September, 1996 (AR63)
Tkach Goes Ecumenical
It was the kind of happening that most observers of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) never thought they'd ever see. For National Prayer Day on May 2, Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, California became the venue for a prayer service attended by 515 people including Mayor William M. Paparian and other Pasadena area dignitaries. What made the service so unusual, however, was not the day, the prayers, the politicians, or the Marine Corps color guard that participated. What was new was the use of the WCG's "House for God" for a religious service presided over not just by WCG ministers Michael Feazell and Tom Lapacka, but by Rev. Kent Puls of the Canoga Park Lutheran Church, Dr. Les Blank, dean of the school of theology at Azusa Pacific University, Major Charles Yuill of the Salvation Army, Rev. Garner Scott Odell of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and Father Efstathios Mylonas of St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church.
Even in the decade following the death of church founder Herbert W. Armstrong in January 1986, such an ecumenical worship service at the very seat of WCG authority was unheard of. But after more than a decade of doctrinal change and with WCG leaders in the last two years having come out of the closet about their increasing contacts with what Worldwiders used to call "the religions of the world," such a prayer service is now considered, well, "normal" by the WCG headquarters congregation.
The May 2 event was not a token sop to the spirit of ecumenism. In the last year there have been many cases of WCG ministers reaching out to other denominations in various ways. Some WCG clerics are now studying at seminaries of other faiths, a good number of WCG congregations share church buildings with other denominations, some WCG congregations have had joint sabbath services with other sabbatarian denominations (Worldwide News, "WN," 3/12/96, p. 12), some WCG ministers have suggested to their lay members that they attend Sunday services with other denominations, and last February, 43 WCG ministers attended the evangelical Promise Keepers clergy convention in Atlanta where they were prodded into "rekindling, guarding and spreading the flame of the Holy Spirit" (WN, 2/27/96, p. 1).
The new ecumenism, while surprising for the WCG, does seem to be a growing international phenomenon. The Los Angeles Times (3/16/96, p. B4) in a Religious News Service article titled "Move Toward Unity Seen in Protestant Churches" stated:
A new spirit of unity is taking hold in American Protestantism thanks to a swell of ecumenical initiatives around the nation, proposals that could see millions of Christians put aside divisions on many topics, including how Holy Communion is understood.
Among the American Protestant denominations pursuing a new ecumenism are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. Even more ecumenical than American Protestant denominations, however, is the Roman Catholic Church. The Los Angeles Times (9/30/95, p. B4) in a Religious News Service article titled "Catholic Church Widens Outreach to Other Faiths" stated:
Thirty years after the Second Vatican Council added interfaith dialogue to the Roman Catholic agenda, the changing American religious scene has profoundly altered the American church's outreach to other religious groups. Where once Catholic interfaith dialogue largely meant conversation with Jews, mainline Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians, today it also means growing relationships with Muslims and evangelical Protestants.
That the Tkach church is very much a part of this growing ecumenism was made clear on June 26 when leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the WCG met for the first time at the Adventist Church World Headquarters In Silver Spring, Maryland. Ostensibly, the leaders of the two groups got together simply to discuss their mutual beliefs (WN, 7/23/96, p. 4). But accompanying the June 26 Adventist News Network press release that we received about the meeting was another press release about another set of meetings:
Mississauga, Ontario - Considerable progress was made in recent talks aimed at improving inter-denominational relations between the Lutheran World Federation and the Seventh-day Adventist World Church. The meetings, which occurred June 16-21 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, sought to break down false stereotypes, identify common beliefs and discover real or imagined friction between the two churches. A statement released by representatives from both denominations stated that the talks were a significant stop "in achieving mutual understanding."
The Mississauga meetings were the second in a series of yearly conversations to be held through 1998 and included the presentations of position papers related to, church doctrines and practices. Lutheran papers addressed the topics of justification by faith and the role of the law in the New Testament. Adventist papers discussed the relationship between justification, sanctification and the final judgement of God, and the Adventist understanding of the law and Sabbath.
Where all of this ecumenical energy is leading is anybody's guess. But a number of leading theologians are beginning to speculate that just as the entire world seems to be economically heading toward becoming what some call a global village (or global plantation?), there is similarly a possibility we will someday see some kind of globalization of religion. Such speculation is no longer the province of small apocalyptic sects. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times (8/31/96), famed theologian and author Karen Armstrong began by asking: "Is acceptance of Jesus Christ necessary for salvation?" She went on to discuss the well-known case of Rev. Richard A. Rhem who has upset many in the Dutch Reformed Church in America by his stated conclusion that such faith is not necessary for salvation. What was most interesting, however, were Karen Armstrong's final comments:
In the light of all this, some Christians even look forward to a new reformation, in which religious men and women across the globe pool the special insights of their faiths.
But Mr. Rhem's critics find this enthusiasm for other faiths deeply disturbing. To them, it seems a betrayal of a divine trust and a threat to religious identity. Some people join fundamentalist sects to find certainty in a world where nothing seems sacred. Others reassert the old exclusive doctrines - more stridently than ever.
© 1996 Ambassador Report. John Trechak, Editor & Publisher. Published as a Christian service almost quarterly - as finances allow.
Opinions expressed in by-lined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.
Like the new fundamentalism, however, the new liberalism is here to stay. In the 21st century, people of all faiths will have to decide whether to embrace the new globalization by expressing it in religious terms or to react vehemently against it and retreat into denominational ghettos.
Putting aside the many obvious questions of global import raised by the above statement, it appears that the central spiritual issues now being faced by the world's major religions are not that much different than those now being faced, albeit on a smaller scale, by the WCG and its daughter churches.
Will the WCG Be Scuttled?
For at least two years, a number of long-time WCG employees have said privately that Joseph Tkach Jr. inwardly abhorred the legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong so much he had a secret plan to purposely scuttle what was left of the Armstrong ship and then shove off, himself, in some kind of lifeboat. We thought such a notion was a bit extreme. But now we are not so sure. So much of what Tkach Jr. has been doing is so strange, so contrary to the successful money-making formulas laid down by HWA, that it is difficult to see any other kind of rationale behind what is occurring.
A good example is the "new Plain Truth." As we reported in our last issue, the plan to put a price tag on the formerly free magazine resulted in a monstrous drop in circulation. The number of people willing to pay for the new magazine was so small that very quickly Tkach sent out a letter to all the old readers begging them to resubscribe. If they couldn't afford the subscription price, he said, he'd send it to them for free. Still, most did not reorder the magazine. And no wonder. Many have noticed that the new PT has become essentially a catalogue for selling Christian books, Christian videos, Christian CDs, and Christian knickknacks. The editorial content of the new PT is so vapid, so lacking in substance that even many critics of the WCG are longing for the old Police Gazette style of the PT's earlier years. Times change. In Russia, Pravda, the Communist propaganda paper begun by Lenin in 1912, once boasted a circulation of 11 million but in recent years saw that circulation dwindle to under 200,000. In late July Pravda (which in Russian means "Truth") ceased publication. Some are wondering how long it will take for the same fate to descend upon the Plain Truth.
Another WCG institution in deep trouble is Ambassador University. The WN in July admitted that "Ambassador has one to two years to become self-sufficient." The WCG has already cut back so much of its funding for the University that in August, Dr. Russell Duke, the university's new president, sent out a letter to all locatable alumni begging for financial contributions. In it Duke explained:
This past academic year a $5 million subsidy from the church supported a $12.5 million budget for 760 full-time students. That represented a rather remarkable reduction of $9.5 million in subsidy over just a five-year period.... For the 1996-97 academic year we anticipate receiving $1.2 million cash from the church to support a $9.6 million budget. That's a reduction in subsidy of almost $4 million in just one year's time.
He went on to describe new program cutbacks and "another tuition increase." We don't know how well the fund raising letter did. But we do know that many alumni who feel that the WCG and Ambassador helped destroy what should have been the best years of their lives felt insulted just receiving the letter.
Out in "the field" in local congregations the WCG doesn't seem to be doing much better. Since our last issue we have received dozens of letters from current WCG members around the U.S. who say that in their church area it appears that the membership is being prepared for a time when local congregations will be on their own, cut off from headquarters "subsidies." Whether that is really Tkach's plan or simply economic pragmatism on the part of local pastors we cannot say. Already Pasadena has inaugurated what they refer to as "house churches" where members simply meet for services in the homes of their local pastors (WN, 5/21/96, p. 2). Many have taken the new plan as one more sign that the WCG-Titanic is steaming toward calamity.
While Tkach once talked of selling the WCG's Pasadena properties as the means by which the WCG corporation could be saved, no buyer has appeared on the horizon and possibly none will. Tkach admits that most sellable WCG properties outside of Pasadena have already been sold. WCG leaders are now talking about breaking the Pasadena properties up into segments and selling off each as the need arises. The first block to go will probably be the mail processing facility. With annual church income rumored to be under $35 million now and getting thinner by the month - "a worrisome trend" moans church treasurer Schnippert - it may be that Tkach has already prepared a lifeboat for himself and a few friends.
