Monday 31 August 2009

You're Precluded

... which is, I think, a better title for Mike Feazell's little fireside chats than "You're Included." Included would mean member empowerment, a voice in church decision-making, a vote on who sits in the presidential chair. Theologically it would mean a commitment to the priesthood of all believers, and releasing the death grip the current leadership has over the organization it supposedly serves. It would mean accountability downward, to the people who make up the church, in the spirit of Jesus' example.

But, there I go again; rambling. Mike, if you're out there, the blue coffee mugs with the white logo are cool, so I guess that makes it all right after all.

And now, at last, the new Web address has been released: At the moment it just points to dowdy, grimy old, but ultimately I guess this will be the new, clean, no-bad-associations URL.

But back to telegenic VP Mike, who has launched another monthly online chat show to supplement You're Prec... I mean You're Included. This one is entitled A Word from Our Sponsor. There's a "kewl" introductory graphicy thingy (though notice that Mike is still styled WCG VP, not GCI veep!), and then you can sit back and enjoy a full thirteen-minute Mike monologue. Oh hey, that's without even mentioning unelected, nepotism-beneficiary PG Joe's wonderful weekly Speaking of Life videos. What an awesome blessing. Outstanding!

Sunday 30 August 2009

Out for a Duck

Ronald Weinland is like a bad smell that just won't go away. Long after he bit off his own toes in a classic "foot in mouth" maneuver, he's still entertaining the easily deluded with his feint and jab sermons. We are now 37 sabbaths into the Trib (see DW's latest entry.)

The miracle is that anyone is still paying attention. Whack these folk over the bonce with a bit of four-by-two and it's unlikely it'd even register. Even so, Ronnie ain't takin' no chances. According to Jack, Ronnie is warning the tithe slaves to stay away from the wicked Web. DW gets specific: FaceBook is causing the Witless One concern. Ronnie assures the fickle faithful that there won't be any FaceBook in his magical millennium! If Ronnie can't control it, it's got to go.

It's amazing how Ronnie talks down to his followers. He rambles, digresses and wanders off topic as if under the illusion that every stray thought will come as a precious drop of living waters to the dum-dums in the pews. How could any sane person sit there and take it? What horrible life-circumstances would lead anyone to submit to a self-professed prophet who "goes out for a duck" (a reference for all those who follow the gentlemanly sport of cricket) every time he steps up to swing the prophetic bat?

Frankly, Weinland is a sideshow. The tragedy is that he makes many of the other COGlets look practically balanced in comparison. Witness the field-day Bob Thiel has in pointing out the obvious inconsistencies. With Weinland as the whipping boy, it's easy to pretend that Thiel's cult-of-choice, LCG, is pure as the newly driven snow. Weinland is a gift for blokes like Flurry and Pack: a wonderful distraction from scrutiny of their affairs.

No matter. I'm sure Ronnie is good for another year or so of feint and jab, but eventually it might pay to undergo a makeover in order to continue extracting those tithes.

Hmm. A touch of Stan Rader maybe? How 'bout this?

Tuesday 25 August 2009

A Tempest blows up for PCG

This bulletin from Living Armstrongism:

I have just got an email from Tempest Sixt Car Hire.

They have assured me that the PCG magazines are being removed. PCG's publications will no longer be distributed via that particular avenue.

My thanks go to the company for choosing to act in such a decisive manner.

Well done people! We did it. My thanks go out to all those who have participated in this needed protest. Your effort is greatly appreciated. Be proud with what you have done.

This is a great lesson in the power of speaking up and getting information out where it is needed, one small step at a time.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Flurry Alert

Time to quit grousing and get in behind the work! No, not that "Work," but a PCG-focused initiative being promoted on the Living Armstrongism blog. The entry there explains itself, please do click across. My own inclination would be to do a Readers' Digest on the example letter: short is often more effective; but the strategy is sound. Unless the company is owned by a PCG member, this kind of feedback has a good chance of being effective. We can all grumble and trade horror stories, but here's a chance to get in there and raise a little righteous hell.

