Sunday, 30 December 2007

Predictions for 2008


A new year is almost upon us all, and rather than let Ron Weinland (that's not him in the picture) have all the fun, here are a few alternative predictions.

* The Great Tribulation will not begin this year, and Ron will have a problem with all those books that say it will gathering dust in his garage.

* A major COG figure from times past - perhaps more than one - will pass on to their eternal reward, leaving those still here trying to come up with something tactful but true to say about them.

* The main COGs (UCG, LCG) will continue to lose ministers, several of whom will start up their own religious business venture (with little success.)

* The main COGs will continue to bleed members, some of whom will go out with high drama, but most of which will quietly disengage.

* At least one of the minor COGs will disappear completely, and hardly anyone will notice.

* There will be some really wacky ads appearing in The Journal.

* Rod Meredith will call a church-wide fast.

* Joe Tkach will not resign as Pastor General and not put in place representative structures in the WCG.

* David Hulme will continue to clock up frequent flier miles.

* Bob Thiel will make an unflattering comparison between LCG and UCG (one guess as to which will be "unflattered".)

* Under guise of "watching world news" several COGs will issue outrageous political commentaries (what else is new?)

* Scores of members in splinter groups will suffer irrecoverable financial loss or die unnecessarily following church teaching about healing and tithing (including special appeals.)

* LCG will publish an article explaining why Christians shouldn't vote.

* The new CGI website - if it ever eventuates - won't have been worth the wait.

* Fred Coulter's "new" translation of the whole Bible will be a colossal waste of time and tithes.

Well, OK, most of these are dead certs, but it's nice to have a high accuracy rating. It's also admittedly very similar to last year's prognostications... but then, well, these guys really are predictable. One thing I did get wrong last time was: "Ron Weinland will start qualifying and backtracking as he realises that he's painted himself into a date-setting corner." In fact Ronald's lemming impulse has moved up a gear.

Now it's over to you... what do you think 2008 will bring in the post-Herbal gulag?

Port Austin

The Port Austin kerfuffle has been resolved by the courts, if anyone cares... I certainly don't. The Journal however has something about it on their website.

What's more remarkable is that on the same website there's an article by Norm Edwards called How to Start and Run a Local Church.

Any irony is probably unintentional.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Weinland's Year of Doom (Pt. 2)


Ronald Weinland speaketh the prophetic word... hear one of the latest interviews here (with a British radio interviewer who can't quite believe his ears). Elsewhere Weinland reveals that April is the page to mark on your calendar... which means there's not even six months left. Maybe we should all take the opportunity to max out our credit cards before the balloon goes up.

Interesting that Ron, when asked directly if he's going to flee anywhere, explicitly denies it! Do we take it that Weinland isn't going to the "Place of Safety"? And if there's no place of safety, well, what's the point? Or is he just being coy to ensure only the right type of people make it to Petra?

But then, heaven forbid, what if Ron has simply screwed up this whole date-setting thing big time?

No worries, there's plenty of precedent. Here are six strategies Ron can adapt to haul his chestnuts out of the fire.

1. It happened - but not visibly. This is what the SDAs did after 1844, and the Jehovah's Witnesses after 1914. A bit disingenuous, but whatever works, right?

2. It happened - but in an understated way. Remember (if you're an oldie) when Herb proclaimed that 1972's terminus to the 19 year time cycle was marked not by falling H-bombs but a new series of Plain Truth ads in the Reader's Digest? This strategy has the advantage that it was used by the not-so End Time Apostle himself, so already has a kind of imprimatur.

3. Fire Drill. The Eternal was just testing, like the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. At the last moment Yahweh can reveal to Ron that he's decided to press the pause button... everyone "as you were."

4. Oops, the numbers got scrambled. Just let me recalculate... which is what the Millerites did back in the 1840s, providing a further opportunity to get it wrong all over again.

5. I never actually said that, or, I'm not technically a prophet. Not really an option, even though there's Herbal precedent, as Ron did say it and does claim to be a prophet, but hey, folks have short memories (especially if they avoid the Internet.)

6. Playing it safe. It was Ron's commission to preach this even if it didn't happen. This is the Jonah defense (after being fish food he preached Nineveh's destruction and then had the Eternal pull out "plan B" without so much as a beg pardon). This may be Ron's best option. Give it a bit of a twist and you can even make it "prove" that Ron is God's prophet (would a false prophet risk saying nutty stuff like this?)

Yes, Judge Rutherford, Herb, the Two Willies (Miller & Dankenbring) and a whole bunch of others have offered up dates that were disconfirmed, but did that stop them? Heck no! So Ron, don't sweat it; hang tight dude.

How many followers/members/happy tithe-payers Weinland has is impossible to gauge from his website, but it's likely to be minuscule. Nevertheless the 2008 prediction seems to have attracted quite a lot of attention, certainly more than he got ministering in either WCG or UCG, and let's face it, there have to be more than a few feeble-minded suckers paying his bills.

In addition to the end time and COG-PKG websites, the Prophet/First Witness has his own blog at www.ronaldweinland.com, where he reveals that, dear lord, he's going to be here in New Zealand on January 5 (!) before flying across the ditch to "help new people in their beginning stages of growth" in Australia.


PCG Breakaway?
There are reports - though so far few details - that the New Zealand PCG has suffered schism with a former local leader walking away and taking a number of locals with him.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The End is Nigher Than You Think (Pt. 1)

(For all postings on Ronald Weinland click here.)

"It is now with boldness, confidence and great clarity that I give to you what God has given me. I am to announce, through God’s direct revelation, that I am one of those two witnesses."

(Ronald Weinland, 2008: God's Final Witness, p.16)

"When this book is published at the end of summer of 2006, (with distribution in full swing in the fall), there will be a maximum time of two years remaining before the world will be plunged into the worst time of all human history. By the fall of 2008, the United States will have collapsed as a world power, or it will have begun its collapse and no longer exist as an independent nation within six months after that time. There is a marginal, six-month window of time that God has not yet revealed concerning this specific moment of time. This will be revealed some time soon after the distribution of this book begins."
(Ibid., p.244)

So there you have it, 2007 was the last full year of civilization as we know it. Hope you made the most of it!

Of course it's probably too late for the demon-possessed folk who visit this blog: agnostics, atheists, Catholics, Evangelicals and wickedly independent Sabbatarians; gehenna-fodder every one of you (with the obvious exception of Tom Mahon). But for those true brethren (which presumably excludes UCG, LCG, and other heretical factions of scoffers and naysayers) here's the precious link so you can read Witness Weinland's books for yourself. Download copies while you can... as they say at The Journal, this is "time-sensitive material."

Come the Fall (that's Autumn in the Ephraimite dominions of the North, and Spring Down Under), or six months thereafter, one thing is for sure, somebody is going to have egg on their face.

But never fear Ron, should all those infallible prophetic assurances turn to custard, there are some dandy time-tested tips for a quick no-apology-needed recovery. More about that in part 2.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Another UCG "bah, humbug!"

Yet another "gee whiz" article in the media about Christians who don't keep Christmas. This time it's Arnie Hampton and Todd Carey who step up to the plate in Scrooge-mode, along with a gaggle of similarly-minded non-COGgers : "It's not in the Bible," said Arnold Hampton, 58, minister of the United Church of God Columbia, Md., who hasn't celebrated the holiday since 1966. "Jesus never mentioned it."
These two articles (see the December 21 entry for a link to the other one) have got to be the biggest chunk of exposure UCG has had in a long while, perhaps confirming its status as the "respectable" face of Armstrongism today... which, to look on the positive side, must really have hosed off some of the other break-aways.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Garner Ted and the Archbishop


"This year, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, Dr. Rowan Williams, has echoed some of the same points made by Garner Ted Armstrong."

