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.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

BI threatens to bring down "Farmer Bill"

"Farmer Bill" Massey
William Massey was one of New Zealand's "great" prime ministers, serving in the nation's highest office for 13 years (1912-1925) and "widely considered to have been one of the more skilled politicians of his time."

He was also a 'true believer' in British Israelism, one of the most high profile advocates of his age, and a patron of the British Israel World Federation.

Down the road from where I live is Massey Park and Massey Avenue, both named after the great man. Massey University, with campuses in Palmerston North, Wellington and Albany, likewise commemorates the man who led New Zealand through World War 1, and is widely believed to be responsible - perhaps unfairly - for introducing the influenza epidemic to the country in 1918.

But it's Massey's BI influenced views on race that have risen to bite his reputation as researchers dig up his on-the-record statements.
"A racially-charged debate is igniting over research that has revealed "white supremacist" comments made by the prime minister Massey University is named after.
"Now, almost a century on, a top academic is calling for the university to consider a name change.
"The controversial call comes from Massey lecturer and recent PhD scholar Steve Elers, who was startled to uncover blatantly racist comments made by William Ferguson Massey." (Source)
Two quotes: "New Zealanders are probably the purest Anglo-Saxon population in the British Empire. Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man's country, and it must be kept as such"; and, "I am not a lover or admirer of the Chinese race. I should be one of the very first to insist on very drastic legislation to prevent them coming here in any numbers, and I am glad such is not the case."

Elers doesn't specifically mention BI - it's an increasingly obscure topic that almost nobody would would be aware of today - but he does say "he was surprised to discover Massey's beliefs".

Even granted that these were jingoistic times, Massey's BI-fueled racism stands out. I'm not sure I agree with Elers about expunging his name, we've arguably had worse individuals in that office. But for those who plead and whine that BI is not implicitly racist, exhibit A is at hand. Men's sins, it seems, follow them well beyond the grave.

That's a reality that those currently in the leadership of the various Churches of God, woefully clinging on to this bitter and hateful historical construct, might well consider.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Oh how very impressive

A university! A center of inquiry, a place where young people are challenged to think for themselves, to develop their intellectual skills. To ask questions and think outside the square. That's the ideal.

Then there's Living University.

Here's this year's complete staff and student body.

This is a university? Kind of redefines the meaning of the word.

Gerry is the new president; surprise! Michael Germano - the big name brought in to secure accreditation (!?! - now that ain't gonna happen) sits secure in along with a selection of old white guys (and one woman) out in front. I guess it keeps that front row in employment. Nice work if you can get it.

They didn't bother to wheel in Rod for the photo op though. Times are a changin'...

Keep pouring in those tithe dollars brethren.

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.