In June the WN announced that a new "transdenominational" Plain Truth Ministries (PTM) has been launched. Begun with a rumored $2 million "subsidy" from the WCG headed by Tkach Jr., the new PTM, also headed by Tkach Jr., is separately incorporated. Conceivably, should WCG Inc. go belly-up, PTM could continue on as a Christian business that keeps Junior and closest friends in the money for a few years. According to their official press release, PTM has already become a member of the Evangelical Press Association and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. So, apparently unbeknownst to most members, Tkach has officially positioned his church in the Protestant spectrum as an "evangelical" church. Besides Tkach, the other PTM board members are Greg Albrecht, Mike Feazell, Bernie Schnippert, and Monte Wolverton - the Tkach Co.'s brain trust.
One of PTM's priorities is a radio program that will have Tkach as spokesman. Scheduled to begin airing this fall, the segments will be only two minutes long and therefore should not tax the attention span of listeners too much.
The WCG: A Dysfunctional Family
In the last few years, the WCG has campaigned vigorously to change not just most of its core teachings, but also, more importantly, its public image. As an indication of just how well the Tkach Co. has succeeded in the latter, one has only to look at the July 15 issue of Christianity Today where a huge amount of space was devoted to singing the praises of the new Tkach church. The author of the article gushed, "Never before in the history of Christianity has there been such a complete move to orthodox Christianity by an unorthodox fringe church." True? Technically perhaps, but it reeks of overstatement. Throughout history there have been many cases of large groups, even whole nations, adopting Christianity en masse. Historians tell us that was the case with Russia. Around 988 when that nation was still steeped in paganism, Prince Vladimir shopped around for a new religion for his people and considered Judaism, Islam, and Byzantine Orthodoxy. Judaism, so the story goes, proved too austere; Islam, with its many prohibitions, including one against the drinking of liquor, was also rejected; but the Eastern Orthodox faith with its colorful icons, its liturgical music, its services of pageantry and incense, all offered the kind of grand gesture that appealed to the melancholy Russian soul. And so he converted his entire people to that truly orthodox form of Christianity.
As if in a hushed tone, the Christianity Today writer tells us of her initial, almost wondrous contact with the WCG's dream team:
Then came that phone call I will never forget. It was from Michael Snyder, assistant to the director of public relations.... The conversation that followed was nothing short of astonishing.... But most astonishing was Snyder's own testimony of faith, which convinced me he was a brother in Christ.
Whether this phone call occurred before or after Snyder left his wife for the wife of one of his co-workers in Christ, we're not sure. But, as reported in past issues, Snyder is no longer working for the Tkach Co. spinning out PR BS, and he has made it plain that he considers Worldwide a cult.
The Christianity Today article calls the WCG's transformation "a story that has no precedent in the history of cultic movements." That may very well be true. We do not know of any case where a cult group has been so successful in fooling so many cult experts. Omitted from the CT article were a number of pieces of data that would have given readers a more accurate picture of what has happened in the WCG. There was no mention of Ambassador Report's twenty years of reporting on the inner workings of the group. Nor was there any mention of pastor David Covington's recent resignation from the WCG or his dramatic open letter detailing why the WCG is still a cult (see AR 62). Also omitted was any mention of the fact that the author of the CT article, Ruth Tucker of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is now working for the WCG-controlled Ambassador University teaching Christian History 101 - bit of information that may explain a lot.
While more and more Christian organizations - particularly those which stand to gain from PTM's new business ventures - are praising the Tkach church for its increased "orthodoxy," some knowledgeable observers still see the Tkach church as a spiritually dysfunctional one. The recent Vol. 13, No. 2 issue of The Watchman Expositor contained an insightful article about the WCG by Phillip Arnn who has been monitoring the group for years. While praising the doctrinal changes made by the Tkachs in the last few years, Arnn specifically questions the means used by Tkach Sr. to achieve those ends. Writes Arnn:
Joseph Tkach's decisions affected tens of thousands of lives. Like the enlightened despots of past empires, he used his authority to bring about change for the good of the people under his care. However, his administration was a confusion of mixed signals. Though trained in the Armstrong school of totalitarian rule, he had come to recognize the abuses. As Pastor General he asked his ministers to be less authoritarian, yet he upheld their abusive actions when a member had the courage to appeal to headquarters for arbitration. On doctrinal issues, Tkach would write about New Testament justification by faith, then give contradictory sermons which preached Old Testament "works" salvation.
It appears that Joseph Tkach was the elder brother trying to lead his siblings away from the pain of the past while continuing to honor the parent who abused them. He dismantled Armstrong's teachings but kept Armstrong's form of government, which he used to enforce the changes.
Arnn correctly points out, "The attitude that God's government resides among the ruling elite is still evident, from the top down to the local ministers." Arnn gives a number of examples that match reports we have received. He also states, "The WCG is a dysfunctional family that is trying to move forward under the burden of the betrayal of trust that is the pain of the past." The dysfunctional family analogy is a good one. In fact, some psychologists familiar with the WCG have speculated that most of those attracted to it may actually be from dysfunctional families, and that because of their own abusive upbringing, members in Worldwide have often been unable to see that their ministry was abusive and their church environment dysfunctional. This latter theory is one we hope to investigate in future issues.
The Arnn article, like the rest of the Expositor issue, is excellent. Those who would like to obtain a copy should write to The Watchman Expositor, P.O. Box 13340, Arlington, TX 76094-0340.
Phillip Arnn is not the only writer who is somewhat skeptical about Worldwide's supposed change of course. Another is Peter Ditzel, a former WCG member who until a few years ago was writing for the Plain Truth and the Pastor General's Report (he did the Q & A sections for both, plus ghost writing for WCG leaders). Now, after a spiritual journey out of the WCG, he writes and edits for evangelical Christian publications including The Quarterly Journal, the Personal Freedom Outreach newsletter.
In the Journal's July-Sept. 1995 issue, Ditzel asked the question, "Has the Worldwide Church of God Really Moved from Cultism to Orthodoxy?" He answers that question on page one:
Based on my experience as a former member of and writer for the WCG, I believe it is at best premature to declare any such transformation. In fact, it may never be the best option to accept the WCG as an organization into the evangelical fold. Here's why.
He follows with a probing analysis of Armstrong doctrines and how they have and have not changed. In concluding, he advises:
Rather than being accepted as orthodox before it has demonstrated a full accountability, the WCG should - as with all cults - be kept in check by an orthodox Christianity that rises to its rightful place as the moral and spiritual leader of western society...."
The above article by Ditzel was followed by another in the Oct.-Dec. issue of the Journal. Titled "From the Plain Truth to the Real Truth," this piece tells the story of how he joined the WCG and then later came to the conclusion that he was in a cult. He writes about the inner struggle he had during that period of time:
The real question forming in my mind was this: If the teachings of Herbert Armstrong were not biblical and were, in fact, heretical, where did that place the WCG? Since the WCG was founded on Armstrong's human-devised, false doctrines, the answer was inescapable: the WCG is not God's Church; it is a false church, any changes Tkach might institute would make no real difference.
Not surprisingly, Ditzel suggests that those in the WCG, rather than try to reform it from within, would be better off just leaving it for safer Christian fellowship elsewhere. We talked to Mr. Ditzel by phone recently and found him intelligent, warm, and balanced. He also indicated that he is currently doing research for possible future articles on the WCG and its offshoots. Those who would like to obtain information about PFO's Quarterly Journal should write to: Personal Freedom Outreach, P.O. Box 26062, Saint Louis, MO 63136-0062.
Waiting for Superchurch
Just as the WCG is reaching out to touch other Christian denominations, some of the bigger Armstrongite splits are doing a bit of neighborhood cruising themselves. Through interchurch publications such as In Transition and Servant's News, through interchurch forums such as Friends of the Sabbath, and through the many sabbatarian discussion groups on the Internet, there seems to be a surprising amount of sabbatarian organization realignment in progress. Many keep asking us: Is some new super Armstrongite or Adventist organization emerging? In September of 1994, one expert in the field of Adventism, William Washington of TSL Publishing House (P.O. Box 08347, Cleveland, OH 44108) wrote us the following:
I wonder if events now taking place in the WCG could be of historic proportions. We could be witnessing the beginnings of America's fourth great Adventist revival that will result in the formation of at least one, new, major Adventist church (I use the word Adventist in its broadest sense). Adventists have not only prophesied falsely that the Second Coming of Christ was near, they also preached Conditional Salvation and repentance. And it was preaching repentance, not making false prophesies, that was truly their most important work.
