Worldwide Church of God is Now Known as Grace Communion International
There was a significant amount of material exposing Worldwide Church of God as a destructive Bible-based cult in years past. This info, which consisted of newspaper and magazine articles, booklets, books, etc., was freely made available to the public before WCG’s doctrinal changes.1 The fact that almost all members were unaware of this material shows how effective the control of critical information had been.
The following newspaper article is no means an isolated testimony. Those who read it may notice carry-overs with certain totalistic WCG offshoots, such as Philadelphia Church of God, Restored Church of God, Living Church of God, etc. Today counter-cult organizations no longer offer this type of exposé material as Worldwide Church of God’s “positive” PR campaign and history revision team have pruned out all that they deemed “unfavorable and derogatory” towards their “new” organization. However, info can be found in newspaper and magazine archives.
We hope the following will help others not only see the truth about the Worldwide Church of God and the real history of the organization, but avoid getting caught up in any of the destructive WCG offshoots today which commonly refer to their group as the “true Church of God.”
Also read: Hanky-Panky and Revolt in the Worldwide Church of God. (an article which appeared in True magazine)
Note: All bolding is ours; Footnotes by ESN.
NOTICE: Worldwide Church of God changed their name to Grace Communion International in April 2009.
Post-Gazette, Thurs., Nov. 24, 1977
By Bohdan Hodiak, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
They think they have been members of a cult, shrewdly manipulated by a man called “our sole apostle, leader and pastor general.” But now they think of him as one of the greatest salesmen who ever lived.
“We tried to be Old Testament Christian,” one of them said as they were interviewed in the home of their pastor, John Pruner, former head of the Pittsburgh church.
Cult members are generally thought of as young, mostly in their 20’s. But these were solid, family oriented people, several of them with grown children. Many of them were in middle age when they first heard about the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). They could be described as hardworking, dedicated, wanting a better world.
They didn’t speak with bitterness about their years in the WCG. It provided a lesson they had to learn, they said, but it was a costly lesson, and some of their friends paid a higher price than they did.
Partly because of prophecies that the United States would be destroyed by a nuclear bomb, the WCG has not put up any church buildings. Although the Pittsburgh church has an estimated 650 members, one group meets in Fire Hall 6 in Monroeville and another in a union hall in Vanport, Beaver County. There are other churches in Johnstown, Cambria County, Uniontown, Fayette County, Wheeling, W. Va., and Youngstown, Ohio, part of about 500 groups in the world.
“If you read the philosophy of the Moonies (the followers of the self-ordained Korean, Sun Myung Moon) you have a very similar psychological approach. It’s a battle for your mind. They sew up your mind and then they’ve got your pocketbook sewed up,” said John Armstrong, 42, of Saxonburg, Butler County. No relation to the Pasadena Armstrongs, he is a safety engineer for an oil company. He and his wife, Gerri, left last spring after seven years in the WCG.
“In every group you have a leader who says I have been to the mountain and I have talked with God. You follow me and you can have a piece of the action. The Armstrong religion fits exactly,” he said.
“It gave us a feeling of being exclusive. We only. It appeals to the ego. When Christ returned you would be part of that select group,” he said.
The broadcasts, which draw most of the people in, generally follow a pattern. They state a problem, frequently based on newspaper headlines: overpopulation, threat of famine, nuclear weapons, natural disasters, inflation, lack of job. Then the listener is convinced that the problem is much more serious than he or she thought. But there is hope and there is a solution and they are invited to call a toll free number for free literature and a free monthly magazine.
For many this was an entry into a world where up to a third of their income went to the WCG and its activities, where they were not supposed to go to doctors, to vote, where the outside world was of the devil.
The implication was that they were of the lost tribes of Israel and as such were chosen people. They worship on Saturday, did not eat pork and above all obey the WCG.
Once they accepted the Armstrong teaching, they were amazed that the traditional churches have missed, they believed, the most important fact of modern times: the imminent return of Christ. But belonging to this select group had its price.
When John Pruner began his ministry in Pittsburgh in 1971 he made the following recommendations on contributions:
The first part covering 10 items was titled “What Does God Require From My Income?” There were three tithes, the third one collected every third year. Since a tithe is 10 per cent that alone was 23.3 per cent of a member’s weekly income. Then there was an emergency fund, Holy Day offerings, regular offerings, money to be sent to headquarters on the birth of a firstborn male or firstborn child.
