Worldwide Church of God and Herbert Armstrong
(Revealing the history of Grace Communion International)
|Founder:||Herbert W. Armstrong|
|Birthplace:||Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1892|
|Background:||Mentored by Uncle Frank Armstrong, in the area of advertising, printing and sales. Background investigation reveals Herbert W. Armstrong ties with Liberty Loan collections and affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. From age 15 to 30, Herbert Armstrong primarily sold pots and pans, facial mud creams and dabbled in minor advertising.|
Roots of the Worldwide Church of God (timeline)
Between the years of 1919 and 1924, Herbert W. Armstrong moved to Salem, Oregon. Oregon was a political hotbed for Ku Klux Klan activities during this time. Following the negative exposé and decline of the KKK, HWA became fully involved with an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists. He was baptized in 1927, and later ordained in June of 1931. In 1934 HWA received his Ministerial License Certificate from the Oregon Conference of the Church of God.
By November of 1931, HWA was expelled from the payroll of the Oregon Conference due to his disputes with others in the ministry. Thereafter, he worked as a solicitor of advertising in Astoria, Oregon from 1931-1933. HWA's affiliations with the offshoots of Seventh-day were stormy and antagonistic. By 1937, HWA's credentials were evoked for an uncooperative attitude with the Church of God Seventh Day. Also significant to his termination was his persistence in implementing British-Israelism (Identity Movement) and other teachings consistent to Ku Klux Klan pursuits.
HWA capitalized on the new media of radio and, in 1934 in Eugene, Oregon, he founded the Radio Church of God. (RCOG was finally incorporated in March 1946. Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-Off, p. 180) It was through this media that HWA started his propaganda campaign with the racist belief system of British-Israelism and The Lost Ten Tribes. HWA's main message was that he was chosen by God to prophesize that God was calling the "chosen ones" from the Lost Ten Tribes. British-Israelism consisted of teachings verifying that the white Aryan race was "God's elect." [Note: Read How could HWA teach the white Aryan race is "God's elect" and still be anti-German?]
The post Klan era enhanced HWA's ministry and attracted wealthy supporters of Aryan persuasion. His overall theme was Armageddon, British-Israelism, and "God's Plan of Salvation," which included Sabbath keeping and observance of O.T. feast days. As the years passed, he began to enhance his doctrinal system with a hodgepodge of "borrowed" beliefs from the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals and Adventists. By 1947, HWA's message became known as "Armstrongism." (For more on the origins of HWA's doctrines read Herbert W. Armstrong's Religious Roots.)
Herbert Armstrong was the most successful proponent of British-Israelism throughout the 1940's and 1950's.
The Armstrong Movement Grows
In 1947 Herbert W. Armstrong moved to the heart of Pasadena, California on Millionaires Row.1 He set up Ambassador College to train ministers and to carry out his publishing activities operation with his magazine The Plain Truth. Within a few short years, his propaganda would extend to the media through the television. The World Tomorrow was the telecast program that would serve as the main lure and avenue to recruiting new paying members.
The next twenty years proved to be extremely profitable. Much money was collected from members, co-workers and investors who either responded to the message or had political allegiance to the mission of the organization. By 1952 the church was highly involved in mass printing and publication distribution. HWA was broadcast as "God's one and only true minister." The Radio Church of God soon changed its name (on January 5, 1968) to Worldwide Church of God, and propagated that it was the only church that had the "truth." Armstrongism molded into a ritualistic web of law keeping, obedience and legalism. While ruled by fear, threat, and intimidation, adherents were expected to be obedient to every word of HWA. It was stringently conditioned into members' thinking that anyone who diverted from the "norm" would suffer disfellowshipment and "loss of salvation." To exit "God's one true church" meant one would never have a second chance for salvation and would be obliterated in the Lake of Fire in the "Third Resurrection."
The main doctrinal package consisted of the Gospel of One World Government,2 the coming of the Tribulation, Sabbath keeping, God's Plan of Salvation, marriage by permission only and no divorce allowed, no medical treatment (reliance on God for physical healing), thirty percent tithing structure, and man's sole purpose was to build character in order to become God in the "God family." In order to hold the membership under control, there were endless reams of legalistic mandates which were enforced through techniques of coercion, manipulation, authoritarian rule, fear phobic induction, threats and personal degeneration.
Members were indoctrinated with the following:
- It is the one and only true Church.
- Herbert Armstrong was God's true apostle appointed by Christ in this age. He alone had restored the true gospel and had the truth to the Bible.
- The church was God's one true government on earth which is government from the top down.
- Leaving the church meant loss of salvation and annihilation in the Lake of Fire.
- The church demanded absolute obedience to authority.
The main recruiting strategy consisted of The World Tomorrow telecast, The Plain Truth magazine, the Y.O.U. magazine and massive amounts of printed booklets luring the readership into the church. (Read: How Did Herbert W. Armstrong Recruit People?)
