Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Believe it - or not

Talk Radio 702 is Joberg's no. 1 news and information station. I know that because it says so on their "proudly South African" website. One of 702's shows, broadcast on Sunday nights, is called Believe it or Not, dealing with religious issues, and recently it featured an phone hook-up with "Pastor David Pack" in far off Ohio. Yes, that's Big Dave, folks. I would have missed this gem, but thankfully the ever-vigilant Gary Scott provided a link on XCG.

Kate Turkington, the 702 host, had it seems come across the RCG website. As she was planning a program on the Beast of Revelation theme, she decided to rope in "Pastor Dave."

The interview is worth a listen, if only to hear the credulous host say: "the church's flagship magazine, The Real Truth, and his audio program, The World to Come, have an audience of millions, apparently; reach every nation, including heads of state, other leaders in government, religion, education, industry and the media." Maybe she was just reading straight off the Pack website.

But, uh, heads of state? Leaders in religion? Who, Dave? It seems the big fellah regularly sips green tea with the Dalai Lama and drops by Downing Street to gnosh on Cherie's cucumber sandwiches. Or perhaps Aussie PM John Howard makes a habit of slipping out of caucus meetings to download Dave's sermons (come to think of it, that'd explain an awful lot!) I had no idea.

Anyway, the show proceeds, and then the interviewer interjects a Pulitzer Prize question:

Q. Are you nice people Pastor, or are you sort of Bible thumping terrorists - are you nice?

A. We're the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. We're the farthest thing from Bible thumping terrorists you can imagine...

So there you have it. I repent in dust and ashes, for until Dave pointed this out I had indeed regarded him as a Bible thumper and spiritual terrorist of the worst sort. Truth is, it seems, Dave is the embodiment of sweet Christian humility and grace.

As the program title says...

Believe it, or not.

Monday, 28 August 2006

John's story

I wrote about Flying Free a few days ago, but all I had to go on then was the publicity material. This is part 1 of a review.

I've read quite a few books by ex-WCG members. Some of them have been shattering (Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web springs first to mind) while others have been facile. In recent years I've reviewed – favourably – Pam Dewey's Field Guide (an excellent primer on American religions), Dennis Embo's The God that Prevailed (a testimony by an ex-member who converted to Catholicism), and Henry Sturcke's Encountering the Rest of God (a theological dissertation.) I keep promising to put them online again (sorry Henry, I hope you haven't been holding your breath!) and hopefully that'll happen when I find a bit of spare time. Good people, good books.

Then there are the less worthy tomes: Willie Dankenbring's stuff, Fred Coulter's New Testament "translation", and a copy of Peter's Story that I have yet to crack open the covers of. These are filed away in box where I can blissfully ignore them, side by side with ancient “literature” sanctioned by the church.

Flying Free is in a category of its own. It looked promising from the preview material on the website, but now having had the chance to dig into the actual text I can honestly say my expectations were exceeded. In fact I've read nothing like it before. Author John Morgan captures the spirit of growing up in the old WCG. Looking at it through his eyes put a lot of things in a fresh light, and as I read through the first chapters I found myself thinking: man, we really were weird!

I was blessed with the rare opportunity to come into the church during an atypically “liberal” period. It lasted a few brief years – an Indian Summer of relative sanity – then was swept away in the “cultural revolution” that saw Garner Ted dumped, Stan Rader facing off against the State of California and Herbert taking a final extended trip into megalomania. I didn't hang around much longer – Christ was using an extremely caustic “spot remover” to tart up his Bride, and the local minister wisely decided I was a definite liability (thanks Jack, you did me a favor!)

I mention that because your experience of the WCG is determined to some extent by when you were actively involved. John was there long before me as a kid growing up in the “Truth”, and stayed with the church through till the changes. With a measured style he sets about detailing his story – our story – with great fairness. Warning: if you're anything like me you'll be entering the “flashback zone.” So many things I'd forgotten about. So many fanatical teachings, so much manipulation! Being a part of the church came at a cost. If it wasn't so downright tragic it'd be hilarious.

