to this terrible disease. The financial and personal reverses he suffered pushed him over the brink into the psychotic break. This set the stage for the roller coaster ride of the highs and lows of the mania and depression that were to plague him the rest of his life.
In cases of this type, it is not uncommon for people having a psychotic break to be very religious. This, plus the fact that the event was accompanied by a religious venue precipitated by his wife made the event even stronger in its religious overtones. This was not helped by the subsequent research that sent him on a religious quest day and night to the Portland Public Library. He would be waiting there when the library opened and be the last one out at night. This obsessive compulsion lasted many months as he tried vainly to follow this method of self-treatment. His vanity was still intact as he just had to prove "an educated person of this world" wrong about evolution. He was pricked by someone who challenged him on the topic. In his mind, he won the debate.
It was during this time that Herbert began to associate with the Church of God, Seventh Day. He eventually was given a certificate which certified him as a minister. Among the experiences he had, the publications of G. G. Rupert came to his attention.
G. G. Rupert was part of the previous generation of the Church of God, Seventh Day and had put together a set of eclectic doctrines that were well suited to the purposes of Herbert Armstrong. Besides giving proofs of the Sabbath and the Holydays as being in force and effect today, there were doctrines of British Israelism, clean and unclean meats, and "The Plan of God" embedded in the pamphlets written by Mr. Rupert. It was upon these doctrines and teachings that Herbert Armstrong based the religion that HE founded. Herbert wrote to the leadership of the Church of which he was a minister about the things he began to believe and was rebuffed. Not being able to take being ignored for his ideas, Herbert left and formally started his own Church.
It was late 1933 that Herbert Armstrong began his first radio broadcast which was later to become "The World Tomorrow." People started writing in wanting to know more about his teachings and so he eventually began "The Plain Truth Magazine." These were launched during the depression. World War II brought some other great opportunities.
With "The World Tomorrow Program" and "The Plain Truth Magazine" launched, the next endeavor Herbert Armstrong began was building "The Radio Church of God." To any objective person today, this would be patently silly, but back then it had great mass appeal--especially associated with prophecy! And what prophecy it was! It predicted that Mussolini would triumph over Hitler, that World War II was the Great Tribulation, that Britain and America would be taken captive and its peoples would be taken and made slaves of the great European Beast Power as a prelude to the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Millennium on earth of a thousand years of peace under Christ and the righteous saints transformed into God, as God is God, in the First Resurrection at Christ's return and would subsequently be involved in the resurrection of all people who never had a chance at the end of the Millennium in the Great White Throne Judgement after which, God the Father Himself would return and transform the earth into a paradise by molten heat with Satan put away in the blackness and darkness forever and the wicked as ashes under the feet of the righteous with only Gods left as the Father's Children to go out as Creators into the rest of the Universe and become saviors to build the increase of God's Kingdom for all eternity. This of course, with God, Jesus Christ, the Apostles, David, Moses, Elijah, and Herbert Armstrong as the top Gods over all the rest of us in a corporate type hierarchy styled after the Roman Legions. All we had to do was pay a tithe--ten percent of all our gross income--to Herbert Armstrong, keep the Sabbath and Holydays partly by keeping another ten percent of our gross income to save to go to annual festivals (second tithe) and two years out of seven giving ten percent of our gross income to support the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Armstrongs (third tithe.) Of course, we also had to refrain from clean and unclean meats, refrain from going to doctors for medical treatment and rely entirely on God for Healing, and make sure that we were not married to people who had been divorced but were considered religiously to be "bound" to their former mates. We also had to believe religiously in the validity of the false prophesies of Herbert Armstrong. To violate any of these things would send us to the "Lake of Fire" at the end of "The Great White Throne Judgement" and we would no longer have the option of becoming God.
Part of the problem with all this was that during the first ten years of Herbert Armstrong preaching on "The World Tomorrow Broadcast" over radio, he was committing incest with his youngest daughter. He had actually taken her to a hotel room on occasion and cruelly raped her. [This is well documented several places, including the divorce proceedings with his second wife, Ramona.]
In the mid to late 1940s, Herbert Armstrong fulfilled another wet dream by establishing Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. It started with four students!
By 1954, things were really rolling, and Herbert had four college graduates to carry on his work. Besides a magazine, there were a number of booklets beginning to be published. Among them were ripoffs from others without any acknowledgement of the original. These included "Does God Exist," "Seven Proofs God Exists," "The Proof of the Bible," and my personal favorite, "A True History of a True Church." For the last entry, anyone who had bothered to go to a suitable University Library could have disproved ALL the premises contained in the booklet. There were no contiguous "eras" of the Church of God, the Waldensians never claimed to be Sabbath Keepers, and the history of John Trask founding a Sabbatarian religion is accurate, but rather based on some very shaky foundations. The best was yet to come.
