For thousands of years, church and/or religion has used the same routine of adopting the name of God into their particular organization in order to gain credible acceptance that they have the almighty “power” of God behind them.
Who can forget the senior banquet hosted by Herbert Armstrong for the Ambassador College Seniors? Before graduation, he wanted to expose the AC students to culture, replete with gold and silver place settings and fine crystal, accompanied later in the evening by Herbert Armstrong himself playing the piano — nocturne in e flat major op. 9 no. 2 by Frederic Chopin, was it? Everyone who saw the video at the Feast was so impressed. We were all impressed, that is, until we learned that Ross Jutsum ‘sweetened’ the playing by, well, playing the piece. It was just another one of those situations where Herbert Armstrong cheated. You know, like claiming to obey the Ten Commandments while committing incest with his daughter, being a chancellor of a college when he hadn’t even finished high school, paying 9.75 of his income as a tithe and having a donut and cup of coffee on the Day of Atonement while 95 year old widow ladies fasted and went without. It just seemed he had to cheat and ‘fudge’ everything and even got coconspirators to participate with him.
Herbert Armstrong was high on music — he said repeatedly that it had to be ‘melodic’, which, if you think about it, pretty much defines what music is. He liked to play ragtime on the piano in his youth and was fond of most classical music (except for that demon inspired stuff, like “Let me come in, let me come in!”). Yes, Ambassador College was a real classic and even had rather famous people come play in the Auditorium. He brought refinement to the community. Well, it was Pasadena, so what can we say? Have you seen downtown?
We’re not certain that the Worldwide Church of God membership really caught on, particularly during the days of Garner Ted Armstrong appearing on Hee-Haw and what with the popularity of Bluegrass in the Southern States. We’re not sure that the members really appreciated the finer aspects of culture in their life, but that may be because they had to give so much of their livelihood in tithes, offerings, building fund and Herbert Armstrong induced emergencies when he overspent in his manic mode… or perhaps drunken alcoholic sot, three sheets to the wind mode.
It’s time, of course to reach back in time and bring Armstrongists and former Armstrongists back up to speed by presenting a video about the history of classical music (unfortunately missing one of the most famous composers, P.D.Q. Bach):
You are now cultured.
It is impossible to be competent in a dysfunctional organization.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to insure the accuracy of the material here; it is possible that some details may be inaccurate, but the situations and data presented here are true in intent and as the big picture; any discrepancies brought to our attention will be corrected.
The Radio Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador College were extremely dysfunctional with preposterous situations, standards and beliefs. Herbert Armstrong was responsible for the grossly insane environment, made to look benign and reasonable through profound manipulation, lies, deceptions and cover ups. It did not matter how advanced or competent someone entering this environment may have been when they started, but by the time they were finished, they were ruined and compromised. Dennis Luker is one example of someone who was quite competent who found himself surrounded by those who compromised themselves, their colleagues, their followers and their integrity.
Herbert Armstrong did not even finish high school. He assumed that he was quite capable of being superior through self-education by ‘flying by the seat of his pants’. He didn’t want or need to have anyone to tell him what to do, and assumed, contrarywise, that he had wisdom, knowledge and understanding to carry him into success for whatever endeavor he chose for himself. No one could tell him anything. He thought that he was totally self-sufficient. He set out to build his vocabulary and was quite confident that he had the largest, complete and most accurate vocabulary, above and beyond anyone else. He decided that he didn’t have any peers and that he knew better than anyone else. His idea was that he would quit high school to become a high school teacher; that he could be buddies with the guys and he could subdue them with wrestling holds. Fortunately, his father stood in his way and he never went off to teach high school, even if he weren’t particularly qualified. His ambition and hubris caused him to believe that he was better than anyone else and that he was so much smarter that he could figure things out to be able to teach, even if he didn’t know the material.
