Thursday 30 April 2009

Twittering with Spanky & Son

A report today indicates that most of us who have tried the Twitter fad have quickly regained our common sense and dropped out. I'm pleased to announce that I'm also among the ranks of the former twits. If it can't be done on Facebook it probably shouldn't be.

Not so the magisterium of the LCG, which has launched its own Twitter page. Not to be overly critical (ahem) but it's a bit of a bore.

Not so the short-lived Twitter page belonging to Rod's son Jonathan. It quickly rose to become joke of the month among LCG members and other COG readers who stumbled across it. Jonathan has wisely removed it now, but not before several folk hit the print button on behalf of posterity. AW was tipped off by a correspondent who commented on the fact that any other LCG member placing content of this sort online would be booted out of the church without delay.

To be fair, Jonathan isn't as far as I know a salaried employee of his dad's sect (although it's apparent from his postings that he is a member), and was unaware he was being read by anyone other than a couple of amigos: so why give the guy undue grief? The lesson to be learned for practicing COG members here is that if you're going to use colorful language, exercise advanced scatological skills and demonstrate your need for remedial English, posting it all online is a really dumb thing to do.

Friday 24 April 2009

Richard, wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

Dear Richard

I read your article, and it's nice that you're pleased about WCG's re-branding as Grace Communion International. But if this is cause to make the Christian world rejoice, then there's something terribly wrong. The WCG transformation is more a travesty than a miracle. That's why a lot of the people in the WCG who originally welcomed the "reformation" are now ex-members. Outside commentators like yourself have too often avoided asking the tough questions in their haste to claim a victory for evangelical faith. That's why your blog entry is naive and, frankly, uninformed.

When the changes began, people like you were needed to help guide the beneficiaries of Armstrong's Empire away from a hierarchic mindset. What happened? Nothing. Sure, there has been doctrinal change, and that was hugely necessary. But it wasn't enough.

Richard, if you're serious about helping the newly re-christened GCI and its members, write to Joe Tkach and urge him to introduce genuine accountability into his church (and I do mean his church... which is why accountability is desperately needed.) Encourage him to establish an elected board and a procedure whereby the church president must be selected by a representative body for a set term of office. Familiarise him with the concept of mandated leadership.

If you can pull off that trick, then you'll be able to write about a real miracle, with no argument from me!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Gerry Spends Up Big

Gerry "Six Pack" Flurry has been swanning around in Big Sandy, and guess what he's brought home to Oklahoma?

Mormons collect "mormonabilia", so I guess Gerry collects "herbabilia," and there's been no looking back since he hauled the "prayer rock" to Edmond. Over the years since he's continued, um, pecking away...

No, Gerry, we're all really impressed, aren't we campers? Interested readers will surely want to flock, as it were, to the PCG's triumphant announcement of purchase. Maybe we could all hire a bus for a pilgrimage...

Saturday 18 April 2009

A Clever Clunker

What Aggie calls the "whitewashing" has commenced as a number of Tkach-sect websites waste no time in undergoing a makeover from Worldwide Church of God to Grace Communion International.

"One ministry blog has already been whitewashed. The Surprising God Blog has not (yet). One Pennsylvania congregation has been whitewashed. WCG’s vulnerable and at-risk youth recruitment propaganda has not been whitewashed (yet). One TN congregation has been whitewashed. Anybody speak Spanish? Looks like this congregation has been whitewashed, but I can’t tell for certain." (From ISA)

The move is clever. We all know the sect is still Joe's stolen sinecure. Legally it's still WCG, but a new name creates further distance from the past. Those of us who are past members of WCG have effectively been cut loose a second time... we were never members of anything called Grace Communion International. Joe has put on a silly hat and a plastic nose, "can't see me!"

And it is a clanger of a name. GCI doesn't have the x-factor when it comes to church marketing. I don't think the Glendora mullahs will be too worried though, their downsized sect will continue to rake in returns on legacies and assets for a long time.

