Friday, 13 April 2007

The Retirement Dilemma

Thoughts on WCG's responsibilities to its former employees from Byker Bob, posted on the alumni forum, with followup comments by an ex-employee.
Next time you receive your annual statement from the Social Security Administration, assuming you ever worked for the Worldwide Church of God, or Ambassador College, take a look at all of the zeroes in the columns referring to taxed Social Security earnings, and taxed Medicare earnings. Now, picture yourself as one who worked for our favorite two institutions for the bulk of your career. What benefits are you scheduled to receive upon attaining the age of 66?

Here's the scenario. You worked for some organizations which were operating under the strange delusion (some called it prophecy that was revealed to God's Apostle, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong) that the world was going to end, and Jesus Christ was going to return long before you ever reached the age of retirement. Giving your money to the government, when it could have been given to "the work" was seen as not exercising good stewardship, so the decision was made by senior management of WCG/AC to opt out of the Social Security program, which was their perfect right as a non-profit religious organization.

This has been one of the most far reaching and influential decisions made on your behalf by the church and college. Now that we know that HWA was simply another false prophet, we can see that it would have been far wiser to hold back a little, and to save for retirement, but imagine the reaction of your local pastor if you had even suggested doing this back then! You would have been seen as lacking faith at the very least, or might even have been compared to Annanias and Saphira!

It doesn't matter what we might think of the people who are without retirement at this point in time, because the policy was equally unfair to everyone. Maybe you feel that the ministers who left the church are going to the Lake of Fire anyway, so what does it matter if they get retirement? Or, you might fall on the other side of the fence and assume that all ministers were our Nazi torturers, and regardless as to whether they have repented of their evil WCG roles, still deserve to suffer. But, what about long-term employees who opted to stay with the main body of WCG, and were fired for continuing to keep the sabbath privately in their own homes? What about the people who always tried to do the right thing, but got caught up in some of the final reductions in the church and college's work force as it all wound down prior to the sale of the campusses?

The problem is that opting out of the Social Security system was bad policy, and this bad policy is now affecting some of the people you might agree with, and some of the people you might vehemently disagree with.

What should be done? Some of the splinters have remedied this for the ministers who joined up with them, by providing continuing employment. But what of those whose consciences simply would not allow them to pursue such a course? What about the ministers who, in their 50's, suddenly found themselves beginning new careers and are only now accruing SS and Medicare benefits?

The WCG has continued to exist, uninterrupted from the time of these egregious policies, right up through the present. They may have changed their core beliefs, but the entity which originally caused the present hardships still exists, and IMO, should accept the responsibility of taking care of the people who were hurt by the original policies. Looking at this topic in a rational manner, it might even benefit the current WCG. How so? Well, if many of the aging ministers were taken care of financially, they wouldn't be selling out and continuing to teach Armstrongism just so that they could perpetuate their lifestyle! So there would be fewer leaders in the splinters, and fewer ministers would translate into accelerating the demise of a horrible false religious system.

I think we need to be making some noise about this before some of the people we knew and numbered as our friends are relegated to eating dogfood. Little Joe needs to exercise some leadership and to do the right thing for people who gave their all and are now about to pay the price for their dedication in ways they never imagined. Retirement benefits are not a paddle to be used in manipulating peoples' behavior, they are a form of basic human decency accorded to those who are too aged to be able to support themselves.


Response from a former employee:

WCG has always had a pick and choose mentality as to who got retirement care. Many who were in HWA's favor got retirement, homes and cars. But if you disagreed with him you got nothing. WCG carried on that tradition. WCG had a way of getting around full retirement for all employees. They called it 'discretionary assistance'. They made the decision to base your 'care' upon whether you were a full tithe payer and supported the church.

When the blow up happened those that went with the splinters automatically lost any 'discretionary assistance'. It did not matter who they were or what their health conditions were. The money was cut off with nothing more than a form letter.

