AR 39 September, 1987
WCG Now Bigger Than Ever
The Worldwide Church of God (WCG) has been without its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA, 1892-1986), for well over a year now, but still it continues to physically prosper. The Pasadena Star-News, in a front-page article on August 30, reported how the WCG's unaccredited Ambassador College recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. According to the article, WCG membership is now at 87,000 and the church's annual budget is a whopping $163 million.
Clearly, the WCG is growing. And from everything we can tell, it's still pulling in those big bucks by doing the same thing it always has - bleeding its members dry. On page one of the Los Angeles Times business section for August 2 there appeared an article entitled "Debtors' Lives Are Open Book in Bankruptcy" by Times staff writer Michael A. Hiltzik. The lengthy article was not about the WCG per se, but about the current state of confusion in America's bankruptcy courts. The article, however, did contain this eye-opening lead which does tell us a good deal about the level of fanaticism still extant in the WCG:
The legal questions that arise in the federal courthouse of Fargo, N.D., do not normally cover such grand issues as redemption and salvation. But one day last year Bankruptcy Judge William H. Hill found himself confronted with these ultimate matters.
Before him was the case of David and Kathleen Gaukler, who by most measures would have to be judged destitute.
The Gauklers had annual expenditures of $28,470 on their annual income of $21,700. They were supporting four children. Mrs. Gaukler had lost her job. They had lost their home, and their car had been repossessed. They were spending $280 a month on food for their family of six, an amount that Judge Hill considered adequate "to purchase little more than subsistence provisions."
Where was the money going? To the Worldwide Church of God, the fundamentalist church known for its luxuriant Pasadena campus and the sweep of its television ministry. Of their monthly income of $1,800, the Gauklers were contributing more than $672 per month to the church.
Hill took the opportunity to question the church's credo. "It seems a quite stern and uncaring religion that would require faithful adherence to such a level of giving," he complained. Of the Gauklers he wrote: "Apparently they are willing, on the basis of church dictates, to sacrifice the financial well-being of themselves and their children in order to make contributions they obviously cannot afford."
But he could not bring himself to step between them and their God, and, with a figurative sigh, he approved their petition of bankruptcy. "This wasn't a case of their setting themselves up as a religious corporation and donating money to themselves to buy a Mercedes," he said later. "These people were very sincere."
All of us at Ambassador Report were moved to read of the plight in which Mr. and Mrs. Gaukler (and their four children) find themselves. We called the Gaukler residence to offer our assistance, but Mr. Gaukler, sounding very nervous, refused to discuss the matter. Later calls were not answered. And a follow-up letter offering some advice (along with back issues of Ambassador Report) received no reply.
Filippello's Elijah Work
On the morning of July 1, thousands of readers of the Pasadena Star-News were confronted by a full-page announcement entitled "Open Letter to the Worldwide Church of God." The ad began with a strong rebuke of the WCG's leadership and charged that there is adultery among the church's top ministers and serious deviation from scriptural teaching. (The ad's author is particularly angry with the WCG's latest divorce doctrine and with the church's policy that ministers need pay only first tithe, not the three tithes required of the lay members.) The ad then provided a very detailed prophecy outline of the "end times" based on the author's understanding of over two dozen quoted biblical passages.
Most Pasadenans, after reading 15 years' worth of headlines about WCG scandals, defections, investigations, lawsuits, and the like, were probably amused by the ad. Undoubtedly, however, some were not laughing when they read that "beginning April 1st, 1988 no rain will fall on the United States, England, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand... April 1st 1988 to July 1989 one third of the above nations (their populations) will die from famine, pestilence and disease epidemics caused by the first four trumpets."
Who placed the ad? For a few days we didn't know. The ad was sponsored by the Church of God Philadelphia Era (1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Suite 49, Los Angeles, CA 90035), but contained no identification of its author other than this cryptic statement: "The name Shiloh, Elijah, Wonderful Numberer, One of the Two Witnesses, Joshua, an Eagle, a Peg, the Last Prophet and many more hats I will be wearing of which my major responsibility will be Rev. 12:14...." A few days later, on July 6, the Pasadena Star-News ran a story about the ad and identified its author as Martin C. Filippello, who in March of this year resigned from the WCG ministry after 29 years of service. In a March 7 letter to WCG Pastor General Joseph W. Tkach, Filippello not only resigned from the WCG, but turned down an offer of full-time employment by the church (in recent years he has not been on full salary with the WCG). Among the reasons he gave for his decision was this statement: "We should be teaching God's people that God hates divorce and yet leading ministers are married to divorced women. We wonder why we are having a disaster with many marriages in God's church. The entire book of Malachi indites [sic] us. We are the ones stealing God's tithes."
After listening to a number of the taped sermons that he offers free to those who write for them, we phoned Mr. Filippello, and he graciously consented to an interview. Mr. Filippello was cordial and quite open. He does not hide the fact that he believes he is the prophesied end-time Elijah, and he is convinced he has the responsibility of attempting to turn the WCG from its sins. Filippello, besides identifying the Elijah of Malachi's prophecy, teaches that the WCG is the Laodicean Church of Revelation, that Joseph Tkach is the "man of sin" described in II Thessalonians, that Herbert W. Armstrong will be resurrected in January 1988, that Tkach's reign will end in March, and that "the great tribulation" will begin April 1st (a day we think many will find appropriately symbolic).
©1987 Ambassador Report. Published quarterly, as finances allow, as a Christian service. ISSNO882-2123
John Trechak, Editor & Publisher Mary E. Jones, Associate Editor
Founding Publishers: Robert Gerringer, Bill Hughes, Mary E. Jones, John Trechak, Len Zola, and Margaret Zola.
The WCG has tried to distance itself as much as possible from Filippello, even going so far as to insinuate to the press that he has a mental problem. Perhaps the two to three hours of Bible study that Filippello does each day have produced an overly vivid imagination. But frankly, he doesn't really sound any less rational than most WCG ministers, and he sounds considerably more rational than some such as Gerald Waterhouse.
