Mar 312015
 

The LCG crisis thread is getting very long but is constantly being updated with new information as it arrives.

Information is being shared by current and former members here and at Banned! and Living Armstrongism, so we’re seeking to collect and streamline as much of it as possible.

If you know anything about what’s transpiring within LCG, you’re encouraged to contact us or leave a comment.

Last update: June 21, 2015 – 12:20 p.m. EST

Jun 292015
 

A letter from an anonymous COG member has been making the rounds on social media and even reached us here at Silenced. It’s worth reading through in its entirety since it gets at the core of member frustrations with the endless disunity and schisms ripping the COG to shreds.

These unity movements have tried to gain steam before, but this one is a bit different because it’s anonymous, doesn’t promote any single COG group and seems to be borne of genuine displeasure and bewilderment at the current longstanding and worsening state of the church. Most importantly, for once, it places blame squarely where it belongs: on COG leaders.

That’s right. Despite decades of average members being blamed for divisions, the ordained elite of the COG get the blame in this letter, and that is incredibly refreshing because it’s true. COG ministers, when their jobs are threatened, only have breaking off as many tithe-paying members as possible from the church to start their own cults as a survival mechanism. This cycle has played out over and over and over again, bringing us where we are today.

Here are the key parts of the letter that deserve highlighting. Bolded emphasis is ours.

Problem Statement

As I’m sure you’re well aware, the Church of God our Father, is seriously divided across many different non-profit corporate organizations.  As a general rule, these organizations hold to identical core beliefs and practices while being in competition and conflict with each other.  We often hear about the need for unity in the church (not to mention right relationships), but no one seems to take action or even make serious effort to address the overarching disunity and even enmity that exist.  Sure, within any given non-profit organization there is a semblance of unity (though that is also questionable).  But no one addresses the church as a whole, across all the various non-profits, with anything other than excuses, ignorance, or disparagement of people outside “their” group.  I only have so many words at my disposal to communicate the severity of this problem, and it would be inappropriate to shout (or do the written equivalent), so please understand how serious the words are when I say that this division is absolutely unacceptable, and God, our Father, is not pleased.

Solution

That brings me to why I’m writing to you.  Just to be clear, when I say “leader” I mean just that – any church leader (not just the guys at the very top of the org chart).  Mostly this will mean any ordained minister.  It’s true that we all bear responsibility for our current condition (I’ll get to more details on that in a bit), but leaders, by the very definition of their position, are really the only ones able to bring about the type of organizational changes we need.  In addition, the leaders have done the most to cause our current problem by playing politics, refusing to get along with other leaders, and generally placing their own personal agendas or issues before their assigned duties.  I’m sorry to have to say that, but I think you know it to be true.  The Bible has some choice words for those who have done such things, so that’s probably enough said [5].  Again, it’s not too late to change.  Our Father will help us fix things if we put in honest effort.

The key to success here is to be genuine and honest in our efforts and to make this our first priority.  Yes, I know that preaching the gospel should be a very important effort we make as a church, but you know what?  We have no credibility in preaching the good news of peace and harmony in God’s restored government as long as we remain unable and unwilling to get along with the rest of our family.  Until we fix this division, all the gospel preaching in the world will be empty.

The above are all general principles, but what are some specific next steps?  That may depend slightly on your position within any given organization, so here are two lists – one for the “Presidents” (or presiding evangelists, or pastor generals, or whatever you want to call yourselves), and one for everyone else.  If you are the “president” of an organization, please consider doing the following:

  • Pick up the phone and start calling the leaders of other organizations, seeking reconciliation.
  • Find immediate ways to start working together with them on our common purpose.
  • Find immediate ways to bring the people in these separate organizations together as a family, permanently.
  • Be ready to apologize for any past problems you have caused.
  • Be ready to accept apologies from others for past problems they may have caused (but do not expect them or demand them).
  • Don’t quit on any of this until our Father’s family is whole again.

Will that take humility, and therefore be difficult?  Sure.  That’s the way of our Father, and you ought to know that better than anyone.  Deal with it.

If you are a leader but not a “president”, please consider taking these actions:

  • Start the conversation.  You can do this by bringing up the topic at a ministerial conference or seeking an immediate meeting with the “president” of your organization to discuss how to move this process forward.  You might also consider preparing sermons and/or articles for public consumption that address this issue.
  • Don’t let the conversation die.  Once you’ve started the conversation, keep talking about it until this problem is solved.  Don’t get lulled back into complacency and fall asleep on the job.

I understand it will be difficult to do these things, especially for those who step out first.  It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable that way, but it’s the right thing to do.  Even if no one else does the right thing, we ought to be committed to do so for as long as it takes.  That is our calling.

