Saturday 11 April 2015

Discworld Meets The Plain Truth

It's hard to know where to begin with the latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God, but what the heck, let's give it a go.

For Terry Prachett fans, news that the late fantasy writer and creator of the Discworld novels drew on The Plain Truth as inspiration for a fictional publication in his nineteenth book in the series, Feet of Clay. The magazine called Unadorned Facts was modelled on the PT.

Live and learn.

And you'd have to concede that Feet of Clay is also a great title for anything that, even obliquely, relates to Herbert Armstrong and the gaggle of sects that still idolise him.

It is, incredibly, ten years since the Terry Ratzmann killings during LCG services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Several articles reflect on that event, including an essay written just two months after those terrible events by Robert Geiger, then just 12, who was sitting next to the youngest of Ratzmann's victims, Bart Oliver, aged 14.

Coverage also of an Ambassador College reunion held in Pasadena earlier this year. The organiser was Bob Gerringer who, if I'm not mistaken, was along with the late John Trechak, one of the founding editors of Ambassador Report. Some 400 were in attendance. Among the speakers was Wayne Cole whose "words were positive and healing." Nice to hear that Wayne, regarded as one of the "good guys" among WCG's former leadership, is still holding his own. How might things have been different if it was he who followed on as Pastor General from Armstrong?

(Perhaps in some alternate Discworld universe he did!)

The last instalment of John Warren's history of the WCG in East Texas appears in this issue, especially focusing around the explosive years of 1994/1995.

Dave Havir puts the buzz-phrase "servant leadership", much abused by the LCG, under the microscope. As always he's well worth reading.

I don't believe I've ever recommended one of the ads in the Connections section before, but there's a first time for everything I guess. Tina Engelbart has written a page-long essay entitled Did Paul Silence Women in Corinth? She's reacting to statements by Art Mokarow in a previous issue. While I'm not sure I'm completely convinced by Ms Engelbart's exegesis of the passages in 1 Corinthians, I'm glad someone is standing up to those officious dilettante preachers who so love to quote Paul to support their misogyny, but know so very little about his writings.

If all this sounds good, it's only fair to warn you that there are the usual less than insightful contributions as well. Australian engineer Mike Baran blows a righteous indignation valve discussing (kind of) the canon, and there are the rest of those Connections ads - one sponsored by something called The Obedient Church of God, Omak, Washington. You'd have thought these guys would have run out of naming options years ago.

You can find The Journal PDF here.


  1. Terry Pratchett knew about The Plain Truth? My word. I never imagined that.

  2. Cool, am reading it now!
    Ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.
    "Thou Art Mokarow, upon this Rock-star I shall Restore my Church"

  3. Oh, dear. The web site for The Obedient Church of God is one of the worst messes I've seen for a long time. We can all use it as an example of how NOT to design a website. Omak, Washington? The center of the only place on earth you can get the truth? And 200 people in Australia and Pakistan keeping the Sabbath on Sunday because of the International Date Line? They don't celebrate Turkey god day? They do “not” acknowledge the bird that gave its life for its young, the Cosmic Goose that laid the egg that Ra/Osiris of Egypt sprang forth from. We do not celebrate Turkey gOD day because we would never put a Buddah, Xmas tree, nor a 20 lb. bird on your table (because it represents the Cosmic Goose that laid the egg of Ra/Osiris in honour of our God?

    As always, it's great to read the one and only true official publication of the window into the Insane Asylum of Armstrongism.

    That's the problem with people who just don't much have the ability to compartmentalize.

  4. Yes, David Havir did make Herbert Armstrong look like an utter arrogant fool. Subtle. Subversive. Great stuff.

    I'm thinking that Dave is an Option #2 kind of guy.

  5. The portion of this issue which was of primary interest to me was the report on the AC Pasadena reunion. It is difficult to imagine shedding the belief system, and what happened in its aftermath for an evening of friendship, but apparently that is what happened. Visiting the reunion website was revealing in that there really was no information in the classmates section other than the names and blank space for many of the people with whom I would really enjoy reconnecting. This was not totally unexpected, as apparently they have not been active on any of the blogs or forums over the past 15 years, either.