Large scale Adventist revivals in the U.S. have traditionally occurred in times of great economic and political stress and in times of perceived moral decline. These revivals have not occurred randomly but cyclically: each great revival being concurrent with a great economic depression. The first was the 1830s and 1840s Millerite revival that occurred during the great depression of 1837 through 1845. The Millerite revival produced the Seventh Day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, Church of God (Adventist), Church of God (Abrahamic Faith), and other groups. The second great revival was the 1870s revival which was concurrent with the 1870s great depression. From this revival came the Russellites (who became the Jehovah's Witnesses) and the Church of God 7th Day. Charles Russell, founder of the Russellites, and Andrew F. Duggar, leader of the original Church of God 7th Day, were both at one time affiliated with the Advent Christian Church. The third great revival came in the 1930s during the Great Depression, and produced the WCG and Sacred Names movements. Andrew N. Duggar was the son of Andrew F. Duggar, and A.N. Duggar was leader of the Church of God 7th Day when Herbert W. Armstrong was affiliated with that group.
Each of these great Adventist revivals and great depressions have in some way been connected to the first year of a Biblical week of years. The first year of the present week of years was from Spring 1993 to Spring 1994; this was also an apparent Jubilee year which could possibly mean that events one might expect to see in the first year of this week of years were shifted to the second year. History indicated that another great depression and another great Adventist revival were both due in this present week of years. We published a book in 1994 that dealt with the subject of Adventist revivals, depression cycles, war cycles, and weeks of years. I had wondered if we would see another Adventist revival; and then I learned from a friend who left the WCG in July that the organization was disintegrating. Could it be the start of the fourth great Adventist revival? Could one of the WCG splinter groups become the next SDA, or WCG, or JWs? Time will tell. But if the past is prologue, there will be another great depression in the near future; and from the wreckage of the WCG will come a great worldwide religious movement. We can only hope that this next movement, if there is a next movement, will not repeat the mistakes of the past and be led by another corrupt and cunning false prophet who establishes an oppressive and authoritarian cult like the JWs or WCG.
Mr. Washington's speculation about a new superchurch is a scenario many are hoping to see. But a unified superchurch composed of former Worldwiders seems more unlikely with every passing month. On the issue of the sacred calendar alone, there are now so many competing views that this fall Tabernacles keepers will have four categories of competing church groups to choose from, each with their own sacred calendar and/or way of calculating OT holy days. Resignations from the splitoffs continue to abound. A recent example is that of Wesley B. Webster from GCG. In a resignation letter published in Servant's News in August, Webster (75462.2411 @CompuServe.COM) indicated that Global is playing mind games with its members and that some of its leaders are less interested in preaching truth than they are in protecting the memory of HWA. Many complain that the latter is also a priority with UCG, CGI, and a number of other WCG spinoffs. Finally, as always, there are new prophets popping up. The latest one is Murray Hyson (RR 3 Westville, Nova Scotia, Canada BOK 2AO) who is sending out a 311-page book and a letter that details why he - not Flurry, Hulme, Meredith, or anyone else - is the True Apostle sent to finish HWA's end time work.
Bomb-making Prophet Gets Prison
Willie "Ray" Lampley, the former WCG member turned "Prophet of the Most High," has joined a growing list of Armstrongites whose religious beliefs have gotten them into trouble with the law. In April after listening to more than two weeks of evidence, a jury found Oklahomans Lampley, 65, his wife Cecilia, 49, and associate John Baird, 54, guilty of conspiring to build an ammonium nitrate bomb. In addition, Ray Lampley and Baird were convicted of carrying firearms in relation to a crime, and Lampley was also convicted of solicitation of a crime of violence.
The three were apprehended with the help of confidential informant Richard Schrum, who secretly infiltrated Lampley's Universal Church of God and tape-recorded conversations in which all three talked at length about their bombing plans. Before the sentencing in July, defense lawyers contended that Schrum was a wanna-be cop looking for the limelight after the Oklahoma City bombing. And Judge Seay even agreed that Schrum was "a shady character at best." Nevertheless, the jury found the evidence, including 30 hours of surreptitious tape recordings, convincing. The three had intended to bomb a number of targets including Department of Human Services buildings and the Anti-Defamation League's offices in Houston.
U.S. District Judge Frank Seay in Muskogee gave the three the maximum prison sentences allowable for the crimes under federal guidelines. While he did not comment how under the biblical standards advocated by Lampley he and his fellow conspirators would have been stoned on the spot, he did remind defense lawyers that, "If not for the government moving in on them, they may have killed a lot of people." Bombs do that. Judge Seay sentenced Lampley to 11 years and 6 months, his wife Cecilia to 4 years and 3 months, and John Baird to 10 years. A fourth defendant, Larry Wayne Crow, accepted a plea bargain to testify for the government. Crow pleaded guilty to misprision (concealment of a felony by one not a participant in the crime) and received probation and a six-month stay in a halfway house. Lawyers for the three said they planned to appeal, but experts say they do not see much chance of a reversal. (Reported on by Bill Swindell in the Tulsa World, 7/11/96, p. 1; see also ARs 61 and 54.)
Mystery Mailer Psychoanalyzed
In our last issue we mentioned that throughout WCG circles in recent years there has been a marked increase in the spread of unsubstantiated, unverified (and often unverifiable) rumors, a factor which has contributed to the morass of confusion in which the Armstrongite groups now find themselves. Even worse, one can often find examples of purposely created and carefully crafted disinformation. A prime example of the latter is an unsigned flyer that is getting wide distribution in WCG circles and which, perhaps because it mimics the layout and type style of a nationally circulated men's magazine, has been accepted by many as factual. While most readers will probably already have seen it, for the benefit of those who have not, here it is:
WCG Pastor General Junior
Agonized Over Sex Change Operation
PASADENA, Calif. - Even in the topsy turvy world of religiondom, the pendulum swings of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in recent years have set them apart. But just as things were about to settle down, rumors are frothing afresh from the Green Street sewer.
In conjunction with an article in the October 30 issue of the dissident publication, In Transigence, these rumors have sparked renewed inquiry into just what bizarre future faces its its Commander-in-Grief, the neophytic Joseph Tkach Jr.
Joe Jr., or just Junior as his subordinates prefer to call him, is most often described as a moody, reclusive curmudgeon who was quoted saying, "Most of the ministers who are left don't even talk to me." While his devotees say this is unwarranted and misleading, many of his detractors are even less flattering accusing him of a style of whining, meandering doubletalk that leaves even his most dedicated underlings clueless and discouraged. But in person, Joe seemed unusually open with a remarkable sense of humor.
From the Mouths of Boobs
In a follow-up interview to the In Transigence article, I asked about the growing spirit of contempt among the rank-and-file ministry. Leaning back in his overstuffed office chair, a look of puzzlement spread across his face. "How'd you come to that conclusion?" he asked. I was somewhat embarrassed, hoping I could have avoided relating what it had begun to look like I couldn't. And he insisted. So I told him that in the commissary, just minutes earlier, I overheard a table-full of ministers repeatedly referring to him as "that son of a pustuled crotch."
No sooner had the words left my lips than his head fell forward and he began to pound the desk with his fist as he erupted in uncontrollable laughter. After a few minutes he regained his composure. "Oh, no, no, you misunderstood them, " he said with his eyes still streaming from laughter, "that was a phrase showing their respect. What they must have said was 'son of Apostle Tkach.'" I was quite relieved by his good humor and throughout the interview he was more forthcoming than I could have ever hoped.
Upward then Inward and Outward
Junior agreed that there had been some controversy sparked by that In Transigence article since last week, but he said the paper had quoted him accurately for the most part. Repeating the pledge he made earlier, to "follow Christ upward, inward,
and outward," he said this demands more than just the oral skills by which he has risen so quickly. Little did this reporter comprehend, at the time, just what he could have meant by such a cryptic remark.
Randy Dick Takes Aim at Junior's Feminine Back Side
Though on the top of the corporate dog pile since his father's terminal illness became critical, knowledgeable sources reveal Junior's growing preoccupation with a vision calling him to an African missionary position as the "bride of Christ." Presently, he feels wholly inadequate for the task, except for his submissive spirit. Unusually troubling, however, is the lip service he has been forced to pay to some of WCG's more uncomely appendages namely one Randy Dick who, not only a deep offense to his "feminine" side, is now strategically positioned as Church Administration Director (CAD) and armed with ample wile and savvy to oust Junior from the top.
But Junior seemed strangely unconcerned. "All during my rise to power," he sighed, "some guy or another has been on top of me, but it's just not the same as being a woman." Hanging his head, he continued saying he was particularly unqualified for the job he now holds. Admitting the lack of any broad experience, he somberly raided off a long string of the exploits of former leaders he could never hope to match.
Junior claims his only real contribution to the church is as a bystander, saying he has watched the church through the eyes of a child, a student, a single man and a divorced man. "The only eyes I haven't seen it through are the eyes of a woman," he quipped with a coy wink.
