Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Fragments in Focus - 5

The fourth chapter of David Barrett's book Fragmentation of a Sect is entitled Schism and Scandals in the Seventies. In just over 20 pages Barrett reviews WCG's decade from hell.  He discusses:

Garner Ted Armstrong
- The prophetic failure of 1972 (and 1975)
- Changes in doctrine over Pentecost and D&R (divorce and remarriage)
- What Barrett describes as "the liberal dilemma"
- The sex scandals that engulfed first Garner Ted Armstrong and later Herbert Armstrong
- The ousting of Garner Ted

If you want a potted summary of the Worldwide Church of God's tribulations at this crucial moment in its history, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than this.  I personally found this painful territory to revisit.  A few highlights (or perhaps lowlights...) that caught my attention...

- Marion McNair recalling that the move to Pasadena was a response to the fallout from the failure of Armstrong's now forgotten prophecies in the 1940s
- The final exchange between father and son that included Ted's famous outburst: "You fucked my sister!" followed by Herbert's equally famous response
- Recollections of the scapegoating over the STP (Systematic Theology Project), the madness of the 'cultural revolution' that followed Ted's expulsion, Stan Rader and Herbert's disastrous marriage to Ramona Martin

There are more comprehensive accounts, but Barrett's purpose with this chapter is to provide needed background for later developments. This he does remarkably well.

A couple of personal comments. In the opinion of this reviewer it was in the Seventies that the rot became apparent to anyone with eyes to see, and every crisis that followed hinged on the period from the 1972 fiasco to the receivership crisis.  It was, for many, the end of innocence.

To continue


  1. "In the opinion of this reviewer it was in the Seventies that the rot became apparent to anyone with eyes to see, and every crisis that followed hinged on the period from the 1972 fiasco to the receivership crisis. It was, for many, the end of innocence."

    Perhaps so, for those who were already members. However, to naive outsiders who were looking for answers, none of this was apparent. The well-oiled WCG marketing machine barely skipped a beat during the 70's. GTA was on the radio weeknights and we had HWA on Sunday night. You could rotate the AM dial and find The World Tomorrow on several stations, from different cities regionally, at the same time. Money problems caused them to produce fewer Plain Truth editions per year, and they went to that crappy newspaper-style format for a short while, but they soon recovered from that as well and resumed printing slick glossy monthly Plain Truths.

    After reading and listening for years, a "coworker" would somehow get sucked into requesting a visit from the minister. You can be sure this visit touched on none of the problems the church was going through. Then, one got invited to church, where again none of this was discussed. Those with "bad attitudes" were either already gone or quickly left or were put out anyway, and those with "good attitudes" certainly wouldn't tell a newcomer "babe in Christ" that the church was anything but pure and flawless.

    No, despite the difficulties, the marketing effort just kept bringing in new converts. The old members were replaced and membership, while not growing as rapidly as in the past, still held its own. Revenues kept coming in.

    As you might infer from the above, I came into contact with WCG in the early 70's through the broadcasts and publications, and I was baptized into the church in the late 70's. On my third week attending services GTA was put out. In the years that followed Stan Rader did his thing and AC was closed and then reopened. None of this made a difference. I was a true believe and this was God's church.

  2. I was working at Ambassador College during the Seventies. It is interesting to look back on that time and note the dynamics on campus and in the local congregations. The rot was beginning to be exposed, but what was the mindset of many people in the WWCG? They were seeing these events as a sign of the end of the age and the return of Christ. It was the preoccupation with the apocalypse that worked like a counter irritant for many lay members. The worse things got, the closer we were to the end. Many thought Christ would return in 1982. I heard Hoeh identify this as a likely date at the Feast of Tabernacles in the late Seventies. This worked to the advantage of church leadership. Money kept rolling in and people tended to look beyond the rot in the foreground. There was also some mollifying legerdemain. We were supposed to flee to safety in January 1972 but we all sat in the Field House in Big Sandy wondering what happened. The date for the flight was then transformed into the date that construction was begun on the auditorium in Pasadena with some exegesis that include scriptures from Zechariah. So the leadership was not really wrong about the date, they had just not recognized fully its meaning. Innocence ended for some, but for many it did not. They still sit in congregations around the country and wait for the unfolding of events that will make everything understandable and will silence the gainsayers. The same thing happened to the first cousins of the Armstrongites, the Branch Davidians. In a recent documentary, it was noted that many of the Davidians still believe Koresh's prophecies and are waiting for him to be resurrected to lead the church at the soon coming apocalypse.

