Friday 31 July 2009

United - kamikaze season

From The Journal website:

Unconfirmed reports say Clyde Kilough and Richard Thompson are resigning from the United Church of God council of elders.

The Journal, as of July 30, 2009, was hearing unconfirmed but persistent reports that two members of the United Church of God's council of elders, Clyde Kilough of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Richard Thompson of Eustis, Fla., have resigned their seats on the council but that Mr. Kilough will continue in his role as president.
Both men are longtime Church of God members, and both are elders of the United Church of God an International Association, headquartered in Milford, Ohio.

The Journal has checked with UCG sources who would neither confirm or deny the reports.
The 12-man council of elders in recent months, especially since the recent election during the general conference of elders in early May 2009, has moved toward what some observers see as a more progressive position on several key issues that concern the church and its governance. For example, the council is moving toward a much less restrictive position on the topic of elders discussing among themselves how to vote concerning candidates for council positions and for church policies and whether participating in informal discussions by E-mail is appropriate for elders.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Pam Dewey on Misogyny (and Meredith)

(Pam Dewey comments on the recent post The Woman haters of Armstrongism?)

Does the obvious misogyny of the WCG past still exist in some or many corners of the COGs? Of course.

From my personal perspective and experience ... yes, unfortunately there are [only] a tiny handful of COG-related women who have felt empowered do anything on even the very minor level I have been able to accomplish. I've had a website that can't compete with Ambassador Watch for traffic :-) but I've had over a half million visitors. The site even garnered a mention a couple of years back by Cal Thomas, who is a well known media commentator and one of the most widely published newspaper commentators in the world. (He was looking on the web for info on groups that are big in End Time Prophecy pontifications, and came across my Field Guide. His citation of it in his international print and online column one day led to a big leap in Field Guide site visitors for a few days!)

I've been giving presentations (dubbed "seminars" ... don't dare call 'em "sermons" ;-) ) for over a decade at the Feast of Tabernacles and other COG venues, attended by both men and women. (I've even had some people say that my seminars are one of the primary reasons they chose a particular FOT site.)

I've been invited all over the US to give similar presentations at local and regional church gatherings for over a decade.

I've been an editor and writer for a number of COG publications, as well as written one book of my own and co-authored two books with Ron Dart.

So are my efforts applauded in all circles? Of course not. Even though I get along with many, many men (and am most often invited by men to speak to groups) ... it is obvious to me that I am viewed by certain men in COG leadership positions as a threat. And evidently particularly because of my gender.

I could understand if I were in their own congregation or denomination ... if so, they could bash me over the head with scriptures and make me shut up through sheer corporate authority. But you'd think what I do "outside" the confines of a particular group would have no impact or interest at all to the leaders within the group. I'm certainly no threat to their constituency, since none of their loyal members will ever be going to a place where I am speaking!

Yet some time back I got an email from some fellow who was getting tapes from Rod M. He had written to me to apologize for the beating my reputation had taken on a recent Rod tape. Now mind you, I've never had anything at all to do with Rod Meredith. I've never met him, never been part of any group he was involved with since the WCG. Nor have I corresponded with him. But he evidently named me by name in a sneering way on this particular tape that went out to his constituency around the world.

The fellow that wrote to me said that Rod had ranted something along the lines of "There is this woman out there named Pam Dewey who is trying to start a revival in the Churches of God!!" Dearie me. Wouldn't want to wake the dead or comatose. What an insidious idea. I guess I just found it amazing that such a man would find some little grandmother living in Podunk he'd never even met to be that big a threat. Only thing I can think of is that my very existence somehow threatened his masculinity.

Such as it is.

Sunday 26 July 2009

WHAM! The UCG gets blindsided!

Satan knows he has but a short time, brethren, and he's angry! Persecution is already upon God's church, with a horde of slathering, godless ATHEISTS descending on...

Oh, ooops, sorry. Caught in a time loop there. Hang on, I'll slap myself and start again.

Cop a gawk at the GN ad. It's been appearing uninvited on the blog of P.Z. Myers, one of the outriders for the Four Horsepersons of New Atheism. There's been a link to Myers' blog (Pharyngula) here on the AW sidebar for several months. Myers is articulate and entertaining, but clearly not a fan of religion in any form.

But, P.Z. - or more likely his host ScienceBlogs - makes a little extra moolah by selling advertising space on his blog via Google. And here's where the UCG comes in. Talk about niche marketing from hell!

P.Z. however has noticed, and has launched an apocalyptic plague of near-Weinlandian proportions on the lads from Cincinnati.

[H]ere's something I'd like you all to do. Go to that obnoxious creationist ad that keeps appearing here, and take them up on their offer of a FREE booklet. Order it, I did, and it really is free — they don't ask for a credit card number, there are no hidden shipping fees, but they probably will stick your name and address on a mailing list of the gullible (don't worry, though, you aren't, so you are contaminating their list).

