The following article was published in the 1974 magazine True in July 1974. It covers the 1972 date; misuse of funds by the Armstrongs, how HWA. would not listen to charges, and exploitation and suffering of members.
Note: Worldwide Church of God is now known as Grace Communion International
The Apocalypse is just around the corner. But across the country the brethren sleep peacefully, secure in their assured salvation. When the world explodes in nuclear holocaust, the brethren will survive: for that they have The Word of Herbert W. Armstrong, divinely ordained founder and leader of the Worldwide Church of God, Box 111, Pasadena, California.
The Word, according to Herbert, reveals that the Anglo-Saxons residing in the United States and Britain are the Lord’s Chosen People. And the Bible clearly prophesies, says Herbert W., that a renewed Holy Roman Empire, inspired by the Vatican and probably led by Germany, will defeat America and Britain in a nuclear war. The victorious Empire will in turn be attacked and destroyed by a Chinese-Russian alliance. At that point, Jesus Christ and His militant host of angels will return to earth and the faithful brethren of the Worldwide Church will rule over the Kingdom of God on Earth.
“You will be Christ’s sole heirs and have God-status when the end of time comes,” Armstrong promises his 80,000 inner church members and 200,000 followers.
The scheduled date for the beginning of the Apocalypse, according to Herbert W. Armstrong, was January 7, 1972.
Faced with that deadline, toward the end of 1971 several high-ranking ministers of the Worldwide Church of God began meeting secretly at the modest Pasadena home of Alfred Carrozzo, the stocky 38-year-old pastor who headed the Worldwide Church’s western division. Carrozzo and the other worried ministers realized that America wasn’t about to be attacked, and that January 8, 1972 would dawn without holocaust. How, in good conscience, could the ministers keep assuring the deliverance of the brethren from a no-show holocaust? Yet the then 79-year-old Armstrong, a silver-maned evangelist and prophet with a coast-to-coast radio and TV audience, was sticking by his forecast.
“I’ve always had complete faith in Mr. Armstrong and preached his word,” Al Carrozzo told the group assembled in his home, “but some things he’s doing are downright weird. Not only is he claiming the world will blow up in a few weeks–he’s literally telling members to pray for it to happen.”
“But I don’t see how we can stop him,” said a tall church administrator named David Antion. “Anyone who talks back to him gets fired.”
The usually soft-spoken Carrozzo slammed a fist on his desk. “We’ve got to fight! He’s twisting the Bible all out of shape and enforcing out-dated doctrine. So let’s go over his head and be honest with the members. Let’s come out and tell them Armstrong is mistaken about next January seventh.”
At Carrozzo’s urging, the officials agreed that, somehow, the Worldwide Church’s 350 United States ministries and the 200 more in foreign countries should be told President Armstrong somehow had miscalculated. No blast was coming. The faithful should not rush out and cash in their insurance policies. And they should stop praying for universal destruction.
Carrozzo brought up other troubling matters.
Among old-time, hell-fire, fundamentalist sects in America, none had stricter rules than those of the Worldwide Church of God. In the WCG, you are forbidden to see a doctor when ill. You cannot remarry after a divorce. You are prohibited from casting a vote in any political election, entering the military or observing the “vile, pagan rites,” according to Herbert Armstrong, of Christmas and Easter.
Still another decree of “Almighty Armstrong” (as he was known to his outspoken critics) held that his followers could indulge only in “periodic, moderate” sex relations with their spouses. And only the “two normal positions,” said Herbert W., should be used in intercourse.
Commented one of the ministers in Al Carrozzo’s living room, “When my people heard that the leader hadn’t stated which two positions were normal, they said, ‘Thank God!’ ”
Anyone disobeying Armstrong’s rules–as he made amply clear in his pastoral letters and TV and radio programs–was a sinner and dead, salvation-wise. The core of Herbert’s strength, the ministers knew, was that many members were poorly educated and so submitted readily to his leadership. Beginning in 1934, when Armstrong founded his church, he had represented himself as a designated saint, the Lord’s personal agent on earth, and sermonized that only through him could The Truth, The Light and The Promise be realized.