WCG made numerous promises about retirement care when they started the process of selling the properties. They made big promises when they sold Big Sandy. They reneged on all of them. They made promises when they sold the jets. Again, they reneged. Then as the sale of the Pasadena property dragged on they started cutting the payments to those loyal employees that stood by them through all the changes. Many of them had serious health issues. It did not matter. The money was cut.

Only those employees around at the end of the sale process got retirement. If you worked for the church 30 or more years you got 60% of your income. Each year less you were there, you lost 5%. These employees can never have that retirement taken away from them, that money is locked into a special retirement fund run by an outside administrator. But sadly, WCG again failed to keep more of their promises. There were many who were told they would be brought back into the program or have their funds increased. Again, it never happened.

In the early 80's WCG gave employees the opportunity to opt back into Social Security. Many jumped at the chance, Most ministers and some employees did not. Now they are left high and dry by WCG. They also began offering the opportunity to join in 403b deductions for retirement in the late 80's. But to show how sneaky WCG really was concerning retirement, there were many teachers who had been for decades payed into a retirement fund for teachers of schools and colleges. 95% of the employees and many of the ministers were never told about this opportunity. Only a select few paid into it.


Mario said...

I'm convinced that the unabashed "leaders" in WCG, then and now, have little conscience. It was a carnal institution from the start, and remains so today. Men the likes of Stan Rader were paid enormous sums in hush money, but the genuine of heart field minister got nothing... It's all so very sad indeed. Whether you believe in tithing and organized religion or not, how they treated their fellow man was WRONG! The words, "I never knew you" come to mind.

My question is this: Do the splinters carry on this practice if someone disagrees or jumps ship after years of service. Is SS taken out in UCG, LCG, PCG etc.?

Anonymous said...

Aw! Come on!
We all know that after 1st, 2nd,3rd tithe, GENEROUS H.D.O.'s, building fund and "Special" offerings, there was nothing left for retirement anyway. They figured you would die by working the extra job anyway.
rod 2

Byker Bob said...

Thanks for giving this some additional exposure, Gavin. It is a totally separate issue from what I call the "tithe reparations" issue. Over the years, a number of ex-members have suggested class action lawsuits to recover tithes which were perhaps expected and donated under false pretenses. Because most of us have prospered and survived in our post-WCG lives, I never felt that I could really support the tithe reparations movement. However, this retirement issue is potentially much more devastating in terms of consequences.

I believe that individuals who mandate or influence others' decisions are morally and ethically responsible for the consequences suffered by the people who follow. Yes, we do all bear a certain amount of personal responsibility for our own actions, but the influencers, in this case, falsely convinced numerous people that they were speaking for God. I can't imagine any other influence in a person's life that could possibly be more powerful than that! People took seriously the claim that they would never reach retirement age. And, now, some are about to pay the price.

Dr. Joe Tkach, Jr. has spoken very eloquently as to why he felt the WCG should continue to exist, as opposed to the leadership simply telling everyone to find a new church. He seemed to feel very strongly that people who shared the experience could be of greater understanding, and therefore in a better position to help WCG members make the transition into what he terms as New Covenant understanding. That sounds very altruistic. But there is more that goes into helping people than kindly words from time to time. If he really desires to be of help, and to repair the damages caused by his predecessors, he needs to take a more reasonable approach to a meaningful assistance program for those who surrendered their retirement based on WCG myths.

I'm a conservative, and do not believe in wholesale give away programs. It would be foolish to allocate retirement funds to the Gerald Flurrys, or Rod Merediths of the world, because they have set up organizations which will provide quite nicely for their golden years. A fair standard for "means testing" could be set up and reviewed by some independent blue ribbon panel, so that those who so selflessly worked for below market wages, generously gave to, and trusted their church do not end up homeless and on the streets.

So that everyone might know, I personally am not affected by these past policies of WCG, as I have been employed in the secular world for 35 years. However, I'm certain that if a list of those without retirement were published, we'd all recognize some names of people whom we have loved and respected. For those people, we need to see if we can make some noise, and perhaps get this wrong corrected.


charlie kieran said...

