Wednesday 28 February 2007

A mirage of abundant living

Every year at around this time it has become my custom to help supervise a school camp for sixty plus 10 year olds. I always return exhausted but with a deeper appreciation of what we used to call "human nature".

As we all know, "human nature" is vanity, envy, lust and greed. At least that's the litany the Armstrongs used, and the ministers parotted ad nauseum. These days, thank God, I'm a lot more optimistic about the human condition.

The news about Steven Lessard arrived just as I was heading out the door with my bags on Monday morning (thanks Gary). It's a tragic story, and more proof, if we needed it, that being a COG Christian is no guarantee of the "real abundandant living" that Rod Meredith has drivelled on about for decades. Back in the 70s the WCG in this part of the world launched an advertising campaign based on "happy families": a bit like KFC launching a nutrition campaign. I've known maybe two really fine examples of happy, loving families in the church. Most fell well below the threshold. All those smiling faces in the GN and TW - Mum, Dad and freshly pressed kids - invariably come from photo agencies, and are likely to be Baptists or Catholics. Terry Ratzmann apparently swallowed the hype, and so did Steven Lessard. A lot of good it did them.

"Raised a Catholic, the youngest of five, Kathy grew up in South Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood and later worked as a clerk for the state of Maryland. She became involved in the Worldwide Church of God, an evangelical denomination with 67,000 members in more than 100 countries. She met Steven Lessard at a church event for young adults.

"Family members said the Lessards often traveled on what they thought were church-sponsored trips. They did not celebrate holidays and while they could receive cards, as far as the Aros knew, there was never a Christmas tree in their house."

The Lessards were, like most AW readers, estranged from the WCG. Like some of us they continued as "independents", trying to "hold fast" to their COG identity. I'm not sure I want to comment further on the Lessard murders, other than to note that the Kathy and Linda's passing was to be acknowledged with a funeral Mass, a compassionate gesture in the direction of Kathy's pre-COG Catholic roots. May they rest in peace.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Dennis Decodes the Decalogue

If you haven't found it in the comments section yet, here's Dennis Diehl's take on the Ten Commandments/Decalogue.

The Big Ten are responsible for more carnage in the lives of real people at the hands of the righteous as any document could ever be. Everyone is just sure they know their eternal and universal truth. Most don't consider the cultic and polytheistic culture they spring from.

1. No other god before ME. There were many other gods literally believed in and obeyed. This Israelite cultic God is a jealous God and wants no competition from Israel. This God does not say there are no other gods, he just says don't mess with them or you and your kids will be punished for three or maybe four generations into the future. This God is unaware of his onlyness. The religion of Abraham is hardly monotheistic, but evolves. God is EL, derived from previous Cannanite concepts and now expanded.

2. No graven images. Not much obeyed in any Hebrew or Christian culture. The Temple was full of them. Moses made bronze ones and Aaron made gold ones. No fear of El here obviously. Megiddo was littered with Israelite graven images when I was there.

3. No name in vain. Not so much cussing as respect, and this God of the Mountains had better not hear the name of Baal, Astarte, Her, Him, Molech or Osiris. Remember, I am a jealous god. Not being held "guiltless" was not a good indication of one's longevity and you fall outside of the rule that we don't murder around here. Please, no nuances of meaning between kill and murder! The weak are always murdered by the powerful who define it as killing. Some people need killing is their motto. Our killing still obeys not murdering... uh huh.

4. Keep the Sabbath because I literally made all life in six days and had to rest myself, so you will too. Of course, this is not literally true so one has to decide if mythology can be a good reason to enforce a literal behavior. It's certainly no way to categorize people as the chosen or unchosen.

Like Paul who enforces the woman's role in church based on the mythology of a literal sin of a woman named Eve, and the "fact" that "for men don't come from women, but women from men."

