Thursday 30 June 2016

Beyond Today... Neanderthal Apologetics

If you were expecting a dedicated Brexit issue of Beyond Today (formerly The Good News) for July/August, you're going to be disappointed. Instead its the tired old sawhorse, evolution. It seems the lads, all keen and bushy-tailed prophecy pundits, were asleep at the wheel, or - just like the Brits - didn't see it coming in time for the mag's release. Who'd have thunked they'd drop the ball on the biggest story of the year thus far?

In fact there's an anti-science whine throughout the issue. Even editor Scott Ashley manages to take a swipe at "the futility of Darwin's theory of evolution" while pouting about the parlous state of public "bathroom" signs. He's talking about toilets of course (why a euphemism like "bathroom" is used so commonly in the US is beyond me).

Mike Kelley kicks off in earnest with Evolution: An Article of Faith. What brilliant qualifications does Mike bring to this topic - other than being an in-house hack? No, I don't know either. Mike is immediately followed by Mario Seiglie who has a track record for writing this kind of guff with Answers from a Famous ex-Atheist about God. The person he's referring to is Anthony Flew who, at a ripe old age, did indeed change his mind. That's notable mainly because it's so unusual.

Then - holy guacamole Batman! - there's an article by a female writer. Scott, are you trying to make a point here? Anyway, Kayleen Schreiber is working on her PhD in neuroscience. Other than that we don't know much about Kayleen. Where is she studying? Is she a UCG member or some kind of generic fundamentalist? Scott clearly thinks you don't need to know. If you're expecting hard science here, think again. Snippet: "God made the physical world so wonderfully complicated that we will be studying it until Jesus Christ returns!"

Just when you thought you might escape from all this creationist drivel, along comes Dan Dowd with An Evolutionary Fantasy: Useless Body Parts.

Now you can relax and let out a short sigh of relief. But not for long as the next article up is Darris McNeely's Is the Bible True? Just what do you mean "true" Darris? As expected Darris takes a broad brush to the question and ends up painting the carpet. "Proof 1", in case you're in any doubt, is "fulfilled prophecy."

Next up it's the World News and Prophecy section. Brexit? What's that? To be fair, there are a couple of dumb references to BoJo the Clown (in an piece about German Leopard tanks):
Britain's next PM?
“The European Union is pursuing a similar goal to Hitler in trying to create a powerful superstate, Boris Johnson says . . . He warns that while bureaucrats in Brussels are using ‘different methods’ from the Nazi dictator, they share the aim of unifying Europe under one ‘authority.’ . . . “The former mayor of London, who is a keen classical scholar, argues that the past 2,000 years of European history have been characterized by repeated attempts to unify Europe under a single government in order to recover the continent’s lost ‘golden age’ under the Romans” (Tim Ross, “Boris Johnson: The EU Wants a Superstate, Just as Hitler Did,” May 15, 2016).
Beyond Today lapped it up. The authors (in the original Telegraph article) also mention that the reference to Hitler is "potentially inflammatory". You think?

Back to the toilet bowl with Tom Robinson sticking his head as far down as he can with an article entitled What's Behind the Transgender Movement? (You'll be as alarmed to know as I am that "bathrooms are just the beginning".) Behind? Movement? Sorry, just my scatological sense of the bizarre.

But wait. Tucked away toward the back of the mag is an article by Milan Bizic (that doesn't sound a very British name does it?) called What Made Britain Great? I looked to see if he mentioned the East India Company or colonial adventurism... but no.

On to a cherry-picked assortment of letters, then John LaBissoniere wrenches out as much significance as he can from the daily chore of washing the dishes.

Egad! Can our eyes be deceiving us? Another article by a female writer. Janet Treadway on Visiting Widows and Widowers in their Affliction. Obviously the drought has broken, even if it's left Scott a gibbering mess in the editorial room.

Robin Webber burbles on about something or other in A Promise is a Promise, and then somebody - perhaps Robin or maybe someone who isn't high-up enough on the totem pole to merit a byline - gets to write a feature entitled How Can You Correctly Understand God's Prophecies and Promises? Quote: "One awesome proof that the Bible is divinely inspired is its perfect harmony and consistency all the way through..." Has this guy actually ever read the Bible?

TV log, back page. Collapse over a coffee and take a moment to feel thankful that this is all a nightmare from the fundamentalist past. Once you've polished off the coffee and peanut brownies, take a drive down the newsstand and pick up copies of National Geographic and New Scientist. You're going to want to flush (ahem) this stuff out of your head as quickly as possible.

Available to download now.

Monday 27 June 2016

PCG: We're the one

Living Armstrongism has given us an advance peek at the cover of the upcoming (July) Philadelphia Trumpet. No surprise, Gerry, Stephie and the Edmond minions are going to milk Brexit for all it's worth, and then some.

But notice, the emphasis isn't on the searing accuracy of Bible Prophecy. The cover is emphasizing the prophetic gift not of John the Revelator or Dan the Man of lion's den fame, but of... Herb Armstrong. Not that "Bible Prophecy" has a single word to say about Brexit, the EU or any of the other things PCG projects onto the Good Book, but you know what I mean.

So why the Herbolatry? Why not just spread out their favorite proof texts and connect the dots? That's not a Bible quote on the cover, but a carefully selected Herbal snippet. Do they really need to keep genuflecting to the memory of the old one-eyed goat? Well, yes they do, and it says a lot about their growth strategy - or lack thereof.

Who on earth remembers Herb today? Clearly PCG does, along with the most brazen imitators (David Crowl Pack and company), but out there in the wider community Herb is long forgotten. Even UCG is restrained in its references to the so-called apostle.