Al Carrozzo had been a true believer since 1956: At age 22 he was a phenomenally successful plumbing contractor when he gave up his own business in San Diego, which earned him $25,000 yearly, to answer the Herbert Armstrong call, be baptized and accept Armstrong as a Divine Instrument. In 16 years with the WCG, he’s supported his wife and three children on a church salary that average $16,000 annually–and tithed some $50,000. But the suffering imposed on the members because of Armstrong’s harsh doctrines and heavy tithing had begun to trouble Carrozzo deeply. Now, at the meeting in his living room, he was angry clear through, Carrozzo told his fellow preachers that another of the old man’s regulations that should be overturned was the one banning medical aid.
“Not long ago I gave final rites to a five-year-old boy,” he said, his voice breaking. Slumped down, head bowed, Carrozzo couldn’t speak for a moment. Then he haltingly went on. “The child had had spinal meningitis for more than a year. His parents didn’t dare call a doctor. It was a terrible death. When I saw that, I knew Herbert Armstrong couldn’t be speaking for God.”
Carrozzo got up and paced the room. “Let’s get into action,” he said. “We’ll go see Armstrong and demand reforms or else we’ll quit. I don’t think he could stand the publicity of a large walkout by his main people.”
That meeting, as did others later, broke up in a spirit of hope, mixed with guilt. Hope because, as a unit, they could bring pressure for change. Guilt because they’d gone along with Armstrong, done his bidding for so long.
With only five weeks to reverse Herbert’s doomsday prediction, the group had to work fast. Going behind Armstrong, mostly relying on telephone calls to their fellow pastors in various United States cities and upon a word-of-mouth grapevine, they managed to set many of the flock straight. “The leader was premature,” they said.
As for doctrinal reforms, the ministers found it impossible to confront a man who wasn’t there. Herbert W. Armstrong (“H.W.A.” to his close friends) was always globe-trotting for God–to Paris, London, Beirut, Tokyo, Manila, Bombay and Jerusalem, where he met with such personages as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and primo ministers Golda Meir of Israel and Indira Gandhi of India.
The five-foot six, jet-propelled evangelist had come a long way to get to this high-level hobnobbing. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1892, H.W.A. had roamed around, selling want ads, taking public opinion polls, pushing hardware, peddling soap and mudpacks door to door. In his 540-page “autobiography,” H.W.A. admits he was a poor businessman who often went broke. Once he didn’t have ten cents in the house with which to buy milk for his babies. The light finally broke through–Herbert discovered his real talent rested in soul saving. Drawing only eight people to his first sermon in 1933, he has since sent out The Word to millions.
Now when he zipped around the earth, Armstrong traveled in a $3.1-million French-made Falcon fanjet, one of three plushly-fitted, stewardess-equipped aircraft he maintained for his personal use.
Early in 1972 Al Carrozzo learned more about H.W.A.’s overseas junkets. The phone rang one morning in his church office. “Tokyo, Japan, calling,” announced the operator.
After some trans-Pacific cable static, Carrozzo found himself talking to the manager of the Tokyo Hilton Hotel, who wished to report a credit charge made at his inn. It seemed Herbert W. Armstrong had been stopping with his party at the Tokyo Hilton.
“It’s just a formality,” said the manager, “and Mr. Armstrong’s account here is perfectly good. But we want to notify your business office of the transaction, now that he’s checking out.”
“How much,” Carrozzo asked curiously, “is the bill?”
“It’s ten thousand four hundred thirty dollars,” replied the hotel manager.
“Wha-a-at-t-t?” yelled Carrozzo.
“That’s right,” said Tokyo. “Mr. Armstrong’s people had several suites of rooms, have been entertaining Japanese dignitaries and last night they hosted a banquet for two hundred.”
Former master plumber Carrozzo later told his rebellious church fellows, “I’m an expert at fixing leaks, but this is a gusher. It seems to be gushing gold all over men sworn to uphold the Scriptures.”
Carrozzo knew Herbert W. and his 42-year-old son, Garner Ted Armstrong, lived in servant-staffed Pasadena homes worth $200,000 or more. Father and son operated three private aircraft and Herbert owned three chauffeured Cadillacs and a Rolls-Royce. When H.W.A. shook your hand, a set of diamond cuff links in approximately the $2000-price range winked out of his jacket sleeves.
During one dinner at H.W.A.’s mansion, a lady guest dazzled by a salt-and-pepper-shaker set, murmured, “How gorgeous.” Herbert, she later told friends, gave her a benign smile and said, “Yes, isn’t it? It cost twelve thousand dollars.”