Don't get me wrong. I always enjoyed sabbath. Who wouldn't. I enjoyed Sunday as a Presbyterian growing up. But as a tool to judge someone's obedience and spiritual worth to the jealous God, not so much. The implications of enforcing literal behaviors based on mythological events is staggering to an open mind.

5. Honor mom and dad. Pretty universal admonition here in all cultures. Certainly not invented by the one true God as if others could not come up with this. How this is interpreted in the OT is interesting as not doing so means, "then kill the kid and mom has to not cry about it." It's a command in Israel with a big "or else" attached. Well they all are.

6. No murder, killing etc. This in practical fact meant "each other." Everyone else is fair game if they get in the way of God's chosen people. It also meant nothing to the kings of Israel or Moses, who when bringing the Big Ten down the Mountain to begin with, got pissed at the crowd's thinking, after 40 days missing in action, ordered "every man to slay his neighbor and in that day about 3000 perished." What a guy! "Here, let me put these tablets down and murder a few thousand more of you."

7. No adultery. Mostly for women and Kings that God told if he had only asked, God would have given him more women and stuff. Women were property, that's why you didn't covet them. Adultery might cast doubt on paternity and inheritances. No adultery in this culture was not a love thing, it was a legal thing so the wrong kid did not get the wrong daddy's stuff. It was birth control with a kick... death for the woman and no mention of the guy for the most part. Even in the NT, the woman was caught in adultery, not the man so much.

8. No stealing. Well ok, you can plunder stuff and the young chicks and their booty of those you have been asked to slaughter in my name, amen. Good thing this was not in place when you guys plundered Egypt on the way out. How much stuff can you drag in to the waste howling wilderness (and you'd think we could find some of it strewn along the sands of time).

9 No lying. Unless you are Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, David, all the prophets and the priests. Other than that, don't do it. In the NT, Peter "kills" Ananias and Sapphira for saying one thing and doing another. This, the man who said one thing to Jesus (I will never deny you) and did another (fled). Of course, Luke was telling that story in Acts to make fun of Peter who was not on Paul's list of potential church leaders for his denials. No, two church members were killed and buried by the church. "Hey Pastor Peter, my parents didn't come home from church, what gives?"

All this to say, the Big Ten were written for a cultic society and translated as meaningful for ours and all humans, which for the most part they are. They weren't born in a vaccum however and we get so used to reading them as moderns, we fail to identify their cultic origins. Besides, the Bible can't agree on whether there were Ten given that day or many many more. Depends on which book you read and what "is" is... :)

10 No coveting wives, oxen, asses (the animal) or stuff. Good way to live too but throwing women in the mix is cultic and patriarchal to the max. For women, this is a control issue by men. Some women wish they were coveted and cherished by these guys.

In reality, humans love to break the rules. The more rules, the more breakage. Evangelical Christians have the highest rates of divorce, adultery, stealing, lying and eating out on the sabbath :) The Baptist church has the highest rate of minister turn over, due to breakage of the big ten. Pentecostals tend to have the highest rates for adultery and sexual deviance due the emotional nature of those that are Pentecostals. I guess if death was the penalty, we'd have more compliance, but "obey me or I'll kill you," seems rude.

Saturday 24 February 2007

Duelling with Bibles

... or is that dueling (with one l)? Again, the wonders of English in two versions, American and the rest of us; Mr Webster and Mr Johnson. Anyone want to flip a coin? But I digress.

Bill Hohmann's name is familiar to many past and present WCG members. Bill posts regularly on a variety of boards, and if memory serves me has commented on the COGs at least once on national television in the US. Bill is no mean expositor when it comes to the Bible, and working from a conservative, evangelical perspective he is a talented "deconstructor" of hardline Herbalism.

Recently Bill took the bit between his teeth once again and took apart Dave Pack's Sabbath booklet. Indeed, he's done so in such detail that I suspect his critique is longer than the Pack original. The first two chapters appear online at AW Extra and the rest will follow soon.

