Letters to Michael Langone
Concerning Worldwide Church of God Changes
Letter #1 from ESN Founder & Editor of OIU Newsletters:
[all emphasis ours]
Dr. Michael Langone
American Family Foundation [name was later changed in 2004 to International Cultic Studies Association]
P.O. Box 2265
Bonita Springs, Florida 33959
I truly appreciated the time we spent on the phone discussing the ex-member outreach and questionnaire research. I was hopeful to have sent my entire package to you by now, but have been very caught up in another project that has been on going these past several months. I thought I'd give you a quick update just so you would know I haven't forgotten our discussion or focus on "project outreach."
During the conference, on Saturday evening, several of us were gathered, talking about cult strategies. I relayed at that time an overview of the WCG propaganda/thought reform operation. If you recall, I discussed my experiences and findings regarding the CRI*. I enclosed a few letters that will give you a clearer picture of the odd occurrences with certain evangelical theologians and Publishing organizations, namely CRI, Cornerstone Press, Talbot Society [Talbot School of Theology], Ruth Tucker, and other writers for Christianity Today. I'm certain there are others yet to be pegged.
For several months I have been gathering facts in relationship to the WCG's involvement with certain organizations. I've been monitoring the whole scenario as it unfolds and the picture is very alarming. Allow me to briefly review what has been going on. Being updated will aid you in spot-checking other possible related events in other cults. Also as time passes, I'm gathering more pieces to the puzzle.
Now to get to the point! Herbert W. Armstrong died in 1986. Prior to his death, many significant events unfolded. I will first give you a little background on the man/church. Little is known about the childhood of HWA. His autobiography rambles, but does not offer significant data about his childhood. However the Network has uncovered some interesting additional facts. He started working with his uncle, Frank Armstrong, in an advertising and printing firm in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1920s. Recent investigations have demonstrated that HWA and his uncle were printing church literature, war propaganda and possibly American Communist Literature. (I have a close contact that is working with me in research of HWA true history.) At that time, 1920-1930, the Communist Parties were aggressively recruiting and for a very "altruistic" purpose; i.e. to bring in a one world government that will save the sick and rotted society. Those joining the American Communist Party (ACP) were truly hopeful do-gooders that were in search of a better way and to escape the dying society. All involved had a mission and would kill for their faith, in a government. Sound familiar?
Anyway, HWA's early history starts to unfold at that time. He has several autobiographies that offer lots of hoopla, of course, but there is information, that when crosschecked with other facts and materials, offers vital facts to the past. HWA worked in his uncle's printing firm for ten years. Oddly, he has written that he didn't see his family for the entire time. No one knows why there was such an abrupt cut off with communication. In the early 1930s he started to investigate the Bible due to inspiration from his wife's involvement with the Seventh-day Adventists (So he claims!). Within a few years he was involved with the Church of God Seventh. Day (COGSD) and was reluctantly given ministerial credentials.
There are many details about all this, but for the sake of time, I'm just highlighting the events and will write a thorough account in the future.
Problems started occurring with interpersonal relationships within a few years in the COGSD [Church of God Seventh-day] government. HWA was adamant about bringing the British-Israelism/Identity Movement and the Holy Day schedule into the COGSD doctrinal system. His credentials were revoked in 1937, but he continued to organize the "Churches of God" in Oregon. Soon thereafter, he started the Radio Church of God. [renamed Worldwide Church of God in 1968]
The years progressed while he pounded the main theme of his ministry, British Israelism and the lost ten tribes. The first publication, copyright 1954, "United States and Britain in Prophecy" remains to this day, as the most widely distributed piece of HWA material. Although the church has recently halted distribution of the publication and has the doctrine on hold, it was the mainstay and foundation of the entire empire along with news interpretation and PROPHECY. Interestingly, the Encyclopedia of Cults (1970s edition) wrote that HWA was the largest, most successful proponent of the BI movement. Even though his preaching surrounded this belief and movement, his only early written materials were mimeographed Plain Truth newsletters. The radio preaching remained stable throughout the 30s and 40s. The preaching consistently pushed the "LOST TEN TRIBES." It was not until 1946 that HWA moved to Pasadena from Oregon, and set up a Bible school to train his own men to be field ministers or assistants. HWA's own education extended to the eighth grade.
