December 1997 (AR67)
Sunday Distinctly Better?
Just a year ago, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was still officially "sabbatarian." That is, its official publications openly acknowledged that the WCG held its weekly church services only on Saturdays, the seventh-day sabbath. To WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), seventh-day sabbath keeping was so theologically essential that even with all the doctrinal tinkering he did during his lifetime, he never would have tolerated any deviation from that teaching so central to his theology. In fact, many still recall how on a number of occasions Armstrong warned his followers that should any WCG preacher, including himself, ever question that doctrine from the pulpit, they were to immediately get up and leave.
Well, we hate to say, "We told you so," but a few years ago we did write that it was only a matter of time, before Worldwide's leadership would start easing in Sunday as the preferred day for worship. At that time, Tkach Jr. publicly and sarcastically chided us for even suggesting it could ever happen. Now, in the July Worldwide News (WN), buried on page 14 so as not to get too much attention (after all, the well-established Tkach technique is to ever so gently slide new doctrines into the consciousness of members via sermon asides and minor WN articles), there was a short Tkach article titled, "Proclaiming the gospel on Sunday, too." Here is how he has eased in his preference for Sunday worship:
Some members are troubled by the fact that a few WCG congregations now meet for worship services on Sunday....
The vast majority of our congregations continue our tradition of meeting on Saturday. This is usually the day that serves the members best, and in many areas it does not prevent effective evangelism....
However, in some areas, Sunday is distinctly better than Saturday for being able to attract new people to services where they may hear the gospel proclaimed.
Some members have pointed out that the church's "Goal, Mission, and Ministries" statement specifically states that it would offer "worship services on the seventh day (Saturday) and annual festivals, the church's Festival of Tabernacles being the major collective worship event of the year." Regarding that statement, Tkach would only say, "This is still true, and I think it will continue to be true." But for how long, he did not say. However, regarding that old sabbath "tradition" he did offer this new understanding:
Even under the old covenant, God did not require his people to attend worship services on the Sabbath.... Nevertheless, it is a good practice (but not a required one) to designate one day a week to set aside the normal routine and to focus on building our relationship with Christ and his people.
We have not heard of even one current WCG member who has left the WCG over this statement. Tkach's conquest of the WCG's collective consciousness now appears to be complete.
Tkach Rewrites History
In George Orwell's novel 1984, the Party of Big Brother had a motto: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." The motto referred to the Party's never-ending work of destroying the records of its past and rewriting its history as a means of controlling its followers' thinking and the course of future events. In Orwell's novel the process was quite deliberate and was carried out for purposes of "reality control" or, in the futuristic language of Newspeak, "doublethink." The whole process led to what Orwell called "controlled insanity" and it was all done with one goal: to perpetually maintain the Party leadership in its position of power and privilege.
While 1984 is often classified as a dystopian, or anti-utopian, satire (a type of fiction), it is also a very helpful primer on the nature of organizational thought control, whether that organization is a nation-state, a corporation, or even a church. The motto about the rewritten past controlling the future refers to a phenomenon well-known to historians: Those parties that win wars or other types of struggles are usually the very ones who write the official histories of those wars or struggles. When they do, the record of the past is usually distorted in favor of the victor. And in creating the distorted records of the past, the writers of such propagandistic histories play an important role in manipulating future events.
Blatant examples can be seen in the way the Soviets of old wrote and rewrote their official histories of the Russian revolution and its aftermath. Some historians (Howard Zinn, for example, in A People's History of the United States) point out how many American education-committee-approved history books, whether through omission or misplaced emphasis, contain significant distortions of America's past. The Roman Catholic Church's official histories of itself have been criticized similarly. For example, WCG founder Herbert Armstrong claimed that in the extant histories of the Catholic Church there seemed to be a "lost century" - about a hundred years' worth of missing data at a point in time when the early church was theologically in transition.
Armstrong, himself, thoroughly understood the history rewrite technique and used it himself. His own Autobiography has been called by many with first-hand knowledge of the facts (including his evangelist son Garner Ted Armstrong) more than 50 percent fiction. Yet it played, and continues to play, an important role in the ongoing life of Armstrongism. Another example of the personal propaganda-as-history genre was Against the Gates of Hell by HWA's attorney Stanley R. Rader, whose history of the WCG's legal battles of 1979-1980 were a hall-of-mirrors distortion of the events many of us witnessed close up. Similarly, GTA's short history of the founding of his Church of God International is infamous for its glaring distortions and gargantuan omissions of fact. Yet that short work continues to perpetuate the CGI branch of Armstrongism.
Now, WCG Pastor General Joseph W. Tkach Jr. adds his name to the above list with the publication of his new book Transformed by Truth. In it Tkach tells the story of how the church that Herbert Armstrong founded was led through a "miraculous reformation" to become the vastly different Worldwide Church of God that he now heads. Unfortunately, while much of the book does make a contribution to our understanding of Armstrongism, it is far from being an objective recounting of the WCG's recent past.
© 1997 Ambassador Report. John Trechak, Editor & Publisher. Published as a Christian service almost quarterly - as finances allow.
Opinions expressed in by-lined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher. References to books, ministers, and organizations do not constitute endorsements.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw in the book is what it does not discuss. Not surprisingly, Tkach makes no mention of such unseemly matters as the debaucheries and promiscuous sex life of his church's founder, his own father's infidelities, or his own divorce. But even in the area of pure theology there are amazing omissions. The most glaring one concerns Dr. Ernest L. Martin, the one-time head of Ambassador's Theology Department who went on to become president of the Foundation for Biblical Research and the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. It was Martin's research papers, beginning around 1961, that first introduced Pauline theology to Herbert Armstrong and the WCG. Since then, tens of thousands of Worldwiders, including Joseph Tkach Sr. himself, were profoundly influenced by Martin's ideas on the New Testament. Yet, nowhere in the main text of Tkach Jr.'s book is there a hint at Martin's existence, let alone an acknowledgement of his profound impact on WCG theology. Other important WCG and former-WCG writers and teachers passed over in the text are Ken Storey, Gary Arvidson, Ken Fischer, Al Carrozzo, Kenneth Westby, Charles Dorothy, Brian Knowles, Howard Clark, Charles Hunting, Anthony Buzzard, Robert Kuhn, George Geis, Lester Grabbe, Earl Williams, and dozens more. Their important contributions to current WCG theology are simply ignored by historian Tkach and his editors.
Not surprisingly, Ambassador Report also goes unrecognized. Twenty-two years of exposing the sins and incessant infighting of the Armstrong and Tkach regimes - reporting that put pressure on the WCG to make fundamental changes - are not given any mention. Nor are the important books written about Worldwide by Joseph Hopkins, Marion McNair, John Tuit, and David Robinson.
Instead, the story that Tkach wants his readers to swallow is that it was almost solely through Pastors General Tkach Sr. and Tkach Jr. and their small inner circle that God worked to transform the WCG. Supposedly, it was only within the last decade that God revealed "new truths" to the WCG ministry, and when God did so, it was to the Tkachs who immediately taught those "new truths" to their followers. Long-time AR readers know that thousands of lives were destroyed, thousands of families torn asunder, and hundreds of millions of dollars thrown away before the Tkachs finally acquiesced under pressure and reluctantly agreed to the kinds of doctrinal changes that many "liberals" had wanted made for more than twenty years.
Three Conspiracy Theories
Tkach goes to great lengths to convince readers that the WCG's changes came about through divine intervention and that there was never any secret agenda, timetable, or conspiracy to change the WCG's old doctrines. He specifically mentions three conspiracy theories that are currently circulating regarding the changes that have been made:
(1) The first theory is that the changes were made by evangelists Albrecht, Feazell, and himself as acts of revenge against the church for the abusive way they were treated when they were growing up as "church kids." In what little he says on this, Tkach never denies that there had been abuse. Instead, he says, "Proclaiming the gospel of grace is certainly an unusual way to get revenge." Yes, it is. But when it results in the near total destruction of whole institutions, it is effective revenge, nevertheless. Then he immediately states, "Would to God all 'revenge' was so sweet!" And that is all he tells us about theory number one. Tkach's true believers will read it one way. Those more cynical will take it at face value as the admission it really is. One probably could not find a better example of effective doublespeak.
(2) The second conspiracy theory Tkach blames on departed evangelist David Hulme. Writes Tkach, "David theorized that my dad had all these doctrinal reforms in his mind for ten or fifteen years and was just patiently waiting for the moment when he could mobilize his plan of reform."
This "theory" did not originate with Hulme. Hulme got the idea from AR and we got it, ourselves, from Joseph Tkach Sr. who, circa 1987, confidentially indicated to a mutual acquaintance that he planned to change at least 40 major WCG doctrines over the course of the next few years. (That was not too surprising to us as we knew Tkach Sr. had studied Ernest Martin's writings in the mid-seventies.) The full extent of the changes to come were probably not anticipated and their exact timing may not have been put on a precise schedule. But there most certainly was a plan to substantially overhaul the WCG's doctrines at least as far back as 1987.