Bear in mind that Pack's writing is a rewrite (one might even use the term rePACKaging) of the Herbal originals. Anyone who still thinks Which Day is the Christian Sabbath? is a bullet-proof treatise of Biblical truth might well learn a thing or two as well.

But, as Bill himself rightly warned me when he sent the document, it's a long one, so be prepared to buy in groceries.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

WCG's best ministers

Over at the WCG Alumni Forum they're debating which ministers were WCG's worst. Some of the names to feature include Waterhouse, Pack, Flurry, Tkach I, Tkach II, Spanky and Herb.

That's too easy. I think there may be a more profitable question we might grapple with. Who were the best ministers?

Of course, there were no perfect ministers. But decent, fallible men working in difficult circumstances with a genuine interest in those they were supposed to serve? Had to be a few.

So let's put the negativity to one side this one time and ask for a show of hands. Whose ministry did you appreciate, and why? What anecdotes can be told that show a compassionate face, a human dimension, despite all the angst and agro that went on. Which ministers bucked the trend and refused to put on the jack-boots, gave valuable advice or showed an occasional capacity for genuine kindness or humility?

One plea. Let's not turn this thread into an "oh no, you've gotta be kidding about old X. He was a complete stinker to me..." game. Just this once let's play nice. I realise this could be a very, very short discussion. But who knows...

Sunday 18 February 2007

University in a Broom Closet

Hidden away in the members-only section of is this bizarre announcement:

February 16, 2007

Press Release: LCG to open University in Fall of 2007

Charlotte, NC-The Living Church of God today announced the founding of Living University. Presiding Evangelist, Dr. Roderick Meredith envisions the University as "a means of preparing men and women for Christian leadership, service and ministry." He sees "the university functioning as an important resource to help meet the growing human resource needs of the Church as its operations expand worldwide."

Dr. Michael P. Germano, holding earned doctorates from the University of Southern California and the University of La Verne, has been named as President and Chief Executive Officer of the University. Germano served as Academic Vice President at Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, and as Academic Dean at Ambassador University in Big Sandy, TX. Most recently Germano served as Vice President of Academic Services at
Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC.

Living University, with administrative offices located in the Living Church of God headquarters building in Charlotte, NC, plans to begin with "all the world as its campus" by offering online distance learning courses for its undergraduate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. According to Germano, "online courses enable students to
take biblically-based courses without having to relocate to Charlotte. This allows the university to serve students around the globe as they study in their own countries."

Doc Germano (pictured) has been, according to a news board posting, a member of LCG for about two months. Could he have had a Damascus Road experience? He's previously come out against the BI doctrine, arguing that the DNA trail debunks the idea. The hardline, Pack-leaning, Bryce-inclined brethren may have a problem.

More importantly, why devalue the concept of higher education by launching what must surely be regarded by legitimate institutions as an unaccredited degree mill? To give UCG credit, at least they don't pretend their Ambassador Bible Center is anything other than a training school. If the word "university" means anything, a desk for Mike at cult HQ it aint!

Addendum: The text of an article on BI and DNA that appeared on Dr Germano's website (no longer online) has been posted on the AW Extra board.

Saturday 17 February 2007

BI's Kindred Fantasies

The year is 1862, and the Angel Gabriel appears in New Zealand to a seer named Te Ua Haumene, revealing that Maori are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Haumene goes on to found the Pai Marire ("Good and Peaceful") religion, from which the violent Hauhau would emerge. The sect took arms against the British and adopted the Seventh-day Sabbath.

"The cry Hapa, hapa, paimarire hau, which gave the sect its name, was chanted by the warriors as they ran into battle with their right hands raised. This, they believed, gave them immunity from bullets." (source)

It was not to prove an effective strategy.

Earlier, the first interfering Anglican cleric to arrive on these shores, Samuel Marsden, mused that Maori had “sprung from some dispersed Jews.” It is not altogether clear whether he intended the remark in a complimentary sense.