He's Got a Ticket to Denmark
Since the early days of GTA, an extended hunting trip after the fall festival has been the custom of top ministers. Well, that - like most everything else at WCG - has changed. Questioned about rumors he had taken a sudden and somewhat secretive trip to northern Europe only days ago, Junior beamed saying he had just returned from his first visit to the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Reaching into his desk drawer, he retrieved a bag full of Danish sugar cookies, souvenirs, photographs of himself at the park entrance and five boxes of unopened playing cards. This piqued my curiosity since any fool knows Tivoli is closed in the fall. When I asked why the park had been kept open so late, he suddenly became sullen and defensive
blurting out, "What makes you think you know everything; things change sometimes. " Then he abruptly ended the interview saying, "If you have any more questions, write my secretary."
Scuttlebutt around the Ambassador University campus has it that the trip was, in fact, a preoperative visit to the renowned gonadectomist and plastic surgeon Knudsen Jorgensen. Famous for exorbitantly expensive sex change operations on West German celebs, Jorgensen could not be reached for comment.
Festooned by the rhythm of his royal paycheck and a massive inheritance languishing in Switzerland, money is certainly no object for Junior. But there is little doubt he's strategizing the best way to explain away the soon-coming changes to any surviving traditionalists.
Easy as a Camel Going
Through an IRS Loophole
Fomented by conservatives, opposition has grown to an effort to reverse the longstanding doctrine prohibiting ordination of women as preachers. But most informed observers think Junior can deftly waltz through with the old Ticonderoga two-step: He won't have actually been a woman when he was ordained. WCG leadership, one step ahead of the Fem-Ordeal resistance movement, sees this maneuver as a slick and easy end run to establish a useful precedent even if on a somewhat dubious technicality.
Most of the ministry has no better sources of information than the rumors we all hear. "You know, when it comes to this sort of thing, Junior is really tight-lipped," said Randy Dick, "but I think this is what the CAD in me likes the most about him."
"You needn't listen to all that ya'duh, ya'duh, ya'duh; he just does what he's there for and leaves." After a moment of reflection he continued, "Of course, if he goes through with the operation a lot about him will change, but I don't think this will. "
Randy Dick, formerly known as GTA's "right-hand-man," considers himself indispensable to the cash flow of the entire worldwide operation. Several years ago he blithely passed up a lucrative offer from the Playboy Channel for a part opposite Mr. Hands in an X-rated version of that old Saturday Night Live skit corn "Mr. Bill." Said Dick, "Their offer couldn't come close to what I get here." Then he whispered, "Sometimes I get to feeling guilty, but, hey, it's all legal and everything."
November 7, 1995
Granted, many have found the above article funny. But there is a serious problem with it. We know because we spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to verify whether any of it was accurate. After all, we are only too aware of the many sex scandals that have plagued the WCG over the last two decades, and we are always willing to get out the facts about the WCG's leaders. But in this case, we have discovered that none of the claims made in the mysterious mailer's flyer are true.
At first one might think that someone is simply trying to smear the WCG's new leaders. But is that really necessary? Aren't the actual facts bad enough? And if someone really wants to expose their negative side, isn't there a better, more ethical way?
Finally, what kind of person would be writing this kind of offbeat humor? We showed the mysterious mailer's flyer to a number of readers who have a substantial amount of education in the field of psychology. Most agreed with the astute observations one made about the likely personality of the flyer's anonymous author:
The first thing we notice is that the writer is very familiar with the locations, personalities, and climate of intrigue in the Worldwide Church hierarchy. This was not written by a complete outsider or an average lay person. Quite apparent is the fact that the writer harbors resentment toward Mr. Tkach and others who he probably feels have deprived him of something. What exactly that is we cannot tell. He appears to be resentful of their power or wealth or both.
There are little hints here and there that the writer is one who has traveled widely and experienced the good life, appreciates the manly sport of hunting, likes to gamble - one who enjoys only an occasional game of "old maid" would not esteem "five boxes of unopened playing cards," and likes popular music - notice the allusion to the Beatles' song "Ticket to Ride."
But much more interesting is the writing style. Notice the plethora of colorful adjectives. Those alone would lead me to suspect the writer was a professional communicator, either writing or speaking for a living. That conclusion is further buttressed by the writer's knowledge of journalistic interview techniques. It is interesting too that the style has a certain virile punch - what you might expect from someone who lives a fast and active man's life, so to speak.
Now here's something odd. Notice the word "festooned." I don't think I have ever seen that word except in fiction set in the Pacific - you know, action-adventure sailing stories. In fact, I was reading the famous story "Koolau the Loper" just the other day and I noticed it was used there. Who knows? Maybe your mystery man likes to read those kinds of adventure stories himself.
Very obvious, however, is that the writer is obsessed with sex. But notice - in a strange, crude, juvenile sort of way. I think this is someone who views sex as simply a cheap pastime or perhaps as just a body-pampering act like getting into a Jacuzzi for relaxation. And there seems to be an over-fascination with the buttocks of the male physique and this may indicate the writer is either homosexual overtly or latently so. On the other hand, his awareness of the psychology of female sexuality may point to bisexuality, while the derogatory way he writes about the female gender shows an individual who is disrespectful of women, anti-woman, in fact.
This is a tormented person. I am left with the impression that to this individual being in charge is very important. I would guess that the writer is some type of executive, probably an authoritarian one. Notice the references to who is on top, who on the bottom, the obsession with rank. I suspect you may have here a man who is constantly protecting his position of higher rank within an organization. He must be on top. And yet - and this is not unusual for the type - he must secretly wish that he would at times not have to be on top, so to speak. You know, it is very stressful for executives, for example, to always have to be "on top." Researchers such as Dr. G. G. Scott, for instance, say that one reason that male patrons of so-called "S and M dungeons" are frequently executives or policemen is that those in such professions are made emotionally unbalanced by having to always be "in charge." I suspect your mysterious writer is tormented in that way.
The references to Jorgenson and Denmark are very curious. The writer does not seem to realize that most Americans wanting a sex change operation these days have the procedure done in Trinidad, Colorado. It has been many years since Americans have had to go to Europe for such surgery. My guess - and, mind you, while it may be an educated guess, it is only a guess - would be that the writer was in his sexually impressionistic late teens or early twenties in 1952 when the famous story of Christine Jorgenson's sex change operation in Copenhagen broke in the newspapers. That would mean your writer here is, oh, I'd say somewhere between about 59 and 69 years of age.
Here is another indication of his age. Notice that he views Mr. Tkach Jr. who is in his late forties now as being young, a "neophyte" he calls him. So too, Mr. Randall Dick is portrayed as a young man. I suspect the writer was once acquainted with the two gentlemen and now envies them their youth, their energy, or perhaps in homosexual envy he views them as good looking. This may indicate the writer is past mid-life, perhaps even approaching old age. Like von Aschenbach in Death in Venice he seems to be yearning for the days of his own, now-past, youthful glories.
A rather sad individual I would say. If you find out who he is, please give him my advice: Get into therapy.
We still have not discovered who the writer of the article was. Our copy came in an envelope with no return address. It was simply postmarked Tyler, Texas.
Earl Williams' Woes
When minister Earl Williams of Georgia left the WCG a year ago, some wondered if he would be the leader of a major movement composed of members leaving both the WCG and its Armstrongite offshoots. After all, it was Williams, who helped prod the Tkachs into making some of the WCG's most important doctrinal changes of the last few years. Many saw Williams as highly principled. That image was only enhanced last year when he posted a message on the Internet: "My wife and I have decided to bring complete closure to any relationship with the Worldwide Church of God. We are officially disfellowshipping ourselves from the church...."
Williams was on a roll. Now, however, it appears that whatever spiritual momentum he once had has been dissipated. In fact, some are now of the opinion that Williams' breakaway group Christ Church of Grace is on the way to becoming a destructive cult. Mr. Jasper Fletcher of Decatur, Georgia has written us:
I left the Worldwide Church of God over two years ago and your publications were a factor in my coming to that decision. I then joined one of the offshoots of the WCG, namely Christ Church of Grace, started by Earl Williams. I have since left Christ Church of Grace because of the many problems associated with that church and its founder. Because I was a deacon, a board member, and worked closely with Earl Williams, I am very aware of the problems of that organization. I wrote Earl upon my departure to try to address some of the problems. My letter was returned unopened. Disillusioned, I didn't do anything until now. Lately, however, I have had to come face to face with the responsibility of alerting my brothers and sisters to what is happening in that church.
In the attached open letter to Earl Williams, Mr. Fletcher alleged that the Williams church is becoming a cult "so fast that it's frightening," that Williams has become an abusive and autocratic leader, that "every premise upon which this church began has been changed, been cast off, or ignored," and that Williams has "turned away from a commitment to faithfully preaching and teaching the truth as revealed in the scripture." Those who would like a complete copy of the open letter should write to Jasper Fletcher, 3688 Citation Drive, Decatur, Georgia 30034. And those who would like Williams' side of the story can write to Christ Church of Grace, 2531 Burwick Walk SW, Snellville, GA 30278.