Those are scary words, and GTA is probably rolling over in his grave at the very suggestion. The quote comes from British writer Adrian Morgan, in an article called The Struggle for the Soul of Christmas.

"In the United States, Evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong, who died in 2003, argued that Christmas as it is currently celebrated has little to do with the known details of Christ's birth. He has written: "But it is impossible to 'put Christ back in Christmas,' since He was never in Christmas in the first place!" Armstrong's arguments have some weight."

It's a reasonably balanced, thoughtful piece that chronicles the curious customs of Christmas. Interesting too that, in dear old Blighty, it's Ted who's remembered after all these years - thanks to all those rambling monologues on Radio Caroline - rather than his father.

Related link: Top Anglican: Christmas Tale Just A Legend

Saturday, 22 December 2007

BS


One of the more interesting ministries to spring from the decomposing corpse of the WCG is biblestudy.org, the brainchild of Alan Ruth.

Alan takes a commendably independent approach, calling on the skills of many helpful COG volunteers. Thanks to its nifty URL the site acts as a magnet for conservative Christians of all persuasions, anxious for a dollop of down-home apologetics.

While Alan is scrupulously impartial, in the sense that he doesn't endorse any specific COG group, he keeps the operation running by accepting advertising from various COG ministries including Fred Coulter, Art Mokarow, COG New World Ministries (a new splinter - at least to me - that seems to be related to CGI/ICG) and Church of God Ministries International (same background?)

Alan's website gets prominent mention in a recently published book featuring skeptical authors, including Richard Dawkins.

Everything You Know About God Is Wrong is a compendium of anti-apologetics, published as a "Disinformation Guide." And there, on page 127, biblestudy.org along with volunteer question answerers Rick and Eileen Beltz, achieve a kind of immortality.

In a section of the book by Bobbie Kirkhart (Bridging the Leap of Faith) the discussion turns to the daughters of Lot who did unto dad what no virtuous daughter would ever dream of doing. Kirkhart quotes from what might be called "the Beltz defense."

"Given the situation wouldn't you be a bit distressed and afraid of what might happen next? Lot's daughters must have thought it was the end of civilization and that they were some of the only people then living. They were obviously greatly concerned about the future of their family (and possibly the human race). This concern led them to do what they did."
Kirkhart finds their position on Lot's drunkenness even more interesting. To the question "was Lot an alcoholic?" the Beltz team replies:

"...no, he was not an alcoholic; not even close. You will find in the New Testament book of 2 Peter that Lot is considered a good man, righteous in God's eyes."
To which Kirkhart responds: "Knowledge that the two are incompatible must come as a shock to more than a few people, including George W. Bush, Ted Kennedy, and Mel Gibson."

(To which we might add Herbert W. Armstrong who, like the sodden patriarch of Sodom, even seems to have had daughter issues as well.)

Friday, 21 December 2007

UCG Warns the World!


Yes brethren, the United Church of God, an International Association is living (ahem) up to its "international" reputation, with priceless publicity in Taipei.

Check out the Xmas article that prominently features UCG's West Virginia pastor John Foster (shown in the picture prior to stopping off for fried rice on the way home from services in Roanoke.) Put this guy in a red suit with a stick-on beard and don't you think he'd make a perfect Santa!

John has obviously been a busy little bee with similar free publicity a tad closer to home - in North Dakota (you'll need to scroll down on the link.)

Will the Cincinnati/Denton church follow up with a baptizing tour of Asia? Will Home Office begin publishing The Good News in Mandarin? Does anyone know a good Chinese restaurant in Bismarck?

Meanwhile, over at the Living Church of God they're probably not too worried as Taiwan isn't counted among "our Israelitish peoples." That's a wise move as far as I'm concerned, but then I have my doubts about North Dakota as well...

WCG's Becky Deuel

While UCG holds the line on Christmas, WCG gets some free publicity of its own in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, with a feature on associate pastor Becky Deuel.

Among other things, Becky takes a healthy swipe at the "one chance now or fry" variety of Bible belt Christianity.

She believes Jesus is "the" not "a'" way to salvation "but I don't believe this is the only time for Jesus to be your way.

"I believe God offers second chances to say yes or no to having a relationship with Jesus," Deuel said. "Just because you've heard about Jesus doesn't mean you've had the opportunity to have that relationship.

"If I grow up in a Muslim area, it's very difficult to give up everything to live a Christian life, and, in many areas of the world, you will be persecuted if you are a Christian," she said. "God is a God of love and he wants everyone to be saved."

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

On Notice



On notice for 2008... with thanks to Comedy Central.

BTW, CGI is still offline.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Living U or Yale? Hmmm...




What are they really teaching about the Bible these days?

No, not at Meredith's back-room Bible college, or any of the shonky operations run by the various COGs... Instead let's pick Yale.

Imagine being able to sit in on an undergraduate Old Testament course. Attend the lectures, access the readings, and do it all for free.

And imagine your lecturer actually knows something about the subject, with a genuine PhD (not a pretend one from a defunct unaccredited Bible college) and is a published author of textbooks and scholarly books (as opposed to booklets about the End Times.)

Quite a bargain.

Welcome to Open Yale, and Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) with Professor Christine Hayes.

This course examines the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as an expression of the religious life and thought of ancient Israel, and a foundational document of Western civilization. A wide range of methodologies, including source criticism and the historical-critical school, tradition criticism, redaction criticism, and literary and canonical approaches are applied to the study and interpretation of the Bible. Special emphasis is placed on the Bible against the backdrop of its historical and cultural setting in the Ancient Near East.

Probably just a bit different from offerings at ACCM and Ambassador Bible Center... Biblical Studies, when properly done, isn't in thrall to wishful thinking.

Open Yale Courses provides lectures and other materials from selected Yale College courses to the public free of charge via the internet... Each course includes a full set of class lectures produced in high-quality video accompanied by such other course materials as syllabi, suggested readings, and problem sets. The lectures are available as downloadable videos, and an audio-only version is also offered. In addition, searchable transcripts of each lecture are provided... No enrollment or registration is required. Anyone with access to the internet can enter the web site and view the lectures and other materials.
Did I mention the FREE bit?

So why not check it out. Embrace a challenge. Push the horizons out further. Move out from the popular misrepresentations and grow a little.

And if it turns out not to be the thing for you, what have you lost?

There's a range of other courses available too: astronomy, modern poetry, philosophy, physics, political science and psychology. Amazing! It's got to be a great opportunity to sample real higher education - risk-free, and without the pressures of assignments and exams.

CGI website - doh! The new, improved, super-duper CGI website was supposed to be online November 16. It's now almost December 16, and poor Vance Stinson must be tearing out whatever hair he has left. The Texas-based church is still adrift in cyberspace or, to change the metaphor, up the virtual creek without a paddle.

So why oh why did the lads at CGI flush the old website prematurely? How competent/incompetent is the firm they hired to do the work? Or are they relying on someone's sister's friend's cousin's teenage son to do an el-cheapo job for a few bucks under the table?