As the organization grew in wealth, so did its holdings. By 1970, the Worldwide Church of God owned and operated three functioning college campuses: Pasadena, California, Big Sandy, Texas, and Bricket Wood, England. In addition, it owned air planes, additional land, Rolls Royce cars, gold investments, artwork and major financial holdings. While top ministry lived in luxury and opulence with homes, cars, gold, furs, and jewels, most of the members were impoverished.3
Between 1968 and 1980, HWA pursued his political agenda with the direction of Stanley R. Rader, a Jewish Hollywood lawyer and accountant that entered the Worldwide Church of God in 1956. Over 300 days a year were spent in other countries pursuing a political agenda while meeting with communist dictators from many countries, including the Middle East, Philippines, Thailand and Israel. During these decades of the Cold War, Rader and Armstrong entered countries with his airplane that Henry Kissinger was barred from entry. The millions of dollars spent colluding with Communist dictators had nothing to do with the assumed goals of the small membership.
The Empire Declines
In 1971 Garner Ted Armstrong, son of Herbert Armstrong, was suspended from the ministry due to sexual improprieties. It was at this time that several members started to question the Armstrongism system and started investigating the fraud and crime taking place within the organization. During the 1970's,4 considerable documentation exposed the massive corruption, sexual improprieties, hypocrisy, duality of agenda and deception that prevailed under the guise of religion and God. By 1974, seventy ministers defected along with 11,000 members. (Read: Worldwide Church of God History for more on this period of time.) The next ten years brought significant exposés of the false prophet's doctrines, political agendas, sexual scams, financial frauds, and personal destruction; providing an inside look at a destructive cult. The wake of the Jonestown tragedy (Jim Jones) awakened the public that the Worldwide Church of God could be next in line. By the end of the 1970's, Herbert W. Armstrong, along with his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, were headlined in the media internationally for alleged corruption. Garner Ted Armstrong was finally disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God in 1978 and proceeded to start his own cult empire, which became known as the Church of God International.5 A lawsuit initiated by members triggered a state receivership in 19796 which was closed following the passing of a law (initiated by Armstrong/Rader) that prevented the state from monitoring the financial matters of churches.
The apocalyptic Worldwide Church of God cult declined drastically during the 1970 era and continued its demise into the 1980's. Membership peaked in 1973 with about 53,000 recruits. Attrition continued while recruiting wanted; however, it must be noted that the financial report in 1978 indicated that the church received $78 million that year. The 1989 financial report indicates an annual income of $225 million. While the Worldwide Church of God had a small, impoverished membership, it accumulated a multimillion dollar, non-taxed enterprise. By the time of Armstrong's death in 1986, the WCG had approximately 35,000 members [See: Myth 1 and 2 in OIU Newsletter 6. for more on WCG's propagated falsehood of having a membership of around 150,000]. Stanley Rader, HWA's assistant, the financial mogul, quietly stepped out of the spotlight following the corruption exposé, but continued to work behind the scenes throughout the 1980's and until his death in Pasadena on July 2, 2002.
The Founder Dies
Herbert W. Armstrong died on January 16, 1986. There was no coroner's inquest. [Read letter from former member who questioned HWA's death diagnosis.] Joseph W. Tkach, Sr., Assistant to Stanley R. Rader, assumed the role as Pastor General. Joseph Tkach, Sr. continued the same dictatorial and totalitarian structure managed under the Armstrong regime. Despite several marketing strategy attempts, the Worldwide Church of God could not resume its recruiting ability of the 1960's. David Hulme, head of Public Relations, initiated dialog with several publishing counter-cult ministries, starting as early as 1987. By 1989 the Worldwide Church of God instituted a propaganda campaign targeted chiefly to neo-evangelical ministries. For three years the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God played word games with Hank Hanegraaff of Christian Research Institute (CRI), Christianity Today, Ruth Tucker, and other smaller publishing ministries that succumbed to the peer pressure, deceit and propaganda. While the leaders continued to use destructive maneuvers within the inner cult and deny changes, they orchestrated a marketing strategy targeting the Ecumenical Evangelicals. Numerous documentation outlines the chronology of events and exposes the falsehoods, contradictions, and duplicities that the leaders actively engaged in while telling the "outside" one thing, and doing just the opposite on the "inside."7
Members were continually exploited with Armstrong rhetoric of years gone by while the Public Relation propagandists were colluding with neo-evangelicals. By 1991 some members were able to detect changes within the organization. For the most part, little change, if any, spilled over to the membership until 1993. At that time, a new recruiting and marketing strategy was launched in an effort to train members to recruit through evangelism techniques.
