The Worldwide Church of God’s (WCG) rise from country-bumpkin church to eminence as a super-media cult is a fascinating financial success story. Starting in 1934 with a handful of backwoods country folk and barely enough money to subsist on, Herbert Armstrong proceeded to build a powerful fundamentalist church that garners more money per year than Billy Graham’s and Oral Roberts’ organizations combined.
In the early years the going was rough and the rewards few and far between. Herbert’s efforts to build a large, stable church met one defeat after another, according to his autobiography. As soon as he gathered a group of followers in a city and turned his evangelizing efforts to another area, the first group fell apart. When he turned a group over to another minister whom he supposed he could trust, he claimed the minister suddenly became disloyal to him and turned the members of the group against him.
Partly because of these frustrations, Herbert decided to found a college to train men for the ministry who would remain loyal to him and his church. He reasoned that if he took young, impressionable minds and taught them the Bible according to his viewpoint, they would believe exactly like him, remain loyal to him, and enthusiastically assist him in proclaiming his unique gospel message. He was absolutely right.
During the 1950s his college-Ambassador College (AC)-produced a number of young, zealous, unswervingly loyal assistants made over into his image who adopted his teachings unquestioningly on practically everything. These men began to share Herbert’s dreams and preach his message with fervency, but they were also haunted by his main fear: that of having loyal, tithe-paying church members-in whom they had invested time and money-leave the church over doctrines or follow some other religious leader or a disaffected member.
As AC and the local churches fathered by Herbert grew, the WCG leaders realized that they must never allow questioning of the church’s basic doctrines and policies or criticism of the Armstrongs and the ministry, lest the church be split into small warring factions, as had happened several times in the early history of Herbert’s church. Thus they attempted to cow the members into submission to their authority with intimidating statements that went something like: “To doubt is to be damned”; “Questioning doctrines is of the Devil”; “If you don’t obey God’s true servants and his apostle Herbert Armstrong, you will eventually be thrown into hell fire and burned up for all eternity!”
Still the WCG leadership realized that all members couldn’t be intimidated by words. The leadership sensed it had to also possess the ability to detect and take effective action against any who dared threaten the corporate entity. So, feeling a need to preserve Herbert’s church at all costs-but lacking a basic appreciation of their fellow man-the WCG leaders initiated a variety of malignant spying practices throughout the church and Ambassador College to insure that they would keep absolute control of the lives and minds of the AC students, faculty members, and church members. These methods, without exception, work at cross purposes with man’s inalienable rights while showing little love for those unsuspecting people subjected to them.
Keeping Tabs on Fellow Students. When new students first set foot on the campus of Ambassador College-called “God’s College”-they were embarking on an experience that was destined to change their beliefs, their values, and even their appearance. They were to be made over in the Armstrong image. The 1968-69 Student Handbook, describes what AC intended to do to the student:
“You are about to embark upon a most important phase of your life. At Ambassador College you will become conditioned for a new profession and a new social behavior to correspond to that profession” (p. 11, emphasis ours).
The WCG leaders weren’t kidding when they wrote about reconditioning each student. The college officials in the 1950s and 60s took it upon themselves to manage every aspect of a student’s life. They told Joe and Jane Student when to get up in the morning, how to make their beds, how long to pray, how to dress, whom they could date, how many times per year they could date an individual, which social functions they must attend, and when to go to bed. College officials did their level best to get to know each and every student: what was going on in each student’s mind, what his deepest problems and hangups were, his past sex problems, etc.
But the college administrators didn’t stop with this. They went so far as to encourage AC students and employees to spy and report on each other, especially if someone deviated even slightly from the strict policies of the WCG, which controls AC. They also appointed dormitory monitors to keep a watchful eye on the students. The monitors filled out and submitted special cards to the dean’s office on students’ attitudes, social life, prayer habits, spiritual condition, and study habits. The Student Handbook (1968-69) discussed a monitor’s responsibilities:
“Each dormitory is staffed with a House Monitor, a Monitor for each floor or apartment, and assistants in each room…. These students are dedicated to the ideals of the college and to serving you…. It is your responsibility as a Monitor to get to know ALL the students; to help and encourage them insofar as you are qualified, and be able to refer them to the proper channel for guidance; to see that the students are obeying college rules… to write a weekly report which is due at the Dean of Students’ Office at 8:00 A.M. every Monday; to check sign out cards and record violations; to turn in special monitor reports on individuals who have significant problems or who have made special progress. (p. 52).
