Wednesday 31 August 2016

The Olympics and the Ambassador legacy

Sarah Sneider
An article in the Pasadena Independent (August 25) connects Olympic success with the long-closed Ambassador College and the work of Harry Sneider.

In Five Things We Can Learn From Olympians Sarah Sneider reflects on the role of AC in times past. It's a short piece, heavy on references to the late coach and the campus.

"Late Coach Harry Sneider trained 20 athletes in nine different sports for the 1984 Olympics and was nominated Olympic Track and Field Coach. Training and coaching these Olympians in Pasadena at Ambassador College, it was evident they all have five similar character traits. What do they all have in common?"

What follows are five fairly obvious traits. Sneider continues:

"Ambassador College in Pasadena closed in 1990 and many of the buildings of the former Ambassador College campus have been torn down and replaced with condos. In spite of the many changes to the former campus, ironically the gymnasium, Olympic-size swimming pool, racquetball courts, fitness center buildings, and track (now a football field) where the Olympians once trained still remain and are currently used by Maranatha High School. The original dining center where the Olympians enjoyed wonderful meals and the beautiful Ambassador Auditorium also still remain."

The concluding blurb mentions that "Sarah Sneider, winner of nine gold medals in the recent California Senior Games, continues Harry Sneider’s legacy along with her son Rob, a two-time All-American volleyball player who played professionally in Switzerland. They are professional fitness trainers..."

It may be a bit of an advertorial, but some interesting comments.

The David defense

Remember the "David Defense"? King David was a jerk, a murderer, an adulterer and occasionally not at all right in the head. Cruel, sadistic, and yet he was "a man after God's own heart." If David could be such a person, well, the least we could do is overlook modern ministerial peccadilloes (cue in those rumours about Garner Ted and airline stewardesses, and later Herb and Dorothy).

You'd have thought the enlightened pastors of Joe Tkach's GCI would know to steer well clear of that sort of thing these days, restricting themselves to indecipherable "Trinitarian theology" and making vacuous statements of the kind Ted Johnston does. Apparently not. Not in Eau Claire, Wisconsin anyway.

"Pastor" Roger Galstad wrote on this very topic for the local paper, the Leader Telegraph, in July.

Rog sets out the obvious dilemma. Solution: "David sinned big, and he repented even bigger."


The David stories are part of the national epic of ancient Israel, cobbled together out of disparate sources. Archaeology confirms that major parts of the Davidic kingdom tales are highly fictionalized. The writers of this not-so-historical material weren't greatly interested in either historical accuracy or ethical excellence. Rog seems totally oblivious to all this, biblical background seems to totally evade him. Rog is an unreconstructed literalist. Does he really think David wrote Psalm 51 (hint, check a good commentary).

It's all a bit of surprise in that Roger was awarded a Ph.D in religious studies in 2012. You'd think he'd know this stuff. Mind you, the institution (Trinity College, Newburgh, IN) is described as "a conservative evangelical Bible college", mainly offers distance degrees (including their prestigious Ph.D) and is - surprise - unaccredited.

But putting scholarship issues aside, this is just the old self-serving argument dredged up from decades past. "Mr. Ted Armstrong may have done some things which he now regrets, but he's repented and you need to forget it." Then Ted would write articles in the Good News warning of the danger of spreading wicked rumours, just in case we hadn't got the message.

Until, that is, the next time Ted had zipper failure. But no worries, Ted repented again, and again. He was a compulsive repenter. I recollect a sermon he gave in his CGI days where, having just finished writing Peter's Story he proclaimed loudly that he had burned out the very last of his sinful egotism and self obsession.

Turned out he hadn't, as anyone with half a brain could have known just by listening to such a ludicrous statement.

And Roger hasn't moved beyond these kindergarten apologetics?

You may be able to take the preacher out of Armstrongism, but it seems you can't always take Armstrongism out of the preacher.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Quit pickin' on Joe

It always amazes me when people don't "get" the problem with the way Joe Tkach's GCI is set up.
"As for the board members, who should they be? Who would be the voting populaton [sic]? The general membership of GCI? Should there be the travesty like our current national elections carried out in GCI?"
GCI isn't a private company, it's supposed to be a church, a non-profit. It claims a membership. A church needs lines of accountability that ensure that membership is fairly served. It needs officers who serve at the membership's pleasure. It needs lines of accountability that flow both ways - no just accountability of the "members" to the leaders, but even more importantly the leaders to the members.

The Episcopal Lie

GCI claims to be organized on an episcopal basis. That's a fiction. There was no talk of any such thing until the receivership crisis. Prior to that WCG (as it was then known) operated on a legally different basis. Not that it lived up to those obligations; that was one of the big issues that underlay the action by the State of California. The near-papal claims that then conveniently emerged - and the reorganization as a corporate sole - were little more than a ruse to avoid its obligations. Joe Tkach has maintained the lie despite the fact that there is no appetite in GCI for a return to the old Armstrong ways.

