Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A Farewell to Arms

This is likely, highly likely, to be the final Ambassador Watch or Otagosh posting. Those who know me as more than a cantankerous blogger also know that I've been fighting, without great success, a serious health situation. In the time I have left there are clearly other priorities, and I commend Gary's blog as a great place to keep "in the loop".

I guess I want to say that there's very little I regret. If I've horribly offended anyone unjustly, I apologize. There are a lot of good people in the COGs, battling on, as we all do, according to our best insights. The blogs will stay up, for what they're worth, even if only curiosity value.

Special thanks to everyone who has engaged in creative conversation here.

Gavin.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Giving air to the sprats

I've wondered more than once whether giving prominence to the tiddlers - the sprats - in the COG fishpond is counterproductive. There are, after all, the (usually) larger higher-profile splinters, and then a ratbag assortment of nutters with memberships south of a few thousand - or much less.

These sprats are hardly representative of the "greater" COG movement. I mean, James Malm? Gimme a break. Bob Thiel is little more (IMHO) than a legend in his own lunchtime. Even PCG with its mega-expensive investments in Edmond can command only a comparatively small membership of loyal donors (did somebody mention 6,000?)

More than that the Packatollah, Mark Armstrong, Weinland et al are doctrinally  among the most deviant of the splinters. Bob is a prophet? Do tell! Give them due credit, they're "innovative", but in this case it's hardly a compliment. It's so easy to cite these fringe folk and attribute their bizzareness to "Armstrongism" in general.

Of course this assortment of one-man ministries all trace themselves back to the Herbal Empire. So do a gaggle of polygamist sects to the Mormon and Community of Christ churches. But it would be highly unfair to confuse the more sophisticated LDS and CofC with their dipstick relatives. Similarly, Laestadian Lutherans are a million miles from the ELCA (or even the LCMS); confuse them at your peril.

My point - up for discussion - is that the big targets - the ones aiming for acceptance and respectability - are the ones to go for. Malm and co. are largely distractions, yelling, gibbering and whining from the sidelines. Their leaders inevitably die, and thus the organization, such as it is. Better perhaps to ignore them rather than provide them with unwarranted publicity. UCG, LCG, COGWA are the big three (you could argue PCG's case too). They set the benchmark in latter-day COGism. They're a bit duller and fuzzier than the screechers because they play church more successfully, but they, not the others, are nonetheless the standard bearers of British Israelism, an often oppressive tithing system and a nineteenth-century abuse of Bible texts to justify a silly, and often dangerous, non-understanding of what they call 'prophecy'. And they have the critical mass to survive leadership upheavals.

What do you think?

Friday, 28 October 2016

Is Halloween Evil? - responding to UCG

"The United Church of God would have us believe that Halloween is evil. It's hard to say, though, what that even means."


So begins a piece by Claire Lampen on News.Mic. Without giving away too much, it's fair to say that Claire isn't convinced. Apart from a link to UCG's website, she's wisely not getting bogged down on UCG's dubious biblical arguments (the same ones used by a host of related Churches of God) but seeks to provide some wide-ranging perspective on this very American festival.

It's a well written piece, but one the lads in Milford probably won't appreciate.




Monday, 24 October 2016

Homer Kizer RIP

One of the more interesting, and at times imperious, characters on the fringe of COGdom was Homer Kizer. His ever loyal wife and spokesperson, Carolyn Smith-Kizer posted this earlier today.
My DH, Homer Kizer, died yesterday. He asked me to lay hands on him and pray and then he was gone. We shared almost 22 years, full of bliss and interesting times--and he loved me--I could not have asked for more. When we first married, he wanted to bring me to Alaska--it took 22 years to get here, and Adak is not Dutch Harbor [where he said he first truly felt as if he were home], but he will be laid to rest in Alaska, and that is what he would have wanted. This is a picture of him carving at Metro Beach, Lac Ste. Claire, Michigan--he loved being a hewer of wood. 
Mr Kizer was for a long time a prime mover with the tangled fortunes of the Port Austin COG venture, adopting a role that was not without controversy. He was the author of a number of books available on Amazon, some with non-religious themes.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

After the Feast

Tomorrow (Monday) is the Last Great Day on the COG calendar. Lots of Feast sites in 2016, they seem to proliferate as competing sects vie for the annual holy day windfall. But overall attendance is another thing, and there you are more likely to see shrinkage. Contrary to the hi-de-hi "best feast ever" schlock, every year more people come away disillusioned with a take-away message "last feast ever".

The reasons are various, but few more poignant than this, posted a few days ago to an older thread where it would hardly be noticed. It deserves a wider circulation.
My wife to be is a member of RCG. She is at their feast of tabernacles in Arkansas. Today she calls me crying that some of the things they are preaching seam odd and even disturbing. I have listened to her explain her church and often joked about them being a cult. I felt I was hurting her feelings. But today as she cried to me she explained she had googled the church and came upon several sites like this. She fears it is true and she is scared and must endure this for a few more days before she can get home. I feel terrible for her but I haven't been there 1st hand. The more I read I pray to the god of love to bring her home safe. Please pray with me.
 The Feast, as observed by the Churches of God, is not a biblical observance. It was created in the early days of the Radio Church of God, completely ignoring the existing Jewish tradition. The influence of ministers like Pack demonstrates just how woefully shallow and manipulative it can become.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Privilege and Entitlement in Denial - Tabor & Alexander

Poor Dr. James Tabor. He "almost drove off the road" when he heard the interview with Jerald Walker (see earlier story).

"what he said about Mr. Armstrong and the Church as a whole was completely incorrect and bogus--that only "Whites" would be in the Kingdom of God, that blacks were an inferior species, and on and on...I realize the WCG had its flaws but this is very unfortunate. Most of us in the academic field of Religious Studies object to the label of "cult" for any religion anyway--the problem is who is doing the labeling."

Completely incorrect and bogus? What's James been smoking? Technically you can indeed argue that "officially" WCG taught no such thing, but most of us know that the reality in the pulpit and pews was far, far different. The racist culture  in WCG was undeniable, even as far away as Auckland, New Zealand where Frederick "Jack" Croucher made comments from the pulpit that demeaned Black people and Maori, delivered with a laugh. It was the "Israelites" who would have pride of place in the super-fascist World Tomorrow. Doesn't James remember what his onetime mentor Rod Meredith preached and wrote?

As for the use of the word 'cult', I tend to agree with Tabor. It's a loaded term with multiple meanings and scholars tend to avoid such pejorative terms, leaving them to popular writers who have an ax to grind. But Walker isn't a religious academic, and in the context of his personal experience I'm not about to tell him not to use it.

Racing in to back up Tabor - from the good lord knows where - comes a voice from the distant past, Gary Alexander, a former Plain Truth writer and author of a dismal little booklet called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Alexander has had a checkered career post WCG, covered in some depth back in Ambassador Report 27 (April 1984), subhead "Alexander does prison time". 

