July 1996 (AR62)
Plain Truth Gets a Price Tag
The Worldwide Church of God (WCG), the religious business created by the late Herbert W. Armstrong and now controlled by Joseph W. Tkach Jr., is slowly sinking in the mire of its financial, organizational, and spiritual mismanagement. The latest sign of the worsening slide was a May announcement by Tkach, now taking the title of "President of Plain Truth Ministries," that he has been forced to put a price tag on the Plain Truth magazine.
The magazine which once went out free of charge to almost 10,000,000 subscribers every month, and of late was still going out free of charge to 600,000, will now cost $12.95 for a yearly subscription. And that yearly subscription will give you only six issues, not the twelve of yore. Ah, but those issues will have 48 pages, not 32, Tkach tells us. And the new PT "offers the latest in inspirational, Christ-centered entertainment and educational materials - videos, CDs, books and other study aids, all carefully selected to help you revitalize your personal relationship with your Lord and Savior." But that's not all! The new PT will have interviews with the likes of "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff, theologian Ruth Tucker, and singer Pat Boone! (Incidentally, you can see Mr. Milquetoast grotesquely pigging out on a box of chocolates in the new Weird Al Yankovich rock video which parodies a scene from the movie Forrest Gump.)
Putting a price on the PT is not the only sales gimmick Tkach has come up with to raise money. Here's another one from the would-be Jerry Della Femina: The WCG's new view on evolution is found in an 80-page booklet and an hour-long video now being made available to the public. We weren't sent a review copy so we can't tell you what the new view is precisely. But insiders say that Tkach has been able to cleverly graft evolution theories into creationism so as to offer everyone a little of each. We are also told that Worldwide is no longer teaching a universal flood because Tkach Jr. has for some time been convinced that Noah's flood was "just a local affair." The evo-creato booklet and tape are not sold in stores. But they can be yours for "a gift" of only $25 (or more - that's okay too). You can even charge it "on your VISA, MasterCard or Discover" credit card. Of course, you have to act now, etc., etc.
Not surprisingly, with worn-out sales gimmicks such as these, the Tkach Co. desperately needs to sell off more Armstrong-era assets if it is to stay afloat. Naturally, the main asset is its Pasadena properties which currently hold the WCG headquarters offices and which, in the eyes of the church's members, are a symbol of the church's future. Some say Tkach is getting so hard up for hard cash he will probably have to sell that real estate for a lot less than it is really worth. He may have no choice. In 1986, Japanese investors purchased the famous Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for an estimated $219 million. It was recently sold for $60 million (Los Angeles Times, 6/11/96, p. D1). With Southern California real estate still selling frequently at drastically lowered prices, many experts suspect that the WCG - if it can even find a buyer - may not be able to get more than $60 million for its Pasadena properties. In fact, while Tkach later denied the accuracy of the report, last year one newspaper stated the properties had been appraised at only $59 million. If Tkach can actually fetch no more than that for his Pasadena real estate, don't be surprised if the properties wind up in the hands of another cult group or with the United Church of God (UCG). Presently headquartered in temporary offices in nearby Arcadia, the UCG has been quietly picking up most of the WCG's exiting members and could conceivably come up with a down payment if the price drops low enough. No wonder that when the representatives of the Tkach Co. and Grubb & Ellis, the internationally known real estate firm chosen to hawk the properties, came together in March to sign a contract, the Grubb rep meekly suggested to Bernard Schnippert, Worldwide's rep, that they pray over the document (Worldwide News, 4/16/96, p. 1). Incidentally, any AR reader interested in buying the properties should call Grubb VP Gregg Herbert at 714-833-2900.
In the meantime, the "new Plain Truth," as Tkach calls it, may already be in trouble. On June 20, the President of Plain Truth Ministries admitted at a WCG employees meeting that the campaign for cash-paying subscribers has not gone well. To break even financially, the PT needs a paying circulation of at least 100,000. But as of June 20, only about 19,000 had subscribed. Perhaps one of our Pasadena sources was right when he said, "It doesn't look good. We may have made a mistake to put the subscription at $12.95. That's very close to thirteen, and everyone knows that thirteen is God's number of rebellion."
Three Evangelists Shelved
In April, the WCG announced the retirement of three of its most senior evangelists: Herman L. Hoeh, Dean Blackwell, and Norman Smith. In the Worldwide News (WN, 4/16/96, p. 1) the three were praised for their long service to the WCG, What, if anything, the three will be doing for the church in the future is not clear. One Pasadena insider tells us that Hoeh has been quietly making overtures to a number of spinoff groups in which he would probably feel more at home. The WN article indicated, however, that Hoeh, now a PT "editor emeritus," will still have membership on some of the Tkach Co.'s dummy boards.
Depending on their views of Tkach theology, various insiders viewed the announcement differently. For example, one Tkach loyalist said, "I think it's about time Mr. Tkach removed them. He's cleaning house, getting rid of those who can't get up to speed, those who can't understand the Trinity, those who can't or won't see Christ in what we are doing. We still love them, but it's time for us to put away legalism and those who long for it." But one of those who still has warm feelings for "the old days" (and who apparently confuses retirement with some of Paul's statements about death) said, "I think God has spared those three loyal servants and has taken them away from the evil to come."
©1996 Ambassador Report. John Trechak, Editor & Publisher. Published as a Christian service almost quarterly - as finances allow. ISSN 0882-2123
Opinions expressed in by-lined articles and letters are not necessarily those of the publisher.
What's In, What's Out
With today's WCG it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what the church stands for, or what it is against. For example, faith healing - used to be in, now it's out. Eating pork and shrimp - used to be out, now it's in. Avoiding those of worldly religions - used to be in, now it's out. Makeup on women - used to be out, now it's in.
A few of the latest: Christians becoming policemen - used to be out, now it's in (WN, 1/2/96, p. 3). Christians becoming members of the military - used to be out, now it's in, basically (ibid.). Long, emotional public prayers - used to be out, now it's in (WN, 1/30/96, p. 1). Illustrating biblical scenes - used to be out, now it's in (WN, 1/30/96, p. 8). Making images of Jesus in the flesh - used to be out, now it's in (ibid.). Making images of the true God - used to be out, still is (ibid.).
Previously in, and still in, are tithing and attending church services (even if the days have changed). In fact, on a tape of a 1/21/95 sermon still being distributed to explain the New Covenant, Tkach Jr. claims at even though virtually all Old Testament laws are no longer binding on Christians, by attending church services and tithing faithfully one demonstrates one's conversion.
Easter - used to be out, now it's in. Tkach very subtly eased Easter into the WCG when he had Ralph Orr in the 3/12/96 WN (pp. 9-10) slyly conclude a pair of articles on "the Passover-Easter controversy" this way:
This was not done every year in every church area, unfortunately, but this year it will be. The sermon topic for the first day of the festival will be "He Is Risen! " [the traditional Orthodox Catholic Easter greeting - ed.] and we will rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. From this year forward we will commemorate not only the death, but also the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will celebrate the resurrection every year.
Because the resurrected Christ appeared first on a Sunday morning, some members may want to commemorate the resurrection on April 7, the Sunday morning during the festival. Some may do this privately or in a small group; others may choose to visit a service sponsored by another denomination. They are certainly free to do so.
On your home calendar you will notice that April 7 this year just happened to be Easter Sunday. So the WCG really has gone from Passover lamb to Easter ham.
Finally, one new teaching should be pointed out because even among some stalwart Worldwiders it has caused a little ripple. In the Q&A section of the 1/2/96 WN, there appeared this question: "Is there any example of God taking a pagan custom and making it part of true worship?" Answer: "Yes, Let's consider some." The examples given included: (1) human sacrifice, originally pagan, but "God turned a pagan practice into a foreshadow of his Son", (2) divorce, (3) having a king, (4) temple building, and (5) the word "God" which was originally used in pagan worship. The author's conclusion? "God forbids idolatry, but he does not forbid everything that idolaters did. He does not forbid the harmless. What he forbids is the abominable."
Hopes of WCG Gays Dashed
For at least a year before he passed away, Joseph Tkach Senior was telling some that he was going to make major changes in the WCG's traditional teachings about homosexuality. Why he felt the need to do so is not clear. Perhaps Tkach was taking a cue from what has been going on in other Christian denominations. For example, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, one of the largest, wealthiest, and most active Episcopal congregations in the nation, has been a leader in advocating acceptance of gays into the congregation, into the ministry, and even into same-sex "marriages" (San Gabriel Valley Weekly, 6/14/96). Some gays in the WCG apparently thought that Tkach Senior was going to take the WCG down a similar path. At the very least, it was assumed that the WCG would discontinue its condemnation of homosexuality in church literature and in church sermons. That hope was actually fueled by a number of official church writings that toned down the church's past vehement denunciations of both homosexuality and homosexuals. One such writing, the WCG's PT Supplement Homosexuality: Understanding the Struggle, which is still being distributed, begins with:
Trapped between a life-style they have rejected, and Christians who reject them. "If God has called me, why hasn't he healed these terrible desires? Why isn't God answering my prayers?"