Kudos to Redfox712

Friday 21 August 2009

Older but wiser - QW2 follow-up

Now that the poll has closed, the results can be discussed. The original question was part of an in-depth interview situation (Wright, 1984) with forty-five "voluntary defectors" (smile, that's us too!) from the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna, and the Children of God. You might think we'd have nothing much in common with that lot, and in fact the demographics do indicate some real differences.

But the thing these folk do have in common with WCG's "voluntary defectors" is a process of disengagement that took some time to work through (they weren't "deprogrammed".) The forty-five had an additional option on the question that wasn't particularly practical on this poll: "other." The AW version had a healthy 176 responses - thanks to everyone who participated. Here's the comparison (factoring out the "other" option.)

Original response %
81% Wiser for the experience
11% Duped/Brainwashed
8% Angry
0% Indifferent
(Wright, 1984)

AW response %
66% Wiser for the experience
18% Duped/Brainwashed
12% Angry
4% Indifferent

The balance is a little different (and that's to be expected given the very different methods used) but the same pattern is clearly evident.

So most of us aren't eaten up with the root of bitterness after all. Or at least not after putting a little distance between ourselves and the experience. On the other hand, coming out from a group like this doesn't allow most of us the luxury of indifference: yes, it mattered.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Musing with James Tabor

It is - in my opinion at least - a remarkable statement. Remarkably reflective and honest. I've been critical of some of the things James Tabor has written, but this is certainly an exception. Here's the opening paragraph.

I have been thinking lately about the essential differences between Judaism and Christianity, or more properly, the kind of religion reflected in the Hebrew Bible and that of the Greek New Testament. I have long ago rejected as personal options the major contemporary manifestations of Judaism and Christianity — by that I mean the Mishnaic-Talmudic forms of the Classical Jewish faith that developed after Second Temple times, and the Orthodox Catholic versions of Christianity that developed in the West and East after Constantine. I am interested in religious and philosophical truth, but my training is that of an historian, so perhaps that is why I am drawn to the more ancient forms of these two faiths, i.e., the Hebrew faith as formulated by the Prophets and final redactors of the Hebrew Bible, and earliest Christianity as reflected in the New Testament. In considering these two “religions” or ways of thinking about God, the world and human purpose, I find that I am much more drawn to the former than the latter. Why is that so? What is it about the Hebrew Bible, even on a purely mythological level, that seems to draw me so? Conversely, what is it about early Christianity, especially the systematic interpretations of Paul or the Gospel of John, that puts me off so?

Tabor poses (but doesn't answer) some big questions. It's worth reading in it's entirety.

Monday 17 August 2009

Is No News "Good News"?

What's up with UCG's Council of Elders? The lads have gathered in holy conclave, then dispersed to the winds. Only the first AM session of their deliberations has so far been posted on the Web, however. What burning issues came up? Patience, it seems, is a virtue.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Question of the Week - 2

"Regrets, I've had a few, but then again..."

This one is for everyone who has been a committed part of the WCG or one of its daughter churches, then had a parting of the ways.

When you think about having been a member, how do you feel?

(a) Indifferent
(b) Angry
(c) Duped/brainwashed
(d) Wiser for the experience

The actual poll is in the side bar. The question is based on one posed to a sample group of people who had left other sectarian groups. Are we any different? In a follow-up post we'll compare the two.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Blogs logged

Another evangelical dilettante offers an uninformed and facile endorsement of Joe's WCG "reformation." Stan Gardner (webmaster at Ambassador Reports) has attempted to politely point out the other side of the story, but you get the impression that the guy has his head stuck firmly up his own sandpit.

