By Douglas Becker
Herbert Armstrong vs Dennis Luker demonstrated that men without ability, talent, experience and qualifications can build a successfully running cult while those with the qualifications don’t stand a chance within a dysfunctional organization. DBP poses an interesting question in the comments:
Do dysfunctional organizations, the ones that grow big enough to be noticed, spring forth from a cult-like minded sociopathic leader? You know, the ones who have no control over themselves so they try to control every body else.
It is an interesting question and one which could be addressed in various ways. Let us examine anecdotal evidence to illustrate.
Decades ago, there was a rather well-liked pastor of a particularly small church. He lived modestly and promised his congregation that no matter how successful or how large the church grew, he would always live in adequate but modest accommodations. At the time, his approach was humble and his intentions were sincere.
Fast forward several decades. That little church grew into a megachurch. Each weekend, thousands of people park their vehicles in the parking lot of the church on prime city property to be bused up to the tabernacle where there are fairly short ‘plastic services’ served up with choir singing and music, prayer and a short palliative service filled with the all-too-familiar bromides designed to evoke positive emotions of good feelings. It isn’t clear how many millions of dollars a year are collected in this cash cow, but it is substantial.
And the housing for the original pastor — who may or may not even be seen for any of the services?
Note the picture above of the Narrows Bridge over Puget Sound. He has a house near the water with a spectacular view. There isn’t any real guide of how much the pastor’s property is worth, but it is in the millions. As if this weren’t enough, he has built another similar property nearby for his daughter.
There isn’t anything illegal about this as far as anyone knows, but one dare not ask any questions, for, in the due process of time, he has become very well politically connected in the community and those who might cast aspersions upon him risk considerable personal damage as public (and official) opinion could cause ruin for anyone daring to pose anything concerning this pastor in a negative light.
Is the megachurch a cult? The pastor certainly was not a sociopath. What seems to have happened is that the good intentions did not live on with integrity. To understand this fully takes a nuanced approach. There is a very old saying, which is completely wrong, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If that were true, then God has to be the most corrupt being in the Universe. No, rather, power permits a person to become who and what they truly are. Early on, with integrity, a person may be able to disguise who and what they are and good intentions may be fulfilled, but as time passes, age leaves people frayed at the edges and often they will find it harder and harder to resist the temptations of taking advantage of, well, the advantages they have. This is especially true if there is no accountability, for, without it, a person can do and be anything they want to be with no consequences. In a situation like that, the true colors will come out and a person will truly be what they are. Early discipline and commitment are the only things standing in the way to prevent deterioration of integrity. Thus, it is not always true that a dysfunctional organization grows from a sociopathic leader, influencing and infecting the ranks below. Often, it is just the chaos which results from the loss of energy required to maintain integrity.
Some may think that the situation developed from narcissism, but that does not seem to be the case. Instead, there is a more subtle form of bias at the root of what happened. It is apparent that the pastor thought he was superior to others. Perhaps not everyone, but enough to believe that he should be able to be able to have more as an entitlement. This, combined with a lack of accountability, opened the way for the compromise of integrity.
To the north in three major metropolitan areas is yet another megachurch which hustles attendees to 90 minute services in cattle drive fashion. The founder has an interesting story. As a teenager, he was heavily involved with drugs. At the age of 19, he entered a drug rehabilitation center where he became ‘born again’ and supposedly learned how to renew his mind through the Bible, which he considered the Word of God. He went on to earn his bachelor of theology, married and eventually founded his ‘church’ which grew and grew and grew. The magachurch has a variety of ‘ministry’ with something for everyone — seniors, kids, teens, young marrieds, parents, young adults, a prison ministry, women’s ministry and, of course, recovery centers because there’s nothing like leveraging something you know.
Is the megachurch a cult? Is the ‘pastor’, who can be seen simulcast on Sunday on two screens in two locations, a sociopath?
That question is open to interpretation. On the surface, to all appearances, the man seems squeaky clean and appears to be just what he seems. However, the waitress at a Mexican restaurant saw him differently. He brought a party with him for dinner, was quite demanding and insisted on the best service. She described his offspring as ‘Nazi children’. He was rude to her. In the end, after being particularly nasty to her, he left without giving her any kind of tip. It’s amazing what some people are like when they deal with those they think are their helpless inferiors. Again, this is a situation where the man certainly made it plain that he felt he was superior, with more than an added layer of hubris.
As we turn our attention within this topic to Herbert Armstrong and the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia he spawned, we have a background of behavior derived from a way of thinking: The person at the top, founding a religion with at least a modicum of bad behavior toward those thought to be inferior. The resulting dystopian misery — at least for some — is a result of the pattern of thinking which trivializes others. It doesn’t have to be full blown narcissism, it doesn’t necessarily represent full on antisocial behavior — in fact, there may not be any overt attempt at oppression or abuse, it may simply be a matter of collateral damage to people who just don’t matter that much to the person with superiority trivializing others. Certainly, being a sociopath or psychopath enriches the cultic environment, which is then propagated by those in the upper layers of the hierarchy to those below.
