Earl Williams and the Worldwide Church of God
When Joseph Tkach, Sr. went to Georgia to "straighten things out" with Earl Williams, and then ended up going along with Mr. Williams (agreeing with him in his preaching grace), he (Joseph Tkach, Sr.) did not say--not once--that Earl was right, as a brother in Christ, because he did not want Earl to get the credit. Furthermore, Tkach, Sr. was angry that Earl punched a big hole into WCG's "slowly poison them with New Truth" agenda. Earl's open preaching of grace was causing a major division in the church that Tkach could no longer ignore. The poison was not the real truth about the covenant of grace, it was Headquarters trying to promote it to the members as "God revealing New Truth to His chosen Apostle." As Tkach, Sr. said many times, Worldwide Church of God wanted to make the changes slowly so they could retain the membership (and money).
I know for a fact that Earl was preaching grace because I attended his congregation in May 1991, and he spoke at the Feast in Corpus Christi, Texas that same year about it. Others personally talked to him on the phone. Because Mr. Williams was openly preaching grace and because there was an underground circulation of his tapes, it caused a major rift in the WCG. I also remembered something else. The family that was passing Earl's tapes underground was in contact with Sharon Griffith who was in direct contact with Tkach, Sr. (Read Sharon's Open Letter to Joseph Tkach, Jr.) He asked her something to the effect of "what should be done to make the changes better (or acceptable, something like that)" and she told him, "You need to tell the members that Herbert Armstrong was not God's Apostle, and you need to tell them that you are not God's Apostle." She said that there was dead silence on his end of the phone. She knew right then that the changes were not for real and Tkach, Sr. was not going to give up his power, so she left the WCG. (Update: Read more about this in October 26, 2007 letter: "How I Know Every Word in Open Letter to Joseph Tkach, Jr. is True.")
The Sabbath that WCG's so-called "Christmas Eve sermon" took place, I clearly remember people rushing about in excitement. I was clueless as to what was happening. I remember hearing two things at church:
- There's a showdown in Georgia. God's Apostle (Tkach, Sr.) is going to set that man (Mr. Williams) straight!
- There are some BIG changes coming our way! Didn't you know?
Now wouldn't one think that if the WCG were truly a Christ-loving organization, they would have mentioned that Earl Williams was a brother in Christ? Wouldn't they have thanked him for opening their eyes? (It was through Earl that I began reading cult recovery books, none of which are mentioned by the WCG to its membership). HQ was afraid that if they gave Earl the credit, members would break off and follow him, and they weren't going to allow that to happen. Many remember the comment made by a HQ leader, in Portland, that David Covington picked up, that Earl "just wanted to be white." I still have Earl's tapes1 that were being circulated at that time and not once did he say "Look to me."
I remember some of the evangelists and I always had the feeling that they looked down their nose at members. However, Earl Williams was very down-to-earth. He was even setting up the chairs at the church hall where we met, so I had no clue he was the minister. He smiled and shook my hand while setting up. I have never known a minister to condescend to such a level.
Problems With Headquarters:
Later a story circulated that Williams had sued the WCG for his retirement benefits, but the story was taken completely out of context. He never sued WCG. Here is what really happened2:
Earl began to have more and more problems as he continued to preach grace. He had felt he was to separate from the WCG four years before he actually did, but he kept preaching grace (even though others wanted him to start another church) because he felt God hadn't really made it clear that he was to leave the WCG yet. Things were becoming very intense. Right before Tkach, Sr. came to Atlanta, while Mr. Williams was praying, God convicted him that he was to separate from the WCG and start a local church to focus on the community. Earl told God that he didn't have the faith, courage or strength to do this, but he said that he was willing to be obedient to what God wanted.
The next week he had his resignation typed up and notarized. When Tkach, Sr. arrived he told him about the pressure he was under from the ministry because of what he was preaching and that he was going to resign. Tkach said, "If you leave the church, you will lose your salvation." Earl answered, "My salvation is in Christ." Tkach replied, "Don't resign, I'm going to make these changes." Mr. Williams went away perplexed, but he ended up staying, something he later realized was disobeying what God first told him to do.
Earl Williams tried to make things work, but the pressures increased and certain members around the country blamed him for the changes. Then he wrote Joseph Tkach, Sr. and told him he was going to resign and how he had received threats against him and his family. He asked for a fair retirement benefit, but he was only offered 26 weeks pay. He had worked for the WCG for 26 years by this time and since he felt he was being forced out of his job and slandered all over the country, he later talked to a CPA and an attorney and wrote a letter to Tkach, Sr. thanking him for the 26 weeks pay he offered him, but he didn't understand the problems, and that he would like to work it out. It became an issue of settlement and Mr. Williams said he later regretted and repented for asking for anything.
After Williams wrote that letter, he was suspended and it was announced in several congregations (and later was on the Internet) that he was "suing the church for racial discrimination." This was false because he was not suing.
Then Williams and his family were suspended from the ministry and membership. He didn't ask for any grievances to be investigated, but called Tkach, Sr. and said he didn't have to give him anything, that he resigned, and he wanted a simple statement to be made that they were not suing the church and that the letter that was being read all over the country be retracted because it was out of context.