Herbert Armstrong was quite devoid of the inherited talent known as structural visualization: He could have never been a mechanic, engineer, surgeon or scientist. He was a technological idiot. That set himself apart from his father who not only had structural visualization but apparently invented a furnace which he could have (and may have) patented. This meant that Herbert Armstrong simply could not have understood his father: He didn’t have the same talent that his father had and was devoid of being able to share many perspectives that his father had. It is likely that this factor was a part of his narcissism and put him in competition with this father: He would have been in the position of seeking approval from his dad for the rest of his life. His mother lacked structural visualization and so he would have been far more comfortable with her than he was with his father.
Herbert Armstrong wasn’t particularly adept at planning. He simply dealt with the world on his own terms as it happened to him. He never inherited the talent of foresight from his father. When he was bankrupted — having never planned his life for such contingencies because he had no prudence about the future — he drove out to Oregon where he stayed at his dad’s place — and marveled how his father could have a stable life, a home not just adequate for his immediate needs, but had accommodations that could put Herbert and his family up while Herbert tried to get back on his feet. This singular lack of foresight — the prudence of planning for the future — translated itself into faith — that you just lived life as it came, buying and acquiring what you wanted when you wanted it with no thought or concept of consequences. Thus, he would go to Harrod’s and spend $68,000 in one day on gold, silver and crystal place settings for his dining room: This was, up to that time, the most anyone had ever spent at once at Harrod’s. Of course, when the realization hit him when he got home, he had to send out emergency coworker letters insisting that everyone had to sacrifice for the sake of the ‘Work’. Not only didn’t Herbert Armstrong have foresight, he also had very poor behavior controls. It should also be noted that people who have inherited high foresight value higher education and generally pursue it as opportunity presents itself. Herbert Armstrong had a singular disdain for higher education.
Herbert Armstrong was also quite inconsistent. When a potential employer approached him with a job offer, he had to turn it down because he had ‘up’ days and ‘down’ days. On the periods of the cycle with his ‘down’ days, he could accomplish very little, if anything. He couldn’t afford to take a regular job because of this. It isn’t clear whether or not this was a result of his manic depressive mental disorder or his alcoholism — probably both. He couldn’t be trusted to be consistent. He claimed to have overcome this problem over time, but his protestations did not have much upon which to base them, particularly during his bouts being naked drunk in his hotel room.
Speaking of alcoholism, it wasn’t just that Herbert Armstrong was an alcoholic, but his whole family was a group of alcoholics, and where you have a family corporation founded and led by alcoholics, you can be sure that birds of a feather will flock together: The administration of the church and Ambassador College had quite the infiltration of boozers. Spirits of various brands were bandied about and filtered down, flowing to the people below in the hierarchy. Dr. James Milam in his book, Under the Influence, mentions that alcoholism is passed through the mitochondria. For anyone familiar with biology, this means that the liver disease which causes alcoholism is passed through the mother. We know that Garner Ted Armstrong was quite the boozing alcoholic, and, so, therefore, his mother was an alcoholic passing the genetics not just to him, but to his siblings. Most of us are familiar with the friendship Garner Ted Armstrong had with David Jon Hill — who had quite a problem with alcoholism. There were many who said they hoped that ‘he would get his head out of the bottle’. While there is practically nothing in sociological writings or studies about ‘the alcoholic corporation’, the facts reflect that the dysfunction of an alcoholic corporation, such as the Worldwide Church of God / Ambassador College, is not unlike that of the families of alcoholics, with the lies, broken promises, abuse and neglect. Now it should not be surprising that Herbert Armstrong would want to break away from the Church of God Seventh Day which had a strong bias against drinking: Herbert Armstrong would not at all want his freedom to booze it up bridled in any way. Although there were many reasons that Herbert Armstrong broke off from the CoG7, his addiction of alcohol may well have contributed to his assessments in pondering his rebellion.
