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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

David Pack Internet Cult Guru



At some time in the future I intend to do a few pages on cults and their warning signs. I’m starting with Pack’s cult since it is somewhat typical of an entire group of cults and also because it is atypical in that it has adapted an old form to the new medium of the internet. Pack isn’t particularly dangerous, inasmuch as he isn’t trolling for the general public. In a medium where the message is the medium, Pack’s shown up with a clunker that only a select few are likely to fall for. More interesting than what Pack is preaching is the way he has adapted to the internet and the underlying reasons he has for making it a focus. He is a ground breaker and what has worked for Pack may soon be used by others.

I consider cults to be a confidence game. This is not my general stance on religion, organized or otherwise. The single aspect that distinguishes a cult from a religion is that cults exist purely to make money. It is a no inventory money making scheme.

Most cults represent themselves as Christian congregations, often hiding behind names with the words ‘ecumenical’, ‘whole bible’, ‘community’, ‘congregational’ or ‘Baptist’ in their titles. These words can signify that the church is a one man show with no oversight as to doctrine or finances.

David Pack’s Restored Church of God is a fairly good example of a cult name. Like ‘Baptist’, the term ‘Church of God’ can mean many things. The Baptists are a dissolvent movement. Unless you see a specific identification added on (such as Southern Baptist Convention), the term indicates that there is no one watching over the clergy. Most legitimate Baptist churches are going to be affiliated with an easy to verify governing body. As a word, ‘Baptist’ indicates belief in adult conversion. It is in opposition to the Anglican and Catholic practice of baptism of children, however that is more of a word history than a set rule of thumb for all Baptists. Because the term Baptist has become so broad, its modification is more the rule than the exception and some churches have abandoned the term altogether. For example, the Church of Christ, the United Pentacostal Church and the Assemblies of God are all organized Baptist denominations.

‘Church of God’ is also a generic Baptist term, although it is to church names what ‘Eats’ is to restaurant names. There is no actual franchise behind it, no governing body, no core church. There is such a thing as the Church of God, Seventh Day, which is an organized church group split off from the Seventh-Day Adventists. The Seventh-Day Adventists themselves are an organized Baptist sect. Most organizations calling themselves ‘Church of God’ are not affiliated with either the Seventh-Day Adventists or the Church of God, Seventh Day. Instead the term Church of God is meant to indicate a belief in adult baptism coupled with a special emphasis on end of the world bible prophesy.

It’s a death cult. It’s an end of the world sect. Outside of the United Church of God (*1), all of these groups are sole proprietorships, accountable to no one but their operators. There are over 400 of these churches, all with some internet presence. With probably fifty paying members, David Pack’s Restored Church of God is a middleweight in this rather crowded field.

Most of these churches, including Pack’s and the United Church of God are split offs from Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God (previously known as the Radio Church of God.) Pack’s choice of the word ‘Restored’ has little to do with his activities and more to do with making the initials of his church RCoG, which is what the original Radio Church of God was known by. Initials are weirdly important in the Church of God movement.

Outsiders refer to the movement as Armstrongism. Insiders call it Sabbatarianism. The majority of Armstrongist sects will stick to calling their groups (Something) Church of God (Something), but a few will stray into using Sabbatarian as a replacement. Only two sects have deviated entirely from this naming convention: the Church of the Great God (derivative of what Armstrong called his followers) and Born To Win.

My rule of thumb is that the more whatever is before or after the words ‘Church of God’ sounds like the name of an interstate trucking firm, the more certain you can be that it is Armstrongist. Although using many Christian terms and co-opting a generic Baptist name, Armstrongism is neither Christian nor Baptist. The teachings of Jesus are entirely irrelevant to the faith and the character of Jesus has been replaced by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu—although not literally. It seems both Lovecraft and Armstrong had the same ideas about powerful entities.

Herbert W. Armstrong preached that the end of the world was immediately at hand for over fifty years. That was his drawing card, but only the tip of the iceberg when it came to his teachings. Most Churches of God recycle Armstrong’s teachings while avoiding reiteration of his specific prophesies.