Hank Hanegraaff publically endorsed the Worldwide Church of God as no longer a cult and requested they be included into the Christian fold on his "Bible Answer Man" radio program on May 5, 1994, when he stated that the Worldwide Church of God had embraced the Trinity. Christianity Today printed a similar message.8
The Maneuvers of Mainstreaming
As the cult declined throughout the 1970's and 1980's, it struggled to modernize ways to enhance recruiting. The World Tomorrow television program did not result in new recruiting and The Plain Truth lost renewals and subscribers.
In the past, the members of this cult were expected to honor the "secrecy" of the organization. No member was allowed to attempt to recruit a new convert. All possible converts were directed to the minister. The revised Worldwide Church of God began to restructure its business plan and embraced methods that would allow for its members to do the active recruiting. The last several years of documented church materials indicate that the main thrust for any "doctrinal" enhancements necessitated a new method of recruiting through evangelism and fund-raising. Under Armstrongism, the church business had no product to sell. Neo-evangelicalism and ecumenicalism opened the door to many business opportunities.
The hypocrisy and pretense of a cult turning into a Christian church was enhanced by the leaders' actions. While the leaders purported to be "following Jesus," they continued to state falsehoods, maintain secrecy, use coercive and manipulative methods on their members, history cleanse through propaganda, withhold financial accounting from members, and collect income for one purpose while using it for another. Their methods of deception caused psychological distress to many members ranging from depression to suicide. The techniques used to implement change fostered cognitive dissonance and confusion and trauma.
A prominent evangelist within the organization, Roderick Meredith, broke away starting the Global Church of God in 1992. Claiming that Joseph Tkach was changing doctrines, he carefully planned his breakaway while still working at Worldwide Church of God headquarters. Joseph Tkach, Sr. frequently reminded the members that they were free to join the Global Church if they were unhappy where God placed them.9 Within two years, the Global Church was entering radio, television and propagating Armstrongism in its Plain Truth type magazine, The World Ahead.
In January of 1995 members soon learned that despite the confirmation from their leaders that "things were not really changing," new positions on doctrine were launched. Up until this point, changes were downplayed or denied. Essentially, all "changes" solely dealt with interpretation of doctrine while the behavior and practices remained cultic and abusive. The implementation of the new doctrinal package was delivered with contradiction, denial of the past, accusing members of wrong interpretation, belittling members for inappropriate worship, and considerable confusion. This, in turn, placed members in a psychological stupor or trance, commonly referred to as cognitive dissonance. The double message delivered from the headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God triggered considerable traumatic stress. Those who researched, investigated and tracked the developments could distinctly see that the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God strategy consisted of a deceptive cover-up.
Within six weeks of announcing the "doctrinal changes," a newly formed Worldwide Church of God group was in place. The United Church of God was formed two months prior to its official announcement. The Worldwide headquarters leaders denied being a part of this newly formed United Church of God organization. The evidence, the history, the key players involved, and the chronology of events, strongly indicated that the United Church of God was purposely set up by the Worldwide leaders. This planned and orchestrated transition was timed succinctly with the leaders public message of change. Its purpose was to cause distraction, diversion, and intentional division. While maneuvering most members into the United Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God was able to focus the evangelical arena on the supposed transition. The United Church of God maintains Armstrong traditions.
[Note: For more info, read: The United Church of God is Born (from OIU Newsletter 3, Pt. 2)]
Immediately following the changes, the Worldwide Church of God claimed it was in financial trouble due to members withholding tithes and they were going to have to implement severe cutbacks. Meanwhile, the financial controllers had been liquidating assets secretly since 1979.
Divide and Conquer
Those closely scrutinizing the developments of the Worldwide Church of God could plainly see the planning and strategies used to restructure its organization. The Worldwide's pyramid government is now successfully fractionated into seemingly smaller pieces allowing it to continue its financial and political pursuits with far more secrecy and privacy. While duped or deceptive counter-cult ministries and publishers turned their backs, the cult re-grouped and re-strategized to fulfill its own agenda of power, control and wealth.
Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. died September 22, 1995 at age sixty-eight. Mixed reports indicate his sudden death was due to complications from cancer. His death has been downplayed, but the rumors abound. His son, Joseph Tkach, Jr. [born 12-23-51] officially assumed the "Pastor General" position upon the death of Joseph Tkach, Sr.
Tkach, Jr., along with Greg Albrecht, Michael Feazell, and Bernard Schnippert, presented the propaganda campaign with ecumenical evangelicals paying Hank Hanegraaff as a consultant.
