“So the child is a vegetable and can’t move anything except her eyes and is lying there when she could have had a normal life. It’s too late. You can’t go back and change that. Now, does God lay that at the door of the entire church? Is that Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s fault?” (Garner Ted Armstrong, ministerial meeting, March 7, 1974.)
The preceding tragedy occurred after a young couple with a very sick child decided, based on the Worldwide Church of God’s teaching and their minister’s advice, to abandon confidence in modern medical science and instead “trust in God.” The consequences of that decision were, as Garner Ted indicated, not only tragic but quite permanent. Unfortunately, the case is not an isolated one.
I recently asked a former high-ranking minister of the Worldwide Church of God if he knew personally of any cases of church members dying as a result of the Armstrong healing doctrine. This is what he told me:
“Yes, absolutely. Many. I can specifically recall one case that plagues me even yet and that’s —‘s little boy, five years old, who had spinal meningitis. Dr. McReynolds, the Seventh-day Adventist doctor who worked with the church, was advising them to take the child to the hospital and try a new treatment that was 90% to 100% effective. The people asked me what they should do, and I kept saying, ‘Read the booklet [Herbert Armstrong’s healing booklet], follow God, and have faith.’ So they did. They remained faithful to the doctrine of the church. I didn’t tell them to do it, but I sure encouraged them. And the little boy died. I remember it so well because it was such a tragic incident, and Dr. McReynolds was so angry. He just flailed at me and said, ‘That’s just an absolute waste of human life, and there’s no reason for it,’ and he just let me have it.
“I know of literally scores or hundreds of cases like this. There’s no way to determine the exact number of people who were affected. We’re talking abut a forty-year period. I think thousands actually died over the years as a result of this doctrine.”
Faith, Physicians, and Monkey Pus. As with so many other doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God, the healing doctrine’s official codification took the form of a booklet written by the church’s founder Herbert W. Armstrong. Titled Does God Heal Today?, the 21-page publication (copyrighted in 1952) was distributed through Ambassador College, the church’s educational arm, for almost 20 years.
Herbert Armstrong answered his booklet’s title question by saying that God never changes. He healed in the past, and he heals today. Unfortunately, his booklet went much further than simply extolling God’s love and omnipotence. The fanatical nature of his teachings can be easily seen in the booklet’s subheads: “God the Only Real Physician,” “Scripture Labels Other Modes of Healing Idolatry,” “Medicine Condemned as Idolatry,” “The Pagan Origin of Medicine.”
Strangely, according to Herbert Armstrong’s way of thinking, modern medicine should play virtually no part in healing the sick. He claimed the real purpose of physicians was “to prevent sickness, not heal after you are sick!” (Does God Heal Today?, p. 15.) Further, he taught that trusting in medical science is a sin!
“We take the broken bread unworthily if, and when, we take it at communion service and then put our trust in doctors and medicines, instead of in Christ-thus putting another god before Him!” (p. 14; the excessive usage of capitalized and italicized words in WCG literature is omitted from the quotes used in this article.)
What then was the sick Christian to do? Herbert’s answer is found on page 19:
“Here’s God’s instruction to you, today, if you are ill. If we are to live by every Word of God, we should obey this Scripture. God does not say call your family physician. Instead, notice:
“‘Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil…’ (Jas. 5:14-15).
“He does not say, call the doctors and let them give medicines and drugs, and God will cause the medicines and drugs and dope to cure you. Yet that seems to be the way many professing Christians believe, because it’s what they practice.
“Instead God says call God’s ministers. And let them pray, anointing with oil….”
But what if that alone didn’t work? The little booklet answered that one too:
“Don’t pay any attention to how you feel, or what you see, after you have called upon God for healing. Just know you are to have it-and that’s that!” (p. 20.)
Sadly, for many who followed this advice to the letter, the results were exactly “that’s that”-they died. (In fact, Herbert Armstrong’s own wife and son Dick died, preferring to forgo normal medical attention and instead trust God for healing.) Some, of course, were “healed.” But many who did survive a serious illness without medical assistance did so with much needless pain and suffering.
