Evaluating the Rumors about HWA and Incest
When individuals research the history of the Worldwide Church of God, they generally turn to the Internet. The Internet allows the efficient gathering of facts, truths and insights. The Internet can also be a rich source of rumors, lies, and innuendo. For most WCG issues, separating the facts from the fiction is fairly straight forward. There is typically enough documented data for individuals to make informed decisions without buying into lies or unsubstantiated rumors.
When it comes to evaluating the allegations of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) committing incest, however, the situation is more challenging. The act is repulsive, the implications are significant, the burden of proof is high, and yet the documentation is somewhat sparse and hotly contested. His critics tend to dogmatically claim HWA committed incest and offer this as proof that HWA was not a man led by God. Some ministers have acknowledged that HWA did commit incest but they tend to downplay the significance of it. Other strident HWA supporters have dogmatically claimed that the allegations are false and these individuals typically attack the integrity and motives of the accusers.
Is it possible to sort through all of the contradictory claims on this topic? This document was prepared to summarize my own efforts to do so. It was compiled from information that is available on the internet. I’ve also included additional material regarding my discussions with some of the ministers who had been at the Pasadena Headquarters just before and after the accusations were made public around 1980.
PART 1 – SUPPORT FOR THE ALLEGATIONS BEING FALSE
A number of individuals have indicated that the charges against HWA are false, unfounded and evil spirited. Common positions include:
“Not guilty” due to lack of evidence. Bob Thiel is an individual who finds HWA not guilty of incest due to there being insufficient evidence to prove the incest had taken place. His full, in-depth explanation can be found at the following link:
Bob reported that he personally investigated the issue. He claimed that not only could the accusations not be proven, but some aspects were actually disprovable. He concluded that the accusers had merely perpetuated the charade with no direct information and that HWA would be found not guilty in any real court of law.
In essence, Bob believes that all accusations about HWA and his daughter stem from the charges first aired in David Robinson's 1980 book, Armstrong’s Tangled Web.
A significant point Bob made included that Art Mokarow would not stand by previous comments about personally hearing HWA's alleged confession in the "Lochner tapes"
Note that in Bob’s investigation, he did not discuss the allegations with several individuals who had reported learning about the incest directly from Armstrong family members.
“Not guilty” because it is inconceivable. It makes no sense that God would have imparted spiritual knowledge to an individual who, at the same time, was violating his own daughter. This is the position many take, including the individual behind the "HWA Library" site and Frank Nelte. In response to questions I raised, they both argued along the lines of: God only works through men of integrity. God obviously worked through HWA. Therefore, HWA is a man of integrity and these claims must be false.
Although many strongly believe this to be the case, circular reasoning proves nothing.
PART 2 – SUPPORT FOR THE ACCUASTIONS BEING TRUE (GENERAL)
Lack of Denials
It would have been reassuring to find clear denials of the incest at the time these claims had been put into print in books (e.g., Armstrong's Tangled Web) or when they appeared in newspapers (during HWA's divorce trial and when the church divided in 1995). However, the allegations were never denied publically by HWA, by his family members, or by the WCG.
Is the lack of denials proof that the incest occurred? No.
Some HWA supporters have acknowledged (without getting into the specific 'proofs') that he had committed incest with his daughter but then have offered excuses such as the "David defense" to minimize the transgression and to imply that it had no impact on his role. Such statements are telling but they neither prove nor excuse the alleged incest.
Are non-specific acknowledgements of incest proofs that the incest had occurred? No.
PART 3 – SUPPORT FOR THE ACCUASTIONS BEING TRUE (SPECIFIC)
While some have attacked David Robinson's integrity, others have defended him. This is not surprising. This is often the case when individuals speak out about controversial topics and every individual could be praised or criticized depending on what attributes or actions a supporter or enemy would choose to focus on.
"Incest is a terrible and unnatural crime, an extreme perversity. That is why I was shocked beyond measure to hear that Herbert Armstrong was himself, guilty of this vile sin. I learned of this in the summer of 1979 from members of his own family. The story, sordid beyond imagination, was told in awful detail.