One of the interesting revelations that came out in the recent Monte Wolverton interview was that (and I'm heavily paraphrasing here) Pope Joe and Cardinal Mike put the hard word on Monte to hand over his father's Bible Story artwork to the WCG/GCI, even though he had possession. Why? Well, it's obviously worth at least thirty pieces of high grade silver. Because Basil was in church employment at the time the drawings were made, they had the legal right to demand them. Morally speaking though, it was the pits. So if you're wondering why the Wolverton Bible has all those obsequious references to Joe, Mike and WCG... look no further. This is how they treat their friends.

The point is, Joe and Mike are anything but mushy marshmallows. Behind the goofy appearance and sanctimonious exteriors lie hard, calculating men. Their Achilles heel is that they rarely get those calculations right, for which we can all be grateful.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Bloggin' on COG things

A few blogs to check out that aren't in the canonical list on the sidebar.

  • "Mr. Media" Interview with Monte Wolverton about - what else - Basil's Wolverton Bible: Andelman (scroll down).

Oh, what the heck, here's the Wolverton interview right here.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Radical Forgiveness

A book recommendation from longstanding AW correspondent and occasional Journal columnist Dennis Diehl:
Radical Forgiveness

More information about the program is available here.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Spanky and the Web Cheats

A while back AW posted details of how UCG was trying to manipulate Web traffic. I guess all's fair in love, war and proselytizing, though there were UCG members among those most outraged by the "cheating" aspect. Now comes news that the LCG, home of some of the most highly moralistic poseurs of Philadelphian righteousness, is being accused of wheedling away in an even more blatant manner, this time to skew Alexa rankings in their favor.

Just a day or so ago we posted the latest Alexa rankings for COG sites - and lo, LCG was shooting up the ladder, both for the Tomorrow's World and official church sites. Could it be that God is moving powerfully to increase LCG's influence on the Web?

Well, no. These comments were received shortly after the posting went up.

"...the reason you're seeing LCG and TW pull up in the Alexa ratings is because LCG HQ sent out an email to all its ministers asking them to install the Alexa toolbar. So now when they pull up the LCG or TW websites, it of course helps their rating. Now you know..."

No Virginia, there is no increase in LCG's audience. It's all a pathetic jack-up.

A word to The Glorious Leader and author of The Ten Commandments: "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's Web ratings."

Link updates

The granddaddy of dissident websites, The Painful Truth, has a new editor, James. I guess he has a surname, but I'm not privy to it. Despite some initial alarm that he might be taking the anti-PT in new directions, it seems that the site still stands in the tradition pioneered by Ed Mentell (wherever you are Ed, here's to you!) There have been four previous editors, including the inimitable if polarizing Mike Minton.

Back in the land of the living after a few months absence, and promising not to disappear any time soon, is a newly reconstructed Shadows of WCG blog, subtitled Next Generation.

Addendum: Russell has moved from the I Survived Armstrongism blog (now managed by Aggie) to the provocatively titled Holy, Mighty Atheist. Double the ginger in your diet...

Time to Break Free

So the WCG is now Grace Communion International?

You know, the really ironic thing is that Pope Joe and Cardinal Mike sat on their hands all through the fiasco of the eighties and early nineties.

The Apostle raved, and they joined in cheering.

Decent, honest people were purged, and they whistled and hooted.

These guys knew what was going on, and they assented.

Joe and Mike were active collaborators with evil.

Of course, now they've "seen the light." But only after it was convenient to do so.

And they've reformed the church, and now with a final coat of whitewash, even renamed it.

They reformed the doctrine, but not the structure.

One wonders why.

Sabbaths are out, Pastor Generals stay in.

The Trinity is in, but an elected Board with inbuilt checks and balances is locked out.

Financial transparency is shunned, but feel free to wave your arms at appropriate moments in services.