Have a look at other church bodies, both in North America and throughout the Western world. Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal (yes, even the Episcopal Church), Lutheran, Adventist, Methodist. Add in the Church of God (Seventh Day) for something more directly related to GCI. All have some form of representative structure varying from General Conferences to delegated Synods. Even the Mormons go through the motions. GCI? Not.

It's entirely moronic to imply that because a particular political system has flaws, therefore members of a church should be deprived of their rights and the leaders effectively given carte blanche to do as they please. No system is perfect, but some are clearly much better than others. There's a wide range of helpful models out there used by various denominations. One thing is for sure, GCI's is among the very worst. It takes some swallowing, but both LCG and UCG do a better job in transparency (though their structures continue to deny basic lines of leadership accountability).

But Joe and Co. are nice guys

It's not an issue that a Board has some decent members. Joe has been careful in that respect, apart from larding it up with Tammy. The issue is - is it a real board, capable of independent action and hauling the church's officers into line when necessary? Or is it a collection of carefully selected yes-men and yes-women beholden to the "owner", serving at his pleasure. And exactly who do those board members represent given that they're appointed not elected.

Questions that need clarification

Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of those hand-picked board members responded to the following questions and set any misunderstandings at rest?

1. Who is Joe accountable to?
2. Who is the Board accountable to?
3. Who has (and hasn't) access to the financial statements?
4. Who has (and hasn't) access to Board minutes?
5. What exactly is the legal status of the GCI "members"?

My understanding - and I hope I'm mistaken or years out of date - is:

1. Technically the Board. In reality no-one.
2. Joseph Tkach Jr.
3. Almost nobody. In contrast to UCG and LCG which, dubious as their organizations might be in other ways (and I'm a fan of neither), have a solid record of reporting to their memberships - and in fact anyone else who cares to view them.
4. Almost nobody. In contrast to UCG which publishes minutes online for all to see.
5. They have no real status or rights. Apart from some limited local input, denominational decisions are taken over the tops of their heads entirely. You could describe them as "stakeholders" or "clients". Members? Not really.

Again, I'd be delighted to correct any misunderstandings on my part. The challenge is for Joe or any of his Board members to set the record straight. One lives in hope, but I won't be holding my breath.

A company - unless it's a small family firm - has shareholders. The shareholders meet to determine and approve company policy. GCI doesn't even allow that. No shareholders except Joe and ... who knows.

The Bottom Line

A Christian Church isn't a family firm. It isn't a commercial business. It isn't a personal fiefdom. It shouldn't be run like North Korea. Members are entitled to a voice and representation or they're not really members. Whether or not the "Beloved Leader" postures as a model of benevolence or not is beside the point.

New Bible Advocate released

The September/October issue of the Bible Advocate has been released by the Church of God (Seventh Day). The theme of the issue is the Church. Nothing controversial, as we'd expect from the Denver-based mother church of COGdom, it's all good standard biblical fare in a faith-affirming sense.

Almost all of the articles are sourced in-house; in fact it's a while since ex-WCG writers contributed to the publication, something which was common a decade or so ago.

Available to download.

Monday 29 August 2016

Some Reformation: Joe heads to NC

"Just yesterday morning (August 25), after months of prayerful deliberation, the GCI Board met, concluding that we should proceed to implement plans to relocate the Home Office to a yet-to-be-determined location in North Carolina."
Joe Tkach Jr

So the Tkach sect is uprooting again. Oregon (in early Herbal days), Pasadena, Glendora and now an undisclosed location in North Carolina.

Yet-to-be-determined? I don't believe a word of it. Months of prayerful deliberation? You mean back room plotting?

The question is, why the move?

Of course, Joe has an explanation.

"Southern California has served us well, yet over time the cost of living has reached the point where consideration has to be given to relocating."

Cost of living?

"A major consideration for relocation is that we can cut our overhead (i.e., cost of doing business in California) by $500,000 per year. While this may seem reason enough to move out of California, there are other advantages. Our Glendora church property has significantly increased in value; by relocating, we would access some of that accrued equity to go directly into our mission of the gospel proclamation... Another significant factor to consider in relocation is 65% of our congregations are in the eastern half of the continental US... Our management team has been searching for an area with good quality of life and access to more affordable housing for our employees."

Sounds a lot like the reason the Meredith sect gave for relocating to Charlotte. The old boys wanted a nice lifestyle with a nice climate to see them out. Everything else, one suspects, was justification after the fact. Beneath all the PR bullgeschichte that Joe burbles, it'd put good money on similar factors being in play this time too. Could it be that, in the process, Joe can dump some unwanted baggage and set himself up for an even nicer sinecure of a retirement?