Later on page one there is this plea for tolerance and understanding:
Many heterosexuals consider homosexuality to be the alcoholism, gambling and adultery, as - well, at least - normal. There, but for the grace of God, go we.
But to be attracted erotically to someone of the same sex seems so strange and unnatural to many heterosexual Christians.
The article goes on to discuss "homophobia" and the possibility that sexual identity may be inherited (the article said we still can't know for sure). Thus homosexual Christians in the WCG had reason to hope that the future might bring more tolerance for their urges. They were wrong. Not a little unlike President Clinton, who once seemed to favor gays in the military but now says he does not favor them in marriages, the WCG's leaders seem to be retreating from their let's-be-friendly-to-gays position.
The new drift was first indicated shortly after Tkach Senior passed away. In a Pasadena sermon last October 28 evangelist J. Michael Feazell, the WCG's new director of Church Administration and the number two man in the Tkach Co., told a surprised audience in no uncertain terms that the WCG still condemned homosexuality and would not be liberalizing its position in the future. The sermon has proven to be a policy statement. Gays in the WCG say that since last fall they have noticed a definite cooling toward them at headquarters. Oh dear.
New Women's Ministry Growing
WCG gays may not be making much progress in getting the kind of recognition they want, but Worldwide's women are faring better. During the last year, the Tkach team began promoting an officially sanctioned "women's ministry." Prominent in the new ministry are Tammy Tkach, the wife of the new Pastor General, and Sheila Graham, a long-time Plain Truth writer and editor who is now the church's national coordinator of women's ministry.
Writing in the Worldwide News (4/16/96, p. 2), Ms. Graham reported how she and Tammy had appeared at a WCG women's conference in Dallas on March 29. The luncheon meeting drew a whopping 270 women. Certainly no bras were burned, but there was still plenty of excitement on the part of those attending. Quoting her own speech to the group, Ms. Graham wrote:
Ministry is not a choice. Jesus Christ commissioned all Christians, men and women, to take up their crosses... As women in the church, we haven't had much opportunity to develop our leadership abilities. Women's ministry allows us those opportunities through service to each other and the church.
Showing once again how the new WCG is not a reclusive organization, about 200 of the women who attended the luncheon stayed in Dallas to attend the 1996 Keys for Abundant Living Conference sponsored by Renaissance Ministries which is led by Texas TV personality Deborah Tyler.
Since the conference Ms. Graham, who recently lost her PT position and as a result lost her home, has announced that she is expanding her ministerial services with a newsletter that will be an independent ministry. A promotional flyer for the new publication said, "If you feel out of touch with other women believers, you'll want to read Christian Women in Touch." The flyer also promised that each issue will contain a letter from Tammy Tkach (who, like Mrs. Feazell, now gets a generous salary from the WCG, separate from her husband's). A yearly subscription is $10; the address for the new publication is P.O. Box 2028, Arcadia, CA 91077.
Dells Feast Site Now "Miracles Center"
In AR55 we reported on the strange circumstances surrounding the sale of the WCG's Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania festival site. Now, some WCG members are asking questions about the sale of yet another major WCG property, the Wisconsin Dells festival site. One of our alert readers, Mr. Frank Miller of Wisconsin, brought to our attention a number of local news reports that have us wondering what kind of policy is at work in selling off the WCG's remaining real estate. Notice the following article that appeared last September 13 in a small Wisconsin newspaper, the Adams County Times-Reporter:
Ted Poppe, administrator of Endeavor Academy in Lake Dolton, announced recently the acquisition of the Worldwide Church of God Convention Center near Wisconsin Dells. According to Poppe, the Center will become International Miracles Healing Convention Center using the spiritual transformation methods of A Course in Miracles.
The entire facility, located on a 250-acre site on Highway 23 just east of the Dells, consists of a 110,000 square foot coliseum with seating for 16,000 persons, a large administration building with a 300-seat auditorium, in addition to three residential homes and several out buildings.
The purpose of A Course In Miracles, a Christian religious training program, is to foster continuing revelatory experience of the individual students human self-identity. This, progressing to an integrating union with the Universal Mind of God.
According to the Course teachers, this enlightening spiritual transformation and healing of the mind and body is brought about solely through the unqualified application and acceptance of unconditional love and forgiveness.
The Foundation for Inner Peace of Mill Valley, Calif, publisher and translator of the material, reports that more than one million sets of the Course Text, Workbook, and Teacher's Manual are in public hands. According to sources at the Foundation, there are more than 1,000 formal Miracles congregations meeting in churches, public places, and private homes, as well as many thousands of individual students in personal study and practice.
The institution Endeavor Academy, located at 501 East Adams Street in Lake Dolton, is under the auspices of The New Christian Church of Full Endeavor of Baraboo. The primary tenet of the Academy is that the conceptual mind of a human being is a transitional point in space/time in an inevitable evolutionary conversion of noncreative thought to the singular wholeness of eternal life.
The school employs a broad diversity of philosophy, psychology, science and art in the transformative learning process with A Course In Miracles being its major vehicle of enlightenment.
Dr. Stephen D. Howard, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and student-teacher at the Academy, describes the Course as "an unearthly science of quantum communication experienced through the art of enlightening self-recognition."
According to Administrator Poppe, "it is expected that the new Miracles Healing Center, the first of its kind, will be open to everyone in joyous service every day the year round."
The Worldwide Church of God will continue to use the convention hall for its annual fall festival of the "Feast of Tabernacles." Said Dr. Poppe, "We join wholeheartedly with Worldwide Church members in their willingness to be continually transformed by the Holy Spirit and in the steadfast mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Transfer of ownership of the property is expected to be completed by Nov. 1 of this year . Broker in the transaction is Jack Krause of Montello Realty. The sale price was not disclosed. The property has been marketed at $1.7 million.
Since the above article appeared, reporter Eric Sandve writing in The Wisconsin Dells Events (2/17/96, p. 1) reported that the WCG has now decided not to use the Dells facility for the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles. Most likely the WCG was not able to guarantee that a sufficient number of members would show up for the Feast this coming fall. The United Church of God, however, has indicated that it will be in the Dells area for the 1996 Feast, although not necessarily at the old WCG site.
It is interesting that no WCG publication has really explained to its members exactly what kind of group has purchased the Dells site. The members were not told, for instance, that the so-called Course in Miracles is based on the words of the "Ascended Jesus" and that those words, supposedly "direct from God," were given through a woman who supposedly acted as a scribe (ibid., 9/6/95, p. 1). A spokesperson for the Academy says that the words were "put in a drawer for seven years" and then published by the Foundation for Inner Peace which also operates the Cheese Factory restaurant in the Dells area.
Yes, it certainly is good to know where our tithes have gone.
Ambassador Puts On a New Face
With the WCG rapidly losing income, some at the new Joseph W. Tkach Hall of Administration building at Ambassador University (AU) are concerned. They wonder how long the university will be able to continue operating. But one source close to Dr. Russell K. Duke, the new President of AU, indicated in May that there were still no definite plans to close the Big Sandy, Texas campus.
It does appear, however, that in attempting to survive, AU is being forced to change a few of its more isolationist and cultish policies. For example, speaking at AU's graduation ceremonies on May 20 was Lester C. Bank Jr., the founding dean of the Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. Introduced by Tkach Jr. as a "beloved brother in Christ," Dean Bank is not a member of the WCG, a status that in the past would have kept him off the graduation ceremony speakers list.
Another change indicative of the increased openness is the new policy that allows anyone, regardless of church affiliation, to subscribe to the university's newspaper The Portfolio. Subscriptions are $20 per year ($10 for alumni); write to The Portfolio, Ambassador University, P.O. Box I 11, Big Sandy, TX 75755.
The AU Alumni Association also reflects the new, more reasonable, attitude. In the last few months many Ambassador alumni, and even some who are no longer members of the WCG, received invitations to join the Ambassador University Alumni Association. The invitation announced two new policies:
1. There are no longer dues for alumni association membership. It is now free to all former students who completed at least 24 credit hours at Ambassador.
2. There are no longer membership restrictions based on an alum being in harmony with the philosophical underpinnings of the university or our principal sponsor, the Worldwide Church of God.
In addition to the new policies, the association announced that it plans to publish two magazines annually for "active alumni" and the association will be hosting regional alumni activities in the future. One such activity was an alumni weekend scheduled in June at the Holiday Inn at Mt. Kisco, New York for alumni in the New York region. The association has a number of get-togethers and other programs in the works. Some openly wonder if the new programs will fizzle out like so many other WCG and Ambassador programs of the past. Nevertheless, those who want to get on the association's mailing list may write to the Ambassador University Alumni Association, P.O. Box 111, Big Sandy, Texas 75755.