To the suffering Christians who were tempted to call a physician, Herbert, in another booklet titled What Is Faith?, offered this advice:
“Your healing, God has promised, shall be according to your faith. Faith is trusting God to do that which He has not yet done. After the healing is completed, you no longer need to exercise faith…. but your faith must remain firm and steadfast, and patient, regardless of what you see or feel, until God actually heals you, as He has promised to do….
“The instant you yield to the devil’s influence over your human nature and render a verdict that God will not do what He promised just because He has not done it yet-that moment you make God out a liar-you lose all faith in God; and you thereupon break your part of the agreement, which is to have faith and keep on having faith, and trusting God, and relying upon Him, until He performs what He promised…” (pp. 12-13).
Herbert Armstrong’s writings constituted official doctrine to the Worldwide Church of God. But he was not the only church writer to teach on this subject. One typical article that appeared on the subject of healing was “The Origin of Medical Science” by Donald G. Wofford, a member of the news department of Ambassador College. It was published in the October 1959 issue of The Good News, then a church magazine for baptized members. The article was also distributed during the next ten years as a reprint for those requesting it.
The author of this article found great significance in the fact that ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome had physicians who in many cases used techniques somewhat similar to modem methods (i.e., drugs and surgery). He also attempted to connect the practices of modern-day doctors with the techniques of ancient idol-worshipping physicians:
“Baalzebub, the god of medicine, was the ‘god of dung’ or the ‘god of filth.’ Ancient physicians guided by their god Baalzebub used filth to try to prevent or cure disease, just as today doctors inject people with polio vaccine made from monkey pus…. Haven’t most of you had pus and other filth put into your systems in the form of diphtheria, tetanus, smallpox, polio or other ‘shots’?
“Baalzebub was called by various names in various parts of the world. In ancient Greece he was known as Aesculapius and ‘appeared in the form of a serpent’-a type of Satan!… Even in ancient times men believed God worked through the doctors with their knives and drugs. But they did not realize that this was not the true God of the universe, but it was ‘the god of this world’ (II Cor. 4:4), Satan the Devil. He appeared as a serpent in the garden of Eden and deceived Eve into taking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yes, Satan the Devil is the founder and perpetrator of modern medical science!” (p. 6.)
The article concluded with a sobering warning:
“…(Rev. 21:7-8). The word here translated ‘sorcerers’ comes from the Greek pharmakeus which means one who prepares or administers drugs-‘a druggist’ or ‘a pharmacist’ or a ‘poisoner.’… Drugs are poisons and every ‘poisoner’ is going to end up in the lake of fire unless he repents.
“Either we trust God to heal our diseases… or trust in medical science-which won’t help us and which God terms ‘sorcery,’ ‘witchcraft’ and ‘idolatry’-and suffer agony now and an excruciating death-the second death in the lake of fire” (p. 8).
The Wofford article was not an isolated example of this type of writing, nor was it in any way considered heresy by the Armstrong organization. Its sentiments were in complete harmony with Herbert Armstrong’s healing booklet. The same fanaticism on medicine and healing was disseminated for years in other articles, sermons, letters, and especially in private counseling by WCG ministers.
For instance, notice the following quotes, all taken from articles written by WCG ministers:
“You can go to doctors for your healing if you want to-the Church of God advises you that this is not the way to be healed. It is just not within the power of another human being to forgive your sin and heal your body!” (David Jon Hill, The Good News, Aug. 1964, p. 8.)
“Jesus conferred this power on His Apostles and they continued-after His death-to heal in this same miraculous way. Throngs of people were raised up whole and sound because of the divine intervention of God. Those who asked in faith were healed!
“The ministry of God has the very same power today…. You can have faith God will heal you! But You May Die! (Clint C. Zimmerman, The Good News, Feb. 1965, p. 3.)
“To rely on any foods, supplements, medicines, drugs, knives, or even on fasting, for healing (and none of these can, ever have, or ever will heal!) is to break the commandment against idolatry!” (Garner Ted Armstrong, The Good News, June 1964, pp. 4, 22.)