The reason for the obsequious, idolatrous reverence for Armstrong can be summed up in the word legitimation. Flurry Senior was a very lowly figure in the old WCG. Did Herb even pay much attention to him? PCG has had to spend a lot of time and money demonstrating that Gerry - and only Gerry - has assumed the anointed mantle, despite a total lack of evidence to that effect and given that Herb never passed on to him as much as the steam off the coffee he slurped down on the Day of Atonement. What to do? Prayer rocks, a copycat auditorium, a college emblazoned with the sacred name and reprints of Holy Herbal booklets.

Who are they trying to convince? The big bad outside world that doesn't remember Herb? No. Well, how about ex-members who've been grazing in other pastures - LCG, UCG etc.? While that might seem an obvious conclusion, it seems doubtful. When was the last time you heard of a Meredith devotee jumping the fence into PCG's field? How many UCG members have suddenly seen the light after viewing The Key of David and, shouting loud hosannas as they go, moved into the Edmond orbit?

Not many.

The Trumpet magazine, the Key of David, KPCG... are all designed to shore up the current membership. Anything else is purely for effect. Suggesting they have any kind of outward focus, even to the wider COG community, is largely wishful thinking. They're there to keep the existing tithe slaves content and focused. The message that gets repeated again and again is that PCG is continuing the work of Herbert Armstrong - so stay put.

But there's change coming. Gerry is an old dude and son Stephen is waiting in the wings. Ikkle Stephie has a dilemma; you can really have only one idol on the altar. When Gerry carks it, who will Stephen choose to venerate in prime position, Daddy or Herbie? Gerry is supposedly "that prophet", but his days are numbered. We can expect the usual florid encomiums when he goes the way of all flesh, but the emphasis will then have to move. You can bet that Stephie has already worked that out and has a trajectory in mind. You can also be pretty sure he hasn't confided in the old man.

Meantime, right now the PCG is staying on message. Gerry and Herb, like fish and chips, inseparable. Convenient in that Herb has been dead for decades and can't do what we know he'd have done to Gerry's pretensions if he'd still been alive. In this issue Herb is dragged out of the publishing morgue to testify to his (and by association PCG's) prophetic brilliance. PCG members will lap it up, but the rest of us will probably just sigh a bit and shake our heads.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Brexit: stupid, stupid, stupid

The prophecy pundits are already rattling their tonsils about just how correct their oft-sozzled apostle was (see the cover of the Flurry sect's Trumpet Weekly). The ex-COG commentators are busy responding.

The one comforting thought as Britain shot itself in the foot this week was that stupid prophetic speculation wasn't a factor. A few thousand voters may have been directly influenced by this kind of dispensationalist nonsense, but the size of the winning margin made them totally irrelevant.

While the drama unfolded in the small hours in Europe, those of us half a world away - and lucky enough to have both the time and the technology to do so - could follow events over the course of daylight hours. I monitored BBC coverage (BBC News channel and World Service radio) to start with then moved across to ITV. For light relief I cushioned my disbelief with a panel discussion on Channel 5 once the results were known.

It's increasingly clear that a few old adages are appropriate: (1) be careful what you wish for, and (2) repent at leisure.

Brexit was a project of the far right (think Nigel Farage) appropriated by some of the vilest, self-serving figures in the Conservative Party establishment, think Boris Johnson. David Cameron took on the referendum for purely mercenary political motives and will now go down in history as one of country's worst Prime Ministers.

The reality is that the disadvantaged demographic in England and Wales that fell for the dog-whistle anti-immigration rhetoric - believing the unbelievable promises about prosperity and increased social funding - will now be the first to feel the effects of a downturn that they voted for. Labour was utterly ineffectual - and internally divided - in presenting an alternate, realistic narrative.

And so, what will happen over Gibraltar?

More importantly, what will the effect be of dropping a lighted match on the delicate equilibrium in Northern Ireland?

How will the Scots respond? A version of the Danish enigma (Denmark belongs to the EU but two territories - the Faroe Islands and Greenland - don't) or a fuller independence?

The scary thing is that many British voters simply didn't think through the consequences, and particularly the baby boomers, sucking at the teat of nostalgia and a world that has now passed into history.

I'd be surprised if Johnson is ever elected Prime Minister - though he may be appointed after Cameron - as he has alienated young Brits. As reality hits home to the rest of the community it's unlikely that he'll ever be flavour of the month. He can expect a lot more booing.

Prophecy? No. Stupidity? Yes, in spades.

Friday 24 June 2016

(Last) Days of Our Lives

Gary has been providing his usual excellent coverage of events in LCG, including the preliminaries to the upcoming Scarborough lawsuit which officially kicks off on July 11. This summary from the pro-COG COG News.
Gerald Weston and his wife plan to move into their new home in Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 15, ready for him to take over the daily administration of the church on Monday the 18th.
Over 200 subpoenas have been issued to LCG members (including ministers) for their depositions by the attorney acting for Patrick and Elizabeth Scarborough, who are suing Rod Meredith and Rod McNair personally, and as officials of the Living Church of God, for Defamation of Character and ‘Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress’.
Lucky Gerry. And interesting timing. Has Gerry been handed a poisoned chalice?

Thursday 23 June 2016

Brexit - on the countdown with Mel

Not being a Pom, I don't get a vote. But I do have an opinion, as does COGservative blogger Melvin Rhodes.

Earlier James McBride of COGM issued his encyclical on the matter. To give James fair credit, he is a Brit and has a right to express an opinion, however misguided.