Most accredited universities have alumni associations which have as one of their purposes the raising of contributions for their alma mater. We have to suspect that AU's new interest in its alumni association may be due to difficulties it is having in the raising of funds by other means. One of our Louisiana readers sent us a letter that may shed some light on the subject:
Recently, WCG officials came back to the AT&T Foundation seeking eligibility for Ambassador University in the company's educational matching gift program. Unfortunately, the company did not approve AU's application for eligibility. If they had been approved, AU would have been eligible to receive up to $5,000 per donor in matching funds per year.
On April 18, 1996, Mr ...[company executive] left a message on my voice mail stating that AU had been disqualified from participation in AT&T's educational matching gift program. I was shocked and appalled to learn that "God's University" would be disqualified from participation in the gift matching program - and this after all that money was spent on accreditation.
By the way, one of the young ladies I used to visit at the Big Sandy campus constantly complained of the shoddy construction and materials used in the quickly constructed student residence halls. I wonder if they ever fixed that problem. On one of my Sunday afternoon visits I personally inspected the peeling wall paper and leaking ceilings of one women's residence hall and I must say it was not "Ambassador Quality."
Maybe not, but some things are getting move modern, even post modern, at Ambassador. The student rule book tells us that at AU it is now A-OK for male students to wear earrings. Of course, the earrings may not be of too outlandish a style. That would be wrong.
Tkach Basks in Praise
Early this year Dr. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries extended an invitation to Tkach Jr. to appear on his half-hour radio program Truths That Transform. The program taped in mid-February was aired on more than 250 stations in the United States.
Azusa Pacific University asked Tkach Jr. to address a convention of denominational leaders hosted by the university on February 28. Tkach's talk "From Jerusalem to Antioch" was reportedly well received by the more than 1,000 denominational leaders who attended.
Independent evangelist Ralph Woodrow (P.O. Box 124, Riverside, CA 92502), whose writings have for years been circulating in WCG circles and whose book on Christmas has become popular now with the WCG's field ministry, was invited in April to lunch with WCG leaders Joseph Tkach Jr., Greg Albrecht, Tom Lapacka, and Mike Morrison. Woodrow tells us the meeting was warm and that he believes the WCG has acquired an openness it did not have previously.
One WCG publication that is getting praised in "orthodox Christian" circles is the new PT Supplement What Do the Scriptures Say About the Sabbath? which leads Christians away from sabbath keeping. A year ago, Tkach Sr. wrote in the Pastor General's Report (3/15/95, p. 3): "In Christ, we are free to hold worship services whenever we choose. Our choice now rests primarily on our own tradition, not on any requirement of the law." (What was it that Herbert Armstrong used to harp on about "tradition"?) Proving that he and his father meant exactly what they said, Tkach Jr. cancelled headquarters sabbath services for June 20 in order that Ambassador Auditorium could be used for a weekend set of money-making seminars on race relations, an event insiders tell us did not turn out to be the profit-maker they had hoped.
David Covington Exits
Hints Tkachs Faked WCG Repentance
The WCG's executive exodus continues. Among the latest to exit was pastor David Covington. In a May 11 note to us he wrote:
I am a pastor of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and contributing writer for its publication The Plain Truth. This past year I travelled to all six of our United States ministerial regional conferences as a workshop presenter on healing from spiritual abuse. The WCG has long been identified as a cult by such authors as Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, and it has a long history of inflicting spiritual wounds.
However, in the past couple of years, our group has been able to convince many outsiders, such as Hank Hanegraaff (Bible Answer Man), Ruth Tucker (Trinity University), and Christianity Today, of our repentance and move toward orthodoxy. I implore you to take a closer look at the underlying dynamics of the WCG. I feel this group is still very toxic and has fundamental changes it must make in order to be accepted into the Christian community as not being spiritually dangerous. My resignation letter is enclosed.
His attached 12-page open letter to Joseph Tkach Jr. was most enlightening. Covington, who has been with the WCG for 25 years and also has a masters degree in counseling, wrote how "many ministers have conveyed to me that they feel trapped by the current system, but are afraid to speak up." Citing "hierarchy and legalistic rules" as the heart of the WCG's problems, Covington wrote Tkach (and the emphasis is his):
Your administration shows no willingness to address the core, most damaging cultic aspects of the WCG system. As a result, I must resign from the full-time ministry. I am encouraging WCG congregations to hold open forums to prayerfully consider local incorporation, local governance, and local maintenance of funds. Where that is not possible, I am encouraging members to leave and join healthy Christian churches where they can find help and healing.
Covington obviously was striving mightily to do the right thing when he stated:
This is not against you. I love Mr. Albrecht, appreciate Mr. Feazell's efforts and validate what you have tried to accomplish. Yet, you have implemented these changes through our historically abusive dynamics. In your present position, I am convinced you aren't even capable of seeing, much less addressing, the genuine problems. I compare the 1996 WCG to a husband who used to beat his wife seven days a week and now has cut back to four. And, the wife is supposed to be satisfied with his progress! Worse still, he's holding seminars on domestic violence! Your administration continues to be abusive, but you hold spiritual healing conferences. I can no longer accept this!
While the WCG changes of the last few years give the appearance of having made the WCG a better place, Covington's detailed analysis of the WCG's motives and methods has left many convinced that most of the changes have only been cosmetic and that the WCG remains an abusive cult. As for those observers who have been led to believe that the WCG has changed significantly, Covington writes, "These observers [religionists such as Hank Hanegraaff and Ruth Tucker] cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a member of this church. They miss the dynamics of this system which remain abusive." Covington details nine specific problems that he says have still not been rectified within the Tkach organization:
1. Authoritarian hierarchy: Totalistic nature; "Pastor General" all-powerful.
2. Lack of accountability: "Pastor General" legally accountable to none.
3. Closed communication: Open and honest discussion still thwarted by structure.
4. Manipulative tithing: Current heavy emphasis seems characteristic of past exploitation.
5. Financial control: Congregations still send 100% of their donations to headquarters.
6. Local congregations not a true priority, e.g. $250 Million campus sale. [That is, if such an amount was ever paid for the Pasadena campus it would not directly benefit local congregations - ed.]
7. Chaos and confusion: Jesus lost among ever-changing policies, programs and crises.
8. Lack of respect for members/ministry: Current administrative approach condescending.
9. WCG organization most important, more than Jesus or people: Corporation 1st, church 2nd.
While acknowledging that the WCG has made progress in some areas, Covington makes this startling comment (p. 3):
Almost all the doctrinal issues now being discussed were reviewed during the 1970's by WCG administration and suppressed when Herbert Armstrong put the church "back on track." This is likely to occur again. Note the following curious excerpts from a recent WCG ministerial journal: "We ought to view all human knowledge, including our own doctrinal positions, as always subject to correction...." It would appear you are already heading down this road, with continued double-speak regarding tithing and festivals.
In other words, Covington is saying we should not be surprised if the WCG at some point reverts back to all the old Armstrong teachings. (Question: If that were to happen, what would become of all the WCG spinoffs?)
According to Covington, while most of HWA's so-called "18 truths" have been shown to be heresy by the Tkach administration, that same administration has failed to address the "government of God" issue with the same zeal. Covington asserts (p. 4) that the WCG is still a dictatorship with Tkach making "numerous, significant and controversial decisions, doctrinal, administrative and financial, without meaningful discussion or consensus of any kind." Covington claims (p. 5) that Tkach has a "closed communication style" in which "dissent is not tolerated, but is labeled as division and used to disfellowship those who disagree."
Even some of the small points that Covington makes in passing are quite interesting. Some examples: While Tkach has never seriously considered moving church headquarters out of the western United States, nearly 80 percent of the WCG's membership resides east of the Mississippi, a fact which Covington feels shows a lack of real interest in the membership. What really happens to most of the moneys that members in local congregations send into headquarters is not clearly explained to the membership. The WCG administration rarely gives a detailed explanation of how much is being spent on specific programs until those programs are about to be discontinued. The revenue that will be made on the sale of the Pasadena properties will not be given back to local congregations where the money to build the Pasadena campus originally came from. Instead, it will be used to give Tkach more personal power. Major cuts continue to be made in the WCG's budget, yet Tkach, himself, recently received a large pay raise, a fact not widely publicized to the membership (pp. 6-7).
Covington very properly paints the WCG as being a de facto Tkach sole proprietorship in which 100 percent of the local moneys get sent to Pasadena with probably less than 20% flowing back. This is in stark contrast to most Christian churches where most local contributions are used locally and only a small percentage are sent to a central administration or elsewhere.