In the Solomon Islands of Melanesia, inhabitants of Malaita Island also believe they are Israelites. In the recent civil war the Malaita Eagle Force (second picture) adopted the Star of David to emphasise their supposed heritage. The first European to set foot in the Solomons, Alvaro de Mendana, believed – with what reason is unknown – that this benighted spot was the site of King Solomon's Mines (hence the name.)

The Malaitans find convincing parallels between their tribal culture and the tales of the Hebrew Bible. Many believe that there is a lost Israelite Temple hidden in a shrine at the mountainous heart of the island. Others want to rebuild Solomon's Temple – there are two competing sites for the great project. Championing one is a “prophet” (and failed politician) with ties to American fundamentalist groups in Israel.

The vilest of Ugandan bandit groups, the “Lord's Resistance Army”, infamous for recruiting and brutalising children in its campaign of terror, has similar “neo-Israelite” origins.

Back in the Pacific, the Bine tribe of Papua New Guinea have also discovered their Israelite identity. When the helpful missionaries translated the scriptures into the Bine language as recently as 1972, the locals quickly became convinced that they were the subject of the ancient epics. No lesser person than the Govenor General (head of state) of PNG launched a book (more of a booklet really, it runs to only 20 pages) earlier this month by Samuel Were called Bine Mene: Connecting the Hebrews.

And in the currently not-so Friendly Islands of Fiji there's a local myth about Kaunitoni, a boat that brought the first Fijians. They were in fact Israelites who had wandered there via Lake Tanganyika!

That the history and scripture of the Jewish people have been stolen, appropriated, misused, and abused for so long and by so many is one of the tragedies of both religion and literature.

(I'm indebted to Michael Field's article, The Last Outpost of the Diaspora, appearing in today's Wellington Dominion Post, for much of the above.)

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Pseudo-Creationist Confection

I want to say straight off, Richard Wiedenheft is one of the good guys. Richard is one of the "class of 74", WCG ministers who acted on principle and left Armstrongism in a tidal wave of self-honesty and disgust, valuing integrity over paychecks. 1974 seems a long time ago, but many of these people are still around. These days Wiedenheft ministers in the Church of God (Seventh Day).

I also want to say that, as ex-ministers go, Richard appears to have a whole lot more savvy than most. He's well read, thoughtful and "pastoral" in the best sense of that word. Way back in the long-ago, he even graciously mailed me regular copies of his newsletter Focus On Truth, and played host to a friend and fellow Kiwi who was touring the US in the aftermath of Garner Ted's final ouster.

In the latest (Jan-Feb) Bible Advocate, Richard has contributed a feature article called Creation's Roots and Realities. I wouldn't normally have bothered reading it, but then noticed that Richard refers to the Enuma Elish in his endnotes.

Enuma Elish? That's an ancient epic that probably goes back to the reign of Nebuchadnezzer I. It might not be as famous as the Gilgamesh epic, but scholars of the Hebrew Bible value it highly because it predates Genesis, throwing light on the creation of the later document.

The point is, Richard is no wooden-minded fundamentalist. Over three pages he waxes eloquent about Genesis and gives comforting messages about its meaningfulness, without indicating that he sees it as literally true.

Am I complaining? Heck, no! It's a carefully crafted article that can be read as either supportive of the special nature of Genesis (and uncritical readers will assume that means a literal reading) or an encouragement to read Genesis at a deeper (i.e. non-literal) level.

But I'm not so sure that is helpful. Most BA readers will miss the point, if there is one. After all, COG7 is a Sabbatarian church, and as we all know, Sabbatarian churches are staunchly literal when it comes to Genesis. Richard has been dipping into the Enuma, and checking out what the big boys are saying in the Eerdmans Bible Commentary. That's great. But knowledge brings responsibility.

