It’s no secret that Israel as a nation was required to tithe under the old covenant, just as it’s no secret that the Israelites were commanded to tithe only on farming produce and on every tenth animal of their herd or flock (Leviticus 27:30-34). For instance, if an Israelite shepherd had eighteen sheep in his flock, only the tenth animal would be holy to the Lord. In such a case the “tithe” would merely be 1/18 or 5.6%-not a straight 10%. Israel was never commanded to tithe on wool, milk, fish, or the profit resulting from manual labor such as the making of clothes or pottery or the building of homes.
It’s important for the reader to understand that Jesus himself in his profession as a carpenter was not required to tithe on the profits he made. Yet the Worldwide Church of God, through carefully calculated inference, would have its members falsely believe otherwise. Why?
Simply stated, the WCG must teach a doctrine of tithing to support its many-faceted corporate activities and its leaders’ opulent life-styles. These extravagant activities embrace lavish concerts in California and Wisconsin, executive trips on church-financed jets to Rhodesia, Acapulco, Tokyo, and Paris, and a $6 million literary panacea called Quest/77. Ten personal homes of the Armstrongs are now supported by the tithepayers, in addition to over ten automobiles.
Pay and Pray. Herbert Armstrong, the self-styled, 85-year-old “apostle” of the WCG, dogmatically insists that the only reason a person is called to his church is to support him in his personal efforts of bringing the “one and only true gospel” to world leaders:
“For one great purpose you were called….That is: to get Christ’s Gospel of the Kingdom of God proclaimed as a witness to all nations….
“For forty years in this Work the doors to these nations were closed to us… But now, at last, God is opening the doors in several… big-population nations…
“You and I were called now, in this age, for the purpose of getting the true Gospel to these nations. Except for that purpose, we would not have been called now!
“God’s Church is proclaiming to the whole world the very Gospel God sent to mankind by Jesus Christ-and no one else is, or has, for 18½ centuries. Your part in that Work is the only reason you were called to conversion NOW….
“I rejoice in great gratitude to God that you are all solidly behind me in this great present phase of God’s Work… The income is making a good start up since January 1st. Pray earnestly that it will continue.” (Member letter, 2/11/74, pp. 2, 3, 9.)
The financial support “solidly behind” Herbert comes from members who are commanded to pay a first tithe on their income, a tithe of their second tithe (second tithe is saved yearly by each member to attend WCG conventions), a third tithe every third year, plus liberal offerings for special emergencies, building construction, etc.
Over the years, the Armstrongs and their chief assistants realized that many members slacked off on their donations and tithes when faced with desires for material goods or financial hardships. (Most members who didn’t have financial hardships when they entered the church ended up mired deeply in debt after a few years of giving close to 30% of their income to the Armstrongs.) For years, the WCG leaders had no quick way to check up on how much each member or minister was giving so they could keep a prod on those who were becoming lax in this regard. But all their worries along this line ended when Ambassador College purchased a sophisticated computer.
Ambassador College Enters the Computer Age. In 1967 Ambassador College purchased its first computer, an IBM System 360 Model 30. Today, 10 years later, the South Pasadena Avenue facility houses a $3 million IBM System 370 Model 158. Although there have been significant staff reductions in the last three years, the annual data processing budget still is close to $1¼ million. A major computer system called “ACTS” consolidated all campus-wide subscriber files into one major computerized file of information. All information relative to a particular subscriber became available for computer terminal display or for analysis with other subscribers in computer printouts. Every contribution made by a supporter can be viewed on a computer terminal. The date, amount, and type of contribution (i.e., holy day offering, building fund, festival fund, poor fund) are all available on a computer terminal for perusal. Also, some very personal information giving even reasons for disfellowship, marital separation, and sexual problems are present on some subscriber’s files.
The creators of this computerized system envisioned it to be a tool to provide service to others; however, the Worldwide Church of God hierarchy, putting their trust in things of men and not in God, has used the system to pry into the private lives of individuals and to make conclusions about people and their spiritual lives based solely on partial physical evidence.