"In these days of high racial tension, fueled in large part by everyone taking pictures of everything and extrapolating each incident into an overarching trend, readers assume everything Jerrald [sic] Walker says must be true, but he was not in the belly of the beast, as we were.  He didn't understand our teachings.  He was, as the book excerpt cited above shows, a kid who peaked [sic] out the window on Halloween and wished that he were allowed to trick-and-treat, like any other kid."

And so Alexander, who like Tabor was part of the self-entitled elite "back in the day", demeans and devalues Walker's experience... he was just "a kid" who wanted to do trick and treat. That's a horrible and completely facile misrepresentation.



No, Jerald Walker clearly wasn't "in the belly of the beast." Excuse the French, but that's the whole bloody point. The vile influence on lay members - and especially kids - of church culture and teaching, especially given the off the cuff remarks and climate of contempt for imagined 'non-Israelites'. Walker is telling it as he remembers it, and as it impacted on his life and that of his family. His is an honest account of what it was like growing up in the Chicago church. Tabor and Alexander might want to hide behind official teaching, but what was official teaching in a time when the 'truth' was whatever was served up in the pulpit, in church magazines and booklets that were often re-edited, withdrawn and replaced?These were the days before the Systematic Theology Project (STP), and many of us remember what happened to that.

Alexander pleads for old timers to head off to Amazon and give a 'balanced' review of Walker's book. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I've heard a lot of folk deny that the Worldwide Church of God was inherently racist, let alone "white supremacist." But as I recollect, none of them grew up as African-Americans in the bonds of their parent's beliefs. Tabor isn't listening. Nor, obviously, is Alexander.

And that's a very different starting place from individuals who enjoyed a place of privilege and entitlement in the church. Dr. Tabor and Mr. Alexander might consider that carefully before continuing in knee-jerk mode.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Journal - 188th issue

Well, well, well...

Where does one begin in outlining the features in the latest Journal (September 30)?

Is it the surprise appearance of a front-page article by Dixon Cartwright (continued with photographs further in the issue) announcing new courses at Meredith/Weston "Living University"?

Or the full page ad on page 8 for the said institution?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is a tectonic shift in policy for LCG which to the best of my knowledge, has never advertised in The Journal before but treated it with a sniffy disdain. A 'Westonly' breeze blowing in from Charlotte? Will any of the other major players now follow suit?

Is it Graeme McChesney's lighthearted letter to the editor, which is an excellent contrast to the usual earnest drivel? But hey, I'm biased, McChesney is a fellow Kiwi.

Is it the unexpected article by Gary Arvidson that focuses on former minister Howard Clark's "miraculous" healing from a spinal injury? This subject has been discussed (and researched) at length recently - though not in public mode. It could be that, now the Arvidson piece is out, you hear more on this subject.

Or is it Lonnie Hendrix's shock horror (to me at least - didn't see it coming) survey of correspondence between CGI Jamaica's Ian Boyne both here and on Gary Leonard's blog some time back. Dear sweet lord, an article about Ian in The Journal that Ian hasn't written himself! I'm not exactly sure how to respond, but give me time, give me time...

All in all it's a truly fascinating issue. Downloadable as always.

Quick update: just posted over at Kathleen's Dying for God's Sake; Howard Clark's Healing.

WCG: A White Supremacist Doomsday Cult

I've heard a lot of folk deny that the Worldwide Church of God was inherently racist, let alone "white supremacist." As I recollect, none of them grew up as African-Americans in the bonds of their parent's beliefs.

Jerald Walker, however, did. His story is told here along with a short (9 minute) interview on WBUR which, in my opinion, is riveting listening. Walker is highly articulate, and this is no mere rant. He is now a professor at Emerson College and his book The World in Flames adds to the chickens coming home to roost.
When The World in Flames begins, in 1970, Jerry Walker is six years old. His consciousness revolves around being a member of a church whose beliefs he finds not only confusing but terrifying. Composed of a hodgepodge of requirements and restrictions (including a prohibition against doctors and hospitals), the underpinning tenet of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God was that its members were divinely chosen and all others would soon perish in rivers of flames.
The substantial membership was ruled by fear, intimidation, and threats. Anyone who dared leave the church would endure hardship for the remainder of this life and eternal suffering in the next. The next life, according to Armstrong, would arrive in 1975, three years after the start of the Great Tribulation. Jerry would be eleven years old.
Jerry’s parents were particularly vulnerable to the promise of relief from the world’s hardships. When they joined the church, in 1960, they were living in a two-room apartment in a dangerous Chicago housing project with the first four of their seven children, and, most significantly, they both were blind, having lost their sight to childhood accidents. They took comfort in the belief that they had been chosen for a special afterlife, even if it meant following a religion with a white supremacist ideology and dutifully sending tithes to Armstrong, whose church boasted more than 100,000 members and more than $80 million in annual revenues at its height.
When the prophecy of the 1972 Great Tribulation does not materialize, Jerry is considerably less disappointed than relieved. When the 1975 end-time prophecy also fails, he finally begins to question his faith and imagine the possibility of choosing a destiny of his own.
The World in Flames is published by Beacon Press and is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Full Monte

Monte Wolverton has a new futuristic/Christian apologetic book out: The Remnant. It's described by Monte as "a physical and spiritual expedition through a dystopian world." I hope Monte's writing style is better in the book.

Wolverton acknowledges that The Remnant fits in the Christian fiction genre, though he's not keen on pigeonholing it.

"Well, I'd rather not have this lumped in with the Christian fiction genre. I suppose it's technically Christian fiction, but I wanted it to reach a broader readership. Regular readers don't want to be slobbered on with lots of syrupy religious language. I personally find that off-putting. Christians would get more traction in the world if we made an effort to be—normal. As C.S. Lewis once said, "The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature."'


Greg Albrecht's CWR is, as expected, in donkey-deep with the publication, which doesn't infuse me with any great enthusiasm. As "an award winning author" you'd think Monte could find a more credible publisher. So no, I won't be ordering a copy personally, mainly because the plot line doesn't particularly appeal (dystopian futures? [Dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.] Christianity meets Mad Max? Whatever happened to optimistic sci-fi?) though I have a good deal of genuine respect for Monte's non-religious work - how could anyone not appreciate his his brilliant caricatures and 'toons'.

More information at CWR and an interview. The bio statement underneath the interview reveals that Monte "is an ordained minister", but then leaves it hanging. Surely not GCI? Please, tell us it ain't so! C'mon Monte, spill the beans.

Monday, 3 October 2016

More on CCC - the non-COG British Israel sect

Peter Lineham
[Previous postings on CCC (the Commonwealth Covenant Church): February 2016 (The Curious Case of the CCC); September 2016 (BI Church in the News).]
'PERFECT' FOR ABUSE
Massey University history professor Peter Lineham​ says the CCC presents "a really peculiar story in some ways".
The church fused Pentecostal beliefs with British Israelism, a belief the Anglo-Celtic people and similar groups were descendants of the mythical Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
He cautions against calling the CCC a cult, but is not surprised to hear some of the claims against it.
"Within the tightness of a small church group, it's a perfect place for bad behaviour to take place because people feel caught up in loyalty and will disempower people against a leader if a leader is accused of abuse."
The latest chapter in the sad story of the Commonwealth Covenant Church as survivors speak out. If you judge a movement like British Israelism by its fruits it's hard it imagine you'll find anything edifying.

