Friday 28 February 2014

Pee-wee and the Rodomites

"It seems the departing BIsectual ministers are having trouble squeezing their oversize egos into a coherent programme. Could the shiny new vehicle have stalled at ignition. Oh dear, oh dear..."

Thus wrote I back on January 12, commenting on the breakaway (The Father's Call) from the breakaway (CoGaic) from the breakaway (UCG) that broke away from the Worldwide Church of God. No particular insight was necessary. This is simply the nature of the beast.

Now we learn, courtesy of Gary Leonard's most informative blog, that the revolution has fizzled with absolutely everybody seemingly miffed. David Hulme, the Dear Leader, has had his fiefdom radically downsized, Brian Orchard has been left in a corner weeping, and Peter Nathan has skived off to hide behind Rod Meredith's skirts.

That Pee-wee (along with a couple of other leading 'Hulmerous' refugees) has fled to the LCG is, well, interesting. Clearly he rejected that option at least once before but, alas, necessity is the mother of compromise. Better Rod than Brian, it seems.

Pee-wee has the distinction of being probably the least-loved former boss of the Kiwi WCG. Graeme Marshall and Bob Morton, for all their fallibilities, were at least well regarded by some in the church. I've yet to meet anyone who felt the same way about Peter. Indeed, when Raymond McNair replaced him, there were many who breathed a long sigh of relief. The problem seems to have been his use of the "Rehoboam strategy" (1 Kings 12). "Ambassador quality" for the elite, and rigorous tithing demands for the hoi polloi.

As for Rod "Spanky" Meredith, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to being a judge of ministerial character. Remember when he tried cuddling up to Dave Pack?

LCG is heading full throttle towards its own final crisis when the ageing Presiding Evangelist goes on to his eternal reward. His current lieutenants are somewhat lacking in the charisma department, and you just know it'll all end in tears. A nice opportunity for a clued-up outsider to ride in on a white horse, presenting a fresh face and an injection of intellectual grunt.

Is that a course that's open to Peter? It doesn't seem likely. Charisma and intellect are hardly words most of us associate with "Pee-wee the Kiwi". You know it, I know it...

But does Peter know it? 

It's all great entertainment - both comedy and drama intertwined; the Andy Griffiths Show crossed with Hannibal Lecter. But the final outcome is in no doubt, no matter which way you look at it. The legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong is heading for utter extinction. Sooner rather than later.

Monday 17 February 2014

Can any Good Thing come out of the Missouri Synod?

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is in my view a rather unpleasant body, but with a membership of 2.3 million there have to be good people working away quietly to ameliorate its worst sectarian excesses. Such a voice - and a scholarly one - is found in The Daystar Journal.
"Sometimes the LCMS itself has seemed a rather dark place. Too often compassion and decency have been absent in the synod, where chauvinism has frequently been confused for synodical loyalty and meanness of spirit has been mistaken for contending for the faith."
If any church body needs a prophetic voice, it is the LCMS. Many of the articles on the Daystar site won't make much sense outside the confessional Lutheran milieu, but for those in thrall to the narrowness of this body, here is a small ray of hope for the future.

James McGrath gets Canucked

Good lord, the quality of North American talk radio...

Dr James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix recently discussed the Nye/Ham event on air with a blogger in the Ham camp - hosted by some Ontario smart arse. My Blogger spell-checker, which only knows American English, doesn't recognise the word arse, which is kind of sad. But then, as the smart arse in question, host Drew Marshall, (who seemed to do most of the yacking), pointed out in his introductory remarks, Americans pronounce McGrath as McGrath with the 'th' sound, whereas in the Queen's English it's McGrarr. Two peoples separated by a common language. For the record, brethren, an ass is a donkey.

Anyway this is, according to the PR, "Canada's Most Listened To Spiritual Talk Show." To which it's tempting to reply, God help the spiritual state of Canada. It wasn't really a discussion, let alone a debate... more a monologue with occasional interruptions permitted from the guests. You could listen in here, or simply hope James holds out next time for a spot on an NPR affiliate, where hopefully the host doesn't sound like he glugged seven cans of Red Bull before hitting the airwaves. Not that McGrath doesn't squeeze in one or two goodly points, but there's an awful lot of Motor-mouth Marshall's sludge to shovel through to get to them.

Which leaves me with only one burning question. Do Canadians know how to spell arse?