With good reason. Armstrong's predictions were comically wrong.

Armstrong has been dead for a very long time at this point. There is no longer any real governing body to the Churches of God anymore. The current crop of Churches of God make eclectic use of Armstrong’s works.

Armstrong himself was very much a cult leader and the other Churches of God are set up to follow his floor-plan. It’s had a fairly nice long run, as is. Pack’s innovations on the basic design are more a matter of his own circumstances than any real desire to change the religion. Since few of you are likely to be familiar with either the basic design or Pack’s variations, I will lightly touch on both.

1. The leader of the church (called Pastor General or Apostle or Witness) has earned his position through the possession of amazing magic powers. Powers typically claimed include:

A. The ability to predict the future.

B. The ability to detect signs within current events as they relate to a timeline in bible prophesy. The timeline is done in terms of church eras, leading to the current Philadelphia era. Most sects will have to come up with their own timeline. Armstrong’s first timeline ended with WWII being the start of the Great Tribulation. His other timeline ended in the early 1970s, after which he abandoned the entire timeline idea altogether. It is a big draw, however and every cult leader needs his own.


C. The ability to project an aura of protection from disease and misfortune. All continued good health of the flock is dependent upon this aura radiating from the leader. All increased fortune is attributed to this aura and should be paid for through first fruit offerings.

D. The ability to cast out demons. Demons consider the proto-elect (flock members) very special bon bons and are always trying to fill their minds with bad attitudes. Demons are also the cause of disease and misfortune. If disease or misfortune or a bad attitude persist after having been cast out by the leader, it is a sign that the follower is defective (not actually a proto-elect after all, but perhaps a fringer.)(*2)

E. Uncommon wisdom comprehensively covering all social and consumer transactions. Primarily this means having an opinion on everything. A firm answer is often more inspired than a sound one. (Avoid math and tax law questions.) Be glib, if you can. Be smug, if you can’t. Any question can be answered by rebuking the follower for their carnal. worldly minds. If you do not have the answer, the question must be wrong.

F. Additive powers may include claiming a special relationship with Herbert W. Armstrong, claiming that you are the reincarnation of a biblical figure or claiming to have inside information from Jesus himself. Go easy on the Jesus thing. In Armstrongism, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are the same thing--and only a dotted line management level between Armstrong and the Great God.

David Pack does all of the above, although he is a little light on A and B. Like many leaders in it for the long haul, he reiterates those teachings that Armstrong didn’t contradict by both example and edict (Armstrong contradicted all of his own teachings by either example or edict.) Pack is one of the youngest cult leaders to have actually been ordained by Herbert W. Armstrong directly. His first wife worked as Herbert W. Armstrong’s secretary for a time, so Pack can claim some knowledge of his master’s inner workings. To hear Pack tell it, he had many phone conversations with Armstrong over the years. Pack main magic powers are C and E. (He actually is very glib.) As a unique but unspecified additive, Pack claims to be a ‘God-called’ preacher. He is the spiritual advisor of the two witnesses of Revelation, who are (unnamed) members of his flock. And he’s an Apostle.

2. The purpose of God’s True Church is to spread the Good News of God’s immediate return. (God’s True Church is called the Church of God in the Bible; Church of God being the one True Church’s only true name, other than Philadelphia.) The Good News is, however, not particularly good. It’s more like every disaster movie ever filmed put together. Issuing the warning and the call to repent is the church’s highest mission, one of its two reasons for being. Warning the entire world, by the way, is damn expensive. Everyone must be warned or the church’s mission is a failure. This requires a lot of outreach, which is directly translated to “God’s work on Earth.” It is the only cause, the only charity that a follower has. Outreach methods typically include:

A. A Television Program. Armstrong had one. You can’t claim to be following in his footsteps unless your sect has one, too. For internal purposes, it doesn’t matter if it’s on at 3:00 AM on Superstation WGN, just as long as it’s on. The United Church of God, Living Church of God and Philadelphia Church of God all have weekly programs. There are many others on Public Access cable.

