Letter: May 19, 2001
Hope things are going well for you and your family this year. As an old song goes, “How time slips away” it seems I’m always behind anymore, so I’m finally getting around to sending in this questionnaire and renew Servants’ News and also write you a letter I have been procrastinating on writing about Herbert Armstrong.
First of all let me say your article in The Journal (February issue) was excellent. It dealt with many of the problems of copyrighting material and incorporating Churches. But you also stepped into territory that most of the ministry wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, and that is exposing the sins and errors of Herbert W. Armstrong.
You probably don’t remember me writing to you on this subject a few years ago. I was then in the process of investigating these allegations for myself to prove them right or false. It has taken me quite some time to read all the material on HWA that’s out there. I still don’t have it all read but of what I’ve read it seems he was guilty of child incest and statutory rape when he was supposedly starting what is known as the Philadelphia era of God’s church. I know most of the material out there is circumstantial and you can’t convict someone with hearsay. But there are credible witnesses who know it’s true, but won’t say yea or nay in writing because they think Herbert was an Apostle or if they did, it would blow their own house of cards apart.
Response: David Robinson published accusations that HWA committed incest and other sins: 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 indicate that church leaders should be “one who rules his own house well” and have “a good testimony among those who are outside”. If these accusations are true and if Mr. Armstrong never openly acknowledged and confessed this sin, then he should not be regarded as a church leader. I have made some effort to try to find witnesses who themselves heard either a confirmation or a denial directly from the Armstrong family. Most declined to answer. Others claimed that they “knew” that the allegations are true, but could not give the specifics of how they obtained their opinion. I have never heard a claim (even by second- or third-hand story) that Mr. Armstrong even denied the accusation. I do know of two people close to Mr. Armstrong who wanted to find out about the matter and were advised to ask Dorothy and Beverly directly—but they never did.
Aaron Dean said he never heard anyone ask Mr. Armstrong about it, nor did he ever ask him himself. Aaron Dean said: “I did hear an argument between he [HWA] and Dorothy (the alleged victim) where she was asking him for money. Although the conversation got quite loud and demanding, there was never a ‘you know what I know’ or any type of statements that would indicate this sin. Neither one knew I was there in the house when this took place, so there was no reason not to say anything that came to mind. He did not give her what she was asking for. None of this proves anything, except perhaps that it either didn’t happen or he respected me enough not to say anything. In the 12 years I worked for him, I never saw him do anything immoral, and as most people know, he was quite open. It does not fit the character of the man I worked with—however many biblical characters prove there can be lapses of character.”
Aaron Dean went on to say that one ought to believe what they can find in their Bible, not simply because Mr. Armstrong said something. “Even so, while I have my personal beliefs where I feel he was right on some areas that are more speculative, I do not demand those ‘speculative’ beliefs of others.” I think this is a key that all church of God brethren need to recognize. Whether Mr Armstrong was a “great saint or a great sinner”, we ought to teach only what we can clearly teach from the Bible, and not expect anyone to believe a teaching because “Mr. Armstrong taught it”.
Unfortunately, many people still seem to be stuck on trying to determine whether he was “an apostle”, “the Elijah” or some other special biblical figure. If anyone has clear first-person testimony about this issue, I think it would help some people to print it.
Letter: I read your articles in past Servants’ News and thought you gave HWA a fair and honest evaluation. I know if you have read as much as myself, you could have shredded him to pieces as some have done without any mercy, so your evaluation was proper. It exposed the bad as well the good that he had done.