Saturday 15 February 2014

Kiwi WCG renamed

It's old news for the remnant of New Zealand's Worldwide Church of God, but the denominational name here finally changed in July last year to Grace Communion International (the US church took that step in 2009). The web address is now

Thursday 13 February 2014

Bad Dude - Good Theologian?

John Howard Yoder was a powerful writer and thinker, specifically in his advocacy for Christian pacificism. There wouldn't be too many people who've "done" theology in the past few decades who hadn't read something by Yoder, even if it was just a reading in a course book.

I've still got Yoder sitting on my bookshelf. The man was articulate and widely respected. He took the Mennonite perspective on peace and gave it enhanced credibility in the wider Christian community. For what it's worth, I believe personally that the Mennonites basically have it right: the mainline "Just War" position is discredited beyond possible redemption.

Now the word is out that this peace-loving man and much quoted 'ethicist' was a serial sex abuser, accused of violent behaviour against female students. His church did a lot less than it should have to address the problem. Yoder died in 1997, with barely a tarnish on his reputation.

And thus the question, posed in the New York Times: Can a bad person be a good theologian.

I remember a certain high profile leader in the church I belonged to in my salad days being accused of preying on young, female college students. The official response for the pew potatoes (i.e. people like me) was to condemn gossip. Indeed, you could end up in the Lake of Fire on those grounds alone, and James 3: 1-12 was much cited. Even the gentleman concerned - who was, as it turned out, as guilty as sin - penned articles condemning gossip in the wake of the resulting publicity.

How interesting that the same strategy cropped up over the Yoder affair.
“I don't listen to gossip” was for years a repeated litany in response to the growing evidence against Yoder—and no doubt against other abusive churchmen. The dismissal had a sneaky gendered component as well given the way the word “gossip” is feminized.
Then follows this extraordinary comment which, as a mere bloke, had never occurred to me before.
“Gossip” was how women protected themselves from Yoder when their institutions failed them.
The whole sad story is detailed in a post by Stephanie Krehbiel at Religion Dispatches.

It's not that any of us should expect religious leaders and theologians to be perfect human beings. But surely they must be at least well intended and, more importantly, accountable.

So was Yoder "a good theologian"? I do know that good people can be terrible theologians, but I'm not at all sure the sentiment is reversible.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

A Year Without God

Ryan Bell is an interesting guy.

First, he's a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. Or he was. You know; Ellen G. White, the Third Angel's Message, Sabbath services, the Mark of the Beast, Textured Vegetable Protein and Corn Flakes...

Then came a crisis of faith:
I couldn't affirm the teaching that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the “remnant church” — God’s chosen people to prepare the world for the last days. If fact, there was a lot about the church’s beliefs concerning the last days (and the more proximate days) that troubled me. 
In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed. My family and my health had suffered over the past several years but my faith had suffered most of all. 
 Crises like these can lead in unplanned directions. Bell's next step was pretty radical:
So, I'm making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will “try on” atheism for a year. 
And, this being 2014, Ryan Bell is blogging his way through the twelve months so we can all share in his journey.
In short, I will do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist. It’s important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist. At least not yet. I am not sure what I am. That’s part of what this year is about.
You can follow Ryan Bell's blog here. The quotes above come from his December 31 post, which also appeared on the Huffington Post.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Jesus: Man or Myth?

Bob Price often gets a hard time from the academic blogging community. There's a knee-jerk reaction that regards mythicism - the idea that Jesus of Nazareth may never have existed as a historical figure - as so totally outlandish that it deserves little more than contempt. Bart Ehrman has elected to become the poster boy of this disdain, but he's certainly not out on a limb.

So it's interesting to see a thoughtful response that doesn't just go ballistic. Steve Wiggins has read Price's The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems, and posted a short response. It's worth clicking across to read.