It says it takes two to four weeks to ship. As soon as I get mine, I'll open up a thread here with the same title as the book, and we shall all join in a gleeful public evisceration of their crappy little booklet. If you've got a blog, put a critical dissection of the book there and send me the link, and I'll add it to the post. We'll give them publicity, all right, but it will be the harshest, nastiest, meanest publicity possible — we will do everything we can to make sure that when someone googles their organization or their booklet, all that comes back is a mountain of snarling contempt.

Bear in mind that Myers has what is probably the most popular science blog on the planet, the flagship for ScienceBlogs (which has a current Alexa ranking of 5,859.)

If I was Scott Ashley, I'd be shaking in my boots. Whoop, whoop; red alert. Captain Kilough to the bridge! Charge the phasers and man the photon torpedos Mr. Seiglie... INCOMING!

Hey, that's at least gotta start up a new thread on the elders' forum!

Godless atheists huh? Gotta love 'em! Now, I'm off to order a copy of that booklet... if they haven't been all snapped up already.

And stay tuned!

Friday 24 July 2009

The Women haters of Armstrongism?

The review comments about Basil Wolverton's art and misogyny (see the previous post) set me thinking.

One of the things that puzzled me about church "literature" during my co-worker phase was the almost complete absence of female by-lines. Secular magazines included articles from talented women journalists as a matter of course, but not The Plain Truth or Tomorrow's World. Booklets were of course exclusively authored by men. I understood that the church didn't ordain women as elders (a position held by most church bodies then), but surely that needn't apply to writing articles... The hilarious part was that even articles on women and women's roles were written by men.

Fade out to a large hall in Rotorua, the year is 1975, my first Feast of Tabernacles. The numbers were impressive, but the demographic was truly remarkable. Young people like myself were strongly in evidence and, hard to believe now, the blokes heavily outnumbered the sheilas. This was no good thing, of course, as the gender imbalance put severe constraints on marriage prospects. If nothing else, it's clear WCG attracted more males than females.

Remember the make-up ruling? Ron Dart could flaunt his toupee, but heaven help a woman with lipstick. The husband was boss, and his sexuality was in doubt if he didn't make a show of exercising Godly "leadership" over the little lady and kids. Paul may have been "hard to understand" in some areas, but here he was loudly quoted with little thought to cultural nuances.

Google's analysis tools reveal that men overwhelmingly outnumber women as visitors to sites like this. Check out the comments: it's the same story. The legacy lingers even here.

Name ten prominent women in the WCG/GCI and its splinters. Tammy Tkach hardly counts - she's only in the limelight because she's joined at the hip to Joe. How about women who have made it on their own merits? Pam Dewey, Dianne McDonnell, Sheila Graham... um, um...

So here's the question. Was misogyny a major problem in WCG? Is it still a major issue in the splinters?

Of course, anyone of either gender is welcome to submit a comment, but it would be particularly interesting to get a strong women's perspective on this question. And please, even if you don't feel like posting a comment, do consider taking the poll which you'll find in the sidebar.

Thursday 23 July 2009

"The van Gogh of the Gross-Out"

Basil Wolverton's art has been admired and despised in equal measure, but few reviews have been as scathing as this one in the New York Times.

"He reserved some of his most repellent effects for images of women. Like so much of American culture in the ’50s, when a new feminist consciousness was just beginning to coalesce, his work comes across as spectacularly misogynistic. That he turns men into freaks too doesn’t really alter the impression that Wolverton’s art is a for-boys-only art."

And a certain "Protestant sect" gets a mention:

"In 1941 he had become a member of a Protestant sect called the Radio Church of God, later the Worldwide Church of God. He was ordained as an elder in 1943, and as his contribution to the sect he illustrated some of its apocalyptically minded publications, as well as the biblical account of the earth’s final days.

"Several of his end-of-the-world pictures are in the show, and they’re wild. Plagues descend on the sin-ridden human race. Bodies break out in disfiguring boils. Faces burn, shrivel and stretch into masks of fear... In those profoundly and ingeniously disintegrative images, everything inside the body — viscera, muscles, mucus, bones, brains — moves to the outside. Heads multiply; tongues turn into noses; hands become feet. Figures become dripping, leaking containers of crude matter, like the figures of sinners and saints in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment,” who scowl and weep and pout as they float above the pit."

If you're in the Big Apple you can view the masterpieces for yourself through Aug. 14 at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street, Chelsea. Click over and read the full review. Be sure to view the slideshow while you're there.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Krautmann book

Thanks to DP for drawing attention to a book by former WCG minister Paul Krautmann. The Rich Hiker's Guide to Walking with God was published in 2007, but I confess to never having heard of it before.