"... more affordable housing for our employees"? Really. How many of these lucky employees will have to stay behind in LA to keep close to family? Tough break. Those who own homes in the area? Did they get a vote? Let's not be silly, this is all about Joe & Co. getting their way and devil take the hindmost.

North Carolina is where Armstrong sects go to wither and die. The Ritenbaugh sect (Church of the Great God, Charlotte), the Meredith sect (LCG, Charlotte). Do you think Joe might have (hush, hush sweet) Charlotte in mind too? The possibilities are intriguing; imagine Wednesday night beer and poker with Joe, Richard and Gerry!

Think back to the name change to GCI. Joey had it all prearranged, then they decided to pull a soft PR stunt and take member suggestions into consideration. How thoughtful and consultative. When the dust settled, they still went with a variant of Joe's first choice. Surprise!

Final thought. PG Joe writes about his Board. He gives cute little bios of the members. The one thing he doesn't explain is how these individuals ended up on the board. Elected were they Joe? Or perhaps they were appointed from on high, the angel Moroni descending with the names inscribed on holy scrolls. No, not so likely. Appointed, yes; from on high, yes. On high being Joe's big boy chair in his soon to be relocated office.

Sounds like a Board accountable not to the church, not to the members, but to... guess who? Was there ever any possibility that voices on that board would be raised in opposition to their lord and master?

Some reformation.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Death-throes of Armstrongism

It's not every day - or even every decade - that an entire religious movement goes belly-up, but that's what happened to the Worldwide Church of God. It happened so long ago that whole generations have now arisen that have no idea who Herbert or Ted Armstrong were, and no knowledge of former brand names like The Plain Truth or The World Tomorrow. Those of us who still do are tracking up well beyond middle age into - I say it with deep regret - old fart territory.

Those with get up 'n go long since got up and went. Some, clinging to nostalgia and really bad Bible misinformation answered the siren calls of the tithe farmers who set up parasitical ministries.

There are at least two sorts of these derivative groups, let's call them the blands and the loonies. In the bland category are the UCG, CGI and COGWA. In their favor they're not one-man-bands, and there are some minimal checks and balances to keep Mussolini-like egos tied down. Unfortunately (for them) they're caught in a time warp several decades out of step with the real world, desperately trying to breathe life into a idealized version of the past before women became uppity, gay people began to be regarded as fully human, and evolution was a satanic delusion. The incongruity lies in the rapid adoption by these groups of new technology to promote this kind of intellectual deadwood. By and large these groups are congenitally incapable of connecting with anyone under forty, and the demographic collapse proves it.

Having said that, there are some good people in these groups trying to do the right thing the best way they know how. No future here though.

Then there are the loonies beginning with Meredith's LCG at the less extreme end of the spectrum (though, personally, I've always regarded Rod as certifiable) and going all the way to the flat-out nut jobs like Weinland at the furthest fringe. Slot in Pack, Flurry, Thiel and the others where you best think they fit on the sanity continuum.

These guys are legends in their own lunchtimes, one-megalomaniac operations. LCG is an interesting case in that it is being forced into some kind of ham-fisted transition due to Rod's increasing incapacity. It's no sure thing, though, that it'll survive that process. Any sane person sees these franchises for what they are - a joke. More-so, sadly, because the insiders are generally too thick to appreciate the humor, which is clearly at their expense. Few of these tin-pot sects will survive the passing of their pompous tithe-lords.

So are there any real victims in all of this considering that those who remain actively choose to remain and submit, which is their perfect right. As the decades have rolled by the corruption, manipulation and hypocrisy have become impossible for any honest person to deny. Knowing that, it's hard to feel much sympathy for the hangers-on.

The exception would be the kids in groups like PCG who are being raised within the walls of these pigpens of human oppression. The reality is that most of them will walk away in disgust when they can. Armstrongism has always had a problem retaining its young.

What, if anything will be left by mid-century?

Sunday 14 August 2016

Life at AC

As we all know, life at Ambassador College was a foretaste of the World Tomorrow.

Well, actually not.

Gary recently linked to a HuffPost article by Wendy Keller, also doing the rounds on Facebook. It's essential reading for anyone with any remaining illusions about how great that place was. I guess there are legal reasons Wendy doesn't name the minister she "counseled" with. She clearly wasn't the first - or the last - to be treated in this abysmal way either. Some of the ministers simply got off on this sort of thing - fantasizing about real and imagined sexual behaviors of the young people they were supposed to support and guide. 

Wendy was an intelligent and resilient young woman who rose above her "Ambassador experience". I wonder about the more vulnerable souls who were crushed by the hierarchic, abusive system, some just broken and confused, others - tragically - co-opted into the organization with its perverse values.