Sure, the church's teachings needed an overhaul: and a really radical overhaul. That's a no-brainer. But the church's hierarchical, oppressive structure needed dismantling even more.

It still does.

But there sits Joe in his comfy high-backed swivel chair, the third Pastor General.


None, other than Daddy tapped him on the shoulder.

And Joe Senior? He was tapped on the shoulder by whom?

Herbert W. Armstrong.

To dress this up as some kind of episcopal governance is plain deceitful. This was, and continues to be, a top-down structure that spits in the faces of those that rally to it, even those who sacrifice hugely for it.

There is more accountability in the Roman Catholic communion than the post-Armstrong sect that Tkach and his buddies reign over.

Let's be clear, the name change illustrates just how Pope Joe operates.

Who suggested the name (initially something like Grace International Fellowship)?

Pope Joe.

All the "consultation" was pro forma. Window dressing. Rubber-stamping. Right from the start it was evident that Pope Joe the Petulant would have his way. You'd have had to be particularly dense not to realize that when Joe christened the church's post-graduate program "Grace Communion Seminary." Even a moron in a hurry could see the writing on the wall.

Joe Tkach is no better than Herbert Armstrong. In fact he's arguably worse, in a weak-kneed, underhanded way.

Those members who remain with WCG/GCI might well ponder what benefits now remain for continuing:
  • to attend a church which denies them the rights of full members
  • to fund a church which allows no meaningful participation in decision making
  • to support a denomination which is now virtually indistinguishable from a thousand evangelical bodies, almost all of which carry less toxic baggage
  • to financially contribute to a church which has a history of sub-standard financial accountability and undisclosed salaries
It's time to tell Joe where to go. Now is a great time to finally break free.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Get GIC'd


The bearded patriarch and unelected Pastor Generalissimo has climbed off the fence. WCG has been renamed.

Much good may it do him. The April letter is, IMHO, a manipulative, condescending piece of patronizing PR.

No announcement, you'll note, that Pope Joe is stepping down from his position and re-establishing the church on non-hierarchical lines.

Friday 10 April 2009

COG sites in the top half-million

How goes the battle? Latest Alexa ratings for 17 COG sites in the top half-million on the Web.

1 (1) UCG's The Good News - 78,088
2 (3) PCG's Trumpet - 86,903
3 (2) Weinland's The End - 98,050 [slip-sliding down another place]
4 (4) Ruth's Bible Study - 104,054
5 (5) UCG - 110,575
6 (10) LCG's Tomorrow's World - 141,362 [on the rise]
7 (6) Ritenbaugh's Bible Tools - 151,281
8 (7) Pack's RCG - 160,746
9 (8) Thiel's COGwriter - 165,051
10 (11) Tkach & Co's WCG - 190,400
11 (15) LCG - 220,199 [on the rise]
12 (9) Hulme's Vision - 271,103 [dropping like a stone]
13 (13) Ritenbaugh's CGG - 320,186
14 (12) Sielaff's ASK - 362,743
15 (-) Albrecht's PTM - 368,546 [below the half-million last time!]
16 (16) Flurry's PCG - 438,208
17 (17) AW - 465,770
18 (14) Kubik - 569,852 [above the half-million last time]

Links are in the sidebar. Some observations:
  • UCG continues to dominate, but PTM must be the big winner this time (though heaven alone knows why) along with the LCG.
  • Weinland continues to slip, and David Hulme has plummeted some 100,000 places since the last check.
  • AW has made a modest overall improvement, up from 496,521.
  • Ron Dart's Born to Win site was offline (again) when we hit the link, and unsurprisingly with its on again/off again act, Alexa shows it has now dropped below 800,000.

Women in WCG and its Daughters

The following ad appear in the latest issue of The Journal. Click to enlarge.

For those with long memories, there was a time when AW suggested Mrs Graham would make a fine WCG church president if and when Joe Tkach ever decided to do the right thing and surrender his sinecure. The project outlined in the ad seems a worthy and long overdue one, and the questions Sheila asks deserve consideration.