Obviously, to church members the doctrine of healing had many ramifications. Members, for instance, often saw no need in carrying health insurance. Parents often refused to have their children vaccinated for school. (Just recently during a severe measles outbreak among children in the Los Angeles area, many WCG parents refused to allow their children to be immunized against measles.) Church members would not contribute to the March of Dimes, the Heart Fund, or the Red Cross because they felt these organizations used “the devil’s way” of medicine. Many members even went so far as to refuse X-ray checkups or Novocain when getting dental work performed. Ironically, dental work itself was okay-one of the many inconsistencies in the church’s practice of the doctrine. At one time, members were even advised that they shouldn’t take aspirin-because it was a drug-but members were often encouraged by certain ministers to take vitamins to solve their health problems.
The doctrine also had a profound effect on those converts who happened to earn their living in any facet of the medical profession. In almost all cases, for instance, registered nurses employed by hospitals were required to quit their jobs and find other employment before they could be baptized. The same applied to medical technicians, pharmacists, and, as one 1964 official church directive shows, to all hospital employees including janitors and gardeners! Physicians who joined the church could continue to practice, but only in a limited way since surgery and drugs were taboo. A number of physicians did join the church over the years and some were actually employed by it to function in a limited capacity. I personally heard Garner Ted Armstrong on a number of occasions smugly comment that when members of the press asked him if he believed in doctors he would reply, “Sure I believe in doctors. We even have a number on the church’s payroll.” He of course, would neglect to mention the large number of prohibitions placed on doctors by the church.
Recently, one informant provided me with photostat copies of numerous “visit cards” that the Worldwide Church of God has on file. (At my request, the names of the interviewees where removed to protect their privacy.) “Visit cards” were the reports ministers filled out after counseling with church members and potential members. I have seen a number which clearly indicate that ministers, on many occasions, attempted to offer medical advice that only a doctor would be qualified to give. Instances of spiritual intimidation are also evident on these cards. For example, before me I have copies of visit cards one minister filled out after counseling sessions with a prospective member in 1970. The minister wrote this after his first session with the individual:
“Has a severe asthmatic condition. Attitude toward church and healing very good, but dependent on daily use of medication to forestall attacks. Very difficult situation.”
The prospective member was advised to make a study of faith and healing. After the second visit the minister wrote:
“Counseled for baptism. Advised to wait pending outcome of decision on asthmatic drugs.”
After the third visit he reported:
“Making excellent progress toward getting rid of asthmatic drugs. Has taken no shots in several weeks. Approved for baptism.”
Watching Out for the D.A. By continuing to embrace its bizarre healing doctrine, the Armstrong organization exposed itself to both serious legal difficulties and notoriety. Secrecy, therefore, enshrouded the church’s belief in healing. Ministers were continually admonished by headquarters to use great care in the handling of medical problems.
The church’s legal department helped prepare a list of instructions given to ministers in the late 1960s to help them handle these problems. In many ways the list of instructions, titled “How to Deal With Health and Medical Problems,” amounted to nothing more than a crash course in how to lie effectively. The following excerpts shed a great deal of light on the methods used by the Armstrong organization in keeping both legal authorities and the news media ignorant of what was really occurring:
“I. Advising on Health Problems. Caution must always be exercised in advising on a person’s health problems, lest you be found to be practicing medicine…. If a person practices medicine without a license, and the patient should die, the wrongdoer could be prosecuted for manslaughter or murder! Now you can see why extreme caution must be exercised in advising brethren in God’s Church concerning their health problems…
“II. How Prosecution Begins in Case of Death. …As this type of case is not so well known as the obvious type of crime such as murder or robbery, there is always the possibility that he [the D.A.] might choose not to prosecute. This is the type of circumstance where a ‘contact’ is invaluable. The prosecutor might easily be persuaded by a friend to drop the matter so long as the newspapers have not made major news of it….