One idea being bandied about by the Tkach elite clique is to put the entire field ministry on a part-time basis. Such talk has undoubtedly contributed to what Covington describes as a large number of ministers being "on the verge of emotional breakdown." Yet while all of this is going on, Junior's power is actually increasing! Covington very bluntly points his finger at Tkach, saying (p. 10):
I know you say that you have lost members and income by the changes you have made. However, your power and prestige have not been abated. In fact, you have now had opportunity to speak before hundreds of denominational leaders, be interviewed on radio with James Kennedy and Hank Hanegraaff, obtain several book contracts, and that in addition to your planned radio program (and aforementioned pay increase). You did not possess anywhere near this kind of prominence before. And frankly, you achieved it by force!.... What I do know by overwhelming evidence is that the WCG [read the Tkach elite clique] places its own continuance above Jesus' will or the members' welfare.
If we think about this a bit we see that what Tkach has done is pare down the WCG machine and in the process destroy the careers of hundreds of WCG loyalists while increasing his own personal power, fame, prestige, and income. In essence he has been utilizing a strategy similar to that used by Garner Ted Armstrong when he set up the CGI. It is the kind of "downsizing" strategy Tkach undoubtedly read about while studying for his MBA and the same kind of strategy that has been used of late in American business where millions have been downsized out of a job while CEO's have made giant personal fortunes on their stock options overvalued by the downsizing.
Covington's assessment of the WCG's spiritual condition is so dismal, he is not sure whether turning the WCG into a healthy Christian church is even possible. Nevertheless, he does give very concrete suggestions as to what should be done. Many of his proposals are in sync with those we have made over the years ourselves. Unfortunately, we have every reason to believe his suggestions will get no more attention from the WCG's leaders than ours did in the past. In a phone interview with the Report, Covington said he not only suspects the WCG, when its finances get bad enough, will be bringing back much of the legalism of the past, but that he saw it beginning months ago when WCG employees were told that tithing was mandatory. He did admit, however, that in recent weeks he has been a bit surprised at how far the Tkach crew will go in spreading lies.
Since the Covington open letter appeared, WCG luminaries have attacked it privately, in meetings, from the pulpit, and on the Internet. Mrs. Greg Albrecht has even referred to Covington as a Judas Iscariot. (C'mon, Karen, get a thesaurus!) Still, Covington's open letter is a gem of thorough analysis and sound advice. We are sorry we do not have the means to run it in its entirety. Those wanting a complete copy, however, can write to David Covington at P.O. Box 70012, Nashville, TN 37207; tel. 615-670-0178; email@example.com for e-mail.
Offshoots Scramble for WCG Exiters
With the liberalized WCG being perceived by Armstrong loyalists as completely adrift from the teachings of its founder, and with thousands of Armstrongites having left the WCG in recent months, clerics of the WCG offshoots have been in a feeding frenzy to bite off what they can of the remaining financial resources of exiting WCG members. It is difficult to gauge exactly who the biggest players are in the game because of the varying ways the spinoffs measure their size. Head counts are sometimes based on numbers of baptized members, sometimes on sabbath day attendance by baptized members, sometimes on attendance figures that include all family members, sometimes on numbers of financial contributors, sometimes on publication subscribers, etc. Nevertheless, the most important WCG spinoffs currently seem to be the United Church of God (Bob Dick chairman, David Hulme president) with a claimed membership of approximately 20,000; Rod Meredith's Global Church of God with a reported 7,000 members; Gerald Flurry's Philadelphia Church of God with an estimated 7,000; Garner Ted Armstrong's shrinking Church of God International with now probably less than 1,500 members (down from almost 5,000 a year ago); the new CGI breakaway "Churches of God" alliance with probably over 2,000 members; Fred Coulter's Christian Biblical Church of God with perhaps 500 supporters; and William Dankenbring's Triumph Prophetic Ministries (Church of God) with its many publications and a round-the-world broadcast but no official acknowledgement of membership size.
The above seven groups seem to be the major branches of modem "Armstrongism." Nevertheless, they are not the only players in the game. Joseph Tkach Jr. himself has stated that there are now over 100 active WCG splinter groups in existence. Keeping track of all of them is beyond the capabilities of Ambassador Report. But one individual who is trying to keep tabs on at least their whereabouts is former WCG member Alan Ruth of Barnabas Ministries. Mr. Ruth keeps an updated list of nearly all the branches of the Armstrongite family of churches, along with their addresses and the names of their key personnel. Those interested in obtaining a copy of his updated list (it's free, but donations are appreciated) should contact Alan Ruth at Barnabas Ministries, P.O. Box 310208, Detroit, MI 48231; firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mail (World Wide Web site at: http://www.gatecom.com/~barnabas).
Can Humpty Dumpty
Be Put Back Together?
Don't count on it. We keep getting letters from readers who suggest that because there are so many Armstrongite groups around the world now it is only a matter of time before they all unite in love to form one great end-time ministry. The reason such a thing will not happen is this: The very spirit of Armstrongism - with its deeply entrenched fallacy of "ministerial rank," its still pervasive anti-intellectualism brought over from American fundamentalism, and its rampant semi-paranoid tendency toward "us versus the rest of the world" - runs contrary to the kind of compromise that would be necessary to create a significant movement united in anything more than just name. Look carefully at the splitoffs and what you see is not a coming together, but factions and division everywhere.
All of the major WCG splitoffs now have their own splitoffs. And, it seems, virtually every one of the major splitoffs now has someone dogging their tail. (Has any religious movement ever had so many revolutionaries and then counterrevolutionaries?) For example, Dankenbring's popular Triumph Prophetic Ministries has been getting a lot of heat lately from Myron Martin's Patriots of the Kingdom (P.O. Box 20004 CDO, Concord, Ont. L4K 4T1, Canada). And a while back Rod Meredith's Global Church lost Norman S. Edwards (the author of the infamous "Friends of Pasadena" underground letter) who helped Meredith found the Global Church. Now Edwards puts out a theological and interchurch news publication called Servant's News (formerly Friends of the Brethren, P.O. Box 6516, Springdale, AR 72766-6516; tel. 501-872-1003; e-mail: email@example.com). Past articles have included: "Will You Be Counted Worthy to Escape?" and "Learning From the Writings of Herbert W. Armstrong." One publication that Edwards has distributed is his 34-page paper "How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?" which has reportedly influenced many to leave the Meredith camp. Another religious curmudgeon who has been taking on Meredith and others is Bernard H. Kelly, President of Royal Embassy College and Managing Director of Trans-World Publishing which operate out of a motel room across from Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, California (130 W. Huntington Dr., Room 122 to be exact).
We have every reason to believe that the pattern of WCG splitoff groups fracturing, with the new breakaways attacking the old and each attacking all the others, will continue. In fact, with so many Armstrongites reading interchurch publications such as In Transition (see AR59) and sharing news on the Internet, the trend toward division will undoubtedly increase. That is not to suggest, however, that there are not Christian counselors and counseling organizations who are ready, willing, and able to help in bringing about some semblance of Christian peace and order to the chaotic situation in which the Armstrongites find themselves. Some organizations who have indicated a willingness to serve in this way are Church Counsel (John J. Purvins, Coordinator), 130 W. Main St., Little Chute, WI 54140; tel. 414-733-5271 and Bible Education Services (Donald L. Hudgel, Exec. Dir.), P.O. Box 736, Troy, OH 45373. But as of now it seems that none of the breakaway groups is willing to listen to advice from "outsiders." And each one seems intent on reinventing the wheel.
Meredith Attacks Conspiracy Buffs
One indomitable personality that we doubt could ever fit into any type of sabbatarian federation is former WCG evangelist Roderick Meredith who now heads the Global Church of God (GCG). Independent-minded, some say hardheaded, Meredith recently shocked his followers by vehemently attacking some notions that are gaining widespread acceptance in ex-WCG circles - namely the so-called international conspiracy theories revolving around Jesuits, Jews, and Freemasons.
The Meredith attack coincided with an admitted financial crisis within the GCG that has forced Global to cut back in a number of areas including the purchase of air time for its telecast (Meredith co-worker letter of 5/24/96). GCG insiders tell us that within Global there has been a surge of interest in the so-called conspiracy theories, with many GCG members becoming suspicious that some of their own leaders have become conspiratorially compromised. In a powerful - and remarkably logical - response that reveals a considerable amount of research on the subject, Meredith devoted a good portion of his May-June Global Church News to discussing the conspiracy theories ravaging his church. Here are some excerpts (and throughout the emphasis is his):
Brethren, I now want to address one aspect of this problem that has become far more widespread than I had realized - even though I previously wrote about it in the January-February GCN. This problem is the preoccupation that a number of our members seem to have with "international conspiracies," black helicopters and a supposed Jesuit infiltration of the Church. Before I address these ideas, lot me say up front that I am not lambasting any of you who've been caught up in them - nor am I questioning your sincerity, your conversion or your zeal for the Truth. I am simply asking you to carefully consider what I'm saying.