Unlike some others, John isn't pushing a particular barrow, nor is there any sense of bitterness. It seems he just wants to put it all “on the record”, and he does a magnificent job. No nutty conspiracy theories or cheap apologetics, no strange interpretations of Bible passages, just an amazing story, all the more bizarre for its familiarity. There's also a personal touch to John's account. You can't miss the fact that this church, these doctrines, had an effect on real families, people just like you and me. The personal asides add a great deal to Flying Free.

And oh, those quotes! I'd forgotten just how blatant a lot of Herb's writing was. The thinly veiled threats of eternal damnation if we didn't do this or that. I read them again with a sense of disbelief... was I really taken in by this rubbish?

I'd love to see a print edition of Flying Free, but the CD version has its advantages too. Publishing a 300 page book is no easy task, and the cost to the reader would be a further disincentive. In this form its affordable, and hopefully it'll be widely read. I recommend it without hesitation.

Want to know more? Check out the Flying Free website.

(Part 2 in a few days time)

Sunday, 27 August 2006

The Apostolic Chair

This was the first editorial I wrote for the former AW website. It's been updated slightly for the blog, but essentially it dates to 2001. Sadly, five years downstream, it still seems just as relevant.

Americans elect their president every four years, and wisely limit any one incumbent to two terms. The same cautious approach is evident in the constitution of many churches. A church, like a nation, should not become the personal fiefdom of any individual, no matter how sincere or gifted they might be. Yet Pastor General Joe Tkach was appointed, not elected. Moreover he's already served a lengthy term as spiritual leader of the Worldwide Church of God, and apparently has "life tenure". Doesn't that sound more like a fringe cult than an evangelical denomination?

Almost all churches, including related movements like the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the United Church of God, have systems in place that hold their leaders accountable in some way to the membership. Church presidents serve a limited term. Not so the WCG. Joe Jr. (he apparently likes to be addressed as Doctor Tkach) holds the very same title and office that Herbert W. Armstrong held. And while Joe is happy to trash any number of church traditions and doctrines from the past, he shows no enthusiasm for seeking endorsement for his position as the church's top dog. No General Conference exists to provide a counterbalance to the Pastor General's authority. The power of the ministry has been shown to be severely limited: stand up to Joe and Co. and you're likely to become a "pastor without portfolio".

The traditional argument that the Pastor General is accountable solely to Christ won't wash. The theology on which that particular bit of self-deception was based has long since been swept away in the flood waters of change. Has Joe heard about "the priesthood of all believers"? His friends in the wider evangelical community certainly have. In practice, "accountable to Christ" means not accountable at all.

But it gets worse. Legally it appears that the Worldwide Church of God is still "privately owned", and Pastor General Tkach is "sole proprietor". Caught off guard in a radio interview some years ago (on the Larry Mantle "Airtalk" show), he was asked what would stop him from just taking the money and leaving. The only reply he could come up with was that his family would stop him.

While Tkach might deny that he "owns" the church, with the current legal structure of the organization the reality seems to be that he can hire and fire all board members at his personal discretion with absolutely no reason given. That's in writing. He can do whatever he wants with the corporation as long as it complies with government rules for a non-profit organization.

That things don't have to be this way was demonstrated some time ago by an independent Church of God congregation in Tulsa. The Journal, May 2001, reported the ordination of new pastor Ray Kurr. These Sabbatarian Christians have decided to bring the terminology of ministry into line with the service-oriented function originally intended.

Ray Kurr commented "I showed that a pastor does not get between members and Jesus Christ." The article continues "In other church groups... a pastor had to grant permission for the general membership to do many things. 'As a pastor I have no intentions to behave in such an oppressive manner. If the Holy Spirit is moving you to benefit other churches with special music or take a group of friends of the congregation to help at the local shelter, just do it.'"

Joe might regard the members of this local splinter group as "legalists" due to some of their doctrinal beliefs. Yet these people seem to have a fuller grasp of the freedom of the gospel than the top leadership in Glendora demonstrate. Here's what one member posted on a news board:

The ministers have their marching orders and you will see more and more of this coming up soon... the subject of "days" [to worship on] seems to show the most clearly how things are being done...