Why Filippello feels so compelled to take on such a unique mission we don't know. It is interesting, however, that Filippello and Tkach are both from Chicago, were once very close friends, and were even ordained local elders on the very same day. We understand the WCG has told its members not to listen to any of Filippello's tapes but to immediately destroy any they receive. But if everything Filippello says is crazy, why should this be necessary?
Mr. Filippello told us that he will send, without charge, copies of the July 1 Star-News ad and the July 6 Star-News article along with a cassette tape of his sermon "The Resurrection of Herbert W. Armstrong" to all who request them. We've listened to that tape and can honestly say it is without doubt completely unlike anything we've ever heard.
Dankenbring's Triumph Publishing
William Dankenbring is a name many former WCG members will recognize. After graduating from Ambassador College in 1963, Dankenbring wrote for the Plain Truth for 11 years. He wrote on an amazing variety of subjects, and one former Plain Truth editor has called Dankenbring "one of the best writers the church ever produced." In 1974, however, the Plain Truth went through an editorial department reorganization and Dankenbring found himself no longer working for the WCG.
In the years that followed, Dankenbring, a hard-working family man who was once an Eagle Scout, went on to careers in insurance and real estate, and in recent years has been a high school registrar. His first love, however, has remained the Bible. Cut off from writing opportunities with the Plain Truth, Dankenbring, nevertheless, remained loyal to Herbert Armstrong and the WCG's theology. But he still desired to use his writing and business skills in a way that would advance what he saw as "God's truth." That desire led to his founding Triumph Publishing, an independent publishing company devoted to disseminating - on a commercial basis - many of the same teachings the WCG was promulgating.
Right from its start, Triumph did not thrill the WCG. Dankenbring was not criticizing the WCG's leaders and he was in harmony with all its teachings. In fact, he remained a loyal, tithe-paying member. But Triumph still made many in the WCG uneasy. "Who gave you the authority to do this?" was a question frequently put to Dankenbring by members who could not fathom "truth" coming from any source other than HWA or his hirelings. The ministry, too, on a number of occasions, challenged him on certain wordings that appeared in his articles and on whether it was appropriate for him to market his books during the WCG's Feast of Tabernacles. Behind his back, however, the official WCG position toward Dankenbring was vehement. In an article either written or approved by Tkach, the April 23, 1982 Pastor General's Report (a publication sent to WCG ministers) contained this attack on Dankenbring:
Question: Several ministers have asked about Mr. William Dankenbring's advertisement for his books which have been distributed to members through mailings, at Feast sites, etc. Are the books endorsed by the Church? Does the Church approve of them or recommend them? Is Mr. Dankenbring still a member of the Church?
Answer: Mr. Dankenbring is classified as a member of God's Church. But that does not imply that his privately-sold writings have the approval or endorsement of the Church.
Human nature seems to want to use God, or God's Church, for personal gain or profit. The moneychangers used God's temple as a place of business to sell at a profit to God's people. In blazing anger, Jesus drove them out. Jesus said, "Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise" (John 2:16). We, the members, are God's house, builded into a HOLY TEMPLE (Eph. 2:20-21).
In II Peter 2:3 God warns, "And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you." Yes, SELLING FOR PROFIT their words in writing to the members of God's Church.
Perhaps the selling of doves and things for sacrifice was not in itself wrong, but exploiting God's HOUSE as a place or means of selling to God's people was.
The membership of God's Church has been exploited for private gain a number of times by those no longer members.
God has commissioned HIS CHURCH - not private members on their own - to feed the flock. The Church publishes much literature - magazines, booklets, books, reprint articles besides the personal ministry, to feed the flock - AND WE DO NOT CHARGE A PRICE OR MAKE MERCHANDISE OF OUR MEMBERS IN SO FREELY GIVING GOD'S TRUTH! [Editor: Recall that books by HWA, Raymond McNair, and Stan Rader have had price tags.]
Although Mr. Dankenbring is a graduate of Ambassador College and has studied under Mr. Armstrong and our ministers, he has stated in writing, "I appreciate him (Mr. Armstrong) very much, although I have disagreed with him from time to time on some relatively 'small' or 'little' things." But what the writer might consider "small" or "little" disagreements might in God's eyes be vitally important disagreements.
God's Church therefore does not endorse nor give approval to Mr. Dankenbring's books, nor those of others than the Church's own publications or those definitely approved.
Still, Dankenbring was not disfellowshipped. Triumph continued to grow, and by 1986 more WCG members than ever were familiar with Triumph's books and articles.
Official WCG tolerance for Dankenbring, however, ran out some months ago when, instead of simply putting out materials that echoed official church dogma, Dankenbring published an article that put forward a new view of the 2300 days prophecy of Daniel. The article was distributed to a few members and a handful of ministers, most of whom seemed to view it favorably. He was then to learn, however, that in the WCG "new truth" can still only come from one source - the man at the top.
After 30 years of dedicated service to the WCG, Dankenbring was summarily disfellowshipped in January. None of his old friends in the ministry cared enough to even want to discuss "his problem" with him. Phone calls requesting counselling on the matter got him nowhere.
The WCG again showed itself to be a very cold and cruel church. But in dumping Dankenbring it may have also (once again) shot itself in the foot. Dankenbring, like many others, is now convinced that the WCG is the Laodicean church of Revelation and he has put out a number of new articles challenging the WCG on some important doctrines. Our mail indicates that despite official WCG warnings against doing so, many Worldwiders are reading and passing around his publications. Those interested in Dankenbring's books, articles, and Prophecy Flash newsletter should write for his price list. The address is Triumph Publishing, P.O. Box 292, Altadena, CA 91001.
GTA Still Preaching
Whether you like him or not, there's one thing you have to say for Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA). The man has staying power. No one in the religion field (not even PTL's Jim Bakker) has ever been put under the kind of scrutiny to which GTA was in the 1970s. And no preacher has ever been so thoroughly discredited by his own church (then the WCG) and his church's founder (in this case, his own father). Yet here it is 1987 and GTA is still at it, still preaching much the same thing he always did (and many say still behaving in exactly the same way he's always behaved).