Substantial excerpts can be found on Google Books. This is apparently an evangelical Christian testimony. Click on the image for a section of the back cover blurb.

Krautmann seems to have been associated with the WCG/GCI in Perth, and John Klassek's now defunct Life Today magazine. (Since 2007 Klassek seems to have dumped WCG in favor of a relationship with Sabbatarian movements such as COG7 and Ron Dart - and his links page also appears to endorse Craig White's BI-promoting site. There is no indication that Krautmann is currently associated with Klassek.)

The Rich Hiker's Guide to Walking with Godis available through Amazon.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Journal - UCG, McDonnell & Jutsum

Dixon Cartwright has released the latest issue of The Journal, one that is sure to have high interest value for members and friends of the UCG, with major items and a comprehensive interview following recent developments at the elders' conference. For those who belong to one of the major derivative groups from WCG/GCI, the existence of an independent, objective and professional news source such as this is a huge asset, and hopefully one they avail themselves of.

Two other items particularly caught my eye. One is an essay by Dianne McDonnell, reacting to an earlier article by Sheila Graham. Mrs Graham is a prominent member of WCG/GCI, and a women's advocate within that group. Mrs McDonnell is the sole female pastor in the COG splinter tradition, serving the independent Church of God - Dallas/Fort Worth.

If Mrs McDonnell's pastorate is thought of as progressive, given her position, this doesn't seem to flow through into theology. McDonnell takes Graham to task for suggesting that Bible texts can be used to justify contradictory positions.

Brethren, that is just not true. The Bible can be bent and twisted and hammered and taken out of context to look as if it is saying something it is not. But, if you take each verse in context and check a difficult passage carefully back to the Greek words with some good software, you can stand solid on Bible verses.

When you find two verses that seem to contradict each other, one of the verses has been badly translated or is being misunderstood in some way. The Bible does not contradict the Bible when rightly understood. Beliefs that aren’t Bible-based are just the traditions of men.

Nor is McDonnell particularly enamored with Paul.

Obviously the WCG (now known officially as Grace Communion International, or GCI) is mired in the writings of Paul, as are many Protestants. The apostle Peter says of Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” and then he warns about people who distort Paul’s words “to their own destruction” in 2 Peter 3:16. Jude reveals the presence among Christians of “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (verse 4).

If you've ever wondered what happened to Ross Jutsum, perhaps WCG's most gifted musical talent, there's a substantial article by the editor that covers his story. There's a wonderful quote from Herman Hoeh who, when first hearing Jutsum's Strine accent, remarked: “Young man, you do realize that Australia is a cultural vacuum?”

Perceptive fellow that Hoeh, and four million New Zealanders saith "amen."

There's a download of the first and last pages available free at

Sunday 19 July 2009

Painful Truth editor launches Sci-Fi Novel

The Painful Truth editorship has been handed down, a bit like the office of Pope, in a succession that has sometimes been smooth, and sometimes not. I'm just grateful that it endures. Among the holders of founder Ed Mentel's mantel has been John Bowers, who preceded (if I have this straight) James, the current editor.

Here's a bit of his bio: "John Bowers began his first “novel” at age 13. It took him nine months and was only 30,000 words, but he finished it. Before he graduated high school, he wrote four more. His teachers were convinced he was the next Hemingway, but it wasn’t to be.

Bowers was raised in a religious cult. Cults suppress creativity, demanding obedience and conformity. Though he wrote several more novels for fun, he never published them, and by the age of 30 he gave up writing entirely.

"At age 44 he broke out of the cult, rediscovered his dream, and began writing again. He wrote a juvenile adventure for his children, and then began a science fiction novel." (source)

That novel is A Vow to Sophia. The blurb reads:

When twelve year-old Onja Pedersen vowed before Goddess Sophia to free her mother and sister from Sirian slavery, she had no idea how to make it happen; six years later, when the Sirian Confederacy attacks the Solar Federation, she sees her chance and joins the United Federation Fighter Fleet.

From the day she enlists, Onja faces opposition — a skeptical recruiter, a sadistic drill instructor, a vengeful XO — but there are good men as well, and eventually she falls in love. Consumed by hatred of the Sirians, Onja lusts only to kill, and quickly becomes the deadliest gunner in the Fighter Service. In just two years of combat, she destroys dozens of enemy fighters, two troop transports, and faces down an enemy carrier. Then Fate hits back, and takes from Onja her most prized possession. The man she loves.

A Vow to Sophia is the story of a girl facing impossible odds in a galaxy gone mad. It’s a story of courage, bravery, passion, and single-minded determination. Onja’s hatred fuels her success, but in the end, love is her salvation.

