Eight years later one thing is evident. A number of these groups have effectively disappeared.
Gone with no forwarding address:Those are just the groups that FoH listed with a web link and so could be checked out. The actual number of inactive or deceased COGs since 2008 could easily be twice that number. Some of these groups - Zion Ministries in particular - were extremely vocal in their day.
Raymond McNair's Church of God 21st Century. (Didn't survive McNair's death).
John Allen's Destiny-Worldwide (Costa Rica). (Didn't survive Allen's death).
Church of God - Christianos (Canada).
Church of God IIA (Philippines)
Fading from view:
Neville Steven's Zion Ministries (Australia). (Site seems to have been last updated in 2012)
Sprats swallowed by bigger fish:
Church of God, A Christian Fellowship, Canada. (Now refranchised as the Church of the Eternal God.)
Global Church of God UK. (Now refranchised as the Church of the Eternal God.)
Arlen Berkey's Stedfast Church of God. (Not so steadfast after all. Arlen reportedly jumped fences to Ronald Laughland's Wholeworld COG.)
The takeaway message is that once a sect's leader passes on, the group's days are numbered, unless there's someone groomed and waiting in the wings. Better yet, there's an enduring structure that draws on more than the ego of one self-anointed cult leader.
John Allen passed away. I was not aware of that. I remember his website. It was one of the first COG websites I encountered that was not affiliated with LCG.
Many years later after I renounced Armstrongism I saw that he once compared the federal personnel at the Branch Davidian stand off near Waco with Nazi storm troopers.
It is often bandied about that there are seven hundred splinter groups. This is a huge exaggeration. Just because someone can put up a website should not be a qualification, or be counted.
If you go with a "De Minimis" standard of 25 followers or more, you are probably down to just 30 groups or so.
Placing the standard at 250 followers or more likely scales it down to just 15.
1000 or more would be less than 10, or even perhaps 6.
The Groups of LCG, PCG, RCG, UCG and COGWA "en toto" likely account for 90% of the expatriate WCG total population.
"It is often bandied about that there are seven hundred splinter groups. This is a huge exaggeration. Just because someone can put up a website should not be a qualification, or be counted. "
This may be a matter of perspective. I think what we likely need is a more "precise" nomenclature to describe what has happened to the historic WCG. For you see, the word "splinter"--a tiny bit of wood, small enough to get under your fingernail!--seems quite apropo for what happened to the monolithic WCG of its heyday in the 1960s-80s. Where everyone was expected to all agree about everything, and the leadership maintained an iron grip on control over significant masses of people.
That behemoth did NOT just "break into a few big pieces," each vying to be the "inheritor of the mantle" of Herbert and reestablish a viable international organization based on almost identical doctrines and prophetic speculation. The bigger "splits" you mention indeed have done that. But both before and after those larger groups formed, the WCG kept on breaking into pieces that have broken into pieces that have broken into pieces. There really are quite distinct little groups with grandiose opinions of themselves...when there are just 10 people (6 of them children) meeting in a living room.
And each of those larger groups have had numerous "insurrections" and spawned smaller splits too.
And I am convinced that there is social-psychological significance in all that continual splitting. I've studied the histories of quite a number of "American grown" religious groups, including the SDAs, Mormons, and JWs. All of those were at one time pretty monolithic, all of them underwent some pretty major shakeups in the 1970s and 80s, but each ended up with a only few, relatively minor break-away groups.
The WCG on the other hand, ended up with wave after wave, big and small, of people leaving, and many of them ended up championing some "new understanding" that they thought made their group unique. Sacred Names, alternative calendars, Hebrew Roots...we've even had at least one "flying saucer cult." Even those who initially stuck fairly close to the WCG's doctrine, such as the CGI, splintered over those issues, and even more...over issues of "who's in charge."
Yes, the WCG has "spawned" a whole pile o' large and small chunks and splinters. It's been unlike an elephant that may have one or two babies every few years, or even a dog that may have a litter of 8 or 10 pups. No, it has put me in mind instead of a little video I saw on Facebook yesterday. It was a male seahorse with a big hole in the front of his body that was spewing out tiny facsimiles of himself in a series of violent muscular ejections. In a matter of seconds, close to 2000 of them were scattering away on the currents.
Yep, we just maybe need a term to describe those few larger clones of the WCG. "Major splits" maybe. "Splinter" seems to me to suit the other 690 of the 700. (Or, more likely by now, far more than that.) This astounding level of fragmentation is a textbook case that ought to be in social psychology textbooks of the future.
