An Open Letter to Joseph Tkach, Jr.
Our library finally got a copy of your book [Transformed by Truth] in so I started reading it the other day and surprisingly, I found it a pretty easy read and was able to finish it in one day. Although I am one of the "40,000 people" who "sit at home, confused, frustrated, and not knowing what to do or what to believe", I do feel the need to comment on some of it, since you seemed to have left out some pretty important points.
I must say that I enjoyed the story about your first meeting with James Kennedy.1 It brought to mind flashbacks of Basil Wolverton's drawings for the Bible Story Book Series2, where I could see this stern judge sitting at his desk with robe and gavel, and then in the next picture he is looking surprised, and then jumping out of his chair and hurdling over his desk because of his wild excitement that the 4 of you answered the questions he had asked correctly!!! Praise God and Hallelujah, you are no longer a cult!3 I felt the same thing about Lorri McGregor's [MacGregor's] list of about 30 questions and those she posed to you at lunch. It's kind of like a game of Bingo. You sit there marking all the numbers and then finally the right one comes along and you scream BINGO! and she says "Call the NAE, Let's get these people a membership!!!"4 It's too bad that instead of listening to the 4 of you for a few hours that they couldn't have come and spent some time in the individual congregations when this was all happening and listened to the various ministers and what was being said. Maybe they wouldn't have been so eager to give such a clean bill of health.
I got a kick out of the title of Chapter 2 - Christmas Eve Sermon, 1994. It kind of makes it sound like the church embraced Christmas, when, in fact, it couldn't have been more against it, and just a couple months before, in a sermon, your dad had stated emphatically that the church would not celebrate it. I do have a problem with how you present that sermon, though. Yes, your dad was talking about grace, but this sermon, along with others we would get over the months, was so full of double talk5 that it was plain that your dad really didn't get the picture, or if he did, he certainly didn't know how to present it. He did tell us that we didn't have to adhere to the law of tithing, BUT, if we loved God we would give MORE than 10%. He did say that if a man had to work on the Sabbath to support his family that he could do so UNTIL he found another job where he wouldn't have to. He told the people in Big Sandy when he gave this sermon that it was OK to play golf on the Sabbath but later said it was not OK. He said that we didn't have to keep the Holy Days because they didn't mean what we taught they meant, but we would continue to do so and that we wouldn't keep Christmas or Easter but we were not to condemn others outside the wcg [Worldwide Church of God] for doing so.6 Things like this continued on until people couldn't take it any longer and this is where the real problem was. Either we could or we couldn't but this back and forth dribble was driving people crazy.
Changes were happening, but they came with a price of guilt if we did them. And because of this, most people were NOT convinced that they were for real! Even when your dad mentioned that there were other Christians in the world, in his own words to me in one of several lengthy telephone conversations I had with him, he said that it was possible, but he certainly wasn't endorsing any other churches and felt that those people would eventually be coming to the wcg. You paint a very wonderful picture with words like, "he (your dad) cleared away the fog that was clouding our view of Jesus Christ", and "We continued coming out of a theological sleep into the refreshing light of a clear focus on the gospel of grace and our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ", when, in fact, the fog was worse than ever. Ministers didn't have a clue of grace, and certainly no idea of how to teach it. Maybe the focus was clear to you and your buddies, but to the whole church, it was very unclear.
But besides all of the above, I truly wonder how you can present such an honest and sincere account of the churches [sic] changes without mentioning or giving credit to the one person who really brought this all out, Earl Williams. Your father wasn't the one who led the church into grace. Earl did. I guess you forgot the chapter titled "The Feast of Tabernacles Sermon, 1994", where Earl talked about grace and the law. It was from this incident that the avalanche started. Earl is the one who understood grace and was able to bring it out so clearly that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were able to understand and see what was happening. He didn't need double talk and half truths or guilt to get the message out. It was Earl who put the truth of grace into a beginning by showing us what we believed, why it was wrong and what we needed to believe. He was our sanity in a time of confusion and turmoil.7
I talked with your dad many times about this and asked him why he just couldn't come out and tell people the truth. He said they wouldn't understand. I told him I understood and I was just a lowly member. He also said that if it weren't for Earl bringing this out that it would have been maybe another 5 years before it came out. If things would have been done the way Earl handled it in his sermons that we listened to, I feel the transition would have been smooth and successful. Instead, we were forbidden to even listen to his tapes or to pass them to other members.
