Did Herbert Armstrong ever abuse those under him? Or was he a true servant of God? If he abused them, how did he do it?
If you have been in Worldwide Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, Living Church of God, Restored Church of God, or any other high demand, authoritarian splinter group of WCG that teaches HWA was “God’s true servant,” or “used by God,” you may be wondering if you have suffered abuse. First of all, what do we mean by abuse? The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition gives us a good definition:
Abuse: a deceitful act: DECEPTION; language that condemns or vilifies, usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily; physical maltreatment; to use so as to injure or damage: MALTREAT; to attack in words: REVILE.
Oppressive, totalitarian religious groups are known to use psychological abuse.
Psychological abuse refers to practices that, simply stated, treat a person as an object to be manipulated and used, rather than as a subject whose mind, autonomy, identity, and dignity are to be honored.” (Langone, 1992)
Did Herbert Armstrong use his authority to heal or to wound? To release or to bind? To comfort or to crush? To reveal God’s truth (the true gospel), or to hide it? Did he treat his members like a gentle shepherd over his flock? Or did HWA use his power to dominate and control every aspect of his members’ lives, sapping their spiritual life from them, and blinding them to the real meaning of the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ? Did he build them up, or did he shatter their lives into tiny pieces, bringing untold agony, tragedy, pain, anguish and loss? (Includes at end: How Did the Worldwide Church of God Abuse its Members?
“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure
bringeth forth evil things.” ~Matthew 12: 35
Let’s take a look at a few of these specific abuses:
The WCG’s Healing Doctrine1 instructed members that it was “a lack of faith” to take life saving medicine, go for an operation, or see a doctor (except for “repair surgery” such as broken bones). Thousands of people, including helpless children, died as a result. Many others (even after exiting) still suffer from ill, or impaired, health today due to the “no doctor rule.” That’s abuse! (This policy is thoroughly covered in The Broadway to Armageddon by William B. Hinson, Chapter 8, “Armstrong on Medicines,” sub heading: “HOW THE WORLD WIDE CHURCH OF GOD ESCAPES PROSECUTION WHEN THEY LET ONE OF THEIR MEMBERS DIE FROM MEDICAL NEGLECT.”)
Multitudes of marriages were torn apart due to the Divorce and Remarriage doctrine (1934 to 1974). Couples that had been married previously were told that in order to be baptized, they had to both separate. These people were forced to live out the rest of their lives without a mate, including having their children separated from their parents. Many were close to suicide because of desperation and hopelessness. [For a horrific story, read: Home-breaking – Armstrong Style by Al Corrozzo] Yet when HWA wanted to marry a divorcee, he changed the D&R ruling and said he had received “new truth.”2 That’s abuse!
Members were instructed to cut off with family members that gave trouble, or who had left the “true church.” Relationships with “unconverted” spouses, relatives, friends, and children were seriously hindered or broken. That’s abuse!
Herbert Armstrong continually begged members for more money for “God’s Work,” coercing many to borrow money from the bank, turn over their life’s savings, give up jobs and college educations, and endure heavy financial burdens. The poor, the widowed and the fatherless deprived themselves of the necessities of life, including food, clothing and shelter to give to his fraudulent cause.3 Members paid 1st tithe, 2nd tithe, 3rd tithe, tithe of the tithe, holy day offerings, regular offerings, garden tithe; donated to the emergency fund (“love fund”), and building fund. The ministers, in the meantime, paid no 2nd tithe, no 3rd tithe, received a car, a house, the best lodging at the feast, and other perks, living quite comfortably; turning their ears from the cries of their members. (Read: Financial Exploitation in WCG) That’s abuse!
Members and children were kept toiling under a heavy load of burdens as HWA twisted the Scriptures to hide the true meaning of grace and the New Covenant, telling members they must “obey God’s Law or come under a curse,” when the reality was it was the Lord Jesus Christ that already bore the curse for us on Calvary. That’s abuse!
