Friday 30 March 2007

Moderation and a Lost Logo

Living University has lost its logo, but we're pleased to restore it for the benefit of AW readers (special thanks to "you-know-who" in Pasadena). Whoever designed it didn't take into account the shock/horror effect of anything resembling a cross on the hyper-Armstrong brethren. To be fair, it's doubtful that this rather amateur effort was ever intended to be anything other than a temporary fill-in. In any case, LCG pulled the offending artwork soon after the concerned emails started coming in from disturbed members.

Beginning with this posting comments on AW will be moderated. Hopefully this will help with the quality, and discourage the CAPS LOCK screamers. All opinions are welcome, but basic civility is definitely appreciated. Anonymous postings are fine, but preference will go to those identified by a pen name. Obviously there will be some delay between submitting and publishing, especially considering the difference in timezones between the US and New Zealand, but hopefully the payoff will be in more relevant material. The moderation policy will be reviewed mid-April.

Thursday 29 March 2007

In Step with Herb

The following comments are adapted from a recent posting by "Ripley"

In 1974 dozens of WCG ministers left over a number of points of disagreement. Sweeping excommunications followed, after which they formed the Associated Churches of God. It was the clear position of HWA, GTA and the WCG that the Associated Churches were not part of the "true church."

Ironically, four years later Garner Ted was disfellowshipped and subsequently founded the Church of God, International. He was marked. Members were to have no fellowship with him. It was clearly the position of his father and the WCG that he was not part of the "true church." Those ministers who chose to affiliate with GTA at that time or in the intervening years were not true ministers.

But today, ministers from those organizations would be viewed by most in the various COG organizations as brothers and fellow Sabbath-keeping Christians.

Why? What changed? How did they go from anathema to approved?

The fact is, the basis for no longer being part of the true church was no longer being in step with Herbert W. Armstrong. That's it. Nothing else.

Clearly, there were people who came to a knowledge of the Sabbath and other doctrines through the Associated Churches, and the Church of God, International; were baptized; and began worshipping entirely through those churches, having had nothing to do with the WCG. Presumably, the same thing occurred in various other of the "heretical" offshoots of that era.

But it didn't matter. They were not in step with HWA, so they were heretics. "Proofs" were trotted out to show how this was true. They were not part of the "true church."

Yet today they are! Sure, Flurry doesn't think so, and neither do Pack and a few others. But, by and large, they're considered part of the fold. Look at Ron Dart. He went with GTA, then on his own. But he's OK today, even downright popular.

It's all indicative of an ever-shifting set of principles, changed as needed to "prove" whatever is most convenient at the time. "Nothing has changed," we hear, while in fact just about everything has. And then, the ever-present beaut: "It doesn't matter what HWA did...."

It's exhausting. It's sad. It's unpredictable. It's inconsistent. And yet, adherents insist it's somehow "right," while never being able to pin the tail on the Correctness donkey.

Which means that those who disagree, including many AW readers, can only be viewed as wrong. Case closed. Ha, ha. "You lose." Bible says so.

It gets so ridiculous. "Nyah-nyah-nyah" is not an adequate substitute for genuine credibility or consistency.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

University or Dead End?

The website for Living University is now up at One of UCG's leading bloggers has this conciliatory comment:

Whether one is a member of Living Church of God, United Church of God or any other facsimile thereof, it is in all our interests to have a biblically educated membership and a means of passing it on to the next generation.

Which is a reasonable and balanced statement. But, all invective aside, is this likely to occur in the close confines of a church-run institution?

Biblically educated means more than recounting denominational dogmas, it implies hard questions and critical thinking. It demands that authoritarian pronouncements are able to be challenged, discussed openly and even refuted. Being polite, docile and well-groomed is irrelevant.

Was that even remotely possible at Ambassador College? Those who have listened to former students like Greg Doudna know better. At best AC was a training school. You train seals; humans you educate (there is a difference). For most of its institutional life Ambassador was completely unsuitable for accreditation.

