Pasadena Star News – March 26, 2003
Closing the book
Settlement reached over texts
By Marshall Allen
PASADENA — The Worldwide Church of God will receive $3 million in a settlement of a six-year legal battle with one of its splinter groups in exchange for the rights to 19 books by church founder Herbert W. Armstrong.
Leaders in the Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God now denounce the teachings of Armstrong,1 who founded the church in 1937 and moved it from Oregon to Pasadena in 1947.
Armstrong, a former traveling salesman, was known for “Armstrongism,” a hodgepodge of beliefs including that Jesus would return to Earth and assume the throne of England.
The settlement, announced March 12 to Worldwide Church of God pastors, allows Armstrong’s followers in the Philadelphia Church of God to reproduce the books outlining Armstrong’s beliefs made financial sense, Pasadena church leaders said.
Present Pastor General Joseph Tkach, Jr., however, once wrote that it was their “Christian duty” to keep the book out of print “because we believe Mr. Armstrong’s doctrinal errors are better left out of circulation.4
Among other things, Armstrong believed the Worldwide Church of God was the “one true church” [and] he labeled the Roman Catholic church the “Great Whore of Babylon,” according to church officials. His church observed a Saturday Sabbath, the Old Testament dietary laws and festivals, and taught that the British people were descendents of the lost tribes of Israel.
After Armstrong died, church leaders examined their beliefs, eventually making radical doctrinal changes that brought the church in line with evangelical Christianity. In 1995 the changes caused a schism among members, many of whom scattered into dozens of groups devoted to Armstrong’s teachings.
Membership dropped from about 150,000 to its current number of 67,000.5 Annual revenue sank from $150 million to $25 million, due to the membership decline and the end of Armstrong’s policy of mandatory 20- to 30-percent tithing, church officials said.
Many programs were cut, but other costs have continued. The church pays about $2 million a year to maintain its stately 48- acre Ambassador College campus. The church plans to develop and sell a 1,525-unit residential project to fund its future ministry, said Chief Financial Officer Bernard Schnippert. The settlement gives members of the Edmond, Okla. -based Philadelphia Church of God what they wanted, the legal right to publish Armstrong’s work. It was their printing of Armstrong’s magnum opus, “Mystery of the Ages,” that led to the Worldwide Church in Pasadena filing its complaint in 1997. Philadelphia Church of God officials did not return numerous phone calls for comment.
The Worldwide Church won the initial lawsuit, but the Philadelphia Church filed a countersuit for the right to reproduce 18 other Armstrong works. The settlement ends the costly litigation, church officials said. It also relieves the church of the burden of protecting the copyrights, since copies exist in print and on the Internet, Kelly said.
“It gets us out of the business of the writings of Herbert Armstrong, other than that it’s a part of our history,” Kelly said.
Schnippert said it would have been financially “imprudent” not to accept the settlement.
“We came to an end where we received a considerable sum of money and the other party received a number of works that are out of date and inaccurate according to most of the Christian world,” Schnippert said.
Former Worldwide Church of God members many of whom feel bitter and betrayed by the church’s theological changes and follow its actions closely buzzed on the Internet about the settlement.
Church leaders denounce Armstrong’s teachings but are willing to profit from them, said Reginald Killingley, a former Worldwide Church of God pastor and professor at Ambassador University in Big Sandy, Texas.
“They’re willing, in effect, to support what they condemn,” Killingley said. “To permit the perpetuation and promotion of heresy for the sake of money.”
— Marshall Allen can be reached at (626) 578-6300 Ext. 4461, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: In April 2009 Worldwide Church of God 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.) When this article was written, WCG had not yet changed their name.
Grace Communion International History (Includes WCG selling the copyrights to Herbert W. Armstrong’s literature to Philadelphia Church of God for $3 million dollars)
Footnotes by ESN:
1 In spite of denouncing Herbert Armstrong’s teachings, WCG stated that they believe Herbert Armstrong “was a minister of Jesus Christ.” For more quotes see our article: Grace Communion International Whitewashes Herbert Armstrong After New Changes.
2 As of 2006, there have been hundreds of offshoots and splinters from the WCG. See our section Offshoots of Worldwide Church of God for a list of many.
3 Yet in 1991, Joseph Tkach, Jr. wrote: “On his deathbed, Mr. Armstrong himself commissioned my father [Tkach, Sr.] to look into the very changes we have made. Therefore, we are following the wishes of Mr. Armstrong and, more importantly, God.”
4 In Transformed by Truth Joseph Tkach, Jr. stated clearly that WCG felt it was their “Christian duty” to keep Mystery of the Ages out of print because they felt HWA’s “doctrinal errors are best left out of circulation.” (TBT, p. 203, chapter 9 notes, #22)
5 See: OIU Newsletter 6, pt 1 “Myth 1 and 2 – the greatest of them all” for more on WCG’s propagated falsehood of having a membership of around 150,000.