Some of Lineham's commons fit like a glove with the WCG experience... or more latterly PCG, RCG, ICG, LCG etc. You'll find the article here.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

BI threatens to bring down "Farmer Bill"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Oh how very impressive

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

Then there's Living University.



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

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

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

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

Keep pouring in those tithe dollars brethren.

Dear Doctor Don

(HT to Gary on the Banned blog)

Dear Doctor Don

Re. your sermon of September 1.

An important message doesn't have to be an hour long - let alone nearly 80 minutes. If you can't say it effectively in 20 you're a very poor speaker.

A sermon doesn't need to have highly selective proof texts - piled up in a steaming heap and read aloud in full every time - as if the congregation are congenitally challenged illiterate dummies.

Nice admission that WCG at one stage embraced a version of the traditional Roman Catholic Petrine document. You seem pleased that's all past history, but do you recollect who it came from? Clue: his initials were HWA. Don, a question: did you speak up against this nonsense at that time?

Rambling and over-explanation are cheap fillers, not matters of substance.

It helps to actually get to the point sooner rather than laying out a long trail of breadcrumbs. Who has an 80 minute attention span? It amazes me you didn't start yawning yourself half-way through. Even Ron Dart in his prime would have found that difficult.

"Gainsayers" (your word) often bear a prophetic word to established structures. You're supposed to be a smart dude (18 hours of graduate theology at Southern Methodist... though that's a bit underwhelming); surely you know about the tension between prophets and priests in the Old Testament. Question: which of these two groups do we remember and value today?

What do we take from the fact that you're preaching an authoritarian message and currently hold the office of chairman of the UCG Council of Elders? Speaking "ex cathedra" are we?

You and I were both "on deck" back in the day (you in an important role, most of the rest of us in total lay obscurity) when it became a survival skill to "read between the lines" in the GN and Worldwide News. They were used to soften-up the membership for potentially upsetting developments. Gary and others suspect there's a subtext to your sermon about ministerial authority. So let's ask directly... are there storm clouds on the horizon? An impending putsch? You and the rest of COGdom know there's plenty of precedent for that. Don't you think it's dumb not to be open and honest about such things, and to let in some sunlight and fresh air by allowing threat-free debate and discussion?

Rhetorical questions don't need to be answered immediately after you ask them.

"If one of the ministers ceased to be faithful..." (around 54m). Finally getting to the point Don? "You better look before you leap." The "H word" appears more often - heresy.

Hmm.

You seem to think that you've provided a "sound expository sermon." Well, you might get some debate there, especially on grounds of "sound."

Dredging up 1974 and the Associated Churches of God? Talk about living in the past. What happened to those reportedly 10,000 folk? Most of them transitioned to freedom and autonomy.

Your real take-away message comes around 1.12. Those aren't just clouds on the horizon, that could well be a twister. You sound defeatist already. "Hold fast." Translation: batten down the hatches brethren!

There must have been a lot of depressed people walking out of services that day.

In New Zealand sheep farming is fairly common. You use the sheep analogy early in your message. I don't know how it's done in East Texas, but here sheep are herded by sheep dogs. It's quite an art form, controlled by whistles and verbal commands. The most common one is "Get in Behind!"

Which I think would have made a far better title for your sermon.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The other "Watch"

Ambassador Watch and Twenty-first Century Watch. Not to be confused.

The latter is the quarterly rag produced by the remnants of the Holy Family, the Armstrongs; namely Mark, grandson of Herb and son of Ted.

The Living Armstrongism blog describes the MA style as "venomous, misanthropic invective". I completely agree. MA's writing drips with bitterness and stereotyping. It's hard to imagine anything less likely to reflect the sermon on the mount. It's a loveless message that owes more to nationalistic exceptionalism and loathing of progressive views than anything you'd identify with the teachings of Jesus.

When it comes to political invective, this Watch leaves little to the imagination. MA and his colleagues just spew it forth. If CGI is the slightly brighter side of Armstrongism, ICG - the gloriously misnamed Intercontinental Church of God (which seems to be a pet poodle sect tied to Mark Armstrong's Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association) is a bilious cul de sac.

TFCW has an editorial policy wrapped up in misanthropic and shallow readings of Bible passages. In the latest issue:
  • MA has a hernia over "the Green solution to terror". Hint: Green isn't a good word in the Armstrong vocabulary.
  • James Ricks provides a Bible Study (??) on the perils of socialism. How seriously you take a guy who thinks Karl Marx is spelled Carl Marx I'm not sure.
  • Michael Armstrong (another member of the Holy Family?) postures as an expert on Venezuela. 
  • Garner Ted Armstrong is exhumed once again with an article on heaven.
  • MA is back to fire spitballs at the pope over his willingness to engage in dialogue with an Islamic leader.
  • The other features seem to be lifted from various politically agreeable sources.
Then there's a selection of wheedling letters from like-minded souls.
Dear Mr. Armstrong,
Praise God for your grandfather, your Dad, and you! The USA needs more of your kind. Thank you so much for this information. I agree one hundred percent!
I can think of only one reason to download this drivel... simply to keep one's disgust fresh.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Who's the nuttiest of them all?

There are some interesting cult leaders out there in the GOGisphere. Some may be sane, some not. But who gets your vote for the loopiest?

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that the gentleman mentioned below is anything other than a fine bloke, kind to children and small animals. Nor am I suggesting he's insane or a charlatan in the Elmer Gantry sense. He's probably thoroughly sincere in the "grumpy old man" sense of sincere. And, dear lord, don't we have a total saturation-level of grumpy old men in and around the COG conversations these days? It goes with an aging demographic. You get a fair taste of that even here on the various threads. A triumphalist contempt for anyone who doesn't see eye to eye with a previous published comment.

Every now and then - but not too often - I check to see whether Willie Dankenbring is still in the land of the living. He is, and still producing his Prophecy Flash newsletter. Willie, once a prominent Plain Truth writer, has a very low profile these days, but obviously still has a following of aging groupies. I've confessed before that, "back in the day", I had a good deal of respect for the guy, and still (goodness knows why) have most of his 1970s hardback books stashed away with a whole lot of other obscure "lit" from times past.

But time moves us on, and Willie has long since hardened into a prophetic prognosticator with an unenviable record for dismal failure. Not only that, but his writing is imbued with a hatred of anything smacking of reason and - heaven forbid - liberalism. In fact, he's so over the top that even the neo-con-leaning Beyond Today staff would doubtless cringe at his expostulations. He's right up there with Mark Armstrong, maybe leading by a head.

