Monday 29 February 2016

COG trivia: In my heart there rings a melody

What relationship has this hymn by Elton M. Roth to Herbert Armstrong? No, it didn't appear in the famous purple hymnal (nor even in the earlier gray hymnal). You wouldn't think, looking at the lyrics (see the original PDF here) that Herb would have had much use for it, and it's clear modern devotees don't. Yet it's an important part of GCI/WCG/Radio Church of God history.

The answer lies in the Autobiography of Herb Armstrong.
In those days "The Radio Church of God" opened with an opening theme, the hymn composed by Elton Menno Roth (who later became my personal friend) "In My Heart There Rings a Melody," sung in lively manner by our "Radio Church Quartette." (1967 edition, p.508)
Yes brethren, this is the foundation theme song to the Church of God. More than that, it was composed by Herb's "personal friend"!

So can we expect to hear it at this year's Feast of Tabernacles I wonder, at least among the most slavishly devoted of Herb's imitators?

A solo by Stephen Flurry, Bob Thiel tinkling the ivories and Dave Pack on the tambourine?

Can't you just picture Ronnie Weinland on the harmonica with Rod Meredith clapping and stomping along in time?

For those of us who don't read music, there's a recording for you to sample here.

Havir updates

From the Big Sandy COG weekly bulletin.

And Great was the Fall thereof

Definitely worth the "full screen" option. Only a few seconds long. Check out Gary's post also.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Port Austin - the COG Oneida

Utopian communities are rarely utopian, and the Port Austin Bible Center - or is it the Port Austin Bible Campus - is a sobering example. The Port Austin soap opera has been playing out ever since 2004. In 2007 AW characterized it as "the empire of puddles" following an earlier post that attracted a good deal of comment, "Matchmaker, matchmaker".

In a couple of emails received today, Carolyn Kizer states that she and husband Homer Kizer (one of the principal players along with Norm Edwards and Terry Williams) are returning to Alaska and are no longer associated with the Center. Williams appears to be the last man standing at PABC (the Center, not the Campus?), though given the Byzantine complexities of life at the "tip of Michigan's thumb" I suspect there's more to it than that. Somewhat related ministries (you'd probably need a flow diagram to sort out exactly how they fit in) include the Philadephia Church (nothing to do with PCG) and the Port Austin Sabbatarian Community.

Saturday 27 February 2016

It's just a facade, and it always was

Gary has posted further pictures of the demolition at the former Ambassador College on the Banned by HWA blog. Of the Hall of Administration, he notes;
"This was the seat of the power that controlled the church and established doctrines. It was also the seat of those that abused the members so terribly. It's fitting that this is the last building to be demolished."
The photograph here was posted on FB by Wes White. It shows the facade of the Hall of Admin still standing, awaiting the final indignities.
Facade: a deceptive outward appearance."her flawless public facade masked private despair" synonyms: show, front, appearance, false display, pretence, simulation, affectation, semblance, illusion, posture, pose, sham, fake, act, masquerade, charade, guise, mask, cloak, veil, veneer "a facade of laughing bonhomie"
There's got to be a parable in that.

Shepherd's Voice and MythAmerica

Norman Edwards has been a high-profile figure among the independent Churches of God, those post-WCG folk who have - wisely in my view - steered clear of the larger sects of Armstrongism which so delight in micro-managing. On the plus side the independents gain a lot of autonomy but on the negative side, it's hard to get much traction without working together. In updating AW I discovered that Norm is currently involved in a media project called Shepherd's Voice Magazine. That may not be news to you, but it was to me. Also involved is COG Big Sandy pastor Dave Havir. (Great Scott, there's even a letter in the most recent issue from Aucklander Graeme McChesney!) The magazine is produced under the aegis of the Chicagoland Church of God, a group I hadn't heard of before, on an occasional basis (5 issues since the first in 2012).