Then there's Steven Cooper. He started life as a Methodist, hooked up with our happy band of Herbalists, then inexplicably packed his bags and became a convert to Roman Catholicism. He's relating his journey in a series of blog entries. Cooper joins other former WCG members like Jared Olar and Dennis Embo (who chronicled his own return to Rome in The God That Prevailed.)

Which is as understandable as anyone else's transition to evangelicalism, agnosticism or one of the ripoff splinters, but I've yet to find a COGger who has adopted a non-rigid variety of Catholicism: the kind which emphasizes social values and activism. The WCG DNA seems programmed only for the hyper-traditionalist strain.

Friday 14 August 2009

How Screwed Up Are You?

(Guest posting by Dennis Diehl)

Religion can really mess you up. Pious conviction, I suppose, with marginal information, can really send you down the wrong path. Recovery is optional. It is a world where every world event has some significance and can be found in the Bible. It is a world where we were all waiting, with baited breath, for the final conflict at the end of the age where we, the elect, would be protected and then rewarded for our being a part of the chosen ones. It was a world where the book of Revelation was to read like a newspaper and all news somehow pointed to the Book of Revelation. It was nuts.

Perhaps we can call it "Thielocracy" which is where every world event seems to point to something Revelatory. Jesus is almost here. He is just around the corner or over the hill. Everything is about to wrap up and just around the corner. We are almost there. It is nuts or did I say that?

In my humble opinion, the Book of Revelation is a 2000 year old failed prophecy. Written to encourage the Jewish Christians in the months before the fall of Jerusalem where Vespasian was the Beast and the Apostle Paul the false prophet to the Jewish faithful. Of course, it failed in its scope and the Romans crushed the Jews, the Church and Jerusalem in one fell swoop in the fall of 70 AD.

Today, the Churches of God rely on the ever imminent fulfillment of Revelation for their income and credibility. We have the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 in the guise of Mr and Mrs Ron Weinland. How lame is that? How screwed up does on have to be to come to the conclusion that they are the Two Witnesses. Very shortly, I promise, Ron will have to change his tune and adjust or sink into ministerial oblivion. What kind of people put up with this stuff and show up every week to act like they believe it?

So how screwed up are you? How tainted is your view of scripture because of the almost return of Jesus now going on over 2000 years. 2000 Years!!!!! Did you get that? It has been 2000 years since Revelation announced that the book was a record of those things which "must SHORTLY come to pass." How screwed up are you?

I don't know what it is about humans who relinquish their brains and minds to others to whom they give their allegiance and money. Hope I guess. We all could use some for sure. But hope in error and misinterpretation is not hope. It is a lie.

I'm curious. How screwed up are you? How much have you had to adjust your thinking and what have you learned from this whole WCG experience concerning prophecy and "3-5 years, perhaps 10, 20 at the most"? Have you learned anything? Bob Thiel sees the Second Coming in every news event. Do you? Is it possible really bad stuff can happen but minus the Second Coming? If Jesus didn't return for the holocaust, what makes you think he will come back because you lost your retirement or savings in bad investments?

There is much money to be made in "Jesus is almost here." There is none in he is not returning as we thought or he's baaaaaack.

How has "prophecy" been tempered by your WCG experience and the antics of the Ron Weinlands, Dave Packs and William Dankenbrings of the world?

Monday 10 August 2009

Day by Daze

In my Lutheran childhood, a regular element was a little publication produced in far-off St Louis, Missouri: Portals of Prayer. PoP was a much-ignored "devotional" digest for each day of the month. Icky artwork on the cover, on the inside a bit of Bible text, a bit of a prayer, and bit of a homily. Very boring and trite. Most mainline denominations do something similar. But who'd have thought that one day WCG in the UK would launch something equally facile. WCG's age of grunting iconoclasm has of course long gone, and what would once have evoked guffaws from the pulpit now has GcI Joe's seal of approval.

So, bless 'em, that's what they've done. A wee daily Bible verse, a wee prayer, and a twee homily - written turn-about by British elders. It goes without saying that I'm a bit jaundiced by this whole thing, but you may feel differently. If so, you can click across to Day by Day with the Worldwide Church of God.