In the 1950s, Richard David Armstrong took over some of the broadcasting for Herbert Armstrong, until he was killed in an unfortunate automobile accident. Garner Ted Armstrong came out of the Navy after an illustrious career of womanizing and entered Ambassador College where he was "converted." It turns out that like father, so was the son--with some minor variations on the theme.
By the early 1960s, Garner Ted Armstrong was speaking regularly on "The World Tomorrow Broadcast." An internal religious magazine called "The Good News" was published. More booklets were published. There was a foray into Television. Money was beginning to pick up from contributors stimulated by the constant predictions of the fall of the United States and Britain under the captivity of Europe after nuclear missiles were dropped on us with a subsequent war with the Eastern Hordes of Russia and China. The appeal of mass slaughter followed by the return of Jesus Christ prompted an influx of people willing to give their lives over to this increasingly powerful cult, especially with the hints of something called "The Place of Safety." The pinnacle of success, besides the booklet, "The Seven Laws of Success" (which some have dubbed, "The Seven Laws to Excess"), "The Plain Truth about Child Rearing" (A clue on that one, lots of children in the Church grew up abused and have had plenty of mental problems as a result), was "1975 in Prophecy" graphically illustrated by the world renowned Basil Wolverton--a Church member now deceased, converted from atheism, best known for his brief article "Wheelers and Dealers" in Mad Magazine and gory illustrations in the Worldwide Church of God produced "Bible Story for Children" (The illustrations of the pagan idols are glorious!)
It followed from the teachings of British-Israelism that racial lines were VERY important. Herbert Armstrong was found amazingly to be related to British Royalty who in turn were descended directly from King David. This meant that King David was the great, great, great, whatever grandfather to Herbert Armstrong. By implication, rulership of the World Tomorrow would be shared by these two great men. It did not stop there, though. The Church taught that there were three basic races that came from the Children of Noah after the flood destroyed all but eight humans: Caucasians came from Shem, Yellow and Red Races came from Japeth, and Blacks came from Ham. The pecking order in the World Tomorrow was to have the descendants of Shem on top, with Japeth next and Ham on the bottom. Abraham and Jacob came from Shem and so it was desirable to be an Israelite above all. Racisim was rampant in the Church and in some areas, "people of color" were deemed to be lesser than whites--not too different from the teachings of Hitler. It was a LONG time AFTER Ambassador College was founded that black people were allowed in the student body.
Sexism was also rampant: As one person put it, "It was a Man's Church" (And Herbert Armstrong was the MAN!) Women were to be submissive. They were not to usurp a man's authority in any way. There had to be protocol in God's Government!
The Radio Church of God had established three college campuses--all unaccredited--in Pasadena, California, Big Sandy, Texas, and Bricket Wood, England. There were also men's speaking clubs established called Spokesman Club, patterned after Toastmaster's International, but were deemed to be better because Herbert Armstrong Commissioned them. Ambassador College had become the front for the Church as the material was less and less religious and more oriented to world events to attract a larger membership world wide. By the mid 1960s with the assassination of President Kennedy, the threat of nuclear missiles, the Vietnam War, the cold war, and earthquakes and terrible weather everywhere, Herbert Armstrong was in his hay day, or perhaps his Hoeh day, for it was Dr. Herman Hoeh--the Church historian and intellectual--who had declared Herbert Armstrong was AN APOSTLE! This along with the news that the world as we knew it was pretty much coming to an end in 1975 with Christ's return really nailed down the bright future of the church.
Alas, Loma Armstrong, the love of Herbert's life--if you discount that brief ten year tryst with his daughter and other sexual deviancies--died in 1967. Several things came in to fill the void left by the death of his wife of 40+ years. One of those who showed up on Herbert's doorstep was Joseph Tkach, Senior. Another was Stanley Rader. Without his wife's good judgement to protect him from his weakness of listening to men who pandered to him, Herbert began his 20 year decline.
The things that were really important to Herbert Armstrong were fame, fortune, and sex. He wanted important people to notice him. In due time, he found connections to famous world leaders, starting with King Leopold of Belgium. By 1972, Herbert was travelling around the world, leaving the management of the Church to his profligate son, Garner Ted Armstrong. By 1972, Garner Ted Armstrong had slept with over 200 women and was seducing Ambassador College co-eds, Church Office Workers, and Evangelist's wives. Father, Herbert was busy spending money, particularly during the manic phases of his bipolar disorder. (When he was depressed, he would send out letters to co-workers for money claiming that THIS GREAT WORK, WHICH IS THE ONLY WORK ON THE FACE THIS EARTH, CARRYING OUT THE VERY GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, was about to become bankrupt! Then when the money rolled in, he'd feel better and start spending it again in his manic phase.) When we say money, we are talking in the neighborhood of $100 million per year! He could really spend too. A single night in Japan to throw a dinner for his "Japanese Sons" (members of the Japanese Diet) could cost anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000 (back in the early 1970s.) This is not to say that Herbert was not immune to the opposite sex. It has been reported that he had relations with Ramona Martin for three years before they married. Fame, Money, Sex. He had it all.