Another high-profile name over the years has been that of Pam Dewey. Pam has been involved in a number of projects and has always been a voice of reason and balance. While Pam appears to have closed most of her earlier websites, her Meet MythAmerica blog is active and well worth checking out. There is some COG-related content (see 1965: The Eve of ... the Zombie Apocalypse), but this isn't a COG-promoting blog, or particularly directed at that demographic. It includes some fascinating social history and commentary on things like race relations. A feature of the blog is the amazing visual content; photographs, magazine covers and more. Pam states:
I most assuredly do not reminisce about the Good Old Days. In fact I spend some of my time writing articles debunking the idea that any of the Old Days were all that good. Including the Fabulous Fifties when I grew up… they were anything but fabulous much of the time, except on sitcoms on TV. Mankind has been a mess for all of recorded history, and every generation has been a mixture of good and bad. I don’t waste time on nostalgia … I live in the now, and hope and work towards better things for the future.
The goal of my websites, and my blogs… including this Meet MythAmerica blog … is to offer some insight from my 69 years of experience, study, research, thinking, and dreaming into how mankind has gotten into the messes he’s created throughout history, and share what I am convinced is the path to a Better Way, in every aspect of life, individually and collectively.
For my money, one of the best blogs out there.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Highway to Hell

William & Margie Hinson
In the 1980s, I read two books which, as far as Armstrongism is concerned, knocked the ground out from under my feet. One was David Robinson's Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web (1981), the other Marion McNair's Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-off (1977). Of the two, Tangled Web had the greatest impact. More than any other insider source, it ripped the facade off the Worldwide Church of God. After Tangled Web there could be no going back.

I know Robinson was by no means without fault. I know the book had to be extensively rewritten before publication to remove virulent antisemitic comments. Knowing that doesn't invalidate his whistleblowing. Robinson was a senior minister in the WCG, and we can be grateful he decided to blow its cover. Marion McNair was one of Herbert Armstrong's evangelists. Again, not a man without fault, but though he wrote several years earlier, it was the same basic story.

There was a third exposé; William Hinson's Broadway to Armageddon (also 1977). This was more difficult to acquire, and I eventually gave up. It wasn't as though more dirt was needed to demonstrate the rottenness at the heart of WCG. When David Barrett was writing The Fragmentation of a Sect he had trouble hunting down a copy and asked if I had one (as I'm sure he also asked others). The 14-page list of references to his study includes both Robinson and McNair, but not Hinson.

Fast forward thirty-five years, and I've had a chance to read Hinson at last. I didn't think I could be shocked all over again, but I am.

It's not a well-written book. Hinson was no wordsmith nor, despite acquiring ministerial credentials, a particularly well-educated man. I skimmed the first few chapters, though not without a growing sense of horror as to the way things were through to the mid-1970s. If the writing is a bit rough, it also conveys the rawness of life in a sect that was, without doubt, abusive in the extreme. D&R and healing in particular.

But it's the supplementary material that is a real eye-opener. The exit letters from ministers, the leaked papers, the adultery, the deception.

We have Bill Hohman to thank for making all three books - Robinson, McNair and Hinson - available for downloading in PDF format. I stumbled on Bill's Facebook page while updating the links on AW. If you have a FB account you can avail yourself of this trip back in time. Not a particularly pleasant journey, but one that might help with closure by putting those missing pieces from times past in place.

Obscure COGs: COG, New World Ministries

Keeping track of the various sects that have risen out of the chaos of the Worldwide Church of God's dissolution is an almost impossible task. This is the first in a series featuring some of the groups that have a lower profile.


Down in Sevierville, Tennessee is a branch of the Church of God you may never have heard of. This isn't just some guy pounding away on his keyboard (ahem), but a real little group which claims up to seven small fellowships (6 in the US and 1 in Canada). As with most such groups, their website doesn't give much away about exactly where they popped up from, but it's a splinter from the Garner Ted Armstrong wing of movement (CGI or ICG) going back about ten years. Like most related churches they seem to serve a declining older demographic that remembers the halcyon days of Herb and Ted.

Some sections of their website seem to be poorly updated, but it is still active and they currently promote themselves with a small ad on Alan Ruth's George Trent is president and author of their Quarterly Letter. They will be holding their 2016 Feast of Tabernacles in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Their previous FOT in Lexington, Kentucky didn't appear in the list published by The Journal.