Today, GTA is clearly in command of his Church of God, International. His good looks, trim physique, and forceful speaking style all remain. His weekly telecast is on about 20 stations across the United States. His free magazine, Twentieth Century Watch, while lacking the huge circulation of the WCG's Plain Truth, is clearly superior in writing style, layout, and even paper quality. And GTA is not hiding behind "spokesmen," hired announcers, or press releases. For instance, on July 23 he was one of the guests on the popular television talk show hosted by Oprah Winfrey.
In the last few years, GTA has been increasingly open in his criticism of the WCG. For instance, in the spring issue of his Twentieth Century Watch was a revealing GTA article about his father's claim of apostleship. That issue also contained an interesting article on the disfellowshipping or excommunication doctrine of the WCG. The address for GTA and Twentieth Century Watch is P.O. Box 2530, Tyler, Texas 75710. The phone number is (214) 561-2525.
Ernest Martin Reorganizes
Dr. Ernest L. Martin, the former WCG minister who went on to head the Foundation for Biblical Research for a number of years and then started the Academy for Scriptural Knowledge (ASK) has a new address. After Martin's second marriage ended in divorce in 1986, Martin's output seemed to dwindle. Recently, however, after marrying for a third time (to a successful real estate agent named Ramona), Martin seems to be getting more active in the religious publishing field.
ASK recently put out a large list of works by Martin (the list is free, the other materials are not) that are available in print, including a good number of new ones on prophecy, and some that are sure to be quite controversial. (For instance we notice that Martin now postulates that Jesus actually "died according to the Law of Moses and it was by stoning." We have also heard that Martin is now convinced that he knows the exact spot where Jesus was born.) In recent years we have not always agreed with Martin's conclusions, but we know that in the past many in the WCG have found his writings of interest. The new mailing address for ASK is P.O. Box 7777, Alhambra, CA 91802.
New Works on "British Israelism"
"British Israelism," or the belief that the English-speaking peoples are the true descendants of the so-called Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, continues to fascinate many who have left the WCG. We have recently heard of a number of new works related to the subject (both pro and con) written by former WCG members.
Pastor Keith Hunt of the Biblical Church of God (Canada) believes firmly in the theory and recently wrote us that he has written and published a "very large book" on the subject. It's title is In Defence of David's Throne, and it sells for $10. The address to write to for further information is: Biblical Church of God (Canada), Box 36, Station A, Kelowna, B.C., V1Y 7N3, Canada.
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Former WCG minister and Plain Truth editor Brian Knowles has written articles for a number of Christian publications since leaving Worldwide. One article he's written that we found particularly worthwhile appears in the September 1987 issue of Bible Advocate and is entitled "Was Dan Really a 'Serpent's Trail'?" While the article does not criticize Herbert W. Armstrong by name, Knowles does take issue with Joseph Allen's Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, the 1902 book upon which HWA based so much of his own prophecy teachings. Those who would like a copy of the September Bible Advocate (it's free) should write: Bible Advocate, P.O. Box 33677, Denver, CO 80233.
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Former WCG member Leona McNair is known to many Ambassador Report readers because of her ongoing legal battle with the WCG. But many will be interested to learn that Mrs. McNair, a nurse by profession, is also a devoted Bible researcher and budding writer who has recently completed a 55-page commentary on Genesis 49.
Entitled "Shadows of a Better Covenant," the thesis puts forth "the concept that Jacob's blessing of his sons is directly related to the message concerning the Redeemer of Isaiah 9:2-8, and that the 'word given to Jacob' refers to the prophecy of Genesis 49." Mrs. McNair's insights into the symbology of Genesis 49 stand in sharp contrast with the views of many British-Israelism supporters (including her ex-husband, evangelist-author Raymond McNair) who see Genesis 49 as a revelation of the identities and fate of certain modern nations.
While a good deal of effort has already gone into this project, Mrs. McNair hopes to eventually enlarge her thesis into a full-size book. That, however, may take a few years. In the meantime, those who are interested in obtaining a copy of "Shadows of a Better Covenant" should write to: Leona McNair, P.O. Box 41494, Pasadena, CA 91104. To help cover production, printing, and mailing costs, Mrs. McNair is asking $7 (U.S.) per copy. She also tells us that she would very much appreciate receiving any comments or criticisms readers of her thesis may have regarding her work.
C. Gary Reid's Series on Prophecy
Those who have followed the activities of the WCG and its many offshoots will have noticed that interpretation of Bible prophecy has played, and continues to play, a major role in the religious experience of these groups. But some observers who have followed these movements for a decade or more will have noticed how many of their interpretations have been both radical by mainstream Christian standards, and with time have proven themselves clearly erroneous.
The prophetic passages of the Bible are fascinating reading. But all too often, it seems, they are used by the ill-trained, the fanatical, and the unscrupulous to coerce the ill-trained, the fanatical, and the naive into handing over huge sums toward the promotion of self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. With only a few exceptions, it appears that Bible commentators among those who are either in, or have left, the WCG, approach the subject of Bible prophecy with very little objectivity.
Perhaps that is why we have found a recent series of articles in the Commentator of the Foundation for Biblical Research to be so eye-opening. Written by C. Gary Reid, the three-part series entitled "Prophetic Interpretation: Apostle-Style" looks at the unanticipated way many biblical passages have been fulfilled in the past, and from that basis postulates that in the future biblical prophecies that are yet unfulfilled may come to fruition, but in ways quite different from the literalistic and simplistic scenarios envisioned by some modern-day "apostles."
Besides having a theology degree from Ambassador College, Mr. Reid has a Master's degree in mathematics and has written for a number of publications including Ambassador Report at its inception. Those interested in his excellent series on Bible prophecy should send their requests (there is no charge) to: The Commentator, Foundation for Biblical Research, P.O. Box 499, Pasadena, CA 91102.