(3) The third conspiracy theory is that Tkach Jr. and company had enough "dirt" on Tkach Sr. to be able to blackmail him into making changes. There is no way to prove to what extent this is true or untrue. But certainly Tkach Jr. at least knew of some of the skeletons in his father's closet. We had revealed a good number in the pages of AR. Junior certainly knew of his father's relationship with "Mrs." Ellen Escat. And quite likely he knew even more than we reported. There is no reason for us to think that such inside knowledge did not give Junior and friends significant leverage with "the old man."
Regarding Tkach's book, former WCG minister David Covington on his Ministry of Healing Web site (http://members.aol.com/exwcg) offers these insights:
The WCG has maintained that Mr. Tkach Sr. simply understood these truths as he was exposed to them, there was no timetable of changes and that he courageously instituted them against great losses of members and financial income. This is simply incomplete and is mostly a corporate advertisement. I believe the approach has been dishonest and played on past manipulations to continue controlling present members. Consider the following:
Mike Feazell admitted to me that he and Tkach Sr. were among those responsible for squelching the love and Jesus message of the 1970s "liberals." He recounted stories of being angry back stage in the auditorium as he listened to a sermonette on "love, love, love." But Tkach's Truth book makes no mention of these courageous reformers.
Greg Albrecht told my wife and I that Mike Feazell had struggled tirelessly "fighting" Mr. Tkach Sr. to get him to institute changes. But, the Truth book seems to indicate Tkach Sr. saw these things himself and acted against all odds.
Greg Albrecht also showed me the cross he wears around his neck (with his father's dog tags attached) and admitted he has done so secretly since the mid-'80s. C. W. Davis [Feazell's assistant] told my wife that Mike Feazell had told him in the fall of 1994 that the changes would be coming in three to five years. But, the Truth book goes to great lengths to disprove "conspiracy theories." While I doubt Hulme's belief that Tkach wanted to make the changes since the '70s, I also doubt the administration's statements that they did not have a plan of implementation.
The administration does not [adequately] mention the 40,000-50,000 people who have left the church and either joined evangelical churches or decried Armstrongism altogether. The WCG in the book gives support to the fact they aren't "conning" anyone by saying that Tkach made these changes against knowing he would lose half the church, and made these changes on Christmas Eve 1994. In fact, he made the changes the week before on December 17, 1994 in Atlanta when he realized he was going to be losing up to half the church either way, whether he went with grace or law.
After the Tkach book's end-notes (where we had hoped to see an index, but were disappointed) there is a fold-out flow chart showing the pedigree of the WCG, the Christian denominations from which it sprang and their roots. This chart is followed by another showing the WCG's more than 100 offshoots. It provides the names of all the groups' leaders, dates of their founding, and some indications as to their size and viability. We were amazed at how much detailed information the WCG maintains about its offshoots and competitors. Tkach, for example, is all too aware that his biggest competitors are United Church of God which he views as being in David Hulmes' pocket, Global Church of God which is headed by Rod Meredith, and the Philadelphia Church of God which is headed by Gerald Flurry. Tkach gives their current membership figures as 18,000; 7,000; and 3,000 respectively. But by also listing the names and church-founding dates for such important WCG reformers as Ernest Martin, Ken Storey, and Earl Williams, Tkach unwittingly reveals that he is aware of the important roles played by such men in the WCG's evolving theology. The Truth book's failure to recognize the contributions made by such men was no accident. Additionally, as David Covington points out, "By putting courageous reformers such as Ernest Martin and Earl Williams on the chart with Meredith, Flurry, and the other Armstrongites, Tkach buries them in obscurity - more revisionism."
It is more than a little bit funny, but Tkach is not the only one who has his own special version of the WCG "Reformation." In letters to their own constituents, the leaders of Azusa Pacific University, where the new Ambassador Center is located (see AR66), have been giving themselves much of the credit for Worldwide's "Reformation." And before his own fans Hank Hanegraaff, radio's "Bible Answer Man," has been claiming most of the credit for Worldwide's transformation. Yes, Worldwiders of late have had many angels of light - each with their own version of historical "truth."
Armstrongism Unveiled at Last
None of the above is meant to suggest that the Tkach book is a complete fabrication. Much of it is undoubtedly accurate. Furthermore, in those chapters where Tkach deals most directly with the theology of Armstrong, Tkach actually provides a fair amount of new data about HWA that is quite valuable.
For instance, he admits it really is true, as many HWA critics have claimed, that HWA's theology was eclectic. Virtually every doctrine that was once claimed to be unique to Armstrongism was actually lifted from some other denomination. (One exception is the "born again equals spiritually conceived" doctrine which Armstrong apparently devised himself.) Tkach names a number of those sources HWA drew upon and even shows that when HWA claimed God had revealed "new truth" to him, it often meant that he had read of the idea in the writings of some other preacher. Tkach shows how in the twenties, HWA had actually attended a Baptist Church for a time, and how he had been influenced by the writings of a number of evangelical preachers including Charles Finney.
Tkach reveals that, contrary to what WCG officially taught in later years, HWA really did once consider himself to be "God's prophet." And on at least one occasion, HWA actually did publicly proclaim, "I am Elijah!"
The Truth book contains many little revelations: Tkach Senior was born in 1927 (just as AR has said, not in 1926 as Tkach Sr. had claimed). Tkach Sr. was once miraculously healed of an ulcer condition, thus allowing him to indulge his taste for hot chili. The WCG has developed a working relationship with the Foursquare Gospel Church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. Tkach thoroughly understands the psychological concept of "cognitive dissonance" (p. 149) - the technical term for Orwell's "doublethink." Tkach says there are churches in existence that are "Sunday Sabbatarian." Roderick Meredith is a false prophet. And many of Tkach Jr.'s old friends are absolutely convinced he is demon possessed (p. 73).
But of all the revelations provided us by Tkach, the one that will probably shock Armstrongites the most is found in the first endnote for chapter twelve. There Tkach makes the startling claim that he has written documentation that in the late 1920s, when HWA was already preaching in seventh-day churches, he was actually persuaded that there really was no biblical requirement for strict sabbath observance. Here is an excerpt from that HWA document:
In a word, Mr. Dugger, my present status on the question is just this: It now appears to me that the Bible says the Sabbath is abolished, ended, and done away. That, so far as Divine Command is concerned, there IS NO SABBATH.
Tkach also claims to have another document from the same era in which Armstrong is supposed to have written:
Paul said we are not under the law. I have studied this from every possible angle, and tried every possible interpretation. And I cannot persuade myself that the plain, obvious meaning Paul intended to give us by that statement was anything except that we are not under obligation to obey the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.... Paul's writings, in other words, appear to confirm the idea that God's Law means supreme love to God and equal love to one's fellows, and not specifically the Ten Commandments at all.
As far as we know, Tkach has not made the above two documents available for inspection by independent researchers, so doubts about their authenticity will linger in the minds of many. Nevertheless, if they are genuine, it would suggest that HWA had two theologies: an exoteric one for his sheep, and an esoteric one for himself (compare James 1:8). Or as Tkach euphemistically puts it in his book, "Herbert Armstrong himself was a very complex man."
Tkach's Truth book, itself, is a rather complex affair. For by sitting now in Herbert Armstrong's chair while simultaneously tearing down Armstrong's mystique and doctrinal edifice, Tkach has put himself into what many perceive is a hopeless ethical dilemma. On page 21 Tkach makes this admission:
One of our greatest challenges has been trying to explain these doctrinal reforms to outsiders while maintaining our credibility internally, and some groups have greatly hindered our efforts by their reporting.
How were Tkach and company able to get around this problem? Strangely, Tkach already gave away the answer on the previous page. There he described an interview he and Feazell supposedly gave to Christian journalist Lorri MacGregor. According to Tkach, the experienced cult fighter was distrustful of the two men. Tkach then describes a stressful moment in the exchange when the skeptical journalist blurted out:
"Tell me, do you believe in 'justified lying'?".... "Do you believe you can legitimately lie to someone who is not an authentic believer?"
"Certainly not, " Mike Feazell replied, "We were far too self-righteous for that!"
And suddenly she warmed up to us.
Notice the word that we have underlined above and how cleverly the issue under discussion was sidestepped. MacGregor asked about a present doctrine or policy. Feazell did not really provide an answer to the question that was asked, but only responded by making a claim about the WCG's past. But even there he is not telling the whole truth. Those who were in the WCG in HWA's era know that while the WCG was legalistic and self-righteous, there were many deceptions that were perpetrated on "the world," in order to effectively carry on "the Work." Many old-timers can recall, for example, how they received free "educational literature" from Ambassador College for years before they discovered that behind the college there was really a church organization that was actively proselytizing. Tkach continues:
Lorri explained that she had to ask the question about "justified lying" because she is a former Jehovah's Witness, and members of that group reportedly sometimes engage in the practice. ("Justified lying" assumes that nonbelievers do not deserve the truth, and therefore believers can lie to "outsiders" if it serves the purposes of the group.) Once Lorri understood how legalistic our church had been through the years, it made sense to her that justified lying would never have been accepted, let alone encouraged among us. We had a truckload of problems, but justified lying wasn't one of them!