Certainly, Herbert Armstrong, given his incest during his first ten years of his ‘ministry’ was severely antisocial, and, as pointed out by David Robinson, if he had been caught in the State of Texas, he would have been executed. It was not as trivial as painted by apologists. Scripturally, his being a false prophet with the death penalty attached by Old Testament standards wasn’t trivial either, but modern apologists find excuses to vindicate his bad behavior, inimical to being any sort of competent minister, let alone human being. If God truly is his judge, Herbert Armstrong is going to have to come up with his own excuses on Judgment Day, as are all those who knowingly afforded him the idolatry they gave him as the one who ‘brought them the truth’ which was nothing of the kind.
As Herbert Armstrong progressed through the Church of God environment, he espoused the proposition that he was better than any one else. This went beyond simple superiority and encompassed full blown narcissism. He could not tolerate being subject to anyone else because he ‘knew’ he was superior and that no one had more knowledge or understanding than he. He found ways to rebel until he could stand on his own with a following so that he could have the freedom not to be subject to anyone. He wanted freedom from accountability. When he achieved that, a cult was the natural result. All sorts of extreme abnormalities ensued as he applied his eccentricity and egocentricity to religious doctrine. He amplified the effect of his antisocial stance by using indoctrination into insanity using Ambassador College. From there, the adaptation to the insanity became institutionalized, reinforced by inter social interactions providing a gestalt of the weird and creepy, including, but not restricted to, the science fiction of alternative earth history depicted by British Israelism, which, in turn, turned into an obsession among the cult members for seeking the ‘truth’ about the future, including the imminent destruction of the current societies of the world in a worldwide collapse of society, commerce and the financial institutions needed to support the world as it is today. This destruction and devastation was to usher in a fabulous world of peace and prosperity — in a scant few foreseeable years — which never has come to pass.
After Herbert Armstrong died, there was a vacuum which supplanted whatever order there was in the Worldwide Church of God held together by the force of will of Herbert Armstrong. Not only did he spend up the future with his indulgence leaving nothing but the potential for pent up entropy, but also conditions changed so that doing the same things under the same conditions to produce the same results could not be sustained because the world had changed forever such that it was harder and harder to maintain a selfish system wherein the leader could attain the same levels of lack of accountability, even though there were small pockets of remnant resources which could be protected from the ravages of entropy for a time.
Roderick Meredith was one of the first to venture forth to establish his own compound where he could expect to be superior to others without any accountability. His efforts were devastating, bankrupting the Global Church of God, as he plowed it under for his own selfish reasons. Today, he faces his impending death with his progeny supported at church headquarters as philandering boozing alcoholic adulterers. Problems multiply because more and more people associated with the Living Church of God are asking questions involving accountability, or rather, the lack of it.
David Pack is definitely one to assert his own superiority making others of much less worth in his own mind. He has come to the point that he is so filled with selfish hubris that he thinks and declares that everything is his. Members are to share everything in common, to give up their own rights, so he can take what everyone else has. He has no concept of accountability and what’s worse doesn’t seem to have any sense of what others think of him, nor does he particularly embrace any sort of reality about himself in his extreme shameless entitlement: What’s yours is his and what’s his is his. Ultimate collapse is the only destination possible in long term.
Gerald Flurry is ‘that prophet’ which means he is Jesus Christ in the flesh. He certainly sees himself as superior to others. As he regards his inferiors, he has pointedly said that ‘no one has any rights’. What he means is that only he has rights, his followers have none, he can do whatever he wants without one shred of accountability and no one has any right to question him or his ministers, not even to ask if it’s a particularly good idea to leave your disabled child at a shopping mall because someone will take care of it. Superiority also is projected in ‘the no contact rule’. Members of the Philadelphia Church of God may not have any meaningful (religious) contact with people outside the PCG, nor may they have contact with their own family if the family members don’t espouse Gerald Flurry doctrine and they can’t even have contact with other Armstrongist members of the Churches of God if they are not specifically members of the Philadelphia Church of God in good standing. Superiority has hubris added to it, with a huge serving of antisocial behavior, in the which, members encourage one another to reinforce this diabolical cult. There are also questions as to how Irish dancing contributes to the redemption of anyone in the world to bring them to the truth. How does that work exactly?
James Russell deserves special mention because the delimiting factor of whether or not you are a spirit led Christian is determined by whether or not you keep the postponements to the holydays. If you keep the postponements of the Jewish Calendar, you will be among those mentioned in Revelation 2 as those who are of ‘the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan’: You’ll be the ones who fall down and worship those of the Church of God in Truth who have become spirit beings.
Don’t worry about these things. These are sects of a cult, many of which are led by either sociopaths or psychopaths, but certainly are formed and led by those who are ‘holier than thou’ who believe that they are better than nearly anyone else and more often than not are arrogant, having compromised their humanity long ago in favor of being free from any accountability.
And that’s not reality — that’s insanity.
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