B. A Radio Program. As one might imagine, the Radio Church of God got its start on radio. What goes for radio goes for all Armstrongist Church of God communications with the rest of the world. There are some very specific conventions which need to be followed. First and foremost, YOU NEVER EVER BEG FOR MONEY. Second, all church literature is to be sent FREE OF CHARGE: NO COST, NO OBLIGATION. (This is what is called a soft sell.) It must take a format not usual for a religious program, typically disguising itself as news or political commentary.(*3) The person presenting the show does not have to be the cult leader or even a member of the church. All he has to be is good at presenting the show. (You may use hirelings.) For bonus points, claim that the communication is being sponsored by an academic sounding institution. (Armstrong’s was Ambassador College or the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation.) When it comes to radio specifically, you may not put the show on the air during Sunday mornings or evenings. If you can, get the show scheduled away from other religious broadcasts. Armstrong used to put his show on several days a week, mid day, mid week. Armstrong’s tactic of buying air time opposite the Amos & Andy program will not be available to modern cult masters. Despite these hurdles, about a dozen Churches of God have weekly radio programs.

C. A Glossy Magazine. Like all church literature, it should be sent free of charge to whomever wants it. It should be in the form of a news magazine and not seem by any visual clue to have a religious tone. (Text is another story.) For bonus points, do not identify your sect anywhere in the magazine’s text. Although most sects still put out a magazine, few of them abide by most of the terms that made the Plain Truth one of the world’s largest circulation publications. No one other than Armstrong has had the money to burn like this.

D. Offer Free Literature On Various Topics. This one is easy. Armstrong has written all of the material for you. All you have to do is print them up and mail them out on request. Please keep in mind that all of Armstrong’s written works are now owned by the Philadelphia Church of God and that reprinting them is a violation of that church’s copyrights. That said, the texts for all of them are available multiple places on the internet. For Bonus Points, offer a Bible Study Correspondence Course. Again, various versions of the course Armstrong used are available on the internet and, unlike other materials, has lapsed firmly into the public domain. The course has very little to do with the Bible per se—it is essentially a self-help form of indoctrination.

E. Maintain an internet presence. Armstrong died before the internet era, although he was quite computer savvy for his time. His was one of the first churches to have a data processing department, dating back to the 1950s. So computers are good and holy and such. (You have to be careful. Not everything in the push button world Armstrong railed against is that way.) The fact that he had no opinion on the subject is actually an opening for relaxing some of the communication protocols. All Church of God sects have an internet presence. If you can’t afford radio or TV, You Tube and Pod Casts are the way to go. Although it’s hard to say that you are fulfilling the church’s mission through this, it does demonstrate progress towards that end.

F. Additive Moves include a Co-Worker Letter (wherein your unfettered and relentless begging for money from the converts may take place), a special for members only newsletter (great for recipes and updates on what is and is not unclean as far as food is concerned) as well as having an actual local church where like-minded people can gather, either to have Armstrongism yelled at them in the flesh or to listen to broadcasts or tapes of such. None of the current churches are capable of all of the Additive Moves anymore. Only Philadelphia Church of God, United Church of God, Living Church of God and the Intercontinental Church of God have widespread congregations. Armstrong’s own Worldwide Church of God has some congregations (under another name), but it is no longer Armstrongists

The way “Outreach” used to work, it paid for itself in two wonderful ways. First and foremost, it gave the unconventionally religious a way to claim membership in a denomination via distance. There were a lot of people out there who hung on Armstrong’s words without having any intention of joining a church. Most of what Armstrong preached, at least via broadcasts, was that all of the other Christian churches were wrong or hypocritical or corrupted by paganism. People who bought into this message would send away for the free literature and then wave it in the faces of family members as a way of opting out of participation in conventional religious attendance. It was their excuse for staying home on Sunday and watching football. On a less involved level, there were some folks out there who simply distrusted organized religion. Armstrong certainly provided them with ammunition in both his broadcasts and writings. In both cases, it was not uncommon for someone to just slip a fiver in an envelope and send it to Herbert W. Armstrong.