There is absolutely no reason why a legalistic organization cannot also hold to the practice of "justified lying." The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is globally famous for it. And those of us who worked for the WCG in the sixties and seventies know from personal experience that the WCG practiced it. Thus the above statement by Tkach is untrue. If we can assume that the one who made it is not entirely deluded, but gives himself some justification for making what he cannot help but know is a lie, then Tkach's statement, itself, is a marvelous example of a very contorted, but very real, "justified lie."
We suspect justified lying comes into play in another very important part of Tkach's Truth book. He tells of HWA's hypocrisy in regard to his old anti-medicine teachings. But, claims Tkach, before dying, HWA told Tkach Senior that "things needed to be changed" (p. 107). Junior readily admits (p. 65) that Armstrong may have been referring to only the church's healing doctrine. But, in the polemical writing of the next paragraph, he says there was no way for HWA's successors to determine precisely what HWA really wanted changed. So, Tkach claims, they were forced to embark on a campaign of biblical research "to identify, if possible, what changes Mr. Armstrong might have had in mind before his death." Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, the massive changes that the Tkachs have made since HWA's death were actually done to carry out HWA's wishes. In effect, Herbert Armstrong made them do it!
Tkach tells of how Garner Ted Armstrong had tried to initiate minor doctrinal changes in the WCG during the 1970s in the form of what was then called the Systematic Theology Project. Tkach writes, "The Systematic Theology Project (STP) was actually one of the most positive steps the WCG had ever taken." But, he acknowledges, the conservative wing of the ministry distrusted its authors and disparaged the project, saying STP stood for "Slowly Turning Protestant." Tkach admits that the STP resulted in HWA finally disfellowshipping his son Garner Ted for his "liberalism" and "modernizing" tendencies. So while Tkach claims that he and his father had no idea what HWA meant when he said "things needed to be changed," there was plenty of evidence as to the kinds of changes HWA did not want made.
Lobster as Christian Symbol
Tkach devotes a whole chapter to what he now calls his father's Christmas Eve sermon of 1994. Tkach Jr. points out that the immediate effect of the sermon was that many members ran out to restaurants and gorged themselves on lobster. This, Tkach feels, was a good thing because it was symbolic of their new-found freedom in Christ. Writes Tkach:
One friend, a longtime church member, ordered a plate of mussels. Every insect in the ocean was on his plate. And you know what? It really didn't trouble me at all. I've tasted shrimp, I've tasted pork, I've tasted just about everything now.
Although it shows that Tkach can be less than charitable at times, some of the more entertaining parts of his book are where he takes swipes at perceived rivals such as David Hulme (p. 52) or puts down the hypocritical behavior of evangelical clerics such as Dr. Joseph Stowell (p. 60). Sometimes Tkach also displays an above-average wit. He refers to Flurry's Philadelphia Church as a "militant church of God" that is "a snapshot of the WCG in the 1950's." And Meredith's Global Church is "a snapshot of the WCG in the 1960's." Hulme's United bunch - which Tkach says has already watered down one of HWA's so-called essential doctrines - is "a snapshot of the WCG in the 1970's." That's not only very funny; it's also very true.
One of the funniest parts of Tkach's Truth book comes at the end of the last chapter. There Tkach relates the story of one evangelist who felt that as Tkach Sr. was giving his so-called "Christmas Eve" sermon in 1994, Herbert was surely up in Heaven watching it all and leading the cheers for Tkach finally bringing the New Covenant to the WCG.
Even funnier, however, is the way Tkach prefaced that last chapter about "The Enigma of Herbert W. Armstrong." Tkach called time out from his narrative to give an "Advisory" warning to those about to turn the page to the next chapter:
To all current or former members of the Worldwide Church of God:
PLEASE READ THIS FIRST!
This chapter is not written to attack or belittle Herbert Armstrong in any way. I will not dare to judge the quality of his spiritual relationship with God...
What makes Tkach's "Advisory" so hilarious is that by the time the reader gets to it, Tkach has already given us enough solid evidence to conclude that HWA was a duplicitous, conniving, scripture-twisting hypocrite who was unconcerned with either the physical or spiritual well-being of his followers, but was motivated almost entirely by egocentric empire building and self-aggrandizement.
The New American Hero
From his own comments (p. 168), we see that Tkach's book is aimed toward at least two audiences: (1) evangelicals whom Tkach wants to convince of the WCG's new "orthodoxy" and (2) current WCG members whom he wants to win over more fully to the governing theology he has decided upon for them. In reality, however, there is a third audience: former WCG members. Much of the Tkach book, and perhaps its most effective parts, are aimed at the 30,000 Tkach estimates have left Worldwide for the Armstrongite offshoots and the 40,000 he estimates have left Worldwide but have yet to join another group (p. 105).
But in addition to trying to reach those three audiences, there is one other thing that Tkach is attempting to do with his new book. He is trying to position himself and his personal ministry within the spectrum of Christian product marketing. That can be seen not only from admissions in the book (see pp. 104, 194-6), but also from the book's advertising campaign. It is rather remarkable to read in the promotion blurbs, for example, how Dr. D. James Kennedy sees the WCG's change as "far more intensive than those that brought about the Protestant Reformation." And Dr. Gordon E. Kirk of Lake Avenue Congregational Church considers WCG's transformaition, to of the most dramatic works of God of the century." He even compares it to Paul's conversion on the Road to Damascus.
The use of such extravagant claims hints at what niche in the Christian marketing world Tkach is hoping to carve out for himself: He will be the new "American religion hero," the savior of whole churches, a voice from the wilderness of the cults bringing fresh recruits to the evangelical army of God.
Many who knew him ten or twenty years ago tend to dismiss Tkach as a lightweight. They overlook the fact that he is bright, has an accredited MBA, is a reasonably good speaker and writer, has an educated and talented inner circle of advisers and executives, will have plenty of cash to work with as soon as the college properties are sold and, not insignificantly, is skilled at projecting sincerity while simultaneously being politically calculating. His critics should not be too quick to write him off - especially when you consider how many gullible people there are out there.
Incidentally, Tkach's Transformed by Truth is published by Multnomah Books and sells at Christian bookstores for $19.99. Even Worldwide members are not being given free copies.
Not Everyone Fooled
In Apologia Report, the online theological weekly (Vol. 2: Number 28), there was recently this comment:
After looking over the content summaries of Ambassador Report on the Web, it strikes me that Personal Freedom Outreach may be the only evangelical countercult organization in print that could be considered in possible agreement with a significant amount of Ambassador Report's consistent criticism of the Tkach administration now behind the WCG. Could it be that the evangelical church is too uncritical regarding the issue of the WCG's "move to orthodoxy"?
With the acceptance of the WCG by the National Association of Evangelicals, most Christian churches are now assuming that the WCG is a reformed denomination that no longer has cult characteristics. However, not everyone has been fooled. There are still a few countercult organizations around the world who remain skeptical about Tkach's new WCG. For example, in the April edition of MacGregor Ministries News & Views, Lorri MacGregor wrote:
In some ways [the new WCG] is a kinder, gentler church, trying to heal itself from all the turmoil and find its way into the solid mainstream of Christianity. In other ways its structure remains authoritarian when compared to other Christian churches.
Because of lingering beliefs set in place by Herbert W. Armstrong, the appointment of the Pastor General of the WCG is done without any input by the members. The Pastor General has the power to appoint his own "Corporate Governance." He also appoints his own Advisory Board of Elders and controls the bylaws of the corporation. Dissenters in leadership positions have no recourse except to leave or be expelled. Local congregations have little or no voice at headquarters. Many have expected a change in this format, but a decade and more has passed with little progress in this area.
That is one of the main reasons why we still consider the WCG to be a cult. It may be only a Tkach cult now, rather than an Armstrong cult, but it is still a cult. So when we read in Tkach's Truth book about how Mrs. MacGregor seemed to be endorsing the new WCG, we wrote her and asked what was up. Here was her reply:
I was not a happy camper when I read Tkach's comments in his book. After all, I went to them with 22 hard-hitting questions I had compiled from our WCG correspondents. They did give me written answers to those. Over lunch we had some casual "table talk." Apparently he reported his version of this. I said we would continue to monitor the fruit of the church and while I have cautiously encouraged them in their move to doctrinal correctness, I have never "endorsed" them.
The address for MacGregor Ministries is Box 294, Nelson, B.C., VIL 5P9, Canada. Web site: <http://www.macgregorministries.org/>.
Who Will Get the Real Estate?
Sources within the WCG say that the Tkach Company appears to be closer to selling off its Big Sandy, Texas properties and maybe even its Pasadena, California properties as a prelude to building a new Tkach Center somewhere else. A number of prospective buyers apparently have expressed a desire to make a deal. Nevertheless, it looks as though Worldwide will not get the kind of cash it had hoped for.