The books that Earl recommended, like Classic Christianity, flooded our minds with truth that we had never seen before. When I asked your dad if he had read it, he said it was on his desk but he didn't need to read books because God would reveal what he needed him to know. Earl was used by the Holy Spirit to set hundreds free from the prison we had lived in for over 30 years, yet you and your father and others accused him of overstepping your dad's authority. I ask you this: With all the excitement you seem to now have for the wonderful truth of grace and your eagerness to preach it, how could you possibly accuse Earl of doing something wrong when he, too, felt driven by the Holy Spirit to talk about it to those who had been imprisoned for so long in the clutches of the law??? Why are you so anxious to flood the offices of so-called Christian leaders, that you once denounced as pagan heathens, in search of their acceptance with your wonderful new beliefs and to be on radio programs to tell the world of your new direction when you wouldn't support Earl in his enthusiasm to bring the real gospel to wcg members?
You take a chapter to ask how we could have believed what we did and you excitedly use Hank's term "cognitive dissonance" - a term that shows how people can embrace two opposing ideas. You both think it's a wonderful foundation for a new book. Yet, I could give you a simpler term for it where dozens of books now exist on the topic. It's called "BRAINWASHING." You briefly mentioned the STP project back in the 70's but really didn't tell that there were ministers who saw that the wcg was wrong and tried to bring grace to the picture but they were disfellowshipped and labeled as "in the bonds of Satan" and worse.
I truly feel that some people did see problems with the contradictory teachings, but to DARE question ANYTHING set you up for labeling as being in a bad attitude, having a lack of faith or even getting you disfellowshipped. We clearly saw the stupidity in the 2nd tithing rules imposed where Malachi said we could take and use this money for whatsoever our hearts desired, and yet followed the list of do's and don't that HQ told us we could do with that money, including sending in whatever we had left to them. We did this for years until we finally decided to do what we wanted to do with it. We questioned why we kept some of the OC laws but not all of them or where collections were taken up on the FIRST day of the week, which shows Christians were meeting on SUNDAY, but to question any of this was our eternal life - that's why we didn't do it!!! You certainly remember that Herbert told us over and over again, "Don't believe ME and what I SAY, but GO and PROVE it for YOURSELF", yet you better come up with his same conclusions or the conclusions of the ministers, or you were history.
You mention in your book that many people thought the changes were part of a con game that you all were involved in. My opinion is that, as you say, God started answering all the prayers of people over the years who saw us for what we really were, and wanted to do something about it. But when He saw that it was going to take you around 5 or 10 years to complete the assignment, He chose to work with someone who would work with Him, and that's when Earl stepped up. I believe that God's purpose was to destroy the empire - not to save and build it back up.
In the first few paragraphs of your Introduction, you state, "Those who would not continue on the journey that God was taking us on have left." It sounds like you still believe there is something great about the wcg. Because we were taught that we were a chosen, special group of people, better than everyone else, I feel it's essential that the central focus - HQ/Leadership - be eliminated so that people have only Jesus to look to for their leader and that people realize that none of us are any greater or better or more special than another. To a group of people who lived and breathed by every word of Armstrong's or Tkach's or the minister's command, it's essential to take that position out of the equation. It's Jesus plus no one, but as long as you or a successor continues in your position, along with the governmental line, it will never be that way.
I still can't get over how convenient it is to use scripture when trying to get a point across to make the bad wcg look good. How many times was it done in the Personnel columns or co-worker letters by saying "Sure wcg made mistakes, BUT so did the apostles", or "so and so, etc." In your chapter From Eternity to Here, you bring up Paul and how skeptical Christians were of him after his conversion and that it took years for him to be believed, and it may take years for you to be believed, also. However, the big difference that I see in this flawed example is that Paul wasn't claiming to be a Christian while persecuting them, and that when God, who specifically called him, unlike Armstrong or your dad or you, decided to use Paul, it didn't take YEARS or meetings behind closed doors for Paul to change. As you say, he started preaching that Jesus was the Son of God, immediately. I can totally see where Christians would be skeptical of Paul when this happened, but to compare this to the wcg is like comparing apples to oranges. It sounds good, but it's not the same thing.