We were given the right [for local churches] to choose the days ourselves. No real restrictions were placed on us and I felt Wow! this is a real empowering of the people. Well, it hasn't turned out that way. The clear motive now is a complete move from our past traditions to mainstream ones. The people may have chosen to keep the older ones but the ministry are to move us along. So there really wasn't a choice after all.

This is not empowering the people... The level of control on the WCG members is not unlike the Roman Catholics or even the Mormons for that matter.

Empowering the people is a scary thing. It means that you will not be able to control everything the way you would like. But maybe what this produces is something wonderful for the people.

Here's what Michael Feazell said back in 1996 - a full decade ago - speaking to a conference of regional pastors.

"The church needs to be a priesthood of believers... It needs to be doing ministry. Everybody in the church has a stake in that--whether it's women, men, teens or children."

Stakeholders must have a voice. They are not powerless, passive observers.

The simple truth may well be that Joe doesn't trust the church he presumably serves. He won't risk relaxing the reins lest people come up with ideas he doesn't endorse. Perhaps Joe considers himself indispensable. Perhaps he's a control freak. Could it be that he is unwilling to lose his comfortable sinecure?

Pastor General Joe has been chief shepherd of his dwindling flock for far longer than is decent without, at the very least, endorsement from the membership. How long will he remain on his pontifical throne? Even the pope is elected by a college of cardinals! Will he be Pastor General for life - a religious version of Fidel Castro?

Michael Feazell wrote in the July 2001 Worldwide News:

"If your church is a spiritual detriment to you, then you should consider finding another one... When the leader of a church indicates that he is God’s unique messenger or special representative in comparison with other Christian ministers... then you have another example of a church that is spiritually detrimental to its members."

Wise words. But what about churches where the leaders have safely elevated themselves beyond the influence of the members? A church, for example, that permits only token involvement of it's members in governance at either local or denominational level? How can Feazell justify the office of Pastor General and the hierarchical structure of the church in light of his own statement?

Tkach is on record as saying: "This fellowship has always been Episcopal, which is hierarchical..." Perhaps so, though a case can be made that in the early years it preserved a more congregational structure. But even if true, this fellowship had always been Sabbatarian too, but that wasn't allowed to stand in the way of change. And if an "Episcopal" model is to be used, there would need to be a long hard look at the parliamentary procedures actually used by the groups like the Episcopal Church; procedures which do indeed involve representative bodies of lay members at all levels. The Worldwide Church of God is out on a limb when it claims "episcopacy" as some kind of precedent for leadership by a clique or self appointed oligarchy. It is no such thing.

Joe has been single-minded in his efforts to inveigle his way into the evangelical mainstream. But despite cuddling up to evangelical leaders, his leadership style arguably has more in common with Louis Farrakhan than Billy Graham.

They used to say in Pasadena that the only thing that would topple Herbert Armstrong from his throne would be the Second Coming.

Apparently some things don't change.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Pastor Stephen - Pod Preacher

In 1996 240 odd people (some odder than others no doubt) attended the WCG services in Fairfield, California. Then the winds of change blew. There was a newly redefined, repackaged Gospel. The old ways were a barrier to evangelism.

Fairfield had apparently been a reasonably vibrant congregation up till then, as WCG churches go. Now the sky would surely be the limit.

Today they muster around 20 on an average week.

I'm indebted to Bob Thiel for drawing attention to a local newspaper article featuring the Fairfield congregation and its pollyannaish pastor, Stephen Smith. Stephen is not discouraged by his dwindling, aging flock. Stephen is not distressed by the disappearance of some 220 people to God alone knows where - splinters, sects and secular alternatives. In the spirit of the Monty Python song, Stephen tries to "always look on the bright side of life." his church's membership ages and the congregation dwindles in numbers, attracting newcomers by offering podcasts and downloadable videos of sermons is becoming more key to the church's survival, he said.

"Otherwise you just grow old and die," Smith said.

Technology has been a way to reach more people, as the church's membership dropped over the years, Smith said.

About a decade ago, about 240 regularly attended the Fairfield church, he said. Then, the church changed its doctrine to no longer require members to limit activities on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Membership dropped. Today, it's about 20, Smith said.

Will podcasts save the Fairfield church? Probably not. Is it just a vain chasing after the wind, Ecclesiastes style? Indubitably.

