July 1998 (AR69)
WCG Leaders Admit:
It's All About Money!
The Worldwide Church of God (WCG), the religious empire that church founder Herbert W. Armstrong left to the Tkach family, continues to deteriorate amid the drift of ever changing doctrines and ever-stranger policies.
Along with cosmetic adjustments such as changing the church's official seal from a lion-and-lamb design to a cross over globe-like frame, changing the title of the Pastor General's Report to Crossroad, downsizing the Worldwide News, and eliminating the ministerial ranking system, there have also been new battles over more substantive matters. For example, the ongoing propaganda campaign to transform the sabbatarian denomination into a Sunday-keeping one continues. In the July Worldwide News (WN) there was an article titled, "Should we meet on Sundays?" While the article restated the now-established WCG position that a local church can have weekly meetings on any day of the week, it also showed that the number of WCG believers in Sunday-keeping is growing:
If a congregation wants to move its worship service to Sunday, that is fine. We have quite a few Sunday congregations, and many more considering the switch.
But the article then went on to suggest open congregation discussions about what day to keep and the taking of surveys about when to meet:
If only a few feel they must either stay with Saturday or move to Sunday, perhaps a house church or other worship opportunity could be provided for the minority.
If the congregation has two roughly equal portions desiring different days, several approaches can be taken: 1) create two congregations (some have done this, but hall rental and other expenses must be taken into account), or 2) give it more time, more discussion and, later, another survey to see if desires have shifted one way or the other.
So a local WCG congregation can now be a Saturday-keeping church, or a Sunday-keeping church, or it can be a Saturday-and-Sunday-keeping church. For that matter, it could also be a Wednesday-keeping church, or it could be a Wednesday-and-Saturday-keeping church or a Wednesday-and-Sunday-keeping church or even a Wednesday-and-Saturday-and-Sunday-keeping church. You see, it all depends on the results of the latest survey.
Now, as you can imagine, the local WCG ministers who used to have just one Sabbath day to worry about, now may have to give sermons on both Saturday and Sunday, and maybe on some other days, as well. Plus they are being kept pretty busy just taking surveys. That means less time for the golf course or for moonlighting at another job. Not surprisingly, such ministers have gotten upset with the new heavy workload. So at a late June ministerial conference in Pasadena, many voiced their dislike of the new system of choosing worship days. Church treasurer Bernie Schnippert, however, told them why the new system was necessary. According to a report from one of activist Bill Ferguson's insiders:
The U.S. and international Regional Pastors were meeting in Pasadena this week. Bernie Schnippert spoke to them.... He went on to stir up a stink with several of the ministers. Bernie said he wanted to make clear that he did not believe in the Sabbath or the Holy Days. However, he told the ministers that IF they wanted to make sure that they received retirement, then they MUST continue to meet on the Sabbath and continue to meet on all Holy Days.
He said the name of the game is MONEY! That is his only priority at the moment. The Holy Days are the money-making days for the church. If any of the ministers had any plans of doing away with meeting on these days, he would MAKE SURE that they did not receive retirement and would be terminated.
The ministers were also warned that they were not to do away with meeting on Saturdays, even if they started meeting on Sundays. There are too many in the church still holding on to the Old Covenant, and if they were not able to meet on Saturday then they would go to some other church and the money would go with them.
Schnippert then went on to say that it would be them losing their retirement and not him, as he WILL receive his retirement no matter what actions they decided to take.
The thing that precipitated this state of affairs is quite simple. Once the Tkach team convinced a large percentage of their followers that it was not only permissible, but also better, to keep Sunday, most of those members left to join churches which they now perceive as spiritually superior for having kept Sunday all along. That left the Sunday-believing WCG ministry with the choice of accommodating the Saturday crowd or not having any church left to command. So with money as the main goal, the official WCG policy on Sabbath-keeping is now: Take surveys and do whatever the parishioners want.
Pope to Get Ambassador Campus?
Attempts at selling off the old Pasadena, California and Big Sandy, Texas campuses of Ambassador University continue unabated. Already a part of the Pasadena properties has been sold. After much haggling because of structural defects and zoning problems, the old mail-processing office facilities building, located across the freeway from the main Ambassador campus in Pasadena, has been sold to an unnamed Alhambra, California company. While no deal has yet been consummated for the bulk of the two campuses containing over 250 structures, insiders say many potential buyers have been looking at both campus properties.
For almost a year, it was thought that the Texas campus was going to be sold to a mysterious group that wanted to establish something called The Southern Military Institute (SMI). The American South has a venerable military tradition as exemplified in such institutions as The Citadel and the Virginia Military Academy, so we didn't think that there was anything unusual in SMI being a potential buyer. But that was before a California businessman tipped us off that there was something very unusual about the proposed sale. He told us:
I just checked out a site at www.dixienet.org. You'll find this interesting. The site includes a plea for funds to help purchase a college campus for SMI, to be located at Big Sandy, Texas. They don't mention who the present owner is. Now, get this. The whole site is dedicated to restoring the old antebellum South through a group called "The League of the South." They even refer to the Civil War as "The War for Southern Independence," and "The War of Northern Aggression."
© 1998 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.
Our curiosity aroused, we immediately checked out the site and discovered that our tipster was right. The group really behind the proposed military training facility was indeed the so-called League of the South. And their site does make it amply clear what their intentions are:
The League of the South's goal is good government for the Southern people. We believe secession is the best way to restore good government to the South. Since 1861 the republican system of government established by the Founders has been steadily eroded. Today that government has become the cruel master rather than the obedient servant of the citizens of the several states. We see no way of reforming the corruption within the present system; therefore, The League of the South shall seek to spread acceptance of the idea of secession among the people of the South....
If the thirteen states of the old Confederacy were a nation, its GNP would place it among the top five or six nations of the world. Its laws would better reflect the natural conservatism and Christian roots of the Southern people. Our laws on gun control, abortion, school prayer, and immigration would without question be different. We could establish a confederation of states and make the provisions of the Tenth Amendment a reality. We could follow George Washington's sage advice about "entangling alliances." We could leave the United Nations and oppose the Bush-Clinton New World Order....
The League seeks to protect the historic Anglo-Celtic core culture of the South because the Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English have given Dixie its unique institutions and civilization.
When people think of old Dixie, the unique institution most think of is slavery. Is the freedom to own slaves one of the rights that the League wants returned to Anglo-Celtic Southerners? The League doesn't say, but they inform us that "the League of the South disavows a spirit of malice toward any group...." And just in case anyone fears a return to the institution of slavery, they publish Southern Slavery As It Was by Wilkins and Wilson who intimate that slavery wasn't really all that bad. Obviously, should the League continue to promote its ideas and gain a following, at some point secession from the Union might require a bit of military muscle and that would require military leadership. Hence should SMI ever get going it could fill a role as the West Point of the South. Extreme? Perhaps. But Peter Appelbome writing in The New York Times (3/7/98) says the League is no joke.
It is difficult to believe that the Tkach company was not aware of the real nature of the League's intentions when they were negotiating with the would-be rebels. But, whatever the case, WCG officials now say that they will not be selling the Texas campus for use as a war college because the rebel group has not been able to raise the necessary funds. (Confederate greenbacks were not acceptable, either.) Instead, church treasurer Bernie Schnippert told a gathering of ministers in Pasadena in late June that the buyer of the campus, paid for by the tithes of members who were once thoroughly anti-Catholic, will likely be a Roman Catholic organization! So once again Tkach and his associates have shown that they do not care about the obvious theological or ethical implications of what they are doing.
United Fragments Again
Since our last issue, when we reported on the troubles within the United Church of God, rebel evangelist David Hulme has announced that his new church, at this time called simply The Church of God, will be based in Monrovia, California, a town known for its soaring summer temperatures and for its Aztec Hotel, an ornate landmark along historic Route 66. The official address for the Hulmites is: P.O. Box 150, Monrovia, CA 91017. Their web site is at www.church-of-god.org. And Ricky don't lose that number. It's the only one where you can go daily for Hulme's inspirational "Thought for the Day."
In addition to the rebel Hulmites that we reported on last issue, virtually the entire UCG affiliate church in Britain, the UCGUK led by Peter Nathan, has split from the United Church of God, an International Association, or UCGIA (as the main UCG is now acronymed in order to distinguish it from the other split-off Uniteds). As we go to press, one of our informants within UCGIA tells us that the Hulme-led exodus has slowed to a trickle and that the Hulmites now number no more than about 1,200 with about 13 elders.
In the meantime, back at UCGIA headquarters in Arcadia, California there was a whole lot of packing going on as the entire home office, or what's left of it, was moved to a new facility in Cincinnati. The UCGIA's official address is now a catchy P.O. Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254-1027.
After the Hulmite insurgency petered out, a lot of UCGIA members were hoping things would quiet down in their denomination, but it was not to be. In a pre-Passover video sermon viewed by almost all UCGIA congregations, President McCullough threw down the gauntlet to those who thought they had left the WCG. As one of our readers told us after hearing McCullough's sermon:
My wife asked me, "Did you get the most important point of his sermon?" "I think so," I said, "but what do you think it was?" She then confirmed my own thoughts: "UCG congregations will have NO local autonomy."
