For those readers who, like myself, have a history in the late, unlamented Worldwide Church of God, I have a question.
What was the one key teaching - doctrine if you will - that you would identify as foundational during your sojourn in that body?
There's certainly a wide choice to ponder. The church offered a smorgasbord of distinctive beliefs. Sabbath, Holy Days, tithing, dietary requirements, conscientious objection to military service, the God Family (or alternately a form of binitarianism), 'begotten' rather than 'born again', the millennium on earth, three resurrections, the apostleship of Herbert Armstrong.
A follow-up question for extra credit. Which one of the WCG's teachings - if any - do you feel still "stacks up" in the wake of the break-up of this once monolithic organisation?
My suspicion is that the answer to both would in many, many cases be "none of the above". The real draw-card for countless brethren was clearly "Bible prophecy".
Prophecy was hardly the sole prerogative of Armstrong. Dallas dispensationalists, Seventh-day Adventists and others were going hard at it too (remember The Late Great Planet Earth?) But in the WCG the unique key to prophecy was British Israelism, the arcane idea that the white Anglo nations are descendants of the patriarch Joseph. Britain and the white Commonwealth were identified as Ephraim while the United States was Manasseh.
I'm not aware, even today, of any major splinter group that doesn't affirm "BI" very much as Armstrong taught it.
I confess that my own views on BI were always sceptical from the get-go. On most of the other doctrines I was easily convinced (c'est la vie), but I remember reading the Armstrong opus on that subject as a teenager and wondering if there was something wrong with my intelligence given the fact that the logic of it seemed so obviously shonky. At age 21 I came across Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright by J.H. Allen and it was apparent, without anyone needing to point it out, that Armstrong had plagiarised the earlier work.
But for most members, Armstrong's teachings on BI and prophecy were revelatory and quickly embraced. Why?
Perhaps it's no coincidence that a reactionary doctrine like BI took on a new lease of life at the time of the Civil Rights movement. Did we even have the word "racism" in our everyday vocabulary back then?
BI, for many folk, and especially for white folk, was an affirmation of their specialness. It reinforced their prejudice, provided an apologetic and justification for a conveniently rose coloured view of history. Just when Blacks in South Africa and the US, Maori in New Zealand and indigenous groups in many other countries were challenging the status quo. And if you think that's all ancient history now, check out what some of the dimmer candles in the ruins of the WCG still spout on the subject. For these people - people of real sincerity and conviction no doubt - it still might as well be 1964.
Why am I rambling on about this? In case you missed it there have been some perceptive comments to the previous post. Among them 'Neo' has contributed the following thoughts on the subject. I think he hits the nail on the head.
That rings true to my experience too, even though it was half a world away. The WCG was - let's not mince words - not only a hotbed of petty congregational game playing (Yertle the Turtle stuff, mirroring the toxic situation in Pasadena and with the ministry as a whole), but racist in its teachings to the core. Groups like Rod Meredith's Living Church of God still are. You only have to read the content in the retreaded "prophecy" articles they endlessly pump out for Tomorrow's World. You can't affirm BI without embracing a racist world view. It goes with the territory. Their God is indeed, despite the standard obligatory denials, "a respecter of persons".Armstrongism could fairly well be described as a system for classifying people as to worth. In an Armstrongite congregation everyone knows who is important and who is not. To properly situate everyone at the correct place in the social hierarchy, some assessment of human worth is necessary. I knew back in those days that the wealthy business owner who always talked to the minister on Saturday was worth more than me and he would likely be first a deacon and then a local church elder. Most people in Armstrongite congregations are unimportant to the leadership except for tithe support. The unimportant derive their esteem not from their participation in the congregation but from being a British-Israelite, one of the chosen. Once you are classified, this has finality. I was on the lowest rung in the hierarchy at Big Sandy. Years later, I would meet people from AC who treated me as if that were still my estate.How is this system to respond to a Black President? By deriding what he is. Via the media, putting him in his God-ordained place of subservience. Ex-Armstrongites recognize this principle at work. People inside Armstrongism would never notice anything being out of place or unusual about [the cartoon in The Journal]. My guess is that [the editor] received no protests concerning the cartoon from within the loyal Armstrongite ranks.
And perhaps, as Neo suggests, that goes more than half way to explain the overwhelming loathing of the Obama presidency in the remaining ghettoes of Armstrongism today.