Any way you look at it, it's hard to take a church seriously that can't at least manage to create a few transitional pages on the Web to tide them over.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Concordia Copout


Lots of Christians have found much to admire in the fantasy series that begins with The Golden Compass. One excellent example is Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials by Donna Freitas and Jason King. These authors find a genuinely prophetic voice in Pullman's prose.

Never a denomination to bother overmuch with subtlety (unless it involves performing intellectual gymnastics with 16th century confessional documents) the Missouri Lutherans have, in contrast, come out in full shrieking mode via their publishing house, Concordia. (You can download the free discussion guide.)

At the beginning it all sounds semi-reasonable, but the fanaticism builds gradually from a murmur to a crescendo.

Rejoice that your names are, by God’s grace, written in the book of life. Stand firm on the God’s promises applied to you at your baptism and do not fear the lies of the world, the devil, and our flesh.

Yeah, yeah.

You can be sure the various WCG splinters won't be far behind in joining the chorus.

Concordia's Paul McCain opines:

My take on it? Don't bother with the movie or the books. No point in putting money in the pockets of people who are clearly intent on attacking and destroying the Christian faith.

Frankly, I'd credit the Missouri Synod with much greater impact in destroying Christianity than Pullman. These are the guys who, holding hands with Seventh-day Adventists, were the original promoters of "flood geology" and 6-literal-day creationism (1). How dumb was that? In the seventies they threw out their own scholars when they wouldn't kow-tow to the papal pretensions of arch-literalist leader Jacob Preus, AKA "Chairman J.A.O." (2).

Now comes the predictable reaction to Pullman: a judgment based on dogma and ideology. Who'd have thought the Christian Science Monitor could teach Missouri Lutherans how to suck eggs? - yet it does. If you're checking out the Monitor piece, why not click on the short audio interview with Jenny Sawyer that accompanies the article.

Cheap polemics shouldn't deter anyone from seeing (or reading) The Golden Compass... or anything else.


(1) See The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, (Harvard University Press, 2006) by Ronald Numbers.

(2) The events are documented in Memoirs of Exile (Fortress Press, 1990) by John Tietjen, former president of Concordia Seminary, St Louis.

Beware Angry Priests

Alas, the Red Bull company has been shamed by an Italian priest into withdrawing a seasonal ad. But rejoice all ye creatures here below, for you can still see it on YouTube. I'm not much of a fan of either Red Bull or nativity scenes (though, if I had to make a choice, the hypo-juice would win hands down), but this TV ad is really quite tasteful in contrast to most of the lurid kitsch now appearing in a shopping mall near you...

Why is it that religious conservatives - whatever their persuasion - seem to have an underdeveloped sense of self-deprecating humor?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

UCG's Great Leap Backward

UCG is relocating to Texas. Details on Stan's blog. Is this another nail in UCG's coffin? Let's think. Did Herb Armstrong's Radio Church of God grow to prominence in the Bible belt? Shucks, no! Did GTA's "new beginning" take off in "down home" Tyler? Nope! For a small religious movement to prosper it needs to define itself against the values of its surrounding culture, not capitulate to them.

More Poddie Power


Skepticism, whether spelled correctly the British way [scepticism] or with the deviant North American k, is a good thing I think. Feel the siren call of the latest advertorial gadget on 2AM TV? Be skeptical. Get an email from Nigeria offering a large, easy cash return? Be skeptical.

So how come skepticism - let alone scepticism - is a wicked thing when it comes to religion?

There shall come scoffers in the Last Days... and thank God for that. The garden of the Lord is too full of credulous folk already. Dave Pack has a congregation full of such people; now there's a group who could do with a healthy dose of skepticism, preferably before their bank accounts are drained completely and their homes up for mortgagee sale.

I know I'll be blasted for saying it, but skeptics/sceptics are by and large on the side of the angels. Any faith that can't stand up to hard questions should be toppled off its pedestal.

Which is a long-winded way to introduce the excellent Infidel Guy podcast.

Reginald Finley is a former Christian of the Southern Baptist persuasion - or something very like it. Unlike some of the more confrontational types, Reg is downright polite and reasonable, and Infidel Guy sets a high standard in this kind of discourse.

Guests have included, on the one hand, Kent Hovind (the creationist) and Fred Phelp's son Tim (of God Hates Fags infamy). I know I'd lose it in the first five minutes with people of this ilk, but Reggie handles such guests with aplomb: in fact I'm humbled just listening in. On the other hand there have been superb interviews with Richard Dawkins and Richard Carrier.

But best of all, from my perspective as an uppity part-time theology student, have been the shows with biblical scholars, people like Bob Price (more on him in a moment), Hector Avalos and Bart Ehrman. Occasionally Reggie gets more than he bargained for - as in the Ehrman interview - but overall the tone is respectful, positive and inquiring. Christian media gild the lily, mainstream media dumb issues down, but ol' Reggie digs deep.

Bob Price deserves a separate entry. In fact, that's exactly what I'll do, so stay tuned...

Meantime, check out the IG website and - if you dare - consider subscribing to the free podcast. I haven't become an atheist as a result, but I'm certainly better informed!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Christmas Conundrum


I'm seriously conflicted when it comes to Xmas. All that sentimental schmaltz and lethal doses of Helen Steiner Rice-type verse. Then there's the cheesy religious kitsch, hideous mangers, smirking cherubs and politicians trying to sound magnanimous. If I had to choose a tolerable Xmas carol it'd probably be the one about Snoopy and the Red Baron.

But who can complain about family get-togethers and doing nice things for little kids? All year long responsible parents repeat the "no" message; no you can't put that in the trolley, no you had ice-cream yesterday, no you can't have that just because it's advertised on TV, no you're not old enough for a cellphone, no we're not stopping by at McDonalds today.

Then, once a year they give themselves permission to be indulgent and splurge on the little people. But those same parents do it largely under cover of a seedy old guy called Santa, just so their offspring don't get the idea that they've suddenly dropped their adult guard. Gotta love it!

But for those of us who have fled from the Xmas-free dominion of Herb and his flunkies, the question remains - what about the pagan connection? For some like Bob Thiel it's a no-brainer: "...since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) true Christians realize that Christmas celebrations are not okay as far as God is concerned."
Which is where Paul Kroll's article comes in. The latest issue of WCG's Christian Odyssey has the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, but Kroll, to his credit, takes the Yuletide bull by its horns and talks about those pagan connections. Yes, concedes Paul, the early Christians did indeed borrow freely, but...

And it's the but bit that makes his bells jingle. Check it out.

Not that I'd normally recommend CO (and certainly wouldn't recommend the tedious Feazell article on this subject in the same issue), but hey, even a stopped clock tells the truth twice a day.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Morgan book to feature at Harrods

John Morgan is a former member of WCG. His first book, Flying Free, chronicled his years as a member of the church and the evolution of his beliefs. He is the brother of Rex Morgan, WCG's senior minister in New Zealand. Earlier AW posts include two about Flying Free in August and September 2006, and one in September this year about Cover Up, an investigation of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The following article appeared on page A2 of this morning's New Zealand Herald.

KIWI GETS AL-FAYED BACKING FOR DIANA BOOK
by Billy Adams

From his home in suburban Brisbane, John Morgan came to the same conclusion as millions of conspiracy theorists around the world - that Princess Diana was murdered.

But the Kiwi accountant then turned amateur sleuth and compiled a 500-page manuscript that he claims proves one of history's biggest cover-ups.

