Thursday, 16 November 2006

Death watch

It seems incredible now, but the Worldwide Church of God was once, in the not-so-distant past, a vital religious movement with a growing membership, distinctive customs which intrigued outsiders, a massive media ministry, a small university operation and an intellectually vibrant dissident tradition snapping at its heels.

The early 1990s was in some ways "the best of times." The church had survived the death of its founder, and even prospered. Ambassador College in Big Sandy had finally been accredited and emerged as AU. A past generation of troublemakers were receding in the consciousness of the brethren: Garner Ted, Ernie Martin, Ken Westby et al. The only hint of disquiet came from the blazing guns of John Trechak's Ambassador Report, a continual irritant, but determinedly ignored.

Then all hell broke loose and the WCG exploded.

In 2006 the dust has largely settled and the ruins are exposed for all to see. The harvest fields are a wasteland. In place of an impressive, monolithic, money-rich empire are a thousand feuding, ineffectual warlords, each turned inward and focused on the squatter in the neighbouring paddock. A gaggle of pathetic imitators try to raise the flag here and there, but their best efforts to defy fate seem futile. The hand of God seems to have dashed the proud dreams and deceits of Herbert Armstrong and his myrmidons* to the ground.

For a while it made a rivetting soap opera. Who would split from whom? What would happen when leader X died? What nonsense would evangelist Y next declare "new truth" as he chased the declining tithe dollars?

The fire has died out. Only the ashes remain. The machinations of Rod Meredith, the Flurrys, Mark Armstrong, David Pack and others are a pathetic caricature of times past. The splinter sects have no credibility even among their peers, let alone the general public. The decline is terminal. Even the mothership has downsized and moved to Glendora where its Pastor General (salary undisclosed) can't even manage to effect a simple name change.

From the halcyon days when John Trechak battled the Armstrong Empire, through the comedy of errors and unparalleled incompetence that followed Armstrong's death, we have finally arrived at the End Times of Armstrongism. The Plain Truth once proclaimed that, in the Great Tribulation, the unfortunate non-members would practice cannibalism to survive. That was partly right: today, in a ironic parody, the various schisms feed on each other.

Welcome to the death watch.

*myrmidons: a favourite term used by John Trechak to describe the besuited army of yes-men that fed off the tithes. The New Penguin English Dictionary defines myrmidon as "a subordinate who carries out orders unquestioningly."


Charlie Kieran said...

Eloquently stated...A prelude to the eulogy many look forward to reading "In our lifetimes".

Couldn't resist the last.

jimmiejazz said...

I think a good article should be written concerning the psychology behind the "hangers-on"
phenonomenon. Why is it so many of us just can't get over it? Probably the answer lies in the depth of commitment one once had.

Christy said...

In my own personal life, I would love to see the final "end" of Armstrongism. Sadly, my husband's parents are members of PCG, and they wrote us a letter saying they can't associate with us because we are "Laodiceans." So even though we have moved away from it, have spent years rebuilding our lives, and doing well, Armstrongism keeps coming back to bite us in the butt. My hope is that the pain they feel may help to wake them up. But meanwhile, I do agree and hope that sometime in the future, it will really be OVER. It was a part of our lives for so long, and we graduated from AC, so it will always be a part of our history and we have had to learn to accept that. And as long as our family members are wrapped up in it, it is always going to be a presence, unfortunately.

Skeet said...

Hey Gavin,
Mike Minton here --- Just had to comment in 100% agreement with ya...

And it's largely because of the efforts of folks like yourself, Dennis, Ed, all of you folks who I can't hope to list completely (but you know who you are) that the beast is splintered.... Remaining is small fires yet to be stamped out.

Be well, all, and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

The time left for Herbies legacy is at most, one generation. With the advent of the Internet, the people that might be enticed by "herbism" just have to "GOOGLE" HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG.

What will they find? Well for one, a thousand pro herbie sites, but then there are the sites that expose Armstrongism for what it really is. What may they find? An heretical religion that is dying on the vine! No "herbism' is a dying, if not dead religion that cannot stand up to the test of truth or the test of integrity. Like herbert, "Herbism" will soon be dead!
Thank you Herb for supplying your own religious demise, for by your own actions, you supplied the nails to your own legacy. Nails that have been driven into your eternal box! Rest not in peace you bastard!

Gavin said...

Mike, excellent to hear from you.


Douglas Becker said...

Returning to the Fold

There is an irony about the death of Armstronism: Some people are choosing to attend the Church of God, Seventh Day.

The Church of God, Seventh Day has remained stable for decades at about 10,000 strong, although, half the time you'll probably find half the members there.

The Church of God, Seventh Day is positioning itself as a community based Evangelical Sabbatarian Church. Any given Sabbath, you'll find about one-fourth of the congregation is from the disabused Worldwide Church of God, usually former United members looking for a whole lot more love and emotional depth than they found in their old venue. Moreover, you would find Sabbath praise services worshipping the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ with more modern contemporary music with a laid back congregation, most of whom do not even own a suit.

The Bible Advocate is a well respected journal that's been around for over a century, each issue carrying a theme worthy of a Christian calling. This past year saw an issue covering the merits of keeping the Sabbath as Gift from God, rather than a rule of rod to beat people over the head. The articles are well done and quite reasonable in content, without going off into wild bizarre extremes.