The latest issue of Prophecy Flash is available to download (known by some as Prophecy Flush). It makes Bob Thiel's rag look concise and focused by comparison, with long rambling articles.

Which is saying something.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Good Book

James Pate, a biblioblogger with some previous WCG experience behind him, has just reviewed the Book of Mormon. You'll find a link to James' blog in the sidebar. I'm struck with admiration, personally being of the same view as Mark Twain on this noble literary confection: chloroform in print. How did James stay awake to complete his task? In any case it's a fair and well written review, quite short, and definitely worth checking out.

I have an alternative suggestion for James however, and confess to be currently making my way through it. The Good Book by (sort of) A. C. Grayling. It's a compendium (kind of) of wise advice, observations and insight from some of the greatest writers in history, from ancient Rome to the modern day. Grayling has melded them together as "a secular Bible". Moreover, he's organised them into 17 biblical-style books; Genesis (nothing like the original), Wisdom, Parables, Proverbs, Acts... you get the idea.

The text is a bit uneven at times - I really didn't like Sages. But much - most - is helpful and enlightening. Dare one say inspirational? Nothing religious at all.

At the risk of being stoned, and based on what I've read so far (this isn't the kind of tome you want to speed-read through) I highly recommend it. Nothing here to offend any person of goodwill, Christian, Atheist or otherwise, and much to ponder. In due course I'll probably post a few quotes.

Better than the Bible? I wouldn't want to comment. Better than the Book of Mormon. Absolutely!

"I Must Go Down to the Sea Again..."

"So where is this bl*%dy sea?"
I must go down to the sea again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there - 
I wonder if they're dry? 

Spike Milligan

I believe there's another earlier version of that verse, but Milligan is a personal favourite, so let's begin there.

I've been neglectful of Paul Davidson's excellent blog Is That In The Bible? and have only just come across his latest post on that famous biblical body of water, the Sea of Galilee. You know, stormy waters, ships foundering. You find it appearing in our first canonical gospel, Mark.

Davidson has one of those inquiring minds that makes me feel quite dense by comparison. He doesn't blog frequently, but when he does, watch out. His is a voice of reasoned discourse, and he documents his ideas and conclusions with great care. He uses the word "nerdy" in a self-deprecating way, but despite not being in the hallowed academy, he runs rings around those self-serving apologists who have gathered the wagons around to defend the often indefensible.

Anyway, the question in this case is, did the author of Mark just plain invent the Sea of Galilee? It's a question I never considered before, but Paul lays out the evidence. Absolutely intriguing.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

To See Ourselves...

... as others see us.


I'm sorry I can't embed this, so you'll have to cross over to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wdzPwpb0_8

This is the CGI "Bring On the Sabbath" episode for Friday night. Wes White does a six minute monologue on websites like Ambassador Watch and Banned by HWA (without naming either). He takes a conciliatory position, conceding that we provide some kind of valid service. Well, what do you know? The whole show lasts 90 minutes, but the relevant section begins just before 17:00.

I'm really interested in what you think of Wes' comments.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Wes White on Politics

This is a short excerpt from the article appearing in the latest issue of The Journal. (see previous entry). The entire publication can be downloaded.

Journal photo
Many branches of the Church of God have become so establishment (some more than others) that they are openly right-wing Republican in their sermons. (I would mention COGs that have leftist leanings, but I have not run across any yet.)

Others are more subtle in their efforts to promote Republicanism. Their less-blatant approach keeps politics out of the pulpit, but the members receive the leaders’ promotions of the Fox News line via E-mails, tweets and Facebook posts.

It is indeed a problem when our people equate right-wing Republicanism with Christianity. Yes, some areas overlap between Christianity and Republicanism, things like our teachings against abortion and homosexuality.

But the liberals also have some overlap with Christianity when it comes to things like helping the poor and forgiving sinners.

No political party can be labeled as the party that represents the beliefs of
the Church of God.

Let’s be frank. When many of us left the WCG we moved away fromthings like top-down church government, the one true church and an endtime apostle. It was good that we rejected those teachings.

But the rejection of other teachings has not always had a beneficial effect on the Body of Christ. For example, even though the WCG was conservative in many ways, our leaders discouraged us from getting involved in politics.

Now that we are free to embrace worldly politics, many of our people do so to such a degree that it is a detriment to their prayer, Bible study and
service to the church.

When a congregation starts aligning itself with the Republican Party, it immediately alienates many minorities and young people.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Journal - 187th issue

The Journal has its critics, but I don't count myself among them. Setting aside the issue of the awful advertising section (a print publication obviously has its costs, and publishers can't afford to be choosy) the editorial policy is remarkably open. Old time Herbalists rub shoulders - or column inches - with more progressive voices. It's a remarkable balance that Dixon Cartwright maintains... and obviously he also has views of his own which he is remarkably constrained in presenting.

If you want proof The Journal isn't just a lapdog publication pushing a traditional COG line, witness the lack of enthusiasm for it among the major (and many minor) COG sects. When was the last time you saw an ad - or even a press release - from the United Church of God appearing in its pages. Or COGWA? LCG? PCG? RCG? These bodies - some more-so than others  - like to control information, putting it through the PR spin cycle before releasing it to the membership. For them The Journal is a nuisance factor they'd rather not deal with. Problematically for them, many of their members are of a different opinion.

All of which is preamble to a piece appearing in this issue by Wes White. Provocatively titled "Come ye, my people, out of the Republican Party", the title does it scant justice.
"The Church of God stands at a crossroads. Some see that current demographics are not in our favor and that many of our aging congregations will wither and die within a decade or so. Some realize there needs to be a change in how we approach evangelism and feeding the flock, but they don’t know what to do. Some agree that we must do a better job of bringing in younger people and keeping the young people we have or we will go the way of Shaker extinction... The purpose of this article is to suggest that the Churches of God consider a major paradigm shift. It’s obvious that our methods are not growing our groups. If we are to reverse the gentrification trend in the church, we must make major changes."
Seldom a truer word said.

Of course many blog readers will be unimpressed having long ago abandoned any hope that the COGs could or should become kinder, gentler and more humane. Bring on the Shaker dissolution! Fair enough, it's a position I have some sympathy for, but that doesn't wash so well among those who remain on the fringes, locked in by residual belief, family, identity or just plain nostalgia.

The issues Wes White identifies are not all exactly those I'd identify with - but he certainly has a number of important ones in his sights. His list:

  • Intolerance and homophobia
  • The quality of hymns
  • Brazenly pro--Republican politics 
  • "Talking head" evangelism by men in suits
  • Racism
  • Anti-science positions
  • Self-righteous contempt for those outside the mainstream
  • Uncritical endorsement of the State of Israel

It's an article worth reading. You can be pretty sure the duffers in their suits will screw up their noses at what he has to say, but so what. That's the advantage of having an independent publication that can provide a forum for ideas like these, a place where the leaders have little power to shut down a conversation. White concludes:
"It is my belief that the current leadership of the Church of God will probably not agree with these observations and will continue in their current directions. However, it is my prayer that the ecclesia of the future will recognize the futility of these approaches and make a major paradigm shift after we have all gone on to sleep with our fathers."
That hope may be forlorn; too little too late, but I admire him for his stand.