    -- Neo

  3. It is astonishing that Barrett submitted this "sordid" story to gain a PHD. If Barrett had researched and presented something much more helpful, I suppose he would have been awarded the Noble Prize or made a saint.

    But I suppose that muck rating has it value among those whose who find the blandishments of sins much more congenial than the decency of virtue.

    Minus the innuendo and gossip, what Barrett has written was known to any WCG member whose head was not buried int sand!

  4. For me it was not the failure of 1975...it was the denying that they ever said it. That was what started me looking over my own handwritten notes that I had kept for years. Looking at old issues of the magazines and booklets. Heh! What they didn't outright say, they implied so strongly and in such a way as to make you think that was what they were saying.

    I can't say the WCG ever said that Hitler was still alive and living in Argentina and was about to come back into power any day BUT - they sure made it sound like that's what they were saying.

    With a series of leading questions (and no straight answers) we were lead to believe a lot of things they didn't come right out and state as fact and/or doctrine. They led us to come to conclusions which were the conclusions they wanted us to come to and believe.

    By "they", I mean the headquarters people like the Armstrongs and Meredith and the other authors of articles and booklets in all the WCG literature. They were very careful in the wording of their articles. So careful that it reminds me of some of the advertisements we see today on TV where you think you are getting something better than what you will really be getting if you're naive enough to fall for it.

    Remember how good that chopper/slicer/dicer worked in the commercial on TV? So, how come yours doesn't work so well - if at all? How come theirs was stainless steel and mine is plastic and tin? And then, you can see why it's as advertised - "not sold in stores", because, in stores, people could see it was just plastic junk.

    Yep, the old conman's bait and switch - but you don't notice that they never say that what you will get by sending in your money will be just like what they're using for the demonstration. That's just implied, never said. I like the way they say, "this is what you can expect to get" as they show the good stuff. Yes, that's what you can "expect", but that's not what you're going to get.

  5. Reactions such as Mr. Mahon's reflect why Barrett did this social research in the first place. Fascinating, isn't it?

  6. I was there. From 1955 to 1975. What Barrett says is true. I began to have deep questions early in the 70s and they got worse as time went on. Unlike many of my peers, I didn't make excuses and try to explain it all away. Nor did I run back to some equally dubious religion of my youth -- largely because there was none, making me very lucky. Slowly, step by step, I left it behind me and moved on. I'm still moving on, day by day, month by month, year by year. Yea for reason. Yea for science. Let's have done with the madness of religions.

  7. Some of us were never concerned about supposed prophetic failures or "doctrinal changes" or GTA or Stan Rader or whatever. Our focus was on God and our own faith and difficulties.

    The "fragmentation" clearly showed who was concerned about peripheral and non-essential issues, and who wasn't. This is still true.

    1. The exact same thing could be said of the Catholic Church and its splinters, the protestants. That's why a lot of people just stay in whatever delusion they are raised in...and assuming there really is a God because that's what they have been told.

  8. So can we dispense with the allegations that Herbert Armstrong never committed incest, or is that going to be an ongoing controversy even though it was shown to be true from David Robinson, the divorce, the Jack Kessler Letter and his own son-in-law confronting Armstrong by waving a gun at him?

  9. Yes, I'd say that we can probably put that to rest. I never knew HWA personally, but I did know David Robinson well. He was a pathological liar. So, if he insisted it was true, we can be pretty sure it wasn't....

  10. Except we don't have to rely exclusively on David Robinson.

    And others who worked for him told me that David Robinson was straight arrow.

    I sure wouldn't want to rely on the word of Herbert Armstrong.