A Church Like China
Editor: Gary Alexander the writer, critic, and political commentator, is currently working on a book about investment opportunities in the emerging economies, with a focus on China. He recently returned from a three-week fact finding tour of that country and on his return wrote us:
Let me tell you how much my trip to China and my research of Chinese regimes in this century remind me of the history of the Worldwide Church of God and similar authoritarian regimes. In many ways, the Chinese history parallels WCG history, but on a much grander scale: In the 1950s China experienced a time of open self-criticism followed by purges and the Great Leap Forward followed by famines. In the 1960s there was the Cultural Revolution followed by the exiling of Red Guards to the countryside. In the 1950s and 60s new edicts from on high sought to change ruling "paradigms," sometimes twice a year, for over 600 million people!
If you want to see these switches in dramatic form, check out some Chinese films. In the last two weeks I've seen: China My Sorrow (1989, directed by Dai Si-jie), Blue Kite (1993, by Tian Zhuange), Farewell My Concubine (1993, by Chen Kaige), Red Sorghum (1987, by Zhang Yimou), and, probably the best, To Live (1994, also directed by Zhang Yimou).... Many of these are actually banned in China, but are available in the West.
Can you imagine a billion people living under an everchanging cult-like series of changing paradigms? I've just been reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang, a woman born in China in 1952. It's about the "Let 100 Flowers Bloom" movement of 1956-57 when Mao encouraged criticism and diversity of thought and artistic expression. The author writes (p. 212):
Under the Hundred Flowers policy, the country enjoyed about a year of relative relaxation. Then, in Spring 1957, the Party urged intellectuals to criticize officials all the way to the top. My mother... felt that China was really going to have a modern and democratic party, a party that would welcome criticism to revitalize itself. She felt proud of being a Communist. When my mother's level was told about Mao's speech, soliciting criticism of officials, they were not informed about some other remarks he had made around the same time, about "enticing snakes out of their lairs" - to uncover anyone who dared to oppose him or his regime.
It turns out that Mao was so stunned in 1956 by the Hungarian uprising and Khrushchev's "secret speech" about Stalin's excesses that Mao was determined to hear every piece of criticism in the land and then imprison, torture, and murder those who dared to follow his "100 Flowers" edict at face value. He told them, "Say what ever you want to say, and to the full." Then came the hammer, the famine, and the Red Guards. What a social laboratory!
Editor: From the upcoming book, Mr. Alexander has prepublished 144 pages dealing with China's history, geography, economics, sociology, and politics, and his own travel experiences in that country. Interested AR readers may obtain a copy for only $10 by writing to Gary Alexander, 11230 Leatherwood Dr., Reston, VA 22091. One section relates explicitly to the Worldwide experience and is particularly noteworthy because it shows how the Worldwide experience can, in an odd way, be turned into something of value:
Here's where my experience helps me. In August of 1966, just when Mao was cranking up his arrests and tortures, via the Red Guards, I was entering my senior year at Ambassador College, and Karen was entering as a first year student - but with three college years under her belt in Ohio, including a year at Kent State.
I don't want to dare to compare our experience to the Cultural Revolution - that would trivialize the true suffering of others - but we experienced a similar top-down, strict behavioral government, with constantly changing paradigms. We were taught to dress plainly, speak reverently of our leader; there was no open display of affection allowed. We were told to pray an hour a day, which mentally prepared us to believe everything our leader told us, and he eventually told us some very outrageous things. If we disagreed, we were "struggled" fiercely for variations from the party line, whenever we strayed.
Then in the 1970s, I read several books which helped me realize the mind games involved here: Eric Hoffer's The True Believer was the best one, along with Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. These books, and many others like them, helped me to see the power of cult-like manipulators over their "dumb sheep" (our leader's name for us).
Since then, I've recognized when I, or other people, fall under this spell. My experience has helped me weigh whether a person is speaking out of freedom, or speaking from under invisible strings of coercion, from a puppeteer/power figure.
That's why I think that the people of China I met are telling the truth. With a few exceptions, in the power structure, I felt the people we met - in accidental, unplanned interviews - were telling us the truth. They were generally happy with their lot in life and their chance to do better. I am not saying it is impossible to fool me, but I think I can smell out liars or con games better than most due to my 12-year experience in this esoteric sect.
British to Shuffle Throne and Royals
Of all the remarkable doctrines disseminated by Herbert Armstrong, perhaps the most colorful had to do with the return of Christ. The way HWA explained it, Jesus was not just coming back to earth, he would be returning to reclaim an existing throne - the royal throne of England. While the new WCG has now totally rejected all vestiges of this doctrine (see the nine-page attack on it in the 2/27/96 WN, for instance), many Armstrongites in the splitoffs still cling to the teaching.
How HWA came to conclude that the British royal family is composed of Jews ruling over the Israelite tribe of Ephraim would take a book to explain; it has to do with obscure groups of banished Jews, the Trojan War and the fall of Troy, and mind-boggling conspiracies involving royal seed and such. Suffice it to say, the so-called Stone of Scone, also called Jacob's Pillar Stone and the Stone of Destiny, a part of Britain's coronation throne in Westminster Abbey, was to HWA a very important thing - the very seat upon which the Messiah would one day sit.
Now, in 1996, the 336-pound lump of yellow sandstone is again making headlines. It seems that the Scottish independence movement has been gaining strength and a lot of angry Scotsmen have been talking about getting control of their land back from those uppity people down in London. But Prime Minister John Major, clever politician that he is, has come up with a plan of appeasement: Rather than give back all of Scotland to the Scots, why not just give them back a little bit - say, one stone? And so he has recommended to the Queen that the Stone - which many historians and scientists say had its origins in Scotland, and upon which the ancient Scots used to crown their kings, and which the Scots say is a war trophy the nasty English took back to England 700 years ago after one of their victories over them - should be returned to Scotland. And apparently the Scots, perhaps not the shrewd tough bargainers we thought they were, think Major's offer is a pretty good deal and have agreed to take back the Stone (Washington Post, 7/4/96). It will soon have a place of honor in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.
Well, this flies in the face of everything HWA ever prophesied, and the Armstrongites have been infuriated by this wicked thing the Queen has agreed to do. A good example of the vehemence that the Queen and Prime Minister have stirred up was an article by Gerald Flurry, prophet of "the little book." In his Philadelphia Trumpet (Aug. 1996, p. 5), Flurry wrote of the stone (and naturally the emphasis is his alone):
It represents salvation to the whole world! The world cannot even imagine the great destiny of this stone! What a past! What a future! I BELIEVE THIS STONE IS THE MOST PRECIOUS PHYSICAL THING ON THE EARTH. I also believe that Queen Elizabeth JUST MADE THE WORST DECISION OF HER LIFE! AND THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT HAS MADE THE BIGGEST MISTAKE IN ITS HISTORY!
Nevertheless, the Queen says the Stone must go. It's no wonder she cannot pay Flurry more attention. What with the royals making tabloid headlines in sex scandals almost every week, she is concerned that before long even her subjects in England, let alone the rebels in Scotland, may want out from under her family's rule. And that, she knows, would not be good for the family business. George VI, Queen Elizabeth's father, once remarked that the British royals are "not a family, we're a firm." And a pretty lucrative firm it is with total public funding of the family said to be about $70 million per year.
So realizing that the royal family has a public relations problem, the Queen has done what any sensible CEO would do in such a predicament. She has called in her finest advisors and formed a "Way Ahead" committee to rethink the mission and means of support of the family business (New York Times, 8/25/96). Under discussion are such radical ideas as downsizing the royal family itself and altering the Crown's source of income by giving up the $70 million they receive each year in public assistance (to be replaced perhaps by reclaiming the rents - which now probably would exceed $100 million per year - that they once collected from Crown properties such as Regent Street and Trafalgar Square). Also being considered is putting an end to male primogeniture, eliminating the ban on royal marriages to Roman Catholics, and changing the Crown's status as Defender of the (Anglican) Faith. Prince Charles has gone on record as saying that rather than being the Defender of the Faith, he would prefer to be the Defender of the Faiths (plural). What all of this will mean for religious life in Britain is unclear. But one thing is certain. There will be some changes made.
New Date Set for Christ's Return
Among Bible-believing Christians one of the most frequently pondered questions always seems to be: When will Christ return? We regularly receive letters and articles on the subject. Over the years we have seen scores of different theories; so many, in fact, we have pretty much ceased reading unsolicited submissions on the subject. Recently, however, we received one that did grab our attention.