Garner Ted, the church’s number-two man, took golfing and ski trips to Europe and Hawaii.
But Carrozzo’s ministerial duties with the Worldwide Church didn’t include handling money, which came in by mail, chiefly in the form of tithes paid by members to the Armstrongs. So, determined to learn more, Carrozzo began making private inquiries of other clerics at the Pasadena headquarters about the WC’s [WCG’s] financial picture. One minister, John Mitchell, angrily told Carrozzo, “Do you know H.W.A. and Garner Ted are asking for a new, special donation from the membership?” Mitchell read from Herbert’s latest letter to the flock: “We are facing a financial crisis in the church…Brethren, I had to ask you [two years earlier] to go to your banks and borrow what you could pay back within two years…now we face an even more desperate crisis…I am forced to ask you to respond as you did before.”
Mitchell suggested that Carrozzo compare that plea with the Worldwide Church’s latest Internal Revenue return, reported in the name of Ambassador College, the church’s training arm.
Since IRS returns of all tax-exempt institutions are, by law, available to the public, Carrozzo soon obtained a copy of the 1971 Ambassador College return. For the first time in his 16 years of service, he fully grasped the scale of the WCG’s operations. Its total assets were more than $73-million. In that one year the college received almost $33-million in contributions and spent some $26-million. Carrozzo could no longer reconcile the affluent atmosphere of Ambassador College with the substandard living condition of many of the heavily tithed brethren.
Charges of misappropriation of funds were added to the list of accusations the ministers intended to hand the elusive H.W.A. And, as if Herbert himself didn’t present enough problems, the rebelling ministers had already learned that Garner Ted was something less than saintly.
Dapper, wavy-haired and handsome, Garner Ted ranked right behind Herbert–he was the heir apparent. His chief role was to gospelize on a network of 70 TV, and over 400 radio stations. “Ted was a persuasively smooth talker, and his program rated nationally among the top three in its field. A glib denouncer of Darwinism, among other things, Ted used everything from hatching butterflies to African giant ants to argue that no species could be evolved naturally.
Yet Carrozzo, David Antion and others were in receipt of members’ reports that Ted, married and the father of three, was dallying with young girls, drinking and gambling for high stakes in Las Vegas.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” shocked informants said. “We’ve seen him rolling dice for five hundred dollars a throw. And he’s a chaser, no doubt of it. Blondes, redheads–he’s been seen in nightclubs with a number of women.”
H.W.A., evidently sensing that Ted might be publicly accused, in the spring of 1972 wrote to the brethren that his son had sinned and was “in the bonds of Satan.” The punishment: Ted was exiled from the church. Four months later in 1972, H.W.A. reversed himself, saying Ted had repented and had been returned to the fold.
Carrozzo threw up his hands. He told a meeting. “Repent? He isn’t fit to stand in any pulpit.” Deciding to force the issue, Al Carrozzo drove to Squaw Valley, California, in April 1973, where a church conference was underway, and confront Ted Armstrong. “We want an accounting,” the minister said flatly. “Are you whoremongering and gambling?”
As Al Carrozzo later attested to officials, young Armstrong didn’t deny it. “He replied,” related Carrozzo, “that he had his fun and it was nobody’s business but his own. He had the gall to say, “I’m special in the church, as my father’s heir, and I’m above criticism.”
While Herbert W. Armstrong remained unavailable to the clergymen hammering at his door, another longstanding problem came to a head: the rule which prevented divorced persons from remarrying. One night, Carrozzo’s doorbell rang and a middle-aged member of his congregation stood there in tears. The man threw himself into Carrozzo’s arms and sobbed, “I’m going to the office tomorrow, quit my job and kill myself.”
It was a case of a marital breakup followed by the ex-husband taking the vows of the church. Now the couple wished to be reunited. Armstrong policy would not permit it. The couple, who had four children, was emotionally desperate. Carrozzo, who had taken an oath to uphold WCG dogma, could only counsel the man to pray and not to kill himself. When the man left, Carrozzo went into his study and knelt down to pray for the anguished man–but could only cry. The minster told his wife Lee, afterward, “I hate myself for supporting anything as cruel as this.”
Late in 1973, Herbert Armstrong finally agreed to meet with the dissenting faction. Carrying a thick file of papers, Al Carrozzo led the way into the president’s office. The chubby H.W.A. read their report and said, “Nonsense!” He glared at Carrozzo. “Why are you stirring up trouble?”
