How do you evaluate the life and ministry of someone whose views are different from your own? That's the conundrum faced by many of us who in former days were part of a religious group that we have since abandoned. In most cases we didn't leave because of "weak faith" or personal failings; we left (or were pushed out) because the advertised package was nothing like the reality. We left because of bad people in high places and blatant hypocrisy. We left because we saw the manipulation and exploitation of decent people. Later we came to see that, apart from being an ethical desert, the intellectual underpinnings of the whole enterprise were also thoroughly rotten.
Looking back across the years I have little time or respect for many (most!) of those individuals who once enjoyed a high profile in that organization, specifically in my case the Worldwide Church of God. But there are exceptions. The passing of Ron Dart has brought this into focus for me.
To be clear, I regard Herbert and Ted Armstrong as self-serving con artists, no question. The best you might say about Herb was that he became a victim of his own delusions. All of us have the temptation to maintain and enforce things we only half believe in, as long as it's in our own best interests. As the oft-cited proof text goes: the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Too bad Herb didn't apply it to himself.
But what about more contemporary figures, those who survived the breakup of the WCG and continued to preach in that tradition? The criteria I use, when I stop to think about it, is where the arrow points, the direction in which their ministry takes people.
I was around in the period between 1978 and 1981, a young guy without much nous starting off in the big wide world, and a fairly recent convert to Armstrongism. The WCG was undergoing a 'cultural revolution' at this time. In the wake of Ted's departure and then the receivership crisis, anyone who stood up to Herbert Armstrong was purged.
If I was to put my finger on one event that summed it all up, it would be the day in January 1979 when Wayne Cole took the stage of the Ambassador Auditorium to call on church members and employees to cooperate with the receiver's inquiries; a voice of reason. He never finished. Rod Meredith and his thugs stormed on to the stage and used physical force against Cole. They had new instructions from Armstrong. Cole was forcibly removed and disfellowshipped. You can still access the LA Times report (as reprinted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review).
Meredith has always remained true to form, older but no wiser. Choose your own adjective: arrogant? ignorant? authoritarian? His later treatment of Raymond McNair is a case in point. With Meredith it's always been about "follow the leader". Meredith feeds on dependency. In so many ways he is a spiritual son of Herbert. Perhaps one redeeming feature is that he seems to sincerely (or stupidly) believe his own publicity. I doubt we could say that for Herb.
Along with Meredith we could list a number of other posturing clown figures with their own Church of God franchises. These guys have all the answers to all the wrong questions. If you like to do your own thinking, stay well away.
Which takes me back to Ron Dart.
(To be continued)