Saturday 8 February 2014

158th Journal available

The 158th issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God has been released. Some of the features:

  • Wade Fransson writing about the Hulme sect, CoGaic, which he describes as "slightly reclusive". The man has an obvious talent for understatement (see related posting).
  • Leroy Neff's passing is noted.
  • An attempt is being made to resuscitate Ron Dart's once popular CEM (Christian Educational Ministries).
  • Bill Hawkins has a full page ad with the intriguing title "McDonald's Proves God Is Right." It's about customers cheating the burger joint by reusing Coke containers, thus proving to Bill that "society is sinking - and fast." 
  • Art Mokarow has bought up seventeen (I counted twice!) full pages in the same ad section. I'm guessing he'd be extremely lucky if seventeen people actually read them. Do you think Dixon gives him a bulk discount?
  • Bob Thiel, the accidental prophet, wants us all to know that his magazine is now appearing in Kiswahili, Tagalog and Mandarin editions. No, really... (Any further comment on my part would be superfluous.)
  • Phillip Griffith has taken to diagnosing the dead: "Smart people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Herbert Armstrong may have had Asperger's." 


Jesuit scholar and Oxford lecturer Nicholas King
News via James McGrath that today (February 8) has been designated - completely unofficially I gather - International Septuagint Day, continuing a tradition begun in 2006. If you really think you need to know more, here's the real oil.

Which makes it timely to put in another plug for the most readable, contemporary English translation of the LXX available on the planet, Nicholas King's amazing four-volume study bible opus, which has now appeared (since November last year) in a single volume, published in the UK by Kevin Mayhew. In his great book, When God Spoke Greek, Timothy Michael Law wrote:
Although NETS has usefully been published in a single volume and is now indispensable for the scholarly study of the Septuagint (and is therefore highly recommended for students and academics), we must continue to wait for a translation of the Septuagint that would appeal to nonspecialist readers of the Bible. (p.8)
 And now we have it.

Does God Have Cojones?

A nice quote from Tim Bulkeley.
Two men and a bird
In my first lecture I set out to underline that God is beyond gender. This is one of those truths that every theologically literate person affirms, but which many fail to actually state in their teaching, so that in churches and classrooms people do not understand/believe it. Some Conservative teaching about gender roles in church and home also seems to deny it... The extent of this reticence to accept a core Christian idea... suggests that we have a BIG education job to undertake. (Read the full post)
Yup, very big! I'd like to suggest that while the language of our Bibles and liturgies - not to mention the imagery and art of our foundational myths - remains uncompromisingly rooted in the Sky Father/Odin/Zeus mould, it's going to continue to be an uphill battle. The question is, is this perception so systemic that it cannot be excised without killing the patient? Can any re-education programme succeed without unravelling another "core Christian idea" which proclaims God as "two men and a bird".

These concerns are hardly restricted to the wacky conservative fringe.

Sadly the popularity of poor quality, reactionary Bible translations like the ESV (which touts itself as 'scholarly') merely push the barrow further back down the slope.

Friday 7 February 2014

Wade Fransson's Journey - Part 2

I don't really know what to think of Wade Fransson.

Here's a bloke who entered the ministry of the Worldwide Church of God, jumped overboard when the United Church of God broke away, and then - liebe Gott! - followed David Hulme into the ministry of the Church of God, an International Community.

And then he "slip-slided" away into a cloud of self-generated fog. Word is that he's now a Baha'i.

Now a lot of this information (but not the Baha'i connection) can be found in a piece he's just had published in The Journal, ostensibly a personal commentary on the current ripping apart of the Hulme group. Fransson is both critical and affirming of the Dear Leader, which I find remarkable, but has absolutely nothing to say about the pretenders, Orchard and Nathan. I guess there's no point in alienating potential readers of his new autobiographical instalment, soon to be released under the title The Hardness of the Heart.

I read the first volume to the bitter end with a mixture of empathy and distaste. You can take the man out of the ministry, but can you take the ministry out of the man? It is an interesting account, and reasonably well told; but I still doubt I'd buy a used car from Wade.

But, hey, the new book will probably sell well in the Herbal diaspora - the last one apparently did. It's not yet listed on Amazon, but it shouldn't be long in coming. I really want to know, though, when the author is going to come clean and relate what is, at least to me, the most interesting part of his story: from A to B (Armstrong to Bahá’u’lláh).

As for The Journal, I hope to post a link to the latest issue, along with a few comments, tomorrow.

Jason Goroncy on Cupitt and Geering

"In recent days, I’ve been lecturing on Christianity without God and the Nihilism of the Secular. We’ve mainly been looking at Mr Feuerbach and his children Karl (Marx), Sigmund (Freud), Don (Cupitt), Lloyd (Geering), Karen (Armstrong) and Alain (de Botton)..." (link)

Oh Jason, Jason, Jason... Lord, give me strength to bite my tongue.