Although publishing agents in Britain and the US rejected the novice author's approaches, the long-running saga's most controversial protagonist - Mohamed al-Fayed - seemed far more impressed. Mr Morgan says the Harrods owner has offered to fly him around the world to launch his newly self-published book in his landmark London department store.

In an email sent last month to Mr Morgan, the billionaire's security chief, John MacNamara, provides a comment from his boss to be used on the back cover.

"This is a first class piece of journalism that exposes the Scotland Yard report into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi al-Fayed as a sham," Mr Fayed is quoted as saying. "The book demonstrates that the cover-up went right to the top."

The two men have little in common, except the shared conviction Diana and Dodi, Mr Fayed's son, were killed by British intelligence services.

Although the prospect of the "all-expenses-paid trip" excites Mr Morgan, he suffers from a terminal illness that leaves him virtually house-bound.

In 2003 doctors said he was showing early signs of multiple system atrophy, a rare disease that attacks motor-function and leaves most victims with a life expectancy of between six and 10 years. Forced to retire from his accounting career, Mr Morgan turned to writing.

It was after reading a book by Princess Diana's butler Paul Burrell that Mr Morgan started investigating her death full-time.

But it was the three-year investigation into the infamous Paris tunnel car crash by former Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens that convinced him there had been foul play.

After failing to attract publishers, Mr Morgan used self-publishing firm lulu.com to produce his book - Cover Up Of A Royal Murder.

About 150 copies have been sold so far.


A related story appeared yesterday in Brisbane's Sunday Mail.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Clarion Call for Poverty

"GO GET THOSE ASSETS AND GET THEM HERE."

A report appears on Bob Thiel's site, dated December 7, with excerpts from a November 3 sermon by Apostle David C. Pack of the Restored Church of God. Not surprisingly, this sermon does not seem to be available on the RCG website. These transcripts come from the COGwriter site. Bob notes: "The following are approximate quotes (I tried to type verbatim and the following is fairly close) ..."
"Yeah, I know, one or two can leave and say, 'Hey, you stopped preaching and started meddling, now you're messing with my goods here on earth' "
"First Timothy 6 verse 17...'Charge them that are rich in this world'...If you were born in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, then you're rich"
"If you hold those riches, I'm telling you, you trust in them"
"Go get a big chunk out of your home. And put your money where your mouth is and send it here. And I'm not talking about one, two, three thousand either. How about ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, or one hundred thousand dollars? Go do it."
"Wives, you can be independent in this. You have 1/2 the worth of whatever you have in your house.
I'm officially telling you this...Wives, legally you have the 1/2 the funds. What are you going to do about it?...Husbands...'well, my wife is not in the church'...tell her...'you don't have a voice woman' "
"Go get those assets and get them here"
"Don't sit on vast resources that we can use now"
"We are not a splinter"
"I do not covet your silver or gold...the gold and silver is God's and He will get it someway"
"We do not have the funds...plans...bookstores...We need to redesign our website...We need many hundreds of thousands of dollars to arrive at God's headquarters soon...the timing is now"
"This is different...ask Him for the faith to liquidate certain assets and give it to the work"
"I'll say it again, we are talking about liquidating existing assets...it all belongs to God and the brethren"
"We have a lot of plans so big going on in this office it would cause just this room to to rock and gyrate if you knew what was going on. We just need a lot of money and we need it post haste...I would give more if I had it"
"Herbert Armstrong wrote an article...'Prepare to greatly reduce your standard of living'...What he wrote by far, is more for us now than it was then... its all going to be taken away from us anyway brethren"
"There will be follow-up sermons. Time to bring in related points"
"Let us know how much you plan to send and when you plan to send it...You must be willing to communicate... If you do need to counsel, please do that...If you are not ready to distribute what you have...you don't believe the flow of prophecy"
"This is announcing the last blast, the clarion call as it were, to finish the work...Whether it is 4,5,7, 9 years to go, God knows...This is liquidating assets...I have the authority to tell you to do it... I have the moral and spiritual, and ecclesiastical authority to tell you to do what I have also done"
"Get it now when it requires faith... when you are dead you don't need it... if you named us in your wills, it can take us months or years to get it"
"The wives in the faith will say give everything you can...We don't have the luxury of waiting years...today, leaving everything in your will simply doesn't work"
"Now you just have a second mortgage... and frankly we flee before most of it ever becomes due"
"...some may think that they want to tap their 401k--maybe you want to let us know that... why would you want to tell us? We are starting to prepare a budget now, the needs are now...it would be nice to know now"
"Think big...Pull big triggers"
"There is only two positions you can take regarding all that I have mentioned, only two, there is no middle ground. You're either going to yield, to submit and to follow, the clarion call that the time is now or you're not. And postponing a decision is deciding not to do it...It's saying I'm going to wait until it gets closer because it is not there yet...Don't say that I'm going to wait until it gets closer, when I can see...The decision is that my treasure stays on earth or I goes to heaven. Period. I will not lay up for times to come or I will. And this is the real test of Laodicea... either hold on to your assets... or give it... God is in this decision, no question. Testing the church's faith"
"We live in the most materialistic age in the history of the world. People trust in physical things. They trust in bank accounts...If you have excess and don't need it, those verses mean you...That's the Laodicean attitude...Put your money where your mouth is...Empty your assets"
"There is only one place He works...Where the...work is...that's where God is working...one elder commented here at headquarters, if people can't be motivated by a clarion call to finish the work such as this, why will those same people somehow believe the internal signal given to the church of the 1335? Why would they believe it?"
"This is the Laodicean age...Be careful that you don't tell us how to spend your assets... It belongs to God.. You don't tell God or His servants how to spend it"
"Your faith is being tested. Think about that"
"We will all fast on November 17th...I have to...ask you for a very special financial sacrifice for God's work"
"The purposes of the fast...(a). To fast for God's intervention...(b).Fast for personal faith and courage to follow what I am asking you to do...(c). Fast for personal strength...(d)...Fast for faith and courage in others with more than you to give...Go get a big chunk out of your house...their assets, IRAs, and pension funds...(e). Ask God to move specific properties...that they have told us they want to sell. Pray that these properties move...that is part of what this fast is about"
Anyone even slightly tempted to give way to this bullying might wish to first pause and ask themselves whether Pack - who says he's set an example - will be selling up his home and moving into a trailer park.

Where's Gary Scott when we need him?

In Man's Own Image


Many have tried to twist God’s omnipresence to portray Him as some kind of shapeless “blob”—even though the Bible clearly shows that God has a body and a shape—and it is a shape like ours! Consider Genesis 1:26, which tells us that man is made in God’s image and likeness—words that do convey a sense of shape. We do not use human philosophies to avoid the clear statements of Scripture! Consider, as well, the passage in which God says unambiguously that He has a face, a hand and a back (Exodus 33:18–23)! The only way to understand this passage from Exodus without making a mockery of God’s word is to agree that God has a shape and a body!
I'd forgotten just how numbingly literal Armstrongism was in its doctrine of God till I came across this bit of nonsense in the latest Living Church News. The writer is Wally Smith, the bright new hope among the sect's geriatric generals, but the guy is clearly not an original thinker.