Herbert Armstrong would have emotional outbursts, shout angrily, disfellowship members, and harshly upbraid anyone under him who dared to disagree with him, point out he was wrong, or go against him, instead of unquestionably submitting to him. That’s abuse!
Herbert Armstrong copied doctrines from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventists and Church of God 7th Day, distorted historical church documents, and then lied to members by saying WCG was God’s “one and ONLY truly church” and that only he was teaching the restored gospel (God’s “truth”) revealed to him for our generation. That’s abuse!
Many top ministers secretly lived a life of opulence, immorality, sexual perversion, lies, cover-ups, corruption, and shady dealings4, even using 3rd tithe for their own use, and then told the members they were the “true ministers of God” and should be obeyed at all cost. That’s abuse!
Women, members, and Ambassador College students were degraded, abused, shamed, raped, molested and sexually abused by WCG ministers, deacons and elders. That’s abuse!
Wives, and especially wives of ministers, were demeaned, told they weren’t submissive enough, and controlled and abused in every way by husbands that believed they were enforcing the “government of God” in their home. (The same applied to harsh “correction” doled out by top ministers.) Many became traumatized and despondent. That’s abuse!
Men members were subjected to verbal abuse and harsh “correction” by their superiors creating emotional trauma and despondency. That’s abuse!
Single men and women were forbidden to marry the one they loved because that person was outside “the church,” “mismatched” (or ineligible in some other way). That’s abuse!
Children were beaten and emotionally and sexually abused by ministers, ministers’ sons, and by family members; they were controlled, hindered, berated, shamed, indoctrinated with fear, isolated from society and made to feel different.5 That’s abuse!
Questions, doubts, different opinions and negative feelings were not allowed; the person being told he had a bad attitude, was rebellious, not submissive to “the government of God,” falling away from “the Truth,” or influenced by (or had) demons–and the painful feelings were kept locked deep within while the will was slowly broken. That’s abuse!
People were disfellowshipped for all manner of illogical reasons; kicked out, told they had lost God’s Holy Spirit, shunned, made to feel they were doomed for the Lake of Fire or the Great Tribulation–unless they repented of their supposed sins. That’s abuse!
Those raised in the organization left with many painful scars and the feeling that that God was harsh, punishing, fearful, unapproving, unloving and unapproachable. That’s abuse!
Many poor souls (even family members outside the WCG) turned to alcohol and drugs, or finally committed suicide because they couldn’t take the pressure anymore. That’s abuse! [See: OIU 2, Pt 3, under “Many are not aware of how prevalent suicide is…”)
And this horrific list could go on!
Did Herbert Armstrong have the answers? Did his promises for the “abundant life” come to pass? Look at the lives of those who sacrificed and lived the way of life he taught, and then ask them! Many have suffered from complex post traumatic stress disorder due to years of abuse.
There is no place in the Word of God that shows leaders in the New Testament church have the authority to give personal advice and direction in the life of believers, let alone dominate their followers. That means there is no military model of church government that is supported by the Word of God!6
Why did we not feel “abused” while we were in? Because we were taught, not to think and not to feel (“any doubts you have come from Satan”; “the problem is you, not them!” Battered women go through this same process of thinking and suppression and blaming themselves instead of the abuser. That’s why they stay where they are. It’s not until they get back their “critical thinking skills” and speak up and expose the abuse and abuser (holding them accountable), and seek outside support, that they begin to realize the extent of their ongoing abuse.
