Thursday, March 31, 2005

The little church that ate itself

Number two in our top four countdown is the Worldwide Church of God. It once claimed 150,000 members, but now officially numbers itself in the high 60s. That's rubbish, claim some "in the know": its more like mid 20s.

How art the mighty fallen.

And presiding over the whole messy disaster is God's little helper, Joe Tkach, Jr.

Why Joe? Because he was elected as church president? Nope, never been any kind of election. Because he was the best man for the job? Hardly! Joe leads the church because his daddy put him there.

From what I've heard, Joe had a reputation for loopiness as a student at Ambassador College. On graduating he became a ministerial trainee. I guess he wasn't very good because he got laid off. But then a miracle! Joe's dad, also named Joseph Tkach, became the new WCG Pastor General on HWA's death. Suddenly our Joe was back in the game. On Dad's death, Little Joe inherited the sect.

Almost single-handedly this divorced and remarried ministerial reject has, since climbing into the apostolic high-chair, brought the sect crashing about his ears. No mean feat.

Complicating the picture of colossal incompetence is the "evangelical factor". The church Joe downsized has left behind its cultic doctrines to embrace the evangelical mainstream. A host of bubble-brained enthusiasts (including Hank Hanegraaff) embraced the idea of a heretical cult transforming itself into a nice, respectable church. They were too lazy to pose the hard questions.

Evangelical doctrines have been adopted, that's undeniable. But cultic, top-down rule remains. There is a rubber stamp church board - but it's appointed by guess who... and it gets worse. The WCG is less than forthcoming about property sales and financial information. Accountability? What's that? Priesthood of ALL Believers? Oh surely not! This is one church where the members are kept firmly in their place: at the bottom of the spiritual food chain.

If you ask one question too many, it'll be suggested (none too subtly) that you might like to find a new church home (you see, consultation and consensus don't rate highly among WCG's priorities.) So that's exactly what tens of thousands of members have done over the past several years. But fear not, Joe won't be left high and dry. Those bequests and wills provide a steady income stream to keep the corporation chugging over.

WCG has slumped - probably to below the active membership of the leading splinter. It took a special man to manage that trick. Church leaders paint it as a reformation. More accurately it has been an act of self mutilation.

And isn't another evangelical sect exactly what the world needs right now? I mean, why not just go down the road to the local Nazarene, Baptist, Salvation Army or whatever service? Why stay with a mock-evangelical sect that disempowers its members and suppresses debate? Why raise your kids in a church community where they can only aspire to be peons?

And so the good ship WCG steams over the horizon and into obscurity with Cap'n Joe at the helm.

Next time we'll look at the biggest kid on the block: the United Church of God.

Till then...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Living in S(p)in

The 3rd place holder in the COG stakes is Rod Meredith's Living Church of God.

Meredith departed from WCG to establish something called the Global Church of God. It published a magazine ("The World Ahead") and bought TV time. But ol' Rod (affectionately known to many as Spanky) found the hirelings were getting ideas above their station. The elders in Global wanted checks and balances put on Meredith. What to do?

And so Spanky scuppered his new church, and set up Living. If you don't play by his rules he'll take his ball and go home.

I remember hearing Rod speak in person for the first time. I'd read a lot of his stuff and thought he would be inspirational. He wasn't. The man exuded arrogance and conceit. He styled himself among the "leading ministers" (and in times past let it be known that he was "number 3" in rank among mere mortals - under HWA and GTA... these days I suppose he's graduated to the Big Enchilada...)

Meredith is obsessed by rank, and suffers under the delusion (proclaimed from the pulpit) that he has never committed a major sin since baptism. Apparently pride doesn't count.

Rod has been around since the 50s, creating a species of havoc wherever he's gone. He was one of Herbert's original team of yes-men, aggressive, insensitive and rigid in his thinking. People who need an authoritarian guru to tell them what to do still appreciate his "strength".

And then there are the weird asides and comments that crop up in his sermons. Does the word "Freudian" mean anything to the man? Rod is one minister who simply opens his mouth and every deranged thought comes out in a relentless tide. Spanking, masculine young men...

You might wonder why I'm concentrating on Meredith rather than his church. The two are inseparable. When Rod finally goes to his eternal reward his church will vaporise. In my view, it can't happen soon enough.

Earlier this month a Meredith disciple, Terry Ratzmann, opened fire at a Living church service in Wisconsin, killing 7 people, including the minister and two teenagers. How much Meredith's gloomy apocalyptic "gospel" was a factor is difficult to tell, but it can't have helped. The following Sabbath Meredith preached on "lessons from Wisconsin". Those listening carefully will probably conclude, though, that the "lessons" were for everyone but him... the "Presiding Evangelist" has no capacity for critical evaluation. Hopefully the unwanted publicity will put paid to whatever small growth LCG had been experiencing. The demographics were already unpromising. Today Meredith's church is dead in the water.

Next time we move on to number 2. But which is it, the WCG (founded by Herbert) or the UCG (the largest splinter)? It's no easy call but I'll take the plunge anyway... and tell you why...