Alumni Association Holds First Reunion
On July 4 and 5, the newly formed Ambassador College Alumni Association (see our April issue) had its first reunion at the Loews Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Ambassador Report has heard from a good number of the Ambassador alumni, former faculty members and administrators who attended, and overall, it seems, the gathering proved a real success. One Ambassador alumnus who attended sent us this report:
The Anatole Hotel, where the reunion was held, is one of the most elegant hotels in Texas. It was built for the Republican convention that nominated Ronald Reagan for President. When the Anatole's management discovered that Bob and Judy Boyce were chairpersons of an alumni committee that would be bringing people from all over the country to the Anatole, they offered the Boyces the elegant Ronald Reagan suite. Those who checked in with the Boyces by phone were graciously invited to an impromptu reception at the suite before the evening's activities.
The reunion later began formally with an hors d'ouevres reception. Even though the fresh fruit, vegetables, fondue, meat nuggets, and cheeses were inviting, they were barely touched for about half an hour because the crowd was so intent on seeing old acquaintances and on viewing the bulletin board displaying memorabilia and letters from those who could not attend.
After the social hour, chairman Bobby Boyce welcomed the alumni with a brief history of how the reunion originated. He told how a group of friends, no longer associated with the Worldwide Church of God, had continued to gather for yearly vacations. They felt that an Ambassador College alumni association would provide a means of keeping in touch with old friends in a relaxed environment, sharing a common history, and providing a social and professional network.
Bob then introduced the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, David Antion. After the preliminaries, Antion explained that he would announce in sequence each year of the college's operation. Former students who attended Ambassador College in those years could speak for one minute if they desired, telling what had happened in their lives since they left the college.
The first one to speak was evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong. (As he began to speak without introducing himself, someone jokingly yelled out, "What's your name?") Ted told of his church's activities in Tyler, Texas and at the one-minute time limit quipped that this had been the shortest speech he had ever given.
Wayne Cole was one of the earliest AC students attending the reunion. He is now working in real estate. Others attending included Ron Dart (Ted's colleague at the Church of God, International), Tony Hammer, Bill McDowell (now in oil exploration in Louisiana), and David Robinson (author of the book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web). Robert Kuhn, now living in New York, gave greetings from George Geis, recently named a distinguished professor in the Graduate Management Program at UCLA. Also attending was Jill Hockwald Banker, the former daughter-in-law of Joseph Tkach (the current chief of the WCG). Paul Hunting transmitted greetings from his father, former WCG evangelist Charles Hunting, who now lives in Florida.
After one alumni member joked that he had attended "God's headquarters college in Pasadena," Jack Martin said he had attended "God's most righteous college in Bricket Wood." Jack was followed by a Big Sandy alumnus who announced he was from "God's country club college." Gary Alexander (whose IRS problems have been reported in the AR) elicited the strongest laughts of the evening by announcing that he had performed an experiment to see if not paying taxes was more dangerous than not paying tithes.
Door prizes went to Bill Farr for traveling the farthest to attend the reunion (from northern Alberta, Canada), and to Ted Armstrong for being associated with Ambassador College the longest.
The celebrants were asked to fill out a questionnaire asking their opinion on the current reunion and their input for the next one. This open opinion poll was a refreshing change from the non-democratic environment of the WCG. As the evening closed, everyone was invited to share a brunch together at the Anatole the next morning.
The general feeling regarding the reunion was that it was long overdue. It was for some the first contact they had had with the Worldwide Church of God (even if just with former members) since they left that church. And it was for some an acknowledgment, finally, of the part the WCG and Ambassador College had played in their lives. Of the 168 people in attendance, several had driven for hours or flown hundreds of miles to attend. Some alumni who still belong to the WCG decided to attend the reunion and they were warmly welcomed in keeping with the committee's goal that the gathering would be open to all who were associated with Ambassador College at one time, regardless of their current associations. The depth of feeling regarding the reunion was illustrated by one current church member who supports it so strongly that he or she anonymously sent a $250 donation toward expenses.
Although the reunion will probably not be an annual event, the concensus of opinion of those present was to hold another gathering next year in Palm Springs, California. Several hundred are expected to attend since plans have been announced a year ahead of time and the Southern California area has a large number of alumni living there.
The reunion organizing committee included David & Molly (Hammer) Antion, Jeff & Linda (Shaklee) Booth, Curtis & Melba (Jenison) Borman, Bob & Judy (Prince) Boyce, Bob Ellsworth, Paul & Mary Jo (Bailey) Flatt, Wayne & Cheryl (Vance) Freeman, Charles Groce, Tony & Natalie (Pyle) Hammer, Bob & Sandy (Holladay) Haworth, Jack & Pat Martin, Jack & Ruthann (Schutt) Pyle, and Dennis & Joye (Williams) Pyle.
While most who attended the reunion seem to have found it a positive experience, there were a handful who were somewhat critical:
I've heard that Garner Ted Armstrong will be hearing from a few people. Many were shocked at his presence at the reunion and he certainly did not try to keep a low profile. He stood to talk twice. I don't believe anyone else did that. Many expected GTA to stand and apologize for the havoc he personally has caused in so many lives. Of course, that apology was never forthcoming and never will be....
Mr. Bob Boyce closed with a statement that former students owe a great deal to their former instructors. I don't believe that was the popular opinion, not with those to whom I talked. There is a big division still between ex-students and ex-ministers. The same with ex-members and ex-ministers and never will there be harmony there.
While it was wonderful to be re-united with old friends... the scars are very, very deep. I personally contacted a dozen former students and they informed me they could in no way endure such a gathering. The healing of wounds has not taken place and they feel they could never attend such a meeting. I think some of those who thought they were up to it really felt a good deal of pain and resentment.
The thing I liked best about the AC reunion was that GTA was treated just like any other AC grad.
Listening to the stories of my fellow alumni at the reunion in Dallas, it was notable how many of the Ambassador College alumni own their own businesses or hold graduate degrees. It would appear that many of us became successful in spite of Ambassador College, not because of it.