Cover-up and abuse will always be prevalent in pseudo religious organizations and cultic churches, but the leadership will pressure their victims to keep silent and not talk about the suffering they are enduring, in order to maintain the “image” of the group. This is called the “no talk rule.” It enables the abuser to continue with his evil deeds in secret. It is important to bring to light these things in order that others may be warned and spared from joining these deceptive, abusive groups which are exploiting people financially, emotionally and spiritually. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (I Timothy 5:20)
Only a Sampling of Abuses
The above is only a sampling of abuses that have been documented by many sources, including testimonies and resignation letters by former ministers and members, tapes by former employees in high positions, several books exposing Herbert W. Armstrong, former janitor of Imperial Schools, numerous phone calls and emails to the ESN from WCG exiters since 1993, articles on the Internet, and the Ambassador Report7 (the earlier issues when John Trechak was exposing Herbert Armstrong and the WCG exploitation and corruption). [Be sure and read OIU 2, Pt. 1 where it starts with “By the early 1970’s” which reveals how certain ministers in the early 1970s became sickened by the control and abuse that was going on; talks about the suffering of victims.] This type of abuse seldom leaves outward marks. The worst scars and bruises are on the inside where it takes a long time to heal.
If you have been abused by Herbert W. Armstrong, or any of the controlling splinter groups of Worldwide Church of God, and are struggling to recover, don’t give up hope. Recovery is possible. See our articles in: Healing From Spiritual Abuse.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
Updated: November 22, 2005
“Herbert W. Armstrong has destroyed more lives than anyone I know in the name of religion in such a short period of time.
The Armstrong work is a work of darkness and Christians are called upon to reveal the work of darkness.
They have defrauded people and need to be tried in the highest court of this world.”
~William B. Hinson, The Broadway to Armageddon, chapter 1, p. 10.
How Did the Worldwide Church of God Abuse its Members?
- They deceived others about their true agenda and beliefs.
- They deceived others spiritually, knowing they were teaching lies and twisted truths.
- They taught a false God, a false Jesus, and a false gospel.
- They set themselves up as a church when in actuality they were a huge multi-billion dollar financial organization.
Mind Control (aka Thought Reform8)
- They used fear, guilt, shame, lies, confusion, contradictions, intimidation, threats, criticism, demands, and humiliation to keep members in submission to “the government of God” (i.e. headquarters).
- They kept people from leaving by creating and demanding misplaced loyalty on the inside and fear of evil on the outside.
- They emphasized members’ weaknesses, imperfections and failures, degraded the self, and broke the spirit.
“Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.” ~Psalm 6:8
Important Note: Herbert Armstrong stated in a November 24, 1967 Co-Worker letter that he had studied Communism in the 1930s and 1940s and he also made mention of the book, Witness by Whittaker Chambers. (Witness is an autobiographical memoir, written just after Chambers confessed to his earlier affiliation with the Communist Party and testified against his former friend and comrade, Alger Hiss.) For more info on this and to understand how HWA lured people, read: Communism; Fascism; Socialism; Totalitarianism; or Armstrongism from OIU 5, Pt. 3. (PDF) What was behind HWA and his “church” is important for survivors to understand. Be sure and read some of the articles under: Questioning HWA’s background.
The Worldwide Church of God was exposed through the international media in the 1970s for financial and sexual corruption and a number of books were written. Finally, post-Jonestown it was no longer advantageous for WCG to espouse the doctrines of Armstrong. (Read our OIU Newsletters which talks about reasons that compelled them to make their new changes.)
This part in OIU Newsletter #4, pt. 5 (beginning with “When one has the opportunity..”) covers more of WCG’s abusive and even sinister behavior.
Update: Worldwide Church of God changed their name in April 2009 in the United States to Grace Communion International. Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.