Worldwide's Texas real estate seems to be worth only about $30 million in the current market. A possible buyer appears to be an organization planning to build a military academy called the Southern Military Institute. Despite the speculations of some close to Garner Ted Armstrong, it does not appear that any conditions or covenants on the deeds to the land will prevent an outright sale.
As for the Pasadena properties, experts tell us that although there has been a slight improvement in the Southern California real estate market of late, the Pasadena real estate will sell for considerably less than the $250 million the WCG had hoped to get. Insiders say that Worldwide's agent is talking to at least one potential buyer about a sale price in the range of $100 million to $150 million. Who the buyer might turn out to be is not certain. But a number of religious organizations have apparently taken a look at the property. One religious celebrity who has been seen on the Pasadena campus is a Dr. Hoeh look-a-like, Jack Hayford. He pastors the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, besides having a popular television ministry.
Who Will Get the Music?
When the WCG's financial problems brought an end to the Ambassador Auditorium concert series in 1995, many music aficionado's lamented the loss of the concert venue often lauded as the finest on the West Coast. For 21 years the Auditorium had drawn many of the world's most acclaimed performing artists: Arthur Rubinstein, Beverly Sills, the Juilliard String Quartet, the Kirov Ballet, the Dance Theater of Harlem, Andre Watts, even Bing Crosby.
Because the Auditorium was smaller than most big-city concert halls, its limited seating capacity could not produce sufficient revenues to pay the high fees demanded by worldclass artists. The only way such outstanding artists could be brought to Ambassador was through huge subsidies provided the series by the WCG. Thus in a very real sense, it was the tithes of WCG members that were supporting the fun of a relatively few in Southern California. Another fact not generally known to either the concert-going public or even to many who performed there is that for 21 years virtually every performance in the Auditorium was recorded. Today in Pasadena the WCG has over 900 boxes of high-quality audio and video tapes of performances at Ambassador Auditorium.
Before the concert series ended in 1995, the WCG's leaders had actually planned to just give the collection away to an educational or cultural institution. The Huntington Library was considered, but they turned it down for lack of storage space. Then at some point Stanford University was chosen by Tkach Sr. as the institution to get the archives. The collection was boxed for shipment, but then a legal hitch developed. Sensing that copyright or other legal problems could one day develop regarding the collection, Worldwide asked Stanford for an indemnification clause in their contract. Stanford, not wanting to be stuck with legal expenses for something Worldwide may have done in the past, refused. Thus the deal was called off and the tapes still sit in storage in Pasadena. WCG insiders say that the fate of the archives will be decided after the Auditorium is sold. Some wonder, however, if Tkach Jr. may not have come to view the tapes as a potential source of income.
The collection is unquestionably worth a fortune. Already some of the tapes have been mastered and released commercially to the public. "Jakob Gimpel at Ambassador," a Chopin recital by the late pianist is now available on double CD and sells for about $32. Arthur Rubinstein's "Last Recital for Israel" is available on both CD and video and has been one of the best-selling classical recordings of the last few years. It is very likely that many other potential best sellers exist in Ambassador's trove of tapes. And it will be interesting to see what eventually becomes of the collection.
Who Will Get the Money?
With many people becoming increasingly suspicious that before long there may not be any Worldwide Church of God in existence, we are getting letters from readers asking what will become of the remaining assets of the WCG. Here is what we know at this time. On June 7, 1987, unbeknownst to the WCG's membership, and less than two years after the death of church founder Herbert Armstrong, the WCG filed with the state of California papers titled "Restated Articles of Incorporation of the Worldwide Church of God." Signed by Joseph Tkach Sr., Chairman of the Board, and by Gene Michel, Assistant Secretary, the document in Article VI states:
In the event that the corporation's charter is surrendered to, taken away by, or revoked by the Association, the corporation shall be dissolved.
Upon the winding up and dissolution of this corporation, after paying or adequately providing for the debts and obligations of the corporation, and after compliance with Section 680 of the California Religious Nonprofit Corporation Law, the remaining assets of this corporation shall be distributed to one of the following organizations, corporations, trustees or other entity. In the order of their preference as listed:
A. The Association, or in the event it is unable to take title for any reason, then to
B. The individual members of the Advisory Council of Elders of the Association in trust for religious purposes, as exemplified in the Bible as defined and as expounded by the Association, or in the event they are unable to take title for any reason, then to
C. The organization, corporation or trustee or other entity supported by the Pastor General of the Association, or in the event such power or appointment is not valid for any reason, then to
D. Ambassador College, a California nonprofit corporation.
Of course, there is no longer any Ambassador College. And a check with the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office revealed that all Pasadena properties formerly owned by Ambassador College, Inc. have some time ago been quietly transferred over to the Worldwide Church of God, Inc.
Most lawyers or government officials casually looking over the filed legal document might not find anything too suspicious. And they probably would not guess that by calling the document a "restatement," Tkach and his lawyers were able to avoid a vote by the entire church membership. To most it would probably appear that the WCG Corporation is the means by which the WCG Association's assets are protected. If the Association (who we might call "The People of the Church") decides it does not want the corporation to manage the church's assets and there is a severance between the corporation and the association, then a sale of the assets would, under section A, result in those assets going back to the Association ("The People of the Church").
But, notice the phrase, "or in the event it is unable to take title for any reason..." There is the catch.
Because control over the WCG Association's collective mind lies with Tkach and his propaganda team (who have the church's mailing list and sufficient liquid assets to wage propaganda campaigns and corporate legal warfare), Tkach and his inner circle have not only the means to initiate a legal severance between the association and the corporation, but they might also have the means to insure that the WCG Association ("The People of the Church") will be "unable to take title" for some reason.
What could that reason be? Even though he sits as Pontifex Maximus at the top of the WCG's hierarchy, Tkach may not be able to simply disfellowship the entire membership of the WCG Association without raising the eyebrows of some judge down the line. But what if he could get the lay membership to take themselves out of the Association? Believe it or not, even as this is being written, sources still in the Tkach organization have hinted to us that Tkach is about to set in motion events intended to do just that. If there is no WCG Association, or if it is in total disarray, then Tkach and his small inner circle will, by law, be given the authority to distribute the remaining $200 million-$300 million in assets to whomever they choose!
Under the language of Section B, above, Tkach and the inner circle would ostensibly have to use assets "for religious purposes," but such a condition can be gotten around quite easily. There would be little standing in the way of Tkach & Co. taking what assets remain and using them for some nominal nonprofit religious purpose such as their Plain Truth Ministries or even for some entirely new religious organization. You can be certain that Tkach and the vengeful "Gang of Four" will be amply provided for under any reorganization plan. Incidentally, such a chain of events as we describe could be blocked by appropriate actions, but not one member of WCG or its offshoots has yet thought to ask us how.
Finally, we found it interesting that the above Restated Articles were filed by the WCG in 1987. We were recently informed that in that same year HWA's attorney of old, Stanley R. Rader, was again quietly retained by Tkach Sr.'s organization with a contract that extended at least seven years. During those years, the majority of WCG members were misled by Tkach Sr. into believing that Rader was long gone. In his last years HWA clearly indicated he wanted Rader kept away from all WCG power and influence. However, in his new book (pp. 77-78), Tkach paints Stanley Rader as a humble servant of Christ whom Herbert Armstrong strongly defended against his detractors and who, by winning against the forces of darkness in the famous California versus WCG lawsuit, saved not only the WCG, but every American's right to free expression of religion. What Rader has been doing with the WCG the past ten years is anybody's guess.
Tkach's Message for Us
Joe Tkach was recently spotted shopping near Pasadena while wearing a T-shirt that said, "The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get." It's an ironic proclamation from someone who inherited his wealth and who attacks Herbert Armstrong for having taught "salvation by works."
Aussie Murder Update
In our last issue we reported the murder in Australia of Mrs. Gay Lock apparently by her husband Russell Lock, a WCG member and employee. We have since learned that at the time of the murder Mrs. Lock was a WCG "deserter" who had begun fellowshipping with an Armstrongite breakaway group. A number of readers in Australia who had personal information regarding the tragedy wrote us and filled in some details of the case. One wrote:
Gay's murder is a tragedy for all concerned. Russell Lock's parents are such a lady and gentleman, very quietly spoken, kind and hospitable.... Russell Lock was persuaded to leave Bricket Wood before graduation [more than two decades ago] to work in the Australian office of WCG. You may recall his time in Pasadena in the early 1970s. He even appeared on the cover of the WCG booklet "How to Have a Happy Marriage."
Another reader, who also wishes to remain anonymous, wrote:
When the murder occurred, Russell's mother Barbara was away in Japan at an art exhibition. Barbara knew nothing of the murder until she arrived back in Brisbane on the Friday afternoon when her family broke the news. It was the following morning that Russell went to the police and confessed to the crime and produced the hammer he used to perform one hard blow to the head while Gay was sleeping.