BTW, if you haven't checked out the Painful Truth since its makeover, it's worth a look.

Saturday 18 July 2009

San Diego member faces 2nd degree murder charges

This item was forwarded with the following background info. "Virgil was known for his personal "bling" (he had two big gold rings - which are visible in newspaper photo) and the Rolls Royce he drove. His kids were very nice kids and his wife is a lovely lady.

"Virgil Gordon is a self-made man. He made a name for himself in South San Diego recycling lumber and timbers from old buildings that were being torn down. He and his crew would pick up wood, take the nails out, and re-sell the wood to people wanting cheaper lumber or lumber that had an aged look (currently very trendy and very "Green" for the environment.)

"Virgil had been known to be very active in improving his local community, an area that is predominantly Black and Latino. He was featured in one Feast film as a "Christian example". He frequently sang in a deep baritone voice at Church Holy Days and Feast days. He was very well known in the San Diego church and was an ordained elder."

Click on the image to read the text.

Clarification on Islam

It's been pointed out that a minor Australian Sabbatarian ministry teaches that originally Islam was in some sense an embodiment of the Church of God. The leader of this group even goes as far as saying that Mohammad enjoined Sabbath observance, and that the Qur'an is a "commentary" on the Bible.

Clearly this is not what was implied in the recent AW post. In fact, in my opinion, it's complete rubbish. The Jewish Christians of Arabia certainly seem to have influenced Islam, but they were very different from what passes for the Church of God today, whether based in Cincinnati, Charlotte, Edmond or Canberra. In fact, if you do any reading on these Jewish Christian believers, you can't help but be struck by how different and strange they seem, rather than by the similarities.

The history of early Christianity is fascinating, but there is an awful lot we don't know. For example one scholar, Ray Pritz, contends that the group called Nazarenes were distinct from the Ebionites, and develops an apologetic reconstruction that must sit nicely with conservative, mainstream Christians. I don't buy that for a single moment (see Bob Price's review of the Pritz book.) The point is that history is often frustratingly fuzzy on the specifics. Sect leaders who turn speculation into dogma are not in the same business as cautious historians and scholars: let the buyer beware. How Jewish and Christian belief (along with Jewish-Christian belief) impacted on Islam may be an overlooked but interesting story, but how does that authorise, legitimate or lend credibility to any modern, unrelated Sabbatarian sect?

It doesn't
. It does provide a lesson in humility, however, for those who want to use history as an ideological weapon in the service of doctrine.

All religions borrow from those that went before. Second Temple Judaism borrowed from Zoroastrianism (Satan, resurrections), early Christianity was as syncretistic as any other movement, Islam learned its monotheism in part from sectarian Christians and Jews, Herbert Armstrong raided the bottom drawers of Adventism, British-Israelism and the Mormons. And so it goes.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

A True History of the Not-So-True Church (Pt.3)

So where would you go to find a bunch of folk who were spiritual successors to the kind of early Christianity that continued to keep the Sabbath, Holy Days and other characteristics that traditional Church of God people believe identify the true church?

In part 1 I suggested that Church of God believers are totally unrelated to that movement, which died out in the West centuries ago. Have a look at the Bible that Meredith, Flurry, Pack, Kilough and others pound and quote: it's the 66 book Protestant version. The early Christians couldn't have used that, because it didn't exist back then. Their Old Testament was primarily the Septuagint, and they freely cited books that were never accepted into the later Hebrew and Protestant canons. The Churches of God are merely a cluster of confused Protestant sects with delusions of antiquity.

What about the New Testament? Well, there was no New Testament as we know it till 367 CE. In the years before then Jewish Christians had a particular affinity for a version of Matthew's gospel, but were wary of Paul's writings. There's a good case to be made that their beliefs underlie the later Pseudo-Clementine literature, but that's a bit beyond the scope of this discussion. But ask yourself, have you ever seen the Pseudo-Clementines quoted by Herbert Armstrong, or any of his imitators?

I also suggested that scholars may indeed be able to - at least tentatively - identify a more legitimate line of descent for the original non-Hellenistic church, the faction that continued to maintain boundary markers (such as food laws) that kept them apart from emerging Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Hans Kung (see part 2) suggests that the Monophysite Christians of Ethiopia have continued the Jewish Christian lineage to some significant degree. These folk keep Saturday and Sunday, abstain from pork, circumcise their male offspring, and display other characteristics that indicate Ebionite origins or influence.

But Kung's most shocking conclusion, particularly in a post 9/11 world, is that these Jewish Christians, with their strongholds in places like Syria (where they may have formed the Christian majority), were eventually swallowed up by Islam; but not before they exercised huge influence on that faith. Schoeps, writing back in 1969, anticipated this when he wrote:

"Many of their central doctrines, however, appear to have survived... in the period of the Monophysite quarrels, [and then] to have entered Arabia by means of the Nestorians. ... From this religion many beliefs flowed in an unbroken stream of tradition into the proclamation of Mohammed."