Assuming it ever gets off the ground, will Living University do any better? Here's the outline for its flagship theology course:

THL 135 Life, Ministry, and Teachings of Jesus (3-0-0-3)
Prerequisites: None.
Corequisites: None.
This course covers the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the four Gospels. Emphasis is on the analysis of the four Gospels in the context of the social, political, and religious conditions of the first century. Upon completion, students should be able to explain the background, purpose, message, and themes of the Gospels and the significance of Jesus Christ in the first century and beyond. The lecture core of this course is a series of recorded lectures presented by noted television evangelist, author, and pastor of pastors Dr. Roderick C. Meredith.

Does "noted television evangelist, author, and pastor of pastors Dr. Roderick C. Meredith" have any recognised qualification for teaching this course? Is his doctorate from a legitimate university? Is his knowledge of the subject current? Has this "noted author" ever published a peer reviewed paper? How about any book not churned out for free as a church promotional? Is listening to "Dr." Meredith's tapes a credible strategy for a core paper?

Living University is, I suspect, a folly that will bleed LCG dry. It defies belief to imagine that any competent authority would ever accredit it. To think that this "university" will attempt to offer qualifications in psychology, anthropology and "health promotion" fairly beggars the imagination.

Would you want your family doctor to have a degree from Hamburger University? Why is that not okay, while a pastor can be functionally illiterate in theology and a danger to all concerned every time he opens his mouth to offer "counselling"?

Anyone in LCG, UCG or any other CG should consider investing in a real education, not hunkering down with recordings made by a rogue amateur who is now, and always has been, out of his depth.

The blog writer is correct: "it is in all our interests to have a biblically educated membership." For that reason alone, Living University is a very bad idea.

Monday 26 March 2007

Oh Susanna!

The postings have been a bit slow lately. I blame Susanna. Yes, that's her in the painting. She won't mind, she's used to it. In fact I got carried away with the lady and her story, which you'll find in the Book of Daniel, chapter 13.

Susanna has been the subject of the last assignment for Interpreting the Old Testament. Indulge, said the lecturer, in the "hermeneutics of imagination." Herman who?

Some wiseacre is going to point out the fact that there is no Daniel 13. Quite right, but there is in the Septuagint. Grab a Catholic translation (New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible) and there it is. Feminine beauty, randy old men, spineless husbands, scandal, Perry Mason...

But while I've been dallying in the garden with Susanna, events have moved on in the Living Church of God. What's going on in Canada? Who is Ross Abasolo, and is he really joining Chuckie Bryce? Apparently so. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

And income is down, sort of. You brethren better dig deep for those Holy Day offerings.

"...there are a number of projected programs we will have to "cut" if the income level does not increase substantially. Satan's recent attacks have certainly had an effect... I am requesting that you ask the brethren to go "all out" in supporting God's Work at this critical time. Please remind them to set aside some extra large offerings for the upcoming Holy Days."
See, I wasn't kidding. Same old, same old... Susanna was a lot more fun.

I suppose it's proof - as if we needed another example - that houses built on sand wash away at full tide.

Saturday 24 March 2007

Mississippi Mud Cake redivivus

Gird your loins Philadelphians, it's almost that time of year again. Unleavened everything, at least for the faithful members of the various Churches of God. Necessity is the mother of invention, and creative cooks are dusting off the recipe books as April 1 approaches.

Which is where Mississippi Mud Cake comes in. It was a seasonal recipe in the Worldwide News, circa 1977 (I'm guessing). Being a bloke with extremely limited culinary talent, then or now, I was seduced by the Dark Side of my chocolate addition to give it a go... the prospect of a week of hard rations was motivation enough (the unleavened bread photograph is original "hard tack" from the Civil War. John Brown's body may lie a-mouldering, but that stuff looks as unappetising as the day it was baked!)

Some things never change. Crispbread begone! The good folk of COGdom are even now gathering ingredients to fend off the munchies. Here's one such temptation, from the Likeminds board.


1/2 C. shortening
2 eggs
3/4 C. brown sugar
1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. cream or evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cup bananas -- cut up
1/2 C. nuts -- chopped

Beat shortening, eggs, and brown sugar. Add flour and salt, milk and vanilla, bananas and nuts. Bake in 10x6-inch pan at 350° for 30 minutes

Sounds almost within my competence. But so did the mud cake and, well, let's just say it didn't inspire me to give up my day job and open a bakery. Those of us outside the US would need to adjust those inches and degrees to metric equivalents - anyone got a slide rule?