AC administrators required female students to sign out and sign in when they left their dorm and returned. They had to list their destination and the name of their male escort. The administration publicly claimed these cards were filled out only so a student could be found in case of an emergency. Yet the cards were eventually turned in to the dean’s office for evaluation, enabling the college to keep tabs on who dated who and how often. If a student insisted on ignoring AC’s dating rules, he could be dismissed for displaying a “bad attitude” and for failing to obey God’s “servants.”
College students and employees, as well as WCG members, were encouraged in college forums and assemblies to divulge their deepest problems to WCG ministers, who often doubled as AC administrators. Those who didn’t get the hint to voluntarily become a “known quantity” to the administration were sometimes called in, often because other students had reported them for such “sins” as listening to rock music, holding hands with the opposite sex, sleeping too late, not dating enough, or perhaps for not attending Friday night Bible study at the college.
When students counseled for baptism, they were encouraged-often by two ministers at a time-to reveal their innermost sins or problems to the ministry. Hesitancy to reveal everything (headquarters ministers often already had copies of local ministers’ “visit cards” loaded with information on the individual) was invariably met with a psychological assault against the individual’s personality. The attack always focused on the individual’s declared or undeclared “vanity,” and information already in the files was introduced in a roundabout manner so as to make the minister appear almost omniscient. The student quickly became a “known quantity” to the administration. Facts gleaned in these counseling sessions were committed to memory and often reduced to writing, only to emerge again in “manpower meetings.”
AC’s Manpower Committee. As the student body burgeoned, it became tougher for the college directors to get to know each student. So a “manpower committee” was instituted in 1961 to discuss graduating students’ merits and demerits to enable the AC/WCG leaders to decide whom to employ. These meetings allowed 15 to 30 college faculty members and department heads to assemble and discuss intimate, confidential material that each one of them had garnered on individual students from counseling sessions, dorm reports, etc. Often the characteristics that seemed to carry the most weight were a person’s dating habits, nationality, physique, past emotional or sexual problems, or the “spiritual” condition of his family. (Be sure to read “The Manpower Papers.”)
What was said about a student in manpower meetings often determined whether or not he would be hired by the WCG or AC. Many a student was denied the job he had his heart set on because of certain evidence that was uncovered from his past life and discussed in these meetings. In the late 1960s, however, those who survived the close scrutiny of the manpower committee had to face yet another test.
Lie Detector Tests. In late 1968 some money and a few other items were stolen from AC’s men’s dormitories. The following week, in a sermon and later in a student assembly, Herbert Armstrong sternly commanded the guilty party to step forward, pronouncing a curse on any guilty person who didn’t. Not a soul dared.
Obviously infuriated that no one would confess, Herbert Armstrong authorized administering a lie detector test to all of AC’s male students. An AC graduate recounted his gruesome experience:
“Each student was notified when to come over to the second floor of what is now the Library Annex for his examination. One day I received a note in my mailbox informing me I had to take the exam the following day at 3 p.m. The thought went racing through my mind: ‘If I flunk the test, I’ll be kicked out of God’s college, and I’m innocent. Psychologists say the lie detector test is accurate only 85% to 90% of the time. What if it is wrong and says I’m guilty?’ I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind, but I was still nervous. At last 3 p.m. arrived, and I stepped into the building on time-anxious to get it over with. Because the testing was behind schedule, however, I had to wait another 30 minutes, and I sweated every minute of it.
“Finally a security guard summoned me into the examination room. I was seated in a chair and had devices attached to me. I felt like I was being put into the electric chair to be executed. I was asked a set of questions over and over for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, it was over. Still shaken, I went back to my dorm thanking God that the machine had told the truth. This was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. It was as though I was guilty until proven innocent.”
Unfortunately, some were never proven innocent. One barrel-chested weightlifter type failed the polygraph exam three times. This person did not fail because he was lying or because he had stolen anything. He failed because he had extremely high blood pressure, and the trauma of the test only exacerbated his bona fide medical condition. Nonetheless, he was never given a position of “responsible” employment by the church or college, in spite of the fact that he had given many thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings. Extreme as this abuse may sound, another individual was actually expelled from college after taking the lie detector test. Notice what was written about him in the “manpower notes” taken at manpower meetings:
“He was recently given a lie detector’s test which shows him to be a liar and a thief, but since the test is not infallible, and he staunchly maintains his innocence, we cannot be sure that he is a thief and liar. The lie detector only records conscious thought, however, and he was grilled for more than eight hours…” (vol. III, p. 68, emphasis ours).