What really got me started into this messy ordeal some years ago was not initially the incest allegation, but his plagiarism of other people’s writing, a problem you confronted with Jim Rector. Plagiarism, as you pointed out, is stealing and hypocrisy, which Jesus Christ condemned very emphatically. I challenge anyone with an open mind to compare HWA’s “US and BC in Prophecy” with J. H. Allen’s “Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright” and say HWA didn’t plagiarize his book. But this is not the only plagiarism he did, as he liberally used the writings of G.G. Rupert for his booklets as Richard Nickels of Giving and Sharing has material available to show this is true. (Write Servants’ News for the Giving and Sharing Order Form). And I’m sure you are aware HWA was not the first in 1,900 years to teach the Holy Days, the British and Israel theory, clean and unclean meats, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, etc., etc. He got most of these from Rupert’s books and his magazine “Remnant of Israel” still available at the New York Library.
As one minister told me when I confronted him about HWA plagiarizing Allen’s book, “What difference does it make where it came from, if it’s true?” If I used his reasoning about plagiarizing with today’s technology of computers, scanners, copiers, etc. I could be the greatest author of all time, change the title, insert my name as author, change a word here and there, print a manuscript and off to the publisher. I don’t know how long I would last before I was sued, but I could really put out the manuscripts for awhile.
Anyway, after I proved he plagiarized other writings, it led me into the charges of immoral behavior. I had never read the Ambassador Reports until I started this investigation. I, like many others, thought it was trash like the Esquire magazine and other gossip tabloids. This is what we were told by the ministry: it was trash, untrue, some were even put out of the church for reading it. But when it came on line, I read all of them and in retrospect, I found the majority of the material to be true. No wonder the ministry wanted no one to read them. It’s ironic that many of the ministers themselves who did the ARs, left the church after finding out about the cover-ups, extravagant lifestyles, whoredoms, incest, false prophecies, extravagant salaries of the higher echelon of the church.
Response: Many people have told me a similar story. There are a few false facts in Ambassador Report and some speculation that turned out to be wrong. But all too much is true. The unfortunate thing is that the WCG leaders never once acknowleged their sin and thanked the Ambassador Report for bringing it to their attention. They pretended like none of it ever happened. This is completely opposite from the type of repentance I see in the Scriptures.
Letter: A word on John Trechak: although I don’t agree with some of his philosophies, I think he was a man of character in that he published mostly from newspaper articles and first hand knowledge and not rumors, although some slipped through and were later retracted. It is interesting that Rader and Co. could never find a just cause for a lawsuit to shut him down, although they did try.
This was not the case for former WCG minister David Robinson whose book “Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web” caused an uproar in WCG. Sherwin McMichael and Rader associate Henry Cornwall’s lawsuit delayed the publishing for a while and bankrupted Robinson. I personally didn’t know David Robinson, but his son Mark was an associate pastor in our area for a while. From what I can ascertain from others, he was a man of morals, although authoritative as was the manner of many ministers. It’s interesting to note the lawsuit was not about the contents of the book as untruths, but a breach of ministerial confidence. The WCG lawyers were really grabbing at straws in that suit.
Response: I remember hearing about that suit when I was in the church—and hearing strange explanations why Sherwin McMichael and Henry Cornwall had to sue, rather than the WCG. I remember them saying that they had to use the courts to stop the “enemies of God” from telling evil lies about them. Yet, it is amazing to see how they used the courts in the same manner as other corrupt people—just to cause delays and expense for someone else, not to see that a case is settled justly.
Letter: Now for the crux of this letter, as you know the WCG and Herbert W taught apostolic ascension, the Primacy of Peter, and The One True Church doctrines: that is, if you were not in WCG, all you could hope for was the second resurrection. With that in mind, all members had to be baptized and hands laid on directly or indirectly by HWA to be in the true church and hence in the first resurrection. If all the allegations about HWA’s incest with his daughter for ten years are true, then from what I read in 1Tim 3:1–7, he did not meet those requirements when he was supposedly ordained an Elder.
As an aside by what I’ve read, he was baptized by a Baptist minister and hands laid on him later by the small congregation in Oregon and according to Alan Ruth, no Elder was present. So, one would wonder how valid was his baptism according to what he taught.
