Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dear Doctor Don

(HT to Gary on the Banned blog)

Dear Doctor Don

Re. your sermon of September 1.

An important message doesn't have to be an hour long - let alone nearly 80 minutes. If you can't say it effectively in 20 you're a very poor speaker.

A sermon doesn't need to have highly selective proof texts - piled up in a steaming heap and read aloud in full every time - as if the congregation are congenitally challenged illiterate dummies.

Nice admission that WCG at one stage embraced a version of the traditional Roman Catholic Petrine document. You seem pleased that's all past history, but do you recollect who it came from? Clue: his initials were HWA. Don, a question: did you speak up against this nonsense at that time?

Rambling and over-explanation are cheap fillers, not matters of substance.

It helps to actually get to the point sooner rather than laying out a long trail of breadcrumbs. Who has an 80 minute attention span? It amazes me you didn't start yawning yourself half-way through. Even Ron Dart in his prime would have found that difficult.

"Gainsayers" (your word) often bear a prophetic word to established structures. You're supposed to be a smart dude (18 hours of graduate theology at Southern Methodist... though that's a bit underwhelming); surely you know about the tension between prophets and priests in the Old Testament. Question: which of these two groups do we remember and value today?

What do we take from the fact that you're preaching an authoritarian message and currently hold the office of chairman of the UCG Council of Elders? Speaking "ex cathedra" are we?

You and I were both "on deck" back in the day (you in an important role, most of the rest of us in total lay obscurity) when it became a survival skill to "read between the lines" in the GN and Worldwide News. They were used to soften-up the membership for potentially upsetting developments. Gary and others suspect there's a subtext to your sermon about ministerial authority. So let's ask directly... are there storm clouds on the horizon? An impending putsch? You and the rest of COGdom know there's plenty of precedent for that. Don't you think it's dumb not to be open and honest about such things, and to let in some sunlight and fresh air by allowing threat-free debate and discussion?

Rhetorical questions don't need to be answered immediately after you ask them.

"If one of the ministers ceased to be faithful..." (around 54m). Finally getting to the point Don? "You better look before you leap." The "H word" appears more often - heresy.


You seem to think that you've provided a "sound expository sermon." Well, you might get some debate there, especially on grounds of "sound."

Dredging up 1974 and the Associated Churches of God? Talk about living in the past. What happened to those reportedly 10,000 folk? Most of them transitioned to freedom and autonomy.

Your real take-away message comes around 1.12. Those aren't just clouds on the horizon, that could well be a twister. You sound defeatist already. "Hold fast." Translation: batten down the hatches brethren!

There must have been a lot of depressed people walking out of services that day.

In New Zealand sheep farming is fairly common. You use the sheep analogy early in your message. I don't know how it's done in East Texas, but here sheep are herded by sheep dogs. It's quite an art form, controlled by whistles and verbal commands. The most common one is "Get in Behind!"

Which I think would have made a far better title for your sermon.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The other "Watch"

Ambassador Watch and Twenty-first Century Watch. Not to be confused.

The latter is the quarterly rag produced by the remnants of the Holy Family, the Armstrongs; namely Mark, grandson of Herb and son of Ted.

The Living Armstrongism blog describes the MA style as "venomous, misanthropic invective". I completely agree. MA's writing drips with bitterness and stereotyping. It's hard to imagine anything less likely to reflect the sermon on the mount. It's a loveless message that owes more to nationalistic exceptionalism and loathing of progressive views than anything you'd identify with the teachings of Jesus.

When it comes to political invective, this Watch leaves little to the imagination. MA and his colleagues just spew it forth. If CGI is the slightly brighter side of Armstrongism, ICG - the gloriously misnamed Intercontinental Church of God (which seems to be a pet poodle sect tied to Mark Armstrong's Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association) is a bilious cul de sac.

TFCW has an editorial policy wrapped up in misanthropic and shallow readings of Bible passages. In the latest issue:
  • MA has a hernia over "the Green solution to terror". Hint: Green isn't a good word in the Armstrong vocabulary.
  • James Ricks provides a Bible Study (??) on the perils of socialism. How seriously you take a guy who thinks Karl Marx is spelled Carl Marx I'm not sure.
  • Michael Armstrong (another member of the Holy Family?) postures as an expert on Venezuela. 
  • Garner Ted Armstrong is exhumed once again with an article on heaven.
  • MA is back to fire spitballs at the pope over his willingness to engage in dialogue with an Islamic leader.
  • The other features seem to be lifted from various politically agreeable sources.
Then there's a selection of wheedling letters from like-minded souls.
Dear Mr. Armstrong,
Praise God for your grandfather, your Dad, and you! The USA needs more of your kind. Thank you so much for this information. I agree one hundred percent!
I can think of only one reason to download this drivel... simply to keep one's disgust fresh.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Who's the nuttiest of them all?