It was not long before this policy would prove disastrous to the UCGIA. Within weeks, McCullough and his board decided to apply old fashioned strong-arm methods to their largest local congregation, the one at Big Sandy, Texas. The Home Office simply informed David Havir, the popular pastor of the congregation, that he was being transferred and that the Home Office would just appoint someone else to replace him.
McCullough's high-handedness outraged members of the Big Sandy congregation, telephone lines began to glow in the heat of angry church chatter, secret meetings were held, hate mail was sent, incensed e-mail whizzed through cyberspace, and the UCGIA Home Office boys started to realize they had stirred up a hornets' nest. Nevertheless, they would not flinch. No, "the H.O." had decreed as though by the law of the Medes and the Persians. Even when angry members asked the H.O. to explain what it was that their beloved pastor had done wrong to be treated so, no real answer was given. And, actually, no answer showing reasonableness could have been given, for the transfer was only being done to establish precedent: The UCGIA is to be run like any other religious cult. There must be obedience in quiet submission by ministers of lower rank, and there must be blind obedience by the common sheep. In other words, "You VILL OBEY!!"
But this was not WCG 1968; this was UCG 1998. And the members in Big Sandy have learned a few things from the decades of church scandals and ecumenical in-fighting. So when the smoke finally cleared after weeks of turmoil, the biggest United Church of God congregation found itself broken up into two separate churches. Today, in that part of Texas there is a shrinking UCGIA congregation pastored by Roy Holladay who takes his orders from his pay masters in Cincinnati. And there is a slightly smaller, but more vibrant and growing, congregation pastored by Dave Havir who, while no doubt trying to take his orders from a source higher than Cincinnati, has shown a remarkable willingness to cooperate with his flock on matters of congregational organization and governance.
In the last two months the members of the congregation, together with Pastor Havir in consultation with George Crow, an able Houston attorney, have worked to amend their church's articles of incorporation and by-laws so as to embrace a congregational form of self-government. This may not be the first time something like this has happened within a WCG breakoff group, but it is the first time we have heard of a sabbatarian Armstrongite congregation doing such a thing almost spontaneously, and with enthusiasm, no less. The congregation's official name is now: United Church of God, Big Sandy and Pastor Havir can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
As for UCGIA, the loss of the Hulmites and half of its largest congregation have inspired many more to drift away. Just a year ago, it was claimed that UCGIA had over 20,000 members. Today some within that group say its total membership is down to about 12,500 and falling. Whereas its paid ministry numbered about 100 prior to the Hulmite exodus, with the latest crisis, 29 ministers had to be put on half salary, nine resigned, and four were laid off or voluntarily quit. As a result of the reshufflings, about 19 church circuits have added an additional congregation or two with more work for ministers. Then, in the move from Arcadia to Cincinnati, the Home Office went from a staff of 30 down to only 12. Reductions in salaries were reported at 5%-15% and allowable ministerial expenses for travel, phone, etc. were dropped to an absolute maximum of $200 per month. Seeing the writing on the wall, some prominent pastors seem to be planning for their own future exits. Dennis Luker of Seattle and veteran evangelist C. Wayne Cole are among those rumored to be unhappy with the Cincinnati Home Office.
And what are the UCGIA members thinking in the midst of all this madness? According to a number of sources who still attend, most of the members that remain are apathetic. The remaining ministry, in turn, has gone back to, as one tired member put it, "emphasizing doom and gloom in the hopes that the simple will believe that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that the UCGIA makes handbaskets."
Many more United members are sure to leave in the near future. Just weeks ago, in the June edition of Norm Edwards' Servants' News, in an article titled "More Corporate Doublespeak from UCGIA," United member Tim McCaulley revealed that the way United's founders had quietly set up their organization was that under its charter the only legal members of the UCGIA are its ministers. Recall that in WCG, the situation is even more outlandish in that even being a WCG minister in good standing does not qualify you to be a church corporation member. Nevertheless, the UCGIA has been set up similarly. According to McCaulley, the United Church corporate entity promotes an "us versus them" mentality whereby those controlling the corporation, almost like a private club, function as:
...a modern day Sanhedrin and created this "wall of separation" (Eph. 2:14) within the Church. It is complete with its own talmud of constitution and bylaws that, when expedient, ignores the counsel of scripture in the way it isolates the shepherds from their flocks and instead encourages them to be hirelings of the corporation.
McCaulley accuses the UCGIA's controllers of using doublespeak to deceive the tithe-paying church-goers as to the true nature of the organization to which they are paying their tithes. The picture painted by McCaulley is that corporately the UCGIA is virtually a private club, almost a secret society if you will, that treats church attenders as paying customers who are manipulated by the hireling pastors all for the personal benefit of the "members" of the corporation, mainly the ruling inner circle, the original conspirators who set up the system.
If that is indeed the case, and we have every reason to believe McCaulley's view is accurate, then the church organizational structure that the UCG-Big Sandy congregation has developed may be the only ethical way for all the Armstrongite groups to rearrange themselves. Of course, if the tithe-paying members remain apathetic as to what goes on in their own denomination and local congregation, it will make no difference. The blind will continue to lead the blind. As consumer advocate Ralph Nader says, "If you don't turn on to politics, politics will turn on you."
HWA taught his followers to shun politics, while he, himself, was a master politician. Armstrong's false teaching is a major cause of the apathy we see in so many who have come through "the WCG experience." They have been duped into thinking that it is godly to be a submissive, non-questioning, non-thinking, non-political patsy. Armstrong's false teaching is also a major cause of the chaos that we have seen, and continue to see, in the WCG and all its offshoots. Nevertheless, as the Big Sandy story demonstrates, it doesn't have to be that way. Things can change.
Flurry Now Laodicean
Gerald Flurry's Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) has been one of the more successful WCG spinoff groups. With its Key of David telecast and slick Philadelphia Trumpet magazine leading the way, it has continued to experience steady growth since its inception in 1989. Now, however, the Flurry organization is beginning to experience the same kinds of troubles that have beset virtually all the other major WCG offshoots.
Within just the last few months, PCG ministers Ron Roth, Mike Okamura, and Randy Schafer have parted company with Flurry taking with them tithe-paying PCG members in a number of states. The three have made numerous accusations about the PCG. They say Flurry's organization is authoritarian and that its ministers are encouraged to spy on members and behave like army officers whose commands are never to be questioned. They say that Flurry now improperly claims to be a prophet, and that the place of safety doctrine is emphasized in order to make the saving of the flesh the principal focus of attention for PCG members. All this is done, they say, because the PCG hierarchy is less driven by a desire for righteousness than by an overwhelming desire for money. Sound familiar?
Schafer also doubts Flurry's claim that his book Malachi's Message was personally delivered to him by a great angel and that it was intended to be a part of the Book of Revelation. If that is the case, says Schafer, why then has Flurry revised the book a number of times since the angel originally gave it to him? Mike Okamura additionally points out that in Malachi's Message Flurry claims that WCG Pastor General Joseph Tkach Sr. is the prophetic "Joshua," but that "Joshua" is supposed to be alive at the second coming of Jesus Christ, while Tkach Sr. has been dead now for almost three years.
Roth is now distributing an open letter to Flurry which invokes the Armstrongite theory of church eras to show that, among other things, Flurry does not really head the Philadelphia era of the church as he claims, but that Flurry actually heads the final Laodicean era. In his letter, Roth quotes II Thes. 2:11 which talks about God causing his people to believe a lie. Writes Roth:
WHAT IS THE LIE? The lie is that the leader of the PCG is telling his members that through their support of his church they will receive salvation. Malachi's Message, on page 144 epitomizes the lukewarm attitude by saying, "Backing and supporting this message is your ticket to a place of safety and a magnificent reward. This is how God makes up His jewels!" Here you are promising a place of safety to those who support the work of the PCG. It is the development of our character that God measures when He makes up His jewels, not the supporting of any work.
Roth is now convinced that "the Philadelphia era was located in Pasadena; the Laodicean era, the seventh and final era, is located in Edmond, OK." Roth says he is only waiting now for the Two Witnesses. For copies of the complete letter, write to Ron Roth, The Church of God, P.O. Box 406, Hustisford, WI 53034; or call Ron at (920) 349- 3674.
Global Clarifies Position on War
In recent years, the theological concerns of most of the WCG offshoots have centered on church governance issues: ministerial credentialing, church organization, calendar determinations, etc. However, with no fanfare or press coverage that we are aware of, last year one Armstrongite group got away from such debates and started focusing on more important ethical and theological issues. The Global Church of God (GCG), headed by Roderick C. Meredith, has now unequivocally reasserted the traditional Armstrong position concerning Christian participation in warfare. Beginning with the article "Violence, War and Christianity" by GCG minister John H. Ogwyn, writing in the June-July 1997 issue of Global Church News, the GCG has taken the position that true Christians who submit in obedience to an authority higher than that of human governments cannot in good conscience join military organizations or participate in the wars of this world.