David Strickland of England sent us a nearly 200-pages-long manuscript entitled The Crystal of God. The first thing that struck our eye was the beautifully ornate quality of the handwritten manuscript. Then, as we began looking it over, we were absolutely amazed at the intricacy and detail found in this attempt at a biblical system for predicting the date of Christ's return. Giving particular attention to the biblical Jubilees, Strickland sees the date of Christ's return as only a few decades away. Has Strickland found the hidden secrets that unlock the means to predict the future date? We have no idea. We do know that in the past Mr. Strickland has produced some controversial and thought-provoking works and, whatever its theological merits or demerits, we suspect that in this work Strickland may one day have a best-seller on his hands.
Strickland is currently talking to commercial publishers. But, he tells us, making money was not his goal in writing the book. He would like to have scholars and serious Bible students read his work and to offer whatever criticisms and thoughts they may have. For that reason, he says, he is offering pre-publication copies of the manuscript in its draft form to AR readers at cost price which is 15 pounds (U.K.) or $25 (U.S.), including postage. Those interested should write to David Strickland, 20 Mutual Street, Hexthorpe, Doncaster DN4 OEF, United Kingdom.
While on the subject of dating Christ's return, one other author should be mentioned. David Whitaker has written on the subject and he tells us he is convinced that as in Jesus' time, "no man knows the day or the hour." He points out that there are many ways to use scripture to come up with different dates for the Messiah's return. To illustrate his point he has detailed two different Kabbalistic methods and has shown that while each system has its own logic and scholarly advocates, each produces a wildly different conclusion. Those interested may obtain a copy of the letter-essay on that subject for $2 along with a list of all his other available studies. Additionally, as a follow-up to the collection of his writings we reported on in AR59, Whitaker has put together a second collection of over 20 controversial articles not contained in the first set and is making that available for $10. Write to David Whitaker, 710 East Chestnut Ave., Enid, OK 73701-2328. Incidentally, our congratulations to Mr. Whitaker on his recent marriage.
Mount Sinai Lost, Found?
Most diligent students of the Bible are aware that the Mt. Sinai referred to in most Near East travel guides does not seem to have all of the topography of the biblical site: no adequate campsite at its base, no adequate water supply, etc. Furthermore, there is that interesting comment in Gal. 4:25 where Paul states that Sinai is in Arabia, what today is Saudi Arabia, not at the "traditional" Egyptian site given in the travel books. For those reasons we were intrigued by a publication sent to us by one of our readers. In Discovered! Newsletter No. 6 of Wyatt Archaeological Research a considerable amount of data is given which points to a specific, location on the Saudi Peninsula as being the actual site of Mt. Sinai. Assuming that their data is not fabricated, it is difficult to believe that they have not discovered the actual location. For information about the newsletter, write to Wyatt Archaeological Research, 713 Lambert Drive, Nashville, TN 37220. We understand that some of the same data is covered in the 223-page book The Mountain of Moses, available from CTI Publishing Co., 140 Marine View, Office 204, Solano Beach, CA 92075.
God on the Internet
"In ten thousand years human beings have gone from hunting to farming to cities to cyberspace. Behavior is screaming forward, and it might be nonadaptive. Nobody knows. Although personally, I think cyberspace means the end of our species.... Because it means the end of innovation.... This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they'll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand birds on a big continent and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups. Put three people on a committee and they may got something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That's the effect of mass media - it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity."
in The Lost World
by Michael Crichton
Malcolm, the character in the new Crichton novel, is not alone in fearing Cyberspace. The Internet and the World Wide Web with their home pages, billboards, discussion groups, and huge files for downloading may be all the rage, particularly among the young, but on any given day one can read in the news media and on the Net itself about the many problems associated with our newest high-tech ways of communicating. For instance, legal experts around the globe today are grappling with the complex issues involving cyberspace and copyright infringement, libel, pornography dissemination, criminal conspiracy, information theft, electronic surveillance, and invasion of privacy. Some are even concerned about the possible use of high-tech hidden persuaders in the form of subliminal messages being implanted in software (the Los Angeles Times, 10/1/95, p.1). While such issues may not concern most users of the Net, some problems confront us all regularly.
One problem inherent in the new communications medium is the way in which low quality and/or poorly stated data ("noise") can be quickly and cheaply transmitted, thereby flooding cyberspace with cybergarbage. One Texas reader wrote us, "Quite by accident this summer I found a religious forum on Compuserve which has a WCG section consisting of downloadable files and a message board. Most of the messages are rhetoric/diatribe for and against the current church changes or discussions of HWA's past." And one California reader wrote, "Belated thanks for providing the address of the online
forum that nonmembers are/were able to join. I followed it avidly for a while, then lost interest. Entirely too many lunatics babbling about entirely too much lunacy."
A second problem is negligently transmitted misinformation which can be, and often is, distributed around the world at lightning speed. Here is a case in point. Last October we ran a small story about how the Roman Catholic Church had set up an Internet confessional in the Pittsburgh area. We got the story online from a normally reliable source who quoted the July/August 1995 issue of Episcopal Life. Shortly after we ran the story, one of our readers wrote us, "With reference to page 9, AR60, I tried to confess my sins via http://meaculpa.cmu.edu, but there was no such address." Figuring we had merely gotten the address wrong, we called Father Ben Vaghetto, Chancellor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He patiently explained that not only was no online confessional in operation in Pittsburgh, but that no Monsignor Timothy Blessing, as quoted in the story, even existed. We then called an editor of Episcopal Life in New York to find out what was the basis of their story. She told us that although they had run the story just as we had quoted it, they had since discovered that it was a hoax. They had been duped from an Internet source, their printed story was then replicated a thousand fold online, we picked it up, and so on. Of course, journalistic errors have been around a long time, but now they can be made for wider dissemination at less cost and at much greater speed.
A third, and even more serious, problem inherent in the Net is its vulnerability to disinformation. There simply are ways in which bad information can be purposely disseminated while the sender's identity remains concealed. For example, in the last two years there have been a number of WCG-cleric impostors operating online. In the 2/15/95 Pastor General's Report, for example, Joseph W. Tkach Jr. complained of one such imposter spreading disinformation when he wrote, "The person on the Internet who claims to be me isn't."
A fourth problem involves censorship. A number of our readers say that they have experienced a considerable amount of censorship on the Net, particularly with some church billboards. This should not come as a surprise. Someone controlling a service because he/she is paying for its upkeep is not going to be keen on passing on messages attacking their organization or themselves. The experience of most of our Netactive readers has been that postings on boards for WCG members and paid for by the WCG or its members are virtually always highly censored. Yet there are a number who have been part of such online discussion groups or chat rooms who are unaware that important bits of information have been filtered out of the discussion or that whole topics are deemed nonpostable.
Some say the new technology deprives users of the reality and spontaneity of face to face relations and very frequently Internet communication brings out the worst in people. An excellent observation on the latter was made by Michael Warren (Mike-W10070@aol.com) in the March/April Plain Truth where he wrote:
If you've ever toured the religion forums on the Internet on your computer, you know how divided Christianity can be. In one of the forums I inhabit, the debate over doctrine and theology continues literally around the clock.
At its best, the discussion can be healthy and beneficial. At its worst, it degenerates into venomous accusations and merciless condemnation. Sometimes in our zeal for the truth, we forget things like simple courtesy. Instead of agreeing to disagree about our differences, we're quick to condemn one another.
One pastor in my community lamented that the devil hardly had to worry about losing ground since we Christians are so busy fighting each other.
Critics point to other Internet negatives. Many say it is addicting, even more so than TV, and that with all the "noise" it can be both excessively time consuming and expensive for the amount of information retrieved. Another very real problem and one that is too much ignored, is the economic class bias inherent in the new technology. The Net is not an economic class leveler; it is another means by which the already wide gulf between rich and poor will grow wider. After all, to just access the Net requires at least a computer with modem, online time, and a certain amount of training, all of which come with a price.
However, even with all the above negatives, it is a fact that when used skillfully, the Internet can be a very powerful information tool. And whether we like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. Not only is cyberspace all around us now, it is expanding. And in no field does it seem to be expanding more rapidly than in the field of religion.
Today on the Internet one can read thousands of posted messages relating to religion, participate in theological discussion groups, enter into religious chat rooms, join online debates over doctrine, read the home pages of hundreds of denominations and local churches, read a digitized Bible in six languages, visually tour the Church of St. Luke in Stroudsburg, Pa. or the Sistine Chapel in Rome, see an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Library of Congress, buy or sell Christian products, get advice from online Christian ministries and counselling services, or join a cyberchurch like the First Church of Cyberspace at http://excepe.com/chender (at ground level the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair, New Jersey). Already there are quite a number of clerics who routinely refer to themselves its cyberministers, including a handful who were once in the WCG.
There are also anti-religion sites. Former WCG member Larry Taylor (email@example.com), now a freethinking rationalist working on a Ph.D. at UCLA, has posted a number of remarkable papers having to do with Bible inspiration/infallibility/canonization on the "Secular Web" site at http://freethought.tamu.edu. They are very well researched and thought provoking but most certainly are not for the spiritually timid.