The Church of God, Seventh Day also has a fall Festival, and, oh, wouldn't you know it, it's at the same time as the Feast of Tabernacles.

There is a lot of love and caring in the Church of God, Seventh Day, and it is genuine.

New people, those who are younger with families, do come and eventually become members. There is a constant supply of fresh blood from those who have never heard of Herbert Armstrong.

Died in the wool Armstrongists will feel deprived and leave quickly: They typically need much more contention and a lot more false prophecies to give them false hopes to make them feel empowered.

How ironic that slowly, surely, members of the Armstrongist churches of God are slowly but surely returning to the very place from which that Korahathite, Herbert Armstrong, rebelled because Dugger and Dodd would not accept British Israelism.

Be warned however: The Church of God, Seventh Day is also dying and is having problems of its own. Its challenge is to keep people entertained while attempting to integrate and ingratiate itself into the local community. It has no money, no power and not much of a future. It is an acquired taste, devoid of some of the richness of a full complement of Feasts and doesn't comprehend [gasp!] "The Plan of God".

As for those pathetic church of gods, such as Blurry Flurry's group who call members of other church of gods Laodoceans, it would be well to remember that such people are Idolators among the spit-offs who aren't even in the running when it comes to Spirituality: They won't even get near the Kingdom of God, if any.

Survival probably isn't an option, particularly with the divisions in the CoG7, but may have a longer shelf life than the waning Armstrong religion rife with hateful divisions, as an house waging war against itself, even as you say, although, any given The Journal you will find only the illusion of the model of growth and stability from the happy looking positive people and articles there finding a brave face in the face of the comedy / tragedy of certain slow painful demise.

Dennis said...

Jimmiejazz said "Why is it so many of us just can't get over it? Probably the answer lies in the depth of commitment one once had."

That's exactly it. Hell seems to have no furry like a sincere adherent scorned, marginalized and pushed over the edge with scandal, duplicity and lies. WCG is such a part of my wiring that I have to keep taking passes at letting it go. I tell myself to not respond anymore, not blog through it and to even stop writing about it. Works for a bit, and then ignites again. It's a fire in a coalmine that simmers and smokes and can go on for years under your feet. Or not, depending. Some can blow it off with a quick "what fire."

I admit I struggle with letting it all go. I will personally pay for trusting too much, the rest of my life. I sometimes don't like what the whole experience has done to me nor the way I write about it at times. I have to work to put it out of my mind and resist writing about it. My personal goal in life has always been toward what I would feel is enlightenment...waking up. WCG put me in a comma and while I could not be here is I had not been there, it's painful to me and the kind of person I am. I have hurt people along the way too in changing so much from what I was to what I am. Pain upon pain at times. The counselor I had to help me past it all told me I had two choices. Get out of the box I was in and understand that most everyone in your past and present will resent it and not go with you, or stay in the box, feel a bit better and more secure and be on anti depressants the rest of your life. At least that explains to me why I went from hundreds of friends almost to zero overnight..ha. I get lonely I admit and to cut myself off even from you guys seems like loosing more friends if I did completely.

It's strange to me that when I am alone, I play the old hymns, not from WCG because they were mostly battle cries, but from my childhood and Presbyterian past. I don't agree with them theologically, but they still comfort me. Go figure. I play "How Great Thou Art" and sit here with tears in my eyes. If I were to hear "Go Ye Therefore Into All the World" I'd get depressed and angry.

I like who I have become being free from it all, and sometimes I don't like who I have become when I can't, or maybe won't, let it go. It was an experience, decades long, but the one sincerity I never questioned was my own until I was forced to wake up. Thanks for listening! Jimmiejazz hit it right on my head!

Douglas Becker said...

Dennis, you may be experiencing normal survival instincts.

What I have discovered over the years is that the rotten behavior of the ministry and administration of the church of gods is more than amply practiced in business, government, other churches and academia: A psychopath is a psychopath and a narcissist is a narcissist. It would be well to keep your guard up, particularly now that government is more and more adopting the worst of the Corporate methodologies and implementing them badly with tragic results.

As society as a whole worsens, it may just be a good thing to have had a taste of the worst of human nature early on so that you can recognize it early and survive.

Dennis said...

I think what lurks in the back of my mind is that if I just walk way, say "oh well" and let it be, I'll feel like "they" got away with it all. Like if you call off the dogs, they win. On the other hand, what goes around comes around and that perspective will free me from feeling the need to be sure they don't get away with it. Maybe their karma will run over their dogma someday. They have gotten away with it for now. Perhaps it's only temporary. I do know I can't spend the rest of my life letting the past taint the present, which is all that is real anyhow.

Dennis said...

PS However, I do make the conscious choice to leave it be and get out of the past. There can be nothing more fruitless than constant chatter and rehashing of the past. I have proven that to myself at least. It does not serve me well at all.

jimmiejazz said...

Hi Gavin-

You wrote that John Trechak liked the word "myrmidon". I recall another was "sycophant", a servile
self-seeking flatterer.


Douglas Becker said...

PS However, I do make the conscious choice to leave it be and get out of the past.


That's reasonable. However, just remember that there's new stuff popping up all over the place so it isn't ancient history we are talking about. New revelations over the past year have been astounding. The reason to dredge up the past is to have perspective of what is happening now.