Naturally all the amateur sleuths around the place are busy trying to create a scenario. Those still in Worldwide hope the verdict will be that Gay had cancer and it was a mercy killing. I would like to think that was so for the sake of Barbara and her husband, but that would only be wishful thinking. The more likely scenario is the fact that Gay had left Russell a couple of times because of the church, while Russell was so steeped in Tkachism, Gay spurned it and got out. I have been told that Gay was heading some Bible Studies for women who left Worldwide. Someone suggested that John 16:2 had to be correct and that Russell really believed he was doing God a favor by killing Gay. None of the hierarchy from Worldwide were present at Gay's funeral. The service was conducted by the group of women Gay was leading.
Russell is being held in the remand section of the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre awaiting [further proceedings]. In that same centre is one David Smith being held on a charge of robbery with violence. He was born into the WCG to parents who are still in the church. In the company of others, he was involved in the robbery of a bank in Moorooka, a Brisbane suburb. No one was killed in the gunfire, but an innocent woman who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is now in a wheel chair. She has a bullet in the spine which they claim is too dangerous to move. While she remains alive they can't prove that the bullet came from either David's or the policeman's gun.
Friends of the Lock family say that the presiding judge in the case has found Russell Lock mentally incompetent to stand trial at this time. Nevertheless, he still faces a number of hearings, a possible trial, and perhaps sentencing at some point. He is being held in the psychiatric section of the jail which was described by one friend this way:
He is being hold in a top security remand prison where one stays till trial and subsequent sentencing. There is razor wire all over the place, dogs sniffing visitors for drugs, and guards everywhere. You have to take off your belt, your shoes are X-rayed, and no money, no pens, no identification are allowed in.
Other friends who have visited Lock say he claims not to have any memory now of what happened on the fateful night. Whether his mental condition will ever improve enough that the judge will declare him competent to stand trial remains to be seen. However, whether he remains in such psychiatric and legal limbo for the rest of his life, or is found competent to stand trail for a homicide he has already confessed to, in a way seems almost a moot question. It is unlikely that any disposition of the case could entirely remove the pain that the tragedy has wrought upon the Lock family, their churches, and their friends. And, of course, there is an innocent woman who is now dead.
The Varieties of Religious Experience
One of the great classics of American scholarship is The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James, widely regarded as the greatest American philosopher of the early twentieth century. In that work, often described as the most important work on religion ever produced in America, James attempted to make sense of the wide range of religious activities engaged in by various cultures. It is too bad that James is no longer with us. He would have a field day studying the incredible variety of religious beliefs and practices now sprouting up both in Worldwide and among those who have left it. And certainly it would take someone with much knowledge of the human psyche to make complete sense out of what is happening. It really is time to call in the shrinks.
One of the theological battles that Herbert Armstrong fought for decades was over what he sometimes described as "emotionalism." HWA had a strong bias against both sentimental Christianity (anything that portrayed Jesus as having a sweet of feminine nature) and "Pentecostalism" (speaking in tongues or "holy roller" public displays). HWA's rather formal approach to religion still persists in a number of WCG offshoots. A good example is the Global Church of God. Notice this excerpt from the June 26 co-worker letter of Roderick Meredith, Global's Pastor General:
It is imperative that we realize that biblical Christianity - true Christianity - teaches the Ten Commandments as a WAY of life. Yet, most of professing "Christianity" constantly emphasizes the person of Jesus Christ and almost totally neglects His powerful message about the coming world-ruling Government of God and our need to prepare for it.
Christ's Gospel was NOT about His own person, but about the Kingdom of God.... The true Jesus of the Bible was not a young "smart aleck" who tried to do away with His Father's law!
Now compare that to the opening of Joe Junior's May co-worker letter:
Remember the "Jesus People" of the '60s and '70s? It was the time of the hippies. Young people were trying drugs, sex, communes and all sorts of unconventional behavior. They were desperately searching for meaning in life - and some of them found Jesus.
Jesus changed their lives and gave them meaning. They tried hard to follow Jesus' example - even to the way some of them dressed. Some of them wore robes and sandals, walking wherever they went, letting their beards grow.
We may smile at their idealism, but we may also admire it. It is certainly a good goal to want to be like Jesus.
Or, how about this excerpt from "The Truth Will Set You Free" (Plain Truth, March/April 1997), an article by WCG evangelist J. Michael Feazell:
This Easter, I'm worshipping the Lord. He conquered sin and death. He saved my life. He gave me what it takes to be a child of God. Because he's alive, I'm alive in him. I can never thank him enough. I can never obey him enough. He knows that better than anybody. That's why he died and was raised for me. That's how much he loves me. And that's how much he loves you, too.
Clearly, whether for bad or good, a different spirit now pervades the WCG. The kind of "emotionalism" that HWA condemned is being actively promoted by the Tkach team. Even the WCG's youngsters are encouraged to get into the act. In the July WN, for example, there were testimonial letters from youngsters who had attended the WCG's summer camp. One letter from Jeff Feazell, one of J. Michael Feazell's teenage children, began this way:
Thursday night what the speaker was saying was bringing me down. I was having doubts about my faith. I felt as if I never had Jesus in my life. Maybe I hadn't been studying my Bible and praying enough.
When the speaker asked us to come down and accept or recommit ourselves to Christ, I knew I had done it before, but I didn't feel like I belonged down there. When it was over I didn't want to talk to anyone, because I knew they would ask, Jeff, why didn't you go down and accept Christ?
I sat on the floor against a column in the lobby. A friend asked what was wrong, and I burst into tears and said: "Where did he go? I never had Jesus in my life. I don't know what I believe any more." Other friends came around me, prayed and sang, uniting to bring Jesus back into my life. I saw Jesus in each and every one of them. They even offered to fast me through the rest of the conference. It was like having a bunch of Jesuses all around me.
Back at the dorm I saw a room of people crying out to the Father, thanking the Lord "for bringing our brother Jeff back into your army." Several accepted Christ that night....
To the Tkach team, the above represents an acceptable level of emotionalism. However, there are limits to the amount of emotionalism that they will accept. Earlier this year in a few WCG congregations, there were outbursts of "speaking in tongues." But then in the June WN (p. 4) Tkach made it clear that he would "not allow the gift of tongues in our services." In addition to run-of-the-mill glossolalia, we have also heard of cases of where some during sabbath services have drifted into altered states of consciousness during which they would begin loudly barking like dogs or laughing uncontrollably, or would fall down semi-conscious as though in a stupor. (Actually, when we first heard of this, we recalled some of the sermons we heard years ago while sitting in WCG services and we thought such reactions were understandable.) But, now the WCG has put the kibosh on these types of "manifestations." In the June WN Tkach wrote: "Slaying in the spirit, laughing in the spirit, getting drunk in the spirit and making animal sounds are not in Scripture." Without condemning denominations that encouraged such "manifestations," Tkach made it clear that he did not want such behavior in WCG services. A number who had hoped to liven up WCG services by such practices are reported to have now switched their denominational allegiance to televangelist Benny Hinn (not to be confused with Benny Hill, although there are some similarities).
The Conder Controversy
The large number of theological controversies raging within and between the WCG breakoffs makes it impossible for us to cover all of them adequately. Some of the ongoing debates center on Bible prophecy, the sacred calendar, the ways of calculating certain holy days and, of course, church governance. Anyone wanting to wade into the mire of those debates should get on the Internet or, at least, write to the breakoffs and get enough literature so that a comparison of viewpoints can be made.
One new issue, however, should be mentioned here. The latest controversy to hit many of the Armstrongite spinoffs, one that appears to have many Armstrongite ministers in a panic, concerns the controversial writings of Darrell W. Conder, a professional genealogist who had once been a personal assistant to Pastor General Joseph Tkach Sr. About two years ago, Conder published a book titled Mystery Babylon The Mother of Harlots in which he put forward the idea that many of the customs of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general derive from ancient customs of the pagan mystery religions. Like others who have written on the subject, Conder's views were somewhat similar to those found in The Two Babylons by Hislop. As such, Conder's views were not acceptable in the new WCG and it was about the time that his book appeared that he and WCG parted company. Nevertheless, those views were very much acceptable in the Armstrongite offshoots. And so, two years ago, Conder's first big book got good reviews in the pulpits of UCG, GCG, and other Armstrongite churches and Conder developed something of a network of enthusiastic readers.
After the publication of his first book, however, Conder's historical probings continued and his views began to go decidedly beyond those of Hislop and company. Those new views made it into print in his second book, Mystery Babylon and the Lost Ten Tribes in the End Times. In it Conder not only paints the Roman Catholic Church as sinister beyond anything even Hislop or HWA ever imagined, but Conder now also puts forth the thesis that all of Christianity is a hoax perpetrated by the early Catholic fathers in a Satanic attempt to destroy all Israel through Baal worship. While believing in Anglo Israelism and retaining the Old Testament, Conder now maintains that the New Testament is unreliable. He even rejects the Christian Messiah and claims Jesus is merely a mythic literary creation of the early church fathers.
Of course, such ideas are not entirely new. HWA was referring to such debates when he talked about the "higher critics" of nineteenth century German rationalism. What is shocking, however, is that such issues were not debated earlier in the spiritual lives of so many who have devoted so much of their time, energy, money, and spirit to the Armstrongite churches. As it turns out, Conder's ideas are having a dramatic impact on many in the Armstrongite groups. So much so that some Armstrongite ministers, while usually sidestepping any mention of Conder's name, are finding themselves increasingly having to do battle with Conder's ideas.