Of all of the religious organizations in the world, the one that is currently making the greatest use of the Internet is the Roman Catholic Church. We have seen over 210 Net listings for Catholicism. A few examples: A year ago the Holy See announced the start of a home page (http://www.catholic.net) created by a group of students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. It even includes a section on the Vatican Mission to the UN. A few weeks later, the Vatican inaugurated its own electronic hookup and in only 24 hours more than 200,000 individuals logged on to read the text of a papal message translated into six languages. In the next two weeks more than a million people logged on to http://www.vatican.va/, a computer address that will probably become a new bully pulpit for the pope who has already established himself as a best-selling author and world-touring celeb. Want to send the pope a personal message? You can do it via the same address. And those subscribing to the Vatican Information Service (http://www.vatican.va/vis//) can receive Vatican communiques on their computer (for only $400 per year). There are already many new Catholic programs being planned for the Net. At just one ground-level location - Christ in the Desert, an isolated Benedictine monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico - there are 24 monks hard at work designing new Catholic sites for the World Wide Web (New York Times, 3/17/96).
While the Roman Catholic Church may have taken the religious lead in cyberspace, not too far behind in effective use of the Net is the Worldwide Church of God and its offspring. Here are just a few of the WCG-related organizations that have home pages: The WCG (http://www.wcg.org), The United Church of God (http://www.ucg.org), The Global Church of God's World Ahead (http://www.deltastar.nb.ca/worldahead/index.ht.), The Church of God International (http://www.cgi.org), Alan Ruth and Barnabas Ministries (http://www.gatecom.com/~barnabas), In Transition (http://www.lo.com/~robinson/), and The Jerusalem Sentinel (http://www.espercom).
One of the most popular sites for WCG members and former members is Byron Sanders' Web page on Armstrongism (http://www.cybergate.com/~birone/Armstrongism.html). Mr. Sanders has also generously provided Ambassador Report with a home page (http://www.cybergate.com/~birone/arindex.htm) where there is a listing of all past AR publications.
For those skilled in its use the Internet can provide valuable information about religion quickly and at reasonable cost. But for those just beginning to use a computer or even for those with even a little experience on the Net, learning how best to use the new technology can be frustrating and very time-consuming. That is why so many will be pleased to learn about God on the Internet, a new book by Mark Kellner, the "On Computers" columnist for The Washington Times and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today and other religious publications. Kellner's new book covers just about everything a would-be net surfer needs to know about approaching religious topics on the Net. From basic computer principles and jargon explained in easy-to-understand language to more advanced methods of researching religious topics, his book is an invaluable tool for both the beginner and the advanced Net surfer. The over three hundred pages of well-illustrated text discusses the top ten Internet religious sites using clear diagrams, gives the addresses of many Internet mailing lists, news groups, and file libraries, and even shows how the Internet can be used as a legitimate tool for the enhancement of one's spiritual life.
Most interesting to AR readers will be the chapter on the Worldwide Church of God. Kellner provides an excellent overview of recent developments within Worldwide and its spinoffs and makes what we think is an astute observation: that the Internet has played an important role in the WCG's disintegration. We agree. But in a phone interview with the Report Kellner went even further in predicting the effect the Internet will have on religion in the near future:
I think that increasingly it's going to be a major force in the world's religions. What has happened in Worldwide - the rapid proliferation of now doctrinal ideas, the disintegration of old structures, the massive organizational realignments - all of that is likely to happen in a number of other major denominations during the next few years. In fact, I would not even be surprised if before the end of this decade the Internet brings about major changes in the Roman Catholic Church.
God on the Internet is published by IDG Books Worldwide. It is available in most large bookstores for $24.99. Or it may be ordered by calling the publisher's toll-free number: 800-762-2974. Mark Kellner may be contacted by e-mail at Markkel@aol.com or through his Internet home page, http://www.reston.com/kellner/kellner.html.
Books and Such
Former WCG executive Frank P. Inglima has written a new book. Titled Don't Overlook the Bible, Look It Over, it is "a step toward understanding the Holy Scripture." The 152-page book sells for $8.95 from Inglima Publishing, 8649 Pacific Hills Way, Sacramento, CA 95828; tel. 916-682-4365.
Former WCG member Ivar T. Mattson tells us he is "among those who have returned to the mainstream church." He has also written a historical novel about Judas Iscariot titled Simon in which some readers have seen shades of certain characters prominent in the WCG. For information write to Ivar T. Mattson, 10421 E. 44 St. Tulsa, OK 74146-3712.
William L. Hamilton's religious background is mostly in the areas of meditation and Buddhism. He was never a member of the WCG. Nevertheless, in his new book Saints and Psychopaths one notices some interesting parallels to the WCG experience. He writes, "There are more psychopaths pretending to be saints than there are real saints. This book will provide you with some understanding of what a psychopath is, what a saint is and how to tell the difference." For details write to: DANA, P.O. Box 1527, Coupeville, WA 98239.
A number of readers have asked us where they may now obtain copies of The Truth Shall Make You Free. There are at least two answers because there are now two WCG-related books by that same title. The more famous of the two books is the one by John Tuit. Mr. Tuit no longer lives in New Jersey and mail being sent to his old address is apparently being returned. For details about his book write to: John Tuit, 980 Dehart Comm. Ctr. Rd., Hays, NC 28635. The other book by the same title is by Mr. Zie Muse, Rt. #4, Box 788 C, LaFollette, TN 37766. Write to him for details.
Margaret Robinson, widow of author David Robinson, tells us that do has only a few copies remaining of Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web. They are $20 each. Write to John Hadden Publishers, Box 35982, Tulsa, OK 74135.
Where Are They Now?
Dannie Rogers, AC-Pasadena class of 1970, is the WCG's new superintendent of U.S. ministers. Dannie, who in addition to his Ambassador degree now has a masters in theology from Emory University, is married to the former Barbara Lynn Rand and they have three children (WN, 5/21/96, p. 2). Mr. Rogers will be working under church administration director Michael Feazell.
Joseph W. Locke, who worked for the WCG for 30 years and who was once one of Tkach Sr.'s closest aides, has left Pasadena for Florida where he will be a funeral director (WN 7/23/96, p. 13).
Dr. Donald Ward, former president of Ambassador University, is now president of a Bible study group which offers religious instruction through the mail, on cassette tapes, and via the Internet. Years ago this would have been called a Bible correspondence course, but its creators, who are hyping it as a 'virtual university,' have dubbed it The International Biblical Learning Center (IBLC, 27068 La Paz, No. 488, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656).
Richard Ames, the former WCG television personality, is now with the GCG, headed by his brother-in-law Roderick Meredith. Many in that denomination are aware that Ames has a more professional broadcasting style than Meredith and some wonder how long it will be before he takes over as that group's TV spokesman. In the mean time, Raymond McNair, the evangelist formerly with the WCG and now with the GCG, seems to have fallen out of favor with Meredith. Sources in San Diego say McNair's actual duties have been cut back and some are wondering if he will eventually realign with another organization or start his own.
With United Church of God having already picked up such former WCG luminaries as C. Wayne Cole and Paul Suckling, it should not have come as a surprise that WCG evangelist Aaron Dean would join their ranks. But when he did recently, it raised a few eyebrows. Because of Dean's long friendship with former WCG superstar Stanley Rader, some have wondered if Rader will one day be openly supporting the UCG. Who knows? Rader already has a daughter in the GCG. And one Pasadena friend told us, "Mr. Rader continues to have a deep interest in the Bible and yeah, you got it, God works in mysterious ways."
Jehovah Visits Pasadena
As many readers already know, while Pasadena, California is often thought of as a somewhat staid place, it does have its share of colorful characters. The Pasadena Weekly (5/24-30/96, p. 4) reported the following incident which took place just a few blocks from WCG headquarters:
Cops Bust God
Police responding to a report of a man with a gun at Brookside Park on Tuesday afternoon found themselves chasing Jehovah. Car aficionados, take note: God, also known to police as 39-year-old Robert Cali, drives a Toyota.
According to an incident summary provided by police officials, Officers Eric McWilliams and Kevin Jackson were patrolling near the park when the man-with-a-gun call went out over the police radio. When they approached Cali, he allegedly drove away in his Toyota 4-Runner, trying to climb an embankment to escape the officers. He stopped the truck in the bushes at the south and of the park, got out, pointed his finger at the cops - and told them that he was "Jehovah."
God was feeling a bit wrathful, apparently, since he also allegedly told McWilliams and Jackson that he was going to kill them. Moments later, police charge, Cali turned the truck back down the hill, forcing the officers to jump out of the way. Cali swerved through the Brookside Park parking lot, police say, moving back and forth through a maze of cars and people. The Almighty-piloted Toyota ended up on a baseball diamond at the north and of the park, crashing through about 200 feet of fence. Cali eventually stopped the car, with cops tackling and handcuffing him after a foot chase that ended several hundred feet to the south.
