Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Fragments in Focus - 6

Chapter five of Fragmentation of a Sect is called Revolution and Schism.

HWA & Rader
In 1981 Herbert Armstrong established a committee of top ministers - the Advisory Council of Elders.  The move was kept secret from Stan Rader.  Armstrong was playing a high stakes chess game to freeze Rader out of the succession.  That at least is the way Aaron Dean tells the story.

Successors were named - and then replaced - on a kind of 'flavor of the month' basis.  Among those so designated for a while was, apparently, Herman Hoeh.  Nine days before his death Joseph Tkach's turn came up.  The rest, as they say, is history.

David Barrett identifies Trinitarianism as the first significant doctrinal issue that the new leadership cabal confronted "in response to a Roman Catholic priest challenging an anti-Trinitarian letter in Plain Truth." (p.89)  The other major domino to fall was British-Israelism.  The process Barrett labels denominalization was to become unstoppable, and breakup inevitable.

The about face has been described as a five stage process (p.95)
  1. Change? What change?
  2. We haven't changed any doctrines; we're simply clarifying the language in which we describe them.
  3. Mr. Armstrong, on his deathbed, asked Mr. Tkach to look into precisely this area/to correct the errors in this book.  We're doing exactly what he wanted us to do.
  4. Although well-intentioned, Mr. Armstrong sometimes got a little carried away in his enthusiasm.
  5. Mr. Armstrong was wrong.
The deceit was transparent to most.  Longserving minister Dennis Diehl called Tkach out on this.
If something is wrong for you, then leave it. Don't destroy it and drive many to despair, skepticism and, in some few cases, literal suicide.
Instead you made everyone else leave.  Now that's power: stupid, self-serving and egocentric power.
Barrett maintains that, from their perspective, the Tkach leadership "had found the Truth, and had seen the error of their (and their church's) ways, and had an absolute duty to bring their church out of darkness into light."

(My personal assessment is less sunny than this. Rhetoric is one thing; underlying motives are always more complex than any justifications offered, especially with leaders who seem to take pride in being non-reflective in their practice.)

There is discussion of the extent of membership loss, and the enigma of Herman Hoeh who, contrary to his convictions, lent his name and reputation to bolster the new regime.

To continue.


  1. Hermann Hoeh = Colin Powell

    Or perhaps it was just to protect his pension. We'll never know.

  2. I am not sure what underpins Diehl's comment. It seems like he is advocating the retention and perpetuation of Armstrongism by WCG/GCI. And that WCG/GCI should even accommodate these superseded beliefs within the organization. He seems to be implying this was the noble thing to do. If this is what he intends, I strongly disagree.

    I do believe that the transition from Armstrongism to Christian orthodoxy was harsh. If we were going to jump from a pseudo-theology to a real theology, it seems to me the issue of what theology should have been carefully considered and socialized. And most of all, I believe the changes should have been introduced into the local congregations via a carefully conceived, structured program of preparation. Instead, it seemed to me that WCG/GCI leadership surveyed the situation and then said "let er rip." There was a flurry of articles that few had time to absorb and we were off in another direction. Nobody asked the people in the local congregations what they thought so there was no building of a sense of owernership for the transition. The transition was just imposed suddenly or nearly suddenly. I think WCG/GCI would have retained a considerably greater membership if a less harsh approach had been followed. The congregations that I know of retained about 8 percent of their membership. And there were a lot of unhappy people in the 92 percent that fled elsewhere. Karl Barth or Azusa Pacific cannot tell you how to transform a denomination. So we did not experience transformation, we experienced truncation. But I do not think Diehl's views are a solution.

    -- Neotherm

  3. Unknown is correct. The transition was handled poorly. I suspect the leadership did not expect all the blowback that happened. One thing should be considered though, the WCG/GCI did jump into REAL theology, regardless of where it(we) started.