Response: This is a very interesting issue. Mr. Armstrong’s own baptism and ordination certainly were different from what the WCG required for most of its existence. I have had this discussion with many others, some of whom have said, “HWA was the start of a new era, so God had to start it up from nothing.” But how do we know that some other ministry today which appears to be defying “established church authority” is not the start of “a new era” that God is “starting up from nothing”? The reality is that God does not need our permission to operate as He wants. If He wants to reveal Himself to one man and have that man teach a million people, He can. If He wants to teach a million people Himself, He can.
The Bible simply does not teach a succession of ordination, or that a believer must be baptized by an ordained person. The Bible gives us genealogies of many people—even telling us the mother’s name of nearly all the kings of Israel, but makes little effort to tell us who laid hands upon each servant of God or who baptised who. We have a clear admission from the Apostle Paul that he did not remember if he baptized anyone else beside the household of Stephanas (1Cor 1:16). Paul was baptized by Annanias (Acts 9:10–18), but who baptized Annanias? There is no record of any apostle “appointing a successor”—and only a very few Old Testament prophets who did. If a prophet or apostle by virtue of his calling has the right to appoint a “successor”, then all it takes is one who is (possibly secretly) not following God and the entire rest of the chain is not of God. But if we realize that we must look for personal fruits in any servant of God, we are on much better ground than someone who is only asking, “Who baptized or ordained that leader?”
Letter: I know some argue that was when he was a babe in Christ and he later repented and God used him to do a mighty work. They also use the David defense, and say David was a man after God’s heart. They also point to his works or fruit and how many lives were changed by his preaching. But looking back, you can see many lives were wrecked by his doctrines (teachings on divorce and remarriage, teachings on avoiding family members who left the WCG) and many left the Church because of the behavior of him and Garner Ted. If Lev 20 laws were in effect today, both of them would have been put to death, not only for sexual crimes, but being false prophets as well. The question I am and others are asking, if he did not meet the requirements of Timothy and Titus, where does that put all under him? Do we have a valid baptism, if one believes in apostolic ascension, if he did not qualify?
Response: If one believes in apostolic succession, yes, one is in big trouble. The only sensible thing would be to stay in the WCG and follow whoever is in charge there until God “cleans it up”.
Letter: As I wrote earlier, very few will even address this because they don’t like being backed into a corner. They know very well where that leaves them if their idol falls. They all need Herbert’s legacy to prop up the numerous off-shoots. So HWA must stay as the foundation while some of the things he taught may be rejected.
Response: I agree. Many groups speak glowingly of Herbert Armstrong even though they may have changed many of his teachings. Other denominations do this. If we were to point out Martin Luther’s disagreements with the Bible to a Lutheran, they might ask for tolerance and try to show how much good he did. But most CoG members would see that as a clear reason to completely reject Luther and all the good he did fighting corrupt practices in the Catholic Church in his day. But if a Lutheran were to point out HWA’s doctrines that did not match the Bible, many CoG brethren would expect the Lutherans to ignore that and to see only the good things that he taught.
Letter: Another problem with using his apostolic ascension theory: If HWA had no authority to ordain, then neither did the men who ordained the ones who preach today—so on it goes until none of them has any authority to be a minister! Without HWA, none of these offshoot ministers can claim any authority—all authority came from the initial ordinations by HWA. This is the old dominoes theory, if you pull out HWA, they all fall. If he did not meet the requirements of deacon and elder, how could he possibly be an apostle? As for the requirement of apostle-ship, how about Acts 1:21–25?
Response: I agree that this “opens up a can of worms” for all of the CoG groups. Do their ministers claim to be ministers because of their chain of ordination, or do they claim to be ministers because they are indeed ministering? If it is the latter, might it be a good idea for the brethren to give some input as to who is ministering to them and who is not? A lot of them really are ministering—serving. But some may not be.