Like any other human organization - especially one just beginning - the alumni association has, and will continue to have, problems. But that doesn't mean that the idea isn't a good one. Most of those who attended the reunion apparently found it to be a very positive, and even therapeutic, experience. Undoubtedly, it could have been an even better experience had Ambassador College given the association a little bit of encouragement. We understand that not only did Ambassador's Chancellor, Joseph Tkach, refuse to attend (thereby passing up a golden public relations opportunity for the college and an opportunity to show true Christian love) but Tkach, in true WCG-cult style, even discourteously refused to reply to a personal invitation sent him by chairman Bob Boyce. (Boyce, however, says he is not insulted and hopes Tkach will decide to attend next year.)
We at Ambassador Report feel that, in spite of whatever small inadequacies it may have, the alumni association can perform a very useful function. We encourage all our fellow alumni to support the efforts of its organizing committee by helping locate as many alumni as possible. Those on the association's mailing list will then be able to receive details of future reunions. Bob Boyce has informed us that in a month or two he will be mailing out a small publication, tentatively called Alumni News, which will contain a complete report on the Dallas reunion. The association has also put together an official "Statement of Purpose" which clarifies the goals of the association. Those who would like a free copy of the Alumni News and the Statement of Purpose, or who would like to provide alumni names and addresses, should write: The Alumni Association, P.O. Box 9342, Longview, TX 75608.
"The Bible Speaks" Cult Loses a Round in Court
The following news item appeared in a number of publications this spring, including the Boston Globe (page 1) on May 20:
Following a 3-week nonjury trial in Worcester, Mass., U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Queenan Jr. has ordered The Bible Speaks to return all of the $6.5 million donated to it by heiress Elizabeth Dayton Dovydenas.
Judge Queenan rejected the church's claim that the First Amendment forbids such intervention. He asserted that the Rev. Carl Stevens Jr.'s conduct "reeks of undue influence" and that the Bible Speaks pastor had abused Mrs. Dovydenas' trust "as well as the trust of many good and devout members of the church" in what testimony revealed to be "an astonishing saga of clerical deceit, avarice and subjugation."
The judge found that Stevens achieved "total dominion and control over Dovydenas in part "by deceit and insincerity," persuading her that she "was a special person anointed by God to promote good through gifts" to the church. He also noted that the pastor's "attempts to ruin the claimant's marriage were intentional and malicious."
Mrs. Dovydenas, 34, is the daughter of a founder of the Dayton-Hudson Corp., the 5th-largest retail chain in the U.S. She sued the church on grounds of undue influence and fraud to recover donations she made while a member from 1983 to 1986.
The judge's decision has set the stage for the possible forced liquidation of the 20,000-member church's 70-acre headquarters in Lenox, Mass. But The Bible Speaks' lawyer, Norman Grutman, has said that if he lost the case, he would take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
One newspaper (in a UPI release) quoted Gordon Walker, attorney for Dovydenas, as saying: "I think the case stands for the proposition that even evangelists are accountable and must play by the rules."
During the trial Dovydenas testified that cult leader Stevens "said he had the delegated authority of God, that when he speaks, it is Jesus speaking.... I was afraid I would be punished by God, even to having my life shortened, if I didn't obey him."
Judge Queenan's decision comes as a breath of fresh air to many who feel that the U.S. courts put on blinders and castrate themselves virtually every time some defendant raises "religion" as a defense for fraud, misrepresentation, larceny, etc., etc. But whether his decision will stand remains to be seen. The July 26 Los Angeles Times reported that an appeal has been filed on behalf of "The Bible Speaks." The lawyer for "The Bible Speaks" is the flamboyant Norman Roy Grutman who represented Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine not long ago in a lawsuit brought by the Rev. Jerry Falwell (whom Grutman then referred to
as "Foul-well"). As it's turned out, Grutman, who claims he is presently a Christian Scientist, was PTL's lawyer when Jim Bakker was dethroned, and so Grutman now represents Jerry Falwell's PTL. (Stan Rader, where are you now that big-time religion really needs you?)
Congressman Pickle's Hearings
The controversy that has surrounded the Jim Bakker-PTL scandal has apparently prompted more than a few citizens to write to Congress. The Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee will be spending a day or so in October on hearings concerning the tax laws by which religious nonprofit corporations are able to escape thorough government scrutiny.
During August and September Ambassador Report editor John Trechak repeatedly phoned government officials in Washington attempting to persuade them of the need for major reforms in this area of the law. The following is a letter your editor sent to Ms. Russlyn Guritz, the staff member coordinating research for those Oversight Subcommittee hearings:
Dear Mrs. Guritz:
As I indicated to you in our phone conversation earlier today, I am sending you a number of back issues of Ambassador Report and some other materials that I hope will prove insightful to Representative Pickle and the subcommittee.
Having reported for over ten years on the scandal-plagued Worldwide Church of God and other religious organizations, I have become firmly convinced that there is a great need for our tax laws to be reformed so as to require greater financial accountability by religious nonprofit corporations.
While I am aware that some Constitutional questions may be raised by such a proposal, I am a bit cynical toward any suggestion that such reform would violate the First Amendment. First of all, I believe you will find most legal scholars assert that a complete wall of separation between church and state (Jefferson's phrase, not the Constitution's) is not mandated by either the free exercise clause or the establishment clause. And second, as a practical matter, such separation does not exist today.
At the present time, religious and pseudo-religious groups are easily formed into nonprofit corporations through state law and are then given significant tax advantages through federal law. Many of these corporations then make extensive use of the public airwaves and the U.S. Postal Service to generate huge revenues and, quite often, to provide huge incomes to the heads of these government-created "nonprofit" entities. Yet in many cases it is virtually impossible for the contributor (often very devout but financially unsophisticated) to ever find out what became of his or her contributions.
I therefore applaud Congressman Pickle's interest in the problem, and I hope you will contact me if I may be of any further assistance to you, Representative Pickle, or the subcommittee.