This soft sell approach really works. Not only did “Outreach” pay for itself, it was the backbone of Armstrong’s finances.

Second, if you have read all of the literature, chances are you buy it. Armstrongism is fairly comprehensive. It has an answer for everything. Many people who bought into this literature wanted more, wanted a fellowship of like-minded people. Here Armstrong deliberately did not make things easy. His churches were hidden. They did not list themselves in the phone book. They did not advertise in the paper. You had to write to Armstrong—and even that was a pig in a poke, since at no time did he indicate that he was speaking on behalf of a church. By the time you have begged Armstrong to send his goons to your door, you’re pretty much ready for anything. Of course they haven’t told you everything about their religion. Of course it requires a considerable commitment. It required uncommon effort to even ask if there was a church.

To get back to Pack for a moment, he is unique in having declared the first purpose of the church to have been fulfilled. Armstrong’s mission was accomplished. Everyone who could be warned has been warned. Everyone who could be called, has been called. As an Additive Move, Pack makes his committed Armstrongists sign a 100 page statement of intent, wherein potential church members affirm their agreement with Pack on several key issues. Mind you, all of these people have been through the doors of at least two Armstongist churches before landing with Pack.

Pack has plenty of issues. He has been marked and shunned by two other Churches of God. Pack has the unique distinction of being the first person ever disfellowshipped (excommunicated) by the Living Church of God. This is a heck of a trick, given that Pack was never a member of that church in the first place.

Pack has kept true to Armstrongist form in his internet offerings, however. He offers a magazine (PDF), a television show (narrow cast from his plush studio), a radio program (podcast) and just oodles of free booklets. Instead of Armstrong’s writings (which are owned by the Philadelphia Church of God) Pack has spent years spewing out rafts of paraphrased materials.

It’s a dubious achievement, all around. Pack can’t quite plagiarize correctly. Armstrong used to stick to the subject at hand. Pack never can. He meanders. All of Pack’s works are a scatterbrained mixture of paraphrasing, ranting commentary and nostalgic travelogue. Revealed is a sad, sick man. His video presentations are much more to the point and clearly his strong suit. Avoid the podcasts, unless you have three hour to kill. (To be charitable, the podcasts are emulated sermons and it is within Armstrongist convention for them to be that length.)

To give Pack credit, he does more of his own work than any other Armstrongist cult leader. Whereas the Philadelphia Church of God may have more material, including all of Armstrong’s cannon, a lot of it has gone far afield from Armstrong’s teachings.(*4) That is part of Pack’s draw. He doesn’t claim to be Post-Armstrong. There isn’t much in the way of new Armstrongist material. Pack’s is new, on topic and all his.

Pack’s real focus is on the second function of the church.

3. The purpose of membership in God’s True Church is to become a member of The Elect. Training up the Great God’s Elect is the second role of the Church of God. Actual salvation is up to the individual. (A variation being that it is granted by the Grace of God already.) As in Mormonism, there are several grades of salvation, not all of which require church membership. Those who simply wish to be saved can go with the whole ‘believe in Jesus’ thing. If you are nice enough, you will be corrected later. The people doing the correcting will be The Elect. Being in The Elect requires additional effort. As an Elect Cadet, you qualify to:

A. Wait out the Great Tribulation (the big disaster movie) in the Place of Safety ™. Don’t get too excited. The Place of Safety ™ is Petra, a currently uninhabited cliff dwelling in the arid middle eastern Kingdom of Jordan.

B. Rule with Christ for 1000 years after His return. In this capacity, you will be the head of a post office or a country or the Gestapo—whichever your level of Cadet achievement qualifies you for. It’s a 1000 year civil service job!