The GCG position reasserts a fundamental teaching of Herbert W. Armstrong, but it runs contrary to the liberalized modifications of that teaching that were brought into the WCG by the Tkach administrations and which some of the offshoots have similarly accepted. What makes the GCG position so interesting, however, is that it is one that can logically be defended from the perspective of biblical theology, normative ethics, and early church history. For instance, while the GCG position is not in harmony with that of the modem Roman Catholic Church, most Catholic scholars would readily agree with Meredith that his church has indeed held fast to the position of the early church. For an eye-opening theological essay proving that such is the case, see the Tony Korec article "The Early Church on War" which appeared in the June-July issue of The Catholic Worker. To obtain a copy of this important article, send a contribution if possible to cover postage and perhaps photocopying (we suggest $1) and write: The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, New York, NY 10003; tel. (212) 777-9617.
European Unity Update
In our last issue we reviewed a number of books that present secular and scholarly views about important geopolitical world trends. While there are many possibilities as to what the future might hold, we should not be too quick to think that a very powerful United Europe, something Herbert Armstrong predicted, is impossible. In fact, many today think that such a union is inevitable. Almost every week there are articles in leading newspapers reporting how Europe is moving quickly in that direction. For instance, on July 7 The New York Times reported:
In the clearest sign yet that national boundaries are disappearing within European financial markets, the stock exchanges of London and Frankfurt announced a broad alliance Tuesday aimed at creating a pan-European trading system. The alliance between Europe's two biggest stock exchanges comes as financial institutions across the continent are preparing for the debut of the euro as a new European currency in January.
An April 28 headline in the same paper read, "Euro Could Eventually Rival the Dollar." However, a far more startling headline appeared in The New York Times on April 12: "U.S. Frets Over Closer German-French-Russian Ties." Here is how that article began:
The problem with labelling yourself the world's "indispensable nation," as Secretary of State Madeline Albright is fond of calling the United States, is that you become hypersensitive if other nations, less convinced or more uneasy, start meeting without you. Late last month in Moscow, the French, Germans and Russians had their very first summit meeting, and Washington did not take the prospect calmly. Senior U.S. officials like Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott were feverishly interrogating their French and German counterparts about what such a meeting might encompass and what it might mean. The United States regards the new Russia as something of a pet project, if not exactly a client. Helping Russia to feel part of a wider Europe, as NATO enlarges, is fine as far as it goes. But the Americans want to be sure that any special Franco-German understandings with Russia won't undercut an already fraying U.S.-Russia relationship.
The article went on to point out that with another such summit scheduled for next year, and with both the United States and Britain not invited, leaders in both Washington and London are concerned that a new alliance may be on the horizon - an awesome one over which they would have no control.
Back in the early eighties, on a trip to the Pasadena area, author David Robinson was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Len and Margaret Zola of Ambassador Report. As we sat around the long dining table of their hilltop home, talking politics after dinner, Robinson casually commented that not only did he envision Europe uniting within the next few decades, but that he was certain all of Russia would be part of that union. "But," asked one of the startled guests, "what about communism?" "Well," said Robinson, "it's not a natural system, it's alien to the spirit of the Russian people, and eventually the Soviet system will revert back to what is historically most natural for them." Robinson, a lifetime student of European history, went on to say he thought resentment of United States power and corruption would eventually push the Europeans to unite, and that Russia with its vast resources and centuries of Christian tradition would fall naturally into that alliance. When he said this, there was noticeable silence among his listeners who included a number with significant academic credentials. "Well," said Robinson, "I'm just a country boy," and with that he changed the subject. More than 15 years later, with the Soviet empire in ruins and Russia being courted by a uniting Europe, some who laughed at Robinson's prediction are no longer laughing.
The Secret Church of Conspiracy
by John Trechak
Editor: I don't often add my by-line to AR articles, but there is a reason why I do so this time. This article reflects only my own views, and not necessarily those of anyone else associated with this publication.
By all accounts, Armstrongism is not just a non-mainstream religious movement, it is also a movement that has generated other newer religious movements that in many cases are even more nonconventional than that of "the Armstrong tradition." In the last few years, we at AR have noticed a rather strange and growing body of religious ideas that seem to be forming into yet one more bizarre Armstrongism-related religious system. This new belief system is still not formalized, yet it is very real and very influential in the lives of thousands of former Worldwide Church members.
This new belief system revolves around what can loosely be called "conspiracy theories." These theories, however, are not your garden variety of "Who really killed JFK, RFK, or Martin Luther King." No, these new theories incorporate and integrate Bible prophecies, the year 2000, the "Y2K computer problem," "The One True Church," the Roman Catholic Church, the Jesuit Order, the Pope, Freemasonry, the Jews, the Communist Party of Russia, President Clinton, the FBI, the CIA, the Wackenhut corporation, the late Herbert W. Armstrong, the late Franz Joseph Strauss, evangelist Roderick C. Meredith, former WCG lawyer Stanley Rader, Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, virtually all key leaders of the proposed United Europe, powerful figures in finance and politics, and thousands, if not millions, of other individuals and entities.
According to some conspiracy theorists, a number of WCG offshoots are now completely under the domination of mysterious Jesuit infiltrators. Other offshoots, like the UCGIA, supposedly are controlled by a ministry made up almost entirely of members of "Worldwide Masonry" who take their orders from the Grand Lodge of Texas at Waco. We at AR have even had a few anonymous letters warning us that Dixon Cartwright of The Journal, a popular sabbatarian newspaper, is a Mason infiltrator who is part of "The Conspiracy." (I am sure he is not.) And in a phone call last year, Dixon laughingly told me that he had seen a document which claimed that I, in turn, was a Jesuit agent hand-picked by European powers to act as a Fifth Column operative against "the Churches of God," again, as part of "The Conspiracy." (The idea is so preposterous it should require no comment.) Undoubtedly, some will eventually bring UFOs into this new theological mix. While to most rational people such notions will seem quite laughable, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are not just fascinated by these new conspiracy theories, but who, as a result, are being caught up in a new wave of Armstrongite hysteria.
An Introduction to "Conspiracy"
More than ten years ago, after an evening class in property law, I attended an informal after-class reception hosted by the professor who wanted to get to know his students a little better. In those days, like a lot of former Worldwiders, I had been reading the right-wing Spotlight newspaper and other periodicals that today would probably be classified as in the conspiracy genre. While I lacked the intellectual means then to adequately analyze the merits of the claims made in such publications, I did recognize that their approach to world news was radically different from the mainstream press. I thought it might be fun to hear a law professor's comments on the subject so, just as the smiling law professor with wine glass in one hand and an hors d'oeuvre in the other strolled about and approached me with a smile, I blurted out, "Do you believe in conspiracy theories?"
The question was ill-framed and not well-timed. But the answer I got was instructive. The distinguished legal scholar bluntly replied, "Well, of course! There are conspiracies in operation all about this country and around this world even as we speak. You don't think you are getting all the truth just from reading the newspapers, do you?" He was patient with me but, I think, somewhat surprised at my naiveti. I mention this story because I now frequently get asked that same question by ex-WCG and current Armstrongite readers of this publication. And my answer today is about the same as the law professor's. Additionally, however, I usually point out that our prisons are full of people who have been tried and convicted of participating in conspiracies of various types. And even the Bible itself uses the words "conspired" and "conspiracy" many times; just check any Bible concordance. Most of us lived through "the Watergate" years, and we should recall that both the initial break-in and the later cover-up were conspiracies. Robert McNamara's book about Vietnam should tell us that the whole Vietnam debacle was a kind of conspiracy against the American people. And then there was Iran-Contra, the BCCI scandal, and the savings-and-loan scandal which Justice Department officials described as "a thousand conspiracies of fraud, theft, and bribery." And on it goes.
The word conspiracy to most people connotes a small group of men in a smoke-filled room talking in quiet tones. Conspiracies, however, don't have to be composed of small groups. They can be quite vast in scope. Cosa Nostra, the crime syndicate, is a conspiracy. The Colombian drug cartel is a conspiracy. The Russian Mafia is a conspiracy. All three involve thousands of operatives and many billions of dollars.
Conspiracies can also lead to monumental historical events. For example, the 1917 takeover of Russia by the Bolsheviks involved a conspiracy. So did the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1932 and the German invasion of Austria in 1938. Indeed, the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence would certainly have been declared conspirators by King George III had their efforts not proved successful. And some have even pointed to the secretive meetings leading to the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1781 as having been a conspiracy. Certainly, some in our country's anti-Federalist faction thought that was the case. If that is news to you, read Charles Beard's highly-regarded historical study An Economic Analysis of the Constitution of the United States. But before we continue on and get ourselves into some very murky waters - particularly regarding the WCG - it will prove helpful if we first clarify a few terms.
What Do You Mean, "Conspiracy"?