The Armstrong god was always a bit of a monstrosity, and anthropomorphic from His (definitely His) graying head to his neatly trimmed toenails. There's not the slightest subtlety here, the concept of metaphor never reached through the wooden mindset of HWA and his sometime-beloved disciple, Roderick C. Meredith. Does the Eternal have divine genitalia, one wonders? If He does (and if He means He it seems inevitable), they're composed of Spirit, whatever that might mean, and without a Mrs God in evidence, it seems a moot point.

This vision of God, as a man-shaped Sky Father, is about as pagan as you can get. The Old Boy adorns the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and sits enthroned in classical mythology as Zeus and Jupiter Olympus. Among the Israelites this crass literalism was mercifully offset by forbidding images. The Sky Father is a time-honored idol, and a projection of the imagination for those without much imagination.

It's not that the Hebrew Bible doesn't contain anthropomorphisms - as Wally indicates by citing the revelation of Yahweh's "back parts" in Exodus... but honestly, what purpose does he think the celestial buttocks serve? If this is God, then we should all be atheists.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Power of the Poddie

I've been online for years, but only recently discovered the joy of podcasts. So, for something a bit different to the usual "pastor general's new clothes" routine, here's a list of what I currently listen to, beginning with something of no relevance whatsoever to the subject of this blog. In return, feel free to recommend your own favorites.

Category One: Nostalgia. When I was but a lad in short trousers, the family radio - a wooden cased monstrosity with valves - was permanently tuned into what later became Radio NZ National, the Kiwi equivalent of NPR. In those far off days people who were born in NZ would still speak of Britain as "the old country", and the cultural cringe extended to BBC entertainment shows. This had its benefits with some outstanding comedy (The Goon Show, The Navy Lark, The Men from the Ministry...) and an early rustic soap called The Archers, set in the fictional town of Ambridge, which I particularly remember as it was broadcast soon after I'd get home from school, and listening in was slightly preferable to doing homework. The accents were fascinating (was that really English?), but the theme music - actually a maypole dance! - especially burned its way into my memory after the thousandth episode or so (only a slight exaggeration as the 13,546th episode was aired on St Patrick's Day 2001.)

Sometime in the 1970s most New Zealanders finally worked out that they were something other than transplanted Poms, and local news pushed the BBC bulletin off the air, the silly but erudite quiz shows disappeared, we dumped God Save the Queen as the national anthem, and The Archers disappeared among the detritus of Empire.

A few weeks ago I discovered that BBC Radio 4 was still running the show six days a week, the theme music was still the same, and lo and behold, The Archers was even available for download as a poddie. Now, in an act that would disgust my younger self, I religiously listen to the show in the evenings, though each episode has no more pace and excitement than a herniated tortoise. I'm now at the stage where the characters are starting to gel together and it's possible to make sense of the loose story line: almost certainly a sign of geriatric decay on my part. You probably need to be somewhat advanced in years to appreciate this one!

Category Two: Skepticism.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The Ten Terrors of Spanky M


"My friends, in the 58 years that I have been carefully watching world affairs, I have never before been so sobered! I have never before seen such a broad pattern of events begin to come together to clearly indicate that the prophesied Great Tribulation will soon be upon us!"

So writes the Spanker in a November 8 letter to Tomorrow's World subscribers, a copy of which was passed on to me today. Nothing new here. 58 years of crying wolf and getting it wrong. But wait...

"... I now alert all of you to "Ten Terrors" now facing the United States and our British-descended allies."

New truth brethren! But all of you Irish folk, people of Scandinavian descent, Maori, Chinese and others can relax. It seems Spanky thinks you're peripheral - second class observers in the great drama of the ages.

But what about these "Ten Terrors"? Here they are:

I. Increasing Drought, Floods, Fires and Earthquakes!
(yawn)

II. The Growing Power of Islam!
(well, I guess that's a nice change to the growing power of Germany or the EU.)

III. Over 12 Million Illegal Aliens!
(uh, wasn't America built on the sweat of illegal aliens... just ask the Native American folk about those pesky, land-grabbing Pilgrims.)

IV. China on the March!
(another exclamation mark, another failure to mention the Assyrian hordes pouring out of Frankfurt am Main. Do you think Spanky has forgotten the Fourth Reich?)

V. Russia a Growing Threat!
(Russia?)

VI. America Is the "Most Hated" Nation!
(honestly, I think America comes a distant third after a couple of more obvious candidates. I mean no New Zealander is bothered much by a country that doesn't beat us in Rugby... but even if it was true, the US could instantly reverse the trend by canning all those awful reality TV shows exported around the world, and sending Benny Hinn back to wherever he comes from.)

VII. The United States Dollar Heads DOWNWARD!
(excuse me, but when was the greenback declared sacred? But even here, when Rod Almighty has the chance finally to do some serious euro-bashing, he muddies the water by also referring to the Chinese yuan, the British pound [!!!!] and "many other currencies.")

VIII. The Growing Power of "Gay Activists!"
(does this dude read history? Does he know anything about classical Greece? Now that might be a worry... oh but wait: "as I have stated and will prove in an upcoming article in Tomorrow's World magazine, hundreds of respected doctors, psychoanalysts and scientists acknowledge that people are not "born that way."" Do you reckon he's dusting off the 1960s "Queer Men" article?)

IX. Disease Epidemics Coming Soon!
(hey, I have a cough right now!)

X. Our SINS Will Bring Us Down!
"My friends, will we really wake up? ... We are trying to warn America and our British-descended brethren of what lies just ahead."
So if your name is Patel or Singh, slumber on.

Two thoughts: (1) despite all the palaver about sticking to Armstrong's Philadelphian truths, Meredith is clearly de-emphasizing the Assyrian captivity schlock. Shock horror - could Chuckie Bryce and the Packatollah be the genuine voices of the Philadelphia Era after all, and Rod a mere waterer-down of prophetic truth?

The second is just how downright racist, jingoistic and insular the Meredith gospel is.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Good Guys?

The Churches of God are, by and large, a dire and toxic faith environment; restrictive, hierarchic and dumbed down. An array of ego-driven warlords provide bread and circuses for their flocks - dry bread and performing fleas for the most part. The big players are bad enough, but the petty local tyrants can be even worse, as the bickering at Port Austin continues (and continues, and continues) to remind us.

But there are always exceptions, and maybe this is one. I'm referring to Faith Networks, a group I'd frankly forgotten about till someone asked "what's happened to Jim O'Brien?"

O'Brien, for those who've understandably lost track of the countless splits and splinters, was a popular UCG minister who fell afoul of the Cincinnati Sanhedrin, and now leads a couple of independent congregations on the doorstep of the Holy City itself.

O'Brien collaborates with an interesting assortment of refugees from the "orgs" in producing a small but professional looking newsletter called Faith Networks. A PDF of the November issue is available here. Those involved in various ways include Bill Jacobs, Wendy Pack, Guy Swenson (ex-UCG), Ronald Dart, Pam Dewey, David Antion (ex-CGI), the Church of God, Big Sandy, Herberth Cisneros (ex-UCG) Lenny Cacchio and Bill and Scarlett Stough. FN also seems to involve many of the same people who use CEM/Born to Win materials (the photograph below is of a CEM Pentecost gathering.)

The contrast in tone between FN and the bug-eyed, manipulationist apocalyptic ministries we're more used to is astonishing.