There are some interesting cult leaders out there in the GOGisphere. Some may be sane, some not. But who gets your vote for the loopiest?

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that the gentleman mentioned below is anything other than a fine bloke, kind to children and small animals. Nor am I suggesting he's insane or a charlatan in the Elmer Gantry sense. He's probably thoroughly sincere in the "grumpy old man" sense of sincere. And, dear lord, don't we have a total saturation-level of grumpy old men in and around the COG conversations these days? It goes with an aging demographic. You get a fair taste of that even here on the various threads. A triumphalist contempt for anyone who doesn't see eye to eye with a previous published comment.

Every now and then - but not too often - I check to see whether Willie Dankenbring is still in the land of the living. He is, and still producing his Prophecy Flash newsletter. Willie, once a prominent Plain Truth writer, has a very low profile these days, but obviously still has a following of aging groupies. I've confessed before that, "back in the day", I had a good deal of respect for the guy, and still (goodness knows why) have most of his 1970s hardback books stashed away with a whole lot of other obscure "lit" from times past.

But time moves us on, and Willie has long since hardened into a prophetic prognosticator with an unenviable record for dismal failure. Not only that, but his writing is imbued with a hatred of anything smacking of reason and - heaven forbid - liberalism. In fact, he's so over the top that even the neo-con-leaning Beyond Today staff would doubtless cringe at his expostulations. He's right up there with Mark Armstrong, maybe leading by a head.

The latest issue of Prophecy Flash is available to download (known by some as Prophecy Flush). It makes Bob Thiel's rag look concise and focused by comparison, with long rambling articles.

Which is saying something.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Good Book

James Pate, a biblioblogger with some previous WCG experience behind him, has just reviewed the Book of Mormon. You'll find a link to James' blog in the sidebar. I'm struck with admiration, personally being of the same view as Mark Twain on this noble literary confection: chloroform in print. How did James stay awake to complete his task? In any case it's a fair and well written review, quite short, and definitely worth checking out.

I have an alternative suggestion for James however, and confess to be currently making my way through it. The Good Book by (sort of) A. C. Grayling. It's a compendium (kind of) of wise advice, observations and insight from some of the greatest writers in history, from ancient Rome to the modern day. Grayling has melded them together as "a secular Bible". Moreover, he's organised them into 17 biblical-style books; Genesis (nothing like the original), Wisdom, Parables, Proverbs, Acts... you get the idea.

The text is a bit uneven at times - I really didn't like Sages. But much - most - is helpful and enlightening. Dare one say inspirational? Nothing religious at all.

At the risk of being stoned, and based on what I've read so far (this isn't the kind of tome you want to speed-read through) I highly recommend it. Nothing here to offend any person of goodwill, Christian, Atheist or otherwise, and much to ponder. In due course I'll probably post a few quotes.

Better than the Bible? I wouldn't want to comment. Better than the Book of Mormon. Absolutely!

"I Must Go Down to the Sea Again..."

"So where is this bl*%dy sea?"
I must go down to the sea again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there - 
I wonder if they're dry? 

Spike Milligan

I believe there's another earlier version of that verse, but Milligan is a personal favourite, so let's begin there.

I've been neglectful of Paul Davidson's excellent blog Is That In The Bible? and have only just come across his latest post on that famous biblical body of water, the Sea of Galilee. You know, stormy waters, ships foundering. You find it appearing in our first canonical gospel, Mark.

Davidson has one of those inquiring minds that makes me feel quite dense by comparison. He doesn't blog frequently, but when he does, watch out. His is a voice of reasoned discourse, and he documents his ideas and conclusions with great care. He uses the word "nerdy" in a self-deprecating way, but despite not being in the hallowed academy, he runs rings around those self-serving apologists who have gathered the wagons around to defend the often indefensible.

Anyway, the question in this case is, did the author of Mark just plain invent the Sea of Galilee? It's a question I never considered before, but Paul lays out the evidence. Absolutely intriguing.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

To See Ourselves...