There. have always been conspiracies. But just who is conspiring and the motives involved are usually obscure. For a long time, a great number of people have attempted to tie together all kinds of events to paint a picture of a massive international conspiracy involving nearly everybody - yet one that almost nobody seems to know about directly. Whether the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Illuminati ("enlightened ones") or fictitious "Inver Brass" of several Robert Ludlum novels, there seems to be no shortage of secret societies that covertly rule the world. Many think such groups are all branches of the same conspiracy - all controlled by either the Zionist "Jews" (who supposedly aren't really Jews), or the Roman Catholic Church or, mysteriously, both! Is this so?
The simple answer, brethren, is that we don't really know and we can't really know! But common sense ought to tell us that many of the scenarios that some conspiracy buffs concoct are really absurd. For instance, many of them claim that America's Founding Fathers - as freemasons - were trying to formulate a New World Order according to the design of die Illuminati (or "illuminized freemasonry"). Yet they quote Presidents Washington and Jefferson as being against the machinations of the Illuminati! This is totally contradictory. Conspiracy buffs also claim that the highest levels of freemasonry are the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta - both Catholic orders. Therefore, they think the Catholics control frearnasonry - and, thus, the Illuminati. But when you consider that most of the Founding Fathers were extremely anti-Catholic, this is all non sequitur - it doesn't follow! It is true that they wanted a "New Order of the Ages" - but only one in which America would be the shining "city upon a hill," an example of a God-fearing society for other nations to emulate. They wanted nothing to do with "Romanism."
Other things are also non sequitur. Conspiracy buffs argue that the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S. are actually working together for the same goals. Their debates are supposedly contrived to take the public's focus away from the plotting going on between them. If that's so, then why are clearly internationalist agendas so often thwarted in this process? Also, if the media and publishing industries are all controlled by the conspirators, how is it that so many books and magazines denouncing the conspiracies line the shelves of bookstores? Why did Time magazine print a huge expose on the collaboration between President Reagan and Pope John Paul II to overthrow Communism if that magazine is totally controlled by the Catholic Church, which denies the report? Moreover, why would the Catholics try to overthrow international Communism if it was their own invention - through the Bolshevik Revolution being instigated by the freemasons? And why did they promote a bipolar world (U.S. vs. USSR) that threatened humanity's very existence if their goal has always been a one-world system?....
Advocates of conspiracy theories could probably answer these questions. But sadly, that is because the typical conspiracy addict often has "an answer for everything" - that he rashly formulates to protect his pet conspiracy ideas. Many times, such a person has become so entrenched in this type of thinking that it is extremely difficult to face the possibility that his whole premise - upon which assumption after assumption has been heaped - is false. One favorite response is that the international conspirators have repeatedly acted against their own interests to foster the illusion that they don't have the power that they actually do. What an incredible answer! It can apply to anything that doesn't fit the scenario! With such reasoning, you can make any circumstance mean anything you want it to mean. Brethren, can we not see this? "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a SOUND MIND" (2 Tim. 1:7). We must use the "sound mind" that God gives us to evaluate the information that comes into our heads....
In recent months one of the oddest ideas that has been circulating in Armstrongite circles is that "Jesuit secret agents" have somehow infiltrated the WCG and now even Meredith's Global Church. Meredith, himself, seems to have unwittingly contributed to the confusion when on April 19 he sent his followers a "special emergency letter" in which he attacked Dr. Samuel Bacchiocchi, the Seventh-Day Adventist minister who has authored a number of popular books advocating sabbath and holy day observance. ("Dr. Sam" as the leaders of United and other groups affectionately refer to him, can be contacted at Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, MI 49103). Some Global members, apparently aware that Dr. Sam studied in Rome years ago, leaped to the conclusion that he was a "secret Jesuit agent" bent on the destruction of the sabbatarian movement. Meredith has since realized that he made a mistake in attacking Dr. Sam and has stated he should have been more careful in what he wrote. Nevertheless, Meredith's earlier comments caused much confusion and he was
forced to address the problem. We are certain that Mr. Meredith really did not mean to imply that Dr. Sam or even certain unnamed Jesuits are really "satanic." In the GCN article he briefly touched on the Jesuits (p. 11):
Because of the prominence of the Great Whore in prophecy, some of our brethren have gotten excited about some videos put out by John Osborne's Prophecy Countdown on "The Jesuit Agenda" - supposedly explaining what has happened to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. By extension, they think this is also what happened in our former association. And now they think it is even happening here....
Some people think that we want to join up with the United Church of God and other groups - as part of the Jesuit agenda. In fact, Messrs. Carl McNair and Larry Salyer [two of Meredith's subordinates] have been accused of this. That's ridiculous.
Then on page 12 Meredith went on to ridicule another increasingly widespread notion - that sinister internationalist forces using black helicopters are coming to take away all "the true Christians":
If I am God's servant and this is the human headquarters of a true Work of God, why aren't black helicopters hovering around my home? Why aren't they hovering around our headquarters in San Diego? Yet they AREN'T! And I have yet to find any of our ministers who have ever noted black helicopters supposedly watching their homes!
The Meredith article makes for interesting reading. Copies may be obtained by writing to Global Church of God, P.O. Box 501111, San Diego, CA 92150-1111.
GTA Porno Movie a Hit
In our last issue we reported how Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA), son of WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong and head of the breakaway Church of God International, was being sued by a Texas masseuse for sexual assault. Not surprisingly, the story has made for some colorful writing in Texas newspapers. The most colorful of the articles we came across was by Holly Mullen writing in the Dallas Observer (5/9-15/96). In an article appropriately titled, "How Low Can You Go?", Ms. Mullen began:
The man at the pulpit with the mass of neatly coifed silver hair is speaking of sin and redemption, pleading with his flock to forgive him his very human frailties. "No one is free from sin," he says. His eyes have filled with tears.
The camera lens zooms in, and the man, his voice quavering, continues in a near-whisper: "I let down my wife of 42 years." [He could have added, "And I've done that pretty regularly for those 42 years" - ed.] Then, after a dramatic two-second pause, he thunders [uh oh, here come the thunders], "But I tell you - and with sodium pentothal in my veins - I have never sexually assaulted a woman in my life."
The man is Garner Ted Armstrong.... In his first public admission of a colossal moral lapse six months earlier, the 66-year old Armstrong does not offer his followers the tawdry details - the local TV stations and Inside Edition had already done that quite well. Instead, he tiptoes around the specifies, saying, "By now, you've probably heard or read the stories."
It's gut wrenching, this routine of coming clean in public - pioneered by follow televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Confronted with these bare emotions and seeming remorse, the members of Armstrong's flock can do little but extend their forgiveness. There are those, of course, who remain unwilling to pardon the fallen leader. And they have been busy ever since that January 26 evening, floating copies of the videotaped sermon around the world.
Just 10 minutes northeast of Flint, in a tiny frame home in Tyler, Royce Robertson is gearing up for another day of what he calls his "investigation" of Garner Ted Armstrong, the Church of God International, and its business dealings. Robertson, 38 years old and pudgy, his thinning brown hair pulled back into a flimsy ponytail, keeps a copy of the minister's weepy confessional in a bulging nylon briefcase along with an entire arsenal against Armstrong and CGI - several thick folders of legal documents, tax and real estate records, and magazine articles, including a particularly salacious Hustler profile that detailed the sexual escapades and financial questions leading to Armstrong's 1978 ouster from Worldwide Church of God....
Also stuffed inside the briefcase is the most lethal weapon of all - or so Robertson thinks. It is a grainy, 43-minute videotape of his ex-wife, Suerae Robertson, massaging a naked Garner Ted Armstrong at her Tyler salon on July 15, 1995 [a Saturday]. With recordings of big-band tunes playing softly in the background, a tattooed Armstrong is seen masturbating on a massage table as Suerae, dressed in baggy surgical scrubs, lightly flicks her oiled fingers along his arms, back, buttocks, and between his thighs. About 15 minutes into the tape, Armstrong makes one of many clumsy grabs at Suerae's breasts and gropes at her crotch. She makes several weak attempts to pull away and politely protests his behavior, but not once tells him to leave. Suerae never actually touches Armstrong's genitals, but at one point she pumps massage oil from a nearby dispenser into his hands, allowing him to do the work himself. He moans and begs her to "give me some relief."...
[Armstrong lawyer Tom Buchanan of Tyler, Texas] says his client does not deny going to Suerae Robertson for a massage service for which he expected sexual contact, and for which he expected to pay. "Garner Ted Armstrong is an imperfect man," he says. "Unfortunately, he's done some stupid things, and this is one of them. He's never denied showing bad judgement in going there."