Sunday 9 August 2009

To be a fly on the wall...

... as the UCG's Council of Elders gathers at Home Office, beginning tomorrow (Sunday). With the Holy Day season approaching (Trumpets kicks of the cycle on September 19) the lads should presumably be eager to bring everyone together in a group hug and move on, linked arm in arm. Somehow, though, one suspects things might be different to that. Council goes all the way through to the thirteenth, a long time to keep up appearances.

Will the new council try to force through its initiatives on shifting the balance away from church maintenance (salaries) to propaganda and recruitment (preaching their version of the gospel using mass media)? Will the aborted Texas move resurface? Will the two factions engage in horse-trading to save face? Will disgruntled COE members toss their toys out of the cot? Will el presidente resign?

Only time will tell.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Question of the Week

Welcome to the first AW "question of the week," a concept I shamelessly stole from UCG blogger Mike Bennett. Fair's fair, so do toddle over and check out Mike's QW.

So, let's begin.

You're sitting on the bus, taking the free seat next to a teenager - thirteen to fifteen - who is reading a magazine intently. With a start, you realize that it's not the usual teen fare but The Good News.

Would you attempt a helpful conversation? If so, what approach would you take?

Thursday 6 August 2009

Replacement COE members announced

Roy Holladay, chairman of the United Church of God Council of Elders, has announced that Jim Franks and Doug Horchak will be joining the COE. Franks is taking the place of Richard Thompson who resigned from the Council last week. Horchak was next in line in the May balloting, and will take Clyde Kilough’s place. Both Kilough (president of UCG) and Thompson (a pastor in Florida) will retain their full-time positions, but have announced their resignation from Council seats for personal reasons.

Monday 3 August 2009

Aussies - I take it all back

I repent. All those jingoistic jibes about our neighbors across the ditch are hereby withdrawn. Truth is, they didn't produce Ray Comfort (though we're very glad he's across in the US now and fiddling with your bananas rather than ours), but they have sent an intrepid Ocker reporter down to Dallas and to suss out the plain truth about childrearing.

Sunday 2 August 2009

They're gone - but what does it mean?

Roy Holladay has made it official: Clyde Kilough and Thompson have walked. They're no longer on the COE for "personal reasons." That's a term that covers a multitude of possibilities, so those who are garden-variety UCG members are none the wiser.

How exactly, though, does Bonnie Prince Clyde expect to continue functioning as president when he won't talk to his COE?

Holladay is obviously trying to calm the troops with soothing reassurances, and fair enough, that's his job, though walking on water might be an easier task. If "personal reasons" meant nothing too disturbing, wouldn't you have thought Clyde might have written that letter himself?

The real question now is can this situation really continue? Next step - given that Kilough and Thompson appear to have burned their bridges beyond repair, is to find two new councilors to take their places. Those in the know will be paying close attention.

Out on the fringes there are the expected expostulations and cries of conspiracy. In the unlikely event that Aaron Dean is indeed the mastermind behind some nefarious plot, then we may need to redefine the term "mastermind" in a southerly direction. Perhaps, now the resignations have been outed, those of us not in UCG can instead settle down and breathe slowly through our noses while the stage is set for the next act.

On the other hand, those of you who are in UCG should be making it clear that you are not silent partners in your own church. You have a voice and should be using it. If there are contentious issues behind the current developments, and it seems there are, they should be getting an airing out in the open, not hidden away where only a few are privy to the debate.

Here's the Holladay epistle:

July 31, 2009.

Dear Fellow Elders,

Serving on the Council of Elders represents a high-profile responsibility that is demanding and rewarding at the same time. This responsibility is demanding in the sense that most of our Council members are also church pastors or work full-time in other positions, which makes additional demands on a Council member’s limited time. It is rewarding in the fact that we on the Council have a humbling opportunity to render service in a unique way.