It seems pretty standard Armstrongism. Nice shield logo but nothing much to show in the way of printed materials, magazine or broadcast media. Not to be confused with COG Worldwide Ministries.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Great new Monte Wolverton cartoon

The Angry Armstrong

Why is Mark Armstrong, widely overlooked scion of the Armstrong dynasty, so angry? His February 19 letter to members and supporters is a near-apoplectic Tea Party rant.
We've got a president whose greatest accomplishments are to bolster the worst regimes on earth, at great danger to our national security and that of our allies.  Any hope of a collapse in the brutal, abusive regime in Iran can be forgotten on account of the nuclear "deal" struck by the president and his haughty Secretary of State.  Iran is already drawing on the hundred billion dollars that was frozen by sanctions, exporting oil and working trade deals all over Europe.  They've got hidden nuclear installations the UN's IAEA has never toured, and satellite photos seem to show an area believed to be used for testing to have been razed and completely paved over. 
Despite the ridiculous one-sided "deal," Iran remains belligerent toward America and routinely threatens Israel with annihilation.  All the while they are violating the "terms" of the arrangement, knowing that our president will not do anything to pull the plug on one of the only things he can point to as an "accomplishment." Iran is also going to great pains to conduct all their business in other currencies, avoiding use of the U. S. dollar in their transactions.  It is a trend that seems to have gained traction in the Far East as well.  China has reportedly begun to conduct much of its business in other currencies, cutting the dollar out of most of its transactions.  
Meanwhile our anti-American president is busy boosting the communist regime of the Castros in Cuba, agreeing to a swarm of international flights to and from Havana in addition to setting up a U. S. embassy there and allowing one of theirs in Washington D.C.  What's the meaning of that?  To help the Cuban people, as he's claimed?  None of this is going to help the Cuban people!  Their government controls everything, there is no private enterprise or ownership, and dissent is met with long prison sentences under the most deplorable of conditions.  How will Obama's friendship change any of that?  How will it change for the Iranian people?
Our anti-American president is the biggest supporter of "gay" nonsense to ever come along.  Even the Clintons didn't stoop to these depths until recently.  Or at least Bill didn't, near as we can tell.  But that's a whole other can of worms.
That's just a sample. Read the whole incontinent tirade here (but do it before Friday when his next screed replaces it).

Last I heard, Mark was not an ordained minister of his father's last (and least) sect, the Intercontinental Church of God, but being of the anointed bloodline he seems to act like the owner-operator. I guess he pays himself accordingly.

Not good for your blood pressure, Mark. You're so far along the "grumpy old git" continuum that you're in imminent danger of falling off the edge. "Our anti-American president"? You're entitled to your WND wingnut views, of course, but whatever happened to 'respect for the office' and the democratic will of the people? And those derogatives; "homo" and "tranny" at the end of your epistle (at first I thought you were referring to old-fashioned radios) are not signs of a class act. Loutish is the term that springs to mind.

That he gets away with this probably indicates the mentality of the folk who choose to remain with the ICG. Mark makes Rod Meredith look politically correct.

Monday 22 February 2016

Dave Havir, AW comments

From the Big Sandy church bulletin
News that COG Big Sandy pastor Dave Havir is facing possible heart bypass surgery this week. Dave is one of the good guys, we wish him well.

Comments are now active on AW. They were turned off when the blog went into hibernation six years ago. In doing the reboot, I discovered around sixty (60!) unpublished comments from 2009 and 2010 that were not forwarded to my email address. Included were some from Leonardo, Dennis Diehl and my old cobber Jorg Heinz. Belated (very belated!) apologies. I believe they were automatically published when the system was reset. Comments for the time being will be published with no wait for moderation. We'll see how it goes.

