Philadelphia Church of God
and the Place of Safety
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that the "Place of Safety" was going to be Petra, a wilderness area in Jordan where qualified members would remain for 3 l/2 years in caves, during "the Great Tribulation" and "the horrors of World War III." While HWA would always cover himself by adding that "we don't know for sure where the place of safety will be" and "we shouldn't get our minds on a physical place of safety" (as Gerald Flurry is fond of saying), there were sermons, Bible studies and articles over the years about it.
To just mention a few:
Herman L. Hoeh (former evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God; deceased since 2004) wrote an article in the June 1963 Plain Truth entitled "If World War III Comes--There is a Way of Escape!" Hoeh also wrote, "This is PETRA!" in The Good News, April 1962, implying that Petra would be the "place of safety." The article included a number of photos of Petra. Hoeh directed the question to members as to whether they were going to believe God "no matter where He revealed they should go and no matter by what route." He said God's will was to be revealed to "God's ministers" alone (the same as Flurry teaches). This place of safety was only for those who remained faithful and obedient to the "government of God" (i. e. HWA and Headquarters).
The October 1963 Worldwide Church of God Good News had a full picture of Petra on the front cover. The article, which was authored by David Jon Hill,1 was entitled, "PETRA!" It told how Petra had "no water," and "no visible food supply," but "plenty of caves." Along with several pictures, this article talked about what a member's "attitude" should be toward the "place of safety" and that having "complete faith in God" was going to be the "only real protection" after they arrived there, and if they couldn't have absolute faith in God NOW for everything, they simply wouldn't be there. The date members of the WCG were to flee to this "place of safety" was January 7, 1972 (which was considered the end of a "19-year time cycle").
"We see very, very clearly that the Bible very strongly--very, very strongly--indicates that Petra is the place that God is going to protect His church." He went on to say that "God is going to take His people and put them to an intensive training course for 3 l/2 years." He said condominiums were going to be built by the Jordanians (which the privileged leaders would stay in?), but he also talked about how members would remodel the caves and area and that there would be "a school system that works," "a college that works," "churches and congregations," and "a sewer system." He said everyone will have to go to Ambassador College and Ambassador Club "whether you like it or not!" And after 3 l/2 years members "will be ready to take over the reigns of government" (in this world). (Richard Frankel, WCG sermon, "Petra," Nov. 8, 1980.)
Philadelphia Church of God (headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma) claims to follow all of Herbert Armstrong's teachings and likewise causes members to focus on a place of safety. In July 1995 members were told there are "strong indications" that Petra will probably be the place they will flee to and, "there is no place on earth like Petra. I know of no other region that would be a better place to protect God's people from nuclear warfare."2
During the feast in 1998, members were shown the video "Behind the Work" in which there was much emphasis on Petra.3
Nevertheless, Gerald Flurry has made it clear that "only those who finish God's Work are to be taken to a place of safety."4 He has even referred to it as their "ticket" by saying: "Backing and supporting this message is your ticket to a place of safety and a magnificent reward."5
In 2002 Flurry said: "Mount Paran is probably within the area where the place of safety will be. Petra is in this vicinity."6
In a May 1, 2004 sermon, Flurry said, "God may be giving a special protection to the nation of Jordan. Is it because that is where God's people will be protected during the Tribulation? ... Is God going to take us to a place of safety there? It sure looks like that to me."
In Flurry's 2005 booklet (Jude - The Most Urgent Prophecy Yet for This End Time!) he refers (as did HWA from the 1930's on) to a "coming holocaust just ahead of us." The cover on this booklet depicts the shadow of an adult leading a child by the hand and gives the impression that they are fleeing for their lives from impending doom. Notice some quotes: [bolding ours]
"We are getting very close to the time when we will be taken to a place of safety, as was the church in A.D. 70."
"God's church again will have to be delivered to a place of safety."
"'And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands [10,000] of his saints' (Jude 14). ... This verse ties in with Deuteronomy 33:1-2, which speaks of 10,000 saints coming from Mount Paran, located in Petra, Jordan. It is a prophecy about Christ personally bringing His people back from a place of safety in the end time. This, too, shows the time frame of Jude's message. This book is aimed at the PCG today!"
In order to keep from appearing too dogmatic about Petra being the "place of safety," he sometimes writes as he did in his revised 2000 booklet, The Key of David: [bolding ours]
"Munitions of rocks is better translated strongholds of Sela, referring to the famous city of Petra. This rock fortress has been used over past centuries as a well-defended stronghold. It is the perfect place for God to protect His people from nuclear fallout and other dangers of nuclear war. Still, we don't know for certain where that place of safety will be."
In a sermon on May 1, 2004 he said:
"Is God going to take us to a place of safety there? [Jordan] It sure looks like that to me."