“We don’t like what we see,” said Carrozzo. “We feel major reforms should be undertaken, or at lest discussed.”
“Reforms!” Armstrong bristled. “No one talks to me like that, no one questions my authority! I am God’s spokesman and you’re all disloyal!”
Armstrong tongue-lashed the committee, pushed a button and dismissed them from his presence.
Several weeks passed before the ministers again were permitted to see their boss. This time, before they could get a word in, Armstrong took off on the subject of the splendid new auditorium he was building. Locally, it was known as “Herbert’s Folly” and the “Taj Mahal.”
“How much will it cost?” asked the ministers.
“Something like ten million dollars,” said H.W.A., snapping his fingers at the expenditure. “Only the finest Persian rose onyx, antique granite, imported crystal and gold carpeting will go into it.” To dedicate the structure, he went on, H.W.A. was flying the entire Vienna Symphony in from Austria for a concert.
“At what cost?” the ministers inquired.
The chief became incensed. “Are you challenging me–AGAIN?” he roared. In a rage, he prophesied Satan would get the lot of them, and that he, the Worldwide Church ruler, wouldn’t tolerate another word.
The churchmen departed. They stood outside, feeling stupid. Dominated and intimidated, they’d been unable to present any of their charges.
A dedicated young preacher groaned, “I’ve hated to think this, but that old man is a fanatic. An egomaniac. A nut. He’s a Hitler of the cloth.”
Standing there, Al Carrozzo could think of brethren living in near poverty, unable to pay their electricity and gas bills under the tithing burden.
Something snapped in Carrozzo. Within a few days, he delivered a blistering sermon in the Imperial Church at WCG Headquarters, charging the two Armstrongs with a huge “cover-up” operation. In an open letter to the public titled “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Headquarters Ministry but Were Afraid to Mention,” he alleged misuse of funds, stifling of free discussion, a playboy lifestyle by Garner Ted and H.W.A., and the terrifying of members through predictions of imminent thermonuclear holocaust–and much more. “I know of members who have killed themselves because of our harsh doctrine,” he declared.
That brought it into the open–with a bang. Or, as some remarked, like a hallelujah blast of trumpets from the Promised Land.
On November 14, 1973, Carrozzo quit the church, only hours before H.W.A. could kick him out. Leaving with him were many pastors, spread from Texas to Mississippi to Illinois to Washington, D.C. In a counter-move three months later, H.W.A. fired 20 ministers who opposed him, and then went into retreat, unavailable to the press.
Carrozzo has since joined with other dissidents to form another church with more humanitarian doctrines and tithing.
The resignations and firings not only revealed the Worldwide Church’s web of profit, intrigue, fun and games, but investigators representing major periodicals examined the Armstrongs in details.
To most reporters descending upon Pasadena, it appeared that diminutive Herb in over three decades had outperformed most of the salvationists of modern times. From a small beginning, with no money, he built an empire which took in $120-million between 1971 and 1973 and which some have estimated has netted as much as $300-million since World War II.
Doggedly, the younger Armstrong has remained noncommittal, most of the time. When Los Angeles newsmen asked about his alleged romances, he calmly answered: “I would not address myself to the charges, either to confirm or deny.” Shreveport-Texarkana members report he had a different reaction when grilled by them last November. As they tell it, he broke under the pressure, shook his fists and shouted, “My past sins are none of your business. I have to take it from batteries of fourteen to twenty newspaper, TV and radio reporters–BUT I WON’T TAKE IT FROM INSIDE THE CHURCH OF GOD!”
John Mitchell, one of the 20 preachers deposed by H.W.A., says, “We’ve known for years that Ted was profoundly immoral. And his father was well aware of it.”
Now 82 years old, but still spry, H.W.A. is fighting to hold the church together by forecasting a less precisely scheduled Armageddon. Recently it was estimated he’d lost 25 to 50 percent of his main disciples. But it is agreed by most religionists, as long as fear and spiritual hunger exist in man, H.W.A. won’t have much trouble keeping the Worldwide Church a going and solvent proposition.
By Al Stump
Update: Herbert Armstrong died January 16, 1986. Today there are over a hundred offshoots and splits.
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.: ~Matthew 7:18
Newspaper articles on Worldwide Church of God (offsite link, especially see “Misuse of funds charged – Church leaders criticized”)
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