Conder's two books (which sell for $19.95 apiece), his free Masada Magazine, and other related writings are published by Commonwealth Publishing, P.O. Box 11476, Salt Lake City, UT 84147-0476. From their Web site <http://www.commonwealthp.com> you can download some materials for free. To anyone wishing to study Conder's views, however, we offer this strong caveat: Study some of the writings of his critics, as well. One such critic is Eric V. Snow who writes:
I believe Conder's [new] book is the most thorough going trash imaginable, but refuting it isn't as easy as you may think. Dealing with his arguments on the messianic texts is particularly a challenge - more than you may think a priori.... This guy is real poison, and advocates repudiating Jesus as our Savior, and the New Testament as the Word of God. He wishes to return to some type of Judaism, to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Mr. Snow, a UCG member who has degrees in marketing, history, and philosophy, has written a rather scholarly, yet very readable, book-length paper titled Is Christianity a Fraud? - A Preliminary Assessment of the Conder Thesis. Copies of Snow's paper, with its abundant citations, footnotes, and a helpful bibliography, can be obtained (for $5 to cover costs) by writing the author: Eric V. Snow, 811 Foote St., Jackson, MI 49202.
Another author whose writings are relevant to the issues raised by Conder is David Whitaker of Enid, Oklahoma. His many years of studying the Hebrew language and the Kabbalah have given him a unique perspective from which those concerned about Conder's thesis will obtain valuable insights. In AR60 we wrote about Whitaker and we mentioned a package of his research papers that were available from him for $10. Since then, Whitaker has updated his index of writings and there are additional papers that may prove of interest. For a complete list of the papers he has available, send one dollar to cover costs, and write: David Whitaker, 710 E. Chestnut Ave., Enid, OK 73701 (tel. 405-237-3028).
Of all the WCG spinoffs, the one that currently seems to be the most dynamic is Gerald Flurry's Philadelphia Church of God (PCG). Bruce Bell of New York writes:
Believe it or not, the PCG has been doing an outstanding job of performing God's end-time commission. All the other broken offshoots are weak and trembling now and are definitely Laodicean. Many ridiculed the PCG, but look at them now: Solvent, powerful, full of grace and truth, imbued with a power from on high!
Mr. Bell's enthusiasm is not shared by all who have checked out the PCG. Eric Bernard of New York has been monitoring the publications and broadcasts of Flurry's organization and he writes:
Flurry praises HWA as the greatest man who ever lived. Then Flurry proclaims himself to be HWA's successor with a "double portion" of HWA's spirit - thus saying that he, Flurry, is twice as great as the greatest man who ever lived. Flurry's followers are deceived, duped, and willingly brainwashed. They are in deep trouble.
Flurry has written articles stressing that, as the only representative of God on earth, his followers must have complete faith in him. He is preparing his church to follow him in flight to "The Place of Safety" - Petra [in the desert of Jordan]. He has not stated this explicitly, but lately many of his articles have strongly implied that at a certain time, God will contact him personally to proclaim the "time of flight." Shades of Jim Jones!
Flurry's Philadelphia Trumpet magazine frequently publishes articles about Jordan. It was even the cover story for his July 1996 issue. And we have learned that substantial PCG money has gone into a number of projects in Jordan as a means of maintaining contacts with high-ranking officials there. Those contacts are apparently intended to serve as a foot in the door for the planned exodus to Petra. Such contacts also impress many PCG members who apparently believe that a one-way ticket to the Jordanian desert will be their ultimate salvation. A trip to Petra is one of the Armstongite carrots that Flurry offers his devotees. On the stick side, secrecy and, a heavy-handed ministry also come into play. Dr. L. Jackson of Maryland told us:
I wrote a letter to Mr. Flurry and said that as I had been a WCG member, I might like to attend one of his churches. I called the phone number they gave me and a stoic voice informed me they would have to "visit me" first. Then came an avalanche of personal questions. Flurry's new-old church is just like, and maybe worse than, Armstrong's in the '50s and '60s. And, no, I didn't got permission to attend.
The Flurry Gestapo probably did him a favor. Another AR reader, David Cavall of New York, writes:
I was briefly involved with PCG and it was unbelievable. The ministers are arrogant, condescending ignoramuses who are biblically ignorant.... They use subtle and not so subtle methods of keeping you in the organization. They are at least as dangerous as the WCG was in its heyday. They are also getting bigger and richer.
Flurry, who sees himself as having taken on Herbert Armstrong's Elijah mantle, has taken his followers ever further into heresy. Unlike Darrell Conder, who has subtracted from scripture by declaring the New Testament bogus, Flurry has added onto the Christian canon by teaching that some of Herbert Armstrong's writings are de facto scripture. For example, he teaches that HWA's books The Mystery of the Ages and The United States and Britain in Prophecy are as important as the very Bible itself. Of those two works Flurry has stated:
There is a colossal reason why Christ moved us to print both these books. WITHOUT THEM WE CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE OR GOD'S MASTER PLAN! That's how critical they are today! [1/21/97 co-worker letter]
Also appended to the Bible is Malachi's Message, Flurry's magnum opus which is supposed to be the "little book" prophesied in Rev. 10: 10, and whose last seven chapters Flurry equates with the "seven thunders" of Rev. 10:3-4. Flurryites are taught that "MM" is a divinely inspired writing and to encourage its veneration, Flurry now subjects his followers to a Catholic-like catechism whereby his followers repeatedly go through long strings of questions which they must answer appropriately. Examples:
Q: Who fulfilled the Elijah role in this century, and restored all things? A: Herbert W. Armstrong. Q: Whom have the Laodicean ministers truly disfellowshipped? A: Mr. Armstrong (and by extension Christ Himself). Q Who then is the man who is the spiritual father of the ministers today? A: Mr. Armstrong. Q Who has replaced Christ as the head of the WCG? A: The man of sin. [etc., etc., ad nauseam.]
As we reported in AR65, Flurry's republishing of many of HWA's works still under WCG copyright was challenged in court by the WCG. A federal district court in California refused WCG's request for a temporary restraining order to block Flurry's publishing of the book and the matter awaits further court scrutiny in Oklahoma. Now, however, Tkach has actually assisted Flurry in his case by putting this chapter nine endnote into his new Truth book:
In February 1997 we filed suit against the Philadelphia Church of God - one of our splinter groups headquartered in Edmund [sic], Oklahoma - to block the republication of Mystery of the Ages. The Worldwide Church of God still holds the copyright to this book, and we contend that no one else has the right to publish it. We feel it is our Christian duty to keep this book out of print... because we believe Mr. Armstrong's doctrinal errors are better off left out of circulation.
This statement may initially seem odd because it essentially admits a major Flurry contention, namely that Tkach does not want HWA's theology disseminated. But if that is the case, Flurry may well have a First Amendment freedom of religion argument that will prevail as regards his republishing and distributing the book. Why then would Tkach's lawyers allow such an admission in print? It could be that by clearly and publicly stating the above position Tkach not only puts up an acceptable front for the evangelicals, but he also gives Flurry, in an under-the-table manner, the legal means to publish the book. If that seems self-contradictory, recall that the federal judge who refused WCG's request for a restraining order also hinted that although Flurry might be allowed to publish WCG copyrighted materials written by HWA, Flurry may also be required to pay fees to the WCG for doing so. HWA's theological writings may yet prove to be money-makers for Tkach!
The House of Yahweh
While Flurry's PCG may appear to be the most extreme of the WCG offshoots, it is not. The one group that is probably the scariest of the lot is the House of Yahweh. This bunch is led by a former Abilene cop and rockabilly bandleader named Yisrayl Hawkins who, during his days as a WCG member, was known as "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins. His old moniker was an appropriate one.
Hawkins claims that his arrival was predicted in the Bible and that he is one of the Two Witnesses of Revelation. (Who the other Witness is we don't know.) Like the old WCG, Hawkins teaches that we are right now very close to the end of this world and he likes to set dates. Supposedly we are within three years of "the end" as the clock started running with the signing of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Accord. Like most Armstrongites, Hawkins' followers keep the seventh-day sabbath and the Old Testament holy days. But what makes this group so scary is both its ultra-authoritarian leadership and its open militancy. The House of Yahweh headquarters sits in a well-guarded 40-acre compound in Abilene, Texas. On holy days when Hawkins speaks, he is surrounded by a phalanx of armed guards. Part of his message is that as one of the Two Witnesses he will have supernatural power to bring tremendous destruction to the whole planet. But still, he needs the guards.