John Trechak, Editor
The congressman most responsible for the upcoming hearings is Rep. J. J. Pickle of Austin, Texas. His Washington mailing address is: Rep. J. J. Pickle, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515 (phone 202-225-4865). We've suggested to Congressman Pickle that along with some of the big names of TV evangelism who have already been asked to appear that the Oversight Subcommittee subpoena "Apostle" Joe Tkach and WCG treasurer Leroy Neff. We'd find it fascinating to see them explain how they intend to spend the $163 million the U.S. government is helping them make this year. We've also suggested that while they're at it, they could subpoena former WCG accountants Stanley Rader and Jack Kessler. We're confident both of them could prove very valuable witnesses. If you think those are good ideas, why not write Congressman Pickle or your own Congressman (or woman) and tell them what you think.
Editor: The following letter came in response to our April issue in which we reported how the WCG finally - after 50 years of doctrinal error - changed its position on "divine healing" so as to allow its members to seek medical help when they are ill.
How wonderful that God has finally led His "True Church "out of the darkness and into a "New Truth" that the rest of the Christian world caught onto quite some time ago - God doesn't mind if his followers go to doctors!
Too bad that careless God didn't think to let His "True Church" in on that little piece of truth a bit earlier for there would be more of His followers around to support His Work.
I received your April issue today, on what would have been my mother's 62nd birthday. She died at age 44, after a decline in health over several years, during which time the total medical care she received consisted of being anointed over and over again as she wondered what sin she had committed that was so heinous that God would withhold his gift of healing. The emotional impact on our family (three children at home; the youngest age seven) was, to say the least, devastating.
I am actually very grateful that Joseph Tkach has had the intestinal fortitude to reverse one of HWA's strongest and most harmful doctrines. Now, perhaps, my remaining parent will not have to be prematurely sacrificed on the altar of Herbert Armstrong's megalomania.
-Sandra (Haux) Entler
AC Pasadena, 1972
My wife and I have been members of the WCG since the early '60s and have been able to see a lot of changes take place. It seems that when the leading ministers want to do something that is against church doctrine the doctrine is changed. About all we hear in services is sermons on tithing and obeying. It's almost like a broken record.
As an Ambassador grad and ex-member of the WCG, I could not help but reflect on Ambassador College when I recently had the chance to see a special edition of the college newspaper which was printed at graduation time this year. As usual, there were photos of the beautiful people of Ambassador, living the lives that such a stimulating environment offers. I caught a glimpse of a few familiar faces of people that I knew from the mid-seventies, noticed the usual action photos of AC people enjoying the good life in Southern California, and had an opportunity to see the new Pastor General, among other things, serving pancakes at a college breakfast. It certainly looked wonderful. Who would ever guess by reading this publication that this college and its sponsor, the Worldwide Church of God, could have brought so much sorrow to so many people's lives.
While I have some good memories of my alma mater, there is one fact that prevails above all else: I am not welcome there! All of my time and money invested in Ambassador are given no recognition by those in power who make the rules. Indeed, I know of people that have invested enormous amounts of money in that college and church, and they are not even welcome to walk on the very property they helped pay for!
I came to Ambassador as a graduate from another college: accredited, I might add! But I did not have much use for my accredited degree. I wanted to go to Ambassador. There I thought I would find friendship and happiness. I was to find out five years later how much value my Ambassador friends were: only a few remained friends. In all of the nine years that have passed since I graduated from AC I have not heard from the college so much as once!
Now, notice the contrast when I write of the "worldly" college I attended. I continue to receive alumni publications and have for over a decade. For years, I have received several letters a year from this college inviting me to on-campus alumni functions and to participate in alumni trips. The department in which I did my major study sends me a yearly survey and updates on the department. When I recently returned to take some classes, I was welcomed and treated with kindness! All this from a college that I counted of no value!
And Ambassador College? Well, we know how "concerned" they are for all their alumni. And to think I loved Ambassador more than any other place on earth. Because of the horrible things the WCG has done and the reflection this places on AC, I have become ashamed to say that I ever attended Ambassador. Thankfully, I had an accredited degree. My wife, who also has an AC degree, has not been so lucky. After almost a decade, she is still working toward an accredited degree while working full time. Many people in her field have long since completed their masters' programs and are working on doctorate programs. But thanks to Ambassador, my wife is still spending time and money to get back to the point she thought she had reached when she was handed her AC "degree."
Yet for all the problems this church and college have caused people, these "institutions" continue on their merry way. Not a single apology has been offered. No sorrow expressed from the vaunted leaders who have caused so much hurt.
What then is the real purpose of Ambassador College? Why continue to exist if college officials continue to ignore a large segment of its alumni population? How incredible to see Ambassador alumni having to form their own alumni association because Ambassador College refuses to recognize many of its own graduates! If anything speaks of the treachery of these AC officials, this is it!
A closing comment on WCG and AC personnel management style. As Dorothy said while in the Land of Oz: "My, people come and go so quickly around here!"
-An Ambassador Grad, Missouri
Our son was always a bright man who made good grades, played football in school, and graduated with flying colors. After graduation he immediately started working and saving his money. At the age of 19, he bought a nice little house and a brand new car. He was doing so well that he started saving money to build a bigger house.
After a while, he met a girl.... Eventually, she moved in with our son and within about two months they got married. Eight months later the had a darling little girl. After the baby came she continued working as before, because they were saving for a new house. When she first met our son, she told him that she left home because her parents were too strict. They were members of the WCG. She told our son that she stopped going to their church and often made fun of it when her parents came to visit them....
After about a year, they sold their little house and started building their new house out in the country. In the meantime, they moved in with my husband and me. I took care of their little girl while they worked and waited for their house to he built. About two months after they moved into their house, our son came to visit us and announced that they were going to sell their house and move into an apartment. We asked him why he would do that when they hated apartments. I told him there would he no future in an apartment and that he should look to the future.... He just laughed and said, "We won't need a house because the world will end before I retire, and besides, having a house and nice things is too materialistic. We're not supposed to have materialistic things." When I asked him what he was talking about, he laughed again and said, "Can't you see how the world is today? It's a sign of the end of the world." He said that Jesus is coming soon and will destroy this world. He also said that the government and the whole world is possessed by the Devil.