Shortly after his dismissal from the WCG and AC, the former Dean of Students (who presided over the 1968-69 polygraph period) related that hidden cameras were employed during this time. He mentioned that video tape equipment caught students smoking cigarettes and even masturbating. Two-way mirrors were utilized at the institution to catch students “stealing” milk and beer. Special identifying dyes that would not show up on one’s hands until a few minutes after contact with the object that was coated with the dye were also used in student surveillance.
Keeping Tabs on Church Members. The WCG officials applied their “big brother” tactics not only at AC but also in their churches worldwide via Ambassador College trained ministers inculcated with a dorm-monitor mentality. Ministers were instructed, primarily by Rod Meredith, to visit each and every church member regularly and check up on their “spiritual” condition and their family lives. David Jon Hill, in a visiting program meeting on Dec. 16, 1962, explained how a minister should prepare to visit a WCG member:
“Plan the procedure of your visit before you arrive at your destination. Discuss with your second man a little of the background-what you know about the problems of the household, etc.”
Following a visit with a member or prospective member, the minister was required to fill out a “visit card” on each household or person he visited and mail it to AC in Pasadena for filing. Rod Meredith went so far as to tell prospective ministerial trainees in a 1970 speech class that they should never visit a member and then go to their car and fill out a visit card on the member in front of his home, but rather they should drive out of sight around the comer before filling out the card. Notice Meredith’s explicit instructions to ministers regarding how to report a visit:
“Enclosed is a supply of the new Visiting Cards…. Ideally, the cards should be filled out immediately after the visit in your car. Perhaps down the street and around the corner…. Think carefully and describe the highlights of the visit, the problems andattitudes…. If deep problems and complications arise, you may wish to type an additional ‘Problem Report’ on any one person or family occasionally…. Normally two carbons of these should be made and sent to Headquarters- one for us and one for the District Superintendent…” (ministerial letter, 12/24/65, pp. 2-3).
Surprisingly, the normally staid, placid WCG membership became extremely irritated by constant ministerial “pry and spy” visits. The visits raised such a furor that a four-page article by Garner Ted Armstrong was written to all members rebuking-you guessed it-the members for their attitudes, not the ministry. The article, titled “The Visiting Program… or Gestapo… Which?” opened with the question, “Are Christ’s servants on the Visiting Program brethren, or spies? Are they sent to ‘check up’ on you, to ‘watch’ you-or to serve and help you?” (The Good News, May 1964, p. 3.) Garner Ted admitted that some families would not answer the door when WCG ministers dropped by and others were “secretive with the men on the Visiting Program.” He confessed that disrespect for the visiting program was a “serious problem” and asked the members what they had to hide-all but implying that the ministers were indeed searching for something.
Deacons Spied Too. The AC graduates that became ordained WCG ministers took the “watchdog” attitude that permeated AC with them into local churches all over the world. They bequeathed this heinous “watch your brother” system to the deacons under them. One New Jersey deacon, a long-time WCG member, explained how deacons were used for spying:
“A few years after becoming a member of the Worldwide Church of God I was ordained a deacon. At the time I thought it was about the greatest event of my life, but sad to say I found out in later years that it only drove me deeper into a very misguided and somewhat corrupt organization.
“…Shortly after my ordination I was informally told by my minister and some of the local elders that part of my responsibility was to keep them informed about the behavior of the members that I came in contact with. My minister directly told me that I and other deacons were his eyes and ears since he could not possibly keep in contact with all of his people all of the time.
“Some of the things we were to watch out for were bad attitudes, lack of study and prayer, not keeping the Sabbath or for that matter any disagreement with Worldwide Church policies or doctrines. One of the worst offenses anyone could commit was to bad-mouth a minister or anyone in authority, especially Herbert W. or Garner Ted Armstrong.
“Many of the local elders and deacons would carry a notebook and jot down anything they saw that was not in accordance with WCG teachings. This information was then passed on to the minister for his evaluation and action.
“My wife was also told by a local elder that as a deacon’s wife she also should circulate about the congregation and if per chance anything was picked up along these lines to let her husband know about it…
“With the information that I gathered and passed on via telephone or verbally, I myself caused many a visit to be paid on members by a minister or local elder… As you no doubt know, attendance of members at services was checked each week by us, and if some were delinquent too often, a visit was made by a minister….
“It was not uncommon for a husband or wife to turn his or her spouse in for some infringement of church policy or doctrine, and if the crime was bad enough, a visit from a Minister would follow….