We live in a time when interest in so-called conspiracy theories is very pronounced. Even ten years ago, for example, a television series such as The X-Files would have been unthinkable. Yet today, we not only have The X- Files, a successful television series, we now have The X-Files, the feature film and with sequels possibly to follow. And in most metropolitan-area bookstores, one can find not just a few books on famous conspiracies, but whole store sections devoted to the conspiracy genre. For a time, there was even a monthly magazine devoted exclusively to "CT." It was appropriately titled Paranoia, which perhaps explains why it is no longer being published. Nevertheless, while conspiracy theories have become an accepted part of popular culture, when people talk about conspiracies they are often talking about not just a wide variety of specific theories, they are often using the term "conspiracy" in a variety of ways. The way a criminal prosecutor would use the term is usually different from the somewhat looser way an historian might use it, and the ways they both might use the term might well be different from the way some students of Bible prophecy would use it. All three, in turn, would probably be using the term differently from the young X-Files fan who very likely would use it to describe not just government cover-ups, but also as a synonym for "unexplained mysteries" or "the paranormal."
We have noticed that among our own readership and among those we report on, the term "conspiracy" is being used in perhaps a dozen different ways. Just so we have some idea of what we are dealing with, let's first look at some of the contexts and situations in which the term is being used:
(1) Conspiracy as the law sees it. In the legal world, conspiracy has a very limited and very precise meaning. In the Anglo-American legal system, when a charge of conspiracy is brought, the prosecution must prove the three elements of the crime: There must be (a) an agreement between two or more persons (b) made with an intent to enter into that unlawful agreement and (c) made with an intent to achieve the unlawful object of the agreement. Examples of such a legally defined conspiracy would be when two gangsters agree that later in the day they will rob a convenience store, or when businessmen at an association meeting quietly decide not to compete against each other, but to set prices artificially high. To judges, the illegal agreement is the conspiracy and it is separate from the performance of the target crime. Once the agreement is made, the conspiracy has come about, even if the conspirators later abort their plan for some reason.
It should be pointed out in passing that, even though this basic definition of conspiracy in the law is fairly simple, situations where there are many members in the conspiracy can be quite complicated. That is so, for instance, (a) where there is a so-called chain conspiracy or (b) where there are complicated conspiratorial "hub-and-spoke" relationships within other conspiratorial "hub-and spoke" relationships. In both conspiracy sub-sets, someone distant from the first conspirators may not know who set the conspiracy in motion, but once they have agreed to perform the illegal acts, they are part of the overall conspiracy.
Notice that when the word conspiracy is used in the legal system it means a very specific thing. But in popular parlance the definition, while not altogether unrelated, can fall well short of the legal definition or be something somewhat different but far more complicated. Notice the differences in the following non-legal usages of the term.
(2) Political parties and open alliances. People with similar views may join together formally to work toward similar goals. Republicans and Democrats are not normally thought of as being members of a conspiracy. However, it is not unusual for the politically overzealous to label political opponents as being part of a conspiracy. Upon questioning, one finds that they are usually not suggesting that a prosecutor would be able to make out some sort of criminal case against their opponents. But the word has a certain dastardly ring to it, and it is often rhetorically effective.
At the start of the Cold War, there were tens of thousands of individuals in America who were members of various Socialist, Socialist Workers, or Communist parties. When the Red scare began, Senator Joseph McCarthy talked of them as "a conspiracy so vast...." Yet, while many thousands had their careers destroyed because of the innuendo of such conspiracy talk, relatively few leftists in those years were actually charged with, let alone convicted of, conspiracy (a few super-sensational cases notwithstanding). Even the Los Angeles Times recently admitted in an editorial (4/18/98) that newly released government files reveal that during the Cold War the domestic threat of Communism was "grossly overblown."
(3) Informal groups of individuals with similar poltical or religious views. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes nothing more than holding the same view as another to be labeled a conspirator today. Just a few weeks ago, Mrs. Clinton, a lawyer no less, made the claim that there was a right-wing conspiracy out to get her husband. She has yet to provide prosecutors with evidence that would allow charges of anything to be brought against anyone. While there are obviously wealthy and powerful individuals who are quite determined in their efforts to discredit the President, many pundits, even very liberal ones such as Sam Smith of the Progressive Review, believe the First Lady seriously mis-spoke herself when she used the term "conspiracy." Nevertheless, the fact is that just because a group of people have the same views and may even network and actively work toward similar goals, that of itself does not really constitute a conspiracy, at least in the legal sense.
(4) Secret societies. In April, the University Art Museum of the University of California at Long Beach presented a unique art show. Titled "Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1896-1929," the show displayed theater set designs and other historical artifacts from an era in American history of which few today are even vaguely aware. The program notes of the show began with a quote from Albert Stevens, Cyclopedia of Fraternities (1907):
The probable extent of the influence of secret life may be inferred from the fact that more than 6,000,000 Americans are members of 300 such organizations, which confer about 1,000,000 degrees on 200,000 novitiates annually, aided, in instances, by a wealth of paraphernalia and dramatic ceremonials which rivals modern stage effects.
The stage effects in the show included rather sophisticated "smoke and mirrors" depictions of supernatural events, historical figures, and even scenes of Hades aflame in which choreographed troupes of dancers would cavort. But even more amazing were some of the facts discussed in the Museum's presentation. Few Americans today, for instance, know that a hundred years ago fraternal organizations frequently provided their members with a whole lifestyle that included a distinct social life, important insurance programs, and a life philosophy that was intended to prepare members for the inevitability of death. The fraternities also were a major political force in many states and at least four - The Knights Templar of Freemasonry, The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, The Knights of Pythias, and The Knights of Columbus - had their own well-armed militias.
Today, a smaller percentage of the population are members of fraternal organizations than was the case a hundred years ago. However, the York Rite and Scottish Rite branches of Freemasonry are still with us, as are many other fraternal organizations. And because such fraternal organizations frequently maintain a fair amount of confidentiality as to their membership and private activities, many such groups get labeled as "secret societies."
But does being a member of one of these so-called secret societies constitute being a part of a conspiracy? Unless its members have agreed to violate some law, most courts would not think so. After all, doesn't everyone have a right of association and a right to privacy? Nevertheless, the perceived secrecy of some societies encourages many Christians to view Masonic lodges and other fraternal organizations as hotbeds of intrigue. And ex-Worldwiders especially almost always tend to view Masons as being part of something sinister.
As extreme as that may seem, however, it is not just Armstrongites or evangelical Christians who tend to view the Masons with great suspicion. Just this past spring The New York Times (3/29/98) reported that the British government was investigating the membership of the London-based United Grand Lodge, the premier institution of world Freemasonry, for possible improper influence on the judicial system because so many important judges and police officers are suspected of being members. And even within the Roman Catholic Church there have been published allegations since the 1980s that the organization known as P2, Italy's highly secretive crypto-fascist Masonic Lodge, was composed of members of the Mafia, Italy's intelligence service, and certain high-ranking Vatican clergy as well as top executives of the Vatican Bank.
The A&E cable television channel has produced a documentary titled Secret Societies which paints the Masons as rather conspiratorial by nature. There are also many books on the market which portray Freemasonry as a vast cabal. Two such books that are very popular in Armstrongite circles are The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (Arcade Publishing, 1989) and The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Masons by Stephen Knight (Stein & Day, 1985). So it should not be surprising that among ex-Worldwiders and Armstrongites in general that the slightest hint at Masonic connections tends to bring suspicion that there is a conspiracy afoot. (More on the Masons later.)
(5) Religious orders. It is not uncommon for members of religious orders to be summarily labeled as being part of a conspiracy. The Jesuits, members of the Roman Catholic Church's Society of Jesus, are frequently painted as being conspiratorial. In my own experience I have noticed two groups who seem obsessively concerned about the Jesuits. First there are Protestant Christians who know of the order's sordid historical record of participation in the Inquisition and assume that the order has not changed in the last hundred years. Second there are Catholic conservatives who know full well that the order has changed, and radically in the last hundred years, but who feel that the order has been tainted by the ideas of Marx, Tyrrell, Teilhard, Pope John VI, and "the Theology of Liberation" of Gustavo Gutierrez.
A good example of a conservative Catholic thinker who greatly distrusts the Jesuits is Malachi Martin, himself a former Jesuit and professor at the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Institute. In his 1987 best-seller, The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, Martin portrayed "the new worldwide Society of Jesus" as being less loyal to the Pope than to their own views of a liberating Jesus. (More on the Jesuits and Armstrongite churches later.)
(6) Economic class. "The C-Word" is one Americans do not like to use. After all, we are supposed to be a classless society. Here we are in one big boat, so to speak - you, me, the Rockefellers, our neighbors down the street, Bill Gates, the supermarket checkout lady - and all of us are going through life together, all rowing together in this big boat we call America. But a lot of people increasingly suspect that that kind of view is an illusion. If America is one big boat, it is becoming increasingly clear that some people are putting in a lot more time at the oars than others. But even if the profound gap between the rich and the poor is getting ever wider in America today, is "class" a form of conspiracy? Many today don't think so.