Thursday 22 March 2007

The rolling dice

Bill Lussenheide comments on the shape of COGs to come...

Demographics show that about half of all the brethren will be deceased within 15 to 18 years.

Most of the "iconic" leadership of the COGs, i.e. Meredith,Hulme, Rittenbaugh, Flurry et al will also be deceased.

The iconic groups will be scattered and split apart, as all groups that rely on iconic leadership do when their "guru" dies leaving a power vacuum.

The survivor will be UCG, as it does have in place set succession plans and its leaders, or "the 12," do not necessarily have too much personal draw or persona to matter much if they die or are replaced.

UCG will pick up a good percentage of the remnant parts of the other deceased COGs, however, will probably only be in the 7 to 10 thousand member range and 80% of it will be concentrated in the 20 largest US markets, (equivalent to where there are Major League Baseball franchises.)

Some evidence of this trend can be found in FOT attendance of UCG, which is around 20,000 as opposed to their weekly attendance of around 12,000.

The 7 to 10 thousand UCG attendees 15 to 20 years from now will be basically very senior "senior citizens".

That is how the dice is rolling out for the COGs unless they can come up with a new and cutting edge way to convert the under 40 crowd. Attempts are being made, but results are still yet to be determined and are questionable.

Monday 19 March 2007

Turn back the tide!

The Oracle speaks:

The Living Church of God has more than one hundred and forty elders around the world. Over the last two years or so, about a dozen elders have decided to leave the Living Church of God—some over doctrinal issues and some for personal reasons—to start their own organizations or to join someone else. This is hardly the “mass exodus” that some Internet sites want to assert. What has been encouraging is that few people have followed these departing elders. In fact, some who have left are also beginning to trickle back after seeing the lack of fruits in other organizations. Overall, most congregations around the world are positive and focused, while here and there some few individuals are confused and negative—especially if they spend a lot of time on the Internet. Most of the brethren in the Living Church of God see where the Work is being done, and are grateful to be part of the team that God is using to do His end-time Work.
(Winnail's weekly update, March 15)

Translation: Nobody PANIC!

Doug has a lot in common with ancient King Canute who commanded the tide to turn back. The old 1970s strategies that worked so well for the Armstrongs are redundant in the 21st century. The Internet isn't going away, no matter how much Doug pouts, so he'd better get used to it. More and more members are no longer happy to be treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on effluent... or tossed an occasional plastic bone to gnaw on (the mirage of an accredited sect-run university for example?)

Of course, Doug didn't resort to the cry "God is on His throne brethren!", so things can't have hit critical just yet.

Oh, wait, there is more:

Pre-Passover Trials: Jesus told His disciples at the Passover, “In the world you will have tribulation,” but said that with His help we can overcome through these trials (John 16:33). The Apostle Paul reveals that Satan will try to use personal crises, or attempts to disrupt or divide the Church, to undermine and shake our faith in God and leaders He has chosen (I Thessalonians 3:1-5). Satan seems to be most active in his efforts to confuse and discourage people just before the Passover and other Holy Days. The Bible clearly reveals that personal trials and Church disruptions are to be expected by Christians who are called to be part of God’s Church (I Peter 4:12). One of the keys to enduring trials and overcoming difficult circumstances is to exercise patience—trusting God to sort out confusing situations (James 1:2-8). God is on His throne. He is still guiding His work, as He has down through the ages. We cannot afford to let Satan get our minds off the meaning of the Holy Days that picture the plan and purpose that God is working out on this earth. We need to keep pre-Passover trials in proper perspective.

Translation: more of that effluent is about to hit the fan.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Who Speaks for the COGs?

Once upon a time there was a monolithic sect called the Worldwide Church of God. Everybody was required to submit to the leaders and - incredibly - even think alike about anything of consequence. And it worked, at least for a time.

Until it all crashed.

Today the refugees are clustered in little groups, each eager to distinguish its virtues from the failings of the others. In place of one rigid hierarchy there is a proliferation of minor warlords. Then, uniformity; now, diversity.

So who, if anyone, speaks for the COGs?

That's easy: Bob Thiel.

"...we in the COGs believe that... We in the COGs believe that..." (March 17)

"We in the COGs do not consider that... We do not consider that... Thus, we in the COGs feel that... we in the COGs do not..." (St Patrick article)

Bob even wallops old Saint Pat for something he might be accused of himself: "It is quite presumptuous, as well as wrong, for Patrick to conclude that..."