Mr. Williams asked to come back to services and give a farewell sermon, to let people know what really happened, to encourage people to forgive, to work through the racial difficulties and anger and learn to dwell together. He was at first told it was "approved," and he could come back. However, the next day he was called and told the "deacons and elders" did not want him to come back. This was questionable because six of the elders and half of the deacons had resigned, so how could it be unanimous? He was later told by those that were there that it wasn't even presented to the deacons and elders, but had already been approved by the Pastor General! It was only discussed by those there and it was not unanimous. (An interjection needs to be made here that this is the way cults work, especially in the process of abusing those they have targeted.)
When Earl Williams finally did resign in 1995, he wrote a memo and sent it out to the leadership. He has stated that his main reason for resigning was pressure from preaching the true gospel. [Mr. Williams is mentioned in OIU Newsletter 3, Pt. 2 and a personal letter from him is published in OIU Newsletter 3, Pt. 5.]
Many have wondered if WCG didn't just use Mr. Williams to "pave the way" for the changes. After all it was overheard that Tkach, Sr. said that Earl "pre-empted him" and that he didn't like that. Tapes from Mr. Williams were circulating widely in 1994-1995 and many came out of WCG congregations because of hearing him explain the New Covenant of grace and the difference between true and false spiritual authority. At that time, however, if members had openly started talking about Earl Williams' tapes and passing them around to members in plain sight, they would have been admonished by the minister. I know in my area we were told by our minister that if anyone expressed any dichotomies he (the minister) wouldn't say what he would do and more so what God would do! I'm sure now that several ministers knew exactly what was coming (the changes) because they kept putting off talking to certain members that wanted answers to questions concerning doctrinal issues such as tithing. Worldwide Church of God has not only covered up the realities of what constitutes a deceptive, exploitive religious group, but they covered up the history of what really happened concerning Earl Williams.
Not too long after Earl Williams resigned and founded "Christ Church of Grace" in Decatur, Georgia, an unhappy former member started circulating rumors against Williams and his new church, saying that his church was "on the way to becoming a cult," that Williams was "an abusive and autocratic leader," and he had turned away from preaching the truth "as revealed in Scripture." Some wondered if it was legit. After this grievance was printed in the Ambassador Report, I wrote Mr. Williams a letter3 and asked him about the entire situation. He replied that he wasn't even aware of it; furthermore, the AR had not even contacted him before publishing it. He said that the man who wrote it had left their fellowship and had been "very negative" against them. (And by the way, when I wrote this former member who had levied the criticism against Earl Williams' church, he never replied.) Williams emphasized that Christ Church of Grace was "more Christ centered and grace based than ever before," and he sent me a tape of their services, plus his letter to the brethren and info on the church's beliefs and mission. He let me know that I could call him with any specific questions. Williams believed that God would use this situation for good and he forgave the AR and the man for "any harm they may have caused." I found nothing wrong with William's church service, and it was certainly not a "cult" or cultic. No one is perfect, but it appears that Earl Williams has received quite a bit of criticism (and rumors) since he left the WCG and usually without giving him a chance to explain his side of the story.
Another criticism, or rumor, against Williams is that the church he founded has now dwindled away to only a few members. I remember Earl saying, even early in his ministry, people left Christ Church of Grace because they thought he should still keep the Feast days. I think the reason he appealed to people back then was due to the removal of tithing. People were grossly burdened with the 3 tithe system. When Earl Williams mentioned that the ministers themselves did not keep all 3 tithes, people saw the hypocrisy in that and rebelled. But like a man who has been kept in solitary confinement for decades, and is suddenly released, members were faced with making their own decisions and many were terrified at the enormity of personal responsibility. They would rather stay in prison where it is "safe." Safer to let WCG decide for them what they should eat, what they should wear, what they should do--every day. Yes, it was restricting, but it was comfortable. When we don't deal with the problems we carry, we fall back into the same old patterns of behavior.
God Works With Men of Faith:
God has always worked with men of faith. Earl was used by God for that particular time to release the bonds of the WCG members. God's purpose is to bring salvation to the lost, not to build up physical empires so men can boast "God is with me because He is blessing me, and my physical blessings are proof that He is with me! You can be blessed this way, too, if you follow my formula for success!" There are many religious cults that profess these things.
We are grateful for all those men, such as David Robinson, author of Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web, William B. Hinson, author of The Broadway to Armageddon, Marion J. McNair, author of Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-Off? Kenneth Westby, Jack Kessler, Robert Gerringer, Richard Plache, and others, who stood up and said, "There is something terribly wrong here!" If they had not had the courage and convictions to do so, where would we be today?
By K. Marshall and D. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
January 19, 2003
Updated July 16, 2011
Note: Earl Williams was a 1972 graduate of Ambassador College, Pasadena, CA.
READ: Was Atlanta a "Test" Area? (info sent to ESN)
UPDATE: As of 2008, Earl Williams' Christ Church of Grace is located in Stone Mountain, Georgia and is reformed in nature.
2 Taken from Earl's sermon: "Christ Church of Grace: How We Got Started."
3 Letters and reply on file with ESN.
Let Go of Days, Take Hold of Christ (Transcript of an Earl Williams' sermon)