Melvin begins his June 21 commentary thusly:
The street murder of Jo Cox, a British Member of Parliament (M.P.), a few days ago, is having a big impact on the Brexit vote due on Thursday.

Until the murder, the “Leave” campaign was winning in the polls; now the “Remain” vote is gaining steam.

The killer, a middle aged white man, was motivated by politics, making this an assassination. He shouted out “Put Britain First” as he was killing her.
That's a fair and accurate introduction. But look where he goes next.
His action showed the frustration of many people his age who are concerned that they are losing their country, that England is being taken over by migrants and its independence seriously threatened by the European Union.

Jo Cox was in favor of Britain remaining in the EU; she was also very supportive of Britain taking in more Syrian refugees. At the same time, she seemed oblivious to the grooming of young white girls by older Muslim males in her own backyard, a scandal that has received a great deal of coverage in the press.

This is a classic example of “The Dream and the Nightmare,” the dream being the social engineering of the liberal-leftist Establishment; the nightmare the frightening consequences that ordinary people have to live through as they try to cope. The politicians behind these decisions live in their affluent suburbs away from those consequences and never have to face the reality.
I know Mel will bridle at the suggestion, but this is clearly blaming the victim. This neo-fascist creep had - according to Mel - justification for his loathsome act. Jo Cox was to blame for holding views that both the murderer and Mel share in common. It's then a cheap shot at the "liberal-leftish Establishment", and the inference that Jo Cox was living a sheltered existence far from the realities that are so obvious to insightful geniuses such as Mel.

Reality check: the current "establishment" in Britain is Conservative (both with and without the capital letter) to the core. British PM David Cameron is anything but "liberal leftish".

And Jo Cox was a Labour MP, not traditionally associated with the affluent, entitled classes. Her constituency is quite a diverse one. A sheltered existence you say? She spent time working for Oxfam before entering Parliament, which is no country-walk, and was something of an authority with lots of real-world experience on the Syrian refugee situation. She certainly knew a lot more about it than Mel. All of that Mel dismisses in favour of a few parroted armchair talking points.

Now Mel is naturally entitled to his view, but it's a blatantly one-sided one. He goes on to blather about largely irrelevant historical matters ranging from Charlemagne to the Treaty of Rome, then delivers the coup de grace.
These revivals of the Roman Empire were actually prophesied in the Bible. Students of the Bible are aware that there is to be a final resurrection of the Roman Empire. You can read about it in Revelation 17:12-14. This passage shows that ten kings, or nations, will come together to form this final version of the ancient Roman Empire. It will clearly be the final revival as the Kingdom of God is established shortly after it. Also note, it’s not going to be the 28 countries that form the EU.

In the event of a Brexit on Thursday, perhaps we will start to see the EU unravel, to be replaced by the ten-nation union that the Bible talks about.
No, the EU is not a resurrection of the Roman Empire. Revelation 17 is not about modern Europe. There is no ten-nation union "prophesied" in Europe. Mel would know this if he invested in a decent academic commentary on Revelation, or sat down with a book that explained the genre of ancient apocalyptic literature. Seems he could never be bothered. His views on Brexit haven't been fashioned through sober, objective analysis; too much like hard work and conducive to headaches in the noodle. No, they've been predetermined by his fundamental (it's tempting to add lazy) misunderstanding of the Bible.

Which is not to say that Mel isn't a fine fellow, generous to small children and kind to companion animals. I've been informed by private email that Mel is in fact a good listener and can be a compassionate counselor. That's commendable. Politically though he's a danger to anyone who takes his views at face value or assumes they're based on fact rather than lurid exegetical fantasy. His "weak tea apologetic" for the brutal murder of a remarkable woman is simply vile. His dragging in of eighteenth-century biblical interpretation to pontificate on these events is deplorable.

However people vote tomorrow in Britain, one can only hope (and perhaps pray) that they don't take fanatical prophecy peddlers seriously when reaching their decision.

The Mouse that Roars

(HT to Living Armstrongism)

Here are the PCG Feast sites for 2016 according to an anonymous source. There are fewer sites this year, but look at the "expected attendance" figures.

Edmond, OK 700
Lexington KY 650
Palm Harbor, FL 600
Ogden, UT 300+
Bellingham, WA 225
Huntsville, Ontario, Canada 200
Invermere, BC, Canada 200
St. Lucia, Caribbean 150
Enfield, Ireland 275
Tweed Heads, Australia 350
Clark, Philippines 350
Limpopo, South Africa 125
Medellin-Guatape, Colombia 60
Huanchaco, Peru 25

If you take time to do the maths, the result is interesting - 4210. The disclosure prompted these comments on Living Armstrongism.
In reality the PCG is much smaller. Remember these numbers give the capacity of the sites, not the actual attendance. I have visited some of the places listed and attendance there during the feast was nowhere near these figures.

Also remember site capacity numbers also take into account infants, children and unbaptised youths/adults. Actual baptised PCG members would be much closer to 3,000 globally.

It is also an old church. For example, in two of the church areas I have visited I am the youngest baptised male, and I am over 50!
PCG talks up big and spends up big, but it's tithe-bleeding base is extremely modest. Their "business manager" must be a worried man.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Tracking the True Church

(From the archives and reedited)

This comment appeared on AW a few years back:

[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 at one time proclaimed 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."

Bollocks! 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. They used the Septuagint (as do Orthodox Christians even today). 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", despite Rod Meredith's constant refrain.

We weren't buying a Rolex, just a Mumbai sweat-shop rip-off.

