Saturday, 9 March 2013

Fragments in Focus - 7

An overview of chapter 6 of Fragmentation of a Sect by David V. Barrett.

Continuing Schism in the Offshoots

What makes the 'Worldwide family' so fascinating is its instability. Not a year goes by without another bunch of disaffected insiders breaking off from one or more of the existing breakaway groups. If you have a taste for this kind of thing the resulting drama can be riveting entertainment. No matter how off-the-wall the newest variation on a theme might be, it will probably attract support - until it too crumbles. Witness Bob Thiel's micro-sect, established after Fragmentation went to the presses.

Barrett identifies three major schisms from WCG since the death of Armstrong: Gerald Flurry's Philadelphia COG, Roderick Meredith's Global COG (and later, Living COG), and the United COG. All of these groups have since calved numerous breakaways. Relative size is, as Barrett clearly demonstrates, notoriously problematic, and given the tendency by the groups themselves to huff and puff with self-inflating PR, his estimates are necessarily ball-park figures.

For newcomers to the wonderful Worldwide family feuds, Barrett explains a few things members would take for granted. The gospel, not of personal salvation, but as a news announcement of the coming millennial kingdom of God (and the nuclear tribulation that precedes it). More than one reader of UCG's Good News magazine has noted the irony of that name in a periodical that routinely delivers steaming piles of fear and pessimism.

Barrett goes on to throw the major COGs onto a 'hardline - liberal' continuum. Flurry and Pack hug the extreme hardline mark, while UCG and the various COGlets that trace their origins to Garner Ted Armstrong's departure in 1978 huddle at the liberal end. Meredith's LCG is placed somewhere in between. Liberal is a misleading term however, both because conservative American media have demonised the word, and because by any sane standards none of these groups is truly liberal (as the most recent issue of the Good News demonstrates).  Alternate terms like 'progressive' are sometimes used, but that too is relative.

There is a nice section that describes what happens in a typical COG church service. Interestingly, Barrett finds not a lot of difference with more mainstream 'evangelical' services, and compares the tone of a COG sermon with something you might hear at "any Christian tent crusade."

Worldwide has always placed great emphasis on its 'literature'. Not a lot that's original has been produced over the decades, with many sects simply rewriting the same material over and over again or, where possible, reprinting old out of copyright publications. Even during Armstrong's time recycling occured, as Gary Scott clearly showed with Mystery of the Ages.

The rest of the chapter is largely concerned with the assorted sects that have calved off from the three post-Armstrong schisms (PCG, GCG/LCG, UCG). Also getting a mention is 'Garner Ted Armstrong's Legacy' - groups that trace themselves back via the Church of God International.

No single chapter, not even one of over forty pages, can possibly provide comprehensive coverage of all the bickering factions, but Barrett has all the most important bases covered.

To continue

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