Next time a further excerpt from the White article. Meantime the entire issue can be downloaded.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Thiel Spiel

I apologize. AW has been woefully neglectful of the CCG and its wondrously gifted prophet Bob Thiel. That's partly because Bob is irrelevant, given to delusions of competence and self-proclaimed master of a puddle-sized splinter sect, but nonetheless he battles on, secure in his own fantasies, and he does manage to attract some small attention from two groups; those few poor souls who take him seriously and those who think he's just plain bizarre.

In any case, the quarterly Bob magazine, grandiosely titled Bible News Prophecy (shouldn't that be Bible News and Prophecy?) is out there and ready for eager readers to devour the prophet's primer-level, semi-literate prose. Two dead men wrote a couple of the articles - handily copyright free from long ago. One was Herb Armstrong (lifted from a 1977 PT), the other by Dibar Apartian (from a 1966 GN). 1966 - dear lord, that was the year before they relaunched Dragnet! Too bad Sergeant Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon aren't around now to knock on Bob's door and sort the poor schmuck out. Apartian has been claimed by Thiel as a silent supporter of his unique gifts and a critic of his onetime idol-turned-nemesis, Rod Meredith, despite retaining his status as an evangelist in Meredith's Living Church of God at the time of his death, so Bob is attempting to twist the knife. Mind you, I doubt the old fossils who run things over in Charlotte have even noticed.

Apart from the reruns of Herb and Dibar's stuff, everything else comes from the prophet's very own pen. The lead article screams PROTESTANTS: BEWARE of the ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT!

Bob, sit down and let me explain something to you. Protestant churches - with the exception of a number of fundamentalist retard denominations - created the ecumenical movement.

Oh well.

To be honest, in my view Bob is a complete dead end. His tiny Continuing Church of God is a vanity project that has a future only as long as Bob's personal longevity, and nobody lives forever. I guess it generates a nice little income in the meantime. So why bother even mentioning him? Well, Bible News Prophecy is, if nothing else, a sobering example - or mildly amusing if you think of it from another angle - of extreme nuttiness and dilettantism parading in proof-texting drag. As they say, whatever spins your wheels...

Downloadable (but not recommended).

Sunday, 4 September 2016

As the Days of Herb Were

Wouldn't you know it, the lads at COGWA's Discern magazine have an article called Who Would Jesus Vote For? Erik Jones seems to have been channeling Rod Meredith. Nothing new under the dying Herbal sun.

Discern is the magazine you're having when you're not having a magazine. It's an el cheapo download... no hard copy subscriptions. Like other COG publications, it provides a constant stream of "ain't it awful" commentary. The world is going to wrack and ruin, nobody is keepin' the Ten Commandments, and the only hope left is a strong hand from someplace (nod, wink, the return of a militant Christ to smash recalcitrant kneecaps). Cue the article by Jim Franks, the sort of thing that wouldn't have been out of place in a 1940s Plain Truth.

David Treybig has his eye on the ancient enemy, Satan the Devil, and has helpfully written an article called Satan: A Profile. No mention of dualistic Zoroastrian mythology imported into Judaism. Hmm, wonder why. Could it be Dave doesn't know that stuff.

Jeremy Lallier writes about visionaries. His examples are biblical characters. Mike Bennett asks one of the dumber rhetorical questions: Is God Fair?

Behold brethren, a woman writer! Scott Ashley take note! Becky Sweat has a three-page article entitled You Don't Say! Neal Hogberg writes about modern-day slavery. Erik Jones returns with another piece on where the popular image of Jesus ("pale, long-haired") came from. Actually, I think Erik is caught in a time warp. Contemporary portrayals have changed from the doe-eyed Nordic dude to a more realistic image of a Palestinian Jew.

Joel Meeker writes his usual column - heaven knows why - and the back page promotes COGWA's laughably silly e-book called, ahem, The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy. Knock yourself out.

Downloadable... in fact, that's the only way you'll get a copy.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Regurgitating the Herbal hooey

Are the old boys at LCG even capable of an original feature article concept? Nope. They just regurgitate the same old, same old from years - decades - gone by.

How Would Jesus Vote for President? Gimme a break. Halloween Horrors? Oh please...

But, what me worry, here's the skinny on the September/October issue.

Rod "Spanky" Meredith provides an editorial called "Admit the Cause of Problems." Ironic really, but I guess the man is totally incapable of any form of introspection. Rod's solution is the Ten Commandments.

Rod immediately follows up with the feature article, How Would Jesus Vote for President? It has as much relevance as which brand of cola Jesus would drink. For those of us outside the US it's also hard not to wonder why Jesus wouldn't be as interested in how they vote in Australia, Sweden or India. Myopic Meredith. Anyway, bottom line, its Satan's world, and apparently Spankyites should steer clear of the whole, evil electoral thing. I'd be willing to guess that a large number don't, though. The secret is not to let your LCG minister know - what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Anyway, he'll probably be ticking Trump too.

More politics (but don't vote!) as Laurence Hartshorne burbles on about life in Canada and governments at the turn of past century.

Richard Ames writes on The End of the World. Nothing new here, move along.

Simon R.D. Roberts provides a British focus. He's been reading Simon Schama and has decided to bless TW readers with his insightful thoughts - specifically on "The Norman Apocalypse." Of course BI is tied in. You can almost hear Schama groaning.

Rod McNair bursts a valve over Halloween. Jonathan McNair has a twee youth oriented column that no self-respecting teen would be bothered with.

Dougie Winnail has a lightweight piece about the coming of Jesus Christ as a turning point in world history. Wally Smith seeks to educate us about hummingbirds. Mark Sandor wonders if you've missed the "long predicted" Brexit developments.

Yes, it's a precious and original issue. Downloadable. Just to be fair to the lads over in UCG, it's worth pointing out that no female writer was let near the editor's in-tray here either.

BI Commonwealth Covenant Church in the News

Back in February I wrote a piece on the Commonwealth Covenant Church, once New Zealand's largest British Israelite sect. Today it's in the news again, despite being relegated to history for many years.

"Two former church members, one of whom was sexually abused as a girl, say the organisation they grew up in was a "cult" in which multiple abuses were carried out.

"Sophia and her cousin Anna believe the old Commonwealth Covenant Church was as much a cult as any higher-profile religious group such as the Gloriavale community on the West Coast.

"Now 36, Sophia – not her real name – says when she first raised sexual abuse allegations in the 1990s, she and her mother were bullied into leaving the church.

"Sophia and Anna spent much of their youth in the CCC, based in urban centres, including Lower Hutt.

"Jonathan John Edward Belcher, now living in Masterton, was jailed for the offending against Sophia. 

"This week, he said he had served his time, and was a changed man after undertaking a programme for sex offenders while in prison.