This too is very interesting. In 1939, he issued a Good News stating there should be no organized church government set up on earth. [offsite article; PDF] No doubt this article was inspired by his previous experience with the COGSD government structure.
In 1952, Herbert Armstrong read the book Witness by Whittaker Chambers. He writes (plagiarizes) his account of the Witness in a Letter to Plain Truth Readers (Nov. 1967). HWA explicitly points out that it was only after reading this book that he thoroughly understood why intelligent, good people would lay their life on the line for a cause. He so aptly points out, "That cause is faith!" Faith in a government that promises a better way of life, and the answer to a dying society. Ironically, one of the first booklets printed in 1952 was, "What is FAITH?" The booklet business started in 1952 and continues today. There are well over a hundred titles with multiple reprints in addition to hundreds of other pieces of literature. The doctrines (dogma) actually started to take on definition in 1952. The next two decades (50s and 60s) proved to be very financially productive with great recruiting results from the massive amounts of printed materials, such as the prophecy-screaming Plain Truth magazines, and Global radio programs with HWA ranting his false prophesied predictions and the "Lost Ten Tribes" theme. Millions of pieces of literature were issued "freely" to the followers caught in the "either/or" clutches of Armstrongism. The massive printing presses kept heated by the repetitious printing of The Plain Truth magazine, Law and Doctrine booklets, Bible Studies, Letters. to P.T. readers membership, letters, ministerial Bulletins, etc.
It must be stated that at that time the organization did not appear in any way to be cultic or have a cult structure. The hard-core aberrant control, fear instillation, and mind-control tactics started to clearly manifest after 1952. Once individuals started reading the publications, they got hooked. The publications were riddled with threats and fear and "do it GOD'S WAY" (HWA's way) ultimatums or suffer the result by eternal death in the treacherous Lake Of Fire and cut off from Salvation!
The church held a very wealthy status by the seventies. There was a second church and college set up in Bricket Wood, England and Big Sandy, Texas. The Armstrongs lived in opulence and held many financial holdings. A month never passed when the membership was not barraged with pleas for money. Desperate pleas at that. It was commonplace for HWA to strongly request members to borrow from banks or empty their own accounts for the work of the "church," and they did it.
The membership held tightly to the Lost Ten Tribes theme. With entrenched faith, the membership was convicted that they were the "chosen people" and that HWA was God's true earthly apostle. Many times thousands of people gave all their belongings to the church, strongly believing Christ would come when HWA specified. Membership gladly adhered to totalistic regime and followed every LAW set by HWA and leaders, mainly because they were drilled repeatedly that GOD WAS IN CHARGE. It was understood without complaint that each member was personally called by God specifically to pay (up to and over 30% of the gross income) for the work and convert to God's way (as specified by HWA). This was essential in order to be counted worthy of meeting Christ on the Mount of Olives when He begins to usher in His Kingdom, with HWA's team in charge.
The 1970s offered challenges. As HWA was into his eighties, Garner Ted, his son, was assuming much of the responsibility. By 1974 it became public knowledge that there were major sexual improprieties with Garner Ted and much doctrinal error. The turbulent seventies manifested much division within the ranks. The first major fallout occurred. [Read: Worldwide Church of God History] Stanley Rader, the church's legal/accountant leader started assuming much of power. He and HWA spent up to 200 days a year flying around the globe meeting with dignitaries. Rader successfully ousted Garner Ted in 1978. In 1979 the church was confronted with a major legal battle, and entered receivership with state attorneys. Others waged personal lawsuits against the church. It was during the seventies that the Worldwide Church of God became more known and highly negatively publicized. Hundreds of newspaper articles reflected the criminal allegations, sexual perversions of HWA and his son, and financial injustices. The WCG was now known as a major cult.