Compulsory reading IMHO.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Tired, old Horizons

Obscurity, thy name is New Horizons. Or perhaps Really Old Horizons.

New Horizons is published six times a year by Church of God Outreach Ministries (COGM). It's old time Armstrongism somewhat toned down. While the postal address is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the leading light in the movement seems to be James McBride, based in the UK. James was associated with Garner Ted's CGI way back in the early days, and serves as editor - obviously at distance.

This publication will win no awards for layout or design. Whoever is in charge of that needs to up-skill badly. Perhaps, to be generous, the small size of COGM should be taken into account. The ministry is supported - apparently - by only a handful of local churches and McBride's COG-UK. You'd think though that there'd be a teenager somewhere in those groups that could give the old fellas a clue as to swishing up the presentation.

Content-wise, it's not as awful as some of the slicker COG publications (which is pretty-much every other COG mag), but you get the strong sense of "same old, same old".

Hence the title of this piece. New horizons? Where, where? These old boys haven't seen anything new on a horizon for decades.

Available to download.

Friday 12 August 2016

The Journal - 186th issue

The latest issue of the independent Church of God newspaper The Journal is out, dated July 31. This issue features something of a valedictory sermon by Wayne Cole delivered to the CGI congregation in Tyler. Also featured is a tribute to Pam Kurr who passed away in July following a hemorrhagic stroke.

There are 227 Feast sites listed for later this year. Included in that particular alphabet soup: CGI, ICG, LCG, CCG, UCG, CGMI, CGWA. There are also some minor groups such as Legacy Institute and more obscure sects with names like Discipleship Church of God and House of David Fellowship. Don't forget to pack those generous holy day offerings!

The issue is available for download.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Spanky: worse than a murderer/molester

“causing church division is worse than murder or child molestation”
Roderick "Spanky" Meredith

Dear old Spanky. In depositions to the Scarborough case, the Presiding Evangelist (semi-retired) of the Living Church of God came out with the above wee gem (read Elizabeth Scarborough's account in full over at Gary's blog.)

Mrs Scarborough is restrained in her comment: "Ironic since he’s formed two churches through division himself ..."

Yes Spanky, tell us again how you simply had to cause division by incorporating the Global Church of God? How you actively encouraged WCG members to join up and transfer their tithes. How did that work? Did the angel Moroni appear to you perhaps? Where's the authorization for such a radical departure from your own "loyalty" teaching over long decades? And who placed you, other than you yourself - the self-crowned pretender - in charge?

To restate the problem, how did the necessary transfer of power, legitimacy, authority and tithes come about to make your inflated claims even slightly credible?

It all happened in your head.

How convenient.

Then again, when concerned office holders in your new GCG church - the one you thought should be your personal fiefdom - sought to reign your ego in and establish some much needed checks and balances, what did you do?

Cause division. Ruin reputations. Cause financial loss for many good, decent people. All because you were obsessed with your own delusions of entitlement and authority.

In fact, you scuppered the ship and established another more compliant entity to serve your needs, the Living Church of God, and stacked it with spineless yes-men. To hell with the collateral damage.

Spanky, your middle name could be "division".

God didn't raise up the Global Church of God - you did. You did it by deliberately, strategically, preying on confused and vulnerable brethren. You could have, if your conscience (do you have one of those Spanky?) so required fallen in with an already existing group like the UCG. But no, you were far too important to play second fiddle to anybody else.

God didn't raise up the Living Church of God - you did to satiate your own ego and sense of self importance and destiny as the "leading minister". Division? You're a past master.

And that makes you - according to none other than you yourself - worse than a murderer or child molester.

In this case I'm not going to argue with you.

Drought's broken

Long time, no posts.

Without going into self-indulgent details I've had other priorities in recent weeks with little energy left to invest in blogging. Happily, things now seem to be moving out from under the cloud cover, so I'm about to at least attempt to make up for lost time.

One of the silver linings has been that, in the absence of other grist for the mill, the previous post (26 July) has attracted a lot of really thoughtful comments. Back in the day, conversations like these all too often ended in folk yelling at each other. The truth is, I suspect, we're all trying to make some sense of past commitments and decisions. At the risk of sounding trite, maybe the journey really is more important than the destination.

I apologize in advance for the tone of the posting on Rod Meredith ("Spanky") which will soon be uploaded. Not much makes me angry these days... so much water under the bridge... but this spiritually diseased old man, the wannabe Emperor Palpatine of the Churches of God, is the exception that proves the rule. The man seems to reach new depths in unreflective shallowness every time he opens his mouth. If you're wondering what sparked this observation, check out Elizabeth Scarborough's letter over on the Banned blog.