But as unseemly as Armstrong's video-taped behavior may appear, the Robertsons themselves are no Citizens of the Year. Smith County court documents show that their 4 1/2-year marriage, which Royce says ended in divorce after he began an affair with a topless dancer from Dallas who "had a drug problem," was annulled on May 2, 1995. The reason? Suerae had never divorced her previous husband, whom she married in Dallas County. Nor was Suerae, a 49-year old vocational nurse and grandmother of six, ever licensed by the state as a massage therapist - so her sessions with Armstrong were illegal. There's also the matter of a few bounced checks - totaling about $1,000 - which Suerae wrote against her checking account shortly after the alleged assault last summer. She pleaded no contest in Smith County to a misdemeanor theft-by-check charge and received deferred adjudication on the condition that she repay the money.
Meanwhile, Royce Robertson has been trying to rustle up some business of his own from Armstrong's misfortune. For two consecutive weeks in March, he bought a classified advertisement in the Dallas Observer hawking $29.95 copies of the uncut video-tape. The ad read, "TV EVANGELIST CAUGHT IN THE ACT!" And so the alleged assault that Royce claims has so traumatized his ex-wife has now become a marketing tool. "It wasn't a good idea," Royce concedes when confronted about his money-making scheme. "But it was out of total concern for Suerae. It was absolutely out of desperation."
The Robertsons have found little sympathy in Tyler. A local criminal-defense attorney quaffing a cold Heineken after work at Rick's on the Square, a favorite downtown yuppie bar, offered his own sneering assessment: "It didn't sound like there was anything therapeutic about the massage." To him and many others in this East Texas town of 75,000, the case of the randy preacher and the desperate masseuse shows just how low human beings can go....
On July 15, the day Armstrong returned for an appointment, Royce hid a video camera inside a wall clock in Suerae's massage room. From an upstairs bedroom, Royce watched the situation on a video monitor. "I was close enough to get there quick if anything turned the least bit violent" he says.
The 43-minute, black and white tape - of which 300 copies are now floating around worldwide, thanks to Royce's entrepreneurship - begins with Suerae walking into the massage room, dragging on a cigarette as she throws a sheet over the massage table. A nude Armstrong then walks in. The two embrace - "though very lightly," Royce says. Then Suerae snuffs out her cigarette in an ashtray on the corner of a nearby hot tub, and Armstrong lies face down on the table.
The rectangular table is not like the ones most registered massage therapists use in their work. It splits apart in the middle, where, Suerae explains, "men can, you know, sort of hang," and can also split into an upside-down V, on which. the clients legs are extended. On the tape Suerae stands inside the V, between Armstrong's spread legs. During the next 43 minutes, she performs a feather-light massage on the minister as he masturbates, grabs her breasts, and tries to pull her on top of him.
The sound of their voices is largely drowned out by the incessant ticking of the wall clock and a tape of bigband music. "Autumn Leaves" is playing about 15 minutes into the tape, as Armstrong tries to pull Suarae's hands to his genitals. When she says, "That's not part of the massage," he lets go. At 42 minutes, Suarae leaves the room and Armstrong then walks out of camera range. A low moan is heard off-camera. The final scene is of Armstrong walking back into view, dressed in double-knit pants and a sweater. There's a little lift in his step and he is singing along with the Andrews Sisters: "Don't sit under the apple tree/With anyone also but me/Anyone else but me.... /Till I come marching home."....
When Royce isn't propping up Suerae, he can often be found digging through the huge, leather-bound indexes at the Smith County Courthouse, trying to turn up financial information on Armstrong and his business cronies. He calls this work "investigation." Royce knows where all of the Church of God International officers live and what cars they drive.
"That's (CGI business manager) Benny Sharp's white Continental," he points out during a drive through the church's grounds in Flint. "There's Garner Ted's Bronco," he says, cruising past Armstrong's home. "These guys really have some money. Most of 'am have boats, too."....
In Tyler, the gossip about Garner Ted and the masseuse was blazing last fall, but has now burned down to an ember. "Good old Garner Ted, he's just a good ol' boy and I don't know what to think about her," says a well-known Tyler real-estate broker. "Nobody in this deal smells very good."....
The article discusses much more: Texas laws regulating the massage industry, the ethical standards in therapeutic massage, Suerae's personal financial problems, her house, her childhood history of sexual abuse and lifetime of emotional problems, etc. - much more than most will want to know about this hillbilly soap opera. However, those who just have to know all the facts can obtain a copy of the entire article for $2 by writing to the Dallas Observer, 2130 Commerce St., Dallas, TX 75201.
Since the above story appeared, the infamous GTA sex video has become something of a sensation in Texas and elsewhere, with thousands of copies now in circulation. One group which has not been too keen on the video, however, are the members of CGI. In fact, so upset are most that more than half of CGI's ministers have resigned from CGI taking with them more than half of CGI's membership. Most, if not all, who have left seem to be incorporating their congregations separately while trying to maintain ties to each other through an alliance called simply "The Churches of God." The 27 ministers of the group had a conference in Tulsa April 12-14 and agreed to be independent churches working in cooperation to serve their people. The new alliance has an information center that is quite open about their organizational structure, personnel, beliefs, finances, and programs. Their oversight committee is made up of ministers Les Pope, Tom Whitson, and Tom Justus. The group's Information Center address is RR 2 Box 114, Hawkins, Texas 75765, with another organization address at P.O. Box 54621, Tulsa, OK 74155. The group's toll free number is 800-611-8080.
As for evangelist Ron Dart, formerly top assistant to Garner Ted Armstrong, we understand that his new organization, Christian Educational Ministries (CEM), is thriving. Dart's new radio program Born to Win is already on about thirty stations, including one in Australia (and you can even hear the program on your computer at http://www.cajunland.com/cem/). He has a popular Internet ministry and a growing network of sabbatarian community churches. One interesting doctrinal or policy announcement from Dart is that his group will now take up only three annual holy day offerings per year, not the seven that the WCG and others do contrary to Deut. 16:16. CEM seems fairly straightforward about its programs and policies, so those who would like more information should contact them at CEM, P.O. Box 560, Whitehouse, TX 75791; tel. 903-509-2999; firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mail.
Meanwhile, back at the courthouse in Tyler, Judge Cynthia Kent has recused herself because, it turns out, her husband is a member of the law firm that is representing Garner Ted Armstrong. The new judge is Louis B. Gohmert. The jury trial is scheduled to begin November 18. Of course, it is quite possible that before then the case will be quietly settled out of court.
Rick Ross and CAN Bankrupted
Scientology Backed Attack
Within the microculture of the anti-cult movement, no organization has been more influential than the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network (CAN). And while not as famous as Ted Patrick or Gallen Kelly who have gotten more media attention (and jail time) for their activities, in the shadowy world of exit counselors and deprogrammers few have been more successful than Rick Ross of Phoenix. Now both CAN and Ross have been badly stung by the pro-cult forces.
CAN and Ross were among the losers last September when a jury in Seattle's U.S. District Court awarded $4.8 million to Jason Scott, a Seattle-area man who claimed he had been held against his will by three men when Ross was called in to deprogram him away from Life Tabernacle, a United Pentecostal church. The jury agreed with Scott that his constitutionally guaranteed right to practice religion had been violated and for that awarded him almost $1 million per day for each of the five days he was kept at the deprogramming site, a luxury beach condo. CAN was included among the defendants because Scott claimed it was a Seattle CAN volunteer who recommended Ross's services when his distraught mother sought a professional deprogrammer to break the psychological hold a Life Tabernacle minister had over her son.
At the deprogramming session Scott, then 18, recanted his association with the Life Tabernacle. But afterward Scott recanted his first recantation and obtained the assistance of lawyers with close ties to Scientology. In recent years, hordes of Scientologist lawyers, energized by massive infusions of cash from the "new religion" started by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, have been in league with cult followers of every bent in waging near-all-out war against the counter-cult movement. As documented in Richard Behar's famous Time magazine cover story of 5/6/91 and in Bent Corydon's book L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman (Barricade Books, 1992), Scientology is probably the largest and most aggressive of the modern destructive cults. No other cult, for example, has ever attempted to intimidate the press to such a degree or infiltrate anti-cult organizations, anti-cult law firms, and even law enforcement branches of the U.S. government as Scientology has done since the 1980s. Nor has any other cult, as far as we know, maintained such a large and aggressive team of lawyers, or so actively used the courts to harass its critics. For example, just one of the many anti-cult organizations currently under attack by the Scientologists is Watchman Fellowship which seems to have done nothing more than accurately report on Scientology's well-known methods and non-Christian teachings.
The use of frivolous lawsuits by wealthy and unscrupulous plaintiffs bent on harassing poorer defendants is a growing problem in the United States (New York Times, 6/11/96). As long as a plaintiff can show some possible reason for a glimmer of hope that some jury somewhere could possibly find for him, a sufficiently wealthy aggressor can bring any number of suits against a poor defendant and thereby exhaust the defendant through endless depositions, interrogatories, and costly paperwork. In the end the plaintiff may not win in court, but no matter. By using the courts for such strategic lawsuits against public participation, or "slapps" as the legal profession refers to them, the First Amendment freedoms of the defendant and others are severely chilled.