Someone actually put the number at 1,200 at one time. But that was awhile ago and if she were right, there may indeed be many more.
This sort of splintering does really seem unique.
Is there any other denomination that has so wildly splintered with spit-offs as Armstrongism?
The dysfunction inherent in the splintering would seem to be indicative of a philosophy or belief system that either did not work, or didn't take. In fact, dysfunction of the prophecies, dysfunction of many of the doctrines, and dysfunction of the basic governance all gradually combined for me sometime between 1972 and 1975, leaving me no logical alternative but to restudy what I thought I had known, and to seek new solutions.
Still, I can understand how so many who remain inside of the remnants of the organization would be terrified at the serious decomp which they have witnessed. In a moment of honesty, and possibly amongst themselves, many might admit to being horrified at the prospect that the tribulation and the end of "the world's" system will not occur during their lifespan. It amazes me, the sheer number of church members, and of my AC classmates who have already died, possibly in that very frame of mind. I mean, we were supposed to have become spirit beings back in 1975!
I decided quite some time ago that it would be very traumatic for people at an advanced age to come to the same realizations to which I arrived in my late twenties. Younger people are still somewhat elastic and have the capacity to adapt. But, for someone who came to the realization that they had dedicated their entire nearly spent lives to a falsehood, a scam, would be unthinkably cruel. It is almost better for us to do nothing, to just allow them the bliss of dying in their faith. Any attempt at rescue would simply cause them too much pain. To that extent, I almost hope for their sakes that their supporting network does not completely preceed them in death.
Actual membership in the COGs is fraught with difficulty. An issue I've only just become aware of here in NZ is "double dipping". One couple is counted as, say, members of UCG. However, they also attend - hypothetical example again - Fred Coulter's group regularly. Both groups regard said couple as baptized members based on their history in WCG. Not sure what they do at the FOT, maybe dividing up their time between both. Tithing conflict isn't too much of an issue with retired folk either, a few bucks each way I guess.
Not sure how this compares with other countries, but here xWCG folk who are still active seem to often adopt an open grazing policy unless they're hooked into something rigid like PCG.
The last I heard Neville Stevens was still alive. After a string of failed prophecies and idiotic teachings he hung up his shingle, leaving his few loyal followers without a leader. His few followers had to be some of the most vile COG remnant out there. When he stopped preaching and posting his silliness they quickly stopes posting on the alt.w-w-cog news group, which led many to speculate that some of the characters posting may have been the same person. I miss being told I would die on Passover Eve for 4 years in a row.
The distribution that I listed above for the COG follows a typical "free market" distribution curve.
For example, the trucking industry. In the USA, the top 25 companies dominate 90% of all the freight hauled. The top 5 control some 75% of all freight. Some of these companies , like UPS or Fed Ex have over 100,000 employees.
Yet, there are literally some 300,000 independent owner operator truck drivers in the United States, divvying up that remaining 10% of freight not being hauled by the majors.
Likewise, the amount of "economic impact" or "footprint" of the COG is very much concentrated in the top 5 groups. Survivability becomes a factor over time. Very few and rare are small trucking companies become multigenerational trucking legacies and die out when its operator retires or dies.
Likewise, the same will happen to the many shards and splinters of the COG. The home groups are becoming less and less. Those dominated by iconic "biblical character" leaders have the least likelihood of surviving after their deaths. Not a whole lot of people with Two Witness or Elijah on the resume' and would not be accepted by the group anyway. Groups that have the ability to have a seamless succession in leadership, say like UCG, still have to face the market pressures of being relative to the general public and creatively reconstruct, remodel and reengineer itself to a new generation of consumer, something it is struggling with.
It will all be interesting to watch over time.
"Is there any other denomination that has so wildly splintered with spit-offs as Armstrongism?"
I have done extensive research and writing over the past 25 years of the American religious scene, particularly groups that originated here (in the past two centuries); groups (and/or their founders/leaders) that declared themselves the only or the chief spokesmen for God on earth; and even more particularly, groups that have used spiritually abusive techniques and/or deception to acquire and keep supporters/followers.
There have been plenty of gurus and groups that have fit those factors. It has been my observation through all of this that the incredible splintering of Armstrongism has no parallel or equal in any other group!
"Likewise, the amount of "economic impact" or "footprint" of the COG is very much concentrated in the top 5 groups. Survivability becomes a factor over time. Very few and rare are small trucking companies become multigenerational trucking legacies and die out when its operator retires or dies. "
A very apt and vivid metaphor between trucking and Armstrongism! The WCG in its heyday, with its extremely widespread magazine and broadcast media outreach during the years of GTA as its spokesman, actually did have a pretty wide "footprint." Not "power," mind you, just "presence." (At some point millions may have read and hundreds of thousands may have listened, but only a relative few actually were attracted to the point of direct involvement.)
