Saturday 26 November 2011

Mile High Herb?

I've been slowly working my way through Ben Mitchell's The Last Great Day. It's a novel, "based on a true story." Mitchell grew up as a PK (pastor's kid) in the Worldwide Church of God. Despite some tinkering with names (Armstrong morphs to Abraham etc.) it's recognizably the movement many of us once knew and loved - even if the verb has now changed to loathe.

Chapter 23 tells the tale of a trip on board the Apostle's Gulf Stream II. The time setting is shortly after the release of David Robinson's book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web, and rumours are spreading like wildfire. It's a time I remember particularly well, having acquired one of the few early copies - and a signed one at that - to reach the shores of New Zealand. In the story, Abraham (Armstrong) while visiting his Australian operation, has invited the none-too-bright minister Henry Conroy, along with his wife Elizabeth, for a joy ride over Perth in the GII. Henry is invited to sit in the cockpit with the pilot - a great privilege - leaving Elizabeth alone with the old goat.

What happen's next? The Apostle lays hands on the hapless Elizabeth.

"Why did you lock the cockpit door?" asked Elizabeth. "Isn't it dangerous? What if they need to tell us something or ask you about our destination?" Abraham sat next to Elizabeth, putting his hand on her knee.
"We are all going to the same place, my child." He skulled his Scotch, running his eyes over Elizabeth's legs as he did... Abraham looked in her eyes, with his ferocious and full of single-minded intent.
"There is no need to be alarmed, my child. In the coming Kingdom of God, all our fears and sins will be forgiven. We are what we are, as God made us, Elizabeth."
"And as God told us through Paul, wives should submit to their husbands only," said Elizabeth, holding the full glass of Scotch with both hands - some kind of pathetic barrier between them...
Abraham thrust his hand up Elizabeth's knee-length skirt, fingering at...
Well, you get the idea. Slimeball Abraham's ardour is doused when Elizabeth drops the glass, which breaks, and Henry rattles the locked door. The saddest line in the chapter is Elizabeth's, and appears toward the end.
In her mind she repeatedly asked herself the same question: How did I lead him on?
Now, okay, this is fiction. But there's a clear autobiographical and family history element in the text; Henry and Elizabeth are closely modelled on Ben's parents. So, one has to wonder whether the incident isn't as far fetched as it sounds. In many ways Herb Armstrong profited from his son's hugely profligate reputation, a barrier that deflected concerns away from himself. In the real world, at this time, there were indeed dark rumours about Herb's own moral choices, particularly when the Apostle was away on his boozy globetrotting sprees with Stan Rader and Osamu Gotoh. Those old enough to have followed the scandal at the time will remember stories about the 'flog log', the dildo in the Hermes pouch, the lusty junior members of the Japanese diet (Herb's 'Japanese sons') who 'partied hearty' on the GII, the stay-over at the Romanian sex clinic... and on it goes.

Maybe Mitchell has conflated Herb and Ted (Garner Ted Armstrong). After all, none of this would surprise us if it was Ted who was portrayed as trying his luck - the evidence about his 'mile high' behaviour is undeniable. But perhaps, like father like son... The man is no longer available to defend himself of course, but then when he was available to defend himself against the allegations in Robinson's book - and from his son - he said nothing. Not even when the allegations turned to incest.

It was Phillip Adams who may have provided the most apt epitaph for Armstrong, writing in the Weekend Australian Magazine in February 1986.
It must come as a great shock to both of them, but Herbert W. Armstrong and L. Ron Hubbard are dead. These god-like gurus, who dominated the lives of countless disciples, have carked it, snuffed it and kicked the bucket. And the world is a better place for their passing.
Mitchell's book brings back none-too-pleasant memories. But then, those who ignore the past are most certainly condemned to repeat it.

(Outside Australia Mitchell's book is available from Amazon in a Kindle edition.)


  1. Bizarre....

    By the way, I knew David Robinson personally and fairly well. I wouldn't believe anything he said and even less of what he wrote.

  2. Bizarre, indeed.

    I watched an Aaron Dean video message in UCG a couple of weeks ago. (Do a search on its website for the "First Circle.") He noted NONE of the world leaders Herbert Armstrong met ever became baptized. Not even those Japanese "sons" in the Diet.

    Hmmmm - could this help explain why?!?

  3. I also got one of the fist copies when his book was published.

    As I read it I thought, "Oh come on, that could not have happened." But then thinking about it I knew it certainly could have.