As a result of the last General Conference of Elders annual meeting, the Council has undergone some changes with new members being added. After serving on the Council for the previous two years, I was named as the Council’s new chairman. It is in that role as chairman that I am writing to you to openly inform you of two additional changes.

Effective Monday, July 27, Richard Thompson resigned from the Council for personal reasons. On Tuesday, July 28, Clyde Kilough, who of course serves as the president of the United Church of God, resigned from the Council for personal reasons. Clyde will continue in his role as president, and Richard will continue serving as a pastor for the United Church of God and as a member of the Church’s Ministerial Services Team.

Both men have served faithfully and well on the Council in a multitude of responsibilities. There is no question that they have made and will continue to make important contributions to the work of the Church. Both contributed directly to the development of the Church’s strategic planning process, and that plan will go forward.

Knowing firsthand of the workload and commitment required to serve on the Council, we respect both their past contributions and their current decisions to step away and focus on other duties within the Church.

A natural question now arises: Who will replace them in the now-open positions on the Council? Thankfully, the United Church of God has an orderly process in place for such an occasion. The Church’s Bylaws stipulate that the next in line (as selected in the last General Conference of Elders’ ballot) be notified of their opportunity to serve. Given the weighty responsibilities that a Council member bears, it is logical that time be allowed for the potential new members to consider this new role before they agree to accept. This process is now being followed.

This is not the first time a Council member has resigned while still serving a term, and the orderly process of bringing in a new member has worked well. We believe that this time will be no different.

I should also point out that it was the Council’s original intent to announce both the resignations of the two men and the two new Council members at the same time. To rightly accommodate the required and wise process of notification and reflection by the potential new members, the Council thought it best to openly communicate these changes in a timely manner. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, and I have found that the same can be true of speculative comments filling an information void. Hence this communication to you now.

For those of you who follow the Council reports, I might point out that the Council reporter was unaware of the resignations when he prepared the traditional report earlier this week. In his official report, he thus erroneously (albeit honestly in the absence of the current information) listed the two former Council members as not being in attendance. That honest error will be corrected.

I am personally grateful that the Church has in place an orderly process that addresses developments such as these. The United Church of God is growing and we will continue to execute on the formal Strategic Plan to which so many have made worthy contributions. We will notify you of the new Council members once the process is complete and they are confirmed. You of course are welcome to share news of this development with our members.

Roy Holladay

Saturday 1 August 2009

Alien degli abissi

Never let it be said that AW doesn't do trivia. So... how's your knowledge of Italian Sci-Fi/Horror movies? Alien degli abissi was released in 1989, appearing in German as Das Alien aus der Tiefe and in English as Alien From the Deep. Here's a short review.

It's gigantic, evil and invincible!' boasts the tagline. Well, this alien dwarfs the original alien in physical size only. Although the film takes place on a tropic island, a few similarities to `Alien' are obvious, down to the fact that the heroine has to stand the last fight with the creature wearing nothing but her white underwear. No, I don't complain about that ;-) Anyway, the huge creature which can move under the ground is quite scary (but only until it stands up and suddenly looks like a cross between a senile robot and a lunatic crab), the characters (including a snake hunter, Greenpeace investigators, a not-yet-mad scientist and an unscrupulous officer trying to `control' the situation) help to develop an interesting storyline, and I cannot agree with reviewers who consider this a simple rip-off. (Source)

Okay, so why mention a twenty-year old movie here? Movie star Daniel Bosch, the main actor in this spaghetti splatter-pic, moved on to become a pastor in Sardinia, Italy for the Worldwide Church of God/GCI. As far as I can tell, he's still on the job there for Joe. I guess all that experience in the horror genre made him an ideal candidate. In fact it gets better, Bosch's role in the movie was as Bob, a snake venom harvester. Surreal!

Aren't you glad you know that!

Hello, how are you today?