And if you had a group of only 20 regulars, might there be a more appropriate way of conducting a meeting than having a bloke in a jacket and tie standing up the front and dramatically waving his arms around? Perish the thought!

For a somewhat different perspective on what's up in Fairfield, you can click over to Richard Burnett's blog. Or visit the Fairfield WCG website at (which Richard also manages) - I'm sure he'd appreciate the traffic.

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Flying Free

John Morgan is a member of the Kiwi diaspora living in the Big, Dry Country, west of Eden. He is also a former member of the Worldwide Church of God.

He’s the latest to put his story in book form, but unlike some others he doesn't appear to have a sectarian axe to grind. From what is available on his website, it seems he’s put together a valuable resource.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the preface:

“I believe that to be successful in completely moving on ... it is important to understand more about Herbert Armstrong – answering critical questions like: what was his background, and where was he coming from? It is important to understand the actual reality of the organisation WCG members were a part of. ...

“In Flying Free I have addressed these issues. This book contains never previously published research on Herbert Armstrong’s Holiness Quaker upbringing. It includes extensive research on the WCG’s comparison to a cult, and the characteristics that actually define a cult. There are also many pages devoted to scanned material from original WCG literature – the content of material read from an external perspective, is assimilated and interpreted completely differently to the identical documents read from within the organisation. Reviewing this material can give new insight into the journey taken by WCG members and ex-members.

“Further to this, Flying Free also contains an open-minded assessment of the origins of the Bible, the authority of the Bible, and an appraisal of organised Christianity’s influence on the individual Christian.

“Flying Free documents the impact of the Armstrong teachings on individual lives, but then goes on to show a priceless freedom – found in life beyond fundamentalism.

“Flying Free should serve as a warning to those contemplating entering a fundamentalist church.”

The book is available on CD for a nominal cost, and the contents page indicates that there’s much there that will be helpful for members and ex-members alike. Further downstream there may be a review available on Otagosh. John's web address is His email address is

Friday, 18 August 2006

In Search of ... Spanky's Brain

"It's WWIII...!"

Time May Be Short!

How Will It All Turn Out? How Will This Affect You? What Lies Ahead?

The Situation Is Urgent

So wrote Roderick C. Meredith in a recent letter to Tomorrow's World subscribers. All in extra large, screaming bold font. The first statement was quoted (approvingly) from the New York Daily News, the rest is pure Spanky.

Meanwhile, over in Edmond, Oklahoma, the Six-Pack Prophet's most inflated organ, The Philadelphia Trumpet, features the cover story War in Lebanon: Is This World War III?

No, Rod. No, Gerry. Are these guys THICK or what? The cries of imminent doom have been their stock in trade for decades. The End is just around the corner, Bible prophecy comes alive! DIG DEEP, BRETHREN.

The blood and tears of ordinary, powerless people are appropriated to fuel the apocalyptic frenzy-making of these absurd "prophets". Nothing like a little fear and apprehension to tug extra tithe dollars out of the pockets of the credulous.

The Trumpet cover shows a young boy standing in the ruins of a destroyed Beruit suburb. Just grist for the mill as ghouls sit in their plush offices and monitor their donor income. Compassion? Not likely!

I suppose there are more despicable acts, but right now I'd find it hard to top this one: the abuse of human suffering in the cause of a loveless, legalistic, self-serving "gospel".

Christianity has rarely been reduced to a more shallow, facile, two dimensional caricature than this kind of apocalyptic fear mongering. And of all the sects of Christendom, Armstrongism is the most blatant. One example from the files: the February-March 1955 issue of The Plain Truth. The lead story? World War Is Here - Now! by Garner Ted Armstrong. Page 2 through 5 showcases two full page illustrations by Basil Wolverton with an accompanying article by Herbert Armstrong. The first shows volcanoes exploding and the earth opening up while terror stricken people attempt to flee. The caption begins: "STUDY THIS PICTURE. Will you be one of its terrified victims, when these super-tremendous earthquakes occur?"

The second shows ulcerated victims of plague. The helpful caption advises: "Now STUDY this picture... every movement of their sore-covered bodies will mean excruciating pain..."