Take for instance Noam Chomsky's recent book Class Warfare: Discussions with David Barsamian. There Chomsky puts forth the idea that in America today there is a major class struggle going on. Not one where the poor are trying to throw off the chains of oppression laid on them by the rich, but a struggle by the rich - and a very successful one at that - to lay ever greater burdens on laboring people, to cut back welfare benefits to the down-and-out, to cut back social security, to give greater tax benefits to the wealthy, and generally to make life much tougher on the great majority of Americans. Chomsky refuses to attribute what is happening to any kind of a grand conspiracy. Nevertheless, as the title of his book indicates, he clearly sees the dynamics of class as being of great importance in understanding the modem world.
In the Business section of The New York Times on just one day (June 23) there were three articles that made a joint statement about class. The first reported that Congressional leaders have again decided to effectively cut the capital gains tax. For tax purposes, income from investments is considered to be different from income from labor, and now Congress feels that those living off of the profits made on capital investments need even more of a tax break than they have already been given in the last few years. The tab for the tax break will, of course, be picked up by the rest of American taxpayers. The second article was about a mistake that had been written into the new tax code by which those dying and leaving behind an estate of over $17 million dollars will be saved more than $200,000. The mistake was brought to the attention of Rep. Bill Archer who heads the Ways and Means Committee responsible for oversight of the tax measure. He refuses to correct the error and this "tax break for the rich," as the Times describes it, will cost American taxpayers about $880 million. Again, the tax benefit going to a wealthy few will be paid for by their less-wealthy fellow Americans. The third article in the same edition of the Times concerns a Congressional proposal to slash $2.2 billion from a President-backed education initiative and the annual financing for home heating for the poor.
Taken as a whole, the three articles remind me of that old saw, "The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer." Well, is such a trend the result of a conspiracy? Again, Chomsky would say no. His way of doing class analysis, like that of many intellectuals today, is to view the world "systemically."
On the other hand, Dr. Michael Parenti, while often on the same side of the political aisle as Chomsky, ridicules the notion that there are no great conspiracies afoot. In his famous lecture "Conspiracy and Class Power," Parenti says that it is ludicrous to believe that the rich and powerful do not talk to each other about matters of mutual concern, and that it is equally ludicrous to believe that those with power are not willing and able to act in a rational and concerted way to protect and enhance their own self-interests.
Some are hesitant to think of "conspiracies" fearing they will be ridiculed as "conspiracy theorists." Such individuals often prefer to think that the world is the way it is because... well, "bad things just happen." Others will not allow themselves to think in class conscious ways fearing that they will be branded as "Marxists." But it is an indisputable fact that Marx was not the first, nor the last, thinker to consider class significant in political and economic analysis. For instance, Adam Smith, the great advocate of market-based economics, in his monumental work The Wealth of Nations did a very pointed kind of class analysis in Book One, Chapter Eight, titled "Of the Wages of Labour." There he succinctly showed that the self-interests of the laboring class are at odds with the self-interests of the capital- controlling class. Obviously, workers want to make as much as possible in wages while owners and their managers want to pay as little as possible. But Smith does not just show class interest. He points out that both groups, in order to maximize their own bargaining strength against the other class, unite together in "combinations." Today we usually call combinations composed of workers "unions," and those composed of the controllers of capital "associations."
But Smith goes even further. He points out that while the laborers will ban together as best they can, the capital- controlling class, with its greater wealth and better organization due to its smaller numbers, uses its influence to pass laws that put the laborers at a disadvantage in their relationship with their "masters." Furthermore, Smith points out that these "combinations" of the wealthy (or wealthier) are quite willing to rigorously enforce discipline on their own members and frequently operate in secret. While Smith does not actually use the word, isn't this type of secret collusion what many people refer to by the word "conspiracy"? In fact, before the New Deal, strikes by unions were often condemned by courts as "conspiracies in restraint of trade," and under various anti-trust laws today, courts have condemned certain arrangements by associations as being conspiratorial.
While Smith's class analysis is lucid and well worth studying carefully, it was neither the first such analysis done in Britain, nor the most pointed. Perhaps the most trenchant occurred in a 1516 book that is frequently described as one of the greatest treasures of the English speaking peoples. The book is Utopia by Thomas More, the lawyer, Greek scholar, and theologian who became Speaker of the House of Commons and then during the reign of Henry VIII the first layman Lord Chancellor of England (today the title would be Prime Minister). After his execution for refusing to acknowledge Henry as head of the Church, he was declared a Saint, a story depicted in the popular 1966 film A Man For All Seasons. Utopia was written in Latin and most who read it today do so in the 1551 English translation of Ralph Robinson. A more accessible translation, however, is the one by Paul Turner (Penguin Classics, 1965) from which we take the following extraordinary passage:
And the climax of ingratitude comes when [the working class are] old and ill and completely destitute. Having taken advantage of them throughout the best years of their lives, society now forgets all the sleepless hours they've spent in its service, and repays them for all the vital work they've done, by letting them die in misery. What's more, the wretched earnings of the poor are daily whittled away by the rich, not only through private dishonesty, but through public legislation. As if it weren't unjust enough already that the man who contributes most to society should get the least in return, they make it even worse, and then arrange for injustice to be legally described as justice.
In fact, when I consider any social system that prevails in the modern world, I can't, so help me God, see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organizing society. They think up all sorts of tricks and dodges, first for keeping safe their ill-gotten gains, and then for exploiting the poor by their labour as cheaply as possible. Once the rich have decided that these tricks and dodges shall be officially recognized by society - which includes the poor as well as the rich - they acquire the force of law. Thus an unscrupulous minority is led by insatiable greed to monopolize what would have been enough to supply the needs of the whole population.
The idea that there is a rich Ruling Class that acts in concert as a conspiracy has been around a long time. But it is a view that is still held by many sociologists today (for instance, see William G. Domhoff's book Who Rules America?). But even if there is not a huge conspiracy here in the legal sense, in what other way could one more-vividly describe the dynamics that bring about the economic results that we see all about us?
Some, like Chomsky and Adam Smith, see the result as having come about from the unconscious operations of the system. This is pretty much also the view of those of the Austrian School of Economics who cling to the "Hidden Hand" or "Spontaneous Order" theory which holds that the effects of everyone simply working to advance their own self-interests brings about the economic order we behold. If you like that order, you might infer that such an order comes from God and you might then reason as did some 18th century European philosophers and theologians who said we live "in the best of all possible worlds." On the other hand, if, like Voltaire who ridiculed the idea in Candide, you do not think that this is the best of all possible worlds, you might conclude that although there is an "order" to this world, it might result from some kind of a "collective unconscious" as Jung may have put it, or from the Zeitgeist or from some kind of guiding world spirit. But then the question becomes, "What kind of a spirit is that world spirit?" Let's put that question aside for now.
It is true that "conspiracy" may not be the most appropriate word to use in describing what sociologists refer to as systems, processes, struggles, or even wars, whose opposing parties have been delineated by economic class. Nevertheless, when Armstrongites, Worldwiders, and ex-members talk about conspiracies on a grand scale, even though their definitions may be a bit foggy at times, they still share some fundamental insights with some of the greatest economic and political philosophers of historical and modern times.
(7) The establishment news media. It is rare to meet a former WCG member who does not view the established, mainstream news media with distrust. Often that distrust borders on outright hostility. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that many former WCG members know what it is like to be burned badly by having put too much trust in authority figures. Another is that many Armstrongites as Bible fundamentalists view the people that bring them the news as "worldly" and therefore as having a general view of the world that is not relevant to their own.
But there is, I believe, another more significant reason that so much of the news media is not trusted, not just by Armstrongites, but by others, as well. It is because most news disseminated to the public today is so terribly slanted, overedited, filtered, homogenized, sensationalized or sanitized, and otherwise processed that most people have at least a vague idea that what they are reading, hearing, and watching as "news" somehow does not match the world they experience first-hand. When confronted by "extremists" who claim the news media is part of a "conspiracy," the defenders of the system will admit that the news media is not perfect. For instance, in an editorial in The New York Times on July 3, there appeared this interesting admission:
The pre-launch publicity for a new Time-CNN collaboration called "NewsStand" made its first piece sound like the daring international scoop of every journalists dream. But yesterday, less than a month after CNN and Time jointly charged that America secretly used gas on a mission designed to kill defectors during the Vietnam War, they took it back....
In some ways, this has been a season for media embarrassments. The Boston Globe, owned by The New York Times Company, recently dismissed a columnist after editors learned she had been inventing people and eloquent quotes. The New Republic dismissed a reporter who fabricated a political underworld that seemed, and was, too outrageous to be true. And The Cincinnati Enquirer this week paid Chiquita International Brands an astonishing $10 million, retracted a series about the fruit company and dismissed the reporter in charge.
Nevertheless, while the major media will admit that mistakes happen, its defenders will repeatedly point to the fact that because of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protections, we have an extremely wide variety of news sources available and that here in the United States there is no totalitarian government that ever censors the news.