"Though a jury found Belcher guilty, and the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, he still accused Sophia of lying.

"She believes he is not remorseful, and wants nothing to do with him.

"The detective who investigated the case, Miles Horsnell​, said Sophia's case was one of the most disturbing he worked on."

"Sophia said the secrecy and patriarchal nature of the CCC was a factor in Belcher's abuse, which began when she was 4...

"And when she raised allegations years later, she said the church dealt with those claims internally, rather than going to police."

"The church in the 1980s and 90s was a cloistered, sexist institution, she said.

"We had really strict rules. Boys and girls weren't allowed to associate. We weren't allowed to cut our hair. No makeup.

"Women were taught to be subservient ... your place was to have babies."

"Sophia and Anna were both certain other CCC children were abused. Anna said some were removed from their parents at times "and sent to other people in the church environment, which was very damaging".

"Both women wanted others to come forward, but acknowledged how difficult it was to do so.

"Anna said the church had a deeply paranoid world view, and members who left had difficulty adjusting to society. "We were completely paranoid of outsiders ... We didn't tell the authorities anything."

"Church leader Stanley Watkins ruled with an iron fist, members were micro-managed, the fear of hell put into them constantly, and during this time a child she knew was taken away from his parents, Anna said.

'"It's really hard for me to talk about ... I know some of [Watkins' relatives] and I don't believe they're bad people."'

"After Watkins' death, the church underwent reforms in the mid-90s, the old power structure was disestablished, and some genuine changes made as the new Hope Centre was established, she said."

The full article is available here.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Beyond Belief

The latest issue of Beyond Today, published by the United Church of God, has been released. For a religious magazine, the cover seems incongruous, pimped as a current events magazine.

Inside:

Scott Ashley with an editorial on the Feast of Tabs.

Scott Ashley again with the lead article on "real leadership" (fitting in with the scary cover art). Alas, I'm not convinced Scott is much of an expert on this subject.

Tom Robinson stirring the pot on "The Immigration Threat."

Darris McNeely posturing as an instant expert on Brexit. Oh how exciting, Darris has it all tied in with prophecy. How unique!

Jerold Aust with a inspirational piece on "God's Greatest Miracle". Somehow he works his way from photosynthesis to the God Family.

Steve Myers on the Feast of Tabernacles.

Dear old Mario Seiglie with another festival article. Who'd have thought this was a festival issue with a cover like that!

Darris is back with a few thoughts about wise and foolish virgins in the parable.

Robin Webber on the holy spirit.

Some anonymous dude writing on "Amazing Examples of Prophecies Already Fulfilled". I wouldn't want my name on that article either.

Peter Eddington on low fuel in the gas tank. I couldn't be bothered to even skim this one, but I'll put a dollar on it being some kind of cheap metaphor.

Now brethren, do we notice anything here? Where are the articles by women? None. Not even a token women writing about something fluffy like the joy of flower arrangement for Sabbath services. Just when you thought the old fellows in the UCG were catching up with the 1980s (obviously the 2010s are way beyond them) they pull out a 100% chest-pounding old boy issue. Guys, guys, guys, time to retire. And to make it worse, still no women listed in the staff box.

Can we all say "misogynist" together?

Available online.


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Olympics and the Ambassador legacy

Sarah Sneider
An article in the Pasadena Independent (August 25) connects Olympic success with the long-closed Ambassador College and the work of Harry Sneider.

In Five Things We Can Learn From Olympians Sarah Sneider reflects on the role of AC in times past. It's a short piece, heavy on references to the late coach and the campus.

"Late Coach Harry Sneider trained 20 athletes in nine different sports for the 1984 Olympics and was nominated Olympic Track and Field Coach. Training and coaching these Olympians in Pasadena at Ambassador College, it was evident they all have five similar character traits. What do they all have in common?"

What follows are five fairly obvious traits. Sneider continues:

"Ambassador College in Pasadena closed in 1990 and many of the buildings of the former Ambassador College campus have been torn down and replaced with condos. In spite of the many changes to the former campus, ironically the gymnasium, Olympic-size swimming pool, racquetball courts, fitness center buildings, and track (now a football field) where the Olympians once trained still remain and are currently used by Maranatha High School. The original dining center where the Olympians enjoyed wonderful meals and the beautiful Ambassador Auditorium also still remain."

The concluding blurb mentions that "Sarah Sneider, winner of nine gold medals in the recent California Senior Games, continues Harry Sneider’s legacy along with her son Rob, a two-time All-American volleyball player who played professionally in Switzerland. They are professional fitness trainers..."

It may be a bit of an advertorial, but some interesting comments.

The David defense

Remember the "David Defense"? King David was a jerk, a murderer, an adulterer and occasionally not at all right in the head. Cruel, sadistic, and yet he was "a man after God's own heart." If David could be such a person, well, the least we could do is overlook modern ministerial peccadilloes (cue in those rumours about Garner Ted and airline stewardesses, and later Herb and Dorothy).

You'd have thought the enlightened pastors of Joe Tkach's GCI would know to steer well clear of that sort of thing these days, restricting themselves to indecipherable "Trinitarian theology" and making vacuous statements of the kind Ted Johnston does. Apparently not. Not in Eau Claire, Wisconsin anyway.

"Pastor" Roger Galstad wrote on this very topic for the local paper, the Leader Telegraph, in July.

Rog sets out the obvious dilemma. Solution: "David sinned big, and he repented even bigger."

What?

The David stories are part of the national epic of ancient Israel, cobbled together out of disparate sources. Archaeology confirms that major parts of the Davidic kingdom tales are highly fictionalized. The writers of this not-so-historical material weren't greatly interested in either historical accuracy or ethical excellence. Rog seems totally oblivious to all this, biblical background seems to totally evade him. Rog is an unreconstructed literalist. Does he really think David wrote Psalm 51 (hint, check a good commentary).

It's all a bit of surprise in that Roger was awarded a Ph.D in religious studies in 2012. You'd think he'd know this stuff. Mind you, the institution (Trinity College, Newburgh, IN) is described as "a conservative evangelical Bible college", mainly offers distance degrees (including their prestigious Ph.D) and is - surprise - unaccredited.

But putting scholarship issues aside, this is just the old self-serving argument dredged up from decades past. "Mr. Ted Armstrong may have done some things which he now regrets, but he's repented and you need to forget it." Then Ted would write articles in the Good News warning of the danger of spreading wicked rumours, just in case we hadn't got the message.

Until, that is, the next time Ted had zipper failure. But no worries, Ted repented again, and again. He was a compulsive repenter. I recollect a sermon he gave in his CGI days where, having just finished writing Peter's Story he proclaimed loudly that he had burned out the very last of his sinful egotism and self obsession.

Turned out he hadn't, as anyone with half a brain could have known just by listening to such a ludicrous statement.

And Roger hasn't moved beyond these kindergarten apologetics?