Hawkins has built up his following through buying time on public-access television and by effective use of the Internet (he is at http://www.yahweh.com). Those who get hooked are instructed to use The Book of Yahweh - a special edition of scripture which contains a number of unique readings inserted by Hawkins. The Yahweh name for God is preferred, but of the other biblical names - El, Elohim, Adonai, God, Lord - these, says Hawkins, are all pagan titles that pollute scripture and are actually titles of Satan and other evil beings. And who is Satan? Well, Hawkins answers that in his book Unveiling Satan: Her True Identity. Yes, says Yisrayl, it's a she. In addition to sales of Yahweh books, Hawkins supplements his income by selling mobile homes to his followers. But should they ever leave his flock, the trailer is forfeited to Hawkins without any repayment of money. So total is Hawkins' control over his followers' minds, many of them have pierced their ears as a sign of submission. Even stranger, more than 200 of them have legally changed their names to Hawkins.
Abilene police view the group with alarm. There have been reports of polygamy and the stockpiling of weapons at the compound. So far, however, there has not been an investigation because police fear that any confrontation could swiftly escalate into a shootout. A number of Hawkins' men are former members of the Posse Comitatus, once considered one of America's most violent militia groups.
A number of news organizations have sounded the alarm about the House of Yahweh. The CBS television program Hard Copy aired an alarming report about them in May 1996 and repeated it earlier this year. Cult watchers we talked to all agreed that Hawkins' cult may be heading for tragedy. As cult expert Rick Ross told us, "There is the potential for another Waco. The House of Yahweh could very well be the next cult to blow, big time."
The Really Way Out
The House of Yahweh bunch is pretty extreme. But, believe it or not, it is not as strange as the religious trip some ex-Worldwiders are now on.
Des Griffin, an ex-WCG member whose writings are popular in conspiracy buff circles, came out last year with a book titled Storming the Gates of Hell (Emissary Publications, 9205 SE Clackamas Rd., #1776, Clackamas, OR 97015). In chapter 17, Griffin speculates that "premillennial dispensationalism" may have set the stage for a future phony "return of Christ." Griffin wonders if such a hoax might not have some connection to the UFO phenomenon, particularly as associated with
top-secret facilities such as Groom Lake (Area 51) some 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, and at four facilities in the Palmdale/Lancaster/Arvin (Bakersfield) areas north of Los Angeles where development of flying saucers and related technology is taking place.
At first, the idea that people would confuse Unidentified Flying Objects with the Second Advent may seem a bit science fictionish. Nevertheless, in 1983, there actually was a group of ex-Worldwiders who became obsessed with the notion that flying saucers were coming to take them away. So strong was the delusion, the former WCG minister who led the group actually convinced his followers to quit their jobs, abstain from even marital sex, and wait for the saucers to arrive. Alas, they never did (see AR27).
Now, it appears some WCG exiters are again focusing their attention on UFOs that are supposedly on their way. One ex-member (a highly educated and sincere individual, by the way) puts out an esoteric newsletter called The Earthworks Group Newsletter. The June issue contained these statements:
On April 14th when Donna B. (our channeling lady) and your editor spoke with Anitra, our contact on the starship over our area of western NY, she told us that people would interpret the changes differently according to what they were psychologically and spiritually prepared to accept. Those who were prepared to see UFO's would see silver shuttlecraft coming down to land on Earth. Some people would see what Anitra called "a loving blanket of light encircling the Earth." And some people would refuse to look up and acknowledge that anything different had happened at all!
Alas, months later the silver shuttlecraft have yet to land. But this group has been disappointed before:
In late December of 1996, your editor moved circa 45 miles across the border from our home in southwestern NY to a rented house in a small town in PA in order to be in a position for communications work that Anitra said we would be doing after the landings. This town in PA was on a better ley line than was the town in NY where we were then living, Anitra explained.
But the landings didn't happen in late December, and we had to go back to work at our job in NY after the Christmas vacation.
In another issue, the writer explained that when they prayed "Thy kingdom come," they had "ETs" in mind. This fascination with extraterrestrials and the blending of so-called "ufology" and biblical theology seems to be on the increase among former Armstrongites, just as it is in the general public.
We learned not long ago, for example, that some ex-WCG members are now enthralled with the writings of one Hatonn (it's a one-word name like Cher or Sting). Hatonn, who no one seems to have ever seen, puts out a huge newspaper called Contact from P.O. Box 27800 in Las Vegas (but our investigators have discovered that he and his associates also have a secretive base of operations in Tehachapi, California - by some odd coincidence, both areas lie within or near the mysterious aircraft zones mentioned by Des Griffin in his new book). Hatonn's "ministry" is difficult to describe. Some of his literature seems to be Bible-related and centers on prophecy, yet much of it is incomprehensible, at least to us, and seems to center on Hatonn's claim that he is a channeler for a space alien who is presently orbiting earth in some kind of a space vehicle. This is definitely very strange stuff.
But not as strange as the "ministry" of Mary L. Horton, a former WCG member and the ex-wife of Jerry Horton, the former production manager for the World Tomorrow radio program. In 1992 Mary came out with a book titled Time's Forgotten Words - the Chronicles of OM from Across Time (M.C.M. Publishing Group, P.O. Box 9, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91729). The book mainly consists of messages she has received from, well... afar. Here is how it is explained in the Introduction to her book:
In the fall of 1990, Mary L. Horton became the recipient of a unique and unusual phenomenon. She began to hear the thought projection of word sounds; however, these word sounds were not in any language she knew or of which she had any awareness.
Surprised and perplexed by these events, Mary transcribed the word sounds by syllables for later review.
At some point Horton consulted with a Hindu educator who told her that some of the words were similar to the Sanskrit language. Later, "Mary began to receive thought words in rhymed verses consisting of three line stanzas in English with highlighted word sounds similar to Sanskrit."
The main part of her book consists of more than 200 pages of these three line stanzas with the first line always being: "Across time your words come to me" followed by two lines ending with words that rhyme. We are told that this three line pattern is supposed to have something to do with the trinity - not just the Christian trinity, but the Buddhist, Hindu, Greco-Roman, Scandinavian-Teutonic, and Sumero-Semitic trinities, as well. And all of this information comes from the OM God. The whole book has a certain rhythmic, almost hypnotic, feel to it. But what does it teach? It's hard to tell. And why would former Worldwiders find it appealing? Again, we have no idea.
When Time's Forgotten Words first appeared, we were convinced that hardly anyone would really buy the book, particularly with its cover price of $19.95. We were wrong. It's done well enough that chaneller Horton now has two more books out: Time's Forgotten Mysteries and Time's Forgotten Messages! Well, at least the author is not holed up in some Texas compound surrounded by heavily armed militiamen guarding one of the Two Witnesses.
Lit and Links
One ministry that is causing a stir in Armstrongite circles is that of Wade Cox. His writings on the sacred calendar are particularly controversial, but what we have found most informative, and even entertaining, is his two-part cassette sermon on "The Place of Safety." The address to write to is: Christian Churches of God, P.O. Box 369, Woden A.C.T. 2606, Australia.
While the folks at Concordant Publishing Concern have gotten very little attention in AR over the years (mainly because there has been nothing scandalous to report about them), they nevertheless continue to be of great service to hundreds, if not thousands, who have left the Armstrongite churches. One of our long-time readers, Dean Koehler of Texas, recently wrote us:
If any of your readers are interested in the so-called "Bible Code" that has been in the news lately, let me suggest that they take a look at the very different approach taken by the Concordant Publishing Concern. Their choice of texts, manuscripts, chronology, grammar, and other considerations for translation of the Hebrew scriptuers are all discussed in detail in the introduction to The Concordant Version of the Book of Genesis. It is available (for $5) in English and German by writing to Concordant Publishing Concern, 15570 Knochaven Rd., Santa Clarita, CA 91335. Web site: <http://concordant.org>.
Clyde Walters, 1943-1997
It is with much sadness that we report the passing of Clyde Hamilton Walters Jr. (Ambassador, Pasadena 1970). While Clyde's name has appeared in AR only a few times over the years, he played an important part in the early conception of AR and he was one of our most generous contributors and very best of friends for over twenty years.
Clyde came out to Pasadena in 1967, drawn by the strict theology of Herbert Armstrong. As was the custom of Ambassador College in those days, the student newspaper did a special fall issue in which a small photograph of each new freshman was published along with a few upbeat comments. Next to his photo there was this lighthearted comment:
Clyde Walters from Covington, Kentucky has attended University of Kentucky, worked in a bank with Adrian Smith, the basketball player, and spent time in the service with tennis champion Arthur Ashe. Clyde attempted to apply to Ambassador in 1965 but a letter from the President detoured him into the service for two years.
Upon graduating from Ambassador in 1970, Clyde was hired by the College to work full time in their data processing center. Within a few years, however, problems within that organization led to many, including Clyde, being downsized out of a job. After a period of unemployment and then working for the local Fedco store, Clyde landed what he thought would be a secure and stress-free job with the U.S. Postal Service. He eventually became what some of us humorously called "The Postman to the Worldwide Stars" because for many years it was Clyde who handled the zip 91105 route with its many homes of top WCG executives.