Various church areas suffered from the alcoholism perpetuated by Herbert Armstrong. In the 1960s, an alcoholic ex Marine became a member and even though he was new to the environment, he fit right in: The booze flowed and he had quite the impact on the area — at one point he was the Spokesman Club President — always having big ideas and quite socially connected. A decade or so later, an alcoholic minister, Don Weininger became the church pastor. He, as well as most of the congregation, complained about hypoglycemia, which, in 90% of the cases is the result of the third stage of alcoholism — you know the one: It’s the stage just before death. His alcoholism was a part of his wife seeking a divorce after she had become a successful real estate agent. He met her in the hallway outside her divorce attorney’s office. He brought a gun. He tried to talk her out of the divorce. He then shot her and committed suicide. And the ex Marine? He had gotten a divorce and left his wife stranded with his sons. Spokane was devastated and it took a long time to recover.
Of course, Spokane wasn’t the only church where alcoholism was evident. During the 1970s, Dale Hampton came through Seattle and presented his message about his own alcoholism in the ministry with the appeal for people in the church to deal with their own problem. His estimate was that 18% of the members of the Seattle church were alcoholics. Experience suggests that this estimate was low, at least by one third. As Armstrongism has rolled out into myriad spit offs, many of the sects have a reputation for alcoholics at the top and not too fine a point on it, one leader is routinely called the six-pack prophet because of his online DUI — well, not driving exactly, but you get the picture.
Herbert Armstrong was the source of all this and given the hero worship idolatry, few Armstrongists want to even acknowledge the problem. Nevertheless, it’s there, and the irony is that so many people may have been alcoholics before entering the Radio / Worldwide Church of God but never had a problem because they didn’t drink alcohol. It was only at the urging of the WCG itself that they took up boozing and have been subsumed by the addiction. For those in Armstrongism: Stop drinking before you kill yourself, someone else or leave people you’ve affected permanently disabled.
Herbert Armstrong was quite delusional about his own place in the world and felt he was personally exempt from following standard ‘best’ practices. He liked to pretend that getting a brisk rubdown substituted for exercise. It doesn’t, of course, which is why he was morbidly obese — and became the roly-poly apostle, nearly as wide as he was tall. Lacking any sort of athletic skill was no limiting factor to him, since he assumed, for no particularly good reason, that he was popular in spite of the fact that he was stubborn, opinionated, obtuse, difficult, uncooperative and a real fatty. It is surprising that he made it to 93 with only one heart attack.
Dennis Luker was the captain of his high school football team. This meant that he could work with others, he was a real leader, he exercised and kept himself fit. He dated the cheerleader. Apparently, he had some sort of injury which prevented him from playing football on scholarship to the University, where he earned his degree — because he had high foresight and valued education — and began his career as an engineer for an aerospace company, where he learned about the corporate environment and gained organizational skills, both as a worker and learned from his leadership.
Somewhere in the early 1960s, he left his job to go to Ambassador College where he met his wife to be — the love of his life — and began his transition to be a minister in the church cult corporate. He rose in the ranks to eventually become an evangelist. He was posted for some time as the regional director of Australia. During his decades in the Radio / Worldwide Church of God, he used his socialization skills to form many relationships with various people in the church. His brother-in-law was the Data Processing Manager at Ambassador College in Pasadena for a time, which means that Dennis Luker had a thorough knowledge of the people, the hierarchy, and the administration of the entire operation, both within the headquarters environment and out in the hinterland. He was well aware of the problems as well.
When he came to Seattle, he worked with a minister there to set a program to help alcoholics in the church. One of the most helpful things he ever did is to announce to the Seattle congregation, If you say that you can do without it, prove it. It was ‘The Luker Challenge’.
It should be clear that with his structural visualization, foresight, high vocabulary, connections, executive ability, he should have been a shining beacon to the rest of the church. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by those who had power without much ability or ethics and morals. In fact, at one point, we were shocked by an announcement in the Worldwide News that he was slated to take over the Quincy, Washington church. We all looked at each other and went, huh? Quincy, Washington was about as low as anyone could get (Gerald Flurry ended up there at one point). We wondered who he had offended among those in the higher echelons of the cult. Fortunately, it never happened.