Kung (2004) states:

"[U]nderground relations between Jewish Christianity and the message of the Qur'an have long been discussed by Christian scholars ... Muhammad took over the prize possession of the Jewish Christians, their consciousness of God, their eschatology proclaiming the day of judgment, their morality and their legends, and established a new apostolate as 'the one sent by God.'


"[M]any Ebionite beliefs and customs may have been preserved in the mixed population of Syria and Mesopotamia as regional traditions which shaped not only Nestorian Christianity but also the still later Islamic Shi'a sects...

"The fifth Sura (5.48-59) especially, sounds like the extension of the Jewish Christian theology of the covenants to the population of Arabia through Mohammed, the new messenger of God."

Remember the reference to the Pseudo-Clementines?

"In the Pseudo-Clementines religion is defined as follows: 'This is religion, to fear him alone and to believe only the Prophet of Truth' (Hom.7.8). This definition is so constructed that Islam could find its own confession of faith... extensive similarities in structure between Jewish Christianity and Islam explains why the population of the countries bordering Arabia, areas permeated with Monophysitism and Nestorianism, could so quickly become Mohammedan."


"The famous designation of the prophet Muhammad, the 'seal of the prophets', already appears in one of the earliest works of the earliest Latin church father, in Tertullian's Adversus Judaeos (before 200) - of course as a designation of Jesus Christ. ...there is no doubt that Judaism was established on the Arabian peninsula by a variant which we call both Jewish and Christian. It may have been this Jewish Christianity which the title 'seal of the prophets' reached, and the title may have been used there and in principle throughout Jewish Christianity to guarantee a particular confessional identity.

"[T]he designation of Jesus as servant ('adb) seems to have been the dominant christological confessional formula. So when Muhammad puts the the title 'servant' at the centre of his preaching about 'Isa (Jesus), he is adopting a scheme from earliest Christianity..."


"And thus we have a paradox of world-historical proportions, viz., the fact that Jewish Christianity indeed disappeared within the Christian church, but was preserved in Islam, and thereby extended some of its basic ideas even to our own day."

Kung, the Catholic theologian, wonders:

"Let us be clear just for a moment what it would mean for a dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims if Muhammad could be understood as the 'Jewish Christian apostle' of the one true God in Arabian garb..."

Muhammad as the Jewish Christian apostle to Arabia? My oh my. Rod Meredith would surely have a hernia at the very thought.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Willie Dankenbring - Calypso King

I know, brethren, that you'll be as excited as I am by the release of a new edition of Willie Dankenbring's Prophecy Flush... um, sorry, Flash.

The cover shows President Obama, but I don't think Willie intends it to be flattering. In the table of contents we're told that "The Four Horsemen of the Apo-Calypso Thunder Across the Sky." Shades of Harry Belafonte perhaps? An intertextual reference to the Last Day-o, dayayay-o? I doubt Willie is that clever - just another typo.

Continuing on his anti-Obama crusade, Willie's next article is "Barack Obama and the White Horse." This one contains what could only be called a midrash on that cover illustration. The article ends with the weighty question: "Will Obama go down in history as the world’s final end-time despot, dictator world tyrant – the Pseudo-Messiah who unites the world to fight against Christ at His Second Coming?"

That's easily answered Willie: no.

Actually, Willie is good at asking questions like that. "Will a new Temple be built in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount in the near future?" Again, no. Too bad he couldn't have been spared all the unnecessary time writing the garbage that followed!

Here's another one. "Is there a BIBLICAL Calendar?"


Page after interminable page, it just doesn't get any better. No sign of brain activity anywhere.

But, what me worry. If you're into this kind of thing, hey, knock yourself out.

A True History of the Not-So-True Church (Pt.2)

I've been pondering over how to continue this posting (on the surprising probable fate of the first century Sabbath-keeping church) without chasing after too many red herrings. I'm fascinated by the Pseudo-Clementine literature and a host of related issues, but - (a) I don't have the time to cover all that, and (b) most readers here would probably tune out rapidly anyway. Solution? Here's a reading list if you want to investigate the background for yourself.
  • Michael Goulder. St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions. Westminster John Knox, 1994.
  • Gerd Ludemann. Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity. Westminster John Knox, 1996. [chapter 3]
  • Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church. Fortress Press, 1969. One of the few books specifically on the subject over the last 40 years. Surprisingly readable, but long out of print and expensive to get hold of (I picked up a copy second hand for a modest six bucks - my lucky day - but I've seen it going for well over $200.)
  • Matt Jackson-McCabe (ed.) Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups & Texts. Fortress Press, 2007. For a more general and recent overview: it's a mixed bag though, drawing on a variety of views from several scholars.
In order to give a potted presentation though, I'm drawing on another title.
  • Hans Kung, Christianity: Essence, History, & Future. Continuum, 2004. [pp. 102-109]
Kung's is a broad survey of Christian history, but the section cited provides a tidy summary of the main thesis (to be discussed in part 3), which is also supported by Schoeps.