Instead of thinking that there's some great plan that God has in mind for the wcg, why not just accept and give thanks that God has shown wonderful mercy in getting people out of a cult that He had nothing to do with getting us into, and since the leadership is still confused and has no real credentials from true seminary schools to preach the gospel, disband the wcg, liquidate the assets and give the money to really worthwhile organizations, get a real job, and if certain churches want to still remain together, let them support themselves?? Oh, but wait, you answered that in your book when you said you didn't believe that He rescued you just to have you disband because you have things to learn as a group and may teach to others.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on, but I'll just state that you painted a very wonderful picture of what has happened. Certainly you mentioned the negative things that transpired, such as the splinter groups, loss of friends and family, loss of income, hate letters that you have received, etc. But I think the reality is much greater than that. For the many thousands who are disillusioned by the lies they believed, resulting in family separations - some permanent because of the death of a loved one while they were estranged - or the money they squandered so that a few could live in splendor, or the years of abuse they endured at the hands of "God-inspired ministers", or the families who were destroyed because of forced divorce by church leaders, or the thousands of kids whose lives were taken from them because they couldn't have anything to do with the "world" or school friends, or those who committed suicide, even recently, because of what their lives had been like, or the hundreds who were shunned and disfellowshipped, or the ministers who tore apart the members and then each other, I feel they see it a little differently.
I truly wonder how excited to continue on your journey you would be if you found that journey taking you to the city slums to preach your message, living in a small apartment in the city like the ones most HQ personnel or members lived in, back to a low 5 figure income instead of the 6 figures you now enjoy, a house or apartment payment every month instead of your free home, a real job you had to go to daily with only 2 weeks vacation that you had to use for the Feast of Tabernacles, no savings in the bank because you were giving every extra dime to the church because of the constant ramblings of give, give, give, give, so you can "lay treasure up for yourself in heaven", or no retirement fund because you don't need it. etc. I can see why you want the church to continue. Not only is your standard of living the same, now you are getting radio and tv coverage, writing a book, and endorsements from other leaders. You and your friends are still enjoying the good life and travelling all over the country to share the "truth." As you continue to tell the members to sacrifice and give, exactly where is your sacrificing and how much do you give financially?
In closing, I applaud every person who has been able to walk away from the wcg and either attend another Christian church or attend none at all. It shows that they have totally left a life of guilt, fear, and intimidation and replaced it with the freedom to live as they feel best. My hope is that God finishes the job He's started with dismantling the wcg and all it symbolizes.
Sharon Griffith - A happy, healthy, sane and proud member of the 40,000+ club
Hard Copy: H. Hanegraaff
NOTE: This letter was sent to Tkach, Jr. in approximately 1997. No reply was ever received.
Be sure and read: How I Know Every Word in Open Letter to Joseph Tkach, Jr. is True (October 27, 2007 email to ESN)
Myths in Transformed by Truth - Is the book truth or propaganda? (chapter by chapter critique)
Where is the True Church? (Covers how to avoid a spiritually abusive church or cultic group.)
UPDATE: In April 2009 Worldwide Church of God changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.)
Footnotes by ESN:
1 On 4-30-96 and 5-1-96 Joseph Tkach, Jr. was interviewed on D. James Kennedy's Christian radio program "Truths that Transform." In that interview, Tkach, Jr. stated that Herbert W. Armstrong was a "very sincere Christian who was dedicated to Christ." (Tapes with ESN) [Note: D. James Kennedy died 9-5-07 at the age of 76.] In The Worldwide News, March 7, 1995, p. 3, Joseph W. Tkach stated that they believe Herbert Armstrong "was a minister of Jesus Christ." For more quotes see: Has WCG (GCI) whitewashed Herbert W. Armstrong? (from our Q&A's) Herbert W. Armstrong stated, "Christ is not the gospel. Believing on Christ is not believing the gospel." (Voice clip of HWA giving a 1978 Bible Study and marking Buck Taylor; heard on pt. 2 of "My Story" by C. Wayne Cole, 5-19-78)
3 A mind-manipulating group.
4 The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) accepted the Worldwide Church of God into full membership in 1997 and Joseph Tkach is listed on the NAE board of member list.
5 Video Sermon by Joseph W. Tkach to Worldwide Church of God Members, January 1995 (Transcript shows the manner in which the new changes were first delivered to the members: with confusion, double messages, shouting and blaming. Also known as "The Christmas Eve Sermon.")
6 These double messages have been covered in many places on the ESN site. One place is Kelly Marshall's 1995 Letter to author Janis Hutchinson.