C. You become God. After 1000 years, the Great God Cthulhu (called Jesus) blows up nirvana. (Why he does this, other than being Cthulhu—which is entirely my inference—is not ever justified in the cosmology, other than it leads to the next step.) You are then elevated into the God Family, attaining God Yourself status and secret decoder ring, and sent out into the cosmos to create life on other planets and become God there. You see, man’s amazing potential is that he can become God. (Normally a contention considered Satanist by mainstream Christians and an underlying reason--along with the demoting of the character of Jesus and his teachings to sideline, sideshow status—why Armstrongism is not a Christian sect, Baptist or otherwise.) God’s purpose on Earth is to reproduce himself and keep the cycle of life churning through the universe.

Please keep in mind that all cults have some over the top drooling prize at the bottoms of their Crakerjack boxes of doom. The prize is always so much eyewash.

As for the people whom the Cadets have been lording over for 1000 years—they’re done. That was it. The 1000 year dictatorship was their heaven. (Weirdly, it was a heaven modeled on that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) After that, all of the non-Cadets are disposed of, sent into the Lake of Fire ™.(*5) Only the Cadets are truly immortal, because they are God now.

Obviously, this whole becoming God as God is God thing is a big job. It requires a lot of training and, even then, your odds are long. You can self-elect into The Elect, but that means joining the right One True Church of God.(*6) (Accept no substitutions.) Actually graduating to Cadet status is dependant upon Church ratification, specifically the say so of Herbert W. Armstrong or his correct laid on hands successors in interest.(*7) You can’t really consult Consumer Reports here.

As with salvation. becoming a member of The Elect is largely a matter of personal initiative. As opposed to helping you out, the Pastors and his henchmen are here merely to monitor your compliance. Step wrong and you are booted—an aborted godlet. Really, really bad things happen to people who are aborted godlets. It’s absolutely shuddering, almost unspeakable. (Bad luck plus a one way, no Jehovah’s Witnesses Heaven for you, trip to the Lake of Fire afterlife.) So read up and comply. The Pastor will lay down the law, by way of illustration, but that’s secondary to his real purpose of weeding out the unworthy. And there’s a lot to comply with, including:

1. Keeping the Sabbath. You may not work at all during this time. You may not take a job that requires you to work at this time. This is part of keeping all of the Ten Commandments in a very literal sense. (Armstrongism is very literal.) The Law of God extends beyond the Big Ten, but only as ratified by the church. And the church can and does change its mind, often.

2. Keep all of God’s Holy Days. These are the Old Testament Holy Days with a twist. The most important of them are the Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast or FOT). Each Holy Day has its own special offering which you are expected to make time for and have contributions to give. The Feast itself requires that you spend 10% of your gross income on it.(See tithing rules.) This is to be spent on a family vacation coupled with an extended series of church meetings. Any funds not spent on the vacation are to be given to the church.

3. Avoid contact with Unclean materials. The dietary laws alone are lengthy. Avoid processed foods. No make up. No white sugar. No white flour. Keeping kosher is a good rule of thumb, but your church is going to be more restrictive in its own fun kind of way. Tobacco is forbidden, but booze is not. Excessive booze consumption, especially at church events, is a sign of spiritual strength.

4. Beat your wife and children. The church spokesman’s club will sell you a paddle for your kids. Per church doctrine, child beating is to begin with infancy. The head of the Living Church of God claims to have spanked his daughter on her bare bottom through her teenage years. A wife is to know her place and expect correction.(*8)


5. Tithing
A. First Tithe: 10% of gross regular wage or salary, payable as you receive it. This is your contribution to the “Work of God” and is technically for Outreach. Only the One True Church carries out the work of God through its professional members (paid staff, officers or pastors.) Laity is not qualified.

B. Second Tithe: For the FOT. It is strongly suggested that 25% of this sum wind up in church hands. There will be an audit. This is for church operations.