In regard to apostleship, I agree that Mr. Armstrong did not have the direct training from Christ that the 12 Apostles and Paul had. He claimed to have been trained from a six-month study of the same Bible and books in a library that are available to almost everyone today. Nor did he have the “signs and wonders and mighty deeds” that Paul mentions as the “signs of an Apostle” (2Cor 12:12).
Letter: In 1Tim 5:19–20, it says, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” In the case of HWA, there were more than two or three witnesses who knew about his past sins of cover-up, extravagance, plagiarism, and in 1979 the early incest. Those who did dare rebuke him or Garner Ted, whether minister or laymember, were quickly branded heretics, marked and excommunicated from the church. The rest cowered in fear. What happened shows the frailties of hierarchical government.
Response: Some of the sins of extravagance and plagiarism are documented by undisputed records available to anyone (people simply dispute whether they are actually sins). But if there are multiple witnesses to the incest accusation, I do not know who they are.
Letter: As for those in the ministry who will now openly address this issue, you and Dave Havir are the only two I know who have rational views on this subject. There are others with more radical views pro and con. Most people in the various groups still refuse to hear or read anything about HWA’s past. They simply refuse to believe HWA could do such heinous acts; maybe they are better off then the ones who find out differently.
Response: The Bible never teaches “ignorance is bliss”. God promises to lead us into truth (John 16:13) and that truth would make us free (John 8:32). God knows the truth about everything, and as we grow to be like Christ, we need to be able to handle the truth, too.
Letter: There are leaders of a few of these organizations who consider it anathema from Christ to say or write anything in opposition to HWA’s teachings and if you say he committed incest and many other sins, they consider you a complete heretic.
Those people who prove to themselves this actually happened, fall into, it seems to me, four categories: 1. They are deeply hurt by it, but still attend church somewhere because they still believe the basic doctrines. 2. They are hurt by it and quietly fall away. 3. They are hurt by it and get angry and vent their feelings; the majority fall away, a few stay. 4. They are hurt and get angry and seek revenge, nearly all fall away and become agnostics.
Response: I have certainly met people who seem to fit in all of those categories and others as well. But I also know quite a few like myself who realize that the Bible and history are full of leaders who pretended to be good, but who were not. Figuring out who was good and who was bad is an activity for Christ in the judgment. Right now, we need to be more focused on how God wants to work in our lives and how to let Him do it. It should not take much prayer or study to realize that we need to both live and teach both the Bible and salvation in the name of Jesus, rather than doctrinal booklets in the name of Herbert Armstrong.
Letter: I would say I fall into the first category although I believe the truth should be told especially about the plagiarism as it affects people building on a false foundation. People should be building on the foundation of Christ and not HWA. The incest is something that falls into the category of, “work out your own salvation”, you either believe he was an apostle or you don’t.
I know that everyone of us has sinned and come short of the glory of God (Christ) and if we’re expected to be perfect as mortal men to enter into the kingdom, there would be no one able to enter. (Eph. 2:8 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”).
As one minister told me, “HWA’s fate is sealed, he will rise in the first resurrection or he won’t. Only God is his judge and we should not judge him”. That’s good advice but I also want to know where I stand on the validity of my own baptism.
I would like your input on this subject of the legitimacy of HWA’s qualifications as a minister based on Titus and Timothy either in an article or private mail as this is a thorn in the side for several people.
— Phil, Ohio
Response: The problem with Mr. Armstrong was concentrating all power in a hierarchical government so that members could not use 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to evaluate either him or their local ministry. Baptism is an act carried out on behalf of God. As Solomon built the temple, but then left God, so someone can baptize us and then leave God. The heart of the person and what God does is all that matters at baptism. People have been baptized by ministers who later admitted they were atheists with an easy job. God’s promises are sure. Only a wrong attitude on our part can invalidate our baptism. The spiritual status of Herbert Armstrong or anyone else does not matter. The Bible does not say “find the right baptizer”, but: “…Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).