... as others see us.

I'm sorry I can't embed this, so you'll have to cross over to

This is the CGI "Bring On the Sabbath" episode for Friday night. Wes White does a six minute monologue on websites like Ambassador Watch and Banned by HWA (without naming either). He takes a conciliatory position, conceding that we provide some kind of valid service. Well, what do you know? The whole show lasts 90 minutes, but the relevant section begins just before 17:00.

I'm really interested in what you think of Wes' comments.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Wes White on Politics

This is a short excerpt from the article appearing in the latest issue of The Journal. (see previous entry). The entire publication can be downloaded.

Journal photo
Many branches of the Church of God have become so establishment (some more than others) that they are openly right-wing Republican in their sermons. (I would mention COGs that have leftist leanings, but I have not run across any yet.)

Others are more subtle in their efforts to promote Republicanism. Their less-blatant approach keeps politics out of the pulpit, but the members receive the leaders’ promotions of the Fox News line via E-mails, tweets and Facebook posts.

It is indeed a problem when our people equate right-wing Republicanism with Christianity. Yes, some areas overlap between Christianity and Republicanism, things like our teachings against abortion and homosexuality.

But the liberals also have some overlap with Christianity when it comes to things like helping the poor and forgiving sinners.

No political party can be labeled as the party that represents the beliefs of
the Church of God.

Let’s be frank. When many of us left the WCG we moved away fromthings like top-down church government, the one true church and an endtime apostle. It was good that we rejected those teachings.

But the rejection of other teachings has not always had a beneficial effect on the Body of Christ. For example, even though the WCG was conservative in many ways, our leaders discouraged us from getting involved in politics.

Now that we are free to embrace worldly politics, many of our people do so to such a degree that it is a detriment to their prayer, Bible study and
service to the church.

When a congregation starts aligning itself with the Republican Party, it immediately alienates many minorities and young people.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Journal - 187th issue

The Journal has its critics, but I don't count myself among them. Setting aside the issue of the awful advertising section (a print publication obviously has its costs, and publishers can't afford to be choosy) the editorial policy is remarkably open. Old time Herbalists rub shoulders - or column inches - with more progressive voices. It's a remarkable balance that Dixon Cartwright maintains... and obviously he also has views of his own which he is remarkably constrained in presenting.

If you want proof The Journal isn't just a lapdog publication pushing a traditional COG line, witness the lack of enthusiasm for it among the major (and many minor) COG sects. When was the last time you saw an ad - or even a press release - from the United Church of God appearing in its pages. Or COGWA? LCG? PCG? RCG? These bodies - some more-so than others  - like to control information, putting it through the PR spin cycle before releasing it to the membership. For them The Journal is a nuisance factor they'd rather not deal with. Problematically for them, many of their members are of a different opinion.

All of which is preamble to a piece appearing in this issue by Wes White. Provocatively titled "Come ye, my people, out of the Republican Party", the title does it scant justice.
"The Church of God stands at a crossroads. Some see that current demographics are not in our favor and that many of our aging congregations will wither and die within a decade or so. Some realize there needs to be a change in how we approach evangelism and feeding the flock, but they don’t know what to do. Some agree that we must do a better job of bringing in younger people and keeping the young people we have or we will go the way of Shaker extinction... The purpose of this article is to suggest that the Churches of God consider a major paradigm shift. It’s obvious that our methods are not growing our groups. If we are to reverse the gentrification trend in the church, we must make major changes."
Seldom a truer word said.

Of course many blog readers will be unimpressed having long ago abandoned any hope that the COGs could or should become kinder, gentler and more humane. Bring on the Shaker dissolution! Fair enough, it's a position I have some sympathy for, but that doesn't wash so well among those who remain on the fringes, locked in by residual belief, family, identity or just plain nostalgia.

The issues Wes White identifies are not all exactly those I'd identify with - but he certainly has a number of important ones in his sights. His list:

  • Intolerance and homophobia
  • The quality of hymns
  • Brazenly pro--Republican politics 
  • "Talking head" evangelism by men in suits
  • Racism
  • Anti-science positions
  • Self-righteous contempt for those outside the mainstream
  • Uncritical endorsement of the State of Israel

It's an article worth reading. You can be pretty sure the duffers in their suits will screw up their noses at what he has to say, but so what. That's the advantage of having an independent publication that can provide a forum for ideas like these, a place where the leaders have little power to shut down a conversation. White concludes:
"It is my belief that the current leadership of the Church of God will probably not agree with these observations and will continue in their current directions. However, it is my prayer that the ecclesia of the future will recognize the futility of these approaches and make a major paradigm shift after we have all gone on to sleep with our fathers."
That hope may be forlorn; too little too late, but I admire him for his stand.