The Curious Case of the Commonwealth Covenant Church

Hope Christian Centre, formerly the CCC

Today British Israelism in New Zealand is overwhelmingly associated with a few outlier sects largely made up of former Worldwide Church of God members, but that wasn't always the case. Lying out on a parallel trajectory is the curious story of the Commonwealth Covenant Church. Founded in the 1930s by two brothers, it drew inspiration from a visit to the country in 1922 by Smith Wigglesworth, a Yorkshire evangelist who is also regarded as a founding father of New Zealand's Elim Church. Philip Carew in his MA thesis on the Assemblies of God writes:
"The Wilson Brothers' Commonwealth Covenant Churches commenced in Auckland and Wellington in the late 1930s bringing an intense interest in prophecy and the British Israelite doctrine." (p.19)
Smith Wigglesworth
The Commonwealth Covenant Church was never a large body, but it was active, widely known and well resourced with at least four congregations in the North Island. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was the main group people would think to associate with BI. As late as the 1970s there was a British Israel Book Depot on Auckland's Queen Street, and a CCC church building in South Auckland (Kolmar Road in Papatoetoe). But by then BI was in decline. The 1996 census showed only 168 members (WCG had 624 in the same census). From there it was all downhill. 2006 figures showed a mere 18, and in the most recent census (2013) that dropped to 6.

What happened? It's a confused picture, made even more so by a lack of relevant information. In fact, nobody within the movement seems to have been even faintly interested in recording the history and transformation of the CCC. As a result, it is largely a forgotten footnote in the story of New Zealand Christian denominations. One of the few sources to make an effort is Religionz: A Guide to Religions in New Zealand (2005) by Massey University academic Bronwyn Elsmore. There, under 'Christian Covenant Church', she writes:
"This denomination was formerly known as the Commonwealth Covenant Church. It has been present in New Zealand since its originator, Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) a Yorkshire-born lay evangelist and healer, visited this country in the 1920s... In the 1930s it was allied with the British Israel movement and included interpretation of the Bible in relation to world events."
It's important to note that Elsmore's approach was "to give descriptions that reflect the viewpoint of the believers" (p.5). The CCC, like other bodies, was able to review the draft section on their movement before publication. This meant that many entries were insipid affairs (the WCG entry is particularly egregious) and that they told the tale from a sympathetic viewpoint. Knowing this, note the past tense in that last sentence. Prophecy has been de-emphasised and BI has been relegated to something left behind after the 1930s, which was hardly accurate. Elsmore continues:
"Most recently it has gone through changes that include name, teaching and spiritual renewal. It is associated with the wider Pentecostal movement... There are around 700 members in New Zealand" (p.42,43)
The difference between census results and the claims in Religionz is striking. Even allowing for inflated numbers, the simplest explanation is that most members no longer identified with BI or the label Commonwealth Covenant by 2005. From what I can gather, what was once the CCC in Auckland is now a small, ethnically diverse Pentecostal congregation (Hope Christian Centre) with little or no interest in its unique past.

It's worth noting for the record that overt racism does not appear to have been a defining feature of the church. At Otenuku, a Tuhoe marae in Ruatoki, there is evidence of that in the form of a plaque.
The plaque commemorates one of the last great paramount chiefs, Takarua Tamarau, who died in 1958 aged 86. It reads: "Tamarau was a protector and guide to his Maori people and a loyal supporter of the British flag." 
The memorial at little Otenuku Marae, the last of the many marae which dot Ruatoki Valley Rd was erected by the Commonwealth Covenant Church "in high personal esteem and as a token of arohanui between the Maori and Pakeha peoples". (NZ Herald, Guerillas in the Mist, Oct. 20, 2007)
From BI to dumplings
Looking at the Hope website you'd have no idea that it was founded on BI doctrine. This also appears (from what little information is available) to be true of the other congregations which seem no different from their Pentecostal brethren. Over the past thirty years, the Commonwealth Covenant Church has morphed into something quite different from the body the Wilson brothers envisioned. Effectively, as far as BI goes, it has simply disappeared off the radar and, remarkably, almost nobody has either noticed or cared. That's probably not a bad thing, though as they say, "those who forget the lessons of the past..."

And that British Israel bookstore? It relocated many years ago to cheaper premises in Mount Eden. In 2015 it's doors closed for the last time and the phone was disconnected. The shop now sells Chinese dumplings.