“I was guilty of many of the things mentioned, and I can only say that I look back in disgust and regret to what I had allowed myself and family to become. I only hope that those I affected will forgive me even if they don’t know I prayerfully asked for forgiveness….”
The Spying Methods Change. In the early 1970s, to save money, the WCG ministry was instructed to visit people only if they requested it. Garner Ted Armstrong discontinued the manpower meetings because ” ‘the manpower’ committee meetings have become more and more a waste of time for the majority of those attending, and only partially useful in practical placement of personnel.” He explained that “it will be no handicap whatever for various departments to obtain useful information about prospective employees….” Garner Ted also announced that he had had the Dean’s extensive file of student dorm report cards burned, and he banned the dorm report-card system. In addition he threw the AC coeds a sop when he stated that a woman didn’t have to report who her male escort was on the dorm sign-out cards.
Just when the casual AC observer began to think AC’s nosy, “I am my brother’s keeper whether he likes it or not” attitude was mellowing, the AC directors, unknown to outsiders, were already busily utilizing new, more sophisticated methods of monitoring the behavior of their unsuspecting students and brethren.
Tithe Checks. In early 1968 Rod Meredith toured AC’s new data processing center. Discovering to his pleasant surprise that the computer listed every contribution donated by an individual, he ordered Dan Porter from that day forward to check the tithe and donation records of all prospective ministers and of all ministers due to be elevated in rank. The ministry was notified of this new policy in a March 1, 1968, ministerial letter from Rod Meredith.
AC’s computer soon proved to be everyone’s favorite new toy. Though it didn’t address the ministers with the “Mister” they were accustomed to, it gave them something the holy spirit never did-insight into the real attitudes of the “dumb sheep” (HWA’s term for the WCG members) that they “watched” over.
As time passed, the ministry consulted their new-found crystal ball more and more frequently. The tithing records of whole church areas were subsequently checked via the computer.
Curtailment of Freedom of Speech and Religion at AC. Freedom of speech and religion has always been restricted at AC. While a student can belong to another church, he is quickly reported by the “system” if he discusses personal beliefs that differ with those of the WCG. Some have even been kicked out of college for talking too frequently about their beliefs.
In late 1973 and early 1974, college officials and members actively spied on the private lives of AC employees and WCG members. One official memorandum (document AR-147) reported that “on Sunday cars with Ambassador College parking stickers were seen parked at Dr. Martin’s [a former AC faculty member] home.” Then the memo stated the name of one person whose car was parked there. The memorandum also stated that “films were taken by a member in San Marino… of people entering [the] YMCA [for a religious meeting]. We should be getting duplicates of film later on.”
In mid-1974, Jim Reed, a member of AC’s data processing department, went to a religious meeting not sanctioned by AC. Spies reported it, and the next day he discovered a note attached to his apartment door. The note was from his supervisor, telling him not to bother reporting for work the next day. Several other AC employees and students were dismissed for religious beliefs they espoused or for attending non-WCG religious meetings. Numerous affidavits to this effect are currently on file with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco and can be summoned under the Freedom of Information Act by interested parties.
An affidavit on file with the General Services Administration in San Francisco (dated May 12, 1976) delineates an eyewitness account verifying spying by church officials:
“It was then that… a ‘close aide’ of Garner Ted Armstrong was dispatched with the knowledge and approval of G. T. Armstrong to see if I or any other AC employees were attending Dr. Martin’s lectures. On February 8, 1975… [the aide] parked his van across the street from the lecture hall. Then a photographer in the back went to work. He peaked out through curtains covering the side window, and began snapping picture after picture of those entering the lecture hall. My wife, young son, and I… passed directly in front of the camera. On other occasions, both before and after the above incident… [the aide] and various accomplices ‘staked out’ Dr. Martin’s lectures.”
Several AC/WCG employees and ministers even related to this writer that they strongly suspected their phones were being bugged. They have good reason to suspect it. According to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “eavesdropping” on telephone conversations is not illegal, since it implies the consent of one of the parties of the conversation and/or the owner of the phone. Ambassador College, as registered owner of the institution’s pervasive Centrex system, has implied consent to eavesdrop on any conversation on any phone paid for by the college-and that includes all the Centrex phones in the homes of college and church executives. Technically this practice-if the college should choose to employ it-is beyond prosecution.
Ambassador Report has also discovered that both Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong have electronic eavesdropping devices in their fourth-floor office suites that enable them to secretly listen in on classroom lectures. More than one faculty member has been dismissed from the college under somewhat questionable rationale. The verification of such a listening device lends credence to the worst of suspicions.