The WCG's lack of planning ahead for their employees whether or not they were pastors kind of shoot their argument of 'We leave it up to the individual' all to hell. Don't tell me that still had a choice! They believed at the time they were being 'called'.

Many are cold but few are frozen!

boston blackie said...

No rod 2, nothing left for retirement and not much in the insurance department either. (Now there's one topic they avoided like the plague, promising to address the issue every year, but somehow avoiding it altogether.) Thankfully, I never bought into the whole building fund fiasco. You forgot "tithe of the tithe". With all the excess 2nd tithe they pull in, you have to wonder why HWA invented that one and why the COGs continue with that policy.

Yeah, extra job... what a joke.


kscribe said...

Well this should remind folks of how the House of Herbert took money and retirement very seriously!...............

"The U.S. and international Regional Pastors were meeting in Pasadena this week. Bernie Schnippert spoke to them.... He went on to stir up a stink with several of the ministers. Bernie said he wanted to make clear that he did not believe in the Sabbath or the Holy Days. However, he told the ministers that IF they wanted to make sure that they received retirement, then they MUST continue to meet on the Sabbath and continue to meet on all Holy Days.

He said the name of the game is MONEY! That is his only priority at the moment. The Holy Days are the money-making days for the church. If any of the ministers had any plans of doing away with meeting on these days, he would MAKE SURE that they did not receive retirement and would be terminated.

The ministers were also warned that they were not to do away with meeting on Saturdays, even if they started meeting on Sundays. There are too many in the church still holding on to the Old Covenant, and if they were not able to meet on Saturday then they would go to some other church and the money would go with them.

Schnippert then went on to say that it would be them losing their retirement and not him, as he WILL receive his retirement no matter what actions they decided to take."

Such as the "House of Herb" stood in reference to the past, the future for those who are paid pimps in armstrongism shall be as those of the past, those who sold themselves out to the religion of Satan the devil! If you deviate from the herbal template you shall be labeled as an outcast! You will be labeled as sons and daughters of the evil one! You will see the decline of income...You cup shall no longer “runneth” over!

Herbie led the way, the example (if you will) of stewardship that will cause so many employees of the spit-off's to be sickly and broke when the time of aging renders them obsolete! And they WILL be obsolete very, very soon!

Anonymous said...

In the US, many private companies are starting to phase out their pension plans. Looks like WCG was ahead of its time.

CL Creek said...

I don't really feel sorry for anyone that didn't put money away for the future. When reading the Bible one of the clear messages is that we are to live life like Christ will return tomorrow, but to plan like he will return after we die. This is why the bible says to consider the ant and that a good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren. So quite whining and go get a job.

Byker Bob said...

Anonymous 3:46, do you really mean that? Because if you do, it reflects amazingly shallow thinking. First, the company pension plans to which you are referring were set up in addition to social security, and to enhance social security. Also, when the pension plans are done away with, they are rolled over into accounts managed by private financial consultants. This happened with two pension plans in which I was totally vested, so I know a little bit about the subject.

With WCG, we're not talking about supplemental retirement pensions, we're talking about social security itself. I know that Rush Limbaugh and others are pushing for the privatization of Social Security, but the SS Administration is there because a significant portion of the work force simply lacks the fortitude or discipline to regularly save for retirement. WCG, in distorted or perverse way, perfectly illustrates why Social Security is a good thing, and necessary. It would have been nice if church employees had had at least one resource which was protected by the federal government from HWA. Sadly, he was even able to exploit them through their SS.

I really wish the RICO statutes could be applied to a church.


Anonymous said...

A UCG minister discussed their pending pension plan to the congregation in the year 2000. If the pension plan has been active, and the ministers are vested,the sheeple may be seeing the fossils that have been hanging on for the last few years finally leave. Of course your tithes will still be needed.

FYI Again said...