“Just Take Out the Tubes”
letters on healing
In our files are numerous letters which document the disastrous consequences of one of the most regrettable aspects of the “Ambassador Experience”-the Armstrong doctrine of divine healing. The following excerpts and condensations represent only a few of those letters.
…my wife became very ill with chronic ulcerated colitis. After she had lost considerable amounts of blood, the local deacon granted us permission to take her to the hospital for transfusions. Well, she was there about two months and the minister told me on the sly one evening at the Spokesman’s Club meeting that he’d just take out the tubes, stop all medications, and accept the resurrection, that is, just let her die. This was after I had told him about the prognosis by the attending doctor: She either had to have immediate surgery or she’d die.
I never told my wife at the time about what the minister had said and she went ahead with the operation. It was just a matter of time before she made a successful recovery ….
I fell into disfavor as a consequence of the operation and was badmouthed in [church] services. But I just ignored it and accepted what they had to dish out.
It seemed that all too many members were constantly on the alert to spot someone faltering in their faith or committing some sort of unchristian act, like taking an aspirin. This brings a very sore point to mind concerning WCG policy on healing. Many people suffered needlessly while headquarters personnel took care of themselves. I recall one very grave incident where a young girl was suffering from appendicitis. Many prayers were said for her by members and visits were made by the ministry for anointing and counseling. In a serious situation like this the counseling would also include a warning that if the child were to die (which she did, it ruptured) to be prepared with a story for the authorities so as not to get the church involved. The church was to be protected at all costs (even lying). I can remember getting a sermon about just this type of situation. I also remember riding with a local elder to visit someone who was sick at the feast. The elder was telling me about how sick his daughter was and that he had prepared a story for the local authorities should she die. (She didn’t in this case.)
former Deacon New Jersey
…If you saw a doctor, took medicine, entered a hospital or had surgery, Your name was not mentioned in church and hence you got no prayers or sympathy. I desperately needed prayers and visits from those I thought to be Christian people. If you had a kink in your back and were not able to attend services for a week or so, it was played up big as a bad illness from the pulpit, you were anointed [by the minister], and lo and behold the next sabbath you were there smiling and healed
Regarding divine healing, we were admonished to trust in God, and well we should, but when our first son was sick near death, the local minister told us to take him in to a hospital. Apparently now our faith in God didn’t matter, only how it would look for the WCG (actual local minister’s comment) if our son died. We took him to the hospital and he lived. Maybe God in his mercy was trying to show us then that these people from the WCG only “healed the hurt of my people slightly,” as it says in Jeremiah 6:14….
…I have almost lost my eye sight. I needed surgery but didn’t have it done because we were told it wasn’t right while the Armstrongs did what they pleased… I have personally known people [in the WCG] who have let their children die when they could have taken them to a doctor and saved them.
I have read a copy of Ambassador Review which was brought over by Mr. Charles Hunting while on a visit he had with a group of us. Being one of the many who suffered through the wrong decisions made by the ministers in the WCG resulting in the untimely death of my wife at the age of 34 years and my having to give up employment to attend to my two children then aged 1 and 4 years, I am glad to know that there are people who are courageous enough to publish the facts concerning the WCG.
One thing about Ambassador College: If you want to feel guilty, filled with dread, negative, superstitious, and generally fearful, then to be under their administration is the answer.
I almost died twice because of their fanatical nonbiblical teachings on healing. Once with appendicitis. This occurred not long after being told that it would be idolatry and a compromise of my faith to seek the help of a medical professional, and if I weakened or didn’t rely on God for healing I would suffer eternal death. The second occurrence was when I injured myself lifting and acquired a hernia. I sought the ministry three or four times during a period of 6½ years and repeatedly was told that to have an operation was out of the question, due to the fact that God could intervene.
On entering the WCG I was told we did not need health insurance as “faith in God was our insurance.” My husband became disabled in 1972 and consequently instead of being eligible for free coverage until death, we are currently paying $69.50 per month for same.