    No one outside of Armstrongism could ever come up with those types of scenarios in his book. It would not cross their minds. But those who were a part of Armstrongism can quickly identify with it. While I know a lot of it is fiction, there is far more truth buried in there than many outside the cult will realize.

    It seems like the further COG ministers were from Pasadena the weirder they were.

  4. It isn't clear to me whether I saw Herbert Armstrong's dalliances aboard the Gulfstream on the Ambassador Report or whether it was a source somewhere else. It seems to me that he spent some "quality time" with his "hostess" who was either married at the time or married later to the minister in Hawaii.

    We may never be able to determine the truth for sure. One thing we can be sure of is that yesterday on the Sabbath, one of the leaders of an ACOG railed mightily about "information" about the Armstrongist Churches of God and their leaders which couldn't be proved (but believed anyway). "It's a serious problem in the Churches of God," he said.

    A rather more serious problem, I would think, would be defending evil without the facts. If the leaders and ministers of Armstrongism are doing good works and have changed for the better because "they have learned from their experiences," let them bring forth the fruit suitable to demonstrate their repentance. For example, let the top leader go out and personally help a member move as happens in the Church of God Seventh Day, where the minister routinely helps members move.

    Demonstrate your faith by works, instead of wrangling about cattle.

    We'll all be waiting for a good report.

    Think on these things.

  5. The closest I've ever gotten (back in the days when I was a stickler for such things) to "the truth" a la Tangled Web, was that "the incest allegations" were "verified" via fifth-hand hearsay from a third-hand source...and this was what was printed in the AR as "gospel truth." Tangled Web of course, is nothing but hearsay, and from a biased source, at that.

    As Gavin points out, there is incontrovertible (VIDEO) evidence of Garner Ted's sexual crimes available on the Internet; many have speculated why Dorothy would have stayed on with, and worked for, GTA's outfit after the split; Stockholm Syndrome is not unlikely; and GTA is definitely a far more likely candidate (based on actual evidence, not just random hearsay) to have been the sexual abuser in the family, instead of Mr. Armstrong...who was raised in an era, and "of fine Quaker stock," where such things would not even have been imaginable!

    That's just my take on it.

  6. Court documents from the divorce do have the credibility of evidence, but, of course, these can be easily discounted....

  7. Do you have a link to the court documents, Douglas? Or are you going by the reference to the court documents in the AP release that was printed in a few regional newspapers in the US?

    Just wondering.

  8. I would say the Associated Press release was accurate. No one got sued, not even the ex-wcg people that 'headquarters' wanted to keep quiet about it - people who would have been easy targets...

    Yes, it happened and so did all the false prophesy mentioned in the AR too. And yes, it was HWA and GTA who preached against seeing doctors and getting vaccinations etc.

    It wasn't the local pastor that preached the doctrine that killed my own mother. In fact, the local pastors tried to convince my mother that getting the operation that would have saved her life would be the wise course to take.

    I don't know who gave you those rose colored glasses and blinders, Velvet, but you need to give 'em back...

  9. Corky,

    "In fact, the local pastors tried to convince my mother that getting the operation that would have saved her life would be the wise course to take."

    I am very very sorry that your mother could not be convinced by the local pastor, Corky; it is a horrible thing that your mother refused treatment and died earlier than she would have otherwise; but you say yourself that the local pastor(s) tried to convince her to seek medical care.

    Again, I am very very sorry your mother would not listen to the advice offered to her, and that you lost her earlier than you would have otherwise (and to a more terrible death). I am sorry, too, for other members in the Church who, acting very poorly in their capacity as parents, made similar bad decisions for their children.

    I do NOT deny that members IN the Church made such bad decisions, for themselves, and for their children; in fact, I have never denied that.

    I do personally believe that abuses of power took place IN the Church. I do not believe, however, that these abuses of power had anything to do with the teachings and doctrines OF the Church, at least in my personal experience (and I have said as much, to Church members and ministers).

    As for "the healing doctrine" I think that was largely dependent on the area; I know that I (and several of the children I grew up with) would not be alive today, if such a "doctrine" had been in place, or if something like that was being enforced by the area ministry. This was in the early to mid-1980s, in a congregation that prided itself (wrongly, I admit) on being "hardliners."

    "The healing doctrine" is/was definitely not as black-and-white as it is sometimes made out to be, in my opinion.