You may be able to take the preacher out of Armstrongism, but it seems you can't always take Armstrongism out of the preacher.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Quit pickin' on Joe

It always amazes me when people don't "get" the problem with the way Joe Tkach's GCI is set up.
"As for the board members, who should they be? Who would be the voting populaton [sic]? The general membership of GCI? Should there be the travesty like our current national elections carried out in GCI?"
GCI isn't a private company, it's supposed to be a church, a non-profit. It claims a membership. A church needs lines of accountability that ensure that membership is fairly served. It needs officers who serve at the membership's pleasure. It needs lines of accountability that flow both ways - no just accountability of the "members" to the leaders, but even more importantly the leaders to the members.

The Episcopal Lie

GCI claims to be organized on an episcopal basis. That's a fiction. There was no talk of any such thing until the receivership crisis. Prior to that WCG (as it was then known) operated on a legally different basis. Not that it lived up to those obligations; that was one of the big issues that underlay the action by the State of California. The near-papal claims that then conveniently emerged - and the reorganization as a corporate sole - were little more than a ruse to avoid its obligations. Joe Tkach has maintained the lie despite the fact that there is no appetite in GCI for a return to the old Armstrong ways.

Have a look at other church bodies, both in North America and throughout the Western world. Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal (yes, even the Episcopal Church), Lutheran, Adventist, Methodist. Add in the Church of God (Seventh Day) for something more directly related to GCI. All have some form of representative structure varying from General Conferences to delegated Synods. Even the Mormons go through the motions. GCI? Not.

It's entirely moronic to imply that because a particular political system has flaws, therefore members of a church should be deprived of their rights and the leaders effectively given carte blanche to do as they please. No system is perfect, but some are clearly much better than others. There's a wide range of helpful models out there used by various denominations. One thing is for sure, GCI's is among the very worst. It takes some swallowing, but both LCG and UCG do a better job in transparency (though their structures continue to deny basic lines of leadership accountability).

But Joe and Co. are nice guys

It's not an issue that a Board has some decent members. Joe has been careful in that respect, apart from larding it up with Tammy. The issue is - is it a real board, capable of independent action and hauling the church's officers into line when necessary? Or is it a collection of carefully selected yes-men and yes-women beholden to the "owner", serving at his pleasure. And exactly who do those board members represent given that they're appointed not elected.

Questions that need clarification

Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of those hand-picked board members responded to the following questions and set any misunderstandings at rest?

1. Who is Joe accountable to?
2. Who is the Board accountable to?
3. Who has (and hasn't) access to the financial statements?
4. Who has (and hasn't) access to Board minutes?
5. What exactly is the legal status of the GCI "members"?

My understanding - and I hope I'm mistaken or years out of date - is:

1. Technically the Board. In reality no-one.
2. Joseph Tkach Jr.
3. Almost nobody. In contrast to UCG and LCG which, dubious as their organizations might be in other ways (and I'm a fan of neither), have a solid record of reporting to their memberships - and in fact anyone else who cares to view them.
4. Almost nobody. In contrast to UCG which publishes minutes online for all to see.
5. They have no real status or rights. Apart from some limited local input, denominational decisions are taken over the tops of their heads entirely. You could describe them as "stakeholders" or "clients". Members? Not really.

Again, I'd be delighted to correct any misunderstandings on my part. The challenge is for Joe or any of his Board members to set the record straight. One lives in hope, but I won't be holding my breath.

A company - unless it's a small family firm - has shareholders. The shareholders meet to determine and approve company policy. GCI doesn't even allow that. No shareholders except Joe and ... who knows.

The Bottom Line

A Christian Church isn't a family firm. It isn't a commercial business. It isn't a personal fiefdom. It shouldn't be run like North Korea. Members are entitled to a voice and representation or they're not really members. Whether or not the "Beloved Leader" postures as a model of benevolence or not is beside the point.

New Bible Advocate released

The September/October issue of the Bible Advocate has been released by the Church of God (Seventh Day). The theme of the issue is the Church. Nothing controversial, as we'd expect from the Denver-based mother church of COGdom, it's all good standard biblical fare in a faith-affirming sense.

Almost all of the articles are sourced in-house; in fact it's a while since ex-WCG writers contributed to the publication, something which was common a decade or so ago.

Available to download.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Some Reformation: Joe heads to NC

"Just yesterday morning (August 25), after months of prayerful deliberation, the GCI Board met, concluding that we should proceed to implement plans to relocate the Home Office to a yet-to-be-determined location in North Carolina."
Joe Tkach Jr

So the Tkach sect is uprooting again. Oregon (in early Herbal days), Pasadena, Glendora and now an undisclosed location in North Carolina.

Yet-to-be-determined? I don't believe a word of it. Months of prayerful deliberation? You mean back room plotting?

The question is, why the move?

Of course, Joe has an explanation.

"Southern California has served us well, yet over time the cost of living has reached the point where consideration has to be given to relocating."

Cost of living?

"A major consideration for relocation is that we can cut our overhead (i.e., cost of doing business in California) by $500,000 per year. While this may seem reason enough to move out of California, there are other advantages. Our Glendora church property has significantly increased in value; by relocating, we would access some of that accrued equity to go directly into our mission of the gospel proclamation... Another significant factor to consider in relocation is 65% of our congregations are in the eastern half of the continental US... Our management team has been searching for an area with good quality of life and access to more affordable housing for our employees."

Sounds a lot like the reason the Meredith sect gave for relocating to Charlotte. The old boys wanted a nice lifestyle with a nice climate to see them out. Everything else, one suspects, was justification after the fact. Beneath all the PR bullgeschichte that Joe burbles, it'd put good money on similar factors being in play this time too. Could it be that, in the process, Joe can dump some unwanted baggage and set himself up for an even nicer sinecure of a retirement?

"... more affordable housing for our employees"? Really. How many of these lucky employees will have to stay behind in LA to keep close to family? Tough break. Those who own homes in the area? Did they get a vote? Let's not be silly, this is all about Joe & Co. getting their way and devil take the hindmost.

North Carolina is where Armstrong sects go to wither and die. The Ritenbaugh sect (Church of the Great God, Charlotte), the Meredith sect (LCG, Charlotte). Do you think Joe might have (hush, hush sweet) Charlotte in mind too? The possibilities are intriguing; imagine Wednesday night beer and poker with Joe, Richard and Gerry!

Think back to the name change to GCI. Joey had it all prearranged, then they decided to pull a soft PR stunt and take member suggestions into consideration. How thoughtful and consultative. When the dust settled, they still went with a variant of Joe's first choice. Surprise!

Final thought. PG Joe writes about his Board. He gives cute little bios of the members. The one thing he doesn't explain is how these individuals ended up on the board. Elected were they Joe? Or perhaps they were appointed from on high, the angel Moroni descending with the names inscribed on holy scrolls. No, not so likely. Appointed, yes; from on high, yes. On high being Joe's big boy chair in his soon to be relocated office.