Presumptuous. Very apt.

Naturally Bob, like everyone else, is entitled to his beliefs and opinions, and to advocate those views. But does Bob even speak on behalf of warlord Meredith? If not, how much less "the COGs." What makes one man's view more truly "COGish" than another (Mark Armstrong's or Clyde Kilough's for example?)

Where, for example, does it say that COG members shouldn't wear green on March 17? (Bob's latest pronouncement is called "Why The Church of God Does Not Wear Green on St. Patrick's Day") Okay that's Bob's understanding, and good for him, but a member of UCG in the Republic of Ireland might feel somewhat different.

Nobody is asking Bob to clam up, just to quit claiming to be some kind of ecumenical spokesman. After all, COGwriter is something of an institution, and the news service Bob provides is appreciated by many.

Unlike the old WCG, healthy communities thrive in an atmosphere of debate. The goose-stepping days under Herbert Armstrong didn't lead to harmony. The proof of that is in what happened when the rubber bands broke in 1996. Among Herb's present-day imitators debate is a pretext for division, as we've seen with Charles Bryce. Debate is a bad word in the Armstrong lexicon.

In The Closing of the Western Mind, Charles Freeman notes an alternative view first expressed long ago by Heraclitus of Ephesus. The harmonious city (or church) is not one in which everyone lives in peace but one among whose citizens there is constant activity and debate (p.10). Debate is a necessary prelude to reason, tolerance and charity. Small wonder then that these qualities often seem in short supply in the brittle, splinter-prone world of Armstrongism.

Think back to the Early Church. Judging from the evidence in the New Testament alone, the wheels seem to be coming off. Dissension, name calling, different practices. Who spoke for the first generation of Christians? Paul? (Paul thought so). Peter? (Matthew and Mark thought so, e.g. Mt 16: 17-19). James? (Thomas thought so: "Go to James the Just" Gospel of Thomas 12) How about "the disciple whom Jesus loved"? John thought so. It took the creative talents of Luke to try (with mixed success) to draw those loose threads together and paper over the cracks.

It seems nothing much has changed.

Thursday 15 March 2007

The host of heaven

The modern world is a very different place from the one our forefathers and foremothers lived in. If you had to put a single person at the fulcrum of change it might well be Copernicus. After him, the planet was demoted from center of the universe to one more sphere orbiting an unspectacular sun.

One of the significant casualties of 'modernity' is astrology. For thousands of years our ancestors looked up to the skies with awe, and read purpose and prophecy in the motion of the heavens. Paul imagined he had been "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor 12:2), the clockwork motions of the stars were thought to determine human destiny, and even those giants of the Enlightenment were keen on divining meaning from the firmament.

Copernicus made no distinction... between astronomy and astrology, referring to them jointly as “the head of all liberal arts.” ... Kepler was his era's foremost astrological theoretician... Even Galileo, like most Renaissance astronomers, routinely calculated astrological birth charts... Newton reported that it was his own early interest in astrology that stimulated his epochal researches in mathematics... (Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p.294-295.)

Given the universal interest in such things, it's no wonder that many commentators have searched for astrological references in the Bible. If the rest of us find that a curiously antiquarian quest, perhaps it indicates that we have a blindness to the subject that marks our own more rational age. After all, one of the pivotal New Testament stories has three Magi following a star which leads them to Jesus. Three centuries later the upstart emperor Constantine was to legitimate his bloody campaign for the imperial purple by a heavenly sign of his own, a portent that coincidently elevated a form of Christianity to the heart of Roman power.

No post-WCG figure has made a stronger case for astronomical references in the scriptures than former pastor Dennis Diehl. Dennis recommends a site called Solar Mythology and the Bible, and has a couple of articles on the subject, one on Isaiah 14, and another on “the original Sun of God.”

Is he on to something? That's for you to decide. Sophisticated liberal theologians are loathe to see these superstitions in their urbane analyses. Fundamentalists are too blinkered to look beyond their treasure trove of proof-texted dogmas. Maybe we've been missing a very real layer of pure nonsense parading as profundity.