After nearly 14 years in the WCG and another year with a similar group, I am left financially and physically broken. But I accept the responsibility for it since I allowed myself to be mesmerized by the Armstrongs and later by R. C. Cole…. What is there left to say? Of course my family and I went through certain traumas. We watched a person [in the WCG] waste to death rather than go to a physician. Another young person died of appendicitis rather than going to see a doctor. I sit here in continual pain and hemorrhaging because years ago I was “afraid” to visit a physician, and today I can’t afford it.
But are we so different from any of the others, many of whom have suffered even worse?
“III. Suggestions for Avoiding Prosecution... Don’t say anything!… Don’t mention divine healing…. If legal circumstances or wisdom demands that you answer, then be succinct and discreet…. If the investigator should know something about anointing with oil, there is no need to assume that he knows that the practice of medicine is held in disrepute. It might be good to draw an analogy to the Catholic Church, and the fact that, ‘We, as they, anoint with oil.’…
“Do not mention faith healing under any circumstances…. Deny any knowledge that the ailment was serious. Or if this cannot be done, then: (a) Place the time when the seriousness first became apparent as close to the time of death as possible. (b) Take the shortest period of time possible for the length of illness. (c) If the question of a doctor should arise, it might be met with, ‘If I had any idea that she was that sick and that a doctor could have healed her, I certainly would have called him immediately.’
“Befriend a doctor with at least an affinity for our religious beliefs…. a doctor might recommend some course of medical treatment that he feels would absolutely save the person’s life, but which we would consider absolutely inimical to God’s law. If the person died, then the doctor would be a powerful witness for the prosecution not only to prove gross neglect but Proximate cause as well. Also, unless the doctor held an affinity for our religious beliefs, he could contact the District Attorney if the patient was a minor and request that a court-appointed guardian be named. The court could then take custody of the child, and the guardian consent to such a course of medical treatment… When rejecting medical service or drugs, predicate the refusal on the the grounds of risk or potential adverse results…. If the matter is serious enough and the particular doctor sees no possibility of adverse effect but only 100 percent success, then the patient or parent can merely state they would like to obtain further consultation and advice on the. subject…
“During the steps when an illness becomes serious, keep as many people out of the house as possible. Do not tell outsiders about the seriousness of an illness or your belief in divine healing. The more people that have knowledge of the subject, or are present during the final stages, the more potential adverse witnesses you have. Only one antagonistic person, with a sufficient amount of first-hand knowledge, can furnish enough testimony upon which to pass a successful prosecution….
“Do not attend an informal, requested hearing at the District Attorney’s office, unless unusual circumstances dictate otherwise. A strong general rule is that a parent should never go to the office of the District Attorney to discuss such a case…. In one case the prosecutor admitted that he could never have tried the case without the statements given by the mother. After the child had died, she stopped in his office, at his request, and told him everything about the case. She even signed a statement to that effect. She also made statements to certain officials in the Coroner’s office. They proved certain facts that he could not have proven otherwise.
“Don’t involve the church…. When brought into contact with medical men, be friendly, but firm. Be careful not to mention the Bible, religion, or the Church of God.
“IV. What to Do in Case of an Untimely Death. When there is an untimely death in the Church with overtones of divine healing having been relied upon, prompt action is necessary in order to avoid prosecution and bad publicity… the local minister should immediately contact Headquarters by telephone and notify us of the circumstances… After receiving this information, either Mr. Rader or Mr. Helge [WCG attorneys] can consult with the local minister by telephone, and ascertain if there is potential criminal liability or bad publicity for the church member, the minister or the church.”
Around 1968, to further conceal from the public its position on medicine, the Worldwide Church of God began to cease offering the Does God Heal Today? booklet on the church’s “World Tomorrow” broadcast. For a time, if a listener were to somehow find out about the booklet, it was sent, but before long even this practice was discontinued. Eventually, those who requested it were simply informed that it was “out of print.” Those of us who were ministerial students at Ambassador College in 1970, however, were still able to get copies of it from the college press, as were field ministers.