Sounds like a Board accountable not to the church, not to the members, but to... guess who? Was there ever any possibility that voices on that board would be raised in opposition to their lord and master?

Some reformation.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Death-throes of Armstrongism

It's not every day - or even every decade - that an entire religious movement goes belly-up, but that's what happened to the Worldwide Church of God. It happened so long ago that whole generations have now arisen that have no idea who Herbert or Ted Armstrong were, and no knowledge of former brand names like The Plain Truth or The World Tomorrow. Those of us who still do are tracking up well beyond middle age into - I say it with deep regret - old fart territory.

Those with get up 'n go long since got up and went. Some, clinging to nostalgia and really bad Bible misinformation answered the siren calls of the tithe farmers who set up parasitical ministries.

There are at least two sorts of these derivative groups, let's call them the blands and the loonies. In the bland category are the UCG, CGI and COGWA. In their favor they're not one-man-bands, and there are some minimal checks and balances to keep Mussolini-like egos tied down. Unfortunately (for them) they're caught in a time warp several decades out of step with the real world, desperately trying to breathe life into a idealized version of the past before women became uppity, gay people began to be regarded as fully human, and evolution was a satanic delusion. The incongruity lies in the rapid adoption by these groups of new technology to promote this kind of intellectual deadwood. By and large these groups are congenitally incapable of connecting with anyone under forty, and the demographic collapse proves it.

Having said that, there are some good people in these groups trying to do the right thing the best way they know how. No future here though.

Then there are the loonies beginning with Meredith's LCG at the less extreme end of the spectrum (though, personally, I've always regarded Rod as certifiable) and going all the way to the flat-out nut jobs like Weinland at the furthest fringe. Slot in Pack, Flurry, Thiel and the others where you best think they fit on the sanity continuum.

These guys are legends in their own lunchtimes, one-megalomaniac operations. LCG is an interesting case in that it is being forced into some kind of ham-fisted transition due to Rod's increasing incapacity. It's no sure thing, though, that it'll survive that process. Any sane person sees these franchises for what they are - a joke. More-so, sadly, because the insiders are generally too thick to appreciate the humor, which is clearly at their expense. Few of these tin-pot sects will survive the passing of their pompous tithe-lords.

So are there any real victims in all of this considering that those who remain actively choose to remain and submit, which is their perfect right. As the decades have rolled by the corruption, manipulation and hypocrisy have become impossible for any honest person to deny. Knowing that, it's hard to feel much sympathy for the hangers-on.

The exception would be the kids in groups like PCG who are being raised within the walls of these pigpens of human oppression. The reality is that most of them will walk away in disgust when they can. Armstrongism has always had a problem retaining its young.

What, if anything will be left by mid-century?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Life at AC

As we all know, life at Ambassador College was a foretaste of the World Tomorrow.

Well, actually not.

Gary recently linked to a HuffPost article by Wendy Keller, also doing the rounds on Facebook. It's essential reading for anyone with any remaining illusions about how great that place was. I guess there are legal reasons Wendy doesn't name the minister she "counseled" with. She clearly wasn't the first - or the last - to be treated in this abysmal way either. Some of the ministers simply got off on this sort of thing - fantasizing about real and imagined sexual behaviors of the young people they were supposed to support and guide. 

Wendy was an intelligent and resilient young woman who rose above her "Ambassador experience". I wonder about the more vulnerable souls who were crushed by the hierarchic, abusive system, some just broken and confused, others - tragically - co-opted into the organization with its perverse values.

Compulsory reading IMHO.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Tired, old Horizons

Obscurity, thy name is New Horizons. Or perhaps Really Old Horizons.

New Horizons is published six times a year by Church of God Outreach Ministries (COGM). It's old time Armstrongism somewhat toned down. While the postal address is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the leading light in the movement seems to be James McBride, based in the UK. James was associated with Garner Ted's CGI way back in the early days, and serves as editor - obviously at distance.

This publication will win no awards for layout or design. Whoever is in charge of that needs to up-skill badly. Perhaps, to be generous, the small size of COGM should be taken into account. The ministry is supported - apparently - by only a handful of local churches and McBride's COG-UK. You'd think though that there'd be a teenager somewhere in those groups that could give the old fellas a clue as to swishing up the presentation.

Content-wise, it's not as awful as some of the slicker COG publications (which is pretty-much every other COG mag), but you get the strong sense of "same old, same old".

Hence the title of this piece. New horizons? Where, where? These old boys haven't seen anything new on a horizon for decades.

Available to download.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Journal - 186th issue

The latest issue of the independent Church of God newspaper The Journal is out, dated July 31. This issue features something of a valedictory sermon by Wayne Cole delivered to the CGI congregation in Tyler. Also featured is a tribute to Pam Kurr who passed away in July following a hemorrhagic stroke.

There are 227 Feast sites listed for later this year. Included in that particular alphabet soup: CGI, ICG, LCG, CCG, UCG, CGMI, CGWA. There are also some minor groups such as Legacy Institute and more obscure sects with names like Discipleship Church of God and House of David Fellowship. Don't forget to pack those generous holy day offerings!

The issue is available for download.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Spanky: worse than a murderer/molester

“causing church division is worse than murder or child molestation”
Roderick "Spanky" Meredith


Dear old Spanky. In depositions to the Scarborough case, the Presiding Evangelist (semi-retired) of the Living Church of God came out with the above wee gem (read Elizabeth Scarborough's account in full over at Gary's blog.)

Mrs Scarborough is restrained in her comment: "Ironic since he’s formed two churches through division himself ..."

Yes Spanky, tell us again how you simply had to cause division by incorporating the Global Church of God? How you actively encouraged WCG members to join up and transfer their tithes. How did that work? Did the angel Moroni appear to you perhaps? Where's the authorization for such a radical departure from your own "loyalty" teaching over long decades? And who placed you, other than you yourself - the self-crowned pretender - in charge?

To restate the problem, how did the necessary transfer of power, legitimacy, authority and tithes come about to make your inflated claims even slightly credible?

It all happened in your head.

How convenient.

Then again, when concerned office holders in your new GCG church - the one you thought should be your personal fiefdom - sought to reign your ego in and establish some much needed checks and balances, what did you do?

Cause division. Ruin reputations. Cause financial loss for many good, decent people. All because you were obsessed with your own delusions of entitlement and authority.

In fact, you scuppered the ship and established another more compliant entity to serve your needs, the Living Church of God, and stacked it with spineless yes-men. To hell with the collateral damage.

Spanky, your middle name could be "division".

God didn't raise up the Global Church of God - you did. You did it by deliberately, strategically, preying on confused and vulnerable brethren. You could have, if your conscience (do you have one of those Spanky?) so required fallen in with an already existing group like the UCG. But no, you were far too important to play second fiddle to anybody else.

God didn't raise up the Living Church of God - you did to satiate your own ego and sense of self importance and destiny as the "leading minister". Division? You're a past master.

And that makes you - according to none other than you yourself - worse than a murderer or child molester.

In this case I'm not going to argue with you.