Moses did not write Genesis. (Richard hints at this when he writes "Moses may not have been the original author of all Genesis...") Genesis is derived and adapted from earlier mythologies. Here's what John Collins says on the matter.

The Bible claims that Moses received a new revelation, but even a new revelation was of necessity expressed in language that was already current... The Hebrew language uses the word El for God, and the term inevitably carried with it associations of the Canaanite high god. The biblical creation stories draw motifs from the myths of Atrahasis and Enuma Elish, and from the Epic of Gilgamesh. In short, much of the language and imagery of the Bible was culture specific, and was deeply embedded in the traditions of the Near East.
(John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.45)

That's straight talk. Any church which doesn't "fess up" to things like this is in effect misleading the people in the pews, endorsing a lie because the truth is uncomfortable. Genesis did not drop down out of the sky into Moses' waiting arms on tablets of stone. It does not convey a prehistory of the planet. It is great literature, a testament to an ancient faith, but contains nothing to confirm the pre-scientific prejudices of fundamentalists.

Richard Wiedenheft's article steps up to the line but dares not cross it. Which is a shame. As it stands the article is a mere sacherine confection.

Monday 12 February 2007

Nothing like a Dame

The American usage of "dame" is a little different from that used in Her Majesty's Dominions. In Oz they usually think of Dame Edna, the finest flower of Moonie Ponds womanhood. Not the best example, but, well, you know what Aussies are like... In New Zealand (alias Godzone) we think of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Dame is the equivalent of "Sir", a title bestowed upon worthy individuals in the days before we colonials got stroppy and abolished such gongs.

In this honorific sense, Debby Bailey is quite a dame. Chosen not by Mrs Windsor, but by President-for-life Joe. For some people that invalidates her calling, but others are happy to acknowledge that her ministry is genuine, and a rare positive development in a negative sect. It may be shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, but there's no doubting the bravery of those band members who played on in an attempt to keep panic at bay.

PTM (i.e. Greg Albrecht) has unleashed an article on women's ministry - quite coincidently no doubt (!) - in the latest Plain Truth. Evangelical author Doug Trouten has a dollar each way, hardly a ringing endorsement of WCG's new practice. Trouten calls the misogynists "Complementarians" and those that recognise women's ministries "Egalitarians." There's a list of books for further reading, all of which are sourced from conservative, agenda-driven publishers ("can any good thing come out of Multnomah?") Well, I suppose we should at least be grateful he didn't recommend something from the Missouri Synod...

Meanwhile high pitched shrieking has been heard on a couple of the more Herbolatrous discussion groups.

Left wing WCG's first female elder: The Leninists and Marxists are clapping their hands. (Elijahforum... Elijah being SuperHerb I guess)

What is just as interesting is that, despite such examples of bilious invective, most folk seem reasonably relaxed about WCG's move, even those among the Sabbatarian splinters. Maybe we should give some credit to the person in the picture, the best woman minister the COGs never had, Pam Dewey. Pam is a popular speaker, loyal COG member, website creator and published author. More than that, despite never being ordained as an elder (husband George has that distinction) Pam is a fine role model for confident women's ministry, a truly remarkable person and, in the best British sense of the word, COGdom's leading Dame. If Debby can do half as well she'll be an outstanding pastor.

Friday 9 February 2007

The Dwight Stuff

You can tell a lot about a church by looking at their hymnal. Just cast a critical eye over what's on offer and you'll get a fairly accurate feel for the sponsoring denomination or group.

Take the Fred Coulter hymnal for example (you can download a copy here.) Like most COG sects, the impressively named Christian Biblical Church of God has produced its own songbook. It's not large – 75 odd pages (some odder than others). That compares with around 130 in the WCG's old purple book (available in PDF here), 310 in the 1993 version, and – crossing to another tradition entirely – 950 in the Lutheran Book of Worship.