With help from witnesses, police were able to recover a loaded .45 caliber revolver that Cali had allegedly ditched near a pay phone. Police say the ruler of the universe has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon for driving the truck at officers.
Incidentally, God may not be omniscient, after all: Cali claims to have no memory of the events leading up to his arrest, police say.
Police Lt. Dave Richter acknowledges that the incident is "kind of one of those bizarre cases."
Dr. John Mahan, 1943-1996
We are very saddened to report the passing of a dear friend of the Report and of many former Worldwiders, in the Pasadena area. John J. Mahan Jr. Ph.D., died on September 3 at his Pasadena home from lung cancer. He was 53. A former U.S. Marine and Ironman calibre triathelete, Dr. Mahan had a private psychology practice in Pasadena and was the district psychologist for La Canada Schools and other local institutions. A member of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and never a WCG member, himself, John was nevertheless a loving and able counsellor to scores of WCG members and former members who all too often had psychological problems caused or exacerbated by their association with the Armstrong movement. Besides hundreds of friends, he leaves behind his parents, his wife, his stepson John Christian, and daughters Sigrid and Inger. Interment was at Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello.
During the early '70s, when discussing church problems with friends in Pasadena, I predicted that after Mr. Armstrong died, the church would fragmentize - to friends' disbelief I learned at [the 1993] fall Festival that Mr. Armstrong had made the same remark to a few confidants. Sorry that we were both right.
For the fellowship (we've been in 33 and 25 years) we still attend the... [WCG] congregation and can attest to the double standard. The words from Pasadena sound nice, but the reality of control tactics, guilt, and attempts to keep us too busy to think and have personal time in our family still exist.
The feeling we get from Pasadena is they want us to donate 10 percent or more, be regular in attendance to show we are good children, and then preach the gospel for them: We do the work and they get our $$$.
There was a short time in 1995 when we were being fed on Christ. No more, at least not here. We hear most congregations are like ours in the way they are being run (pseudo-New Testament), but there are some moving forward toward true Christianity - no doubt due to their individual pastors. We feel Pasadena has been preparing the local congregations for the time when they will be cut loose - possibly with Pasadena GONE.
Six WCG employees (four ministers) were sacked here [in Australia] this past week. There just isn't the money to pay them as so many WCG members are "sitting on the fence." The minister who was unhelpful to me (to put it mildly) as I was leaving Worldwide in 1993 has himself resigned and joined the Methodist/Presbyterian church. He was extremely innovative in church service format and now stories are surfacing about his playing factions in the congregation off against each other as well as other omissions/commissions.
-Mrs. L. Stratford-Smith
The July Ambassador Report has again provided a truthful appraisal of current problems. With one phrase the editor exposes the culprit - the "deeply entrenched fallacy of ministerial rank."
The interpretation of "ministerial rank" by the Armstrongites and other denominational systems is contrary to God's ways. It basically is opposed to God's way of selecting his servants. The "gift of gab" does not determine one's ability to be a preacher of righteousness. One's lifestyle does.
I am amazed how little the Worldwidites and their offshoots question the lifestyles of their teachers. Is it any wonder that some leaders' careers end in "massage parlors"?
-John J. Purvins
Editor: Mr. Purvins is the Seminar Coordinator of Church Counsel, a Christian organization some former WCG members have found helpful. The address is 130 W. Main St., Little Chute, WI 54140; tel. 414-733-5271.
Hey John! Just went to see Burt Reynolds' new movie Striptease. Wild! He plays a degenerate congressman who lusts after Demi Moore. Wants sex. I wonder why. They had him dressed up and made up to look like Garner Ted. The silver hair, the tight polyester pants, the leer and all. I couldn't believe my eyes. Wild!
When we read AR62, your comment after the letter from Arkansas left us thinking you did not approve of Mr. Gary Porter sending out the video of GTA with the masseuse. But in the letter there was an address for Mr. Porter and we ordered a copy. I'm glad we did. Although it was disgusting to see, it did wake us up. My wife and I have decided to leave CGI and find fellowship elsewhere.
For your information, Mr. Porter did not make any money getting those tapes out. He did it to help people like us. Please don't criticize him for doing us a service.
Editor: I'm sorry if I left the impression that Mr. Porter was doing something wrong. I understand that he, himself, is very pained by what he discovered about GTA. One reader in Tulsa sent me a copy of an open letter in which Mr. Porter likened GTA to a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde. I'm sorry we do not have space in this issue to run it in its entirety as it is an outstanding discussion of the nature of true evil. Copies may be had by writing Gary Porter at 11968 Honesty Lane, Pocatello, ID 83202.
I make a living putting on piano concerts in nursing homes and retirement centers (1400 programs in under six years). My life's work is very rewarding, but not in dollars. I've seen most of the national parks, hiked and climbed several mountains out west, and met folks in all quarters of the sabbatarian movement. Most of that social contact with so-called law-keepers has been a bitter disappointment that I can only liken to Paul and Christ's experiences with the Jews. Yahshua told them, "None of you keeps the law [But] Midnight Ministries is a good investment in heaven's storehouse.
P.O. Box 96
Oneco, FL 34264
I tried to become a teacher using my Ambassador BA but California Credentialing rejected it. So I asked Big Sandy to send a letter which made things even worse. The Big Sandy registrar wrote that Pasadena had only been a "candidate for accreditation." So much for my hope to teach.
I can't help but laugh when I hear from friends still in WCG how it might actually be okay to keep Christmas and Easter. I told them they need to read Dr. Ernest Martin's literature because I learned those truths from Dr. Martin more than fifteen years ago!
Editor: In last November's edition of the ASK Commentator Martin wrote:
The truth is, a great number of the Rabbis already know that Jesus is the true and only Messiah, but they at the present do not want to disclose it because to do so means they would have to join forces with the Catholics and Protestants whose type of Christianity is filled to the brim with idolatry and with unbiblical customs and pagan rituals. The Jewish authorities will have nothing to do with such rebellion to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. What they see rampant in modern Christendom is pure idolatrous practices such as Christmas, Easter, a belief in the Trinity (which is a Greek concept of God and not that of the Jews or the Bible). They now see an image of a long-haired Zeus in almost all Gentile churches and in their books (and this "Jesus" looks almost identical to that of the Egyptian god of late antiquity called Serapis). Our churches are truly displaying a pagan god, not the real Jesus.
It thus appears that Martin has now taken positions on Christmas, Easter, and a few other topics that are somewhat different than his positions of about fifteen years ago. You might want to write to him for details of his current views. The address is Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, P.O. Box 25000, Portland, OR 97225.
I used to make a point of trying to keep up with all of the WCG-related groups to see what they are thinking. But about a month ago I started thinking that I was wasting a lot of time. What with Global, United, Philadelphia, International, Christian Biblical, and about two dozen other groups sending me literature, it was taking me more than 30 hours a week just to read everything being sent to my home! What really got me thinking though was when Mr. Dankenbring sent me a flyer about the new fellowship groups he is forming. Here is something he wrote about the WCG off-shoots, and I'm quoting exactly:
in far too many cases off-shoot churches coming out of Worldwide... preach just more of the same old worn-out, shoddy, out-dated doctrines and exert the same old heavyhanded church "government" with a new coat of "paint." Many people are tired of the "same old routine"....
There is truth in what he wrote, but something bothered me. I recalled II Tim. 4:3 and wondered, could it be that some of us have gotten itching ears? That we always need some new doctrines? It sounds like we are getting sort of prone to trendiness. Who ever heard of a church that always has to get rid of old, stale doctrines and always have new, fresh doctrines? So last month I cancelled all my subscriptions to all the offshoot literature. I still want to read the AR when it comes out every few months just to see all the craziness I am missing out on. But instead of having the preachers draining me of time and money, I have gotten to taking books out of my local library. I can study what I want and not be bothered with ever changing doctrines from teachers who admit they never could get it right in the first place. I have more time now, and guess what? I am starting to feel better about life!
Having successfully removed ourselves from WCG nearly two years ago, yours is the only publication we read to get the "inside stuff." Beyond AR we don't want to give any more time or energy to those folk; 22 years was enough. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of us all.
There was a time when getting inside information about the WCG and its offshoots was very difficult. Now, the problem is quite different. There is so much information floating around it is very time-consuming to sort out the worthwhile from the prosaic, trivial, and goofy. We have no plans to expand AR; already many people are spending too much time reading about the Tkach Co., the Armstrongites, and all the way-out movements that are popping up. We want to keep AR informative and interesting, yet readable and of a manageable size. With that in mind, please let us know what topics and stories you would most like to see covered. My thanks to those who send news clippings and relevant local news. And, as always, my thanks to all of you who are financially supporting our publishing efforts.
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