Garner Ted Armstrong wrote S. E. Anderson, a prolific writer on the subject of Armstrongism:
“We do practice tithing. The first tithe is 10 per cent to carry out God’s Work-and no one checks up to see if a person pays. It is between the member and God” (12/31/73, p. 7).
In the April 8, 1975, ministerial bulletin of the Worldwide Church of God, Garner Ted makes the following striking statement:
“NEVER should the doctrine of tithing or the spirit of giving be used as a CLUB over people’s heads, anymore than the doctrine of baptism, the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit, or the laying on of hands is used as a club…. It is not the policy, as is stated in the paper, to excommunicate or disfellowship because a minister may find (and there is no way by which he COULD really find information other than the divulging of it voluntarily by the individual member) that a member has been unfaithful in tithing. This should never be grounds for disfellowship” (pp. 179-180).
Beautiful words coming from Garner Ted, but what does Ted mean when he writes that there is no way to find out the information about whether or not a member is tithing? He and almost every minister who read that statement knew it was a lie! Wasn’t Ted aware of his Sept. 11, 1973, statement naming “delinquent co-workers” as part of the reason the WCG’s income was not increasing at the rate he had hoped for? How did he know if a co-worker was “delinquent” or not unless someone had checked the co-worker’s donation record?
Computer Tithe Checks. In an interview with Keith M. Hunter, director of the Ambassador College Data Processing Center from 1965 through 1973, he related how the concept of computer tithe checks all began:
“In early 1968 Roderick C. Meredith, then head of the U.S. church ministry for the Radio Church of God, now the Worldwide Church of God, was taking a tour of the new computer facilities at 55 North Vernon. I briefed him on the system that we were developing and showed him some printouts of donation information. His eyes seemed to widen as he realized the potentialities of such a system. He asked me to look up the donation records of two men who were about to be ordained as deacons. It turned out that one was tithing and one was not (according to Meredith). Mr. Meredith immediately set up a policy to be administered through Dan Porter, then head of the Church Administration Department, that all ordinations and elevations in rank would be done subsequent to a tithe check.”
Some may question the integrity of Keith Hunter’s statement and cry “sour grapes” or “that’s just his opinion.” However, the diamond-hard data of official documentation from the Church Administration Department bearing the signature of Roderick C. Meredith makes clear the painful truth that the WCG endorsed spying on its members’ donation records. (As Rod Meredith himself would say about the following statement, “Get the point, fellas!”)
“Should any minister have good reason to suspect that a member is not tithing because of financial reverses, continual indebtedness, failure to find and hold a good job, etc., he may request that a strictly confidential check be made by the 360 Computer on the member’s tithing record. This should be done through the Church Administration Department here at Headquarters. Frankly, fellow ministers, we have good reason to suspect that many of our “members” are NOT paying a full tithe! Without becoming snoopy or “picky,” keep your eyes open to this probability and all of you try to bring a strong sermon on God’s command to tithe if you have not done so recently. Collectively, this may result in multiple thousands of additional dollars for God’s Work!” (Ministerial letter, 3/1/68, p. 5.)
The Worldwide Church of God, through a supposedly “God ordained” ministry, openly sanctioned suspicion of the entire flock under its charge. That is a fact that can no longer be charged off to “sour grapes.” Notice further evidence of “tithe spying” in another document from the same superintendent, signed, “Your brother in Christ”:
“Also, we are beginning to look into the tithing situation. Up until we had our computer, it was very slow and difficult to check the tithing record of brethren. We still do not intend to do this all the time and try to ‘catch’ people at all as some denominations apparently do. But, in order to help them fulfill their responsibilities, we are going to make spot checks in certain Church areas from time to time.” (Ministerial letter, 1/28/69, p 6.)
Some have condoned the practice of computer “tithe spying” with the argument that major corporations do checks on potential employees before hiring them. They argue further that even major leaders in government are asked to divulge their financial holdings before they are approved for certain positions. However, there is a wide gulf of difference between the tithe spying covertly authorized by Rod Meredith and carried out secretly on unsuspecting members and the actions accepted by the government or business organizations-who are accountable to the public. First of all, these employee “checks” are known by the prospective employee. Secondly, an employee’s religious donations are never the basis of any decision regarding employment or promotion. And third, the amount or consistency of an individual’s donations is not the basis for dismissal from employment, as is practiced by the Worldwide Church of God, Inc.