(To be continued)

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Happy Birthday Rod

Break out the bubbles and blow up the balloons, today is not only the Summer Solstice (or Winter Solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere - mulled wine anyone?) it's also Roderick C. Meredith's birthday. Born this day in 1930, Rod is now a Methuselah-like 86 years old. Sadly, Rod doesn't approve of birthdays (tough luck if you're a kid growing up under his authoritarian administration) so it's highly doubtful he'll be blowing out any candles or pinning any tails on donkeys (though the LCG ministry certainly has a lot of braying asses available).

A trivia question for this auspicious occasion. What does the formibable 'C' in Rod's name stand for? Charles? Christopher? Crispian? Anyone able to help out? It's unlikely to be the same as Packatollah Dave's: full name David Crowl Pack.

Crowl? Does that rhyme with growl, yowl and foul?

Holy hooky!

The Board of Education in New Jersey has published a list of religious observances for which approval must be granted for school kids. The Flurridian sect (PCG) has been in boots and all to secure exemptions. Other cognate COGlets apparently fall under the generic description 'Church of God'. Here's the list.

October 2016
October 03 (COG) Feast of Trumpets
October 03 (PCG) Feast of Trumpets
October 12 (COG) Day of Atonement
October 12 (PCG) Day of Atonement
October 17-23 (COG) Feast of Tabernacles
October 17-23 (PCG) Feast of Tabernacles
October 24 (COG) Last Great Day
October 24 (PCG) Last Great Day

April 2017
April 10 (PCG only) Passover
April 11-17 (PCG only) Days of Unleavened Bread
April 11 (COG only) First Day of Unleavened Bread
April 17 (COG only) Last Day of Unleavened Bread

What happened to Pentecost (June 4)? It seems any generic (or in COG-speak "professing") Christian is entitled to take their kids out of school on this day, so there's no specific COG or PCG exemption.

It's interesting that the Flurry sect has an exemption for the entire DUB period and the day of Passover (whereas in other groups it's only on the two Holy Days). The impact on children's education would seem pretty dire with the Flurry followers hauling their kids out of classes up to 19 days - including Pentecost - over the next twelve months (allowing for weekends that's still the best part of three weeks off).  The other COGs count up to 13 days.

While their non-COG/PCG peers might be envious of all those days away from school, one suspects that many of these youngsters might feel otherwise given the long sermons they have to sit through instead.

Want to secure a alternate day of with the kids at home? Some further non-COG possibilities.

December 21 (Wicca and Christian) Yule.
January 15 (Baha'i) World Religion Day.
March 13 (Scientology) L. Ron Hubbard's Birthday

And there's more where those came from - more than 100.

Monday 20 June 2016

Bobby Fischer and the WCG

Chess News has an interesting feature by Camile Coudari (originally published in 2012, but new to me) on former Grandmaster and WCG co-worker Bobby Fischer. An excerpt.

I do not think it is a coincidence that Fischer did not feel drawn to conventional religious denominations, and that he was instead attracted from a very early age to the World Wide [sic] Church of God, an Evangelical [sic] sect that was quite well known after the war thanks to its radio broadcasts and its ubiquitous magazine, "The Plain Truth".

Even fundamentalist Evangelical churches viewed the [Worldwide] Church as a fringe cult during its half century of existence, which is not surprising if one looks at just one of its basic tenets: Anglo-Israelism, or the notion that the real descendants of the Biblical Hebrews are the people who came to inhabit the English Isles and neighboring countries.

The holders of Biblical inerrancy, who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that everything in it is literally true (although doors are often left conveniently open for interpretation) have always had a hard time reconciling Christianity's negative and often heinous attitude toward the Jews with the fact that God chose to reveal his Book to them.

Anglo-Israelism cuts this Gordian knot bluntly by claiming that only a small number of modern Jews are descendants of Biblical Hebrews, and that even those belong only to the “bad” tribes (Judah and Benjamin). All other Jews of modern times are claimed to be impostors and to have no direct link with the Jews of Biblical times. The only supposedly genuine Hebrews left are the scions of the Lost Tribes of Israel, who (Armstrong revealed to a supposedly benighted America) migrated ages ago to the British Isles and northwestern Europe.

Armstrong was not the first who devised this solution to the "I love the Bible but not the Jews" conundrum. The Lost Tribes of Israel have been an object of speculation for centuries, and have been located in the most surprising places, from Southeast Asia to Hawaii to British Columbia.

Besides "solving" the Jewish problem, Anglo-Israelism opens the door to an alluring proposition: it marks out all Americans of English and northwest European origin as "real Jews". From a religious point of view, it creates a direct relationship between them and Israel and gives them a claim on the Biblical Land. There is more than meets the eye in the current support for the state of Israel shown by many fundamentalist Christians, something that may seem surprising at first when one considers that many of them come from parts of the United States where not long ago the fiercely anti-Semitic KKK flourished.

This theory is a perfect example of circular thinking. It holds no water as a key to understanding history or the world, but it does give at least a partial understanding of how Fischer, a Jew himself, could justify his anti-Semitism in his own eyes: the world Jewry he loathed and denounced was not a body of authentic Jews, but was a bunch of traitors or impostors. He told me so himself; and went on about it at such length that before I knew it, night had turned into morning.

 Art Mokarow gets a special mention.

It was rumored in the chess world in the early '80s that after the fallout between Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong, Fischer had followed the latter in the splinter sect he went on to establish. My meetings with the Mokarows and Fischer did not give me enough evidence to say for sure which side Fischer actually chose. I asked Mokarow point-blank once, but he demurred.