    It is always sad to learn of the deaths of former friends and classmates, and there were most certainly a number of them. The fact is, since so many simply want to forget it all, have walked away, with little or nothing known of them, there are probably additional deaths that have gone unreported. Every one of them contributed in unique ways to the community vibe back in the day, whether they were gung ho on the program, ambivalent, or rebel outlaws.


  6. Thanks to enlightening reporting by the Cartwrights, who were there at the time, we can see that Ambass Univ Texas was really already doomed even as it received accreditation! That is to say, it was receiving an incredible $20m annual subsidy from its small, wacky, unstable sponsoring sect in 1992, but as it emerged - with great fanfare - as 'accredited' by 1994/95, the church subsidy had dropped to $7m annually!

    This stark financial indicator should have been a red flag to parents, students, members except I believe this subsidy was only known to insider executives who, themselves, were also at the trough with secret six-figure salaries!

    What the hell was this stupid little fundamentalist sect (that taught loopy nonsense like British-Israelism) doing trying to run a real university? Paying out all those six-figure faculty and executive salaries. Poverty-stricken church members would soon buckle under the strain.

  7. The article on Terry Ratzman was significant: It demonstrated that the murders were part of his angry rage.

    As anyone who has watched ADA Lenard McCoy on Law & Order could tell you, anger would not be a successful as part of a defense of not guilty by reason of mental defect. Mr. McCoy would rip him apart on the witness stand. Fortunately, he spared everyone by committing suicide.

    This horrible incident, recounted on ~the tenth anniversary of the event brought out that he was angry about a sermon. We would know a lot more if we knew exactly what set him off, but the hypotheses that he did the wicked deed as a result of being lonely and depressed because he couldn't find a suitable female companion just doesn't hold water.

    An angry man committed an angry act in a church with many angry people led by an angry evangelist.

    This is not a formula for converted Christian quiet peace in the name of Jesus.

  8. The whole thing makes me queasy. It is hard to look at all the huckstering for Armstrongism in the lengthy advertising section. It really is a testimony concerning the true nature of Armstrongism - its about marketing.

    I am amazed that Ward can carry on a lengthy memo war with Pasadena and come away with the idea is that the New Testament does away with the law of God. This is a profound over-simplification and indicates to me that these people in Big Sandy back then did not have a clue.

    The emphasis at AC under Armstrongism was never on academics. You could walk around and look at the physical plant and see the lack of support for academics. You could also review the credentials of the faculty to understand this. It was an indoctrination center for Armstrongism. The college characteristics were just a gloss. I don't think Ward ever understood that his emphasis on academic development would place him in conflict with Pasadena back in the Seventies.

    While an AC Reunion may look like any other college reunion, I think one must take into consideration this indoctrination. Many of these people were taught and, my guess, still devoutly believe that they are a superior class. To these people, lay members are "dumb sheep" or the "cream of the crud" whose financial resources need to be harvested. These and other appalling principles are what knit these people together. This common ground permits them to meet cordially in spite of sharply differing theology which is really secondary.

    -- Neo

  9. I've got to know:
    What was Ambassador University's policy on plagiarism?
    Its founder being the greatest plagiarist in Christian history.

  10. Black Ops made a reference to Havir and his writing about HWA. So I went back and read the article and was blown away. I cannot believe that Havir would write this and Cartwright would publish it. It is the best article I have seen on this topic to come out of the Armstrongite offshoots.

    Havir has it exactly right. Armstrongites do not understand leadership. Most of the "great leaders" in the WCG that I encountered personally were boorish snobs. They thrived inside a system that mistook insensitivity for courage, oppression for teaching, arrogance for dignity and stolidity for perseverance. They were taught and believed that they controlled the salvation of individual adherents. They believed that they were of such importance that they could run interference between God and people. Pretty breathtaking. All these sins were forgiven by their unwavering devotion to HWA. The fact that Havir would strike directly at the black heart of this system is amazing and no doubt will compromise his ability to be an influence on other Armstrongites who hold the traditional HWA-centric views. But I am glad he did it.