The WCG legal team called on other cults (Moonies) and churches to band against the state. The receivership was dropped and business carried on. 1980 was the year tight reigns regained a hold on the church. Many restrictions of the past were repositioned such as "no make-up for woman". The strongest controls were placed on the membership. Prophecy and the LAW, were drilled to the membership. It is important to realize that NO one thought they would ever see physical death. Christ was scheduled to arrive in "their lifetime!"
HWA died in 1986 and Joseph Tkach took over as apostle. Outside of some minor changes, everything remained stable. The church saw major growth and appeared to recover from the damage of the seventies. Annual revenues exceeded two hundred million dollars. Is was not until late 1988 that a few noticeable changes took place, such as allowing woman to wear make-up again. The most noticeable doctrinal changes started to occur around 1992. This was well after the leaders started establishing relationships with publishers, and other theologians.
For the sake of time I will encapsulate the last few, years. The membership was told that God was revealing new truths to Mr. Tkach. That held as an acceptable excuse for change until more radical doctrinal statements were made; such as, Born Again, the Kingdom is here now, the Gospel of Salvation, and more recently the God issue, an adaptation of the Trinity. In conjunction with these superficially instilled doctrinal changes, the recruiting format was drastically changed. The membership is pushed into "evangelism" and is instructed to hold open houses. There is much pressure on the membership to introduce new people. One of the new threats being, "If you are not introducing members into your church, then God must not be working with you. The Headquarters church will only support those areas which have God's Spirit." (Joseph Tkach.) The regular noted television show is scheduled to be taken off the air by Sept. `94. Spot ads are replacing the program and "do good" types of recruiting ploys such as community events. The YOU (youth magazine) is the publication being pushed toward the media along with a youth focus on recruiting. Not too different from the Boston Church of Christ [International Church of Christ] method.
What the membership doesn't know, is the magnitude of what was/is going on outside the WCG wall. While the confusion, abuse and deception in major degrees flows within the ranks of WCG, the leaders have implemented a strong strategy to de-cult the organization. It is apparent that the cult positioned a strong plan almost 8 years ago to switch strategies.
A major Public Relations/advertising firm was hired in the late eighties. The leaders have dogmatically attacked public relations in ways unique to the history of the organization. The PR is evident in all publications especially The Plain Truth. It utilizes public figures like Ted Koppel, Alvin Toffler, Ruth Tucker and others, to buy credibility. The supposed adaptation of a somewhat orthodox belief system has purchased registrations into countries where they were flatly refused entry in the past. Although the membership has no idea what the doctrinal change is, if any, the public has been entertained on radio by CRI about a wonderful repentance of the WCG. A church truly walking with the Holy Spirit. The legal dept. of WCG has one out of its way to strong-arm publishers, authors and anyone else with publishing clout that they are to remove WCG from their cult list because they have made doctrinal changes and therefore are no longer a cult.
MANY Christian cult watchers and publishers have given their approval to WCG, without any evidence of change other then the propaganda fed to them by the WCG leaders. Cult information everywhere states that the WCG has "encouraging changes." Nothing could be further from the truth!
The Exit & Support Network™ has reached out on a one to one basis with CRI, Cornerstone, Talbot Society [Talbot School of Theology] and many others pleading for them to substantiate their claims that WCG has in fact changed from posturing cult maneuvers. Many recent ex-members have written letters and sent documented evidence proving that the WCG has not changed, and that the whole propaganda maneuver is directed toward the anti-cult arena.
At this time it is unclear as to why certain individuals and organizations find it so simplistic to stamp their approval on one of the more destructive cults in America's past. These same journalists have refused to accept and challenge the evidence available to them.