The first thing you notice is that most of the hymns are simply reproduced from the purple book. The multi-talented Mr. Coulter has put together a couple of his own with the able assistance of Mary Schaeffer (modestly placed in the front of the publication), and there's a smattering of non-COG favorites to bulk it out (Sweet Hour of Prayer, Blessed Assurance etc.) Herb would have had a hernia!

The volume is copyrighted 2002, which is well before WCG put Dwight Armstrong's creations into the public domain, so presumably Fred arranged permission to include them. (If you feel the nostalgia rising, one of the best online resources is here, where you can listen to tunes from the "old gray" Radio Church of God hymnal, the purple replacement, the 93 version, CGI's 1990s book and UCG's 1997 song booklet... knock yourself out!)

I'm not sure whether the fact that Holy, Mighty Majesty! still gets an occasional airing in various living rooms on Saturday mornings is a comfort or not. And, more to the point, would it still be possible to sing Behold the Day Will Come without thinking “1972”?

The sad fact is that I'm still fond of some of those old chestnuts. Prolonged exposure can do that to you. They get under your skin and slowly work their way out again decades later while you're driving between cities and unable to handle another moment of talk-radio or formulaic radio ga-ga.

But even more bizarre is the reality that, when some of us were wide-eyed members, trotting along to weekly services with the hymnal, wide-margin KJV and notebook inside regulation briefcase, we actually found Dwight's dire dirges painful. Go figure.

Thursday 8 February 2007

Chipper calls a Foul

And Horace begat Herbert, and Herbert begat Ted, and Ted begat Mark...

What would Great Granddaddy Armstrong, a moderate Quaker, have made of his son, grandson and great grandson's religious entrepreneurial skills? We'll never know.

But it seems Mark “Chip off the Old Block” Armstrong has some thoughts about his grandcestors. Here's what he wrote recently.

False prophets and dangerous “holy men” are emerging in greater frequency these days. And now as bad as it hurts to recognize it, for the deception falls closer to home, there are several church leaders who parade the likeness, or their purported previous connection to my Grandfather, Herbert W. Armstrong as justification to administer yet another type of theocracy and systematic brainwashing over their followers. Some have even claimed divine authority and taken divine titles upon themselves to demand absolute, unquestioning loyalty and obedience from their followers. This is, I believe, a very frightening and dangerous development. My Grandfather would never have approved of many of the things that have been said and done in his name.

It reminds me of the Jim Jones tragedy. Jones, who claimed direct communication with God, forced about one thousand followers to drink poisoned Cool Aid. It was a hideous disaster that should forever serve as a stark lesson.

You’ll also remember the terrible outcome of the David Koresh movement.

The prospect that my Grandfather’s legacy might be used to foster a cult of “man worship” is contrary to everything he stood for. It is contrary to everything we stand for, and contrary to what my Dad, Garner Ted Armstrong, taught. “Never check your brains at the door,” my Dad said many times. We are free moral agents with God’s Word as our guide. Any time someone begins to exalt himself above the Word of God, or twist scripture to elevate himself to the level of divine authority, you had better think twice. No, you’d better run!

If you look down through history, or look at the incredible corruption, treachery and bloodshed that has been perpetrated under the supposedly “divine authority” of those who claimed the “primacy,” it should be a chilling and lasting reminder.

As my Grandfather and my Dad faithfully taught the acknowledgement and honor only to Jesus Christ, so we still do the same today. My Dad’s book The Real Jesus has had a profound effect on most who have read it. That’s because it showed, from the Bible, that Jesus was a man’s man, contrary to the effeminate and strange way he has been portrayed by the mainstream “Christian” organizations. The truth, thankfully, is pretty plain and straightforward. The laws of God stand regardless of man’s attempts to change them, and regardless of any man’s, or organization’s attempt to enforce them. It is not up to man to make God’s judgments. It is not any man’s place to inflict punishments on anyone who fails to live up to God’s standards or some man’s interpretations of those standards, for that matter.