    I used to work with David Havir at Big Sandy at times. Students were assigned to me and others like me for various work details. Havir was atypical for an AC student. He was friendly and egalitarian. He seemed to not be easily deluded. I was at the lower end of the servant-class at AC and he had no trouble treating me as if I were a person - something I found to be rare in that environment. So I am not surprised that he would write such an article. On the other hand, Don Ward, with his degree in Educational Psychology and considered by many to be the authority on leadership, could not have written such an article unless he has undergone a sea change. (One must be careful with semantics. Armstrongites will maintain that what their ministers do is "service." This demonstrates how removed they are from a correct understanding of the pastoral function.)

    -- Neotherm

    1. Well, David Havir, the Church of God Big Sandy, Dixon Cartwright -- and by extension, The Journal -- along with a growing number of the UCG cult are quietly opposed to what Herbert Armstrong taught and established. Part of that we've already seen here: These are a segment of folk who have abandoned British Israelism, understand the problems of the Bible and reject the notion of false prophets among them and the idea that their whole religion was once founded by a false prophet (which defies the facts as we know them). Moreover, they are dedicated to making the social experience an exceptional one for the venue, allowing the people quite a latitude of freedom. In addition, at least in the case of CoGBS, they are taking to local church facilities where the people can have their very own properties that can be the center of their church community.

      Now many, if not most, people look at this as a good thing. The problem is that they did come from a false prophet heretic arrogant sociopath who created a hierarchical oppressive dysfunctional cult which splintered upon his death. The cult from which they sprang was extremely toxic, controlling, oppressive and a lot like the old Soviet Union and a bit like North Korea. Tkach attempted to change everything, both because he wanted revenge on Herbert Armstrong and because he wanted to change all the doctrines to almost near mainstream. That hasn't been an effective transition as people discovered that hey, we could attend a Christian church down the block and leave the fold (and many, having starting to look into the Bible and its provenance began to become agnostics and atheists).

      So now we have a group one off. The leadership doesn't believe in British Israelism nor does it particularly believe in the validity of the Bible. If you read carefully, you can see how clever these people are because they use Scripture quite craftily, quoting parts of it to create inspirational sermons and writings, but at the same time skipping over both the harsh parts and the silly stupid things. The problem with this is that the membership hasn't gotten the memo. In fact, if you search through the sermons of the CoGBS, you'll find at least one minister giving a sermon on prophecy who still believes in British Israelism and all the old doctrines of Herbert Armstrong along with his false prophecies. The main thing they retain is the Feasts, since 1) the members are used to them and 2) it provides yet another opportunity for socializing.

      So the thing you are left with is a social group held together for the sake of holding a social group together. It's a house of cards, but they make it work, at least for the present. As the old guard dies off, they can slowly -- much more slowly that GCI -- move to a more mainstream existential existence without anyone being the wiser. It's not honest. It's built upon the foundation of a false prophet arrogant heretic. There's a lot of manipulation and deception. But nearly everybody is 'happy' even though it's little more than a huge waste of time (and paying for it is a huge waste of money). It's more benign than going cold turkey and less disruptive.

      But still, it's a cult.

      And there's nothing much useful in that.

    2. So what if one of your papers was flagged for plagiarism at A.U.? Could you get off by citing plagiarism in the sponsoring church's booklets?

  11. A historical note: One of the largest misrepresentations that HWA made (among many) was to be found in his preachments about the purpose of human life. While on the one hand he trumpeted the great, wonderful "human potential" in order to push the circulation of his AICF-related publication, he diminished in his writing the value of the average lay member in the WCG. He wrote many times that the purpose for the average lay member was to support HWA (read support financially) in doing the work. That was their only reason for being called. And further if they did not do it, God could raise up stones to be Abraham's children to provide the necessary support for the end time work. They were just that lacking in importance. In other words, there was no "great destiny" or "higher level of existence through salvation" no Theosis for the average lay member that HWA wanted to acknowledge. He frequently accused lay members of being in the church "to get salvation." Clearly, they were not to think about their imaginary grand future but how much money they could tender in the present. He made it clear that WCG lay members would still be working for him in the Wonderful World Tomorrow where he would be one of the important over lords.

    Without expanding on this topic this view, which is on the doorstep of self-serving heresy, runs against the grain of traditional twenty-first century Christianity which prizes human life.