Mokarow himself, who can now be found giving his latest take on the Bible on YouTube of all places, claims he stopped working for the Worldwide Church of God in the late '70s and went on to become a very successful businessman. I do not know if he ever made a clean break with that organization, and the whole picture remains blurred as there were rumors at some point in the '80s of a reconciliation between Fischer and Armstrong Sr. (Fischer had donated a lot of money to Armstrong and was very upset when his doomsday prophecies failed to materialize in 1972).

Still, I was left with the strong feeling that, far from being merely Fischer’s representatives, Arthur and Claudia Mokarow exerted a great influence on his decisions. I would go so far as to say that the 180-degree change in Fischer's position on the documentary or towards the invitation as a guest of honor at Gilles' shooting location was the work of people who were loath to let Fischer out of their grip for any length of time. Brady describes the couple as a "kind of buffer for Bobby" and says that they were in a position of "considering offers (and rejecting them) without even discussing them with Bobby".

For what it's worth, I've never heard of any move by Fischer to move across into Ted's CGI, rumours in the chess world not withstanding, though it's possible - perhaps probable - that he was on the mailing list in the earliest days of the split. As for any Rasputin-like influence by Art "God's Puzzle Solved" Mokarow, I'm sure there'll be some folk here who can offer more informed comment than I can.

One Accord, Two Accord WCG

Is this Jim Franks or Clyde Kilough?
One Accord. It's a name we associate with COGWA through its member mag.

Worldwide Church of God. Pretty clearly that's Grace Communion International before it rebranded.

So what would you make of a group calling itself One Accord Worldwide Church of God Inc.

Yes brethren, it exists, though it seems unrelated to its namesakes.

Do you think the good folk at OAWCOG have any idea of the Herbalist connections? Located in Red Springs, North Carolina, you'd think that'd be a given, but who knows?

And just an afterthought... did COGWA choose the name "One Accord" in a moment of subliminal inspiration based on this group's use of the name? Hmm.

Sunday 19 June 2016

If you're looking for a harlot, LCG, try a mirror

Life is tough in Iraq for Christians. No surprise that there's an increasing sense of common identity across old sectarian divides. Nothing unites people like a common threat. The 'prophecy team' who write for LCG's weekly update seem to have been smoking unverified substances, because they've leapt on this as an example of prophecy in action and a foretaste of a Roman Catholic takeover of other "professing" Christian churches.

LCG has a hard time understanding co-operation between churches. The idea of joining a local ministers' fraternal would probably appall them. Seeing ministers and lay people from different traditions participating together in community groups and charities must be deeply puzzling for these exclusivists who are reluctant to even tell us that they've been having nice little chats with cognate groups like COGWA. That they project this inanity on other denominations says more about them than the churches they're commenting on.

As for the Catholic Church, you'd have to be a moron in a hurry not to recognize the deep problems they face in coming to terms with a rapidly changing world. At least they're attempting to make a transition, which is more than you can say for the 'curia' in LCG's gerontocracy.

Friday 17 June 2016

Number crunching and the 2016 FOT

One very effective way of judging growth and member satisfaction in the larger WCG spinoffs is attendance at the annual Feast of Tabernacles observance. Brethren are able to literally "vote with their feet" - the only kind of vote most of them are permitted.

Prestige comes with big feast sites. But just as important (perhaps more so) is money. Holy Day offerings are a huge boost to the sponsoring church's income stream. If people stay away, income will fall.

News is that LCG feast enrollment this year is sluggish, and the enforcer-ministry has been told to kick the sluggards into action quick-smart. There are growing indications, however, that LCG isn't an outlier in this trend. Other COGs may be facing an embarrassing decline in attendance this year too.

Herbert Armstrong created the Feast of Tabernacles traditions as we know them today. He ignored the Jewish precedents and largely made it up as he went. The proof texting basis for the way WCG did it - and now UCG. LCG, PCG, CGI and others - is shaky at best, and verging on dishonest. If you wanted to honor the Old Testament Holy Days, there are better alternatives.

How many brethren really, honestly save a full second tithe? How many can really afford the week away from work and school? How many despair when it comes to scraping up those additional Holy Day offerings?

And how many are heartily sick of the annual refrain "best feast ever" when clearly it wasn't.

This year's attendance figures may indicate the way of things to come.

Thursday 16 June 2016

A COGish view of Brexit

Britons are heading to the polls in a few days to decide on their future in Europe. James McBride, a British-based minister for COGM, formerly with WCG then CGI, has recently opined on the subject. You can read his analysis here.

James' views aren't exactly subtle: "The future of the United Kingdom hangs in the balance, the core question being the vital one of national sovereignty." Surprisingly, "The nation is a divine institution. Nations develop from original family units that have grown large, each developing its unique language, culture, traditions (see Genesis 11)."

But it gets better: "The fusion of disparate nations - different in language, heritage, culture - in a union flies in the face of God's wise decision to establish mankind in sovereign nations."

Uh... where to begin. How about the "United Kingdom" itself. Do we assume James supports independence for Scotland and Wales? On this basis shouldn't the US abandon American Samoa and Puerto Rico?

Then again, might one ask James exactly which "original family units" were responsible for modern nations? In a North American context are we talking about Native American roots? I doubt that's what James means. In a Kiwi context are we talking about the Maori tribes that arrived on great sea-going canoes from Eastern Polynesia? Again, methinks James has something else in mind.

This kind of logic probably made sense in the Europe of the eighteenth century, an age of rampant jingoism. Today, not so much.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Orlando - and the COG predicament

Forty-nine innocent lives lost in a Florida nightclub. Young people in their twenties and thirties. Shades of the Paris concert that was targeted by Islamic terrorists at the Bataclan last November. It's ideal fodder for the usual anti-foreign discourse that energises the conservative COG ministry. The fact that it happened on American soil could only add to the paranoia that groups like the PCG seek to exploit.