The booklet may have been declared “out of print,” but the doctrine it taught was most certainly still in effect. A late 1969 letter to the entire United States ministry written by Roderick Meredith, then director of Church Administration, contained this statement:
“Many, many others have serious cases of cancer or are afflicted with other serious ailments. And, as I mentioned recently, this seems to be a growing trend in the Church. Although the booklet on healing in its present form has been cancelled, we should continue to preach this doctrine to the converted members of God’s Church with earnestness and fervency!”
An Exercise in Doublethink. With few exceptions the Worldwide Church’s ministry continued to preach and privately teach the healing doctrine exactly as Herbert Armstrong always had. The absence of a written doctrinal statement, however, did have an effect on members. Some began to study the subject on their own, and a number of “true believers” began to wonder whether the Armstrongs were not in fact watering down their healing doctrine.
The doubts increased when, in early 1970, Herbert Armstrong admitted that Roderick C. Meredith, the director of Church Administration, had recently undergone surgery to repair a detached retina. To many believers this seemed inconsistent with official church doctrine, and Meredith spent no small amount of time attempting to explain away the incongruity. He claimed repeatedly that it was only “repair surgery” that had been performed and that he had not looked to the medical profession for healing. In a letter to the church’s ministry, dated March 9, 1970, he wrote:
“We knew God could, of course, heal the eye. But Mr. Armstrong felt that in this case it involved something we could do and probably should do under the present circumstances. Therefore, I arranged to get the best specialist available through a special eye institute attached to UCLA and had this repair surgery performed…” (p. 7).
Then on April 8, 1970, he wrote this regarding his eye operation and how the ministers should explain it to church members:
“In explaining this matter, there are two principles to stress: first, we should never cut into the body in order to cut out part of the temple of God’s Holy Spirit-that is, remove part of the liver, appendix, etc. Secondly, we are not to operate in order to ‘heal’ a disease of any sort” (p. 8).
Church members could not help but be totally confused. When, for instance, would one have surgery performed where the goal was not healing? And, how many types of surgery are not in reality for repair purposes? Church headquarters offered no concrete answers. Nor did Herbert Armstrong offer a change of doctrine to his church. By 1973, however, he did come to believe that the old booklet needed to be redone.
The Promise of More to Come. At the ministerial conference of January 1973 a tape recorder caught Herbert Armstrong making these statements:
“We have a booklet on healing that we have called in and stopped circulating…. The information that’s contained [in the healing booklet] is all right. I haven’t read it for years and years, but I don’t think I’m wrong about that. I think the information it has is all right. But it isn’t properly written…
“I have no doubt in my mind that what is called medical science today has merely come on down to our time. It’s the same old ancient thing that came out of paganism. It is not something that our God has supplied and heals through. It is something that the God of this world, Satan, has supplied, and he’s got his little emblem doubly on their [the medical profession’s] insignia-the two snakes…
“I don’t think we ought to put in writing, for example, that any member in such a job [as registered nurse] ought to give it up, because some reporter would get hold of that-he could make something of it. But we can privately tell our people things like that. …
“And while we have been practicing healing and we’ve had some miraculous examples of healing, for every one of those, I don’t know whether there have been 10 or 100 others where we have not had it. Now there is one thing that we do not do and we can’t do and this is to just come out and say in any way that would be open or public-and you have to be careful about even saying this in one of our own church services because it may be more public than you realize-that we forbid people to go to a doctor or to take medicine.”
Herbert W. Armstrong worked on the new booklet for the entirety of 1973. Then on January 3, 1974, he declared:
“I have the booklet on healing almost complete, and it goes a little more thoroughly into these things than the other edition. The doctrine hasn’t changed one iota. We have to clarify a lot of things about when do you go to a doctor and when don’t you and a few things like that… don’t go around doubting and thinking that maybe the church is wrong. Too many have been doing that, and you who do are the servants of Satan.”
Herbert simply refused to believe that he could have been wrong for so many years on the healing doctrine and other doctrines such as divorce and remarriage. It was this attitude of obstinateness with regard to doctrinal change which more than anything else brought about the church crisis of February 1974 when dozens of ministers and thousands of laymembers defected from the Worldwide Church of God to form the Associated Churches of God.