There is technical truth in that defense. In fact, if one has an advanced degree in history, economics, law, sociology, or some other field in which one has been trained to analyze the news, and if one spends a couple of hours a day reading a few of the finer newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or The Times of London, and then if one supplements those sources with a number of insightful academic and professional journals and publications from "the alternative media," and one adds to that a bit of on-line cross-referenced study, and if one then also has a bit of time for contemplation and discussion with others who are similarly studying current affairs, it is possible to get some kind of fairly accurate idea of what is really going on in the world.
The reality is, however, most people are too untrained, too uneducated, too hard pressed for time, and too drained from a hard day's work to make that kind of an effort to stay informed. The great majority of Americans who follow the news, if they care to follow the news at all, get most of their current affairs information from the evening TV news (which in a typical broadcast is about 75% celebrity gossip, sports, and lifestyle pablum), from a few minutes of radio reportage in drive time (much of which today consists of talk shows where completely uninformed and oftentimes weird individuals are given air time to vent their outlandish views), and perhaps from a few minutes of reading the local hometown newspaper after supper or The National Enquirer while standing at the supermarket checkout stand. None of those sources will be all that concerned with substantive economic or national, let alone international, news. And real analysis in such media today is virtually nonexistent. Then, because of the fact that all major media companies are controlled by a handful of corporations who in turn are dependant for advertising revenues on a not-very-large group of corporate advertisers, what we get from these sources is a very limited coverage done in a superficially colorful, but substantively uninformative, way. The end result is that we are increasingly a public that is not just uninformed, but one that is very misinformed.
That, of course, is just my opinion. But it also happens to be the opinion of many leading experts who make a career of analyzing the news media and the state of the nation. For instance, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, speaking at the University of Colorado in March, commented how the state of public awareness has now sunk to such a low point that when many people are asked what the difference is between ignorance and apathy, the answer is likely to be, "We don't know and we don't care!" (Incidentally, Nader's insight-filled speech "The Diversion of Discontent" is one of the most powerful I have heard in years and his passing comments on the relevance of scripture are rather profound. For information on ordering transcripts or cassette copies write to the other "AR": Alternative Radio, P.O. Box 551. Boulder, CO 80306.)
Nader is just one of many important figures who laments the current state of public unawareness. Many authorities have actually analyzed and thoroughly documented how the dumbing down, desensitization, and brainwashing of the American public (and I suspect the populations of many other countries) is being accomplished.
For example, in Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom (William Morrow & Company, 1992), Robert Parry, a former AP and Newsweek reporter, documents how until it was too late, the Washington press corps ignored virtually every major scandal of the 1980s, including the Iran-Contra scandal and the S&L scandal. (The latter, by the way, is considered the greatest financial crime in human history and one American taxpayers will be paying for - to the tune of over a half trillion dollars - until at least the year 2010.) Parry explains at least two important media realities: First, he says, what Washington insiders mean by "conventional wisdom" are those viewpoints that do not stray too far from the acceptable middle ground, viewpoints that really never challenge "the system" or the privileges of the corporate elite, and viewpoints that never suggest that America is anything less than the world's standard bearer for truth and justice. Second, Parry writes that in order for reporters to have a job in journalism, they must have access to public figures and sources. If they report the truth boldly, their sources begin to wither away and they will increasingly find themselves denied access to public figures. When that happens their employers no longer find them useful as reporters and they find themselves out of a job. In fact, that is what happened to Parry when he finally broke the Iran-Contra story. Today he writes only for the alternative press.
Noam Chomsky, in such books as Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, has written extensively about propaganda in the modem world. In Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon, 1988), co-author Edward S. Herman and Chomsky provide a brilliant and thoroughly referenced analysis of how and why the major news organizations distort and even misreport the news so often. Many of the key contentions of this book can be found in the video Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky which not only summarizes the book very well, but also provides an excellent introduction into the life and work of this important scholar.
Finally, for those who doubt that the media's flaws are as serious as I believe they are, let me suggest Censored 1998: The News that Didn't Make the News by Peter Phillips and Project Censored. This work details the top 25 censored news stories of 1997. A few, like "Little Known Federal Law Paves the Way for National Identity Card" are now beginning to get some notice in the alternative press, but most of these blockbuster stories - even "Secret Power: Exposing the Global Surveillance System" which appeared only in CovertAction Quarterly - have been completely ignored by the mainstream press. However, what is perhaps most disturbing about this book is not just its claims, but the fact that they are so well documented and have been put together by an outstanding team of scholars. The host institution for Project Censored is Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California and the book is published by Seven Stories Press of New York.
Do the claims of such media critics as Nader, Parry, Chomsky, and Project Censored provide a justification for the use of the word "conspiracy" when talking about the news media? In the legal sense, of course not. And even in the hallowed halls of academia, using the word that way will raise eyebrows. But, that doesn't mean that when Armstrongites talk about the news media as being part of a conspiracy that they are total fools. In fact, they are probably much closer to the truth of the matter than those who simply believe that Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, and other reporters of that corporate ilk are incapable of telling lies.
(8) The government as a conspiracy. It may seem odd to some that in a democracy (or at least a republic) some citizens would think of their own government as being a conspiracy directed against them. Sadly, however, many Americans feel that way. And among former Worldwiders the number who express such ideas is quite high. The reasons for such strong anti-government sentiments are many. But at the root is a feeling that many express in letters to this publication. They see their U.S. government as one controlled by powerful interests who use the institutions of government as a means of enriching themselves while they and the government they control oppress the weak and the poor. Such people therefore see the government itself as a conspiracy or as part of an even larger one.
Such feelings tend to run higher among former Worldwiders than among the general public because former Worldwiders, having already been severely burned by the WCG, are perhaps more sensitive to further propagandizing and exploitation. While no judge is going to accept their definition of conspiracy, when such folks use the term, they have a pretty clear idea of what they mean.
(9) The world as conspiracy. To perhaps a majority of Americans, such an idea is absurd. But there are folks who do not simply look at their national government as a conspiracy against them, but view all the governments of the world as a united conspiracy. It's not just church folks who believe this. For instance, intellectual Chomsky, even though he eschews conspiracy theories, sometimes sounds like he believes the whole world has already been organized globally to the detriment of the majority of humanity. In fact, in his book World Orders New and Old, Chomsky quotes Churchill after WWII as having used the term "the world government" as though Churchill considered such a thing an already existing reality. Of course, Chomsky is not suggesting that a world totalitarian state already exists, but the similarity of his language to the fears of some ex-Worldwiders is striking.
Of course, in this category of usage, there are also those who believe the United Nations is stronger than it really is, and so such folks also sometimes use the word conspiracy when talking about the UN or about the internationalists who favor it as a model for future world governance.
(10) The cosmos as conspiracy. Not just Armstrongites, but most other Bible fundamentalists take seriously those scriptures that describe Satan and his hordes. While not all Christians believe in a literal Satan - there are those who view Satan as a personification of the collective "dark side" of the human species - nevertheless, it is not just Christians who believe in the idea that there is some kind of Satan-led demonic force loose in the universe. There are millions of people in some of the world's other major religions - Hindus, Moslems, Zoroastrians, for example - who believe something very similar. In fact, there are even some sophisticated Jungian psychologists who think such a notion makes sense. So when Armstrongites talk about a universal conspiracy led by Satan, perhaps we should not be too quick to sit in the seat of the scornful.
With the above overview to provide a way of discussing this difficult but important topic, we can move on to a discussion of some of the very bizarre new religious notions that are sweeping the world of Armstrongism. But, because of space limitations in this issue, that discussion will have to wait until Part II.
[To be continued in AR70]
The Real Year 2000
As we race toward the year 2000, billions of people around the world seem to be caught up in anticipation that the arrival of the new millennium will have transcendent meaning. Few, however, seem to realize that the way Western civilization dates its calendar begins with an erroneous assumption as to when Jesus of Nazareth was actually born. Many Christians still actually believe that Jesus was born on December 25 and that the year was 1 A.D. Of course, virtually everyone who has studied the matter even cursorily knows that such a simplistic notion does not match with many historical facts. And, indeed, today most historians and religious scholars are convinced that the historical Jesus was born within the first decade B.C.
One religious historian who has spent decades researching and writing on the subject is Dr. Ernest L. Martin of the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. And in recent years, many of his conclusions regarding the dating of the birth of Herod, the appearance of "the star" of Bethlehem, and other known events surrounding the birth of Jesus have been gaining support worldwide from many scholars in various disciplines.
For some time now, Martin has taught that Jesus was actually born in 3 B.C. on Rosh Hashannah, or the Feast of Trumpets, which in 3 B.C. began at sundown Sept. 11. If Martin is correct, then that would mean that 1999 years and about 10 months have passed since that momentous event (recall that there is no year zero). It would further mean that by Jewish modes of reckoning, this coming Rosh Hashannah, which this year will begin at sunset Sept. 20, would actually mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Martin is not one who is big on birthdays, especially as religious holidays. Nevertheless, many of his students are of the opinion that on or about September 20-21 we may see some type of significant occurrence that will be a cosmic benchmark of "the end times." One such student is Ken Nagele who publishes The Elegan Files: A Guide to Understanding the End-Times. At his promotional web site, www.elegan.com, Nagele writes, "If you thought Year 2000 was important, wait until you see what's going to happen in 1998!"