Yes, I'm sure these folk have their problems too, and this would hardly be a suitable resting place for the worldly-wise and cynical among us. I can also hear some of the more strident voices claiming that anything COGish is tantamount to hell-bound heresy in a hand-cart (evangelicals: gotta love 'em!) I freely admit that these very decent folk are barking up a tree I'd personally prefer not to build a tree-house in, yet for those still searching for a healthier alternative within the broader COG community, this might be a reasonable place to begin.

The country cousins come a callin'

"Next Wednesday, Mr. Ames, Mr. Apartian and I will be visiting the UCG office in Cincinnati. About a year ago, when two representatives from UCG visited our office in Charlotte, they invited us to make a return visit. We found the visit last year was helpful to maintain lines of communication when issues arise of mutual concern."

Douglas Winnail, LCG Update 11/29/07

Well, well. Which issue of "mutual concern" do you think might have arisen? Nothing about this on the COGwriter blog... puzzling because Bob has heaps to say when the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches hold a pow-wow (which, unlike this, is hardly "news of the Churches of God"). Could Bob's reluctance be because he's just made his annual unflattering comparison between LCG/UCG financial statements?

Of course they could just be exchanging Xmas cards...

Feast rhymes with fleeced

Whatever happened to the WCG's Mt Pocono Feast Site? Stan Gardner has the story, which you can read when you click across to his blog.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Scarlet Harlot?


Holy Muddah Church - the one with corporate headquarters in Rome, Italy - is once again demonstrating how out of touch it is with the twenty-first century. This time it's over a book and a movie.

The Golden Compass is about to hit the big screens, based on the first book in Philip Pullman's amazing Sci-Fantasy trilogy for children.

Disclaimer: I'm respectful of Catholicism as a rule, and not only because Jared Olar gives me a swift kick when I have a relapse. It's suffered from constant misrepresentation at the hands of bigots. Some of the finest Christian scholars today are Catholic, and they're scrupulously honest with their research. Many Protestant objections are based on sheer historical ignorance. That said, it's unfortunate that the Enlightenment seems to have passed by the control freaks of the Catholic League.

I resisted reading Pullman for years, largely because my nephew recommended it so highly. Said nephew is a lecturer in economics, and one of those people I try not to engage in frequent conversation with 'cos the blighter makes me sound subnormal by comparison. Beside, what would an economist know about good fiction? Pullman's atheism was also another reason to avoid the series: being preached at by a militant atheist is every bit as irksome as a purple-shrouded bishop or a raving televangelist.

But I weakened at the start of the this month. Exams were over and I was looking for something to unwind with. Armed with a copy of Northern Lights (published in America as The Golden Compass) I collapsed into an armchair and started to read. I was hooked within minutes.

Pullman draws partly on the ideas in Milton's Paradise Lost to spin an incredible yarn about a renewed attempt to topple (the false) God off his throne, a sequel to the rebellion that saw Lucifer cast down, set in parallel worlds as well as our own. It's this that has brought down the wrath of Rome, and the sacred scarlet knickers have been well and truly knotted as a result. Only militant Catholics seem to be screaming and tossing toys out of the crib at this stage, though I wouldn't be surprised if one of the reactionary hacks in Cincinnati writes something inane in the GN.

I'm no atheist, as I keep trying to convince Bob Thiel, but I'd certainly recommend Pullman to anyone who loves provocative Sci-Fi. It's an excellent tale and, hey, it's written for kids, so it's not going to be too much of a mission for the average adult reader. I'll definitely be seeing the film when it's released. Will it corrupt minors? Less so, I expect, than many Sunday School Bible lessons.

But back to the Roman (or more properly, US Catholic) reaction. How much more credibility would "the Magisterium" have if it saw the Pullman books and film as a chance to dialog with postmodernism rather than indulge in prissy chest-pounding? If the church - any church - wants to look tired and frumpy, this is the way to do it. Catholics have been advised to stay away from the movie (which avoids the religious references so as not to cause offense), and the books are being removed from libraries in some parochial schools. Mother Church wants to censor the thinking of the faithful, but doesn't seem to have factored in the news that the Middle Ages have now passed. South Park, The DaVinci Code - it doesn't take much to set off the keening wails from the defenders of the faith. Surely there are weightier issues to obsess over?

Support freedom of thought, and indulge in a little yourself. See the movie, and try the books.

Related link: His Blasphemous Materials in the Irish Independent.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

$125,000,000 plus


Over a week after a tip-off that the CGI website was missing in action, there is still no sign of a Second Coming in cyberspace. Over a week off the Internet - what genius thought that was a good idea? Is CGI still out there? Hello? Helloooo?

News of the passing of Mrs Isobel Hoeh on November 21, wife of the late Dr Herman Hoeh.

For those with an interest in the historicity (or otherwise) of the Bible, this link to a recent book review was sent in from the Christian magazine Wittenburg Door. Nobody tell Clyde Kilough!

How much did lil' Joe get for the Ambassador Campus? $125,000,000 plus (over three separate transactions). How do we know this? Real Estate whiz Joseph P. McNulty - who takes the credit for the sales - tells us so in a promo for Edgewood Realty Partners. Click on the image to feel the gentle breeze off those greenbacks.

***

Postscript: Message from Vance (Stinson?) at CGI.

Gavin, thank you for your concern. You will be relieved to know that CGI is alive and well and that there has finally been some progress on the website. The site was supposed to be up and running by November 16, but, unfortunately, it didn't happen and still hasn't happened. (The new webmaster ran into some problems and was unable to deliver on time.) As you might imagine, we've been quite frustrated about this! The good news is that just this afternoon we were able to view the proposed homepage. The site should be back in operation within a couple of days or so--but please don't hold me to a definite date.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Ultimate Guide


The ultimate guide to Biblical living... why didn't someone write this book long ago?

And why oh why is it classified under "humor" instead of "religion"?

We're talking about The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs.

Here's this bloke - a secular Jewish journalist - living in the Big Bad Apple and writing for Esquire, who decides to live the Bible way for a year. Out go the clothes with mixed fabrics, in comes tithing (though he spreads his largess among legitimate charities rather than delusional televangelists), while he wonders how to apply all those ghastly proverbs about whacking your kids to his exuberant three year old. This is literalism as few of us have known it, not even Tom Mahon and Robert the Berean Messenger. You just have to sympathize with his long-suffering wife!

And it's hilarious; which should tell us all something. There's an entertaining radio feature on the book on NPR.

Here's a book to relish over the long summer break (or for those of you in the other hemisphere, those long winter evenings.) Quirky and profound in equal measure, with cameo appearances from Amish, Mormon Polygamists, Samaritans, Creationists and a host of others. Regrettably, WCG only gets mentioned once, and only in passing, but that's probably a mercy for all concerned.

At last!