During the special ministerial conference of May 1974, the impression was given that a clarification of the church’s healing doctrine would soon be made following a period of research. Then, in the September 23, 1974, issue of the church’s ministerial bulletin, there appeared an article on healing by Herman L. Hoeh, a headquarters evangelist and for years a right-hand man to Herbert Armstrong. To the casual observer unfamiliar with the Armstrong organization’s public relations methods, the article appears vague but innocuous. A casual reading might even leave one with the misimpression that the church had changed its decades-old position on medicine. The first half of the two-page article titled “Healing: Teaching and Administration” mentions a number of modem medical tools: X-rays, antibiotics, insulin, digitalis, and open heart surgery. None were actually condemned, yet none were clearly approved within the context of the church’s teachings as found in Does God Heal Today?
Possibly what is most significant about the article is not what it said but what it didn’t say. Only two months before, in July 1974, the Foundation for Biblical Research had published its 39-page booklet Healing, Medicine, Physicians. The booklet, written by the former head of Ambassador College’s department of theology Dr. Ernest L. Martin, thoroughly debunked all the essential points of the Armstrong healing doctrine and took a sensible position on the subject, not unlike that held by the vast majority of Christians today.
The booklet was published and read by literally thousands of members and former members of the Worldwide Church of God. Yet Dr. Hoeh’s article did not even mention it, nor did he refute its arguments. And, nowhere did he admit that the church’s teachings as found in Does God Heal Today? were unfounded, biblically incorrect, or dangerous to the life and health of any who take them seriously. It is also important to realize that nowhere in his article did Herman Hoeh instruct the ministry to actually encourage laymembers who are ill to seek competent medical assistance. Instead, midway through the article we find these statements:
“God, who made everything, designed the interaction of chemicals in the human body to support life; but the most educated men are mere babes in understanding these interactions. How much better and easier to trust God for divine healing than to rely on the limitations of human skills. Perhaps more than anything else, healing expresses the deeply personal relationship between an individual and his God….
“Mr. Armstrong points out that the individual’s faith and the minister’s faith are paramount in how far one trusts God, or how far one entrusts himself to men with their varying degree of skills and knowledge (p. 495).”
The tone of these statements is obviously less fanatical than what is found in the “out-of-print” healing booklet; yet the meaning is not at all different. While possibly giving some in the general public the illusion that the church was changing its position on medicine, the article not only put up a smokescreen around the essence of the Armstrong doctrine, but it also totally ignored the arguments of those who were most effectively assailing it.
Interestingly, the editor’s comment at the head of the article and the article’s concluding paragraph promised further clarification in the form of a new booklet by Herbert Armstrong:
“Editor’s Note: A new booklet on healing, written by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, is scheduled to go to press some time after the Feast of Tabernacles. …
“The new booklet is a great step forward. All ministers will be sent advance copies.”
The promised booklet was never distributed. In fact, it never even came off the press. The reason? A few leading WCG officials, according to informed sources, collaborated to keep the booklet manuscript in limbo, lest it become another embarrassing liability.
Almost two years later during the ministerial conference in May 1976 a “Statement on Healing” was issued to those attending. The brief, typed statement was less than half the size of Dr. Hoeh’s short 1974 article. It was never published in any official church publication and has not been made available to laymembers in printed form. Though more liberal in tone than anything ever printed before on the subject, it in no way repudiated the contents of Does God Heal Today? Significantly, it contained no indication of having been authorized by the church’s founder and Pastor General, Herbert W. Armstrong. He was not present at the conference when the statement was expounded, and there is good reason to believe that not only was he unaware of its contents but that he would also have disapproved of its tone had he read it.