Till then...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Church of Boundless Love

There are four main COG sects. Let's take a look at number 4, and work our way upward during the week.

With around 5,000 members (baptized, tithe-paying adults) let's hear it for the Philadelphia Church of God! And no, you won't find it's offices in Philadelphia, despite the name. The good ol' boys who run this business are firmly entrenched in Oklahoma.

Pastor General Gerald Flurry was a lowly minister in the WCG till he saw the light and led an exodus into the hills. There was an angel, and a new book of scripture ("Malachi's Message") involved.

Gerry is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Shades of grey? Grey? What's that? And you wouldn't call him original either. The PCG is cloned from the original model created by Herbert Armstrong.

Flurry's sect is somewhere to the right of Atilla the Hun. The German's are coming to enslave the people of Arkansas, stay away from aspirin, pay those tithes, makeup is the broad highway to gehenna... you get the idea.

And there's a special revelation that God has blessed the PCG with. Gerry, it seems, is "that prophet" spoken of in the Bible. In short, he's one very important dude, so you better watch it!

PCG has a website,, and a free glossy magazine of undiluted rants called The Philadelphia Trumpet. From what I've heard, the turnover rate among members is pretty high... who wants to be a masochist 24/7? And there are dark whispers (supported by a police report) that Prophet Flurry is fond of the six pack.

Of the big four, this is considered the most cultic. The members I know of are good, decent people. I doubt you could say that about some of the leaders though. They're supposed to be "Philadelphians" (from the Greek word meaning "brotherly love".)

But there's not a lot of love in evidence.

Next time: number 3. You'll get to meet the Presiding Evangelist of spanking. It's Rod Meredith's Living Church of God.

Till then...

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A beginners guide, part 1

Welcome to COG studies 101. We begin with a reading lesson. Please translate the following passage:

When GTA and RLD left to create CGI, they left behind not only HWA and the WCG, but the media promotional tools, the PT, GN and television program. AC had provided a pool of talent and advice GTA could call on, but now it was gone, as was the AICF. In an initial frenzy Ted put together TCW, and harnessed the talents of CWC, AJP and DLA. He then sent out feelers to CG7 and even featured in the BA.


If you know exactly what that was all about, congratuations, you are hereby granted an honorary doctorate in COGism. If you get the general picture, but are hazy on a couple of details, you get the Masters.

Every sub-culture has its own language, and COGism sure fits the picture. That can make it difficult for outsiders to crack the code. But maybe that first sample was a bit dated. Let's try something more contemporary and shoot for the Bachelors degree... Multiple choice anyone?

The term "PT" stands for
(1) The Philadelphia Trumpet
(2) The Painful Truth
(3) The Plain Truth
(4) All of the above
(5) 2 & 3
(6) I give up

The correct answer is, of course, (6)

But before anyone runs off screaming into the night, here's the first instalment of a helpful glossary.

AC - Ambassador College
AICF - Ambassador International Cultural Foundation
AJP - Albert J. Portune, former business manager and leading evangelist in WCG
BA - The Bible Advocate, magazine produced by CG7
CEM - Christian Educational Ministries
CG7 - Church of God (Seventh Day) based in Denver. Also called COG7
CGI - Church of God, International. Founded by GTA
DLA - David L. Antion, another top minister who separated in the late 70s, and brother in law to GTA.
GTA - Garner Ted Armstrong, deposed son of HWA
CWC - C. Wayne Cole, once a top minister in WCG
GN - The Good News, a member publication for WCG members (out of print), but also a cloned outreach magazine published by the UCG (in print)
HWA - Herbert W. Armstrong
ICG - Intercontinental Church of God. GTA's second splinter after he was turfed out of CGI
PT - The Plain Truth, but also the Painful Truth
RLD - Ronald L. Dart, longtime associate of GTA and currently running CEM
TCW - GTA's version of the PT, originally a glossy magazine published by CGI, now a cheap tabloid produced by ICG
UCG - United Church of God. More properly known as UCGia
UCGia - United Church of God, an International Association
WCG - Worldwide Church of God, the original Armstrong gulag

See: easy!

Next time I'll introduce you to the "big 4" COG denominations.

Till then...

Friday, March 25, 2005

First thoughts

And greetings everyone... I guess that's a bit optimistic. How about "and greetings ANYONE"?

Everyone seems to be blogging, and I for one am definitely in favor. It's a chance for people who can write (and hopefully spel gud two) to express their thoughts.

And for those people caught up in an oppressive structure, a chance to tell it like it is.

Too bad a lot of those oppressive structures are churches. So let me confide... come up close and I'll whisper my affiliation.

Church of God.

Probably means nothing to most folk, but to those who know what I'm talking about, let me confirm that I mean the churches that trace themselves back to Herbert W. Armstrong.

Herbert is long dead, but his work goeth ever onward in a variety of remarkable sects. And that's what this blog is all about... the sects and ministries that still tout for tithes in the Christian marketplace. Insiders call them the COGs - Churches of God.

Next time I'll introduce you to the secret language of COGdom: the "alphabet soup" that these true believers swim in.

Till then...