The tithes came first, before food, before rent or mortgage payments. Last February Garner Ted Armstrong sent a letter to WCG members stating:
“Some have even begun to STEAL directly from God! … They have forgotten that they are not ‘giving’ God his tithe, since it is not theirs to ‘give’! … It is INIQUITY, which means SIN, to steal God’s tithe!”
Under the second heading Pruner listed nine items under voluntary contributions. There was a building fund, a tithe of tithes, loans to the work, gifts, special emergency gifts, library, recreation and social funds.
Most members of WCG are working people; very few have high incomes. [John] Armstrong remembered a special emergency collection:
“There was this little old guy in his mid-70’s, just struggling to stay alive. He wore $1.98 plastic shoes. He had $3 in his wallet and he gave it. He probably didn’t eat for the rest of the week. It tore my guts out to see an old man so devoted. The church should have been supporting him,” Armstrong said.
One woman, who didn’t want her name used, said her family’s contribution to the WCG so depleted their finances that “Many times we didn’t have any food in the house.”
“Returning from church we’d stop off at relatives or friends hoping they’d give us something to eat. I was often so hungry that my mother called me ‘the locust,’ ” she said.
The woman’s husband was earning $80 a week when they joined in the mid 1960s. Because there was no WCG church in their vicinity in Cambria County they drove 75 miles to the Pittsburgh church.
“Our whole life revolved around the church,” she said.
Pruner believes now that the pressure for money was artificially created. The Armstrongs would increase the budget about 30 per cent every year, Pruner said, and then claim a financial crisis. Many times, Pruner said, Armstrong sent urgent appeals to members to take out bank loans and send them in.
Pruner, 46, is a resident of Adamsburg, Westmoreland County, and is now self-employed. He was in his 20’s when he first heard about the WCG.
“I didn’t have a religious background so I was very easily taken in. Everything seemed logical to me. Their motto was ‘Recapture True Values,'” he said.
Pruner graduated from the WCG’s Ambassador College in 1965 and was assigned as a minister to Pittsburgh in 1971. A few years ago, seeing many respected WCG officials leaving, Pruner began to wonder and question.
“For about a year, every night, many hours till midnight or later, I began to study it all out. I proved to my own satisfaction that Mr. Armstrong’s doctrines were in error by and large, almost in toto,” he said.
With a new understanding Pruner began to preach differently at the Saturday two-hour services. His sermons often dealt with Christian living, that Christians helped their neighbors, that they didn’t isolate themselves into an exclusive, reclusive group.
The sermons were reported to headquarters by several deacons, there was a meeting, and by mutual agreement, Pruner resigned last January.
“The people in the church are wonderful. They are the finest people you ever want to meet. We love all of them. The trouble is at the top,” he said.
Although the Armstrongs have made many changes in recent years, unfortunately, they were forced by their fear of losing more members and money, Pruner said.
Then there was the church attitude on medicine.
Charles Calahan, 49, is a resident of Butler, Butler County, and works as a tractor-trailer driver. He and his wife, Gilda, spent 12 years in the WCG, before leaving last May. Their son is a WCG minister in Indiana and both their daughters have remained members.
Calahan was a WCG elder.
In 1967 Calahan broke his leg in an industrial accident, suffering compound fractures. “They took me to Butler Hospital. I refused shots to kill the pain and for tetanus because I had been taught that doctors were obscene. This was Beelzeebub [sic] (of the devil),” he said.
He just wanted the leg set but the doctors refused saying Calahan had to give them permission first to remove splinters and pieces of bone from his leg.
Several hours went by and finally the doctor agreed to set the bone. “I found out later that all the bones that were scattered were in line,” Calahan said. He believes it was a divine healing.
But for some, the results were less happy. A WCG member in Trafford, Westmoreland County, got gangrene. She refused any medical help and stayed home praying. “You couldn’t stand the smell in her house,” Calahan said. After weeks of agony she died.
The good that came from their years in the WCG was a better understanding of Christianity, the former members said.
“What it amounts to is we have lived Old Testament lives and what we found is what Christ meant by love fullfilling the law,” [Galatians 5:14] Armstrong said. Armstrongism is essentially a religion of law, not of the grace of the new covenant, he said.
“They absolutely don’t preach the blood of Christ and the simplicity of Christ. That’s one thing that bugged me. They preach the pharisaical law. They deny Christ sacrificed,” Armstrong said.