    The regular folks, however, should have handled it better than they did; because if there is ONE characteristic that all WCG members, past and present, have had in common, it is true courage. There are not now, nor have there ever been "cowards" in the Radio/Worldwide CoG/GCI/whatever fragments one chooses....

  4. Great reviews Gavin, fascinating stuff.

    I found Diehl's comments also a bit puzzling.

    I remember very clearly coming to the same conclusion about legalism as Tkach Sr did about a year or so before he did. I had already stopped tithing, stopped keeping the sabbath so carefully and stopped following the dietary restrictions when I was listening to his famous / infamous sermon announcing the changes, I remember thinking to myself "If you are serious, how about you announce that tithing is optional". When he did that I was quite pleasantly surprised.

    I still found the changes unnerving in that it was easy for me to sit back and be a bit of a rebel and find fault with the long standing beliefs. Suddenly I wasn't a rebel any more. Based on conversations I've had with others, I wasn't the only one who had concerns about legalism. Admittedly we were the minority but it wasn't only Tkach Sr that wanted changes.

  5. I'm glad I was long gone before the WCG changed its doctrines to the same doctrines they spent 50 years arguing against. Trinitarianism is an impossible doctrine, actually dogma, and quite possibly the only biblical doctrine that HWA was right about. A person cannot be three different persons at the same time without a multiple personality disorder - which is a mental illness. However, I concede that if God exists, he definitely does have a mental illness.

  6. I think Dennis Diehl's comment was right on. The entire church held a certain set of beliefs. The membership had donated large amounts of time and money building a campus, and large bank accounts, for the purpose of furthering those beliefs. Was it morally right for a new leader to come along, take control church, campus and bank accounts, and declare that the old set of beliefs was wrong and a set of beliefs that the church had previously considered heretical was now true? Was it morally right for that leader to say "my way or the highway" - change your beliefs or leave - but, by the way, I'm keeping all the assets and you can leave with nothing.

    The assets are now sold, and the cash reserves are almost all used up. But Joe Tkach and his ilk have been using our prior donations to pay themselves large salaries for nearly 20 years now. It's all legal because of the one-man-rule corporate setup of the WCG (shame on HWA for setting it up that way and shame on all of us for falling for it. But after all, God was in charge, LOL.) It may be legal, but it is morally reprehensible.

  7. Skeptic, you are waaayyyyy too worried about money.

    1. So, you think someone else should own your vested interest? Who got the return, you or the owner? What did the owner do with it? Hind sight should be 20/20 but, evidently, it's not.

    2. Larry, do you also think God is waaayyyyy too worried about money? After all, it was God who made "thou shalt not steal" one of the ten commandments.

  8. The irony of Larry's comment is striking: as it turned out, WCG was ALL about money. HWA knew it. So did GTA. Stan Rader certainly knew it. And Joe Tkach, senior and junior, knew it too. They were the big winners in the winner-take-all high-stakes WCG leadership game!

    The only ones that didn't realize it was all about the money were us: the naive dupes otherwise known as church members. We thought it was all about God. What fools. But we know it now. At least some of us do.

    As the saying goes, too late smart, too soon old.

  9. The ideal would be if Armstrongism had been totally stamped out and eradicated. Unfortunately, no matter how the changes were orchestrated, that just wasn't going to happen. There are many other beliefs that the world would be better off without, but not too many as toxic and damaging as what we all experienced at the hands of HWA/WCG.

    I'm glad I left in '75. I've had my ups and downs in recovery over the past 35+ years, but surely am glad that I was not put in a position of learning a new set of beliefs from the very same wonderful group of people who had so screwed us over. There were much more learned teachers in the mainstream Christian community, more experienced with this theology, meaning that the membership as a whole would have been better off if the WCG had been disbanded with members being given referrals to some of these more experienced and loving types right in their local community. But, there was the law of unintended consequences with which to deal. If you leave charlatans without means of support, and without retirement, they're going to find some way of justifying their existence and continued presence.