Monday, April 18, 2005

Annus Horribilis

2005 may well go down as the year from hell for the Churches of God.

As I write this, just over a month has passed from the Brookfield, Wisconsin shootings. It's too early to say just what an impact that tragic event will have on the psyche of the COGs, but there's no doubt it marks a significant turning point.

It's not just that Roderick Meredith's sect has taken a hit, which it certainly has. When the dust settles I expect the Living Church of God to be dead in the water. It was heading on the slow boat to demographic oblivion even before Terry Ratzmann opened fire in Sabbath services, but now it has been holed on the rocks as well. To change metaphors, the corpse may take some time to rot, but the stench of death is even now upon it.

But that's not the full story.

The disintegration of the Worldwide Church of God is too recent an event for people to think of the various splinters as distinct entities unto themselves. We don't see each competing sect as an island apart. What we see is a group or collection of related bodies. That's why The Journal (published by Dixon Cartwright) plays such an important role. It speaks across the paper boundaries to a broader community of former WCG members. These people may belong to one specific group, but they have friends and relatives who have gone to other branches. Not enough time has passed for the barriers to have solidified. The whole Church of God movement has been impacted by Brookfield.

The media was perceptive enough to realize this. Their reports, which were overwhelmingly fair and accurate, drew attention to the relationship of Meredith with Herbert W. Armstrong and Garner Ted Armstrong. They placed LCG in its setting as a struggling offshoot of a once influential cult.

WCG read the situation and then, to its everlasting shame, chose to ignore what had happened completely. Joseph Tkach, Jr. couldn't even bring himself to offer condolences. This shunning of human decency took even the church's harshest critics by surprise. Ultimately though it hardly matters. WCG will feel the Brookfield tremors too.

When we lose a loved one - partner, parent, child or friend - we deal with the fallout for months and often years. This is no different. How much damage has been done is still difficult to say. I doubt LCG is worth the effort of salvaging (though the hyenas, such as David Pack, have already moved in for a little opportunistic scavenging). A church with only a few thousand members can't take this kind of hit. Even losing 50 tithe-paying members would make a difference, and indications are that several hundred will drop away over the next few months as a direct result. That's a drop in income and a consequent drop in media dollars. But even more important will be the end of innocence and optimism about the church's role in preaching the gospel.

The game is up Mr. Meredith.

Till next time...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

United We Fall

The United Church of God is a moderate form of COGism. The raving lunatics went elsewhere. But that doesn't mean all is rosy in the garden.

For a start, the whole thing is unstable. Congregations and ministers keep peeling off. The Councl of Elders (the dudes who run it) seem to spend a lot of their time shafting each other. Growth is static and the demographic is heading into geriatric territory.

To make matters worse, there's noone willing to challenge the big errors that UCG inherited from the mother church. Like brain-dead apocalyptic ("the sky is falling!") and the fevered fantasies of British Israelism.

And while the control base has been broadened, the lay members have no say at all. If anything, that situation is getting worse. Relative to the WCG, LCG and PCG however, United is positively enlightened.

Remarkable then that this is the largest and most visible COG sect. It publishes an attractive magazine called "The Good News", and has the busiest COG website by a country mile (according to statistics provided by and reported on Ambassador Watch.)

It's been called the best of a bad bunch. Attending UCG has been likened to choosing the flu over HIV.

Next time we'll turn the focus in a new direction.

Till then...