The front and back pages of The Journal are available as a free download. More on this issue of The Journal in a later posting.

Dreaming in Arabic

Travel writing. It's not my thing. Bill Bryson is the exception. So the idea of an AC-Big Sandy student from the eighties writing about her experience in the Middle East - and we're talking "Big Dig" here - didn't exactly press all my buttons.

Jennifer, I repent of prejudging your writing. It's excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And as it turns out, there's a lot more than travel writing involved. You might find yourself saying "snap!" as often as I did as Jennifer and her husband dealt with their post-WCG issues. You might also be challenged by her advocacy for the Arab people, and the history of Palestine which she relates.

Jennifer Armstrong's free online book, Dreaming in Arabic, was drawn to my attention by an old Pasadena-based friend of AW who keeps tabs on WCG's Internet legacy with much greater thoroughness than I'm remotely capable of (yeah, I know, hard to believe, but still true.)

Over the Astarte weekend, if you're at a loose end, or looking for strength to avoid chocolate eggs or marshmallow bunnies, you could do worse than dip into Jennifer's story.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Date Line Lunacy

Well, dusk has turned to dark and the Passover has now "passed over" New Zealand, the first major country in the world to meet each new day as it emerges out of thin air over the International Date Line.

Of course, our Aussie brethren might want to challenge that assertion about "major country," but we'll bide our time: if the cane toads don't get them first then global warming will eventually.

But seriously, how do people outside "the Holy Land" know that they're observing their sacred days on the right days? Why not have the date line in the middle of the Atlantic instead of the Pacific?

Regrettably, there's no proof text at hand. The problem of where to plonk the changeover line never occurred to the biblical writers. As far as they were concerned the earth was flat: heaven above (with Yahweh somewhere beyond the starry canopy), hades below. When the sun went down it passed over bare rocky nether regions that opened out onto nothingness before ascending once more into the bright domains of humankind.

Apparently Yahweh, despite being omniscient, was unaware of the problems that migration to the "Down Under" zone would create. Or the New World for that matter. The International Date Line was eventually set by mere mortals over a few gin and tonics.

Then there's the issue of the kink in the dateline over Tonga. Being sensible, intelligent and perceptive people the Tongans naturally wanted to be on the Kiwi side of the line, but the cartographers wanted to put them in company with the Americas. No wonder they objected! Thus the dateline was amended - and a bump was created to put Tonga on the civilized side of the temporal chasm.

As I understand it, Seventh-day Adventists in Tonga keep two sabbaths each week as a result: both Saturday and Sunday. Why? Well, the LORD seems not to have spoken specifically on the dented dateline, so they play safe... just in case!

I'm not sure whether there are any Adventists on Kiribati, but there the problem is even more glaring. Until January 1st 1995 Kiribati was on the Western side of the date line, but the micro-nation decided - again, who can blame them - to grab a day's march on the rest of the world, and thereby become the first place on the planet to welcome in the new millennium (and grab a lot of free publicity.) Boy, I bet the heavenly Department of Holy Days was cheesed off about that one!

And what about the long-suffering Samoans, forever doomed to keep the sabbath almost 24 hours after their nearby Tongan brethren.

Among the calendar fanatics who want to argue about solar/lunar/360 and suchlike, I've yet to come across a single one of these geniuses who can give a poor Tongan, Kiwi or Aussie a bit of biblical assurance that they're not a day out.

In the absence of a solution to this enigma, the whole concept of "Holy Time" outside the Middle East becomes meaningless.

SDA's are given to statements like: "Some people believe the placement of the International Date Line was achieved under divine guidance." Yes, doubtless, but it also logically follows that "some people" don't. What's needed is proof - or failing that, at least a nice proof text. Bob? Rod? Gerry? Willie? ... Anybody?