There's a reading list linked from the Solar Mythology site, and for those with a thirst for a deeper understanding of just how different the modern/post-modern world-view really is, you could do worse than tackling Richard Tarnas' powerful book The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View.

For myself, I'm one Piscean who is delighted to be on this side of the Copernican divide.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Of Philistines and Philadelphians

The Philistines have had a really bad reputation for a very long time. They're the villains in the Old Testament/Tanakh (remember Goliath?) But the facts, it seems, are not always what they seem. This was a literate and cultured people. Check out the March 13 NY Times article.

Which leads to an interesting question. Does the Bible portray "the bad guys" accurately? Is it impartial and objective, a "God's eye-view", or are we reading through layers of long-forgotten political convenience and national polemic?

Unfortunately there's a lot of material in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles that's, well, historically suspect, as Finkelstein and Silberman clearly demonstrate in David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. Another provocative writer (with a more populist touch) is Matthew Sturgis, author of It Ain't Necessarily So. Having read both, I recommend them to anyone interested in the history behind the ancient stories. In short, it's not just the Genesis material that we have to exercise caution over. The "historical books" also need to be read with great care.

Needless to say, True Believers and Philadelphian hold-fasts, like fundamentalists of all persuasions, will avoid material like this. Others will find their horizons stretched by inconvenient facts, and may find themselves embarked on a exhilarating learning curve.

The Enigma of Herman Hoeh

In case you missed Trader's posting in the comments recently...

Having known Herman Hoeh (like many others) for nearly 20 years and worked for him for part of that time, if someone had told me that he had adopted elements of the edicts of Zarathustra, I can't say I would be surprised. An intensely private man, Hoeh was an enigma in the truest sense of the word.

If he was anything (and I actually write this with respect), he was an apologist for whomever was in power at the time in WCG.

1) For example, when HWA announced in the 1950s/1960s that the Egyptian pyramids couldn't have survived the Great Flood, Hoeh responded by simply rewriting history. Borrowing heavily from Immanuel Velikovsky's controversial work, Ages in Chaos, Hoeh reworked traditionally accepted Egyptian and Babylonian dynasty chronologies so they fit HWA's Flood scheme. He subsequently published them as "new truth" in the first volume of his legendary Compendium. When HWA later allowed for the pyramids to actually have "survived" the Flood, Hoeh looked like an idiot.

2) The "theology" for HWA's title and rank of "Apostle" came directly from Hoeh. HWA actually initially rebuked Hoeh for calling Armstrong an Apostle, but as we all know, gradually accepted it (although HWA didn't use the title openly for nearly 20 years).

3) In the last months while HWA was dying, Hoeh basically either flat-out hand-wrote sections or heavily edited prior HWA works for the book that became Mystery of the Ages. (Sheila Graham also played a significant role in the production of MOA, which should give Flurry fits). Mystery of the Ages would be more appropriately title "Herbert Armstrong's Greatest Hits," edited by Herman L. Hoeh.

4) Hoeh heavily edited HWA's original Authobiography after Armstrong's death (again with aid from Sheila Graham), adding in HWA letters and the initial pieces about Joe Tkach. The result was a politically tinged tone that produced a quasi-"balanced" view of WCG's founder and made it seem like the selection of Tkach as successor was an orderly process (which it was anything but same).

I had a great deal of respect for Hoeh (particularly in how he and his wife were true servants of humanity), but truly to really understand what he "believed" at any given moment was like trying to nail a wet noodle to a wall.

AW comment: Sheila, I had no idea!

Monday 12 March 2007

UCG packing for Dallas

The Journal has just released a newsflash. The Ohio-based church, largest in the ex-Armstrong stable, is about to relocate to sunny Texas. Details of the story, written by Dave Havir, are now online.

Several days ago a correspondent identifying herself as "Bible Betty" posted this message in several AW threads: Now that L. McCullough and C. Kilough were seen looking at land in Dallas to buy for a new headquarters and college for the United Church, their members in Texas will likely be excited to have the United HQ in their state. It turns out Betty was right on the money.

Sunday 11 March 2007

Flying Pigs Over Charlotte

Big things are ahead for God's Philadelphian Work, the Living Church of God. Yes folks, that's no bunny Rod just pulled out ears-first, it's (gasp!) a university!