The Ministerial Masters. Both the Armstrongs live their lives in continual danger-the danger of discovery. Any unplanned emergence of the truth about their personal lives and practices could severely cripple their capacity to generate more financial resources. They have never minimized the danger of this possibility and are continually on guard to protect their own manufactured facade, as well as their church’s. The fact that the Armstrongs and their hierarchy are accountable to individual members-who in many cases have given their life’s savings to the church-is viciously contested and constantly downplayed by the Worldwide Church of God, Inc. There is, however, little danger that the members would attempt to expose their shenanigans to the national press because members are basically unaware of how the church is run and what the personal lives of its leaders are like.
The Armstrongs do fear, though, that high-ranking executives who know “what’s going on” will quit in disgust and leak “negative information” to the press-as several have already done. Anticipating this eventuality, the Armstrongs have initiated executive spying.
The Spy Orders. Ambassador Report has in its possession documents that absolutely verify the use of covert spying by members of the WCG administration against other top executives of that same organization. The first paragraph of one such document, AR-531, makes it clear that Garner Ted personally ordered the probing:
“Mr. GTA asked me to inquire of ministers attending the Cincinnati campaign concerning the recent regional meetings held in Cincinnati and Richmond. The following is the result…. The meetings were conducted by David Antion and Ed Smith… Several said they felt that there was a ‘powerful spirit’ working in the meetings. The following statements are reported to have been made by DAVID L. ANTION during the meetings on Monday, February 25: 1. The church governmental structure is all wrong….”
The informant went on to note telephone calls, classify the nature of these calls, and even the manner in which information was introduced in the meetings, carefully detailing inferences, implications, and emotional content. The report went on to monitor another meeting, noting and recording the names of those present and the length of the meeting. The report was terminated after a similar analysis of a third meeting.
A second report that was given to our staff, AR-313, is in the handwriting of a ranking executive/evangelist of the WCG. The executive recorded a large amount of defamatory information on a fellow evangelist in the church and submitted it personally to Herbert Armstrong. It begins:
“Dear Mr. Armstrong,
“X and others have recently brought to my attention certain information (facts) which is of such a nature that it must be brought to your and Mr. Ted Armstrong’s immediate attention…. we would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t inform you of the material in this report without further delay….”
The exhaustive, 19-page report claimed to present “incriminating” quotes from the mouth of a certain disliked evangelist and included testimony of over two dozen other executives. Every single one of the statements was levied against this minister behind his back! (Which scripture in the Bible justifies this treacherous treatment? Is this the way Christ intended his ministers to behave toward one another?) Almost no attempt was made to establish the context of the evangelist’s purported statements. Not only was the report biased, but the man was not given a chance to answer the charges against him-or even told that charges against him existed. The report even described his affection toward his children in a negative tone. It went on to accuse him of assaulting an individual at a sports event and in general took every opportunity to attack the man’s motives for certain internal judgments he had made on his job.
In promoting surreptitious monitoring of its executives, the institution is behaving like a shark that turns on its tail and begins to devour itself.
Thousands of loyal members have been forced out of the church by the suffocating Armstrong belief that God gave them the sole right to supervise and limit the flow of ideas into the minds of their members. The Armstrongs have on many occasions censored the views their students and members can be exposed to-especially concerning Bible doctrines. They feel they should choose the persons or groups their followers should associate with. In doing this they do not present themselves as the servants they purport to be (“minister” means “servant” in the New Testament). Instead they present themselves as ministerial masters. Anyone who opposes or differs with them is said to be against God and for Satan, and immediately the organization moves to rid itself of that individual-no matter how much he has given to the organization in time, service, and money. Such individuals are expendable pawns in a chess game to be used or sacrificed according to the Armstrongs’ whims.
The Armstrongs have played the corporate game well, succeeding where most fail. In fact, there has been nothing in the confines of organized religion they have been unable to accomplish-so long as they were not asked to love their fellow man. In that respect, however, they have failed miserably.
It’s a disgrace that the Armstrongs and certain leaders in the WCG have passed themselves off as God’s humble servants and preached about loyalty, love, and service while they were engaged in spying on church members, monitoring their lives, prying into their secret sins, and gossiping about, recording, and filing juicy tidbits they uncovered.
The Worldwide Church of God would be a refreshingly different church if its leading ministers would adhere to one biblical statement they seem to forget while spying on their employees and members: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14). But those who ignore that verse had better heed the following one: “But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.”