None of this has much to do with the spiritual significance of a eucharistic celebration. The Lord's Supper would be the Lord's Supper for observant Christians anywhere. But let's be clear, there is a real problem if you shackle it to a legalistic calculation of "holy time."

Herbert Armstrong always postured about sending a certified bank cheque to anyone who could mail in a Bible verse that commanded Sunday observance. I'm tempted to repeat the offer on the dateline issue. Clearly I won't need to go running to the bank anytime soon.

But if you do come up with a proof text, please be sure to mail it with a Kiribati stamp.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Passover 2009 - The COG Observance

For the curious, the committed and the de-converted, here are 2009's traditional holy days dates in the former WCG tradition.

* Passover: April 7*
* Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 9-15
* Pentecost: May 31
* Feast of Trumpets: September 19
* Day of Atonement: September 28
* Feast of Tabernacles: October 3 - 9
* Last Great Day: October 10

*Observed at sundown

Frankly, I preferred them to the liturgical calendar of my upbringing. The mainstream observances have long since been appropriated and rubbed smooth by Western culture. Easter? Chocolate eggs, bunnies, hot cross buns, and a much appreciated long weekend. That's about it for most people... except in pockets like Poland and the Southern Baptist heartland.

So, is there any place for those observances? What enduring value do they have? Strangely enough, COG members tend to ignore those questions and get derailed on postponements: not focusing on the why but the how (which, when you think about it, is a characteristic by no means limited to the Holy Days.)

And then, when we do talk about the why, it all turns on proof texts and alleged symbolism in God's putative Master Plan.

I'm doubtful about "Master Plan" thinking, even when mad Calvinists dress it up as "metanarrative", German scholars wax lyrical about heilsgeschichte, or Seventh-day Adventists try to pass off copies of "The Great Controversy." But to each their own.

How about in terms of making sense of your faith, grounding you on the shifting sands of everyday life, meaning something to you, not just as a correct tenet to be believed and practiced?

Passover? Unleavened Bread? Easter? How meaningful? Over to you.

No insults, no proof texts... "Bah, humbug," and "a curse on both your houses" posts will be held over for a week until those who have less strident views have had a chance to contribute. The same applies to any discussion on postponements and the technical intricacies of calendar calculations.

Friday 3 April 2009

The Eternal Word has been Revised

The statement struck me as unintentionally funny: The Revised Edition of God's Eternal Word is now available.

Someone's idea of a joke? Intrigued, I hit the link and discovered that Fred Coulter has competition in the one-man Bible translation field. What Fred has done for the tiny CBCG sect, some Aussie bloke called Clarence Priebbenow has done for the fundamentalist fringe of Australian Lutheranism.

But, unlike Fred, Clarrie makes his translation available as a free MS Word download. Actually, it's not too bad, all considered, though I doubt it'll ever become known outside the tiny circle of the AELC, a truly COGish Lutheran body which split some time ago from the Lutheran Church of Australia and has now just split down the middle itself over an obscure dogma.

Unfortunately some AELC pastors and their congregations chose not to submit to the public doctrine of the church and are consequently no longer members of our synod. In fact because they have departed from the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, we believe that they are actually no longer Lutheran...These folk are not permitted to receive communion in the congregations of our synod, nor are they to be accepted as sponsors for Baptism, whilst they knowingly and willingly condone this erroneous doctrine error and practice in spite of frequent Scriptural admonition. It is our duty to warn you of this sectarian group operating under the guise of being authentic Lutheran churches and pastors. They are in fact neither. As the Holy Spirit says through the Apostle Paul, “… they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). [AELC February newsletter]

Aw shucks, and I thought this kind of love and forbearing was the exclusive specialty of the WCG and its splinters. Somehow it's gratifying to see somebody else slugging it out... why should we have all the fun?