The United Church of God (founded by David Hulme--magazine: Good News), Living Church of God, (founded by Roderick Meredith--magazine The World Ahead) and Intercontinental Church of God (founded by Garner Ted Armstrong, magazine Watch) continue to espouse racism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism.10 Gradually, the assets (airplanes, land, convention centers, Pasadena headquarters, etc.) of the Worldwide Church of God organization were sold. Some holdings were transferred to the "extension" churches. (In March 2003 they sold the copyrights to Herbert Armstrong's literature to an offshoot, Philadelphia Church of God, for $3 million in July 2004 auctioned off many valuable items which PCG purchased.) The multimillion-dollar empire has simultaneously downsized its lucrative holdings, creating factions within the membership. The Worldwide Church of God offers no accountability for its financial dealings.11 The organization claims it is audited by a reputable firm, but refuses to publish financial reports openly.
All groups continue to fragment12 while the leaders reap the benefit of the multi-million dollar empire. The Worldwide Church of God leaders have now formed associations with such organizations as Promise Keepers, National Association of Evangelicals13 and other ecumenical entities. It now propagandizes against "legalism" but has implemented discipleship management.
Throughout its sixty years of existence the WCG has been responsible for considerable devastation to the lives of thousands. Families have been left destroyed and financially impoverished. Members and child survivors alike have been victimized by emotional, spiritual, sexual and physical abuse.
In summary, no matter how the Worldwide Church of God fractions, or what name it takes, or what it claims as its doctrine, it remains to be: the same deceptive church; just a different pew!
By L. A. Stuhlman (Founder of Exit & Support Network™ and editor of OIU Newsletters)
Last updated February 6, 2008
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather
reprove them." ~Ephesians 5: 11
Much more information regarding the Worldwide Church of God and Herbert Armstrong can be found in the following articles and letters:
A Cult in Transition (furnishes background info)
Questioning HWA's background (several links to info we have)
This part in L. A. Stuhlman's letter to author Janis Hutchinson (very important info)
This part in L. A. Stuhlman's letter to Michael Langone (very important info)
Outsider's Inside Update Newsletters (Looks behind the scenes at the real activities and associations pertaining to the "transformation" of the WCG and their New Age agenda. Reveals how doctrine has been used as a massive propaganda tool.)
Footnotes by ESN:
1 In November 2004, the Worldwide Church of God moved its headquarters from Pasadena to Glendora, California. (Pasadena Star-News, October 25, 2004) By May 2006 all their offices were moved to Glendora. (Together, May-June 2006). In 2006 they were considering a name change. 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.
2 "One world government" is recognized as another term for new world order.
4 More info on the 1970's can be found in some of our catalog resources, plus the following articles and letters: Worldwide Church of God History; Robert Gerringer's 1975 Letter; Letter to author Janis Hutchinson.
5 GTA was later disfellowshipped from Church of God International (Read: Letter Regarding the Immorality of Garner Ted Armstrong which was mailed to the Church of God International brethren). He eventually went on to found Intercontinental Church of God and The Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association, both located in Tyler, TX. He died September 15, 2003 of pneumonia.
6 The 1979 receivership is covered in John Tuit's book, The Truth Shall Make You Free (Herbert Armstrong's Empire Exposed).
7 For documentation on this, read the OIU Newsletters, Letters to author Janis Hutchinson from D. M. Williams and Letters to Janis Hutchinson from Kelly Marshall (includes statements from The Worldwide Newses at this time). [Note: In Feb. 2005 The Worldwide News in the United States changed its name to WCG Today. In May 2006 it was changed to Together. A few years later Together was no longer available. Their magazine is now Christian Odyssey.]
8 "From the Fringe to the Fold, How the Worldwide Church of God Discovered the Plain Truth About the Gospel" by Ruth Tucker, July 15, 1996, Christianity Today. [UPDATE: Christianity Today has turned to promoting mysticism, contemplative prayer and other New Age, anti-Christian practices.]
11 While WCG (GCI) says in its Mission and Vision Statement that they provide "financial accountability to all their congregations," there is no downward financial accountability, and salaries of Joseph Tkach, Jr. (rumored to be in the six figures) and other top leaders at HQ are still not revealed; and in viewing maps online along with doing a real estate check, it has been found that the house of Tkach, Jr. is along side a golf course and is about as big as houses get on that street--has been estimated with a market value of $600,000 in 2008. Maps online also show that Bernie Schnippert, Greg Albrecht, et. al., live in luxurious homes.
12 There are several hundred WCG splinter groups today. Some of the major breakoffs are Philadelphia Church of God, founded by Gerald Flurry, Living Church of God, founded by Roderick C. Meredith (Rod Meredith was formerly head of Global Church of God), United Church of God-AIA and Restored Church of God, founded by David C. Pack.
13 Ted Haggard was former president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) which represents almost 50,000 churches in America. During this time, there were a number of serious concerns regarding him, including his spiritual manipulation, hypocrisy, and promoting the agenda of C. Peter Wagner. On Nov. 4, 2006 Haggard resigned as president of the NAE and was dismissed as senior pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO as a result of sexually immoral behavior. (Read: Letter to NAE and other concerned Christians.)