In our last issue we mentioned Dr. Ernest Martin's upcoming book The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot. Since then, we received from his office an "A.S.K. Geographical Report" titled "Illustrations of the Temple Mount and Fort Antonia" which graphically details some of the essential ideas of his thesis. After carefully reviewing the data, we are convinced that it is not a baseless claim that Martin's theory may eventually prove to be, as one university scholar told us, one of the most important theological and archaeological discoveries of all time. Those who may be skeptical of such a flamboyant assertion may wish to order a copy of the short article before ordering the book. The report, No. A 102, with illustration and diagram, is available for $2 by writing to Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, P.O. Box 25000, Portland, OR 97298. The complete temple book is still not published. But we are told it will be off the press at about the same time as the initial printing of the Original Bible Project translation which is scheduled for release some time in September.
Roman Catholicism in Transition
On June 25, the Vatican announced that it has made a decision to resolve an issue that has split the Western Christian world for over 500 years. The Vatican announced it will sign a declaration with most of the world's Lutherans affirming that Roman Catholics and Lutherans share a basic understanding of how human beings receive God's forgiveness and salvation. The document, approved by the Lutheran World Federation, declares that both denominations have discovered common ground on the issue of "justification." As reported on The New York Times (6/26/98):
The Reformation leader Martin Luther held that justification comes solely through faith in God, while the Catholic church taught that a person's good works play a role. Now, through the declaration, Catholics and Lutherans agree that divine forgiveness comes only through God's grace and that good works flow from that.
Conceivably, the resolution of this theological issue will help make progress toward European unity a little smoother on the Continent where the Lutheran denomination is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church.
It is remarkable that the Catholic-Lutheran theological debate that raged on for over 500 years is virtually identical to the central theological debate that raged among WCG intellectuals from about 1970 until the ascendancy of Joe Tkach Jr. It is also interesting that both debates ended with the same viewpoint prevailing, at least officially.
Sabbath Debate Continues
Some theological debates, it seems, never end. The debate over the sabbath question, for instance. On the question of whether the weekly sabbath should be observed, in recent years there have been two different viewpoints circulating in WCG circles with each viewpoint being thoroughly propounded in a popular book. Strongly in favor of the maintenance of seventh-day Sabbath observance is the book From Sabbath to Sunday by our friend Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, an SDA professor at Andrews University. And strongly contra is the book The Sabbath in Crisis by former SDA minister Dale Ratzlaff.
Some weeks ago, Christian radio station KJSL in St. Louis invited both Ratzlaff and Bacchiocchi to debate the sabbath issue live on the air. They agreed and the hour-long debate took place on June 15 beginning at 9 a.m. central time. Not surprisingly, opinions as to who won the debate vary according to the sabbath views of the ones who heard the program. In a way, Bacchiocchi continues the debate by posting a synopsis and updated commentary on the Internet. For details, write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his surface address: 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, MI 49103. Ratzlaff, on the other hand, has responded by making cassette tape copies of the radio debate available for $4. Write to Life Assurance Ministries, 19109 North 71st Drive, Glendale, AZ 85308.
The British Bands
We have not reported much on the Armstrongite churches in Britain of late, but be assured many are still active in that country. All of the largest WCG offshoots have some ministerial representation in the U.K. In addition, there are a number of Britain-based WCG offshoots that have publishing ministries:
New Horizons is published by the Churches of God Outreach Ministries, an association of independent churches formerly with the Garner Ted Armstrong group. Their main address is: P.O. Box 2525, Lincoln, LN5 7PF, United Kingdom; e-mail: email@example.com. In the U.S. subscription requests can be sent to P.O. Box 54621, Tulsa, OK 74155-0621. Incidentally, New Horizons is edited by James McBride who in the late sixties was AR editor Trechak's first journalism instructor at Ambassador-Bricket Wood. So all letters critical of Trechak's writing in Ambassador Report should be sent directly to Mr. McBride (Just kidding - ed.).
The Countdown is a small magazine specializing in biblical esoterica. It is put out by Editor Alex Cain, a 30-year veteran of the WCG who also works as an organic chemist and polymer researcher for the British Defense Department. The address to write to is: The Church of God, P.O. Box 53, Farnborough, Hants. GU14 OYZ, United Kingdom; web site: www.cableol.net/alexcain.
Servants of Yahweh, P.O. Box 942, Harrow, Middlesex, HA3 9XY, United Kingdom. Sabbatarian publisher Isaac Aluochier, not affiliated with any other sacred-name group, is a former WCG member whose article "Herbert W. Armstrong - A Scriptural Analysis" is published on-line at www.ServeYahweh.org/Articles/Armstrong.htm.
Awake! Awake! is a monthly magazine published by Midnight Ministries, P.O. Box 29, Aylesbury, HP17 8TL, United Kingdom. Controversial editor Malcolm B. Heap has been mentioned in our pages before because of some his more radical pronouncements, his promotion of the ministry of Benny Hinn, and his reliance on the predictions of certain individuals who might be called prophetic channelers. Many observers, such as editor Kerin Webb of Potentia International (26 Bramshaw Gardens, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH8 OBS, United Kingdom) thought Heap's ministry would never survive even a year when it started. Yet today Midnight Ministries appears to be the most successful of the WCG spinoffs based in Britain. At least it is the one offering the most printed material. An integral part of Heap's ministry is his regular, biting attacks on the WCG. He has not flinched from proclaiming, "The WCG is not led by the Holy Spirit, but by demon spirits!" charge that has unsettled a number of evangelical groups attempting to join in ecumenical fellowship with the Worldwiders of Britain.
There is always someone looking to find fault with God's ministers no matter what. The Seal [of the Church of God, International] is the Coat of Armor that HWA gave to Garner Ted Armstrong years ago and I have the article about that in my files. There is nothing wrong with it. How stupid could anyone get to find fault with that. The men who took over CGI stole everything, all Garner Ted's possessions from him, and are now using that Seal.
Some people will have to stand before God and answer for all they say and for finding fault. They forget God has used GTA for over 40 years to bring us all into a knowledge of the truth. Satan is alive and well and is doing all he can to turn people off of the truth.
It would be good if you left out letters such as that one about the Seal. Who needs it? Garner Ted has not changed anything of the truth and none of us are perfect. We are all sinners.
In AR68 you reported, as I had informed you, that before being chosen to head UCG, Leslie McCullough was buying a home in the Cincinnati area. Now he is saying, "I would like to know the address! I don't have a home there yet." He may be technically right. He may have only been LOOKING for a home in the Cincinnati area - and doing so with UCG Home Office relocation funds.
I would like to respond to the letter writer who "peeked" into Difficult Scriptures by David Albert. First, it is remarkable that a book can be fairly judged by just "peeking" into it. Perhaps the writer has developed a new method of speed reading and comprehension - "Solitary Peeking In The Book Store." It could also be known as "SPIT-BS" because that is what happens when conclusions are based on incomplete data.
Second, my own reading of Dr. Albert's book, in its entirety, did not lead me to conclude that anything was being "attacked." "Attack" implies hostile intent, and his book has none. My critique is this: Difficult Scriptures is a comparison of the sacred day and food laws as taught by HWA with opposing views from both Scripture and Christian scholarship with the conclusion that the former lack validity for today's Christian.
Third, I do not believe Dr. Albert's alleged lack of baptismal counseling skills changes the value of his book. I have no use for the WCG or any of its spin-off groups. After 27 years of them I am "church-free." But this book has helped release me from mental and spiritual bondage and I would recommend it to anyone who is not afraid of information that might change their mind about Armstrong theology.
I am now fully convinced that the Armstrong-Tkach religious empire was built on intentionally making merchandise of people as opposed to innocent error - deliberate lies rather than well-intentioned mistakes. This makes quite a bit of difference in how the WCG is viewed!
-Mrs. Wayne Becker
Your review of "European Unity," "The New World Order," etc. was educational. But you failed to include one of the pieces of the puzzle: the redistribution of the world's population.
As you know, some of the more prosperous nations are being inundated with foreigners. The United States is being invaded with immigrants, legal and illegal, mostly Asian and Hispanic. The American heartland is now smothered with this problem, which formerly afflicted only the coastal and border states. In addition to the legislated integration, there is the incessant bombardment of the "diversity" hype and the "multiculture" hype.
When the economic boom fades into recession or depression, will all these immigrants contribute to a structured society? Or will they become an ungovernable mob? Will anarchy create the opening for which the Beast has long awaited? (See II Thes. 2:7 in Living Bible.) Is the immigration of these masses of people an accident? Or is it a part of the grand design?