One family source was Garner Ted Armstrong. Last summer, as HWA attacked his own son in such savage fury, his son was in the depths of despair. His emotional mix included anger and deep hurt. In such a state he told family secrets that otherwise would have been locked within him forever. He said he had learned in 1971 of his father's incredible conduct during the '30's and '40s. The story came directly to him in lurid detail, but he kept it sealed in his own consciousness for all those years. But, in the spring of 1978 while in his father's house for the last time, his father had threatened to "destroy him." Ted, in response, replied, "Dad, I will destroy you. I know about you and -----." (He was speaking of the younger of his two sisters.)"
...None who have objectively heard the incest story in its awful detail doubt it. This is a vital chapter left out of HWA's autobiography. This sin occurred over a long span of years, a decade after his ordination to the ministry, according to his own family members. No wonder he was not receptive to David Antion's "qualifications for the ministry" paper back in 1974."
Such matters should not normally be mentioned, but this is by no means a normal case. The welfare of thousands is at stake, and thousands who look to HWA, idolizing him as if he were God himself, must come to understand how dangerous such a view is. Thousands around the world have been hurt by blindly following this man. Now people must be given enough information to make an intelligent decision on whether this is the man who is going to lead them to safety during the "crisis at the close," or whether he is just going to continue taking their money and calling them "dumb sheep"!
"...The way a man talks in private is the way he is. His public utterances alone aren't enough to judge a man's character—his trustworthiness. It is especially necessary to know what kind of man you follow when he promises to lead you in the kingdom of God."
Although this book may not have been the most well written account of the church, much of the material was consistent with other sources and confirmed through my personal discussions with ministers who had been at headquarters during this period.
Is the incest claim credible? Since Mr. Robinson stated that he had learned about the incest directly from several family members (although he named only GTA), this leaves us with just a few choices:
No matter how disgruntled an individual had become about WCG in 1980, it is difficult to imagine that they would be willing to make such a claim if they knew it were to be false. WCG was very well-funded and litigious and it would have put an individual at great financial risk to make such a claim in print. Mr. Robinson went ahead and made the claim and also explained why he did so.
Although Herbert Armstrong never sued David Robinson for publishing his book, two of his employees (Henry Cornwall and Sherwin McMichael) did sue Mr. Robinson. The suit was settled with WCG having to pay Mr. Robinson $25,000.
The incest story was also mentioned in Ambassador Report #14, December 1, 1980 ("HWA incest allegations not denied").
Many AR readers who have read David Robinson's book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web have written to us expressing absolute shock at some of the allegations it contains. Especially disturbing to many are the allegations contained in chapter 20 entitled "Incest."
We sincerely wish that we could report uncovering evidence to negate Mr. Robinson's charges, but unfortunately that is not the case. Herbert Armstrong has not issued any statement discounting the charges, nor has Stan Rader. Dorothy Mattson, Herbert Armstrong's daughter, has not come forward to deny the allegations. And Garner Ted Armstrong has also refused to deny the charges. The Toronto Star, Sept. 20 (p. F4) wrote:
"Contacted by phone in Tyler, Texas, where he heads his own new church, the Church of God International, Garner Ted Armstrong said he had 'no comment' regarding allegations of his father's incest ...."
All Ambassador Reports are available at:
Jack Kessler was WCG's CPA who worked directly with HWA and Rader and his letter detailing a number of corporate irregularities contained the following references to the charge of incest:
“The human condition is such that it would shock probably only just a few to learn of the moral depravity that is reported commonly among you. Although others, such as Dave Robinson* and Floyd Lochner, apparently thought it might work to their advantage to report Mr. Armstrong's admission (which he's made to several) that he had engaged repeatedly in incestuous intercourse with his daughter during the first 10 years of his ministry, as well as more recent, self-confessed sexual perversity..."
The entire letter available at:
This letter was credible in a number of areas. Was it true regarding the incest allegation? In addition to mentioning Mr. Robinson as a source, Mr. Kessler also brought up Mr. Floyd Lochner. Floyd Lochner had allegedly taped HWA, hoping to get a denial regarding the incest allegation on record, but instead, HWA had confessed to the incest.
This evidence would be incontrovertible. But many ask, “Where is the tape?” Who had heard it personally? If someone claimed too, are they credible?
Art Mokarow is one individual who has publically stated that he had personally heard this tape.
This issue provided additional material beyond what David Robinson had mentioned and named others that were aware that the incest had taken place. This was because Dorothy had told friends about the incest and that others had confirmed with HWA after reading David Robinson’s book.