Before going on to the major suggestion Kung makes, it may be worth noting that he is one of the most widely read contemporary Roman Catholic theologians, has held a professorship at Tubingen for many years, and was a leading architect of Vatican II. With the conservative papacies that followed on from John XXIII Kung has become one of that church's most incisive critics, while remaining within. In other words, we are a long way from either Dugger & Dodd or Hoeh.

So much for preamble. Next time we'll move to the crux of the matter.

TM Revealed at Last!

No, not Transcendental Meditation... Tom Mahon.

It's taken a while, but at last Tom has stepped up in front of the camera and posted his visage on his blog, as he long ago promised.

Well done Tom!

Sunday 12 July 2009

Testimony continued

Part two... as for the final few seconds, well, all I can say is "holy smoke!"

A True History of the Not-So-True Church (Pt.1)

Recently someone posted this comment:

[T]he church has existed somewhere in the world continously [sic] since it's founding, and has kept the sabbath and holy days (among the other doctrines) the whole time.

Oh really? Says who?

This was the position of Dugger and Dodd (and later Herman Hoeh), taking a leaf from Ellen G. White's writings. It's a dogma maintained by any number of splinter sects today. For want of a better term, we could call it "remnant" history (as opposed to "restoration" history promoted by Mormons and some others.)

If you buy into the restoration package, you'll be convinced that the "true church" actually died out, swallowed up by Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The Reformation amounted to little more than shuffling deck chairs. Poor old God had no choice but to perform a complete "reboot" using Joseph Smith, or someone else.

More familiar to us is the remnant package, standard issue in Adventist churches. It maintains that the true church went underground, but survived despite persecution, eventually resurfacing in whichever sect you happen to belong to. Keen believers then go back to dredge the history books to see who might have been the genuine article in past ages, resulting in many a fanciful romp. Dugger and Dodd were convinced, for example, that "Saint Patrick" was a Sabbath-keeper!

Following on from this same remnant fiction the United Church of God proudly proclaims on its website: "We trace our origins to the Church that Jesus founded in the early first century. We follow the same teachings, doctrines and practices established then."


Actually, we can have a pretty good idea about what did happen to the earliest Christian faith; the movement that was "headquartered" in Jerusalem, looked to James for leadership, and indeed did keep the sabbaths. In a follow-up post I'll make a radical suggestion - but one which is widely accepted by competent historians. But for the present, consider this.

The Churches of God without exception use the 66-book Protestant canon of scripture. Why? The ancient Jerusalem-based church certainly didn't. This distinguishing mark, if nothing else, should alert us to the fact that our heritage is lot more recent than the inflated age it claims; any resemblance is superficial and misleading. The Churches of God have absolutely no linear relationship to so-called "apostolic christianity."

We were'nt buying a Rolex, just a Mumbai sweat-shop rip-off.

So where did the "original" church end up? Remember how Hoeh and his imitators talked about the flight to Pella just before the destruction of Jerusalem? That's a good starting point, but what happened then? More on this in a later posting.

Friday 10 July 2009


Invest nine short minutes. I hope "Sientspirit" continues the series, and some of those in denial about the church's past watch this one.

The intro on YouTube reads: "I go into detail about the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and end up taking almost 10 minutes to talk about it! I hope I kept it interesting enough; I found it difficult to explain WCG to outsiders, especially in a succinct fashion. Hopefully, you have a little understanding of where I'm coming from once you've watched this video. If you have any questions about the church, feel free to ask! I'll be talking more in detail about certain things that I either only touched on briefly or left out entirely."

Thursday 9 July 2009

Phone a Friend

Here's a query from David V. Barrett, a researcher on WCG:

It's very difficult to count how many members left Worldwide either for the offshoots, or for other Churches (I know that some who accepted the new beliefs now attend other Evangelical Churches without the Worldwide baggage), or dropped out of religion altogether, but it must be easier to know how many ministers left Worldwide -- after all, they were on the payroll. Do you happen to know if this number (or percentage) has ever been quoted? I don't recall seeing it.