In closing, I must mention how uncanny it seems that such a lackadaisical attitude can permeate some in the Christian anti-cult arena when it comes to scrutinizing an operation, that for decades, has well earned the title "CULT!" This organization was/is responsible for tremendous hardships, family destruction, major deception, coercion and unspeakable abuse. The sixty years left an accumulation of several books, many exposés, hundreds of articles and newspaper clippings along with well documented accounts of the massive corruption that prevailed within the WCG. A simple propaganda ploy cannot fool those who were recipients of such an atrocity. Shame on those who sit in responsible positions and make very irresponsible decisions that overtly affect human life in a painfully negative way.
It has been the Network's present focus to provide contrasting information about the major strategic propaganda movement being orchestrated by the WCG and to pursue awareness in the anti-cult arena. I've been concentrating on a mailing and issuing much data to concerned parties. Many ex-members have asked me how they (WCG) can get away with such blatant lies. My only response is that not enough people are defending the truth.
Michael, I haven't forgotten about the "outreach" focus. I will be diligently working on the following:
---Suggestions and thoughts about the "After the Cult Conference"
---Ideas on implementing an outreach program
---Completion of a rough draft for "the "WCG Exit and Recovery Booklet"
---There was something else, but I'm finished thinking for the moment.
L. A. Stuhlman
Exit & Support Network™
NOTE: In 2004 AFF changed their name to International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).
Letter #2 from ESN:
July 8, 1994
Dr. Michael Langone
P.O. Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL. 33959
This is just a continuation from the last mailing, I want to keep you informed of the developments. I strongly feel there is much more going on with all this than meets the eye. Cults have certainly become very fashionable and it appears that the reason (or agenda) is orchestrated with much more organization than cult watchers may be willing to admit or scrutinize. I know that sounds a little conspiratorial, but fear not ...so far I think my head is screwed on OK!
- I'm still working on many things, and will forward materials upon completion. 1 have been putting together a Newsletter for the WCG ex-members and it has detoured my time just a little. The summer is coming and going and I'm spending it buried in research and work. I will be taking a week off at the end of July and again in the third week of August. The schedule has thrown me off a bit.
- Everything I am doing in relationship to WCG relates directly to all cult awareness pursuits, especially the outreach. The more I do each day, the more I can see the same work fitting into cult awareness, research and outreach on a bigger scale. Thanks for your patience while I chop up each priority in succession.
- Please feel free to offer any feed-back regarding my letters or information sheets.
- When we were at the conference in Stony Brook, I had no idea that CRI [Christian Research Institute] had such behind the scenes dealings of this magnitude. All I knew at that time was the CRI story, Cornerstone story and WCG story, which is all related. This is a big cult story. The same Christian cult watching organizations that are in trouble these days, are the ones whom WCG has been working with very closely. WCG never intended to go mainstream! They have teamed up with another bad movement. The conjuncture of this whole situation is too evident to be taken lightly.
- I would like to write a brief article about the WCG for the next Cult Observer. May I, and what would be the due date?
- In regards to the next conference scheduled, I would suggest to split the second day program up in a different fashion. The overall content of the conference in Stony Brook was informative and directly pertained to the priorities needing to be addressed for ex-cult members. I felt it might be helpful to share some thoughts on the conference. My limited time prevents me from getting lengthy (lucky you), but I'd be happy to talk about it another time.
The topics covered on day two in Stony Brook tended to be related in an emotionally heavy manner. Let me explain! Firstly, presentations such as Frozen Emotions, followed by the Grieving Process, tends to set up an emotional response from the cult victims. That's not so bad, but the afternoon seemed to be back end loaded with the Spiritual Issues followed by the Wrap-up. My personal feeling was that the wrap-up did not serve its purpose. The entire day dealt with heavy issues that were very triggering for anyone, let alone cult victims. The spiritual panel was more of a group therapy setting that seemed to raise issues that, of course, could not be handled or dealt with in such a shot-gun setting. Instead, it appeared to cause an emotional snowball effect. People seemed to be left hanging after dealing with spiritual issues and then without reprieve, jumped into the wrap-up. The wrap-up seemed to continue the emotional downhill spiral, which left people possibly feeling very unsettled and confused. Many people did leave before the wrap-up.