I hate telemarketing. You pay unreasonable charges for a phone account, and some company then has free rein to interrupt your evening with a sales spiel that you haven't solicited and don't want. They pay nothing, considering the privilege of commandeering your valuable time a freebie. I ask, is that fair?

Then there's the problem of how to get rid of the caller - someone sitting comfortably in a call center in Mumbai (or even worse, Australia) - without being wantonly rude. Yes, I know some people take sadistic delight in getting back at telemarketers, but I suspect that they also took pleasure pulling wings off flies as kids. The voice at the end of the line is just doing a job, and any job is better than no job at the moment. That said, if they want to try hawking and peddling their dubious goods and services, fine, but kindly give me a miss.

Two recent local news stories coalesced to drive me to do more than grin and bear it. Epilepsy NZ, a worthy organization that does a lot of good, has severed ties with a fundraising agency called the Epilepsy Foundation after it was revealed that, as reported in the NZ Herald, "only a small fraction of 2.8 million collected for the charity was actually spent for the cause it was collected." Most of the rest went to - you guessed it - the telemarketer. Charities are particularly difficult to hang up on, but given the piddling amount Epilepsy NZ actually received, my "bowels of tele-compassion" have been permanently blocked. Yes, it's a good thing to give, but a really dumb idea to give over the phone.

Around the same time consumer advocacy television show Fair Go publicized a way of circumventing most of those calls: by registering as a "no call" with the Marketing Association. Last year I contacted the phone company (the much-beloved Telecom) to find out just that information, but their frustratingly unhelpful help-desk had no idea what I was talking about.

It was a no-brainer to register, and in the days since the calls definitely seem to have dried up. But no system is 100% effective, and in the spirit of "fight fire with fire" I also wrote a script to read to any telemarketer who still dared to squat like a parasite on the other end of my phone line. I figure this is only playing fair... they have their script, I have mine (which now sits permanently beside the phone.) Today was the first chance to use it.

G: Hello?
TM: Hello, am I speaking to...
G: Is this a direct marketing or telemarketing call?
TM: (pause) Well, I'm actually calling on behalf of a...
G: This number is registered with the Marketing Association as a "do not call." It should not appear on your database."
TM: Uh, that's okay, thank y...
G: Please do not call again. (Hang up)

It quite made my day.

A Birthday Wish from Doctor Bob

Over at his COGwriter blog, LCG cheerleader Bob Thiel notes that Herb Armstrong would have been 117 today (July 31). Quickly Bob assures us that "we in the COGs" do not celebrate birthdays. I'm not quite sure exactly how Bob got himself appointed as spokesperson for "we in the COGs" - how would that work? I know of COG members who do celebrate birthdays (in an understated way admittedly, but especially with reference to their children) - but no matter.

Bob concludes his preachments - after a typical rant about founders of other churches like Luther and Calvin - with a quotation from his idol.

Don’t believe me – BELIEVE YOUR BIBLE – BELIEVE GOD! I always say…check up! Listen without prejudice, with open mind, then check up–go to your BIBLE, and BELIEVE what you read there.

Bob then delivers his final homiletic stroke:

This is what I encourage readers of this website to do.

Oh, duh! The problem, Bob, is that people have read their Bibles, and discovered that the literalist, fundamentalist approach taken by Herb (and his sycophants) is just plain wrong. The Bible is many things, but it isn't a collection of proof-texts that can be cherry-picked to "prove" half-baked doctrines. It isn't some kind of 1000 piece jigsaw where you have to place the pieces just-so.

If you do believe your Bible - read sensibly and appropriately - you'll find yourself laughing at the doctrinal pratfalls of Herb Armstrong such as British Israelism. And if you do want to engage with the Bible intelligently, you'll have to adapt another piece of cheap advice that dropped from Herb's gracious lips: first forget what you think you know; especially, you'd have to say, from Armstrong's own literature.

Happy birthday Herb.