However, PCG members still believe they will be going to Petra. Our article: Memories About Petra shows what WCG members were taught by Herbert Armstrong about this "place of safety" in Jordan (and which is very similar to what PCG members are being taught). At the end of that article the following topics are briefly covered: "Why Was Petra Chosen as the Place of Safety?" "WCG and the Place of Safety Teaching," "HWA's Duplicitous Statements on the Place of Safety," and "Certain Splinter Groups and Offshoots Continue Same Teaching."
PCG members are exhorted to be "willing to die" for their faith. One example follows: [bolding ours]
"And Christ wants to know what His wife's going to do. Do you really LOVE ME? DO YOU LOVE ME, God says, ARE YOU PHILADELPHIANS? Philadelphians do. Laodiceans don't. And they'll die for God. That's certainly what they'll do, if that is required." ("Disfellowshipping in God's Family of Love," Sermon by Gerald Flurry, January 3, 1998)
"When we were baptized, we covenanted with God that we would be willing to give up our own life—our blood—if it was required (Luke 14:25-26). This is also a small part of the reason it is a covenant of blood. We too must have a total commitment to this majestic covenant with God—even to the point of shedding our blood." (Zechariah--The Sign of Christ's Imminent Return, 2010, chap. 7, by Gerald Flurry)
Of course, "dying for their faith," has also included turning down necessary medical treatment.
In this same sermon (when later referring to Malachi 3:16-17) Flurry said:
"God says that He is going to take them to a place of safety." (Ibid.)
In 2003 Flurry figured January 16, 2010 could be the start of the Great Tribulation or some other disaster to happen. (January 16 is the month and day that Herbert W. Armstrong died in 1986 and is considered an important date to members. It is also considered the end of another "19-year time cycle.") Flurry has always told his members they may have a little more time to "finish the Work," but at the same time he continually emphasizes that "time is running out." Notice:
"We have only 'minutes' left to do God's work of warning the world." (Jude, 2005)
"Is it outrageous to think we could be only five years away from when armies will surround the ‘city of peace?" (Royal Vision, March-April 2005)
"[We are] specifically in the last hour of the last end of the Matthew 24 end of the latter days." (The Last Hour, 2004)
"We are in the last hour—only a tiny little span of time to finish this Work." (Dear Brethren and co-workers in Christ letter, 2/2/04)
"...we are awfully close to the Tribulation!" (Co-worker letter, 8/13/08)
Flurry's warning (which is identical to HWA's) is that only those who are involved in "the Work of God" (i. e., loyal to Headquarters) with their focus on the Kingdom of God will be taken to the "place of safety" and the others (considered Laodiceans) will be left behind to burn in the "fires of nuclear war."
"These prophecies are going to become so devastating that God is going to take the Philadelphia Church of God to a place of safety to save their lives...The Laodiceans will die in the Great Tribulation discussed in Matthew 24:21." (Lamentations and the End-Time Laodiceans by Gerald Flurry, 1993, p. 2)
"And one day, we will flee to God to take us to a place of safety from the Great Tribulation. ... The Laodiceans have lost that stronghold. God is not going to protect them from the Great Tribulation." (Ezekiel The End-Time Prophet by Gerald Flurry, 2002, p. 99)
Yet he continues to build buildings on his land and to coerce members into "donating to the building fund." Construction on a Hall of Administration began in 2004 and plans were finalized in 2005 for an Armstrong Auditorium (also called a "House for God") to be built on 170 acres. (Read 2007 article: Gerald Flurry Plans to Build a "House for God") In January 2008, PCG broke ground for this building and when it was finally finished in 2010 it was said to cost $20 million. [Update: In 2012 Flurry told the members that the building actually cost $25 million because they had not included the cost of landscaping. (December 26, 2012 letter to ESN)]
In a July 26, 2008 sermon at PCG's Philadelphia Youth Camp (PYC), he said he believed the Tribulation would be here "in five years or less."
In a sermon on August 9, 2008, he said the Tribulation "would begin in around five years."
A sermon was given on January 31, 2009: "Preparing to Go To the Place of Safety."
In April 2010, in a sermon, Gerald Flurry changed his mind again and extended the "last hour" for another decade.
While Flurry has stated that there must be 10,000 members before they flee to the "place of safety," PCG's membership has been declining from the 7,000 they claimed several years ago, and in 2009 is now closer to 5,000 or less, with approximately 3,800 baptized members. (Read 2009 letter to ESN: Membership Down in PCG.) Today many local congregations are reported to be only between 10 and 25 members. They have closed down some small congregations with the members now traveling to larger ones. Members continue to exit.
A few questioned whether it is possible that the land on which Imperial College7 is located could be used as some type of compound in case of a government siege? Flurry bought land for their college in 2003 with a small landing strip, along with building a swimming pool and other buildings in 2004. They put in their own sewage treatment system on this land and it might be capable of temporarily handling over 7000 people. (See: My Nightmare in Philadelphia Church of God.) An announcement was made in 2001 that the swimming pool was also to serve as an emergency water supply in case of fire, or other needs. Some members believe that the reason Flurry has constructed these buildings was because they were going to "need a place of protection in the future" or else "members may have to gather in Edmond before fleeing to Petra." Could this airstrip be used to flee the country? Those who have viewed the area up close say there is not much room for a runway and, besides, there are utility poles close by and PCG can't do anything to remove those. This hardly would be adequate to transport a group of people out of Edmond.