Does anyone know if the figure has been indeed been published somewhere? I haven't got a clue, other than saying "lots," but I seem to remember folk once marking off the disappearing ministers using a booklet of photographs put together after a ministerial conference during the reign of Joe Senior. Anyone able to source that publication (it used to be online) and/or indicate the number of elders who subsequently dived overboard (or were forced to walk the plank)? Obviously a number would have simply retired, or died in the time since then, so a simple comparison with a current list of ministers would overestimate the loss.

The research in question, a PhD thesis, is now almost complete and should be an invaluable contribution to understanding the WCG/GCI backstory.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Ezra, Columbus, Milton & Mormons

I've been reading 4 Ezra.

To be honest, it wasn't easy to track down. In some bibles it's called 2 Esdras, but in most bibles it's missing altogether. Even Catholic bibles, which contain ripsnorting potboilers like the first two books of Maccabees and Tobit. But be warned, the 2 Esdras in the LXX isn't the 2 Esdras we're talking about... just the book of Nehemiah in drag.

Actually it's more complicated than that. 4 Ezra is the major part of 2 Esdras, which is a composite work. Chapters 1 & 2 – a Christian addition – were taped on later, as were the nightmare-like chapters 15 and 16. 4 Ezra is, properly speaking, the big chunk in the middle.

A comprehensive edition of the NRSV will however include 2 Esdras (the HarperCollins Study Bible, for instance) along with the much underrated Revised English Bible (with apocrypha.)

Is everybody clear so far? There will be a test at the end.

I went searching for 4 Ezra because it's a component in a paper I'm taking this semester on theodicy in the Hebrew Bible. Theodicy (sounds like theoddity, only different) is the difficult art of explaining God's goodness in a less than perfect world. Apart from theodicy it's also full of what many people call “prophecy.” In fact at times it seems to echo the Little Apocalypse of Matthew 24, at others Daniel. Trivia item: 4 Ezra is widely quoted in Mormon circles as evidence for their beliefs on the Ten Lost Tribes (the relevant passage is 13:39-47 – nobody tell Craig White or Dankenbring!) James White, husband of Seventh-day Adventism's Ellen G. White, also mined it for prophetic proof texts, but that's a digression.

But let's set aside the apocalyptic stuff and return to the oddity of theodicy. Here's Ezra. Not the real Ezra of course, but a literary Ezra cut from whole cloth, who after pouring out a troubled prayer is provided with the personal ministrations of an angel called Uriel to clear things up. Ezra is a sensitive, compassionate guy, deeply disturbed by the suffering of his nation and the apparent harshness of God in consigning the vast bulk of humankind to a terrible fate after death. The angel Uriel is, in contrast, a priggish unbending toad – and you get the impression that he's also as thick as a plank – who is quite content to see the vast majority of humanity consigned to the eternal concentration camps of the damned.

Uriel basically says, don't worry your silly little head about this Ezra, one of the joys of the saved is to look across on to the torment of the wicked. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the screams.

Slight license there, but it's not too far off. Quote: “Their second joy is to see the souls of the wicked wandering ceaselessly, and the punishment in store for them.” (7:93)

Here's the thing: Ezra doesn't give any ground at all. He politely agrees with the snooty know-all Uriel, then comes back again (and again) for another crack at challenging Uriel's Hitlerian idea of justice.

Think of Abraham bargaining with Yahweh over the fate of Sodom, or Job protesting his fate as Satan's (and Yahweh's) plaything. Like these canonical kin, 2 Esdras can be considered subversive literature.

If you feel like a little bit of a change from the usual biblical fare, you could do worse than dip into 4 Ezra, which is interesting on the level of literature, even if you're skeptical about the scripture part. Sure, it didn't make it into either the Hebrew or Septuagint canons, and it is believed to date from the same time period as Revelation, but among those who drew particular inspiration from it were such luminaries as Christopher Columbus (who quoted 6:42 to Ferdinand and Isabella in campaigning for financial support for his New World expeditions) and Paradise Lost's John Milton. You can read it (in the RSV) here.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Otagosh otagone

AW's sister blog has been withdrawn. Remember (if you're ancient enough) those letters the High and Herbal One wrote to co-workers long ago... each setback was portrayed as another clever leap forward.

Well, it isn't that way. Two active blogs is one too many, and to be utterly frank, otagosh was a bit pretentious and not nearly as much fun as this one. So, in the best tradition of making a virtue of necessity, the two have now been combined.

So expect to see an occasional biblioblog item appearing here among the usual curmudgeonly rumblings about Joe, Gerry, Spanky and their gangs. I'm sure you'll be as excited as I am at the prospect of a posting on 4 Ezra. No, really, 4 Ezra: how could Ronnie Weinland possibly compete with that?

More changes are in the wind for next year: a new domain and associated blog to replace AW. Not to panic though, there's six months to go yet.

Monday 6 July 2009

Holy Trinities Batman!