It may be different in the US where so-called 'Christian Identity' groups continue to spout an ugly version of BI, but in this country BI is a spent force; irrelevant both in the wider society and even within Christian culture. It happened more or less simultaneously in both the WCG (now Grace Communion International) and CCC - though different factors may well have been at work. Only a few small, graying ex-WCG fringe sects hold on, as relevant as Social Credit candidates at a General Election. Sadly for them, nobody seems to be listening.

UPDATE: More about the CCC and its effect on members here and more recently here. Apparently it wasn't just a bit potty, it was toxic.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Demolishing the Dream

Gary Leonard has been posting photographs of the ongoing demolition on the former Ambassador College campus (see here and here). I can't help thinking about all those other photographs that graced church publications in former times (check out the old This is Ambassador College booklet, available as a PDF). A beautiful campus that was supposed to be a foretaste of what the whole world would be like in the 'world tomorrow'. As the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "vanity of vanities".

For anyone who's even faintly interested, Ronnie Weinland, date-setter extraordinary and one of the Two Witnesses (the other is his wife!), is now out of prison. He had been in a halfway house since December, and was permitted during that time to preach to members of his designer sect, Church of God - Preparing for the Kingdom of God (COG-PKG). Not that he's quite as free as a bird; he's on three years supervised release. More information on Mike's Weinland blog.

Finally, on a sad note, Almon McCann, known to many simply as Corky, has died. Corky was a frequent commenter on a number of ex-WCG sites. He had past associations not only with the Worldwide Church of God, but also the Christadelphian movement. Some years ago he established his own blog that dealt with both fundamentalist sects. In more recent times that blog (now called ex-Christadelphians) has taken on new writers, but I'll keep the original link on the blog roll (Corky's blog) in the meantime. John Bedson's tribute to Corky can be found here.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Radio Church of God, 2016 style

Herbert Armstrong's ministry began in the 1930s as the Radio Church of God, a name that stuck through till the 1960s. Radio may have become far less important over the intervening decades, but a few faithful followers of Herb's vision are still slogging away in front of a microphone. A very few have gone beyond simply buying up time on commercial outlets, and created DIY stations of their own.

Gerry Flurry's PCG operates its own low power FM station out of its compound/campus in Edmond, Oklahoma. KPCG, variously styled The Voice and Trumpet Radio, broadcasts a heady (or perhaps headless?) mixture of classical recordings, far right rhetoric and biblical broadsides. Thanks to the internet, loyal PCG members can tune in for wall-to-wall Flurryism 24/7, wherever in the world they happen to be.

Then there's Radio4Living. Based in London and probably operating out of someone's garage or spare room, this internet-only enterprise booms out with the Armstrong gospel to whoever cares to listen which, frankly, won't be all that many (under 300 people have added it to their Tune In app, most of whom will have then forgotten it's there). John Jewel, Warren Zehrung and others hold this ministry together, with old HWA recordings added into the mix for good measure.

If it's nostalgia they want, I recommend old episodes of the Andy Griffith Show instead.

Ambassador Watch returns

As of today, all posts relating to Grace Communion International and its many spin-off sects and ministries will appear exclusively on the de-mothballed Ambassador Watch blog. Otagosh will continue to provide more general commentary as a non-academic biblioblog.

Why make the change? Writing on one blog with two quite different groups of readers in mind has blurred the focus on many occasions, so separating out Dr Jekyll from Mr Hyde makes good sense (which blog is which I'll let you decide). From my perspective it means, once AW has been given a modest makeover, no added time commitment; the only difference will be where blog items are posted.

The state of post-WCG commentary has changed hugely since 2010. Ambassador Watch will obviously have a more modest profile than previously. Even so, I hope it'll play a useful role alongside resources such as Gary Leonard's Banned by HWA blog and Dixon Cartwright's The Journal.

There's still a bit of work to be done to bring AW up to speed. Dead links in the sidebar have already been culled, but there's a lot to now add in. To use a gardening analogy, the weeding is mostly done, but the planting will take a while longer. Regardless of which blog you visit, there'll be links in the sidebar so you can hop the fence at any time.

Announcement Pending

Watch this space. A post will appear both here and on Otagosh shortly regarding the future of Ambassador Watch, stay tuned.