Before Jason Scott brought his civil case, Scientology had engaged in a massive campaign of disinformation against CAN, much of it done through mailings from anonymous or unreachable individuals with phantom organizations at mail drops or bogus addresses. (AR has for years been flooded with this kind of garbage mail.) Getting nowhere with such childish pranks, Scientology-assisted plaintiffs then brought some 50 suits against the dedicated cult fighting organization. One long-time CAN activist, Priscilla Coates of Glendale, California, alone was hit by 22 lawsuits. Until Jason Scott came along, none of the suits against CAN had been successful. While Scott's attempt at getting a criminal conviction against Ross failed in 1994, the lucky judgment for him in the civil case resulted in both Ross and CAN filing for bankruptcy.
Now we have learned that CAN, which had been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or reorganization, while appealing the dubious judgment against it, has just been thrown into Chapter 7, complete liquidation. All of CAN's employees have already been discharged, but what will become of its corporate assets is unclear. Some fear that Scientology or its proxies may now be able to gain legal ownership of CAN's extensive archives, its mailing list, the very name "Cult Awareness Network," and even the group's phone number, thereby gaining further means for harassing cult fighters around the world. With virtually all of its headquarters resources gone and its backers in disarray, it might appear that CAN, as we have known it, is no more. But some supporters point out that CAN's local affiliates, always fiercely independent, will continue on as will the group's informal system of personal networking.
As for Rick Ross, it is doubtful that Scientology and its pro-cult allies will ever be able to truly silence him. In fact, in a mid-June phone interview Ross told us he will soon be launching a new counter-cult offensive via the Internet. We will provide details about that in a future issue. For now, those interested in learning more about the Jason Scott case or about Rick Ross and his amazing career will find two articles helpful: "Cults in the Courtroom!" by John Colwell (in the 10/25/95 issue of The Stranger, 1202 East Pike # 1225, Seattle, WA 98122) and "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlatans" by Tony Ortega (in the 11/30-12/6/95 Phoenix New Times, 1201 East Jefferson, Phoenix, AZ 85034).
Ernest Mann Murdered
We are sorry to have to announce that author Ernest Mann has died, and under very tragic circumstances. On the evening of March 12, the 69-year-old Mann was bludgeoned to death by his 17-year-old grandson Eli B. Johnson. The troubled youth had dropped out of school in 1994. Unable or unwilling to live with either of his parents, Eli had been living with his grandfather on and off, sharing a trailer house in southeast Little Falls, Minnesota where the murder occurred. After the crime, Eli fled to a wooded area near town and took his own life with a .22 caliber handgun that had been stolen, probably by Eli, in a burglary months before. The tragedy was reported in the Morrison County Record, 3/17/96 and 3/24/96.
Mann, whose legal name was Larry F. Johnson (not the Larry Gilbert Johnson of Laodicean Church fame) was the author of the book I Was Robot and the publisher of the Little Free Press newsletter. His writings were increasingly popular in ex-WCG circles and especially among those who valued a simple existence coupled with maximum freedom from governmental and societal intrusion. It is likely Mann's writings will continue to be distributed. For information contact Sandy Nelson, 730 3rd St. N.E., Little Falls, MN 56345. Ernest Mann's son Rod is planning a memorial newsletter to be sent to his father's many admirers. For information on that or to send regrets write Rod Johnson, 309 Cedar Ave. So., Minneapolis, MN 55454.
Charles V. Dorothy, 1934-1996
We are very sorry to report the death of our old friend Charles V. Dorothy from cancer on Father's Day, June 16. Dorothy, who earned Ph.D.s from Ambassador College and later from prestigious Claremont College, was one of the brightest and most likeable individuals to have ever taught at Ambassador. In recent years he lectured and wrote for the Association for Christian Development in Washington state. Ironically, a week before his death, Dr. Dorothy was informed that his work The Books of Esther, the culmination of a lifetime of research, had finally been accepted for publication by a major publisher. A tribute to his life and work has been published by ACD and many of his outstanding lectures are still available on cassette tape from that organization. Dr. Dorothy is survived by his wife Camilla, his five children, and by many friends and former students. Most who knew him personally will not soon forget that through a life of adversity and disappointment, his was still one of steadfast faith and encouraging optimism. Those wishing to express condolences to his family may write c/o the Association for Christian Development, 4449 S. Star Lake Road, Auburn, WA 98001.
Of all the religious topics that interest the Armstrongites these days, the most popular and most perplexing seems to be the ancient Hebrew calendar. In the last three months we have been sent more than twenty different articles and papers on the subject. Apart from questions regarding the proper days for keeping Passover and Pentecost (issues upon which much has also been written), the main calendar concern these days seems to be the issue of whether or not it is even possible to properly calculate the ancient calendar so as to know what any given day really is. The problem has worked up some into paroxysms of manic mysticism.
In a 3/25/96 letter to a Bible student, Ronald B. Nelson, one of Dr. Meredith's GCG representatives, wrote the following:
There is a lot of discussion about the sacred calendar among God's people today. Most recognize that "Judaism" is not the original religion of ancient Israel and Moses. Therefore, some people assume that they should not use the Jewish Calendar. As an alternative, some have set about to devise their own independent calendar based on their own understanding of what is involved.
There is no indication in the Scripture that each individual was ever responsible to determine the dates of the Holy Days. It should be obvious that however the Holy Day calendar is determined, it was an official decision lest people convene on whatever days each one felt was correct. That would have produced confusion, not order and unity (I Cor. 14:33). It would have been like it was in the days of the judges when people were left to their own devices. Notice: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
When the technical issues are rightly understood, it is easy to see why there is some confusion about God's calendar today. If five people sit down and attempt to draw up a solar/lunar calendar to serve the biblical purpose, virtually everyone will arrive at different conclusions (methods and dates). This is because the Bible doesn't tell us precisely how to construct a "sacred calendar." [Emphasis mine - ed.] Evidently, God gave the knowledge to the leadership (the priests, Aaron and his descendants). They, in turn, were to coordinate the Holy Day dates so that all the people come together at the same time.
Here are just a couple [sic] of matters that the Bible is not plain and clear with regard to calendar construction: 1) Precisely when to begin the first day of the year, 2) How many months were to be in a year, 3) When and how to add an intercalary month (i.e. a 13th mouth to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons), 4) How many days were to be in each month, etc.
So, the issues are not as simple as they may seem when one begins to study all the factors that have to be considered. Global is researching further into the most common questions concerning God's calendar. Once we have something which God's faithful ministers of many years feel is ready for publication, we will present it in an article or booklet. Meanwhile, it would not be possible for me to comment....
Nelson's admissions should raise some questions in the minds of alert people. For example, if the Bible really does not show how to calculate the Sacred Calendar, would that not indicate either (1) God does not consider it important to keep the biblical holy days in a mathematically precise time frame, or (2) keeping the biblical holy days is no longer something required by God? Furthermore, even if we assume that God still intends all believers to keep the OT holy days in a physically precise manner, if the believer must go outside of the Bible to find the means of calculating the sacred calendar's dates, would that not indicate either (1) that the oracles of God encompass more than the just the Bible, or (2) that some other group of clerics other than the Armstrongite ministers (Jewish rabbis or prophets perhaps?) may have been designated as the repositories of God's esoteric knowledge and that they therefore have spiritual authority superior to that of the Armstongite clerics? Perhaps it is such questions that prompted St. Paul to write, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath (Col. 2:16).
While Global is in the process of studying the calendar issue, Dr. Ernest Martin, who for many years was the WCG's leading expert on the subject, has already published a 30-page paper on "How To Calculate the Biblical Calendar." Dr. Martin, who was recently interviewed by Father Ronald Lengwin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh on his KDKA talk show, continues to publish materials of interest to many ex-Worldwiders. Other timely Martin writings include his paper "By Grace Are Ye Saved" and his lecture "Why Churches Fall Apart." For details write to: Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, P.O. Box 25000, Portland, OR 97225-4351, tel. 503-292-4352, e-mail: email@example.com.
I thought the article you ran by Dr. Zimmerman criticizing Steven Collins' letter in AR60 was outstanding. I'd like to see the Report print more articles that show balance and facts in the area of Bible prophecy. Too many people who have left the WCG have gone down strange paths in their searchings and are coming up with ideas that they firmly believe yet are unrealistic and smack of paranoia.