Another Armstrong Scion Speaks Up

Larry Gott, grandson of Herbert Armstrong, has granted an interview to the Secular Safe House website run by Troy Fitzgerald. This follows on from his earlier interview with Deborah Armstrong, Larry's cousin. Here's part of the description.
Larry shares what it was like growing up as the grandson of the cult founder, including what his grandfather compelled his parents to do when he became ill at the age of 3 — force him to go without food for 12 days.
He discusses what lead to his parents being disfellowshipped from the church by his grandfather and how that impacted his family. He shares about his mom’s return to the employ of the church as Herbert’s social secretary though she did not return to the church or attend services; Larry’s enrollment in the church’s college, Ambassador, when he was 29 even though not a member of the church (something that was almost unheard of in the church); his world travels with his grandfather on the church’s private jet; and the evolution of his views about religion.
Finally, Larry discusses his view and the family’s views about the allegations that his grandfather, Herbert, committed incest with his youngest daughter, Dorothy (Larry’s aunt) and his general views about the personality and character of his grandfather and whether he was qualified — according to his own Biblical teachings — to be considered “God’s apostle on earth” or even a minister of Jesus Christ.
The audio quality is regrettably poor, but don't let that put you off the content. For some reason the audio also stopped a few times with no apparent reason, but was easily restarted. You can listen at

Thursday 6 February 2014

Carving Up Ham

There were a lot of people in the pro-science corner who were dubious about the value of Bill Nye debating Aussie creationist clown Ken Ham. Nobody's mind will be changed, they grumbled. It just gives oxygen to bad science.

How wrong could they be?

Polling shows that most Christians who viewed the debate judged Nye - not Ham - the winner. That's because most self-identified Christians are not stupid enough to embrace 7-day, 6000-year creationism. Ham is way out on the brain-dead fringe.

And let's understand something about debates. They do make a difference. Sure, the "committeds" won't be swayed. Debates influence those who are uncommitted, as any political junkie knows. Some of us were once, to all appearances, firmly committed to a version of creationism (in my case, the so-called Gap Theory... tohu and bohu anyone?) Then the uncomfortable facts start niggling away, creating the theological equivalent of a "swinging voter". Suddenly you're open to a reassessment that could lead either back to a desperate, delusional apologetic defence - or a genuine about face. And guess what? The younger you are the easier it is to unlearn nonsense.

So how brilliant was it to have a gifted science communicator like Bill Nye - a guy who knows how to challenge and inspire younger people - to put on the gloves for this debate?

Nobody's mind will be changed? Hogwash! This is a massive loss of face for Young Earth Creationism and it's supporters, including whole denominational groups like the Seventh-day Adventists.

Anything that opens up a ghetto to a fresh breeze is good. People who hold to Bible literalism tend to live a vacuum-sealed intellectual life. They watch fundamentalist TV shows, listen to fundamentalist radio, read fundamentalist magazines and books, socialise almost exclusively with fellow true-believers. Give them a decent science text and they don't want to read it, just get it removed from sight. If it isn't "faith enhancing" they don't want to know.

The Ham/Nye debate was supposed to be "faith building".


I suspect Ham won't even make money out of this little enterprise. The set-up costs were apparently substantial, and he was the one paying. The intention was to recoup the shekels by selling DVDs. But who, pray tell, will want to buy one from him? The market was intended to be gloating fellow fundamentalists. Sadly for Ken, he lost the debate... big time.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Hamming it up

Didn't Bill Nye do well!

Ken Ham simply couldn't put a credible case for Young Earth Creationism (YEC). And of course the truth is ... nobody can. Again and again he abandoned any pretence to scientific competence and fell back on his patronisingly naive view of the Bible.

Ham not only gets trounced on scientific grounds (as Nye clearly demonstrates), but he gets another black eye when it comes to understanding the Bible beyond Sunday School Kindergarten class. Anyone who lives under the illusion that Genesis is a scientifically sound text on the origins of life on Earth simply hasn't entered the twenty-first century.

Or the twentieth.

Or even the latter 19th century.

The verdict seems to be that Bill won the debate. He did so with the trademark passion he brought to those Science Guy shows which are still used, thanks to YouTube, in classrooms today - even in faraway places like New Zealand.

Maybe - maybe - this will bang another nail into the creationist coffin. The sooner buried the better!