I couldn't believe my ears! I was in shock. Where did he hear all this? It must have been from his wife's family, and he took it seriously. Right away I knew that he must have joined, or was planning to join, the WCG. I wouldn't believe it because he was born, baptized, and raised as a Catholic. He always said that if he ever stopped going to the Catholic Church, he just wouldn't believe in any other church. He then started telling us that we are all going to hell because HWA's church is the only true church and that all the other Christian churches (especially the Catholic Church) are of Satan. We tried to tell him how the Catholic Church was started by Jesus and then by Peter and the other apostles, but he wouldn't believe us. We would read scriptures in the Bible and he would put different meanings on them and they would be all twisted. It got to the point where he told us not to visit him anymore, so we left him alone.
Soon after that he lost his job because his job required Saturday work and he wouldn't work on the Sabbath. He was without a job for almost two months when he finally got another job with a big cut in pay. His wife then quit her job because her religion forbids mothers to work outside the home. After his cut in pay and her quitting her job, their income dropped to less than half of what they used to make... They finally put their house up for sale and moved in with her parents....
It's heartbreaking to see a child doing so well and then let it all go because of some weird religious beliefs. We have been under a lot of stress as we are still trying to get him out by writing to him and sending him booklets about our religion, but he seems to be so brainwashed or hypnotized that nothing seems to penetrate. We were hoping that when HWA died the church would die too. However, he has other cronies now on TV that have taken his place preaching the end of the world. I think it's terrible that so many families are broken up and hurt because of a weird church like the WCG. They actually encourage their members to leave their family if the relatives don't agree with them. Is that love? That's not how God would want it.
It's so good to continue to receive Ambassador Report. I was glad to hear of the change in teaching about healing. I was in Pasadena during Loma Armstrong's illness and death. HWA's attitude at that time was a major factor in opening my eyes.
I had terrible headaches about that time. Although (or because) I was making every effort to conform, I was told my headaches were a result of a bad attitude. Finally, I got up enough courage to buy aspirin. I still remember seeing the nose of an AC employee pressed against the drugstore window!
GTA visited Lakeland a few months back. We drove up to see him, thinking surely he had learned a few things during the last twenty years. Since we had trouble finding the place, we arrived a little late but just in time for his sermon. He got up and started talking about beating your children - I couldn't believe it! Only the gray hair was different. All the old memories were so overwhelming I couldn't stand it so I got up and left.
I am happy to tell you that I recently completed an M.A. in Counseling at the University of South Florida. I was truly amazed at how caring and unselfish the "secular humanists" can be! I still have a strong faith in God and His leading, but am not much involved in religion. I have just begun working at a maternity center where I believe I will have the opportunity to do some good.
Thank you so much for continuing the AR.
-Bobette Pestana, Tampa, Florida
Would you please be so kind as to send me another copy of the Ambassador Report? My 91-year-old mother destroyed the envelope with the latest report before I even had a chance to read it.
Jim Coram gave me a copy of the AR and I found it to he of interest. (I work at the Concordant Publishing Concern.) I was a devotee and fellow-traveler of the WCG from age 12 to about age 28 (1957-1972), but never did join up because the requirements for salvation were too severe. But because of my faith in their prophecy, I took German in school and eventually joined the Roman Catholic Church so that I could be on the "right" side when "Assyria" (Germany) invaded "Israel" (the USA). Ha! Anyway that's all over with now and I really can laugh about it.
-John Swanson, Pasadena, California
I have very little to do with Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. But I think there is somewhat of an apology in order for grouping them with HWA.
Jimmy Swaggart, I do know, through his program "Child Care International, " prepares between 300,000 and 400,000 meals a day for children, has built 277 schools, and purchased 57 mobile self-sustained medical units in Third World countries. Contrast that with the self-centered attitude of the WCG.
If there is good, then there is indeed good and we should recognize that. We have come out of something that is not good, and too often we are quick to assume all religious organizations and their leaders, "under the skin, " are somehow related. Not so.
-Dr. Larry Jackson
I'm dropping you a line regarding an item in your most recent issue of the AR (]an. '87). You had mentioned how dumbfounded you were to learn of ex-WCG members now embracing the serpent seed doctrine. Of course, this is nothing less than an example of how people give heed to "doctrines of demons." What you may have done, unwittingly, is contributed to others persuing that false teaching. You listed, along with other groups, the Church of Israel in Schell City. They teach precisely that which you condemned - and rightly so - on the previous page.
Because the Church of Israel holds to some teachings similar to WCG (annual Holy Days, Israel Identity, etc.) it may have attracted some who still see valid the keeping of those days, etc. Satan has his snare out for many such. I have read some of the literature of this group and they are one of the most racist groups around. They take great pride in being Israelites. They have a whole series of tapes and literature on so-called anthropoidology, that all races other than their own are animals. The superiority of "us" and the inferiority of "them" is no new teaching. Every nation from modern Japan to the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians have promulgated that Satanic lie. There is much more that I could say about this group, but the less said about such garbage the better.
-British Columbia, Canada
It is good to see that there are people who have come out of the WCG and your report has helped them. It is like you finally have someone to talk to and listen to about your complaints in the WCG. For in that church you just never knew where you stood. If you kept all to yourself you were fine. If you tried to discuss and counsel with anyone, it was always as a subordinate. They were there to tell you, not to help you. Speak too much of your own mind and they'd tell you to get back in your place!
It has now been five and a half months since I quit attending [WCG services], and I feel as though I'm more a part of the human race. I know I'm not yet disfellowshipped (I still get the WCG lit), but I also know it's coming. It'll probably he around Passover or just after. I find there are some really kind people "in the world " and they're much more tolerant! I've also come to the conclusion that many of us in the WCG are quite immature - immature in our actions, ideas, and the way in which we treat others. Indeed the ministry speaks to the people as though they are children.