The Wolverton apocalypse reappears on page 12 with fire descending from the skies on hapless men and women. "Could anything be more painful - more indescribably horrifying? ... Yet, if you won't really repent and turn to God now... then, when THIS plague actually scorches you with fire, you will only CURSE the very name of your Creator and Savior..."

Fear religion.

And who is listed on the masthead as the Associate Editor of this issue?

Roderick C. Meredith.

Decades pass. A half century. What has he learned?

Absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006


Dominating the New Zealand news bulletins throughout the day has been the death of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the Maori Queen. Dame Te Atairangikaahu was an iconic figure, heir to a protest movement that attempted to unite the tribes of Aotearoa in the face of growing European dominance in the 1850s. Tributes have flowed today from all sections of society. She was a remarkable woman, raised in near poverty, preferring to avoid the limelight but a passionate advocate for her people.

But what strikes me as noteworthy is the way her succession will be decided. The next Arikinui will be chosen by representatives of the tribes she served.

Contrast the leaders of Armstrongism. Here the succession is soley in the hands of the reigning tyrant. Herb chose Ted - even going as far as anointing his bonce with oil, Old Testament-style. Until, of course, Ted proved unsuitable and the senile Apostle spun the bottle and finally ended up with Joe Tkach Sr. (the Holy Spirit seems to have been having a nap at the time.) Then Joe Sr. conducted an extensive search for the best qualif... oops, not quite. Joe declared Joe Jr. the next Pastor General for no apparent reason other than sheer, unadulterated nepotism.

The very first editorial I ever wrote for the old AW was on King Joe and his presidential pretensions: the church leader with no mandate, the power to play god, and neither the intention nor the wit to change things for the better. Even today, despite an ocean of cloying prattle to the contrary, Papa Joe reigns without a credible system of checks or balances in evidence. Should this spiritual giant fall under a bus tomorrow (or more likely, be hit by a lethal rogue golf ball) it seems the dumb sheep will once again simply be told who to suck up to next. Some reformation!

Perhaps the Pastor General, sitting in his plush, high-backed presidential chair in Glendora, along with the team of yes-men that surround him, could learn a little from events happening half a world away this week.

Monday, 14 August 2006

The COGwatcher's Monthly

One of the highlights of any serious COGwatcher's month is the release of the latest Journal. Frankly, I can't imagine how anyone could keep up the state of play in the wider church community without it.

The June 30 issue is now out - or at the very least in the post. Included this month:

* Details on Ron Dart's new Holy day book, The Thread. Some of us once hung on every word that Ron delivered from his Tyler CGI pulpit, and he is a masterful public speaker. But author? Ron sounds much better, in my experience, than the content justifies. But you can punch the details into Amazon if you're still curious. I think I'll pass.

* Somebody called Jeff Maehr has written an article all about conspiracy, world government and "Israel's birthright." Keep a strong paper bag handy if you decide to read this one.

* Steve Collins has written a piece on not playing inter-COG one-upmanship. At least, that seems to be the thrust of his argument. Hey, fair is fair, the guy has a real point - unlike his stuff on BI. But be warned, the article is dripping with End Time prognostication.

* Then there's an article by Norm Edwards promoting COG7's Spring Vale Academy, "the only Sabbatarian boarding high school in the U.S.A. not affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists."

* The passing of Richard Nickels and Rob Elliot are noted in the Notes & Quotes section.

You can get subscription info from, and you can download the front and back pages at

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Wazzup in Flurryland?

Gerald Flurry was a minor figure in pre-Tkach WCG, but the first post-HWA player to gather his phylacteries about himself and set up a competing franchise: the Philadelphia Church of God.

Of course he hasn't been the last. Rod followed with the Global Church of God, then David Hulme surfed the tsunami of discontent to emerge as frontman for the United Church of God. Both groups quickly overtook the Flurry operation in terms of members and (more significantly) tithe generation.

But Global has gone, sacrificed on the altar of Baal's ego. Despite a messy end, Rod created the LCG as a new vehicle fit for his high calling and quickly lapped Gerry again! UCG lost David Hulme and is still trying to get the leadership formula right, yet it's remained the largest of the Armstrong movements (despite bits falling off with amazing regularity.)

