I Should Have Known
When one thinks back to all the clues that were lying right on top of the ground, yet one did not assess them for what they were, it is nothing short of astonishing. I, for one, can only attribute such madness to brainwashing. I was programmed from age four to believe that Herbert DoubleYou Armstrong was the finest man on the planet, the only true man of God, and by implication, of course, the most honest.
It made sense. How could it be otherwise? You wouldn't expect Moses to lie, would you? Or cheat? Or steal? Neither would Herbert DoubleYou.
Naturally, neither would any of his ministers. They were all God's men. God had selected them, Personally. (I couldn't help noticing that a disproportionate number of them were complete assholes, but that was God's business, not mine. If they were pricks, then it was probably my fault.)
When Phil came to our area as an associate pastor circa 1985 he truly seemed like a godsend. He was young, handsome, articulate, and above all, kind (as rare in the ministry as prophecies that come true). Plus, he really knew his Bible. He was the son of a Headquarters evangelist (a real dork) whose personality was typical HQ--he was nothing like his son. Most people in our two-church area felt really blessed to have Phil; personally, I liked him a lot.
(Our pastor at that time was Glen White, one of the handful of professional church pastors who I believe was/is truly sincere and does not deserve to be publicly caned. Still, a lot of people didn't like Glen because he pursued a ministry (unauthorized by HQ) about alcoholism, which was rampant in the church at that time, and probably still is. So for those sots who thought Glen was the antichrist, Phil was a breath of fresh air.)
I got to know Phil quite well. He was a novelty to me, because he was a Preaching Elder, yet he was younger than me by half a dozen years! Either I was getting older, or "they" were getting younger. It was amazing. Phil's wife was a beautiful girl of Russian descent named Lil; she was really sweet, and it seemed like the quality of the ministry was improving since I was a kid. This couple, like Glen and Connie White, did not browbeat. They were nice people.
Maybe the church really was growing up. . .
(Of course, as I mentioned above, HQ did not approve of what was happening in our area--Glen White was punitively transferred after several old hard-line members repeatedly bitched to Pasadena; that left us with Phil until we got "Old-Time (Armstrong) Religion" Lester "Mr. Mac" McColm as his superior. McColm quickly corrected any good deeds Glen White had left behind, and since he outranked Phil, Phil was basically neutered in the Good Works department. But I digress. . .)
Phil was transferred somewhere around 1989-90, and I was sorry to see him go. But before he left, he presented me with a clue that should have told me something. Even though I let the myth of ministerial integrity get the better of me, I was stunned at Phil, at his attitude, and I knew in my heart he was wrong even as I continued to respect him as being one of "God's Men".
A year or so after Phil arrived in our area, he was in a traffic accident. Both he and his daughter were injured, though not seriously. They did, however, suffer some skeletal injuries (whiplash or something like it) that caused them quite a lot of pain. Apparently these symptoms were not corrected by traditional medical means, so Phil and his daughter (a teenager) sought physical therapy.
It so happened that I knew a physical therapist who was top notch. I had recommended her to Glen White when his wife was ill, and Glen recommended her to Phil. This therapist (I'll call her Rosie) was also a nutritionist and her husband was a chiropractor. Both were licensed in their respective fields.
Phil and his daughter went to Rosie over a period of time (weeks or months, I'm not sure), and their health was restored. The pain from their injuries was relieved. In a word, they received what they were looking for.
Until . . .
Out of the blue, perhaps a year later, Rosie called me. She knew that Phil was a minister in my church (Rosie herself was one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and naturally did not hold the Worldwide Church of God in any high esteem), and knew that I could probably contact him. What she told me really blew my mind. It simply could not be true. Rosie had treated Phil and his daughter, had relieved their pain (healed their injuries, if you will), and he had not paid his bill. Not only that, he had ignored several statements sent to his address. Could I call him and find out what gives?
Well, shit. Me, a lowly nobody, call a minister and put him on the carpet? That was gonna be a thrill and a half!
But I did. Phil was my friend, I could talk candidly to him (as long as the note of reverence remained in my voice), and after all, the reputation of the church was at stake. We had been admonished repeatedly, for years, never to do anything in our personal lives that might "bring reproach on God's church". If what Rosie had told me was true, then Phil's actions could do exactly that.
I called Phil. I told him what Rosie had said. He explained what had happened.
He had submitted Rosie's bills to his insurance, which was through Ambassador College. The insurance had denied Rosie's claims for payment based on the fact that, during treatment, she had given what they called "chiropractic" adjustments. Because she was not licensed as a chiropractor, they denied the entire claim, including all the stuff she was licensed for.
I was confused. Rosie's husband was a chiropractor. She was his employee. She had 30 years experience in various therapies, and certainly was qualified to administer a minor adjustment under the umbrella of her husband's license. (I don't know if this is legally the case, but I do know that nurses can administer medical procedures under a doctor's direction, so to me it was all the same.) I asked Phil what about the rest of the bill. Surely that adjustment was only a percentage of the total treatment. What about the vitamin therapy, the reflexology, and all the rest? Those things were covered by Rosie's license, and shouldn't they be paid?
No, Phil said. The college's position was that, if they paid a bill that might be considered fraudulent, it could possibly endanger their tax-exempt status with the State of California.
Bullshit and other Christian phrases! I was thinking this is bogus as hell. I could not believe that God's college would take such a position. It was illogical and sounded downright crooked! (This was probably the first glimmer I had of the true Tkach administration. Within a year or two the foundation would crack wide open, but as of 1989 it was still over the horizon.)
Speechless for a moment, I finally found my voice.
But, Phil, if the insurance won't pay the bill, then aren't you going to pay it yourself? (I certainly would have to, if it were me and I were going to sleep at night.)
"John!" he replied in a shocked, hurt voice. "I can't afford that! That's several thousand dollars! I don't make that much money!"
Jesus goddamn Christ! I was thinking. You don't pay tithes! You get a car for free! You make at least $30,000 a year (in 1989, certainly twice that today), and you can't pay ten bucks a month? Sure, it would take the rest of your life to pay it off, but I know Rosie, and she would accept that. As long as she knew you were going to make the effort, that would be the end of the story.
I didn't say any of that, of course. I didn't dare. I just felt a numbness spread down through my toes. Phil and his daughter had gone to this woman for relief. They got it. She delivered. And now they stiffed her because they couldn't afford it! Where were my tithes going? There was a moral imperative here, a Christian imperative--and this "man of God", this son of an evangelist, who had been such a great example to so many of us. . .
. . .was a flake.
The last time I spoke to Rosie (about two years ago), Phil still had never paid his bill. The church took a (well deserved) black eye, and so did I.
I should have known!
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