During the years that followed, Clyde, an avid reader and bibliophile, became interested in the labor movement and took evening college classes in labor relations. Then followed a lengthy period of service as a union representative, dispute resolution counselor and arbitrator, an editor for union publications, vice president of local 220 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and a delegate to national union conventions. Most who knew him well believed he was destined for higher office.
Just a few weeks before his death, in a phone conversation with AR's editor, he talked passionately and at some length about the importance of working men and women remaining dedicated to the union movement as a means of protecting the hard-fought-for rights unionists had won earlier in this century. He said, "A lot of people don't realize that if they don't fight for what they already have, a lot of their rights are going to be taken from them. It's happening all around us already." Maybe it was due to his reading Noam Chomsky of late, but whatever the case, he had never sounded more well-informed, more dedicated, more confident, more energetic. As it turned out, however, it would be our last conversation. On September 6, he called in to work complaining of severe neck pains. Then after being out more than a week, police went to his home in Pomona and found him face down on the floor, apparently the victim of a heart attack. He probably died just two days short of turning 54. He is survived by his mother, a brother, and a sister, all back in Kentucky.
One postscript. When the WCG began its slow downward spiral in the mid-seventies, Clyde was one of those who, very conservative by nature, was utterly appalled that a Christian church would be willing to change many of its foundational doctrines for reasons of income or political expediency. For a time he went through deep disillusionment with not just Worldwide, but all religion. Then at some point an AR friend introduced him to the theology of A. E. Knoch as published by the Concordant Publishing Concern. Clyde would later comment that it was that discovery which helped him to overcome his profound disillusionment and depression. He later said of that time, "For a while I feared that there were just no real Christians left on this planet. But then I discovered there were still some who were totally uncompromising with the Bible. I also came to see that God's power and love are, in fact, much, much greater than almost all churches have imagined." From that point on, Clyde's outlook on life and on all humanity changed and he never stopped growing as a human being and as a Christian.
We will miss Clyde not only for his tremendous generosity to the Report and the affection and loyalty he had for his many friends, but for his concern for the poor, his dedication to the union movement, his years of work on food drives for the homeless, and for his love of the great truths of the Bible. It was undoubtedly that love that helped him to have a rather unique sense of comradery with the entire human race. While he was certainly someone who had his own strict standards and unbending principles, more importantly, he was one who could look at the down-and-out or the morally challenged, and with genuine. sincerity say, "There but for the grace of God, go I."
We take solace only in the assurance that our dear friend has surely gone to a better place.
Thanks for your quick response in sending us all 65 back issues of Ambassador Report. It made for heavy reading. However, I can honestly say that the truth, however sad and revolting, makes one thankful to have a Just Savior in whom one can truly rely. (Ironically, it occurred to me as I write, it was exactly 30 years ago today that I first heard Garner Ted Armstrong on the radio.)
Reading Ambassador Report helps us to better understand why multiple thousands of converted brethren left WCG over the years; they knew much of what my wife and I just found out in great detail. Like too many in the Church, we were mindlessly ignorant of much of the ministerial misconduct and corruption because we blindly trusted the Church leadership - many of whom were more interested in oppressing and fleecing the flock than in humbly guiding us to become more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
May our great, kind, and loving Creator continue to watch over and bless you and your family and your ministry of telling us as it is rather than spinning carnal malfeasance into "God's will." Stay humble and make every effort to continue to write as accurately as possible. I believe God will in return continue to bless your efforts, despite whatever false accusations and perceptions are made against you. As Christians we need to conclusively prove and hold fast to all things that are good, and not let the sins of some cynical ministers - regardless of rank - who claim to represent Jesus Christ, drive us from God's revealed Truth. We have His Holy Spirit and we know better.
-Bob & Pat Briggs
In AR66, Ed McKinney wrote, "Hireling ministers become idol worshippers.... most ministers will do almost anything to get their paychecks." That reminds me of something a former WCG minister in Phoenix once told me. He said, "I'll preach anything Mr. Armstrong tells me to, as long as he signs my paycheck! " We found out he later got in trouble for ripping off church funds from a WCG congregation in Tennessee. I guess that Tkach's paycheck, as fat as it was, wasn't fat enough.
One of our friends in Pasadena told us that Mr. Tkach's liberalization of WCG doctrine has led Mr. Tkach's mother, a long-time WCG member, to begin "questioning." They say Mr. Tkach recently had her kicked out of the church residence where she had lived for many years. And that she was forced to move in with her daughter Tanya in Colorado. Tanya's husband, thankfully, is a minister and board member of the sabbath-keeping United Church of God. Why haven't you reported this major story?
Editor: Because it's not accurate. A spokesman for Mrs. Tkach Sr. and Tanya Horchak explained to us that because of advancing age, Mrs. Tkach Sr. and her children all decided it would be best for her to live in Colorado with her daughter. They said that doctrinal differences played no part whatsoever in their joint decision.
I remember the exact moment, and the feeling of my head swimming, when I first realized HWA was my enemy.... In the WCG we always wondered who "the Beast" was. Stupidly, we thought it was in Germany. But all false religion is wicked (Paul) and beast-like (John). HWA was like "a little horn" (Daniel), with "a mouth speaking great things," and "more stout than his fellows." But, it's "...and shall wear out the saints of the most High" that seems to apply right now!
-Peter N. Griffiths
I was intrigued by your quotes of Sir Winston Churchill's United Europe speeches. His idea of a United Europe functioning under a United Nations is certainly unique. But I am surprised that he would have thought in such an anti-British way.
Editor: You can be certain Churchill was not thinking in an anti-British way. Dr. Ernest Zimmerman, who is something of an expert on European history of that era, has pointed out that already in 1943 Churchill was aware and dismayed that the United States was clearly going to be the dominant world power after the war. By 1943 Churchill was already taking a subordinate role to Franklin Roosevelt. Churchill undoubtedly saw a United Europe as Britain's best bet at maintaining some type of leadership role at least in Europe. Such a union would accomplish at least two things for Britain: It would help to prevent another devastating war between Germany and France, and it would provide political and economic allies to the British against growing American involvement in European affairs. Furthermore, as Zimmerman points out, don't forget that Churchill was adamantly opposed to the dismantling of the British Empire. If nothing else, he was staunchly loyal to the Crown.
One other comment. Churchill was not the first one to advance the idea of a United Europe under the auspices of a United Nations. Just a few days ago I came across that very idea in a book written in the mid-nineteenth century by famous Russian anarchist MichaeI Bakunin. Considering how well-read Churchill was, it is most unlikely he would not have been aware of Bakunin's writings on that subject.
I was reading Martin Gardner's book Science: Good, Bad and Bogus when I came upon some positive references to Ambassador Report. It's nice to know that someone as respected as Gardner thinks so highly of what you've accomplished. Also, in the same chapter where you are mentioned, he makes an interesting point about the religion scene. He says many people today don't seem to want religion that makes any sense. They now seem to want emotionalism and weird beliefs.
Sources within the United Church of God say that that group is on the verge of a major split. The field ministry is upset over the excessive spending and governance style of the Arcadia, California home office which, many say, refuses to abide by the democratic principle of majority rule. Apparently the home office group is stalling on its move to beautiful Cincinnati. Already church attorney Steven Andrews says he is leaving UCG's employ.
More trouble for Garner Ted Armstrong and his Church of God, International. Posted on the Web this week was this message from Pam and George Dewey, and confirmed by CGI board member Skip Martin:
According to reliable sources, in a startling move this week, the Ministerial Council of the CGI has voted UNANIMOUSLY to retire Garner Ted Armstrong from all responsibilities with the CGI - yes, including broadcasting - with the Board to come up with a retirement package. If he rejects the package, his credentials will automatically be revoked and he will evidently be "out in the cold."
As I understand it, a letter was sent from Tyler to local congregations this week instructing them to not play a Ted tape, but rather one provided by Tyler featuring Vance Stinson.
It doesn't sound like this will be an amicable separation, and Ted has launched a campaign against those who have made this decision.
Evidently, there were recent revelations about some things going on in Ted's life that no one knew about for a long time prior to the massage-parlor episode.
The Sue Rae Robertson case is still slated for trial at some point.
In the midst of such chaos, Richard Nickels of Giving and Sharing continues to call for a national conference of leading Armstrongite ministers to attempt to bring about some kind of cooperation between the breakaway Armstrongite groups now savaging each other.
Meanwhil ... Joseph Tkach Jr. is reported to be on a national tour promoting sales of his new book, Transformed by Truth.
We Need Your Help!
Our last issue, as informative and entertaining as many people said it was, brought in a record low response. One friend suggested to me that by mentioning the positive review of AR at the close of the last issue I may have given the impression of being "one of those smart-aleck Laodiceans who say they are in need of nothing." I hope I didn't leave that impression because that is most certainly not the case! Without the financial support of our readers, this publication cannot exist.
As I have done more than a few times over the years, I have simply borrowed the money to put this issue out. This time, however, I did so without having paid off what I borrowed to do the last issue. In the past, when I have gone ahead like this on faith, things have worked out. I hope that will be the case again this time.
My thanks to those of you who are helping Ambassador Report, and me personally, in these stressful and crazy times.
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