Retirement dilemma? What retirement dilemma? Since Jesus returned in 1975 and established the Kingdom of God we don't need no steenking retirement!

Anonymous said...

When terminated, the church told me to take my termination papers to a lawyer if I wished. I had ten days I believe to sign or risk losing the six mos. severance, during which is naively still pastored the local congregation. When the lawyer returned the papers she said..quote..."This is a church?" Yes...."Your fu__ed.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how little of true Christianity can be found in the Worldwide Church of Fraud.

The dirty little secret in America is that financial fraud pays. The "Armstrong law" to financial prosperity - if you want to dine with the classes, lie to the masses!

BambooBends said...

Any fans of the TV Series LOST out there?

Has anyone else noticed how the promise of "retirement money" by the WCG Executives to the ministry parallels the main theme of psychological manipulation on LOST?

The the mind bending leader "Ben" of "The Others" uses the hope and promise of "getting off the island" to control the behavior of those under his sway.

But the newcomer "John" blew up the submarine with C4 on the TV series, so Ben has to play a whole new game.

The WCG never intended to pay retirement to the ministry, anymore than "Ben" was going to let people go back home on his submarine. But the promise of such, kept people in check that would have otherwise expressed their minds.

The ministry sold its "soul" for a empty promise, except those shrewd UCG leaders who negotiated severance packages for themselves before leaving.

Perhaps it takes a manipulator to know one?

Anonymous said...

In case you'd like to read it from the actual forms.

"I understand that the above mentioned severance will cease if I become affiliated with a dissident church or organization.

Subject , of course, to my receipt of the consideration set forth above, I fully release, waive all claims against and forever discharge WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD, AMBASSADOR COLLEGE and AMBASSADOR FOUNDATION, now called "Plain Truth Ministries", all three of which are California no profitcorporations, and Ambassador University, a Texas corporaton...and their agents, employess, officers, diretors, trustees, representatives, attorneys, subsidiaries, related corporations or unincorporated associations, assigns, successors, and affiliated organizations (hereafter referred to collectively as the 'released parties...and each and every one of them, from any liabilities, claims, causes of action, charges, complaints, obligations, costs, losses, damages, injuries, attorney's fees, and other legal responsibilities of any form whatsoever, whether known or unknown, unforeseen, unanticipated or unsuspected, which I or my heirs, and or asigns have incurred, or expect to incure, or now own or hold, or have at any time heretofore, owned or held, or may at any time own, hold or claim to hold, by reason of any matter or thing arising from any cause whatsoever prior to the date of my execution of this release."

"I agree that this Release has been written in manner that is clear and understandable to me."

"I realize by signing this document I will be giving up all claims and all rights to future benefits I might have against or from the Released Parties or any of them to the date I execute this Release, including, among other things, any rights I might have under the federal Older Worker's Benefit Protection Act of 1990."

After I wrote to Bernie Schnippert, Omnipotent Lawyer of WCG. he said,

" We will miss you in your former capacity, but hope that all goes well for you in your new endeavors..."

So I was warmed and filled and lived happily ever after.

Once again, this is the double speak Joe Tkach Jr. always likes to speak about, but in the original Greek it means, "you're fu__ed."

Let us bow our heads brethren...

"May God Bless and Keep the administrators of the New Wildworld Church of God...far away from me."

Amen and Amen

Anonymous said...

I "owned" a 501-C3 (non-profit corp. able to take donations) once and it was automatically not part of the Social Security program. We had to fill out paperwork to "opt IN" to Social Security. At each hiring the option was explained and given, per requirement, I believe. Most chose not to and did their own retirement investing. Because WCG didn't take out SS from checks is merely the way 501-C3's work. Many people did many things thinking that the end was near. And alot of people who live fancy today, don't do their own retirement "thing" and will not be able to live at the same level once they reach retirement age. Then they will be complaining, too. It's amazing to me the judgements people make through ignorance. D.

Anonymous said...