The PT was in evidence all across the land even in airports, you could see GTA's face on billboards outside major cities with the "America Listen" campaigns of the early 1970s, you could rummage on the radio at night and hear his voice somewhere on the dial every half hour all night long, all across the land both in America and abroad.
His face was well-known enough to get him invited as a guest on HeeHaw, and the radio program was well-known enough to get the World Tomorrow and "Gagner Fred Hamstrung" on a spoof record by impressionist and Grand Ol' Opry comedian Archie Campbell. GTA was certainly more well-known to the public than any figure in the SDAs including its founder Ellen G White, or than any individuals in the Mormons or JWs. Of course, since the church was so secretive about its doings in the pre-Petra-failure period, I'm pretty sure most folks in the public were just familiar with the Armstrong name, not the name of the Radio or Worldwide Church of God, or Ambassador College.
Within a very short time after Ted was kicked out of WCG, his name recognition plummeted. And within a few years Herbert was dead and all of his name recognition was gone too. I'm convinced most of the split off groups, including the UCG, have a terrible time facing the reality that without that one bombastic, dogmatic voice to back up the COG-style "gospel message," that message has become almost totally muted. The COG movement as a whole has virtually NO "presence" in the public any more. Nor any hope of regaining it. Obviously, even having a son to take over the business didn't help Garner Ted's public legacy at all.
A few years back, not too many years after Herbert's death, I bought a book on the topic of American groups that had predicted the End of the World in their own time. Even I was startled to see that the author didn't include any mention of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God or the Armstrongs! Nothing about 1975 in Prophecy, nothing about Petra. The "presence" of the WCG and the Armstrongs had become practically invisible in an unbelievably short time.
In other words, there ARE no "coattails" for any group to ride on any more, to gather attention to themselves. It's pathetic to see so many mentally unbalanced small-time Herbert Wannabees on the Internet go on and on in their Web materials directed to the public about how "significant" the old man was, and how the author of the website should be listened to because he inherited that mantle from Herbert. (Mark John Allen even shared on his website elaborate dreams he had in which he was in Heaven receiving that mantle.) They seem clueless that the only people who would be impressed in the slightest by such claims would be a dwindling pool of old-timers who were followers of Herbert in the WCG heyday. So of course, as implied by Gavin's comments earlier, the groups mostly just "sheep steal" from one another whenever possible in order to claim "growth" in their ministries.
Silenced! lists by name some 100 groups and estimates membership numbers for 25 of them which total to about 40,000. If these numbers are in the ballpark, and we go by the 80-20 rule, we could guess that Armstrongism has approximately 10,000 more people who either belong to living room churches or are off on their own.
The thing about John Q. Citizen who is relatively isolated, he has little or no structure to reinforce his belief system, so he will have no next generation carrying a torch for what he once believed. When he's gone, he's gone. If we assume this 20% fringe will be lost with no replacement each generation, plus another 20% for all sources of attrition within the groups combined, Armstrongism would drop from a current level of 50,000 to under 5,000 in 6-7 generations.
The bad news is that Armstrongism is likely to be practiced still for over 100 years.
The good news is, it will be harder and harder to notice.
ANON @ 8:11
Although my personal estimates of the post Armstrong universe is around 30k, lets run with your 40k.
At a NET annual attrition rate of 2% per year due to death and departures, vs any new potential recruits, this would result in a universe of about 5000 people in 100 years.
HWA estimated the COG7th Day at about 2000 USA members in 1927, during his first contact. Today , the COG7th day has about 8000 members in the USA. Most of this growth has been because of hispanic immigration to the United States of members of that denomination coming here. Mexico has about 40k COG7th day members.
So the COG7th Day has grown at about a 1.57% annual rate in the USA since 1927.
The North American SDA church has a slightly higher than 1% growth rate in the USA currently...
I predict that a group, perhaps like UCG will mellow even further in the future and become more like the COG7th day in culture. It already has gradually moved away some of the more toxic elements of the Armstrongs. The SDAs have evolved too from the death of Ellen G. White some 100 years ago. They are a lot more culturally relevant than they were 50 or 60 years ago.
I predict that there will be a group , maybe something like UCG, that will survive, with perhaps 5 to 7 k members in 100 years, but will be hardly recognizable to a member from todays UCG. Todays COG7th Day is a far different culture than the one HWA encountered in 1927, and as previously mentioned , so are the SDAs.