But there's a problem isn't there? Those victims were overwhelmingly part of the Gay and Lesbian community. The nightclub was a well-known gay venue. The alternate COG meme is that God is punishing countries like America - perhaps especially America - for its moral failings. In the fundamentalist mindset, which the COGs share, there's no moral failing worse than same-sex relationships.

So what to do about Pulse?

It was with great interest that I read Melvin Rhodes' take on the events. Mel is COG to the core, conservative to the core, a respected commentator within the UCG. You can read his piece here.

Clearly Mel is treading on eggshells. He doesn't want to appear unsympathetic, but on the other hand, the victims were gay, practicing a lifestyle that Mel abhors and - in his mind - God abhors.

His blog entry is called "HATE WILL NEVER WIN". It's a good start.

But Mel launches a backhander. Hate is winning. Next, he slaps down a BBC correspondent who tries to put the focus on the problem of hatred of gay people. No, Mel isn't buying that. The problem must be Islam.

Bedtime reading for Mel
I'm guessing Mel has never read the unexpurgated text of The Arabian Nights (that'd curl his toes). I'm guessing he wouldn't know about the poet Rumi, the 13th-century Persian jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic (and his male lover Shams). Islamic culture has always found a place for gay people, just as Catholic culture in the Middle Ages did. Fundamentalists and fanatics are the problem, fearful, threatened and feral, they've undeniably been in the ascendancy in Islam for the past century. I wonder if Mel has ever considered the reasons for that regression within this time frame. Probably not.

Next Mel launches into his "Islamic scholar" impersonation by citing some Quranic proof texts. This is, of course, how Mel reads his Bible, so I suppose we'll have to simply smile tolerantly. The Quran has as many interpretations as the Torah, and we know how the rabbis argued over interpretations and minutiae. Islam breathes a similar atmosphere. You can certainly proof text horror out of the Quran, but that's hardly unique to this holy book.

Then we're off on an anti "liberal media", I-hate-the-BBC rant. Could this tragic event be in significant part a gun control issue? Oh goodness no!
"Predictably, the liberal media, including the BBC, said that the attack once again raised the issue of gun control. This may be the case in Washington, DC, but the only “gun control” discussed in America’s heartland is the need for everybody to be opposed – increasing fear means there is a greater need for guns! A few hours after the mass shooting, somebody came up to me before a church service and asked what I thought about people bringing guns to church. The attack on the gay nightclub could just as easily have taken place at a Christian church – dozens of churches have been attacked by Islamists in the Middle East and Pakistan."
Does Mel remember a tragic church shooting in 2005? The killer was Terry Ratzmann, a member of the Living Church of God. The venue was an LCG Sabbath service. It made news around the world. And now he thinks it's an okay thing for COG members to bring their guns to services? Ratzmann wasn't Muslim, he was one of LCG's own, even known and liked as far away as New Zealand where he'd previously kept the Feast of Tabernacles.

Back to the old "liberal media" chestnut. They're all apparently in denial about the real issues. Then again, Mel, maybe they're just a damn sight more analytical and less prone to jumping to conclusions and running off after red herrings and glib talking points.

And on we go. Mel relates listening to a youth-oriented sermon with his granddaughters in which the preacher (and we're almost certainly talking about an accredited UCG pastor) stated that "Jesus would never have mixed with gay people".

To his credit, Mel disagrees... "Rather, the gospels show us that Jesus mixed with “publicans and sinners,” including prostitutes. Jesus said: “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” (Matthew 9:12)."

Next Mel notes that homosexuality is listed along with adultery and idolatry in 1Cor. 6:9-10. He writes: "It should be noted, here, that the Apostle Paul treated all three sexual sins equally. The Greek shows that the three sins listed all involve penetration."

Leaving aside the claim that "the Greek shows" (sounds impressive, but does Mel really read Koine?), let's think this through. Two guys cuddling up in a nightclub is okay - no penetration. Oral sex in whatever combination is okay, no penetration. Wasn't that the Clinton defense? Is this what Mel means? No, I didn't think so either.

And to state the obvious, if every UCG minister with a history of adultery were to resign tomorrow, there'd be an awful lot of empty pulpits this upcoming Sabbath.

Finally, Obama is compared unfavorably with Trump. No political cheap shots here.

I don't want to even go near the issue of what the Bible says - and doesn't say - about gay people. I do wonder, though, if Mel has any gay relatives (hey, I do, and they're "just folks"). I do wonder if Mel is aware of the struggle (in some cases leading to suicide) young gay and lesbian people have who have been raised in the COGs - including children of high-ranking ministers and at least one evangelist. I also wonder if he's ever bothered to visit Troy Fitzgerald's Secular Safe House (Troy is the son of a WCG minister).

Anti-gay rhetoric is a familiar theme in the COGs, particularly exemplified by the spiteful prose of Roderick Meredith. A half-hearted, on-the-fence response to the shootings in Orlando, fused with the usual conservative "talking points", misses an opportunity to actually say something meaningful.

The irony is that Mel's response will probably be one of the less unbalanced ones to come from COG sources.

(Two further takes on the COGs and the Orlando killings can be found on Living Armstrongism and Lonnie Hendrix's blog.)