“The Armstrong organization, through surrogates, attempted to use the courts to block distribution of the Robinson book, but failed miserably (Ambassador Report, Sept. 1980). It is most remarkable, however, that in attempting to stop distribution of the Robinson book, never once was it asserted that the incest allegation was untrue. Nor did Dorothy Mattson, HWA's younger daughter, ever come forth to deny the incest story (and she has repeatedly refused to respond to queries from the Report regarding the matter). In spite of all this, it seems there are still some who prefer to believe that the incest story was fabricated. Let us briefly review the facts.
In 1971 Garner Ted Armstrong paid a visit to his younger sister Dorothy. He had long been suspicious of the kind of relationship his father and sister maintained during his youth. They chatted over a few drinks and then Ted told her bluntly of his suspicions. She did more than admit the allegations. With candor she related detail after shocking detail.
For a number of years GTA kept the information to himself. But Dorothy did not. She divulged the same information to many others including David Antion (GTA's brother-in-law) and Lois Chapman (who had been married to the late Richard Armstrong, Ted's older brother).”
“The last meeting between GTA and his father in 1978 was not the only time HWA confessed to the incest allegation. In 1980 Henry Cornwall, then an aide to HWA, read the Robinson book soon after it appeared and asked HWA directly if the chapter on incest was accurate. HWA told him it was. He then instructed Cornwall that his wife Ramona was not to see the book or learn of the incest story. Unfortunately for Herbert, Ramona already had a copy of the book and was in the next room listening to the Cornwall-HWA discussion. Shortly thereafter, she too confronted HWA about the incest allegation. And once again, Herbert admitted it was true, but begged and pleaded with Ramona not to let this fact get in the way of their marriage. The cause of the problem, he said, had been Loma, his first wife.”
The reference within this article was quite significant to me. This is not the type of comment a newspaper would make carelessly. If the lawyer had spoken in error, it would be logical to expect that HWA's attorneys would have corrected the record.
Dear friends in the Worldwide Church of God,
In late November of 1992 I read an incredible account of Herbert Armstrong carrying on an incestuous relationship with his youngest daughter Dorothy from 1933 to 1943, the year she married Verne Mattson. Later, in January I read another account of it in a book by former WCG minister David Robinson. It was Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web published in 1980. At the time I discounted the story as fiction. But over the succeeding months leading up to last April 12 I'd learned of many other serious moral sins in the man's life. They were widely reported on by many former ministers who knew him.
But I still doubted the incest allegations -- that is until Mr. Gary Antion confirmed that they were entirely true when I talked with him after his sermon on the last day of Unleavened Bread, April 12. I'd asked him if he'd read David Robinson's book. He said he had. I told him that I'd read in another publication that Dorothy Mattson told his brother David Antion (a former WCG evangelist) all about the incest. (They were and are in-laws.) He nodded. I asked him if David ever said anything to him about it. "Yes," he said.
"What did he say?" I responded.
"He told me the story was true," he calmly said. "But before you get all upset and say how could he have done such a horrible thing, we should remember that we don't know what went on in his mind. We don't know if he repented or not. Maybe he repented in 1980 after David Robinson's book came out."
He went on to say that God gave king David time to repent and that if Mr. Armstrong repented, that he'll be in God's kingdom and if not, he won't be there. He also said he'd known about the whole thing in 1978. I asked if his brother David knew about this before he left the church in 1974 or after. He said David knew before. Antion was casual and relaxed with his words and never hesitated with any of the information.
He said that this should show us not to look to a man for our salvation which he said the church had done in the past. Finally, he asked me why I'm here; meaning the church. I said because I believe what the church believes, for the most part. He smiled, nodded and encouraged me not to let the matter bother me.
But as you can see, it does bother me a great deal. HWA claimed that God used him to raise up the Philadelphia era of His true Church beginning in 1933. I don't think so. In addition to raping his young daughter for many years, the "apostle" was widely known to have habitual sexual sins throughout his life including fornication, adultery, and masturbation. He frequently lied, misused church money, and had a serious drinking problem. And despite his appearing public image, Joe Tkach is not much of an improvement.
So there you have it. I've sung my swan song, thus ending nine years as a loyal WCG member.