The idea that the U.N. is sending helicopters to round up true Christians is ludicrous. Anyone who even casually follows the news on the U.N. knows it is a wimp of an organization. Here's one example. Because Moammar Gadhafi refuses to turn over the guys who are accused of blowing up the plane over Scotland in 1988, the U.N. has put a ban on all flights in and out of Libya. But on June 22 Moammar decided he wanted to attend the Arab conference in Egypt. So, giving the finger to the U.N., he just got on one of his Boeing 727s and told the pilot to head east. After the conference he just went back the way he came. Nobody did a thing to him. The U.N. only issued a statement saying he was a very bad boy. Does that sound like a powerful organization? Frankly, they are about as wimpy as they come.
The newspapers here in New York have been full of stories lately about how the U.N. is on the verge of bankruptcy. A few months ago I even saw a story on the TV news showing how some sessions of the General Assembly had to be cancelled because the U.N. building's roof was leaking. Newsmen here refer to them as a mismanaged and bloated bureaucracy lacking even the money to fix their leaking roof! All they have is a history of doing lots of paperwork, passing all kinds of lofty resolutions with no way of financing or enforcing them, and then doing nothing. They are pathetic. How can anyone think they are the awesome and terrifying Beast of Revelation!
May I ask - why did you ever run Steven Collins letter in the first place?
Editor: The reason is simple. Mr. Collins' views are similar to those held by many ex-WCG members and he expresses them well. Please keep in mind that we try to include a diversity of opinions in our letters section and in the by-lined articles that we run. Incidentally, Collins took exception to the Zimmerman article and should you wish to read his extensive rebuttal to Zimmerman's rebuttal you may write to him at: 3901 Crescent Drive, Sioux Falls, SD 57106.
We probably never would have found out the real scoop on GTA if it weren't for the AR. Pretty much the whole church in Tucson and Phoenix left CGI and are receiving tapes from Ron Dart. We personally don't want anything to do with organized religion and the Armstrongs. We should have known 20 years ago that GTA was a bad apple.
In these parts most who read your story about Mr. Ted Armstrong were suspicious you made the whole thing up. But that was before we saw the video tape of GTA with the masseuse. It was sent to CGI members who thought that the story was not for real. One of those who sent out copies was elder Gary Porter, 11968 N. Honesty Lane, Pocatello, Idaho 83202. We got our copy by just calling him at 801-562-2532.
I must admit I found the video upsetting. I did not realize that Mr. Armstrong was so impotent. His prostate is not working or he was drunk or something. Why would any normal man want to lie face down on a table with his legs spread and his butt up in the air and have someone rub oil in his rear end for a half hour while he played with himself? I was saddened to see with my own eyes all the difficulty he had getting any results. Obviously he was tricked by a woman who was deceived (I Tim. 2:4). I have to believe the woman deceived herself into thinking she was really a nurse. I'm sure she was not. I have been in hospitals and no nurse ever did that kind of crazy thing to me!
After viewing the tape a number of times and praying and fasting about Mr. Armstrong's repentance we are still not sure if we should leave the CGI. Are you also distributing copies of the video?
Editor: Absolutely not! When an AR reader mailed me a copy I felt obligated to watch it once in order to verify the information we received on the GTA story. But after just a few moments of the pathetic and disgusting spectacle, I decided to fast forward in order to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible. I then mailed the tape back because I prefer not to have such material in my home. Frankly, I think most readers will be better off not seeing the tape. Furthermore, to those distributing the porno tape, a suggestion: please put a label on it saying in large letters: WARNING: VIEWING THIS TAPE MAY CAUSE NAUSEA!
Some of my friends who have remained in CGI say that Mr. GTA's sex sins are not all that bad when compared to those of the current WCG leaders. They've told me some pretty wild stuff. I hope you cover those stories some day.
Editor: We're investigating those rumors (and that is all we consider them at this point). We will comment further in a future issue.
Here in New Zealand the WCG changes are certainly evident, and in this respect enclosed is a press cutting from The New Zealand Herald, Sept. 2, 1995. This is the largest daily newspaper in the country and here is Jack Croucher, who controls the New Zealand WCG work, excited about their newfound understanding with the Greenlane Christian Fellowship movement which is a charismatic group that meets on Sunday!
Frankly, some of us who once gave thousands of hard-earned dollars toward the building of "the House for God" in Pasadena are shocked that it has now become, in effect, the private property of one man - Mr. Tkach Jr. - to do with as he wishes. And we are heartbroken that he wants to simply discard God's House like just so much garbage. Can't anything be done about this travesty?
Editor: A lot of people have been asking the same thing. Frankly, I don't think there is much that individuals can do at this point. But let me recommend that you read an excellent article which appeared on page seven of the 6/3/96 issue of New Beginnings. Written by our friend Steven Andrews, an attorney and CPA, the article will give you some idea of the kinds of ethical and legal considerations that may impinge on Tkach's plan to sell off Ambassador Auditorium and the rest of the WCGs Pasadena properties. New Beginnings is published by the United Church of God, P.O. Box 661780, Arcadia, CA 91006-1780.
My husband, a member since 1981, remains in the WCG. Here in Wichita, they have gone from two congregations to one, with very few social functions. The changes don't seem to bother my husband. It also doesn't bother him that I write you a check, but he does not want to read AR.
I think it is really scary how so many in the WCG will simply follow whatever doctrine or policy change they are given. How can such a thing be happening?
Editor: Generally speaking the WCG membership is a rather unsophisticated and anti-intellectual group that is easily manipulated by some very obvious advertising, propaganda, and mind control techniques. For example, the membership had already been pre-programmed into accepting the new PT marketing methods via near-subliminal hints in past WCG publications. See, for example, the Q&A section of the 12/5/95 WN where all the marketing changes were subtly introduced and rationalized A few weeks later, the WN (1/30/96, p. 8) quietly announced that Carmel Omasta, a youthful and chic blond with an MBA from Cal State, Los Angeles, was the Tkach Company's new "product coordinator," the one in charge of marketing the WCGs line of "Christian products." The effectiveness of such pre-programming can be seen in the fact that when the new PT policies were officially introduced weeks later virtually no WCG member was surprised or upset.
I had been a member of the WCG all of my life (33 years), attending with my family and graduating from Ambassador College in 1987. That is where I first began to wonder what on earth was going on! During my first week of classes as a freshman, Mr. Greg Albrecht told us that we would find out a lot of things while we were at Ambassaor College, but that we should not write home and tell anyone about it because they did not need to know and would not understand. Well, I thought, what could be going on here that no one should know or understand? A great deal - as I have discovered in the last three years since leaving the organization.
Thank you for the great job you have done in exposing this great fraud to us all.
I appreciate how you keep us informed of the various groups, including their mailing addresses. Most splinters will not inform their people of other groups. They don't want to lose their "dumb sheep."
HWA always said that if his work was not of God it would fail. That was not good theology because there are hundreds of religions that are centuries old that are not of God, yet they still thrive. Nevertheless, it is interesting that one of HWA's predictions has finally come true.
Organizations by their very nature have to promote pride, a killer of the true Spirit.
Just as we are going to press, we have learned that the WCG's very existence is again being threatened by yet more financial troubles and political infighting. With the official WCG annual budget down to only about $50 million (and some say it's really less), Tkach is now hinting that it may be necessary. to close Ambassador University after all. Dr. Duke was told just that when he arrived in Pasadena for a meeting on June 23. But an even more serious problem revolves around whether the membership can be counted on to continue sending their tithes directly to Pasadena or if they are going to begin giving their tithes to their local pastors. The question becomes: Who will control the limited financial resources that are left - the headquarters generals or the local commanders?
That kind of question has been whispered among WCG pastors for some time now. With Tkach already having cut their benefits and increased their workloads while providing them with virtually no fresh blood from a telecast or broadcast outreach, and with the Plain Truth and even Ambassador University on very shaky ground, there is increasingly very little reason for the WCG's field ministry and even Tkach's hand-picked regional pastors to stay loyal to Pasadena. To top it off, with Tkach having even talked of putting the entire ministry on a part-time basis and having them hold church services in their homes, he has been giving his field ministers every reason to start planning a major revolt. Perhaps it is already in the works.
Sources in Pasadena say that the regional pastors (formerly called the district supervisors) recently demanded to see Tkach who agreed to a meeting that took place the last week of June. As we go to press we have learned that the cantankerous regional pastors have now left town, but not before a few resigned.
Is it conceivable that the entire WCG membership would side with their local pastors in a showdown with Tkach? We tend to doubt it. But one insider told us, "I'm all for it! The regional pastors know best what doctrines to adopt and how to put together the whole doctrinal package for best results in their individual areas. Why shouldn't they be the ones controlling the resulting revenues?" No one is saying what really transpired at the recent meeting. Many knowledgeable observers are convinced, however, that unless Tkach can reverse the rising tide of discontent in the field ministry, his headquarters elite clique may not be far away from ruling over a church with no members.
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We will be monitoring the latest WCG crisis and we will be getting out another issue as soon as finances allow. Our thanks for your continued support and encouragement.
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