NOTE: Melvin Rhodes has posted a follow-up to the blog column discussed above in which he responds to some of my comments. You can read it here. He states that he does not support gun carrying in churches, nor support Trump over Clinton. It's good to get the clarification. I'd only note that these positions could be easily implied from his earlier blog piece. Mel is too experienced as a journo, surely, not to know that.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Bwana Bob vs Daktari Dave

Bob lands one on Dave
It's a "rumble in the jungle", Church of God style. Bwana Bob Thiel seems to be taking over a major COG franchise in Tanzania, the operation formerly run by Daktari David Hulme. Not that we're going to learn that from Dave, who is about as forthcoming on his mini-me operation as the government of North Korea. The news comes via Prophet Bob's latest "letter to the brethren".

Bob's "pastor" in that part of the world is Evans Ochieng. Here's how Evans reports developments.
I noticed that so many people were in church of God in Tanzania. But due to poor management and relax made the congregations in Tanzania to die. The people who were in United and international community churches of God were so many in Tanzania. But poor management killed them. Before I met Andrew and his group, I met with Samson who was in United Church of God. This man was very happy to meet with me. When I introduced myself to him and and introduce the continuing church of God and the work we are doing, the man was so pleased. I gave him our magazines and statement of belief. I also explain to him why we know that continuing church of God is the only church where the truth is at this time. With prophesies, true salvation, repentance and ordained feasts. The work was so big in Tanzania that forced me to promise them another visit in July. So many people turned to join CCOG. It made me happy because of late, I wanted to pull off from Tanzania. What I noticed is that, pulling out wasn’t God’s plan. Satan was trying to block ways. But he is defeated. Martin was very happy when he met new people who are long-term members of God’s church. We were doing visitation to every member’s home. Every person whom we got his or her calling, we visit. The work was very good and made some steps a head.
After that we sat down and talk about the feast of tabernacles. How it can be organized this year. We noticed that people who will attend the feast of tabernacles this year in Tanzania will be many. We also noticed that to hire hotel for all those people will be very expensive. So Martin offered a land where we can put semi-permanent rooms to help those in Tanzania this year during the feast of tabernacles. I recommended their suggestions and when I was there I gave funds to start bringing sand. To make them it needs USD 2500. I hope this will help them and will make them steady. When I will be going back in July, I will also go and baptize 2 ladies who wanted baptism but I told Martin to continue teaching them the importance of baptism.
Bob adds:
‘Martin’ above is Martin Wanga.  He first contacted me in 2013. The ‘international community’ is a reference to the Church of God, an International Community (COGaIC)... That group initially had a relatively large presence in Africa, but many of COGaIC’s top US leaders left it a couple of years ago, and that affected their operations in Africa.
Hulme seems to have neglected Africa over a long period of time. Now that Dave's dreams have turned to custard, Africa has apparently dropped even further down the priority list. Developing local leadership and providing them with the skills to build and educate their congregations is a pretty basic imperative. It seems that, in the end, the COG-AIC members were desperate enough to jump into the arms of Evans and his Great White Prophet in California with not much thought or research. That's not as easy in Tanzania as it is in the developed West, but Dave certainly hasn't made it easier either. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

And does Bwana Bob really expect the newly rebranded Hulmites will be his till the Second Coming? The sociological factors indicate otherwise. People who struggle to get ahead in Tanzania have a whole lot of reasons for attaching themselves to a blowhard American sect, and they're not the same reasons as recruits in the Anglo world. You can bet Prophet Bob hasn't factored that in. How can two guys who both boast PhDs be so clueless?

So it's a fail all round. It's also a bit pathetic and tragic.

The obvious question now is - just how many people remain with the once ambitious Hulme? We know the British and American churches have been hit hard, and now the African brethren appear to be sailing away from Dave across Lake Victoria and into the sunset.

Too bad they're heading off after Bob.

(HT to Gary)

Saturday 11 June 2016

The Journal - 184th issue

The May 31 issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God has been released. Some highlights.

  • Sensitive coverage of the death of Karl Beyersdorfer by Dixon Cartwright ("Missouri Living Church of God Minister Dies Tragically").
  • Ian Boyne with another typically effusive piece on his CGI Jamaica. Isn't there someone else in Ian's sea-girt imperium capable of stringing a few sentences together occasionally? The substance of the press release seems to be that Ian recently ordained four deacons. The article concludes: "God's truth is marching on in Jamaica." As Ian is an experienced journalist I'd have thought he could have been a bit less trite.
  • 226 Feast sites are listed for later this year. How's that second tithe account looking?
  • Obituaries appear for Don Waterhouse and Mac Overton. Mac was well known to Journal readers and had some interesting views on various items that appeared on AW. He was formerly on the staff of both The Worldwide News and In Transition. Condolences to family and friends.
  • There are some really weird ads, but no more so than usual, I guess. I'm actually beginning to look forward to the hideously bilious prose from Lawrence Albert Nowell, chief punkahwallah of something called the Obedient Church of God which - call me cynical - I suspect meets in a broom closet in Omak. Nowell's strategy seems to be to insult as many readers as possible ("To ALL Members = YOU have been brainwashed to follow ministers and you do "not" follow God's Bible BECAUSE "YOU" ARE psychologically incapable of self-thought and USING common sense...") blah, blah blah. Thankfully, it's not possible (nor desirable) to reproduce the garish formatting in full here.
  • Kathleen Kakacek's short-lived blog is featured on the back page. Mrs Kakacek, known to many AW readers, has since withdrawn the blog pending a re-think. 
The PDF is available to download. Past issues of The Journal can also be accessed via the links in the AW sidebar.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Swallowing a large dead rat

Photoshopped image of former NZ Labour Party leader
I'm not sure whether the expression means much outside New Zealand, but here politicians occasionally speak of having to swallow a dead rat. Basically, it means that in the cause of political expediency (i.e. getting elected) some policies have to be embraced that those in power would rather consign to the trash bin.