After Herbert Armstrong died, Dennis Luker began to foresee what was ahead: The writing on the wall suggested to him that his career was about to tank under Tkach. Since he had high foresight, he planned to separate from the Worldwide Church of God. He was really behind the meetings that Victor Kubik held in his apartment and when push came to shove, he went to Tkach along with Jim Franks and Robert Dick to discuss an amicable split and sharing of the spoils. We know what happened: Tkach said no, and United was formed.
It should be clear from all this how absolutely inappropriate Herbert Armstrong was, and he was a fraud compared to Dennis Luker. Dennis Luker was the real deal.
In the end, the biggest fault Dennis Luker had was that he didn’t quit and just kept going in the Worldwide Church of God cult. It probably would have been so much better for him and his family if he had done the sane thing and left the chaos and insanity of the entire venue. Dennis Luker was buried in the fraud corporation disguised as a church. In all of this, he suffered fools greatly, proving once again…
It is impossible to be competent in a dysfunctional organization.
by John B
How many times have you been to a church function — formal dinner, potluck, or just a picnic — and heard a minister intone a prayer that included the following words: “Thank you, Father, for this food, and help us appreciate the fact that many in the world don’t get enough to eat”?
How did you feel when you heard that? How well did you enjoy your meal? How big a shadow was cast over your pleasure in the event? Did you feel ashamed of having enough to eat?
When you were a child, did your parents ever admonish you for doing something and tell you “you should be ashamed of yourself!”, or “don’t you have any shame!“? Did either of your parents ever tell you “I’m ashamed of you!”?
If it didn’t happen to you, have you ever seen it happen to someone else?
The Unholy “Trinity”
A great deal has been said, on this site and elsewhere, about the role of guilt and fear in religion. Shame also fits into that category. Guilt triggers fear, but shame triggers guilt. If there truly is a “trinity”, it is those three: shame, guilt, and fear. They are the cornerstone of a “successful” religious experience — without them, many people would never be religious at all.
Not all guilt comes from shame; Herbert Armstrong and his ministers were very good at creating guilt out of the failure to obey biblical laws such as the sabbath, tithing, clean and unclean meats. Once they were able to convince you those things were actually required, you felt guilty if you disobeyed them.
But more often than not, shame came from the local ministry. Those who merely read The Plain Truth or listened to the broadcast were never subjected to the level of degradation reserved for church members. At the local level, ministers delved into your personal life. They talked about sex (a LOT!), and by the time they were done you were ashamed of even having sexual organs, never mind what you did with them. You were shamed for casting a lustful eye at a skimpily clad model, for occasionally relieving yourself when the wife wasn’t in the mood (or if you were single), and (for couples) of not achieving orgasm at the same instant (a virtual impossibility with most people).
You were paying three tithes and giving “generous offerings” of your remaining dwindling funds, yet you were made to feel ashamed for not giving more. You were made to feel ashamed for having enough to eat when people in third-world countries were starving (even if you were living on macaroni and cheese). You were shamed for eating white bread and white sugar. You were shamed for not wanting to sacrifice your only day off (Sunday) to raise funds for the local congregation, or paint some elderly person’s house.
And, assuming you were not guilty of any of the above transgressions, you were made ashamed of not spending more time with your family.
In God’s True Church, you simply could never win. More than that, you couldn’t break even.
It Starts With Children
If it was bad for adults, imagine what it was like for the kids. Little children, completely innocent, were portrayed as being filled with “angry, hateful human nature” (thank you, Garner Ted!). They were evil from birth, and the evil had to be beaten out of them with the “rod of correction” — usually a flat board with holes drilled into it that, if used in Abu Graib, would be grounds for court-martial. The ministry spoke of “paddling”, which, translated, meant “to within an inch of your life”. (How many times have you seen parents, during services, take their small children out and hammer them until the child could no longer cry? Perhaps you’ve done it yourself.)