Dr. Winnail just now came into my office and asked me to include a preliminary announcement to all of you about our plans to start the “Living University”—with classes beginning this coming autumn! As one who taught Ambassador College theology classes more than any other human—and one who assisted Mr. Armstrong as Second Vice President of Ambassador College for many years—I have a deep desire to educate our young people and members and give them the opportunity to participate in the proper type of educational setting in a truly Christian environment.

So please take note! The goal of this University will be to provide accredited degrees, as well as diplomas and certificates, through distance learning courses. We already have a dedicated faculty who have committed to this program with the necessary degrees and background to make it a resounding success. Along with my teaching many of the Bible classes, Dr. Douglas Winnail will also assist in overseeing this Living University—as well as Mr. Richard Ames who taught for years and has an M.A. from Stephen F. Austin University. The Chief Executive Officer of the University will be Dr. Michael Germano—holding earned doctorates from the University of Southern California and the University of La Verne. Dr. 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, he served as Vice President of Academic Services at Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC.

Living University, with administrative offices at Living Church of God Headquarters in Charlotte, NC, plans to begin with “all the world as its campus” and offer distance learning courses for undergraduate degrees, diplomas and certificates. Eventually, we hope to offer an on campus program for a limited number of students... So let us be inspired, again, in all that Christ is doing!

This is of course wonderful news. An accredited COG university issuing real degrees. That's a trick that Herbert Armstrong himself never managed to pull off in his lifetime. The current WCG 'college' is unaccredited, nor is UCG's or the lavish clone-campus in Edmond operated by 6-pack Flurry & Son. Moreover, none of these institutions calls itself a university.

So we're all very impressed. But there are a few nagging questions.

1. Can LCG afford the big bucks necessary to bring its new project up to accreditation standard?

2. Will Rod live long enough to see the first degree issued?

3. Will LCG - which is losing members, ministers and (therefore) money - need to mothball the project even before then due to one of the many crisis derailments that plague the sect?

4. Is it ethical to assure prospective students that their qualifications will be recognized when that situation neither exists nor is likely to exist for a long time (if ever)?

5. Granted that Doc Germano has some experience with college administration, is it realistic to expect this gentleman to deliver accreditation to LCG's 'university' single-handed?

6. Would anyone want to accredit a university which hired Rod to teach, with no academic credentials other than a bogus doctorate from Ambassador College?

7. How many of the 'staff' have relevant degrees. What classes does Ames' MA, for example, qualify him to teach?

8. Is Rod nuts for investing energy in this strange beast - part albatross, part white elephant? Consider:

*** More ministers keep jumping ship (see previous post)
*** The Canadian branch is having problems
*** Attendance has reportedly halved in LA and San Diego

A little prognostication: "Living University" is unlikely to survive long enough to see its first graduate, and in the very unlikely event it does survive, none of us will still be around when it gains accreditation sometime in the twenty-fourth century. But the path from now till its demise is surely littered with wasted greenbacks from sincere people who trust Rod and really believe white rabbits (or flying pigs) can be pulled from hats.

Friday 9 March 2007

Another one bites the dust

The livingcog Yahoo group reports that another LCG minister has gone AWOL. This time, according to informants, it's Eng Monson from Ohio. Excerpts from the postings:

Mr. Eng Monson, LCG pastor in Ohio, has resigned his position due to the changes going on in LCG and an unwillingness by the leaders of the church to consider his concerns. husband spoke to him on the phone tonight, he will be going with Charles Bryce and I am sure he will continue in the ministry. There are others leaving the LCG daily.

I believe you can verify this by going to the church website and doing a search for minister by typing in the name Monson. Only Sheldon comes up, not Eng. If you search Ohio, you will see that Lambert Greer is now the Pastor listed in most places.

Oh dear, oh dear. Is anyone able to confirm or deny? No comment yet on Bob Thiel's site (big surprise).

Tuesday 6 March 2007

From Abraham to (the other) Joe Jr.

Quick, March 13 will be on us in just over a week's time, and it'll then be too late to pick up the special issue of US News & World Report entitled Mysteries of Faith: The Prophets at the news stands.

