Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A Farewell to Arms

This is likely, highly likely, to be the final Ambassador Watch or Otagosh posting. Those who know me as more than a cantankerous blogger also know that I've been fighting, without great success, a serious health situation. In the time I have left there are clearly other priorities, and I commend Gary's blog as a great place to keep "in the loop".

I guess I want to say that there's very little I regret. If I've horribly offended anyone unjustly, I apologize. There are a lot of good people in the COGs, battling on, as we all do, according to our best insights. The blogs will stay up, for what they're worth, even if only curiosity value.

Special thanks to everyone who has engaged in creative conversation here.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Giving air to the sprats

I've wondered more than once whether giving prominence to the tiddlers - the sprats - in the COG fishpond is counterproductive. There are, after all, the (usually) larger higher-profile splinters, and then a ratbag assortment of nutters with memberships south of a few thousand - or much less.

These sprats are hardly representative of the "greater" COG movement. I mean, James Malm? Gimme a break. Bob Thiel is little more (IMHO) than a legend in his own lunchtime. Even PCG with its mega-expensive investments in Edmond can command only a comparatively small membership of loyal donors (did somebody mention 6,000?)

More than that the Packatollah, Mark Armstrong, Weinland et al are doctrinally  among the most deviant of the splinters. Bob is a prophet? Do tell! Give them due credit, they're "innovative", but in this case it's hardly a compliment. It's so easy to cite these fringe folk and attribute their bizzareness to "Armstrongism" in general.

Of course this assortment of one-man ministries all trace themselves back to the Herbal Empire. So do a gaggle of polygamist sects to the Mormon and Community of Christ churches. But it would be highly unfair to confuse the more sophisticated LDS and CofC with their dipstick relatives. Similarly, Laestadian Lutherans are a million miles from the ELCA (or even the LCMS); confuse them at your peril.

My point - up for discussion - is that the big targets - the ones aiming for acceptance and respectability - are the ones to go for. Malm and co. are largely distractions, yelling, gibbering and whining from the sidelines. Their leaders inevitably die, and thus the organization, such as it is. Better perhaps to ignore them rather than provide them with unwarranted publicity. UCG, LCG, COGWA are the big three (you could argue PCG's case too). They set the benchmark in latter-day COGism. They're a bit duller and fuzzier than the screechers because they play church more successfully, but they, not the others, are nonetheless the standard bearers of British Israelism, an often oppressive tithing system and a nineteenth-century abuse of Bible texts to justify a silly, and often dangerous, non-understanding of what they call 'prophecy'. And they have the critical mass to survive leadership upheavals.

What do you think?

Friday, 28 October 2016

Is Halloween Evil? - responding to UCG

"The United Church of God would have us believe that Halloween is evil. It's hard to say, though, what that even means."

So begins a piece by Claire Lampen on News.Mic. Without giving away too much, it's fair to say that Claire isn't convinced. Apart from a link to UCG's website, she's wisely not getting bogged down on UCG's dubious biblical arguments (the same ones used by a host of related Churches of God) but seeks to provide some wide-ranging perspective on this very American festival.

It's a well written piece, but one the lads in Milford probably won't appreciate.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Homer Kizer RIP

One of the more interesting, and at times imperious, characters on the fringe of COGdom was Homer Kizer. His ever loyal wife and spokesperson, Carolyn Smith-Kizer posted this earlier today.
My DH, Homer Kizer, died yesterday. He asked me to lay hands on him and pray and then he was gone. We shared almost 22 years, full of bliss and interesting times--and he loved me--I could not have asked for more. When we first married, he wanted to bring me to Alaska--it took 22 years to get here, and Adak is not Dutch Harbor [where he said he first truly felt as if he were home], but he will be laid to rest in Alaska, and that is what he would have wanted. This is a picture of him carving at Metro Beach, Lac Ste. Claire, Michigan--he loved being a hewer of wood. 
Mr Kizer was for a long time a prime mover with the tangled fortunes of the Port Austin COG venture, adopting a role that was not without controversy. He was the author of a number of books available on Amazon, some with non-religious themes.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

After the Feast

Tomorrow (Monday) is the Last Great Day on the COG calendar. Lots of Feast sites in 2016, they seem to proliferate as competing sects vie for the annual holy day windfall. But overall attendance is another thing, and there you are more likely to see shrinkage. Contrary to the hi-de-hi "best feast ever" schlock, every year more people come away disillusioned with a take-away message "last feast ever".