First HWA got us to turn our relatives and friends against us, then when you find out [the truth about the WCG] you leave and lose the friends you've made in the WCG. Many don't leave because they fear to be lonely.
It's been over a year since I left the WCG. It isn't easy when the friends you had are almost all in the church. I've really helped myself to a certain extent because I love to read. Through books I travel, get to know about young love and right now [I'm reading] a scary one about human cell experiments. I'm an old lady, alone but not lonely, and I love reading the AR.
Our son joined the WCG. His wife and her family are so brainwashed that we can't get close to them. They completely ignor us except for a small gift for Mother's and Father's Day. We helped him so much and now we're getting nothing back - no letters or signs of love - just silence. It's worse than death. It breaks our hearts. We need the assurance from people like you that the truth is getting out, but it needs to get to every WCG member - our son and his family included.
My husband is a WCG member and we are now going through a custody battle. He is filing so many papers, he will run me dry financially before my divorce. I am being supported with food by the Salvation Army, three local churches, and family and friends have also helped financially. I have sold most of my valuables to keep my house and children going. My husband pays $60 a week in child support (when it comes). Most of his salary goes to the WCG. His own children he neglects; no medicine, food, or clothing has he paid for since August 1986. He's never even considered paying for other household bills, but he refuses to give up his support of the WCG.
Please keep up your good work. Your newsletters mean so much to me and have really helped me over the past five years - since my ex-wife (a WCG member) and I divorced and I was left with three sons to raise.
My son and his wife are very much into WCG teachings and you don't dare make a negative remark or talk to them. If you say anything they will not answer you. Or more seriously, as they have four children, I would not he allowed to see them. I tried to talk to my son, but he said he is sure this is the only real church there is in the world and he believes so strongly (his wife too) that it scares me....
My daughter-in-law's sister was staying with them as well and suddenly we didn't see her anymore. They wouldn't answer when we asked where she was so I asked my grandson and he said that Satan deceived her and she left the church.... I suddenly knew in my heart the extent of the bondage they were under. The children are beaten a lot and all have callouses on their behinds. I never hear them talking ahout Jesus, but always about Satan and what a bad guy he is. I see they want to be right so badly that they follow all the WCGs rules and regulations according to the letter.
Something I've never heard discussed in your report is how our experiences [as WCG members who've left] have made us stronger spiritually. Like the persecution in the early church or in today's communist countries, our persecution made us more zealous for God. I think that's often why we are so dissatisfied with the way Americans "play" church. Even though in our zeal we were not worshipping the true God, our intentions were there. When our allegiance shifts to God, it is usually much stronger than that of most Christians. We can count our blessings.
-Sincerely, in Christ,
Lois E. (Holman) Murphy
(AC, Big Sandy, 1968-69)
I find it very interesting to learn what is going on in the WCG. However, what is more important about the Report is it has given me support over the last five years with the realization that I am not alone and that there are many others around the world in a similar situation. Also, it gives me hope in the fact that people do wake up to the falsehood of the WCG, leave, rehabilitate themselves and live productive lives again with a free mind.
A few days ago I went out to lunch with some friends from work who have never been in the WCG or had any idea that I had been. When they asked me what had brought me to California from my home state of Washington, I actually found myself lying to them in order to avoid mentioning the WCG. Afterwards, I couldn't believe I'd done such a thing! After all, I've been out of that church for almost 14 years, have adjusted well since leaving, and most importantly have never lied about the experience before. So why was I starting now?
After much thought, I finally decided that there were several reasons. First of all, yes, even after 14 years, I still have painful memories of the WCG that can upset me. I also feel some shame at having been taken in by a group that everyone in Los Angeles seems to know is bizarre.
After exploring some of the reasons why this event happened, I became rather angry at myself. After all, why should I feel ashamed of having been a WCG member? I did nothing wrong except be young and idealistic. The ones who should be ashamed are the WCG officials who have done so much damage to so many lives.
Now that I've had more time to think about what happened I once more feel pretty good about myself. After all, I survived the AG/WCG experience, got an accredited degree, a good job, and have good friends (none of whom have rejected me just because of my former AC/WCG connections). If on occasion, I have flashhacks to painful WCG experiences, it doesn't mean that I haven't adjusted property, it just means that I'm human. I'm sure there's not one former WCG member who found it easy to leave that church, but I bet most have found their lives much better and much more rewarding since leaving. I know I have (despite the occasional setback).
Thank you for a job well done. Because of the AR I'm getting my life back in order.
A Note From the Editor
I owe our Report readers an apology. In our last issue (April 1987), I stated in closing that I was working on an article that would be "the most important we've done in some time." As of mid-September that article is still not done, and although much research has been accumulated, I can't in good conscience release the results yet. It's become clear to me that in order to do the kind of quality reporting we have in the past I'll need another three to six months for completing the research for that article and putting it all in print.
At first we planned to just hold off publishing this issue. But a good number of you wrote saying you'd appreciate receiving almost anything from us just to know we're still "hanging in there." Well, we are. That's why I became convinced it was important to get out this edition even if it lacked the lead article that's been in the works now for almost two years. I apologize for not getting out the big article I'd hoped for. But I really think most of you will have found this issue worthwhile nevertheless.
When our April Report went out we were concerned that this one might be our last. But thanks to some generous contributions, we've gotten caught up with most of our bills and so far, at least, we're able to continue.
We should point out, however, that even when an edition of the AR doesn't come out on time, we are still able to help many who write to us through back issues and personal correspondence. While a large percentage of those who write us are former WCG members or relatives of members, in recent months we seem to have been getting an ever increasing amount of mail from current WCG members. Apparently, the death of HWA and subsequent changes in Worldwide have prodded a good number into reexamining why they are in that organization. We hope that trend will continue.
Our thanks to all of you who are helping us to help them. Your continued support is very much appreciated.
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