Question: "Mr. Kelly...since we have been asked to opt of of SS upon graduation into the ministry and since the WCG has no stated retirement plan, what will be there for us as pastors when we needs retire?"

Answer: "Please don't worry, we will take care of you for your years of service to God's people."

Question: "Since I have been terminated for bugetary reasons, as you say, after 30 years of working for the church, can I expect to receive some kind of retirement when the time comes."

Answer: "Jesus has worked a great miracle in WCG and sorry to say, it has left us without any money."

Question: "Mr. much did all the property, assets and buildings sell for?"

Answer: "........................"

Ron Kelly is now a fully vested retiree from WCG and directior of the Dr. Joseph Tkach, geee religion has been good to us, False Fall Festival, as if we can't stay home for that, Praise and Worship Cruise for Jesus."

Anonymous said...

one of our former ministers from the 1980's in WCG had to take a job at Walmart after he left church employment. Is this not sad? He was a good person-- yes some were-- and did not deserve this. The opting out from Social Security should never have been allowed but it was and the some of the innocent had to pay dearly for the errors by Pasadena.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading in the AR that the Big Sandy campus was contemplated for a minister retirement complex. By the way is it still named Lake Loma?

BambooBends said...

How can a severance cease once you are part of another organization?

Isn't the very definition of a severance a "one time" lump payment meant to compensate one for loss? Its called liquidated damages.

What court in the land would force you to refund a one-time payment because one followed one's religious conscience? They couldn't even keep copyright to HWA's writings!

And if you refunded it, the very premise of "liquidated damages" would be moot, and you could very easily make the case for still be able to sue for damages.

A contract can say anything it wants, it doesn't mean its enforceable or even allowed by the courts.

Byker Bob said...

WCG and it's whoring daughters have always had an identity crisis. They can't seem to decide whether they are a Christian church, or a for profit business.

Somewhere, the concept of "calling" needs to come into play. Most of the people who ever worked for either the church or the college considered that to be their calling. Many really felt that they had no choice but to respond to that call. There was also a tremendous amount of implicit trust there, not only in the prophecies uttered by the founder, but also in a body which most called "God's Church".

Before everything became skewed, and HWA and Rader began to use third tithe to fund art collections and as security for loans and lines of credit, there were numerous examples of third tithe being used to aid widows, the elderly, and the poor. I believe one of the duties of the elders was in fact to administer these funds in their local congregations. Is it unusual, with such daily local examples in their own church areas that a minister would expect that the same care would be available to them as well?

I'm appalled by the attitudes of the people who are posting examples of common business practices in the secular world, and attempting to use them to give the WCG a pass on this! Churches in general are like Hebrew National Franks. They're supposed to be answering to a higher power than Uncle Sam. WCG in particular claims to have undergone a transformation of the heart!


Anonymous said...

Google is futsin up my password recognition evidently: Dennis Diehl

The fact is that Joseph Tkach Jr. and his cronies have gotten and will get away with not giving a rats ass about the literal needs of well meaning and sincerly motivated former employees. You know, the people who put food in his mouth all his life. They simply got away with it, rewarded themselves and kept the change.

Somehow, Karma, God, Jesus or plain old reaping what you sow must come to pass, but it still does not help those who need help as anyone would for service rendered, whether one agrees or not with it.

Bernie Schnippert, who I remember being kept on the payroll as a minister for Years, hardly able to do his job, as he was too sick or weak to pastor with some malady but then recovered to be WCG lawyer, has long ago forgotten where he put his mind and heart. I understand he lives nicely in the Pacific Northwest bragging about his grandchildren that lives near.

Don't kid yourself. If you do your homework on the UCG leadership that gets to move from Cinci to Texas, you'll see older men, who wish to administer, pastor and retire closer to their roots and grandchildren in the best of both worlds. I repent of having had shit for brains when it comes to serving this fake church.

Kodak did not fire my dad, nor eliminate his retirement when he bought Fuji film and a Canon Sure Shot.