The reasons are various, but few more poignant than this, posted a few days ago to an older thread where it would hardly be noticed. It deserves a wider circulation.
My wife to be is a member of RCG. She is at their feast of tabernacles in Arkansas. Today she calls me crying that some of the things they are preaching seam odd and even disturbing. I have listened to her explain her church and often joked about them being a cult. I felt I was hurting her feelings. But today as she cried to me she explained she had googled the church and came upon several sites like this. She fears it is true and she is scared and must endure this for a few more days before she can get home. I feel terrible for her but I haven't been there 1st hand. The more I read I pray to the god of love to bring her home safe. Please pray with me.
 The Feast, as observed by the Churches of God, is not a biblical observance. It was created in the early days of the Radio Church of God, completely ignoring the existing Jewish tradition. The influence of ministers like Pack demonstrates just how woefully shallow and manipulative it can become.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Privilege and Entitlement in Denial - Tabor & Alexander

Poor Dr. James Tabor. He "almost drove off the road" when he heard the interview with Jerald Walker (see earlier story).

"what he said about Mr. Armstrong and the Church as a whole was completely incorrect and bogus--that only "Whites" would be in the Kingdom of God, that blacks were an inferior species, and on and on...I realize the WCG had its flaws but this is very unfortunate. Most of us in the academic field of Religious Studies object to the label of "cult" for any religion anyway--the problem is who is doing the labeling."

Completely incorrect and bogus? What's James been smoking? Technically you can indeed argue that "officially" WCG taught no such thing, but most of us know that the reality in the pulpit and pews was far, far different. The racist culture  in WCG was undeniable, even as far away as Auckland, New Zealand where Frederick "Jack" Croucher made comments from the pulpit that demeaned Black people and Maori, delivered with a laugh. It was the "Israelites" who would have pride of place in the super-fascist World Tomorrow. Doesn't James remember what his onetime mentor Rod Meredith preached and wrote?

As for the use of the word 'cult', I tend to agree with Tabor. It's a loaded term with multiple meanings and scholars tend to avoid such pejorative terms, leaving them to popular writers who have an ax to grind. But Walker isn't a religious academic, and in the context of his personal experience I'm not about to tell him not to use it.

Racing in to back up Tabor - from the good lord knows where - comes a voice from the distant past, Gary Alexander, a former Plain Truth writer and author of a dismal little booklet called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Alexander has had a checkered career post WCG, covered in some depth back in Ambassador Report 27 (April 1984), subhead "Alexander does prison time". 

"In these days of high racial tension, fueled in large part by everyone taking pictures of everything and extrapolating each incident into an overarching trend, readers assume everything Jerrald [sic] Walker says must be true, but he was not in the belly of the beast, as we were.  He didn't understand our teachings.  He was, as the book excerpt cited above shows, a kid who peaked [sic] out the window on Halloween and wished that he were allowed to trick-and-treat, like any other kid."

And so Alexander, who like Tabor was part of the self-entitled elite "back in the day", demeans and devalues Walker's experience... he was just "a kid" who wanted to do trick and treat. That's a horrible and completely facile misrepresentation.

No, Jerald Walker clearly wasn't "in the belly of the beast." Excuse the French, but that's the whole bloody point. The vile influence on lay members - and especially kids - of church culture and teaching, especially given the off the cuff remarks and climate of contempt for imagined 'non-Israelites'. Walker is telling it as he remembers it, and as it impacted on his life and that of his family. His is an honest account of what it was like growing up in the Chicago church. Tabor and Alexander might want to hide behind official teaching, but what was official teaching in a time when the 'truth' was whatever was served up in the pulpit, in church magazines and booklets that were often re-edited, withdrawn and replaced?These were the days before the Systematic Theology Project (STP), and many of us remember what happened to that.

Alexander pleads for old timers to head off to Amazon and give a 'balanced' review of Walker's book. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I've heard a lot of folk deny that the Worldwide Church of God was inherently racist, let alone "white supremacist." But as I recollect, none of them grew up as African-Americans in the bonds of their parent's beliefs. Tabor isn't listening. Nor, obviously, is Alexander.

And that's a very different starting place from individuals who enjoyed a place of privilege and entitlement in the church. Dr. Tabor and Mr. Alexander might consider that carefully before continuing in knee-jerk mode.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Journal - 188th issue

Well, well, well...

Where does one begin in outlining the features in the latest Journal (September 30)?

Is it the surprise appearance of a front-page article by Dixon Cartwright (continued with photographs further in the issue) announcing new courses at Meredith/Weston "Living University"?

Or the full page ad on page 8 for the said institution?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is a tectonic shift in policy for LCG which to the best of my knowledge, has never advertised in The Journal before but treated it with a sniffy disdain. A 'Westonly' breeze blowing in from Charlotte? Will any of the other major players now follow suit?

Is it Graeme McChesney's lighthearted letter to the editor, which is an excellent contrast to the usual earnest drivel? But hey, I'm biased, McChesney is a fellow Kiwi.

Is it the unexpected article by Gary Arvidson that focuses on former minister Howard Clark's "miraculous" healing from a spinal injury? This subject has been discussed (and researched) at length recently - though not in public mode. It could be that, now the Arvidson piece is out, you hear more on this subject.