This organization, the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association, will never engage in “authoritarian” pronouncements or make demands upon anyone. When I see the Armstrong name being used for such purposes it makes me sick. And I fear for people who had such great admiration for my Granddad, that they would give their minds over to someone who claims to speak for him.

The actual apostles, who were taught by Jesus Christ Himself, warned against men who would claim divine authority and said, as did the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 1:24, that even the apostles themselves did not have “dominion” over the people’s faith, but were to be helpers of their joy. Look it up and read it yourself. It’s hard to find either much joy or any truth in the whacked-out pronouncements of today’s weird “holy men.”

We can be grateful that Chipper has publicly distanced himself from the tactics of Flurry et al. And there are some things in what he writes that many of us might utter an 'amen' to. Yet the fact remains that Grandpappy and Dad were ruthless manipulators par excellence. Mark's attempt to portray them as something else defies the facts. Is there any splinter group that doesn't require their members to “check your brains at the door”? Maybe I've missed something, but the Age of Enlightenment seems to have passed COGdom in a wide detour.

Mark Armstrong's assurances are welcome, but not particularly relevant. ICG is a blip on the landscape, a minor group which is irrelevant to most of Armstrong's inheritors. The politics of governance in ICG is hardly all sweetness and light either, the tiny group has been ravaged and torn under Chipper's own leadership; hardly the high moral ground.

(To suggest Ted's laughably facile book, The Real Jesus, had a "profound effect" is debatable, unless the effect was to misinform or misrepresent. The Armstrong Jesus was always a crude caricature, best suited for comic books rather than historiography.)

We all want to think well of our forebears, but reality can be cruel. While Mark Armstrong is still sponging a buck out of his father's reputation, it is scarcely credible when he summons a bowl of water to wash his hands in denial of the past.

Monday 5 February 2007

Pastor Debby

The Worldwide Church of God finally has its first woman elder.

Debby [Bailey] was commissioned in 2002 as part of the pastoral team in the Pikeville congregation. She is active in the community, serving on the National Day of Prayer Committee in Pike County since 1997, where she has served as chairman for the last five years. She also has been involved in a jail ministry to female inmates for almost three years. Debby has been elected as the 2007 vice president of the Pike County/Pikeville Area Ministerial Association, in which she has been active for a number of years. She is also chairman of the July Jam committee, which is an outreach to the youth in the community through Christian rock music. Debby and her husband, Eddie, married since 1979, have an 11-year-old son, Max.
(From Joe's Weekly Update for Jan. 31)

While it certainly won't be a panacea for WCG's woes, it's probably a good move (all the better because Debby wasn't one of the names tossed around by the more cynical among us as the most likely to be ordained first.) Of course it will upset the more patriarchal in our midst, but what else is new. Fulmination alert! Batten down the hatches and secure the teapot, tempest ahead!

Congratulations Debby. Let's hope your groundbreaking ordination will lead to some cracking in the hierarchical mindset.

Sunday 4 February 2007

Random Epiphanies

Norman Shoaf is a former WCG minister and spokesman. These days, while the WCG still runs some of his material on its website, Norm has made a reputation for himself as a journalist and editor, and a very good one at that judging from the various awards he's received, over at Antelope Valley Press.

Last year Norm published a book on religion called Random Epiphanies. According to the PR:

Shoaf has written hundreds of articles on religion, ethics and moral behavior under his own byline, and ghosted articles for multiple high-ranking church officials.

Oh, please, details!

As Opinion and Religion Editor and, later, City Editor at the Antelope Valley Press in northern Los Angeles County, California, Shoaf earned awards for editorial writing from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and for music reviewing from the Suburban Newspaper Association. His weekly "Portfolio" column won him recognition in 2003 as a Blue Ribbon Finalist for Columns, Commentary and Criticism from the CNPA Better Newspaper Contest. In 2005 he received the Walter Everett Fellowship from the American Press Institute.