Next time a further excerpt from the White article. Meantime the entire issue can be downloaded.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Thiel Spiel

I apologize. AW has been woefully neglectful of the CCG and its wondrously gifted prophet Bob Thiel. That's partly because Bob is irrelevant, given to delusions of competence and self-proclaimed master of a puddle-sized splinter sect, but nonetheless he battles on, secure in his own fantasies, and he does manage to attract some small attention from two groups; those few poor souls who take him seriously and those who think he's just plain bizarre.

In any case, the quarterly Bob magazine, grandiosely titled Bible News Prophecy (shouldn't that be Bible News and Prophecy?) is out there and ready for eager readers to devour the prophet's primer-level, semi-literate prose. Two dead men wrote a couple of the articles - handily copyright free from long ago. One was Herb Armstrong (lifted from a 1977 PT), the other by Dibar Apartian (from a 1966 GN). 1966 - dear lord, that was the year before they relaunched Dragnet! Too bad Sergeant Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon aren't around now to knock on Bob's door and sort the poor schmuck out. Apartian has been claimed by Thiel as a silent supporter of his unique gifts and a critic of his onetime idol-turned-nemesis, Rod Meredith, despite retaining his status as an evangelist in Meredith's Living Church of God at the time of his death, so Bob is attempting to twist the knife. Mind you, I doubt the old fossils who run things over in Charlotte have even noticed.

Apart from the reruns of Herb and Dibar's stuff, everything else comes from the prophet's very own pen. The lead article screams PROTESTANTS: BEWARE of the ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT!

Bob, sit down and let me explain something to you. Protestant churches - with the exception of a number of fundamentalist retard denominations - created the ecumenical movement.

Oh well.

To be honest, in my view Bob is a complete dead end. His tiny Continuing Church of God is a vanity project that has a future only as long as Bob's personal longevity, and nobody lives forever. I guess it generates a nice little income in the meantime. So why bother even mentioning him? Well, Bible News Prophecy is, if nothing else, a sobering example - or mildly amusing if you think of it from another angle - of extreme nuttiness and dilettantism parading in proof-texting drag. As they say, whatever spins your wheels...

Downloadable (but not recommended).

Sunday, 4 September 2016

As the Days of Herb Were

Wouldn't you know it, the lads at COGWA's Discern magazine have an article called Who Would Jesus Vote For? Erik Jones seems to have been channeling Rod Meredith. Nothing new under the dying Herbal sun.

Discern is the magazine you're having when you're not having a magazine. It's an el cheapo download... no hard copy subscriptions. Like other COG publications, it provides a constant stream of "ain't it awful" commentary. The world is going to wrack and ruin, nobody is keepin' the Ten Commandments, and the only hope left is a strong hand from someplace (nod, wink, the return of a militant Christ to smash recalcitrant kneecaps). Cue the article by Jim Franks, the sort of thing that wouldn't have been out of place in a 1940s Plain Truth.

David Treybig has his eye on the ancient enemy, Satan the Devil, and has helpfully written an article called Satan: A Profile. No mention of dualistic Zoroastrian mythology imported into Judaism. Hmm, wonder why. Could it be Dave doesn't know that stuff.

Jeremy Lallier writes about visionaries. His examples are biblical characters. Mike Bennett asks one of the dumber rhetorical questions: Is God Fair?

Behold brethren, a woman writer! Scott Ashley take note! Becky Sweat has a three-page article entitled You Don't Say! Neal Hogberg writes about modern-day slavery. Erik Jones returns with another piece on where the popular image of Jesus ("pale, long-haired") came from. Actually, I think Erik is caught in a time warp. Contemporary portrayals have changed from the doe-eyed Nordic dude to a more realistic image of a Palestinian Jew.

Joel Meeker writes his usual column - heaven knows why - and the back page promotes COGWA's laughably silly e-book called, ahem, The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy. Knock yourself out.

Downloadable... in fact, that's the only way you'll get a copy.