Or is it Lonnie Hendrix's shock horror (to me at least - didn't see it coming) survey of correspondence between CGI Jamaica's Ian Boyne both here and on Gary Leonard's blog some time back. Dear sweet lord, an article about Ian in The Journal that Ian hasn't written himself! I'm not exactly sure how to respond, but give me time, give me time...

All in all it's a truly fascinating issue. Downloadable as always.

Quick update: just posted over at Kathleen's Dying for God's Sake; Howard Clark's Healing.

WCG: A White Supremacist Doomsday Cult

I've heard a lot of folk deny that the Worldwide Church of God was inherently racist, let alone "white supremacist." As I recollect, none of them grew up as African-Americans in the bonds of their parent's beliefs.

Jerald Walker, however, did. His story is told here along with a short (9 minute) interview on WBUR which, in my opinion, is riveting listening. Walker is highly articulate, and this is no mere rant. He is now a professor at Emerson College and his book The World in Flames adds to the chickens coming home to roost.
When The World in Flames begins, in 1970, Jerry Walker is six years old. His consciousness revolves around being a member of a church whose beliefs he finds not only confusing but terrifying. Composed of a hodgepodge of requirements and restrictions (including a prohibition against doctors and hospitals), the underpinning tenet of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God was that its members were divinely chosen and all others would soon perish in rivers of flames.
The substantial membership was ruled by fear, intimidation, and threats. Anyone who dared leave the church would endure hardship for the remainder of this life and eternal suffering in the next. The next life, according to Armstrong, would arrive in 1975, three years after the start of the Great Tribulation. Jerry would be eleven years old.
Jerry’s parents were particularly vulnerable to the promise of relief from the world’s hardships. When they joined the church, in 1960, they were living in a two-room apartment in a dangerous Chicago housing project with the first four of their seven children, and, most significantly, they both were blind, having lost their sight to childhood accidents. They took comfort in the belief that they had been chosen for a special afterlife, even if it meant following a religion with a white supremacist ideology and dutifully sending tithes to Armstrong, whose church boasted more than 100,000 members and more than $80 million in annual revenues at its height.
When the prophecy of the 1972 Great Tribulation does not materialize, Jerry is considerably less disappointed than relieved. When the 1975 end-time prophecy also fails, he finally begins to question his faith and imagine the possibility of choosing a destiny of his own.
The World in Flames is published by Beacon Press and is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Full Monte

Monte Wolverton has a new futuristic/Christian apologetic book out: The Remnant. It's described by Monte as "a physical and spiritual expedition through a dystopian world." I hope Monte's writing style is better in the book.

Wolverton acknowledges that The Remnant fits in the Christian fiction genre, though he's not keen on pigeonholing it.

"Well, I'd rather not have this lumped in with the Christian fiction genre. I suppose it's technically Christian fiction, but I wanted it to reach a broader readership. Regular readers don't want to be slobbered on with lots of syrupy religious language. I personally find that off-putting. Christians would get more traction in the world if we made an effort to be—normal. As C.S. Lewis once said, "The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature."'

Greg Albrecht's CWR is, as expected, in donkey-deep with the publication, which doesn't infuse me with any great enthusiasm. As "an award winning author" you'd think Monte could find a more credible publisher. So no, I won't be ordering a copy personally, mainly because the plot line doesn't particularly appeal (dystopian futures? [Dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.] Christianity meets Mad Max? Whatever happened to optimistic sci-fi?) though I have a good deal of genuine respect for Monte's non-religious work - how could anyone not appreciate his his brilliant caricatures and 'toons'.

More information at CWR and an interview. The bio statement underneath the interview reveals that Monte "is an ordained minister", but then leaves it hanging. Surely not GCI? Please, tell us it ain't so! C'mon Monte, spill the beans.

Monday, 3 October 2016

More on CCC - the non-COG British Israel sect

Peter Lineham
[Previous postings on CCC (the Commonwealth Covenant Church): February 2016 (The Curious Case of the CCC); September 2016 (BI Church in the News).]
Massey University history professor Peter Lineham​ says the CCC presents "a really peculiar story in some ways".
The church fused Pentecostal beliefs with British Israelism, a belief the Anglo-Celtic people and similar groups were descendants of the mythical Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
He cautions against calling the CCC a cult, but is not surprised to hear some of the claims against it.
"Within the tightness of a small church group, it's a perfect place for bad behaviour to take place because people feel caught up in loyalty and will disempower people against a leader if a leader is accused of abuse."
The latest chapter in the sad story of the Commonwealth Covenant Church as survivors speak out. If you judge a movement like British Israelism by its fruits it's hard it imagine you'll find anything edifying.

Some of Lineham's commons fit like a glove with the WCG experience... or more latterly PCG, RCG, ICG, LCG etc. You'll find the article here.