But in 1972, some of the ministry in the higher echelons of the very hierarchical Church, whose name had been changed to the Worldwide Church of God, were beginning to become dissatisfied by the utter hypocrisy represented by the triumph of Image over Substance represented by the double standard of the Church. Some of the ministers complained and were disfellowshipped. Others left in disgust. The situation was exacerbated by the publication of "The Ambassador Report" started by a very fine, honest, and courageous Ambassador College graduate named John Trechak. The Ambassador Report began to chronicle the shenanigans of the Armstrongs and other casually vicious hypocrites in the hierarchy of the Church. [Those interested in receiving current and back copies of The Ambassador Report, may write to John at:
The Ambassador Report
P.O. Box 60068
Pasadena, California 91116
Note that there is a charge for the Report.]
Herbert Armstrong had to perform substantial damage control. He requested a Church wide fast--to rid the Church of the influences of Satan (which in retrospect, would probably include himself.) Garner Ted Armstrong was disfellowshipped and sent away--sort of like the azazel goat of Leviticus 16--into the wilderness (once in Colorado in a Church furnished mountain retreat cabin with all amenities), but he was still on full salary. Herbert wrote a letter explaining that his son was exhausted from all the responsibilities he had. (Pundits suggest that his exhaustion was sexual.) Soon Garner Ted Armstrong repented on cue and returned to doing what he was doing before--all of what he was doing before, just like a good psychopath would.
Many noted that the Armstrongs were alcoholics. Garner Ted Armstrong was famed for his drinking at "the Feast of Booze" as it was referred to--a play on words derived from the Feast of Booths. He actually had the liquor confiscated by an alert deacon in the Seattle Church when he came to a Church social where he did sing "Delilah." His father, Herbert was not to be outdone, and was observed by many of those with whom he surrounded himself as being in a drunken stupor early evenings.
More than a few Ambassador College students came innocently earnestly looking to learn about God and found their lives a nightmare. In a Christian College of the sort represented by Ambassador College, one would expect learning "how to live, instead of how to make a living" as the campus brochures bragged. With the motto: "The Word of God is the foundation of knowledge," one would expect the highest standards of ethics and propriety. Instead, particularly beginning in the 1970s, there were many beer busts. The legendary pot parties were not just a legend. Drug dealers were to be found among the faculty. There were seductions of the female students by the faculty and evangelists. There was even a small ring of homosexuals on campus. Two lesbians taught grade school at the Church's Imperial School. More than one male student was turned out by a male faculty member or male employee of the Church. One of the evangelists kept extensive pornography in his office and there is credible proof that he is a pedophile of male children.
For Herbert though, life was fulfilling. There were more world trips. More world leaders. Gifts of expensive Stueben Crystal. Lots of money spent. Expensive homes with expensive furnishings. Masterpieces of art collected. It is very difficult to express the opulence exhibited by the Worldwide Church of God Empire. Suffice it to say, the church built a 1,200 seat auditorium for $24 million with gold leaf overlay for the top of the stair wells, Onyx and rose quartz urinals(!!!) and concerts with entire orchestras flown in from Europe (paid for by Church members--the concerts didn't necessarily break even.)
Herbert remarried. Things were going really good. Remember that Herbert had gained a little weight while he was enjoying the good life. It isn't clear, but it looks as if at 5' 7" or so--he was a short man--he weighed probably 250 pounds. It was some time in 1968 he had one of his more public heart attacks and was laid up for some time.
By this time the Church had to change the doctrines about not being able to marry a divorced person--ever--and going to doctors for medicine. This is because of the divorce one of the evangelists had as well as the marriage of Herbert to Ramona (who was divorced). The question of doctors was settled when members raised too much of a fuss that an evangelist went for "corrective" laser surgery for his eye. So Herbert could get the medicines he needed and stay with his wife as well.
Things really began to sour by 1979. Several disgruntled ministers and members had the State of California bring a receivership against the Church, claiming malfeasance in the handling of funds. The State Attorney General had a rather difficult couple of years with the very litigatinous Worldwide Church of God.
Soon, though, that unpleasantness was handled, and the Church lurched forward in the 1980s. A Youth magazine was published. Programs were set up for teenagers--especially important since members had been encouraged to neglect their children in favor of supporting THE GREATEST END TIME WORK OF THE TRUE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THIS WORLD HAD EVER SEEN. The Church began to realize that with the failure of prophecy after prophecy and the reverses it had suffered, the greatest and best source of future funds and membership lay in the children of the lay members.