Regardless, I'd recommend "Pastor" Priebbenow's not-so Eternal Word over the Fred Bible. Not that it's much of a recommendation, as there probably isn't a translation in existence that I wouldn't recommend over Fred's, but with the gratis status, who can complain? And just think how impressive those ABC or Living University students' essays could be if they chucked in a gratuitous reference to the authoritative-sounding "Priebbenow translation" among the hardy favorites of Moffatt and Goodspeed!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Crumb Alert!

Hard on the heels of the release of the Wolverton Bible comes news that its evil doppelganger is soon to follow. Robert Crumb, the counter-culture cartoonist, is set to release his version of Genesis on an unsuspecting world.

Crumb is said to have been inspired by the style of Wolverton, but unlike Basil he relished openly sexual content, and anti-establishment values. If Basil was COGwriter, then Robert would be I Survived Armstrongism. On the campuses of the seventies his artwork often appeared in student rags.

"Four years in the making, Crumb worked from the King James Bible and Robert Alter's translation to reinterpret the Book of Genesis, from the Creation via Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to Noah boarding his ark."

Crumb's publisher is predicting it will "provoke the religious right." I daresay it won't end up on Clyde Kilough's coffee table either.

For now I'll be content to leaf through my copy of the Wolverton Bible which, I say with some delight, fully lived up to my expectations (though the proof reading was atrocious in parts.) The article by Monte is excellent and it is a pleasure to see some content that has never appeared in print before. Long after Herb's books, booklets and articles have disappeared, I suspect Basil's cross-hatched masterpieces will continue to provoke both admiration and revulsion. At least, I fervently hope so.

Related link: Robert Crumb's website.

The cost of "Cry Wolf"

Okay, I repent. I shouldn't have said positive things about Earth Day. Environmentalists are all communists, or maybe even Canadians. Ronald Reagan was a great president, George W. Bush was tragically misunderstood. Global Warming is a myth from evil Greenie extremists. The polar ice-caps aren't melting, and besides, the world has warmed and cooled before so why all the fuss?

It's a bit weird really. Here we are, most of us, ex-apocalyptic nut-jobs in recovery. We've heard the cry of "Wolf!" one too many times. Forget that the Plain Truth magazine once claimed to be an early consciousness-raiser on ecological issues. Forget that yellow-covered booklet Our Polluted Planet (for those of you who hark back to the seventies.) Forget all those references to the Club of Rome. Nope, now we know better. Nothin's gonna turn to custard; pass me another beer.

Yes, Hoeh, Armstrong, Spanky and their gang were total cretins, and completely deluded. Yes, they jerked us all around with their fear religion. Only trouble is - Global Warming is happening, the ice-caps are melting and the scientific consensus is growing. I guess you might not know that if you listen to conservative squawk radio rather than read New Scientist.

The big surprise to me is that the current crop of apocalyptic nut-jobs - the Flurry and Meredith groupies - are just as likely to be in denial as the jaundiced malcontents and drop-outs. Maybe they figure that Global Warming is just too slow to be a sign that the knee-capping Hosts of Heaven will be riding in on the clouds in three-to-five years.

The thing with apocalyptic beliefs is that they encourage passivity. The End Times are almost here, ain't nuthin' you can do about it 'cept dig deep to fund the Work, study your Bible proof texts and hope like heck. The thing with science, on the other hand, is it encourages activism: it says we can change the future, it gives us strategies. Not the same thing.

The comments on the previous thread excluded some really nasty ones. It was, I thought, a moderate post, but I am apparently a commie, an Obama supporter and even worse. The World Wildlife Fund is a Marxist front. These folk have just morphed from apocalyptic nut-jobs to run-of-the mill, vanilla-favored nut-jobs. I think I prefer the apocalyptic types.

If you think Global Warming is just a liberal myth, go down to your local library and dig out the March 28 issue of New Scientist. Turn to page 32 and read the article called Meltdown. It isn't written by an apocalyptic nut-job, and it may just change your mind...