I have a copy of Is God a Trinity? on file, published by the WCG way back when. In those distant times there was little doubt about the answer: no!

But times have changed, and what appears to be the first booklet published under the GCI brand is titled A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology.

This time round they're not even bothering to ask the question.

The kind of trinitarianism GCI promotes isn't the standard version you'd find in Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox communions, but a variety pickled with the MSG of junk theology, marketed under the labels "Barth" and "Reformed," and produced in porridge vats with the patented perichoresis ingredient by Baxter Kruger, the terrible Torrances, and their ilk. Perichoresis, you ask? How to put this delicately... God (to quote Wikipedia) enjoys "mutual interpenetration."

This particular concoction has universalist dimensions, so much so that the booklet even asks the rhetorical question Isn't this universalism? and consciously distances itself from bog Calvinism. Well, that's commendable I guess, but the fact remains that it stills build on a Calvinist foundation (as does Arminianism - which can only make sense as a reaction to Calvinism.) You buy a cheap Ford, strip it down and soup the coupe... is it still a Ford?

Well, it sure ain't a BMW.

Who's the author? There's no attribution in the online edition; GCI seems to be using the same anonymity policy as the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. Part 1 sets out the case, and part 2 is a kind of "catechism" that rehearses possible questions. If you reside in the USA, Joe & Co. will graciously send you a free copy. If you live elsewhere, you'll need to read it online.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Loo Paper

LU - Living University - can now issue degrees. Not accredited degrees, mind you. The vagaries of the US system elude this writer, but the nice people at UNC seem to have given the LCG go ahead to issue bits of paper. Here's how LCG is reporting it:

On June 9, 2009, Dr. Erskine Bowles, President of the University of North Carolina, accepted the findings and recommendation of a UNC staff report regarding Living University’s request for exemption from North Carolina licensure. Exercising authority delegated by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the President declared Living University exempt from licensure to conduct in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Associate of Theology and the Bachelor of Theology degree programs under provisions of G.S. 116-15(d) and the Rules and Standards for Licensing Nonpublic Institutions to Conduct Post-Secondary Degree Activity in North Carolina with respect to religious education.

Meanwhile a prodigal pastor returns to Charlotte's embrace. An announcement from Spanky:

We would like to welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Rees Ellis, pastor in Belgium and Northern France, and brethren who have decided to reconnect with the Living Church of God after our unfortunate and regrettable separation about 10 years ago. Mr. Ellis spent several days this week here in Charlotte discussing aspects of this reconnection with me, Mr. Ames, Mr. Apartian and Dr. Winnail. The discussions about reconnecting actually began with Mr. Carion before he died.

Does this mean Ellis now gets a steady income?

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Joe's Deeply Sincere Apology Strategy

Has Joe Tkach apologized to you for all the garbage the church put you and your family through?


It seems it ain't because he hasn't been trying.

Thus spake the Unelected One recently, commenting on Curtis May's in-house "reconciliation" ministry:

[T]rying to reconcile with former members is probably the least of it because they don't want to be reconciled. We tried and tried hard. We wrote letters to several people, and they write back and say 'stop harassing us.' In the letters we [say we] are sorry if we caused any offense, is there is any way we could reconcile? And the letter comes back 'if you write and harass us again we will get lawyers.' I thought wow, that is the response... so we are very willing to reconcile, but from that end we are just sort of waiting till it just comes to their mind. It's kind of like the old analogy of the dog that gets hit by a car and split open and lying there, and you go down to help the dog but he’s trying to bite your hand, and that’s how it's been with a lot of those folks, although as time goes on some are becoming more and more, uh, willing to at least talk or have some level of friendship.

One of our former pastors, you might remember a guy named Dennis Diehl. Some might remember his name. He went all four years in Pasadena for college, but after he left us he became half a Buddhist then became an Atheist, and I don’t know where he is now, but he just wrote me a letter two weeks ago saying he forgives me for everything so, uh... yeah, so I wrote back and said I am so happy then we can be reconciled, kinda be like we can be friends in college again, and anything I can do you know I am willing to do, so its happening but its the merest trickle.

Speaking only for myself, at no stage in all the years since I left WCG/GCI, including those before AW came along, has anyone in that church's ministry bothered to initiate contact, let alone apologize. Any "reconciliation" attempt came from my initiative (I attended a couple of services in Wellington around the time the New Covenant teachings were introduced.)

Interesting to see the mention of Dennis, though I'm not sure Joe quite represented him correctly. Notice though who made the approach.

Speaking at the same gathering of client ministers in Canada, Joe played the YouTube item below to much amusement. Who'd have thunked it!

So, did you get one of those letters from Joe or his underlings?

Related link: Dennis' new (?) website