Herbert Armstrong divorced Ramona. The divorce cost an estimated $5 million. Herbert continued to travel and meet world leaders. He presented $100,000 checks to world leaders on camera to promote his image seeking. The College produced a Television Program version of "The World Tomorrow." The Bricket Wood Campus had long been closed, eliminating the expense of a foreign college. Money was rolling in at over $200 million per year.
Then Herbert Armstrong died in 1986.
Through the wranglings of intense politicking, Joseph Tkach, Senior got himself into the position of Apostle of the Church--dubbed as the Pastor General. Tkach began to clean house. He managed in ten years to stop the Good News Magazine, cancel all radio and television stations, reduce the Plain Truth from 8 million subscribers to less than 800,000, and began an intensive but subtle campaign to subvert and eliminate all of the doctrines that Herbert Armstrong preached. That program succeeded. It has been reported that Tkach Sr. had a mistress and pretty much terrorized his wife. Tkach died, but his son took control.
The state of the Church is now fragmented with several major and a couple hundred minor churches spun off from the Worldwide Church of God. Ambassador College / University has closed for good. While the Pasadena and Big Sandy Properties are still active, they are progressively being mothballed and are up for sale. Congregations still exist in the United States, but are on the decline. The only thing left of note is The Plain Truth Ministries, which is not that successful. The cult has turned to mainstream Protestant religion with some holdovers, such as the annual conventions and a mixture of Sabbath and Sunday keeping. Becoming mainstream has had the impact that other evangelical religions now viewing the Worldwide Church of God as competition.
Attacks by Satan!!!?!
Many people--those who have salaries as a result of Herbert Armstrong's empire in what ever capacity they serve now, in what ever church--complain that these facts are attacks by Satan upon the servant of the LIVING GOD! That, sure, Herbert Armstrong may have had his faults and weaknesses, but he did a great work for God.
Those who believe this should look at the facts again.
Jesus Christ said by their fruits you shall know them. What are the fruits of Herbert Armstrong's doings? Moreover, Christ was quoted as saying that Satan was a liar and a murderer from the very beginning. Herbert Armstrong lied. He lived a lie. He claimed credit and stood on someone's work without giving credit. He was a false prophet. And he was a murderer.
By the early teaching of the Radio / Worldwide Church of God from Herbert Armstrong, there was an enforced faith that people HAD to rely on the power of God to Heal. If they went to doctors for treatment they were in danger of the lake of fire and would lose their salvation. Even though this false teaching was reversed in the 1970s after he and others went to doctors, many died from various diseases as a result. Herbert later blamed God for not revealing the real truth to him and so he also committed blasphemy.
The doctrines about divorce and remarriage quite literally destroyed many families. Where people had happily remarried, the relationship was ripped apart and many many children grew up in broken homes NEEDLESSLY! But broken homes were not the only fruit borne by Herbert Armstrong. He insisted that we should commit ourselves 100% to THE WORK! We were to give until it HURT! We were to raise our children by the booklet "The Plain Truth about Child Rearing," by that stellar example of Christian Living, Garner Ted Armstrong. Most casual observers note that those in the Church who had happy, successful, loved children, growing up to live fairly normal balanced, productive lives completely ignored "The Plain Truth about Child Rearing," and raised their children the right way instead. Those who followed "The Plain Truth about Child Rearing" and other Church teachings on the subject had children with low self esteem with mental problems and diseases. And, of course, many of the untreated children died. Parents were taught basically to sacrifice their children for the sake of the cult.
Ambassador College / University was a hotbed of carnal corruption. The police regularly informed security at the institution when the next teenage camp was to be held, because the police had advance news from the local drug dealers.
Any objective logical person who believes in the spirit world might conclude that Herbert Armstrong was more the tool of Satan than God from examining the fruits alone.
People need to eradicate the mindset of the Armstrongs and turn from harsh militaristic hierarchical control to what seems to be intended by Christianity: Love, gentleness, care, and concern for others, rather than self seeking manipulative egotistical control with a hidden agenda. Two resources can help tremendously: The Ambassador Report, mentioned above, and the book, Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. (Many may want to read Without Conscience--The Disturbing World of The Psycopaths Among Us by Dr. Robert D. Hare.) More than one person has taken back ownership of their lives, gotten themselves out of debt, lost weight, and reconciled with their families.
Herbert Armstrong had a profound impact upon people in the Twentieth Century. He affected millions with his vision. He was personally known throughout the world by prominent leaders such as Indira Gandhi, Eisaku Sato, Anwar el-Sadat, Mrs. Golda Meir, Ferdinand Marcos, and Haile Selassie. He founded a Church which broadcast on Radio and later Television, founded The Plain Truth Magazine, established Ambassador College, and promulgated a unique doctrine of prophesies and the afterlife. As a result he ruined many lives with his hypocritical, profligate, sick lifestyle.
In conclusion, you shall know the truth, and it shall set you free (if you let it.)