I believe that Armstrongism has great durability because it responds to the needs of a certain segment of the religion consuming public. Little congregations will come and go but the bigger Armstrongite organizations will always have a place at the table. What would the world be like without Captain Hook?
In a broader scope, it will be interesting to see what the Assembly of Yahweh (of Cisco, Texas) will do in the future. It is aligned with the Church of God 7th Day and Farris Wilks is comparable to Donald Trump in wealth.
Near Earth Object--
I do not believe that the Wilks Assembly of Yahweh is aligned with the Church of God 7th Day, Denver, and it is an independent congregation.
Gary, is this the Neville Stevens your talking about?
Well,well ... according to one online report, regarding billionaires Farris Wilks and Brother Dan of Cisco, Texas, "The brothers are major supporters of Ted Cruz's campaign for president, giving $15 million to a pro-Cruz super PAC in 2015."
What is creepy, about 20 years ago, my husband and I attended a little "national unity conference on the calendar" in Michigan (where I lived at the time) where all the 100 or so participants were from bitty little independent Sacred Name Sabbatarian groups across the country. They were trying to develop a consensus about "when to keep the Passover" in particular, as everyone was arguing at the time (and still do, in the "regular" Sabbatarian COGs too) about how to calculate the calendar rather than use the standard "Jewish" calendar of modern times. (I was attending as part of my reporting activities for Norm Edwards' "Servants' News" magazine at the time ... my hubby and I were never "Sacred Namers.")
In attendance was Elder/Pastor Voy Wilks (and probably wife Myrtle) from the Assembly of Yahweh, Seventh Day in Cisco, Texas, along with some of his congregants. Like all the other groups represented there, at the time these were unsophisticated little people who mostly looked like hill country farmers. Meeting in a shabby, ramshackle building out in the country for their big "national conference."
I just learned this evening that Voy had founded the Cisco Assembly back in 1947. And that he had also founded a "masonry" business in Texas, which eventually his sons inherited.
SOME TIME between when I saw him and now, his sons inherited the masonry business, branched out into the oil business, got into fracking... and became billionaires as a result! (I was totally unaware of this until tonight.)
And yet still kept their religious roots, with Farris Wilks inheriting his dad's role as pastor of the bitty little Sacred Namer/Hebrew Roots group in Cisco. They aren't really connected with any of the main "Church of God Seventh Day" groups, but do have loose affiliation with some other Sacred Name groups that use the term "Church of God, Seventh Day" rather than Assembly of Yahweh Seventh Day. I particularly ran across a website of a Winnipeg Church of God Seventh Day group that had some of Wilks' material in their "resources."
I am appending links to three articles from the Web about the Wilks brothers, which include information about their aspirations to use their billions to further their religious agenda. Strange development on the fringes of the Sabbatarian world!
Meet the Frackers
From January 2016
Buying the Whitehouse??
And a friend just told me that the Wilks Bros are the ones paying for the attack ads showing Trumps wife in the buff.
Byker Bob said, "I decided quite some time ago that it would be very traumatic for people at an advanced age to come to the same realizations to which I arrived in my late twenties. Younger people are still somewhat elastic and have the capacity to adapt. But, for someone who came to the realization that they had dedicated their entire nearly spent lives to a falsehood, a scam, would be unthinkably cruel. It is almost better for us to do nothing, to just allow them the bliss of dying in their faith. Any attempt at rescue would simply cause them too much pain. To that extent, I almost hope for their sakes that their supporting network does not completely preceed them in death."
Normally, I agree with most of what you say, but in this instance, I think it may actually be better to know the truth, even if it is painful. I monitor the False Prophet Ronald Weinland blog and see the excruciating situations resulting from people staying in his cult. The experience doesn't end there -- the cult takes their money which they can ill afford to lose and as for leaving them in comfort, the hyperbole machine is always cranked up to the straining point where they are always focused and worried about world events, leading to misery and depression.
I hearken back to the words in the Gospels where Jesus said the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). I would think that even if the truth is painful, being in slavery would be more so.
You are certainly right about those in the more extreme and toxic splinter cults, Douglas. The practical application in my own life, involving my parents and family members, is different in that they are involved with one of the less toxic groups. So I take a different tack. It's also why when people ask my identity, I plead the fifth. And that is the fifth commandment, not the fifth amendment. I know how ACOG people behave socially, and don't want my family hassled or looked down upon within their circle because of any of the views I express on these public blogs and forums.
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