Gerald Flurry, however, is still at the helm of his Oklahoma operation. The big question is, who will eventually climb into his throne - Dennis Leap or son Stephen? Place your bets!

Flurry's PCG is among the most secretive of the splinters, right up there with David Hulme's COG-AIC. But wouldn't you just love to be privy to what the Six Pack Prophet is actually saying to his ministerial clones!

Wonder no longer. Courtesy of ex-member Robert Kuhne The Pastor General's Report - including recent 2006 issues - is online for your delectation.

Ain't the Internet a wonderful thing!

Friday, 11 August 2006

The Packatollah

Back in the 1970s, when I was still a keen young WCG member studying at Teachers College, I came across a great kid's picture book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad Day. I've been meaning to improvise on the title and write an entry called Dave Pack and his Huge, Immense, Gargantuan, Very Big Work.

Thankfully, Gary Scott has spared me the bother with a telling commentary on XCG dealing with the Packatollah's obsession with size. It seems the Titan is really a wiener, flatulent ego notwithstanding.

There's been some debate about the value of exposing preachers like Pack in the media, and I'm sure there would be a long line of people eager to talk about their experience. Unfortunately, any publicity is good publicity and Pack should be starved of it. The only people who know about his obscure little organization are those with a prior commitment to Armstrongism, and even this little band largely ignores his inane boasting. Those who do take him seriously are an aging, dwindling bunch. Neither he nor his work will endure.

Pack is merely a legend in his own mind, as Gary clearly demonstrates.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

A plea to Rod

Dear Dr Meredith

It has come to my attention that there has been a grievous oversight in God's true church, and I know that you will be keen to correct it immediately once you have been made aware of the situation. Bob Thiel has still not been ordained!

As you know, Dr Meredith, Mr Thiel is actually DOCTOR Thiel. In fact he has TWO doctorates, one in Naturopathy. This is surely equivalent to a theological degree, as I recollect all those bylines in the 1960s Plain Truth by your uncle "Dr C. Paul Meredith" - and HE was just a vet!

Bob also has a legitimate PhD from an obscure but accredited university. This is a major accomplishment, especially for someone who demonstrates limited grammatical and proof reading skills. I mean, how many double doctors does God's Philadelphian Work have at its disposal? This man is a treasure!

Plus, Dr Thiel has labored as a church host for years, and gives learned sermonettes on subjects like Marcion. Again, Dr Meredith, I wonder how many of the leading evangelists in God's Work would even know who Marcion was? Yet here is Bob providing this high quality edification for the lucky brethren in southern San Luis Obispo County.

But wait, Dr Meredith, there is more! Dr Thiel has his own website which provided vital information to the world in the wake of the Wisconsin shootings. For example, Dr Thiel correctly pointed out that it was inappropriate for outsiders to put up crosses as a sign of respect for those slain because crosses are pagan. This brave, principled stand was widely commented on!

And now Bob Thiel has expanded his wonderful website to include historical information on the Church of God in New Testament times and the first centuries. Already the fine scholarship he demonstrates has left Papists like Jared Olar (who is also counted among the anti-COG demonaics at XCG) speechless (other than making relevant critiques and citing facts in rebuttal.) Just take a look at the superb article Bob provides on Polycarp: again - who else even knows who Polycarp was (apart from Jared Olar - and being a Catholic he clearly doesn't count!)

Dr Meredith, please bear with me just a little longer while I mention Dr Thiel's excellent articles which have appeared not only in the church members' magazine, but even in The Journal, where they witness against the Laodicean subscribers who would otherwise have only been exposed to Brian Knowles, Dave Havir and other highly questionable sources.

So it was with shock, SHOCK, that I read Bob's recent disclaimer on his website: "I have not been ordained as a deacon or an elder."

I would personally like to recommend Dr Thiel for ordination as he is so clearly qualified - overqualified even - to be a minister in your great End Time Work to restore Apostolic Christianity. His gift for tact and respect when commenting on other Churches of God especially qualifies him to develop fraternal ties with those separated brethren in the United Church of God. I know that you will act expeditiously to bring him into the highest levels of ministry in the LCG.