Here, in magazine format, condensed into 88 pages, is a primer on the prophets with a line-up of contributors that includes Jonathan Kirsch, Bruce Feiler, Bart Ehrman and Karen Armstrong. Don't be put off by the cover, which is obviously not designed with COG sensibilities in mind. This is a great introduction to the historical figures who loom so large in the Bible. Beyond this familiar territory there are articles on Islam's Quran and yes, even the world's most boring and derivative volume, the Book of Mormon.

So many people dive straight into the ravings of modern-day expositors, trumpeting some kind of "inside knowledge" - tithes and love offerings gratefully accepted. Instead, why not take a deep breath first and get the low down from these guys. The real story of the prophets is quite different from the impression you get listening to proof-texts on Saturday, or reading Tomorrow's World.

Articles focus on Abraham, Moses, David ("Playboy of the Ancient World"), and characters like Elijah, the Isaiahs (yes Virginia, there was more than one), Jeremiah et al. Then there's Jesus and Paul. For a little contrast, try the articles on Muhammad and Joseph Smith. A painless, cult-free education for a modest price. As is always the case, some articles are better than others, but on balance this single issue will do a lot more for your theological IQ than a year's worth of Greg Albrecht's Plain Truth (or a two year stack of Good News magazines).

Saturday 3 March 2007

Bryce's Mini Minor

Charles Bryce, leader of the Enduring Church of God, has released his latest "update" (March 1). Two items caught my eye.

The unoriginal, tired, worn-out old catch-phrase "majoring in the minors" is used frequently to water down clear Bible teaching... I'd like to read something that Mr. Dean Blackwell gave me just a day or so ago on "majoring in the minors" and he said, "This term began to be used about the time of the 1973/74 blow up in the Church. 'Majoring in the minors' began to be used to refer to those in the so-called old school"--which meant my teaching on which the Church was founded, that God used to build the Church--"[those] who were strict about birthday...[who were strict about] children staying totally out of Christmas artwork and activities, make up, etc."...

In other words, there was there, for a while, ministers who wanted to do away with every booklet, that I wrote that established this Church, that built this Church on a solid foundation. They wanted to knock out that solid foundation. And put a foundation of sand under the Church and destroy the Church....

There has been a liberal movement in the Church even since that. And we've been getting away from that and back on track since. You were majoring in the minors if you spoke on health foods, on prohibition and prohibited anything to do with birthday parties and insisted on modest apparel among the women...and no long hair among the boys or men.

Mr. Armstrong taught that we must obey all of God's Word and not categorize sin into major and minor lists. Sin is sin--period!

Putting aside the atrocious punctuation and grammar (which part is Blackwell, which Armstrong and which Bryce?) Chuckie and his old mate seem to be saying that they're proud to major in the minors. Have at it chaps, play in the sandbox as long as you like.

But what about the website? Every sect needs a presence online, a place where you can grab further contact details at the very least.

I just got off of the phone with our website coordinator and he said that it is about 50% finished. The website builders are working on it part-time, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, when they can find the time. Our eager anticipation for launching this major tool in the Work grows every day, right along with yours.

Translation: Billy-Bob and John-Boy are doing it for free, but they're really busy right now with their paper rounds and nobody has suggested that it might be a good idea to put up a basic temporary page while they're still messing around with exploding star animations and mp3 clips of Dwight Armstrong hymns. Never mind, at least they have nice short haircuts.

All in all, not an auspicious start. A mini church with a minor focus. Spanky will surely be quaking in his boots.

You can read the full Bryce epistle on AW Extra.

Friday 2 March 2007

All the rest... just details

The following comments appeared below one of the recent postings. They deserve a wider audience.
There is a difference between "cursing the memory of everything COG," which I doubt that most do, and admitting to the fact that the foundations of the organization(s) was based on a terribly flawed premise.

There was much I enjoyed about my COG years. Some wonderful people. Some beautiful settings, including the campuses, and many of the Feast sites. I have strong and pleasant memories of many things.

That has nothing to do, unfortunately, with the realization that I came to in the past decade: I simply do not believe that a creator God would establish his "end-time true church" through an individual who, at that very time, couldn't keep his hands off his own daughter. All the rest, as they say, is just details.

I have read and heard those who have tried to discredit that story. Personally, I didn't want to believe it. But it was first told to me by an individual who remains a prominent, well-known and widely read COG true believer. He was and is convinced HWA did those things, but followed it with "it doesn't affect the message."