Editor: I don't know if I would call it part of a "grand design," but United States immigration policy is certainly no accident. When I made a study of U.S. immigration policy in an immigration law course some nine years ago, I was astounded at how high Congress had set immigration quotas when compared to the much lower levels of all other nations. (And not only have U.S. levels continued to rise, but there is now a move in Congress to make them even higher) At the time, I asked a number of immigration lawyers and immigration policy experts what was behind the high U.S. quotas and they answered uniformly that U.S. immigration levels are kept high in order to keep the wages of American workers low.
Our law makers are not unaware of the fact that high immigration plays a major role in rapid population increase, puts a strain on the environment, and contributes to inner-city ethnic tensions. But they are also aware that by flooding the country with workers (some unskilled, but many skilled and educated) they are helping industry to find more laborers or desired labor replacements without having to spend more on retraining American workers or by competitively hiking up wage levels to lure American workers from competing firms. It is a simple supply and demand problem with Congress behaving with a clear anti-labor, pro-business bias. With American corporations now contributing to political campaigns at a level more than ten times that of organized labor, and with big bucks a prerequisite for political campaigning, the politicians know who they must heed if they want to stay in office.
It is further remarkable that while the immigration-level issue is one that is vital to working Americans, it is hardly discussed in the corporate-owned American media or, if it is, it is discussed with no mention of the underlying economic agenda. That, I believe, is an indication of just how weak our democratic institutions have become.
The Sierra Club recently had an election in which members were asked whether the Club should take a position on the subject of immigration as regards resulting population increases and environmental strains. I was part of a Club faction that said we should. I publicly took that position based on only two considerations: the economic one regarding American wages and the environmental argument. When I did so, however, a number attacked me as being xenophobic and racist. I am neither. Before the Club vote, the media generally seemed to side with the anti-initiative people and the initiative (which was merely an advisory one, with no legal effect) went down to defeat.
In the near future, there will be another attempt to bring this important issue to the Club's, and the public's, attention. Any readers who would like more information about this subject may write to Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization, P.O. Box 2399, Berkeley, CA 94702.
Normally I would not mention a stupid TV program. But if you ever have a chance to catch the episode "The Temple of Haefestus and the Vestal Virgins" on Xena, Warrior Princess you will be glad you watched. The story is about a temple and how the bad guys have by stealth and trickery taken over "The One True Church." When they got to the part where the High Priestess was leading a group of temple prostitutes in "Onward, Vestal Virgins" sung to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" we almost died from laughing. Other COG members who saw it have said the same thing.
Then, on the TV show Babylon 5 none of us missed the obvious parallels to what went on in the WCG, what with the Vorlon and the Shadows, the fight between good and evil. In the end, they all went off together - the struggle was pointless, except that the fight became irrelevant when the main characters took ownership of their own destiny and would not submit to either side!
Of course, there have been other TV shows with WCG-related themes. We all remember that wonderful episode of Quincy, M.E. with the cult leader, Mr. Osbourne, whose lawyer was a right-on hilarious Stanley Rader look-a-like who also looked and sounded like somebody who had just met on camera with Mike Wallace. Years ago at the Feast of Tabernacles in Hawaii, [WCG lawyer] Ralph Helge explained to us that the WCG had considered suing over it!
Editor: Besides the programs that you mentioned, we have seen at least three other TV shows with episodes that obviously drew on Worldwide's history for inspiration. When our large 1977 issue first appeared, the owners of a Pasadena bookstore where copies were being sold told us that a number of Hollywood production company executives immediately sent over couriers to purchase copies. A few even showed up personally in limos. And since then a number of Hollywood writers have subscribed to AR. We would not be too surprised if one day the whole WCG story is turned into a television mini-series. But whether it would be a tragedy, a crime show, or a comedy is hard to say.
Incidentally, Mr. Becker's humor-filled Web site is at: www.all2true.com.
This weekend the Dallas WCG hosted a seminar for their women, titled "Women Who Live for the Lord." About 600 women attended. My husband, a WCG member, has put in many hours working for the meetings, so I've heard a little bit about the seminar. Joe and Tammy were there, of course, along with some of the usual entourage from Pasadena.
I asked my husband what they were using the projectors for, was it just to project the words of the songs being sung, or was it for something else? He said - and this blows my mind - that they showed digitized slides of Mrs. Herbert [Loma] Armstrong. When I asked why, he said they talked about her as an example of a fine Christian woman.
I've read enough and seen enough documentation that I truly believe the incestuous relationship between HWA and a daughter did occur, and that it probably went on for about ten years, as has been written. I can't believe that Mrs. Armstrong did not know or suspect what was going on. And what kind of a mother would allow her husband to do that to her daughter?
Besides not protecting her daughter and getting her away from that pervert, Loma publicly supported her lying, thieving husband in his false church up to the day she died, knowing what kind of a person he really was. That is not Christian.
Furthermore, by holding up Mrs. Armstrong as a fine example, WCG is implying that HWA also was a fine example. They don't even have to say it. If she is a great example then, of course, her husband, the founder of the church they are in, must also be a great example.
This is unbelievable in one way, but then why should I be surprised? I'm not saying Loma was an evil person, but there are so many other women that could have been used as truly fine examples. So why did they pick her? Psychology, psychology, psychology. I think it was very carefully thought out. They please the old line WCGers, and, besides, what New Covenant-believing woman or man would dare to have dissenting thoughts about this? That wouldn't be Christian, would it?
Brinsmead is Back!
In the early 1980s, the writings of theologian Robert D. Brinsmead began circulating in some WCG circles and in the years that followed they made a significant impact on the lives of thousands of Worldwiders. Brinsmead, who was never a WCG member himself, had been a devoted member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. At some point in the 1970s, however, Brinsmead came to believe that strict seventh-day Sabbath observance was not a requirement for salvation and he became an eloquent critic of many SDA doctrines. In 1981, Brinsmead, a thorough researcher and a persuasive writer, came to the attention of Ambassador Report when one of our readers introduced us to his scholarly, yet very readable, publication Verdict: An International Journal of Theology.
We mentioned Verdict a number of times in years past, but at some point in the early nineties, we lost touch with Brinsmead. When we tried to find out what ever became of him, we received wildly conflicting reports. Some said he had died, others said he was living in an exotic fruit grove in Australia where he had become an old and embittered atheist or, at least, an agnostic who had lost all interest in God.
A few months ago, however, we discovered that Brinsmead's writings of old were still being made available to the public. We also discovered that although it was true that Brinsmead was managing an exotic fruit plantation in Australia besides being active in politics, he was not embittered, was still of an optimistic and lively temperament, and still took a great interest in theological matters.
Now, however, the Brinsmead saga grows more complicated. A few weeks ago the news got out that Brinsmead has returned to writing about religion and that some of his new ideas would soon be on the Internet and in print. Among many former SDAs and former Worldwiders for whom the charismatic Brinsmead is a genuine folk hero, there was much excitement. But when some advance copies of Brinsmead's latest writings actually started circulating, many old fans were genuinely shocked. In the many years that had elapsed since his last publications, in addition to having renounced the sabbath and all religious "legalism," Brinsmead apparently had also started to question a number of "orthodox" Christian doctrines, as well. At this juncture, many former Brinsmead followers seem so confused about their hero's new views that they are simply letting time pass before they will comment further.
Meanwhile, Brinsmead's writings can still be obtained from ongoing Verdict Publishing, P.O. Box 1311, Fallbrook, CA 92029-0904 and from a related group, Worldview Publications, P.O. Box 2770, Fallbrook, CA 92088. Those wanting to read his most famous pieces on-line can visit the Bill Ferguson collection of "Brinsmead's Key Writings" at www.quango.net/brinsmead or the Rodney O. Lain collection at http://members.macconnet.com/users/r/rodneyo/brinsmead.htm. If you have any trouble getting through, it may be because a number of Brinsmead's former churchmen consider him such a dangerous infidel that some on occasion have successfully hacked those sites.
As for Brinsmead, himself, he is still ensconced at Tropical Fruit World in Duranbah, New South Wales. He is healthy and tanned, and even as you are reading this he is probably reclining in a hammock, sipping a chilled glass of exotic fruit nectar, and perhaps again writing a letter "to a long-absent friend" as he did on February 14 when he penned this confession:
I am through and through an anti-authoritarian, anti-orthodox, and anti-establishment rebel. But am all that in the spirit of fun and laughter. I was not an angry young man then, nor am I a bitter old man now, because the one who is my inspiration is the one who lampooned the world, the religious/social establishment with outrageous stories - but he did it with a big smile on his face; he did it in the context of the eating/drinking man: "Then were our mouths filled with laughter and our tongues with singing."
He (Jesus) started the revolution of being truly human and the pulling down of all traditions, customs, laws, authorities, and structures that forced people to be inhuman.
With gusto and fun, I've made war on Adventism, Protestant orthodoxy, Christian orthodoxy, Biblicism. And it should not be forgotten that whenever my own cause became its own establishment, I made war on that, too, and poked fun at my own orthodoxy as much as that of others.
Editor: On that intriguing quote I will end this issue. My special thanks to all of you regular contributors who are helping to keep Ambassador Report alive.
Next Issue (AR70)
Back to Index