But, oh dear, imagine Rod King's comments next Sabbath?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Hillsong - Pt. 2


Reading about Hillsong certainly puts the WCG thing in perspective. Who'd have guessed that the prosperity gospel-soaked, tongues speaking types who gyrate to hypnotic worship music in the Assemblies of God have anything in common with Armstrongism.
But they do. Tanya Levin's book reminds us that religious servitude is no respecter of denominational distinctives. Beneath the happy-clappy lobotomised veneer the sociology and the psychology is nearly identical.
Armstrongism's day in the sun is long past, even if the news still hasn't reached a few of the staunchest old timers. The Elmer Gantry sideshows are still out there though, raking in the dough, but they're being performed in other ghettos on the fringe, though the key ideas are just the same.
Tithing for example, and the reign of misogyny. Emphasis on “family values” (where do you find that in the ministry of Jesus or Paul, or the New Testament as a whole?) and a jaundiced view of higher education. And glaring, blatant hypocrisy at the apex of the hierarchical food chain.
Hillsong is an Aussie phenomena with strong Kiwi connections. According to Levin, Pastor Brian Houston's dad, also a Pentecostal preacher, moved his family across the ditch when his moral failures became an issue here. A former NZ Prime Minister once remarked that emigrating Kiwi's improved the national IQ scores in both countries. It seems father Frank's flight could well be a case study in support of that notion. The details are there in the book and on the Web.
But forget the preening, strutting pastors. The parallels with WCG in the lives of the regular church folk are uncanny, and it was hard to know whether to laugh out loud or to just groan as Levin recounted her experiences and perceptions.
If WCG was a 1960s B movie in the theater of toxic religion, Hillsong appears to be a racier twenty-first century version with catchy music and expensive blue stage special effects. You can check out some You-Tube commentary over on Felix Taylor's blog.
Meantime I've decided to do a one-person boycott of Gloria Jean's, the cafe franchise owned by Hillsong devotees that apes Starbucks. You can get a better fair-trade-friendly flat white at Esquires – and know that 10% doesn't come off your receipt to fund fundies.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Revisionist history

Remember the Global Church of God, publisher of The World Ahead?

A gaggle of the good and the great departed from the Tkach Dominion in an effort to turn back time. Principal among them, Roderick C. Meredith and Raymond F. McNair.

To cut a long story short, the Global Board dumped the Meredith ego, but the dumbest of the sheep followed the Imperious One into exile. A new all-Meredith sect was established - one where all the less-than-leading evangelists (i.e. everyone other than Rod) - knew their place. Thus was the Living Church of Rod formed.

Meredith took the mailing list, Global was gutted, the GCG defaulted on loans, crashed and burned. A few of the loyalists - those who knew Meredith too well to go whoring after the Imperious Leader - ultimately, like Larry Salyer, ended up in UCG.

The brave attempt to see Meredith off occurred nine years ago, and to mark the occasion Bob Thiel has posted a little revisionist account of the event. Rod is the noble hero, along with his boot-licking cabal. LCG, Bob tells us, has had 2,600 baptisms since then.

Well, with the amount of tithing and obligatory fasting LCG requires, it'd be surprising if there hadn't been a swag of baptisms, and 2.6k indeed sounds impressive compared to some other Armstrong sects.

But what I'd like Bob to share with us all is the retention rate. How many of those who sign up to the pseudo-Philadelphian Work of Rod last twelve months, 3 years, five? WCG itself had a revolving door, and turnover in PCG and the micro-splinters can reach well beyond 50%. How many have been seduced by Chuckie Bryce, Dave Pack, old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all? In the time I've been following the fortunes of LCG there has been a consistent pattern of hemorrhaging.

The big drama is still in the future when the sweet chariot swings low for the Imperious Evangelist himself. Hands up all those who think there will be a smooth and enduring transition? Alas, Rod's hierarchical mentality can only bequeath a bunfight among the pretenders to the throne. Then the question of the hour will surely be which way Bob will jump.

Monday, 19 November 2007

CGI keeps us guessing


True confession time: I was a foundation member of the Church of God, International in New Zealand. Hey, it was a long time ago.

Back then I had quite a collection of sermon tapes from Garner Ted Armstrong and Ron Dart. CGI was, on reflection, a halfway house on the road back to relative sanity. I still have the preview issue of Twentieth Century Watch, the glossy magazine that was designed to take on The Plain Truth. For a short time it appeared that Ted's splinter would take off and provide a credible alternative to WCG, then groaning under the senile ego of Herbert W. Armstrong.

Then there was a major walkout by the group's top talent as Ted threw a hissy fit over who was boss. Al Portune and Wayne Cole came and went, TCW editor Alan Heath dropped off the edges. Greg Doudna and Gary Alexander (both early contributors to the magazine) slipped into the murky waters and swam to shore, David Antion detached. The little Kiwi fellowship quickly wised up and fell apart.

CGI downsized but survived with Ted and Ron, the Dynamic Duo, running the operation till Ted had a close encounter during a therapeutic massage session. Ron bailed and the board belatedly dumped Ted, who then set up shop again with the hilariously misnamed Intercontinental Church of God.

But you can't kill weeds, or so they say. CGI "consolidated" and battled on.

But has The End now finally arrived? Or is CGI merely coiled to spring out on an unsuspecting world with a stunning new presence? What is certain is that the website is temporarily (?) down. They say they'll be back, but if so, why take down the old site completely?

The armor on the seal, by the way, was modeled on a suit Ted bought on a British junket back in his cash-rich WCG days and had mounted as some kind of anachronistic trophy (medieval armor isn't what the pseudonymous author of Ephesians had in mind.) Ted was booted out, presumably along with his antique armor, but the silly seal remained. If I remember correctly they decided to turn that particular lemon into lemonade by naming their cable TV show Armor of God, though "Armor of Ted" would have been more literally true.

Will CGI return? I guess we'll just have to hold our breaths...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Hillsong - Pt. 1


If you're an Aussie, you already know what Hillsong is. If you're a church-going Kiwi, chances are you do too. Walk into any Christian bookshop in Australia or New Zealand and cruise the music display, Hillsong will leap out at you. Hillsong Music is big business, with an influence that extends well beyond the Assemblies of God, the denomination which Hillsong belongs to. Hillsong is Australia's largest, most successful mega-church, and its TV program is seen in a number of other countries including the US (TBN, Daystar), Canada, New Zealand (TV3 and Shine) and - of all places - Estonia. Even current Prime Minister John Howard has put in an appearance in the pews.

You might think that puts it light years beyond Armstrongism, but not necessarily so. Tanya Levin, a former Hillsong member, recently launched a book that promises to do for Hillsong what David Robinson's Tangled Web did for WCG.

Called People in Glass Houses, Levin's book had a rough ride before hitting the bookstores. Publisher Allen & Unwin backed off after agreeing to print the book in February. Truth, however, will eventually out, and the book, with a new publisher, has now been reprinted after its first edition sold out. Unfortunately, as there's no American edition, readers in the northern hemisphere might be hard-pressed to find a copy, but an article in the Sydney Morning Herald is a helpful place to find out more.

Levin's tale is reminiscent of times past in the WCG with all the key elements: fanaticism, money and sex. I have no idea how many former WCG folk have been lured into the Hillsong embrace, but if there's anything we've learned over the years it's that disillusioned members tend to be drawn to equally dubious movements as moths to the flame.

More on this to follow...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Another Journal hits the post


The September-October Journal is in November's mail. One of the intriguing things about Dixon Cartwright's newspaper is its unpredictability, and I don't mean when to expect the next issue to surface. No, I mean its content. Here's a sampler of what's on offer.

Mac Overton waxes eloquently on the subject of secession. (Unrelated bumper sticker no. 1: nothing secedes like secession. Unrelated bumper sticker no. 2: nothings succeeds like a budgerigar.) Mac's argument is that if it weren't for stroppy old beggars like Spanky and Hulme - I'm not sure whether he's prepared to draw Gerry and the Packatollah under the sacred canopy as well - all those precious Herbal truths would've been lost.