Unless I'm mistaken, the Wrap-up should serve as a possible pull together and preparation towards infiltrating back into the outside world. It is tough to find positive things to focus on, but it can be done. The Stony Brook Wrap-up ended with most everyone crying. There were issues that were discussed in the Wrap-up that should have been handled on a one to one. Those things happen, but I do feel that group therapy dynamics could probably pull the Wrap-up together in a way that meets the needs of the victim's re-entry into the outside after a very protective weekend.
I personally had to take inventory of myself the following week after the meeting. That's OK, but I found I was really drained and despondent for reasons that were not necessary or actually related to me personally. I had a "what's the use?" attitude. Actually, I was not very productive in any way the following week after the meeting. I do think that what I was experiencing is probably representative of what others may have been feeling.
Even though the weekend is short, the registrants must deal with termination issues. The wrap-up could serve to deal with a review and packaging of the weekend and then focus on positive actions to continue recovery. I didn't feel that this occurred. People were angry, tired and highly emotional especially with the people from the psyche cult. The entire day program was heavy enough to assimilate and digest in conjunction with having to deal with spiritual issues, without having to deal with such a heavy wrap-up to top it all off.
Suggestions: Place Spiritual Concerns at the end of the first day. Staff should be available for counseling during the evening hours. Registrants should be able to have the time to talk through their issues (if need be) or at least have the next day to equalize their emotions. Spiritual concerns could be handled in a presentational setting as an introduction to the thinking process and then opened up to listener's comments. The round table setting fosters the floodgates to open, but time doesn't allow a dam to be built to handle the emotional force (if you know what I mean). Another interesting tidbit for what it's worth.....priests with white collars are very triggering and anger-provoking for many Bible-based cult (BBC) victims. One of the reasons for this is the fact that many Bible-based cult people were running from the "Catholic" regime. Many have had bad experiences with priests. The cults attack the Catholic religions in a major way. If a priest is running the Spiritual Issue group, he may want to remove his collar! This is no offense intended against the priests or religion, but it is a big issue to many who have come from BBCs.
Emotional topics such as Frozen Emotions, The Grieving Process and Spiritual Issues, could be scattered on the program. As it were, day two's program served as a step toward an emotional build. Again, that's not terrible; emotion is real. The problem lies with the participant being left hanging emotionally upon leaving, instead of focusing on the good parts of the conference. The positives of the conference may be overshadowed by the despondence or heaviness. The Stony Brook program seemed to defeat its purpose a bit on day two. That, of course, is my opinion.
Follow up each conference with a questionnaire pertaining to the conference. I would suggest mailing the questionnaire a week after the conference. Most people cannot offer good suggestions right after the conference and others easily forget to mail it in or misplace it with handouts. (I will be happy to work on this questionnaire also after I get through the other tasks. No kidding!)
I hope you receive these suggestions happily. If a better explanation is preferred, feel free to allow me to clarify any points.
L. A. Stuhlman
Exit & Support Network™
*CRI (Christian Research Institute) is also known as Christian Research International.
Related Article: Worldwide Church of God and Herbert Armstrong (history, background and changes) by L. A. Stuhlman
UPDATE on WCG:
In November 2004 the Worldwide Church of God moved its headquarters from Pasadena to Glendora, California. In April 2009, they changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.) Today they have gone on to embrace New Age Teachers and philosophies. Read: Grace Communion International - New Age and Ecumenical Connections and Letter to Worldwide Church of God, Philippines (On Apostasy--A Radical Proposal) (this letter reached close to 350 WCG ministers, including those at Headquarters).