Sorry, but it most certainly does. As I quietly explored what he had told me -- I presume he thought either that I already knew or that, if I didn't, I would blow it off like he had -- I talked with several individuals, some from many years past who had left the organization without fanfare. I encountered one close friend from childhood who was surprised I didn't know and said he had heard the news from an Armstrong grandson. Another person close to me had heard the news from a different Armstrong grandson, one who certainly would have known, back in the 70s. When I asked why she'd never said anything, she admitted she hadn't wanted to hurt me, my parents, etc. Both people had parted ways with the WCG some 15 or more years earlier.

I cannot speak for others, but that sort of news changes everything. Too much of the organization's history was tied up in the premise that a man -- that man -- could be "the one," and that it was God's design that we all fall in line behind him for the end-time push. It amazes me that there are individuals -- especially some who I know personally and who I know are well aware of this sordid tale -- who continue to fall back on "Mr. Armstrong said" as a way to trump all arguments, when what the man did speaks so much louder...especially when one considers that it was at the very beginning of everything.

Yes, it's old news now. But I am amazed that there are those willing to sweep it aside to protect their turf and pursue arguments. I am not.

Learning the news caused me to look at things in a different light. I realized I had to. It was during a time of doctrinal upheaval in the WCG, and I transitioned from skepticism to curiosity.

I don't curse the memory of everything COG. I love and care about many people who remain, and recall them, and certain activities, etc., with fondness. But as the defenders of the faith (read: man) rally to their cause, I can't get past this foundational problem. It is not lost on me that neither can they.

Thursday 1 March 2007

Looney Tombs

The Discovery Channel is about to release The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and WCG/AC alumnus James Tabor is apparently one of those lined up behind the venture. There are hoots of derision from fundamentalists, keen to discredit the idea that Jesus' unresurrected remains linger here below. Typical are these comments by Paul McCain, a prominent Missouri Synod pastor with a gift for sneering disdain of anything or anyone that might challenge his confessional views.

So, you've heard that James Cameron, the movie maker, has announced that he has discovered the smoking gun evidence that once and for all debunks Christianity. Wow. Imagine that. Cameron, whose better movie making days are now a memory, announces, just in time for Easter, that he has discovered proof positive that "sinks" Christianity. And when I use the term "better movie making days" I am of course using that phrase very loosely. Titanic would have been better titled A Celebration of Fornication on the High Seas. The whole ship sinking and people freezing and drowning was simply a way to keep those with higher levels of testosterone on the hook while they suffered through the tedium of not even a very well done sob-story. The movie was nothing but exploitive trash, just like this story. (Source)

In contrast, Tabor pleads:

I do indeed think that this tomb with its six inscribed ossuaries might arguably be connected to the Jesus of Nazareth, despite all the hype and heat and at the risk of being derided by some. In my view we should give the evidence a fair hearing... What has surprised me the past two days is the willingness of many in our fields (archaeology, biblical studies, history) to comment to the press in a negative and dismissive way before viewing the film or reading the book.

I admire Dr Tabor, even though I'm completely unconvinced by his 2006 book The Jesus Dynasty. Despite that, I'm looking forward to his forthcoming book on Paul very much. I trust him a great deal more than the assorted apologists from Dallas Theological Seminary and their deluded kinfolk who, like McCain, can't seem to prise their minds open a single centimetre to consider new ideas.

Passing judgement before seeing the program would be churlish (or McCainish), and unlike most readers of this blog, it'll be a while before I get a chance as the Australian version of Discovery Channel hasn't bothered to schedule it yet. I suspect though that I'll be reluctantly siding with McCain, even if for different reasons. There's probably more chance of discovering Sherlock Holmes' violin under a London bedsit than the scrapings from Jesus' body in a stone box.

A generation ago there were academics and lunatics in equal measure running around and making amazing claims for the shroud of Turin. Some of them - if you bothered to follow their arguments - sounded reasonably convincing. Will the Talpiot tomb be the "shroud issue" of this decade? Maybe. As L. Michael White of the University of Texas sagely observes: "This is not archeologically sound, this is fanfare."

A good place to get a positive view of the upcoming movie is James Tabor's blog. The PR hype is elsewhere. Meantime I'll stand quietly over here with my new pal "Pastor" McCain and try not to pick up something contagious.