Mark Thornton (Wisconson)
This letter is available at the following site:
The Church of God
Dear Mr. (Name Withheld by Request),
I'm sorry, but I really have no comment about the very lengthy letter from Jack Kessler. The entire situation is completely moot at this time, of course. My father died at age 93 1/2 back in 1986, eleven years ago, and I certainly have no desire to resurrect a lot of ancient ghouls from their graves and engage in a lot of criticism involving the actions of individuals in that organization decades ago.
Nothing my father did, negative or positive, matters to my personal salvation, or to yours.
For the last twenty years, I have continued to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness and a warning to the world, and I have never engaged in the kind of spiritual "grave robbing" that exhumes ancient sins of fifty or sixty years ago, and attempts to defile and defame the memory of individuals who themselves are long since dead.
Sorry if this proves disappointing to you, but I simply have no further comment.
Garner Ted Armstrong
This letter is available at: http://hwarmstrong.com/garner-ted-armstrong-incest.htm
This letter comes across more as "I do not want to talk about it" than as an "It did not happen" response. This letter proved nothing but it also did not contradict earlier statements made by GTA to others which acknowledged HWA had committed incest.
The article continues…
The thing that drove Carrozo and others to leave, however, was the leader's double standard regarding his own edicts. In accord with Armstrong teaching, church members could visit doctors to obtain a diagnosis, but not (except in a few special cases) receive treatment. "As a pastor in the field, I had seen people die [for lack of medical attention]," Carrozo recalls. "And yet, as I came to find out, whenever he [HWA] became ill, he would slip away to a doctor for treatment." But such matters paled compared to another secret.
According to former church officials, and the founder's own grandson, Richard David Armstrong II, Herbert's younger daughter, Dorothy, began to tell family and friends during the '70s that, years earlier, her father had molested her. John Tuit, an ex-church member living in North Carolina, recalls Garner Ted Armstrong telling him of his sister's startling revelation and that Herbert had not denied it when his son confronted him.
The allegation surfaced publicly in a book written by David Robinson, a former Worldwide minister in Oklahoma. The church tried unsuccessfully to suppress it. Robinson recounted a bizarre late-night conversation with the then-widowed Herbert during a church festival in the Poconos. Armstrong, who had been drinking, was alleged to have confessed to Robinson that he had molested his daughter between 1933 and 1943. Then, to the astonishment of the younger minister, Armstrong was said to have produced a small black book in which he had carefully documented the many times he had masturbated, a practice he had frequently railed against from the pulpit. "It was a shattering experience for my dad," says Mark Robinson, a Dallas-area businessman, whose father died in 1995. "Until then, he had no reason to doubt Mr. Armstrong's spirituality."
The issue arose again in 1984, during divorce proceedings between Armstrong and his second wife, Ramona Martin, a former switchboard operator 46 years his junior. The breakup, after seven years of marriage, was nasty. Armstrong, playing hardball, had accused her of stealing church property and was pressing criminal charges while refusing to bend to Ramona's demands for a large settlement, including a large amount of cash and the couple's sprawling ranch-style home in Tucson, Arizona. Until, that is, shortly before a court hearing at which her lawyers had threatened to introduce a purported "understanding" between Herbert and his wife regarding the alleged incest. The divorce was quickly settled to Ramona's satisfaction, and the criminal charges were dropped.
Although damaging, the fallout from such disclosures didn't debilitate Worldwide for as long as Herbert was alive. The amicable and grandfatherly Armstrong continued to enjoy the adoration of rank-and-file members. Among those who heard about his shortcomings, many chose not to believe. "You blocked those kinds of things from your mind," recalls Joyce Renehan, who grew up in the church. (She and her husband, Bruce, left in the early '90s). "You might see a newspaper headline, but you were told not to read that stuff or Satan would get you and you'd be out of the church, and then where would you be?"
Looking back, it is amazing how ill-informed we church members were and/or how willing we were to avoid unpleasant facts stated by “outsiders”.
Bruce Renehan had interviewed some members of the Church of God 7th Day who had reported that they were aware of the incest.