British-Israelism is the dead rat that many COG insiders have decided must be swallowed. A significant number of both ministers and lay members in the less fanatical sects long ago realised that BI is just plain wrong. They'd like to see it go, but the resulting furore would be hugely damaging and divisive.

Witness David Hulme's group. Dave, a man with intellectual pretensions, reportedly tried to excise BI. The result? His micro-COG hit the rocks.

Witness a certain administrator at LCG's Living University. One day he's debunking BI, next moment there's a job offer with status and lots of moolah on offer - an easy path to a super-comfy retirement. Suddenly BI is back on the menu, a dead rat served with a garnish of parsley. His response? Pass the condiments.

The real issue, however, is that the COGs have taught BI for so long and with such uncompromising devotion that they've painted themselves into a corner. It's seen as a core belief. You have to suspect that "de-emphasis" has been suggested as a strategy more than once around the council table, but the stupider pastors won't have a bar of it. The dead rat stays!

You can't really blame the good folk in the pews either. They've been conditioned to resist "liberalism" (whatever they think that means) and shun Laodicean tendencies on pain of losing their salvation. Moreover, they've been browbeaten into thinking that the ministry knows best.

There are lots of people - a disproportionate number of them in positions of responsibility - who are fully aware that BI is horribly wrong. And yes, there are names here we'd all recognize. The effort to get rid of it is not worth the hassle, though. BI is wedded to a misplaced confidence that the movement has the inside track on understanding prophecy.

Which it doesn't.

If BI goes, the game - so, it is feared - is up.

So pass the dead rat. Perhaps it'll be more palatable with a nice jus and a side salad.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Thirty Years On

It's been thirty years since Herbert Armstrong departed the land of the living - now ticking on for 31. After three decades we're beginning to see a major die-back among those groups that loudly claimed his mantle.

The Church of God, an International Community is one of them. Splintering from UCG and led by former World Tomorrow presenter (and later founding UCG president) David Hulme, it struggled on for years, never reaching a critical mass. COG-AIC haemorrhaged prominent ministers. Rumour has it that Hulme thought he could get away with dumping the deeply flawed British-Israel doctrine, but Peter Nathan et al had other ideas. It no longer publishes its journal, Vision. In fact, the energy levels were so low that subscribers weren't even informed of its demise. COG-AIC has been downsized, scaled back to the point of irrelevance.

There are also reports that the Philadelphia Church of God has been hit in the pocketbook to the tune of a 25% reduction in income. PCG continues to throw money at its British Bricket Wood clone, Edstone Hall, and Gary is reporting that founder Gerry Flurry is set to purchase a personal jet to wing him - and members of his inner circle - across the Atlantic and beyond, just like his long-dead idol. Apparently flying commercial (and we're clearly talking first class here) is just too much for the great man to endure. How can he afford it? Perhaps it's all those bequests that have accumulated over the years, the gift that keeps on giving. Reason enough to check that your current will is up to date and that the parasites don't get a red shekel.

The United Church of God, an International Association is treading water at best. It's not that they're not trying to recruit new blood, it's just that they're not very good at it. UCG is still operating with a 1980s mentality, despite having paid out big bucks to bring its websites and media facades up to scratch. The message, however, is firmly targeted at old white males of the grumpier variety. Alas, lads, not only are the times a-changin' but so is the demographic.

The Living Church of God is facing a challenging time. Meredith won't be around forever, his successor is probably not up to the job, and there's widespread disillusionment in the ranks. Meredith predictably blames it on Satan. Anyone with a functioning brain can apportion responsibility closer to home than that.

And out beyond the barriers and borders that each of these "major" bodies has erected? "Here be dragons." With a couple of honourable exceptions, there you'll find Thiel, Weinland, Dankenbring and their ilk. Hardly a pretty picture.

The Churches of God will battle on in an increasingly diminished capacity for some time to come, but they have about as much chance of making a comeback as Christian Science or the Christadelphians.

Sunday 5 June 2016

One Accaudle

I'm sure you'll be as thrilled as I am to know that the June issue of One Accord, the COGWAddler member mag, is now available. The theme of the issue is the ongoing success of the Foundation Institute, COGWA's version of Living University, or the Ambassador Bible College etc. etc.

I've never worked out why the COGs don't just pack up their budding young ministerial recruits, provide a toothbrush (branded with the church logo) and a generous study allowance, and send them off to a real university to acquire a real degree. It'd certainly be a lot cheaper. But then, I guess, there'd be fewer jobs for the lads in suits, and you never know what crazy ideas the youngsters might pick up without the oversight of salaried enforcers.

But what a pleasure to see the gang lined up for group photos. And my, there's that nice Mister Jeff Caudle, former High Poobah of the UCG in New Zealand. No explanation as to why he was caught up in what seems a very basic program of study, though Jim Franks implies it's because he "recently relocated to the area from New Zealand." That's a reason? Presumably it was felt that he needed to be retreaded to re-enter the ministry. Funnily enough, just yesterday Jeff's name came up in conversation. And yup, there he is, large as life and apparently still keeping (perhaps) one step ahead of the Karma Fairy.

Other matters covered include an article on divorce (I thought Jeff might have written that, but it's by Cecil Maranville), news from local congregations, boot scoots (huh?), ox roasts, Doug Horchak on his excellent adventure in Africa (maybe he'll need remedial classes now too?) and an article by John Columbo on parenting using God as an exemplar... which could be a tad more problematic than John seems to realise.

Available to download.