This collection of columns includes such titles as "10 Things I Hate About Religion," "10 Things I Love About Religion," and "Whatever Happened to Ancient Christianity?"

It's doubtful that Norm will have any specifically WCG content, but if anyone has read Epiphanies and would like to offer an opinion (or even a review) for AW, drop me an email.

Saturday 3 February 2007

Tales of the Good Old Days - Part 3

It's interesting to compare Peter Leschak's impressions with Greg Doudna's Showdown at Big Sandy. In many ways they seem to have seen things alike. In fact Greg refers to and quotes Leschak in a couple of places. When it comes to the role of Howard Clark (pictured in 1964) they also agree. In Bumming With the Furies Peter Leschak writes:

But early in 1972, a minister named Howard Clark was transferred to Texas from the headquarters campus in Pasadena, California. He was something of a legend in the WCG. While serving with the Marine Corps in Korea, he was severely wounded and subsequently paralyzed. He received one hundred percent disability from the Veteran’s Administration and was confined to a wheelchair. But then “God called him into the Work,” as we liked to say, and after being anointed with oil and prayed over by a WCG minister, he was healed – he was able to walk. He attended AC and rose through the ranks, demonstrating a remarkable talent for preaching and public speaking.

He was loud and irreverent, articulate and keenly intelligent. One had to wonder why he was allowed to stay; he did little obeisance to sacred cows.

The presence of such a renegade was a revelation, but Clark offered us more than his own puzzling existence. That summer when life on campus slowed and many students and faculty were gone, he initiated what he called “waffle shops.” These were informal evening gatherings advertised by word of mouth. There might be poetry readings (of all things!), a film, Bible study, and of course listening to Clark as he “waffled” – extemporaneously expounding on just about everything. To cadets in the army of God, regimented in body and spirit, this could be shocking.

During one waffle shop, Clark quipped: “If Jesus Christ was a student at AC today, we’d kick him out.” We had strayed too far from the original precepts to be tolerated by the original teacher. It was that heretical thought, and a thinly veiled reference to some WCG ministers as “con artists” that spurred the “gestapo” into action. A senior who had attended the gathering, a leading upper-classman, went to the Dean of Students (Ron) Kelly the next day and reported what distressing things he had heard. The waffle shops were officially banned.

Unlike most of the faculty, Clark lived off campus, away from the bosom of the institution. Students began filtering out there, alone or in small groups, to sit in his office and listen. Rumors of a “heretical underground,” a “free thought movement,” began to circulate. People felt threatened. But Clark was not attempting to undermine AC. His main point was that we were all individuals before God and that we must truly cultivate independent minds. But that was not necessarily good for the cohesiveness of the army.

In the meantime, we were buying books-under the counter. Clark recommended The Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufman, and one of the students who worked at the college commissary ordered a few copies and kept them discreetly out of sight, far from the Louis L’Amour westerns. If someone specially requested a copy, he would slip it into a bag and quietly had it over. The eyes of the true believers were everywhere; this was not an acceptable book for God’s students.

On page twenty-two, Kaufman had written: “The aim of a liberal arts education is not to turn out ideal dinner guests who can talk with assurance about practically everything, but people who will not be taken in by men who speak about all things with an air of finality. The goal is not to train future authorities, but men who are not cowed by those who claim to be authorities".

These were not words that Chapman would have us memorize, especially since one of the conceits of AC was that it was providing us with a liberal arts education. My friend Gerry, who was on the staff of the college newspaper, once neglected to perform some small task that the faculty advisor expected him to have done.

“I thought (so and so) was going to do it,” Gerry told the man. “That’s your problem,” replied the journalism instructor/ordained minister, “you don’t think!” He then told Gerry that he wanted him to be a robot, and, to demonstrate; he walked stiffly and jerkily around the room. It was a sincere performance, devoid of irony.

Yes, Virginia, there were good ministers. But not nearly enough.