C. Increased Tithe, First Fruits, Bonus Tithe, God’s Capital Gains Tax. 30% of gross on all non normal income. Find ten dollars on the street and give three to God. Profits on sale of assets, bonuses, lotto winnings and any other not normal gains require a 30% donation. It’s not clear what these funds are for--other than it’s none of your business.

D. Third Tithe. This 10% goes to widows and orphans and church leadership—although not exactly in that order. It’s supposed to be a poverty fund that pays the tithes for people who have no means. In some churches, you don’t have to pay it every year. (*9)

6. You must come Out of This World. This is somewhat trite. Given how much money you’re giving away, you won’t be haunting too many bowling alleys, pool halls, taverns, movies or baseball games in the first place. You do not participate in carnal society. No jury service. No voting. No military service. (*10) No working for the government, even as a contractor or the employee of a contractor. You may not own or carry a gun. Thou shall not kill has no qualifiers. Other than beating your wife and children, you are an avowed pacifist. You are to avoid all other religions’ festivals, including Christmas and Easter. These are pagan and are the result of Constantine’s corruption of the early church. Catholics are to be particularly avoided. The Pope is a henchmen of the Beast. Other ideas, people, products and trends will be disapproved of by the church on an ad hoc basis.

7. Do not read the Bible on your own. Do not witness to others. Do not recruit for or speak for the church. (*11) Again, you are not qualified. In some sects you are only allowed to read church materials on the Bible, but not the Bible itself. One common Post-Armstrongist text is Mystery of the Ages, Armstrong’s last book, which is sort of a greatest hits collection. Other sects disavow this book, but allow the reading of Armstrong’s other materials.

8. No doctors. No drugs. No doctors for the kids. No braces for the kids. Do not save up for your children’s education. Any savings that you have may be called on by the church in case of emergency. You can save a lot of money without doctors and their monkey puss drugs.

9. Divorce and remarriage. You only get one wife. If you have divorced and remarried, you must divorce your current partner and return to your first one, if possible. (The widowed are exempted, not to give you any foolish ideas.) If you cannot do this, you must live for the rest of your life without sex or masturbation. (As a minor point, masturbation is some sort of sin in Armstrongism.) Post tribulation, you will be mandated to go back to your original partner, so you might as well get on with it now. (Which is to say that if the original partner does not agree, she or he will be forced to when the end comes.)

10. The World will end Next Thursday. Or very soon. Or within your lifetime. In any case, we are in the gun lap.

Any of the above can be modified, emphasized or disposed of, depending on the edicts of your particular Church of God. Armstrong personally never followed any of them and publically broke 8, 9 and 10. In fact, Armstrong is a very bad example to go by, unless you are the cult leader.

There was a time when these rules (and other additive ones) were very strictly enforced. Today most of them are on the honor system. This is because most of the churches no longer have local congregations.

It is this sad fact that has given David Pack his opening. Over the years the churches have moved from having live sermons, to having sermon via conference call and now to the internet. Only the Living Church of God, United Church of God and the Intercontinental Church of God have widespread points of meeting. (Philadelphia Church of God’s are supposedly widespread, but in keeping with Armstrongist tradition, they are secret.) Fellowship for most is a thing done alone in the presence of a remote voice.

Mind you, there may be a home church somewhere where people do attend, but most members physically cannot. It should also be said that the majority of the brethren are nearing retirement age.

Given the reduced service level, running a church the way Pack does makes some sense. He is catering to the isolated majority. Like Pack, most of his followers are drop outs from at least one other Church of God sect. (Dave is on his third.) Dave cleaves a middle path through the top ten list above, piling on details without tightening restrictions. It’s a delicate balancing act, since Armstrongism is a swamp of details.

Of course, Pack just wants the tithes. Other than piling content onto a web page, his church’s only real function is to host the Feast—which itself is a fund raising event. No one is sure exactly how much Pack is taking in or if the church is the entirety of his income base. (He inherited a health food store chain, supposedly.) As we can see, the average Armstrongist gives roughly 22.5% of his income to the church. Even if Pack only has 50 followers, all of whom are on Social Security, he’s still sitting pretty. I’m not saying it isn’t a full time job, but few web ventures are this profitable.