In the July 1977 issue of The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong wrote an article, actually Part I of a series, entitled “The Plain Truth About Healing.” It contains no mention of his original booklet on the subject, the doctrinal disputes of the last few years, or the “Statement on Healing” of 1976. It does not mention the 1% to 10% success rate the church has had by practicing divine healing, nor does it mention the story of the little girl who was crippled as a result of her parents’ confidence in Herbert’s teaching. Instead, of all things, the article contains Herbert Armstrong’s interpretation of Christian history from 27 to 100 A.D. He concludes the article by promising to get back on the track in future installments and discuss healing. We are also promised a booklet (sound familiar?). A number of individuals who are privy to the contents of the series’ manuscript have informed us that the series offers little promise of doctrinal reform or clarifications. Barring a church crisis in the next few months, the series will prove to be nothing more than a vague rehash of the old healing doctrine, carefully edited to avoid notoriety and legal difficulties.
With only a few exceptions, virtually no one at the church’s Pasadena headquarters now denies himself or his family needed medical attention in favor of divine healing. Yet, many laymembers worldwide, for want of a clear directive from their “apostolic” leader, do deny themselves and their families needed medical attention and are still clinging to the church’s established healing doctrine, as it was taught them. Today, few if any Worldwide Church executives and ministers would publicly acknowledge belief in the official Armstrong healing doctrine as found in Does God Heal Today? Yet, the church’s Pastor General has refused to openly acknowledge the errors of the doctrine or clarify the church’s present position by publishing a clear, authorized doctrinal statement. That is very regrettable.
The amount of damage already done by the Armstrong healing doctrine is immense. There is, of course, no way for us to know exactly what WCG ministers are teaching today in private. We do, however, continue to hear reports of individuals still putting their faith in Herbert Armstrong’s erroneous doctrine. Very recently, there was a case in Washington where a woman who was a Worldwide Church of God member died as a result of denying herself competent medical attention.
What Should Be Done. Ambassador Report, would like to see the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God discontinue its perpetuation of anti-medical bias, superstition, administration secrecy, and biblical misunderstanding. The Armstrong church is trying to give the general public the impression that it is a truly modem, rational, and humanitarian organization that has rejected the fanaticism and foolishness of its past. If that is the case, then why doesn’t it immediately make public a detailed, clear, printed statement of the church’s doctrine of healing, fully authorized by the church’s Pastor General? Why doesn’t it publicly repudiate the errors in its old booklet, Does God Heal Today?, and explain clearly which of the booklet’s statements are accurate or inaccurate and why?
Ambassador College has in its computer files the names of many thousands who were sent copies of Does God Heal Today? We propose that each individual who has received that booklet, as well as every living church member and former member, be informed through an official letter that that booklet contains statements that have resulted in biblical misunderstanding and advice that, when practiced, has often proven not only harmful but fatal.
We further propose that every effort be made to locate those who have suffered as a result of the organization’s healing doctrine. In many cases no apology could possibly be adequate to those who have suffered as a result of following the church’s teachings and advice. Yet, we feel that an apology is an appropriate place to begin. We would then like to see the Worldwide Church of God offer medical assistance and financial compensation wherever appropriate.
Finally, we suggest that the Worldwide Church of God reassess its priorities with regard to the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation’s dispersal of church funds to organizations such as the March of Dimes, the American Cancer Society, and the United Way. These organizations do wonderful work and perform much needed services. However, charity should begin at home. For years, the Worldwide Church of God condemned these organizations as being “part of the world” and encouraged its members not to contribute to these organizations but instead give their money to “God’s work.” Thousands did just that. While denying themselves and their families medical services, health insurance plans, and savings for medical emergencies, they contributed and sacrificed to the point of self-deprivation so that “God’s work” could survive its repeated financial crises. Now many of these same people need medical assistance but do not have the means because of the financial sacrifices they made over the years. For the AICF to attempt to improve the church’s image by dispensing church funds to the charities the church formerly condemned and at the same time ignore the plight of so many of those who for years supported the organization is nothing less than a mockery of the most fundamental teachings of Christ.
Maybe it is too much to expect an organization to change after 40 years of calloused disregard for the welfare of its members. But I believe it is time that the Armstrong organization be less concerned with its public image and more concerned with serving its people in the true Christian spirit.