Children are innocent by nature. They are born with natural instincts that were placed there by whatever force of nature — be it god or evolution, created them — just like small animals of all species. Those instincts are placed there to ensure their survival, or at least give them a fighting chance. In the human species (or whatever you choose to call it), we have rules that need to be obeyed for the greater good of all, and those must be taught to a growing child. Violence toward others needs to be corrected, but simply beating a child because of inherent “human nature” should, on the face of it, be obviously wrong. Yet that is what the Worldwide Church of God taught when I was growing up.
I fear many of the splinter groups are teaching the same thing today.
The Effects of Shame
I’m not a psychologist. I’m not trained in any of the social sciences. But I do have eyes, and I do have experience. I spent several years in Alcoholics Anonymous, fighting my own addiction. I learned more of value there in three years than I learned in the WCG in 40 years. One of the things I learned, which I could relate to my own behavior, is that shame is the source of many of society’s ills. Shame has a curious effect on people.
By nature, we want to feel good about ourselves. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we instinctively (and usually unconsciously) do things to try to make ourselves feel better. Some people drink, some people smoke, some people overeat; some are obsessed with sex. Some people take drugs, others steal, and many resort to violence. In general, much of this behavior is subconsciously aimed at making us feel better. A person who feels really bad about himself may bully others to make himself feel better (this may account for the attitude of much of the ministry). In a church setting, some will be arrogant and self-righteous — because it makes them feel better.
The root cause of much of this behavior is simply shame, and it usually stems from childhood. Parents who scream at their children, in an ugly voice, “Shame on you!” have no idea how violently those words scour a tender psyche. The parent is looking for a certain behavior, and once the child conforms, he assumes he has control of the situation. But the damage! That child is now wounded, and that wound will never heal (unless the parent realizes his error and makes amends, or perhaps decades later in a counseling session); that wound will fester and abscess, and eventually result in some kind of destructive action.
It may be self-destructive, or it may turn outward. Sometimes it results in robbery, assault, rape, or even murder.
There are many sources of shame, but sex seems to lead the charge. It begins in the bible — a woman who has her period is “unclean”. A man who “touches” a menstruating woman has committed an abomination. A woman who commits adultery gets stoned (any idea what a “cruel and unusual punishment” that is?), but a man who rapes a virgin gets a pass if he’s willing to marry her afterward, or pay a “bride price” (but if the virgin didn’t scream loud enough, she gets stoned!). To put it in street terms: in the bible, women take it in the shorts!
It was even worse for homosexuals.
It isn’t only women. Using the bible (presumably) as their authority, modern-day ministers add their own twist to the tale. Masturbation is worse than murder. Reading Playboy, telling off-color jokes, watching MTV — even dancing — is an “abomination” toward god. This is especially prevalent in fundamentalist churches, and few are more fundamental than the Armstrong cults.
George Carlin, in one of his HBO specials, made a statement to the effect that (paraphrased) “if we ever abolish religion, in a generation or two 90% of all sex crimes will disappear”; George wasn’t kidding, and I think he’s right. How many rapists, when caught, have confided to court-appointed psychiatrists that they suffered traumatic childhoods? How many had religious backgrounds? How many were themselves abused, often by “someone at church”? In many cases, the worse they were abused, the more violent were their crimes.
Jim Bakker, of PTL fame, told Barbara Walters that he was sexually abused as a child by “a member of our church”. Jimmy Swaggert, who roundly condemned Bakker for simply having sex with a woman other than his wife, was later caught (twice) consorting with prostitutes. Garner Ted Armstrong, already infamous as a philanderer, faced sexual assault charges for trying to force himself on a masseuse. And leaders of several COG splinters have been cited or arrested on a number of morals charges, from the homosexual rape of a minor to passing out drunk in a car at 2 am on a college campus while indecently exposed.