Profile of a Sociopath (A number of abusive, religious leaders may exhibit many of these behavioral characteristics)
Dropouts See Hucksterism Where They Once Saw God (newspaper testimony shows abuses in WCG)
Worldwide Church of God History (talks about those who confronted the abuses, double standards, cover-ups and destructive doctrines that had been destroying countless families)
1 WCG’s booklet, Does God Heal Today? (circa 1952) was discontinued in 1968. After that, the members were given no new doctrinal advice on how they should approach health care. In 1979 HWA wrote The Plain Truth About Healing, changing a few of his words, but it wasn’t until the April 1987 that the WCG changed its doctrine on healing, and in 1988 that a new book on healing by Joseph W. Tkach, Sr., and Bernard W. Schnippert (‘The Truth About Healing”) was published. The doctrine on healing was changed in the WCG, not because of any “new revelation” to Tkach, Sr., and not because “HWA, right before he died, told Tkach Sr. it needed to be re-examined,” (which is simply another unsubstantiated tale), but because of the lawsuits the organization was beginning to receive. Read: How Did WCG Instruct Ministers to Deal With “Health and Medical Problems”? to see a list of instructions that were given to avoid prosecution. More about this healing policy is covered in The Broadway to Armageddon by William B. Hinson, Chapter 8, “Armstrong on Medicines,” sub heading: “HOW THE WORLD WIDE CHURCH OF GOD ESCAPES PROSECUTION WHEN THEY LET ONE OF THEIR MEMBERS DIE FROM MEDICAL NEGLECT.” Greg Albrecht has stated that the early doctrinal changes were “minor” (i. e., the healing doctrine). Read the part in OIU #6, Pt. 2 [starting with “Albrecht alludes…”] that talks about the effects of intentional abuse and how this loss of lives was not “minor”! Also “Healing” issues are discussed under “Tithing, Pentecost and Healing Issues” in Worldwide Church of God History.
2 Prior to Herbert Armstrong marrying Ramona Martin (46 years his junior and a divorcee whose husband was still alive), he announced that God had shown him “new doctrinal truth” and WCG would now accept “new converts in whatever marital state they enter the Church…. A previously divorced person who has entered fellowship is free to remarry within the church” (Los Angeles Times, 4/22/82, p. 12); hence, the D&R (divorce and remarriage) ruling was changed. In April 1977, within a year after the D&R changes, he married Ramona. Then in April 1982, he filed for divorce from Ramona. In order to justify his actions, HWA wrote an article in the May 1982 Plain Truth entitled, “God Hates Divorce – Yet He Divorced His Own Wife! Why?” In a co-worker letter dated April 21, 1982 he said, “It has been determined by events, facts and fruits that I am not spiritually bound by God and only by man’s law of this world. … This determination should not be used as a precedent to encourage or justify other divorces in the church.” However, in his April 18, 1977 Dear Brethren letter he had stated, “And God now has graciously provided the wife to be constantly at my side–a woman truly led by God’s Holy Spirit.” In the July 1977 Plain Truth he had written that he “could never be able to thank God enough for selecting her [Ramona] and sending her to me. … God knew the help I needed by my side to accomplish His Work for the remainder of my life – for both of our lives…” (Go to this part in the Gerringer Letter and read about the D&R change.)
3 See chapters 2 and 3 in the book, Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-Off? (An Exposé of the Armstrong Modus Operandi) by Marion J. McNair for examples from HWA’s co-worker letters which reveal the propaganda methods he used in order to solicit donors and then con them out of thousands of dollars. Also read: Dropouts See Hucksterism Where They Once Saw God.
4 Refer to: The Gerringer Letter, Jack Kessler Letter, Worldwide Church of God History (transcription), Richard Plache testimony, Herbert W. Armstrong and the Incest, the Ambassador Report, many letters, tapes and testimonies from high ranking ministers, etc. (Note: Read ESN’s comments about the AR.)
5 Testimonies from Child Survivors.
6 Damaged Disciples by Ron & Vicki Burks, [no longer in print; check interlibrary loans, e-bay; used book stores].
7 The Ambassador Report helped many to leave the Worldwide Church of God through its exposé of the organization. In the beginning Trechak and the team he worked with appeared to have a very noble goal. But after awhile, the message in his AR became mixed, causing people to become bitter instead of being on the road to healing. Later reports were referring readers off to agnostic, aberrant, meta-physical, humanistic, and anti-Bible sources through comments, letters, addresses and book titles. John Trechak died September 2, 1999. (Read: Brother of John Trechak Confirms Trechak Drifted Into Jung, Etc.)
8 See articles under Mind Control & Exploitation, especially “Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform.”
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