Fully knowing better, Meredith adjusted to a brief pang of conscience in authorizing the covert procedure by saying that “other denominations apparently do the same things.” No proof, of course. But since Meredith feels, like other top WCG administrators, that all other churches are of Satan, then certainly some of them must stoop to such heinous tactics. However, the reader should be assured that the “true church of God” does not intend to spy on its members “all the time… to try to ‘catch’ people,” according to Rod Meredith’s words. No, in true Christian benevolence, the Worldwide Church of God spies on its members and employees to help them “fulfill their responsibilities,” as Meredith explains.
Notice a further quote from the same document:
“In making a few of these [tithe checks] already we have been SHOCKED to find that even some of our LEADING MEN-those recommended for the Visiting Program Training Class [at that time, the all-important step for the local church man to reach the ministry] –were not tithing at all! Most of them, of course, were tithing, but many, even of this group, were giving very sparingly in offerings and to the Building Fund.” (p. 6.)
History shows that those men whose donation records sank too low were removed from the Visiting Program Training Class and never managed to qualify for the ministry. Some of these men even found themselves cut from the Ambassador College payroll at the first convenient “layoff.”
Keith M. Hunter, who is currently director of Data Processing for the University of Southern California, related some very interesting information concerning other administrators who personally requested tithe checks from him:
“Generally the requests I received were delicate, sensitive, and highly political. I received requests from Herbert Armstrong, Ronald Dart, Frank Brown, David Jon Hill, Albert Portune, A1 Carrozzo, Leslie McCullough, and Dan Porter. The requests generally involved ministers and headquarters personnel. Leslie McCullough followed the headquarters example, annually requesting tithe information concerning Ambassador College, Big Sandy employees. Some of the requests I received were:
“(1) Frank Brown requested information on Osamu Gotoh to determine his level of contributions during a particular two-year period (1971-72). It turned out that he had only one $10 contribution on his record. Other tithe checks on the same individual always indicated negligible giving.
“(2) After the requests for large donations and even borrowing for the ‘work’ were made, Herbert Armstrong requested a tithe check on all the airplane pilots to determine if they had responded.
“(3) All U.S. ministers were selected from the computer files and their contribution records were checked in-depth during the years 1972-73. One minister in the Midwest that I knew personally was given a great deal of problems by the administration over his donation situation.
“(4) On several occasions when Pasadena employees were to be promoted, a tithe check was made to determine loyalty, devotion, etc.
“(5) A1 Portune, former vice-president of finance for Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church, annually requested listings of noncontributing headquarters employees.
“(6) The Visiting Program frequently requested listings of whole church areas around the Pasadena headquarters area. The Reno, Nevada, church had some scathing sermons accusing members of not tithing, disloyalty, etc., after a cursory analysis was made of the church donation record. Those requesting the listings, which were technical in nature, did not know how to read them and probably made many unsubstantiated conclusions.
“In addition, having scanned many of these reports before giving them out, I’ve noticed that Herbert Armstrong himself did not tithe in the normal way taught by the church. In one particular year his donation record contained only four donations. He did not tithe on each paycheck as the rest of the church was commanded to do.”
What Can Be Done. In this article, we have presented evidence from Ambassador College data processing supervisors who were actually ordered to carry out tithe checks via the computer. We have also presented irrefutable documentation that the Worldwide Church of God ministry was aware of and participated in these clandestine thrusts into the personal, private lives of members of the same brotherhood.
It’s time for knowledgeable members, employees, and former members to stand up and speak out with one voice against this heinous practice. It’s also time for members, if approached by a nosy Ambassador College official or WCG minister and asked about their donation record-as several have been-to forcefully reply: “My donation record is none of your… business” and end the conversation right there. After all, you, the member, pay his salary!