And, of course, closest to home, Herbert Armstrong himself raped his own daughter for ten long years!
I have no idea what kind of shame most of these men felt that caused them to perform as they did. But I’d bet your next paycheck it had religious roots. These men, as outrageous as their acts may seem, were simply trying to feel better about themselves. To accomplish it, they did unacceptable things, but that was almost certainly the reason they did it.
What’s the Solution?
So what’s the point of all this? What’s done is done — if we live with shame, what can we do about it?
Again, I’m not an expert. But in my view, we need to understand a few things. Many of us need to travel, in our minds, back to our earliest memories, and recognize a few basic facts. Not only recognize them, but accept them, believe them. For example:
· When you were born, you were an innocent creature. You were not evil. You were not bad. You were innocent. You had nothing to be ashamed of.
· As you grew older, you did things that your parents, your teachers, or your church found unacceptable (we all did). You were corrected, sometimes severely, for doing things you had no idea were wrong (or that weren’t wrong at all). Such correction may have been in the form of making you feel ashamed. But you were not a bad person! You simply didn’t know any better.
· As you neared puberty, you had sexual feelings for the first time. You found the opposite sex interesting (or the same sex, if you were so inclined), and you may have “experimented” with certain activities. If you were caught, you were most likely shamed beyond belief. You came out of that experience with a deep-seated guilt, a shame so horrible you couldn’t deal with it. You felt dirty. You did nothing wrong! You were simply dealing with intense physiological pressures that are common to young people. There is no shame in that.
· As a teenager or young adult, you may have had sex before marriage. If you had a religious background, you felt guilt and shame over that, but you may have continued to have sex, and each time you did, your guilt and shame compounded. The bible notwithstanding, as long as both parties were consenting (and of legal age), there was no shame in it. Nature ensures the survival of a species by endowing the young with sexual desire. That’s why it is so powerful, to make sure the species reproduces! The church has decreed that marriage should come first, but nature does not!
Here are a few facts that should be self-evident…to anyone but a WCG veteran:
· People need to feel good about themselves.
· It is not a “sin” to be proud of yourself
· People with proper self-esteem are more likely to treat others with respect.
· Sexual desire is NORMAL.
· You have a right to defend yourself, whether against physical violence or false accusation. This includes “talking back” to a “minister”.
· Respect goes both ways, top-to-bottom as well as bottom-to-top. This means your teachers, your parents, your “minister”.
· Competition is a good thing. It causes people to improve themselves.
· Vanity is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it leads you to harm others.
· If something causes you to feel shame, analyze the reason and eliminate it. This may mean quitting your church or recognizing that your parents were abusive.
The bottom line is that children are like other small creatures; they have been born with certain survival instincts, and must learn how to use them, like kittens learning to hunt. They do this by trying things out to see how they work (and making mistakes). Guidance is needed, but it should be gentle, not degrading. Guidance by religious people is usually negative, and has damaging, lifelong effects.
If you see a child who is a bully, I’ll wager he already feels bad about himself. And the more he bullies others, the worse he feels.
Who Should Be Ashamed?
Small children do not possess, nor do they deserve, feelings of shame. Shame will only ruin their lives, and in many cases, cause them to harm others. We are all humans, and humans, like other animals, have natural instincts. To suppress or deny them is self-defeating. As long as we don’t harm others, our natural instincts are generally right for us. No human being should feel shame for being human, or for the natural urges that drive us. We are what we were designed to be, and once we recognize that, we will all be a lot happier.
But shame does have its place. Those (especially religious leaders) who instill shame in the innocent are guilty, in my opinion, of a form of genocide — the murder of our innocence. For that they should be ashamed!
Some Armstrongists believe that they can create a viable religion if only they take the very best of what Herbert Armstrong had to offer and dispense with all the rest. Apparently, they have not read the Gospels where Jesus is quoted as saying that a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit or the Epistle of James where it says, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”
Continue reading “Poisoned Well”