I've had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Mac, and he's both a decent bloke and a fine journalist, but this time you'll have to forgive a raised eyebrow on my part. Mac writes:

Those who remain in WCG follow a church that has not a dime's worth of difference with the First United Methodist Church in both doctrine and governance.

Stirring stuff, but I wonder if it's completely true, at least not if United Methodists in the US manage their affairs in a similar way to Methodists in the rest of the world. Do they have an unelected Pastor Generalissimo and toothless appointed boards of yes-persons? I doubt it.

Moving along, how's this for an article title: What can we learn from the man who circumcised Jesus? by Ken Westby? So many possible puns (cutting remarks and snippets); so few in good taste!

Ah, moving right along... how about a slapping around for Greg Doudna's book on WCG and AC at Big Sandy? I've reviewed this one myself, but Tom Adams is less enthusiastic. Referring to an earlier Journal review Tom opines:

[T]he previous reviewer recommended Showdown at Big Sandy as a good Feast present for friends. This is true if you also think a copy of Martin Luther’s 95 theses would be an appropriate confirmation gift for a Catholic.
Ouch! Tom has a point, I suppose, if we're talking about a COG-AIC, PCG or RCG cult FOT, but there are a lot of bright cookies out there in UCG and among the independents who might not agree. If I was Dixon I'd serialize the book: he'd be swamped with protesting emails from people who couldn't spell, but I bet his subscriber base would show a growth spurt.

Last and least, revealed in the ad section, Craig White has new book out with the portentous title: In Search of the Great German Nation: Origins and Destiny, which he seems to have self published. Among those paying tribute to the new opus is none other than Mac Overton who calls it "well researched" and "the best and most thorough treatment of the subject I've seen." Call me skeptical, but I'll treat that opinion seriously when I see a qualified ethnologist do something other than laugh hysterically at the suggestion that Germany is Assyria in prophecy. Tom Adams, however, may well feel differently.

Yep, each issue of The Journal is a proverbial curate's egg, but I still wouldn't want to miss an issue. There's a free download of the front and back pages here.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

TIME archives sorry tale

TIME magazine's religion section chronicled the major tribulations of the WCG during the 1970s. In a pre-Internet age it was one of the few ways members and co-workers could keep up with the play: the church itself could only be relied on for spin. Those articles are now archived online, available again for any who care to search them out.

May 1972: Garner Ted Armstrong, Where Are You? (I vividly remember this one!)
June 1972: Garner Ted Returns
March 1974: Trouble in the Empire
June 1978: Strong-Arming Garner Ted
Jan 1979: Propheteering?
Feb 1981: When Mammon serves God (the WCG features in the second half of the article)

Relive a little history, and then breathe easier knowing that today the Empire is as shattered as Humpty Dumpty.

Barthianity


I mentioned Reformed theologian Karl Barth some time back. Barth is one of my least favorite thinkers: any mind poisoned with Calvinism is a terrible waste. Why bother mentioning Barth? Well, he's flavor of the month with certain WCG ministerial types, poor deluded souls. Once you've been led up the garden path with Karl, your brain inevitably turns to mush and you lose contact with reality. This is clearly demonstrated by the quality of posts on the WCG's Surprising God blog - a kind of mutual admiration forum for the terminally deluded.

I'm particularly fed up with Barthianity at the moment, having just suffered a semester with a compulsory paper infused with his insidious influence. I don't mind a balance: a little Barth alongside a cross section of other voices, but alas there is an aftertaste of Presbyterian myopia on the faculty, and other traditions - other than that peculiar variety of Anglicanism that calls itself Evangelical - get second-class treatment.

More positive by far has been a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls which has been truly fascinating, and once I recover from the examination, I fully intend to bore anyone silly enough to read it with an entry on some freaky parallels between Qumran and Armstrongism. You have been warned!

Meantime, this piece of artwork portrays the mighty Swiss theologian. It seems very apt.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Faithful flock's flinched fleeces


Don Billingsley is an old-time minister of the Radio Church of God. His chief claim to historical fame is being the second member of the baptizing team in the fatal car crash that took the life of Herbert Armstrong's eldest son, Richard. Like so many others he found it hard to adjust to the Tkach regime change, and bolted off to establish the Church of God EIM (Established in Modesto).

Time passed and COG-EIM and their pastor came to a parting of the ways - another common occurrence among disaffected brethren. Suddenly Don found himself starting from scratch and breaking in a new ministry which could well have been called Church of God DIM (Disestablished in Modesto) but instead adopted the name Church of God - Faithful Flock. It's a small group, but readers of The Journal will know of it through Don's regular full-page ads.

What's interesting is the literature that Don is offering on the COG-FF website. More specifically, the authorship of that literature, including...

Paul Kroll
Neil Earle
Bernie Schnippert

Hey, wait a minute, aren't these guys Joe Junior's myrmidons? Well, yes. Paul is the long-suffering personal correspondent, Neil pastors the Glendora franchise and Bernie apparently still rakes in some sort of salary after years as a high profile financial apparatchik under Joe.

So how come these luminaries get a by-line on Don's site? Simple. Don has dredged up ancient articles they wrote decades ago. No matter than these fellows have long since repudiated their views of the seventies and eighties.

Articles by Kroll and Earle appear in the online publication Prophecy Comes Alive. Schnippert's 1982 GN article on "counterfeit faith" is promoted separately (and prominently).

Earth calling Don, this is (a) not a good look, and (b) misleading. Whether there's a copyright issue is for someone else to judge. Regardless of that, the authors - unless they've given permission, which seems highly unlikely - would have every right to feel thoroughly hosed off.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

When will they ever learn

The latest issue of Tomorrow's World is out, and Spanky and his gang are performing their seasonal beat up on Xmas, along with the usual butchery on the text of Revelation.



Notable too is this back page photograph of the Four Horsefeatherers of the post-Herbal Apocalypse. That's Wally Smith, Rod the Ranter, Dickie Ames and Rod the Aussie. Pretty scary, huh.

But fear not, little flock, here's the word from Team Charlotte:

We are definitely living in the “last days”! Christ will undoubtedly return within the lifetimes of the young people growing up today—and many older people may also live to witness this awesome event. (Rod Meredith, p.7)
Well, I bet no-one here has heard that before!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Compulsive Conservatism


The latest issue of the Not-so Good News is about to hit the mailboxes, and the lads in editorial have chosen the theme of addictions as the focus for their bi-monthly platitudes.

Douglas, did you hear that? Few people have made the connection between Armstrongism and addictive disorders as clearly as Douglas Becker. Will this latest issue bring Douglas down, Sennacherib-style, like a wolf upon the Cincinnati fold, or is he - like myself - simply struck speechless by the irony of it all?

The GN is still a quality magazine compared to LCG's Tomorrow's World, but that's not saying much. Take a look at the political content (exhibit one: "Nations around the world gang up on America" - lead item in the World News & Trends section.) It seems that each passing month the commentary becomes more facile and predictable. Will these guys - Schroeder, Aust, Rhodes and company - ever start to think outside the box? Thirty long years ago The Plain Truth produced, despite itself and allowing for very mixed motives, some reasonably cutting edge material on issues like the environment (anyone remember Our Polluted Planet?) OK, so it was part of the doom and gloom thing, but at least it took the focus away from the usual line-up of self-pitying whinges and whines. Could the old blokes at UCG possibly do something as imaginative as that in 2007, or are they just too addicted to playing "ain't it awful" on apple-pie knee-jerk issues.

I guess that's a rhetorical question.