Ken Torosi, 34, an electrician from Connoquenessing, Butler County, said: “When I was in the church I asked a group ‘What have you done to prove you’re a Christian? We’re to love each other as we do ourselves. What have you done?’ ”
“And the answer was ‘I keep the Sabbath. I keep the Holy Days.’ ”
“When you give that much money to the church,” said Morris Hahn, 67, of Murrysville, Westmoreland County, “you don’t have any money to help anyone anyway.” Hahn spent 15 years in the WCG and said he had originally been a “staid Lutheran elder.”
The former members, Torosi said, believe they know now what their duties and obligations are to mankind. “In the past we didn’t go to these guys because they were a bunch of lowdown Christmas guys. It didn’t matter if the husband was off work and their kids were walking around with the toes worn off,” he said, “The WCG believes Christ, Easter and birthdays must not be observed, that they are pagan holidays.”
“When we say love fulfills the law they tell us we want a license to sin. They don’t understand what it means,” Armstrong said.
Group members said they felt many more WCG members would leave but believe they have no place to go. “You can’t leave with honor. You’re cut off. You won’t see the friends again you spent years and years making,” Pruner said.
“They feel they’ll be standing alone,” Torosi said. “They’ll lose their identity. They’ll be nobody. It’s a terrible thing.”
“A person who’s left the church is considered taken over by Satan and has lost his salvation,” Mrs. Armstrong said.
“We can’t talk to our children about the church. They just won’t listen to us,” Calahan said.
Because the WCG makes dire predictions about anyone who leaves the church, 65 former church members decided to hold a picnic last summer near Butler to compare notes. They found out they were happier and better off financially and in other ways than when they were in the WCG.
But none have joined another church. They said they were now wary about religious institutions.2
“The people who are in the church are fine, beautiful people. The only thing is they are clinging to all they know,” Armstrong said. “If there is anything we can do to fill this vacuum, to carry them over from following a man to following God . . . that is our main concern.”
“We’ve been turned off following human leaders. We have been brainwashed, thoroughly and by experts.” Armstrong thought a moment and then added, “The hardest part was to admit you have been on a bad ego trip. Your little fragile ego has been stepped on and crushed.”
Worldwide Church of God History (reviewing the 1970s era, abuses, firings, etc., covers the 1972 fiasco)
Honey I Shrunk the Church (Includes info about HWA’s lavish lifestyle)
Beware “Ambassadors” Bearing Gifts! (A tragic story of what happened to one member after he responded to Herbert Armstrong’s pleas for more money.)
Newspaper articles on Worldwide Church of God (offsite link, especially see “Misuse of funds charged – Church leaders criticized”)
Footnotes by ESN:
1 While there were few books written about Herbert Armstrong before the 1960s (see our Booklist), there were a number of articles written; i. e., Joseph Hopkins, author of The Armstrong Empire made mention of several: “Herbert W. Armstrong: Does He Really Have the ‘Plain Truth’?” by Leslie K. Tarr (Moody Monthly, Sept. 1972); Herbert Armstrong: Mr. Confusion by Roger F. Campbell, 1971; The Armstrong Error, by Charles F. DeLoach, 1971; The Marson Report by Richard A. Marson, 1970; “The Armstrong Movement: A Former Member Speaks Out” by Richard A. Marson (Unpublished manuscript, 1971); The Plain Truth About Armstrongism by Roger R. Chambers, 1972; “The Plain Truth About the Armstrongs and the World Tomorrow,” by William C. Martin (Harper’s, July 1973). Quotes from these authors and others are in Chapter XII of The Armstrong Empire. (available as PDF download)
Other such articles and booklets written about HWA and the WCG were: “What Does Herbert Armstrong Preach?” by Herbert V. Caneday (The King’s Business, September 1959, pp. 26, 27); “Pertinent Answers to Armstrongism,” Roger Campbell (The King’s Business, September 1963, pp. 14, 15); “The Delusions of Herbert W. Armstrong” by George Darby, Roy E. Knuteson and Roger F Campbell, circa early 1960s;”The Armstrong Heresy” by Paul Wilson; “Armstrong’s Church of God – Doctrines of Devils” by Salem Kirban, 1970. However, it wasn’t until the late 70’s that there was a professional attempt to understand the cult experience and to aid those who had been affected. (Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change by Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman, pp. 85-66)
Back to Expose` on Worldwide Church of God (many articles)