If you would like to visit the Packatollah’s shrine of Internet Evil, just type Restored Church of God into Google and click through. Doing so will cost Dave some money, which is itself a blow against him. Don’t take what Dave has to say all that seriously. Dave doesn’t.

Coda:

When and if this should become a webpage on its own, I will be sure to add a section on all of the main Churches of God as well as the various Armstrong eras they preach from. Since I don’t want them to feel picked on, I will do it after placing a page about Prosperity Theology, an equally pernicious cult form. All of this will go up sometime after my Hillman piece is done.

Notes:

(*1) The United Church of God is really no better than any of the rest. It just has more owners. Although it was set up with the idea of giving laity a voice, in practice the church is run like a third world junta.

(*2) It used to be that church members were prevented from seeing doctors, so casting out of demons was the only source of external help a sick member could call upon. Casting out of demons is done in tandem with group prayer for the ill, group or solo fasting and anointing with oil. Today’s Armstrongist cults are a little less quick to cast out a paying member, no matter what his problem may be.

(*3) Most favor political commentary. The late Garner Ted Armstrong was the master of both television and radio. On radio he alternated between doing a Paul Harvey imitation and doing a disk jockey like show.

(*4) The Philadelphia Church of God spent millions in court, winning ownership of Armstrong’s writings. They have taken to re-writing them, not only in terms of style, but also substance. This church’s leader is also a somewhat prolific author. The sect has its own special texts in addition to Armstrong’s work.

(*5) This is not universally true and is somewhat of a hole in the cosmology. It’s really unclear what happens to those folks who were good enough to qualify for Jehovah’s Witnesses Heaven, but not quite good enough to attain God as God is God status. The Lake of Fire is usually reserved for people God just doesn’t think worthy of carrying forward. In Armstrongism, there is no hell. The unworthy are merely destroyed.

(*6) This requirement has been somewhat relaxed. Some sects allow that anyone from the original Worldwide Church of God has been called to The Elect, provided they find the right splinter. Staying in Worldwide up to the present, however, is considered a disqualification from The Elect, since that sect has fallen away. Many sects are ‘open’ and allow that salvation and The Elect may emerge from other Armstrongist blocks.

(*7) Armstrong’s actual successors in interest could care less at this point. They got all of his worldly trinkets and are busy throwing a party for themselves. The best estimate is that church leaders divested and split up close to 200 million in fixed assets.

(*8) Child abuse is absolutely mandatory. Wife beating is a little iffy. You certainly have all of the justification you need and many Pastors were confirmed wife beaters who encouraged their followers to do the same. That said, not all Armstrongists are wife beaters.

(*9) Misusing 3rd tithe funds is the sport of kings amongst Armstronist cult leaders. Armstrong used his for hookers and jet planes and sex toys and real estate. The State of California eventually put his church into receivership over the use of these funds.

(*10) Both voting and military service are prone to modification. Armstrong never wavered on voting. There has been a movement amongst some of the larger sects, specifically the Living Church of God and the United Church of God to join the religious Right. This is odd, considering that during its heyday, the church was considered far Left. You can’t very well have politicians suck up to you if your people won’t vote. And having people suck up to you is the name of the game. When it comes to military service, Armstrong’s rules were a little hazy. He was booted off the air in 1942 for continually predicting that the U.S. was going to lose the war. From that time on, Armstrong always tried to present a veneer of being ultra-patriotic. (And get his ass off the Un-American Activities List.) His stance on military service became nuanced to ‘don’t volunteer.’ The church had a much more dismal view of draft dodgers than it did of those unfortunate enough to have been drafted. This is similar to the tact the Mormons took.

(*11) Despite this, Armstrongist church membership spread fairly much as most churches did. People were seldom recruited by outreach, but rather by family connections. The movement had a fifty year active period and quite a few people were also born into it.

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