"I'm not exactly sure what constitutes proof to everyone. Before I began to author my book, my wife and I visited the Church of God, Seventh Day, both in Bakersfield and in Fresno. That is the church that Herbert Armstrong started attending in 1927. I first heard of the incest from some of their members, two of whom--Israel Hager and John Keiss--had known Armstrong in the 20s and 30s. Keiss, who was Armstrong's closest friend in the COG7 had actually discussed the incest with Dorothy Armstrong who confessed to him. Not wanting to believe hearsay from just one group, I placed a call to a friend of mine (Bob Mizell) in Pasadena. Bob was a very close friend to Joe Tkach Senior and, if anyone would know if the stories were true or not, he certainly would. Bob told me openly that both he and Joe Tkach had known about Armstrong's incest with his daughter and then he quickly brought up the David was a man after God's heart" ploy. "
The full letter is available at:
In the letter, Bruce Renehan comes across as sincere, specific, and credible.
"Oh indeed, the WCG was going to SUE Ambassador Report a NUMBER of times over the next years, especially over HWA having an affair with one of his daughters way back when, that came to light [and for those who still say it was all slander and lies; I personally heard GTA say he confronted his dad on the matter and HWA admitted it was so, saying, I was not always close to God"]. What was the reply from Ambassador Report to the WCG stating they were going to sue them, it was "Come on do so, will be happy to see you in court." The WCG NEVER did sue Ambassador Report!!"
Keith’s comments about the incest allegation may be found at:
A direct confirmation from GTA is significant.
In a radio interview, Deborah related that the family had kept quiet about Dorothy to protect her. Deborah’s mother had told her it was true. She was also was told by her grandson. Interestingly, Deborah noted that the only thing HWA had given her was a hand signed copy of his “Missing Dimension in Sex” book.
Start at minute 50:00.
This admission by family members is significant and consistent. It is difficult to imagine that Deborah would have been deceived about this or benefit from lying about it.
In a radio interview, Larry Gott said that the incest was an accepted as fact within the family and that it had started when Dorothy was 14 or 15. When asked, what kind of character was HWA, he said, “He was tyrannical… He was a person who craved and used authority over other people. That was sort of the essence of him. Nobody was really close to him – ever – including his wife. He was an authoritarian and I would tell people that he was not completely honest with everybody about himself.”
Start at minute 1:01:20.
A December 2015 letter to Exit Support Network related how one man's father had contacted Mr. Mattson to discuss the incest allegation and how that Verne had confirmed it.
This letter may have been factual but was unsigned.
“Inconceivable” is how many feel about the allegation that HWA had committed incest during the beginning period of his ministry and this was also my own response upon first hearing about it from a WCG minister in 1995. At the time, it seemed too convenient for the pro-Tkach people to bring this ugly rumor up just as individuals were deciding whether they should stay in WCG or leave. If true, why had it not been a problem all along? I gave the allegation no serious consideration for the next 15 years.
While researching the history of the church during the UCG/COGWA split, the allegations came up again and again. It was unpleasant and again tempting to ignore but after confirming most of the allegations about financial impropriety in Ambassador Report and other books, and after reading mention of the incest in the Nov. 12, 1984 Lakeland Ledger newspaper article about HWA’s divorce, it made sense to consider the incest allegations more seriously.
There was substantial ‘proof’ available on the internet but it required one to believe that the referenced individuals had really known and said what was being alleged. Could these individuals just have been repeating an unfounded rumor as Bob Thiel had concluded, or was the rumor actually true? I wanted to speak to somebody in person to remove the shadow of doubt. In the end, it was possible to discuss the allegations with several individuals mentioned above:
I believe this is likely why other ministers had felt comfortable in acknowledging the incest allegation to have been factual when asked by church members.
All of the individuals above were found to be credible and their individual stories were consistent when evaluated as a whole. These individuals were sincere and candid and spoke without bitterness. Although most of the initial confirmations occurred close to the timing of the release of David Robinson’s book, these confirmations did not stem merely from David Robinson’s allegations as had been concluded by others. It is logical that once the incest became public knowledge, many would have sought confirmation from member of HWA's family and that some of his family members would again discuss something that had been left unsaid for years.
Although a lot of information has been presented but it can be easily summarized:
Conclusion: Was there a big conspiracy to denigrate HWA’s character or were the allegations factual? Simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones. After looking into this topic in greater detail, it became clear that the allegations were factual. I found no reason to fault the credibility of Al Corrozo, Art Mokarow, Jack Kessler, Keith Hunt, Deborah, David Antion and Larry Gott on this subject.
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