Petra is a tourist attraction, with many hotels, and especially since Y2K Jordan has been much more cautious about apocalyptic groups who are saying they are "preparing for Armageddon" and wanting to move into their land. They have even sent some back home. Furthermore, after a trip there, Flurry is no longer welcome in Jordan.8
Still, some who have family inside PCG have wondered if Gerald Flurry will become fanatical enough to actually attempt to take members to an isolated, secluded place, and could it possibly end up to be another Jim Jones catastrophe? First of all, PCG is considered nowhere near a militant Jim Jones or David Koresh cult, even though there are similarities in doctrine between Koresh and PCG9.
- Does Flurry have access to a fleet of airplanes with which to transport a large number of people out of the country?
- Who is going to pay for all these airplanes or jets, including the fuel?
- If members begin selling their houses, cars, etc. for cash (as WCG members were told they were to do), wouldn't family members become suspicious? Wouldn't the authorities be notified?
- If they are to meet in Edmond first, how will Flurry have enough food to feed everyone?
- If they are to board airplanes in their own city, how can they just head for a particular place in the wilderness and meet everyone?
- What about needy members overseas? How are they going to get there?
- How will Flurry determine who is to go and who is to stay?
- Is the Jordanian government willing to allow a body of people to come in and "colonize" Petra? (Would any government allow them to settle in?)
There are many more questions one could ask. But we can see that logistically and financially, this scenario would be a nightmare and a near impossibility. PCG members dare not ask Flurry questions such as the above, or to express any doubts. If members are queried about these things, they will unthinkingly answer the same way as WCG members did, "God will take care of it."
In 2013 PCG announced that Petra is no longer the place of safety and Headquarters' ministers are checking out the possibility of a "new place of safety." Read: Place of Safety No longer in Petra (March 18, 2013 letter to ESN) for more details.
PCG believes they will be persecuted in the future. They believe "the Work" will finally end and armies will surround Jerusalem. It is at this time that they believe it will be time to "flee."10 Herbert Armstrong preached this same fear doctrine for decades. No one ever fled anywhere. Members simply continued to pay in more and more money, as PCG members are doing.
HWA, for decades, predicted end time scenarios and talked of a "place of safety." When every one of his WW II prophecies failed, he said his "timing was wrong" but they would be fulfilled in the "next war"--WW III. In the meantime he convinced his co-workers and members that a college needed to be built. When his later prophecies also failed--especially the 1972 ones--he merely said God had given them "more time to do the Work" and shifted their attention. Flurry will undoubtedly say something similar.
As Gerald Flurry continues to use the "place of safety" ploy the same way HWA did, members will fear to leave PCG lest they be left to go through the Great Tribulation. Leaving PCG, in their minds, is the same as "leaving God." Flurry tells them, "Fear of God must always be with us."11 But this is the wrong kind of fear. It is the fear of a man whom they are unknowingly putting between themselves and the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not know they have been deceived, as countless thousands before them were deceived by the false teacher and false prophet Herbert Armstrong.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
December 2, 2005
Last updated March 18, 2013
1 David Jon Hill died November 2002.
2 June 23, 1990 sermon by Gerald Flurry to PCG members; Nov./Dec. 1998 issue of Royal Vision; "The Place of Safety," The Philadelphia Trumpet, July 1995; The Key of David by Gerald Flurry, Jude by Gerald Flurry, 2005, Habakkuk by Gerald Flurry, p. 27, and others.
3 October 15, 1998 email to ESN.
4 The Philadelphia Trumpet, "The Place of Safety," July 1995.
5 Malachi's Message, Chap. 9, p. 144.
6 Sept/Oct 2002 Royal Vision, "Habakkuk reveals the outcome of the court case."
9 David Koresh and his members all kept the Seventh day Sabbath and also believed the books of Daniel and Revelation had been unsealed. They claim to have the Key of David. They teach that the Daily (a.k.a. the "Continual") has been taken away. They give the identification of the tribes of Israel today. They teach about the Elijah messenger. They hold to clean and unclean foods. They teach about the two trees, and the two witnesses. They also claim to understand the firstfruits harvest. They claim New Truth and New Revelation. They distinguish their faith as special and unique and they believe they are God's chosen people and are living in the end times. More can be read in: "An Open Letter to our Acquaintances in Worldwide Church of God" by founder of ESN.
10 There have been many variations on this theme. Sometimes the date they watch is January 16 (when HWA died); other times they think it will happen on one of the feast days; i. e., the Feast of Tabernacles. In the WCG, it was never clear either. In earlier years the Night Much To Be Remembered was thought by some to be the night members would leave the country; later the date was figured to be January 7, 1972 (the end of a 19-year time cycle)
11 Jude by Gerald Flurry, 2005.