With deep sincerity

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Vision Casting with PG Joe

The latest Together (the replacement for the Worldwide News) includes the following informal job description for Pastor General Joseph Tkach:

"President Joseph Tkach oversees the spiritual and business affairs of the denomination, providing denomination-wide leadership and vision casting and fulfilling the many administrative duties required for national and international incorporation and registration.

"Dr. Tkach speaks regularly at church leadership conferences and meetings around the world, keeps current on theological and social issues, and represents the church at the various Christian organizations in which it holds membership..."

Vision casting? Keeping current? In other words, Joe doesn't do much. The position is, one might conjecture, a sinecure: very nice if you can manage it. The hagiography, part of a glowing report on the sect's new facility in Glendora, is written by Mike Morrison.

Mike fails to mention that PG Joe has an undisclosed salary, has never been elected to his position, runs a rubber-stamp board (making it almost impossible to replace him) and has overseen the continuing and irreversible disintegration of the church. Joe is, in other words, the Fidel Castro of the Evangelical gulag.

The stark nature of the WCG's continuing autocratic rule is plastered over by claims of "episcopal governance" (an outright misrepresentation) and sickly evangelical rhetoric. Apparently most people haven't been fooled: those with get-up-and-go have simply got up and gone. Sadly, too many into the waiting arms of the Armstrong warlords: Meredith, Flurry and their ilk.

How then does Joe justify his role or the perks of his office? Clearly he has been less than demonstrably competent. In recent months he even seems to have lost the support of Greg Albrecht, once an obsequious apologist, now steering "his" Plain Truth ministry in new directions and freezing out Joe and the WCG. And then there's the issue of the name change that changed back again. The church doesn't seem to be exactly in a safe pair of hands.

The reality is that Joe is unlikely to ever do the right thing and either step aside or (the better option) reform the administration by creating representative leadership. Sitting back in that big comfy chair, it's more than likely he'll be there till they wheel him out. If he can't do the deed, those remaining can still do the next best thing: cut their financial support and start looking for a healthy alternative.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The COGs and racism

At a time when the churlish, drunken rantings of Mel Gibson have hit the headlines, the spectre of anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head on XCG with comments by a former WCG member. The moderator, Gary Scott, has responded with a clear statement that expresses his disgust at the sentiments.

Gary has it right. Anti-Semitism, like any other form of racism and ethnic prejudice, is contemptible: especially so among people who claim to bask in the love of God.

Anti-Semitism has always existed in a precarious balance with philo-Semitism in the Armstrong sects. John Trechak reportedly pleaded with David Robinson to remove openly anti-Jewish passages from his book, Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web. Robinson eventually agreed. Robinson saw Stanley Rader as the “Jewish threat” to the church, a view that Garner Ted Armstrong may have exploited. Whether Rader was the Rasputin figure he was made out to be is beside the point: whatever issues surrounded him, they had everything to do with personal ethics and nothing to do with his Jewish heritage.

Armstrong himself was a strong supporter of Israel, and even today the rhetoric in COG publications such as Flurry’s Philadelphia Trumpet amounts to knee-jerk endorsement of militant Israeli policy. But the very basis of Armstrong prophetic teaching, British Israelism, is by its very nature grounded in a variety of racism that proclaimed the primacy of white, English speaking nations. No one expresses this with less sophistication than Roderick Meredith with his constant references to “our English speaking peoples.” British Israelism is the ultimate insult to Jews, appropriating their identity in a fictional history that relegates them to bit players while Anglo Saxons become the new, true stars of Bible history and prophecy.

Catholicism and Lutheranism in particular have unenviable records of bigotry toward Jews, both to the religion and the people. It is to their credit that much of this has been swept aside in wake of the holocaust. It’s ironic then that some “Hebrew roots” groups – especially those with WCG connections – seem to have made little or no progress. Even when positive statements abound, the price is a vitriolic contempt for Arabic people. Contempt toward Palestinians or Lebanese (many of whom are not Muslim but Christian) is every bit as vile as anti-Semitism. A gospel that embraces all people without distinction still sadly seems very far removed from the public proclamation of the Churches of God.