    While Joe, Jr. has been widely cited as the cause of many of the modernizing doctrines of the WCG/GCI, it was actually Joe, Sr. who reversed out HWA's view on this only a few years after Joe, Sr. took office. He was subtle about this and did not convey his ideas in such a way as to be in dramatic contradiction to HWA's viewpoints. He just began to write in whatever the church newspaper was called back then about how each Christian was inherently important to God. He could have added but did not, "Instead of HWA's view that each Christian is merely a resource for HWA's use, personal and organizational."

    Ron Kelly preached that we will all be "God as God is God" and other leading ministers followed this theme. Others even preached the idea that we were "equal with God" as his sons. But HWA went completely against the grain of this and preached that lay members did not matter except as a nameless, impersonal source of funding for Pasadena. But nobody seemed to recognize HWA's apostasy from his own church's doctrine, at least, nobody said anything about it.

    (I am not sure this is such a marked apostasy. I recall the pastor of one of the congregations that I attended back in the Midwest saying that God did not care that much about lay members. It was fine if you were a member of the WCG but if you left, God could not care less. And I do recall HWA saying on a tape that was distributed throughout the WCG that he expected that nobody but the ministry would recieve salvation. This was in the context of the WCG's dire financial needs and the browbeating of lay members, once again.)

    The point is, the disparagement of the lay membership leads to a certain kind of "leadership". And it certainly is not "servant leadership."

    -- Neotherm

    1. It should be noted that David Havir pointed out that the Church of God Big Sandy had a hierarchy. The implication of this is that he is, of course, at the top of the hierarchy. While this may be a more benign hierarchy, it's still a hierarchy and as such is still a class system of the which he was addressing in his article.

      Of course, a church hierarchy in Big Sandy, Texas is a really quaint idea, with a town population of ~1,358. Take a look using Google Earth and look at the businesses and homes in the area. If you ever wanted a tempest in a teapot, then you could live in Big Sandy, Texas and be a member of the Church of God Big Sandy. Of course, I suppose that many of the members come from Gladewater, Texas just down Highway 80 with a burgeoning population of ~6,454. Night life there must be spectacular compared to Big Sandy.

      Of course, to be fair, I've never been there and would not ever want to go. The picture of the Downtown Big Sandy on doesn't much inspire. I've been to Dallas / Fort Worth, Paris and a couple of other spots (Paris had a nice buffet). Over all, I think of it as arid semi desert populated by chiggers, mosquitoes, hornets, scorpions and rattlesnakes (ask Aaron Dean). I am reminded of the story from both a ministerial assistant and a member from the area about the young man waterskiing on Lake Loma and coming down on a deserted island populated by poisonous snakes and dying nearly instantly. This is not something you saw in the Ambassador College brochures or the Ambassador Envoy. Why anyone would choose to live in Big Sandy is beyond me. A bunch of hicks, maybe?

      I'm thinking, from the website that Big Sandy is a prime site to escape from.

      So these people can continue in Armstrongism if they choose to. It's pretty stupid given the Texas area and the local history of Ambassador College. It wouldn't only not be my first choice, it wouldn't even appear anywhere on my list of choices. I grew up in a small town half the size and quite similar in surrounding country side of Big Sandy. It seemed like a really BIG important place when I was growing up: A community church, a Lutheran Church, a Catholic Church with a parochial boarding school, 5 gas stations (5!), a bank, clothing store, barber shop, public school, grange, two grocery stores, a train station which actually sold tickets for passengers and a drug store, two taverns (2!), city hall, volunteer fire department, a post office, a movie theater, a hospital, two motels, a fast food joint, car dealership and a "city" park. Now much of that is gone (you wouldn't know some of those things existed). It doesn't seem so big now. I wouldn't want to live there again. I might stop to get gas, but it's a mile off Interstate 90.

      Can anyone tell me if Big Sandy can boast of such things?

      It seems a bit parochial.

  12. Just so you know, We at The Painful Truth want to thank The Journal for doing our job for us!

    And not to put too fine a point on it, David Havir is part of the hierarchy in the CoGBS and right near the top -- funny how that works out: You'd think the congregation has the power, since they're the ones that provide the money....