This, of course, will never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen. Many top COG leaders are sociopaths or psychopaths obsessed with their own power, profit and station, and they are not adept at sharing.

But the letter is a rallying cry many in the rank-and-file have publicly identified with. If the COG cult leaders aren’t careful, the kinds of disunity and mistrust of the leadership that’s tearing up LCG could rise up everywhere across the COG.

Jun 292015
 

1282786204310The COG is officially flipping its collective shit over gay marriage, joining angry old conservative Christian white people across the U.S. in universal disgust with Friday’s SCOTUS decision that struck down state prohibitions against same-sex marriage.

Really, last week was terrible for America’s rightwing fringe — where the COG often fits on the political spectrum — with Confederate flags coming down, SCOTUS upholding universal health care and then immediately thereafter declaring that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection provisions extend to same-sex marriages. If those aren’t three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, what are?

Far from the fringe rightwing being completely ideologically and legally defeated, backlashes are already beginning and these fights are far from over: Black churches are starting to burn anew as white supremacists retaliate against waves of sympathy for the black community. The GOP continues to lean on final desperate measures to battle The Affordable Care Act. Republicans try to prevent gay people from marrying and promote civil disobedience in protest of new legal rights. And the march toward equality, while having taken a massive leap forward, still has long slog ahead as racism, homophobia and other tethers of traditional society fray but refuse to break.

The rage is real and the culture war has reached its middle.

So while everyone including major corporations, The White House, LGBT rights activists and most people under the age of 40 celebrate the further propagation of civil rights in a huge rainbow-colored explosion, the COG is right there to join the chorus of hateful apocalyptic doomsayers who think this is yet another sign of the end. COG members are raging and sorrowing on social media, some lashing out against and defriending their secular acquaintances and anyone else speaking out in favor of the ruling. And COG ministers of course are fearmongering about America’s slide into an amoral cesspool, echoing decades of bigotry against even the closeted LGBT people in their midst, the legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s hatred still echoing strongly through the splinter cults today.

ICOG’s Mark Armstrong scathed over the ruling:

This is a week that will live in infamy. A majority on Supreme Court of the United States has officially flipped off God. They’ve held that their judgment supersedes His Law. However this monstrous miscarriage of jurisprudence plays out across our lives, there is no question that six of the justices just elevated their temporal authority above that of God.

There appears to be no more remedy under the Constitution or in our judicial system to obey God in the face of those who would force the will of the sodomites upon us all. Certainly Christian ministers will have no protection for opting out of the performance of a queer matrimonial ceremony. They will face law-suits in Federal Court claiming discrimination and all kinds of pain and suffering on the part of the plaintiffs, they will be on the hook for civil damages at the least, and potentially punitive sanctions for having violated Federal Law.

UCG, despite its surface makeover, continues its traditional homophobia by comparing homosexuality to rape and murder:

God’s opinion of homosexuality has not changed—it’s never been okay. Some people feel homosexual feelings now, just as some people have through all of human history. God asks us as His children to choose the right way to live, no matter what hand time and chance deal us in life—whether that be urges to murder others, burn things down, cut ourselves, rape somebody, pursue homosexual relationships, steal someone else’s property, or whatever.

COGWA claims that same-sex couples are simply inferior to heterosexual couples:

God purposely made men different from women so that the two complement each other. There are attributes and abilities that a man has that a woman doesn’t (and vice versa). It is through marriage that two individuals become one, combining the strengths of each, which God calls “very good.” One of the many blessings that come from the marriage union is children.

On the other hand, same-sex couples are incapable of these God-designed results of marriage. Same-sex couples may adopt children, impregnate a surrogate mother, or even be impregnated by donor sperm, but that is not the same as a father and mother sharing in their child’s birth as a result of the oneness they share—sexually, mentally and emotionally.

LCG meanwhile is screaming about perceived persecution of Christians by the evil gays:

Indeed, the facts already show that many claims made by homosexual activists during their march to acceptance are, in the end, lies—whether born of unintended and willful ignorance, confused delusion or practiced deceit.

Artists and craftspeople who serve couples at their weddings—cake decorators, planners and photographers—are already facing lawsuits and financially devastating fines when they exercise their religious convictions and choose not to help celebrate a same-sex “marriage.”

Ministers who run wedding chapel businesses are finding that they must be willing to “marry” same-sex couples or perhaps face fines and even jail time. Local pizza makers who say they cannot in good conscience cater a “gay wedding” have experienced threats to their business. State laws guaranteeing religious freedom are increasingly under attack, out of concern that individuals may use them to express their religious conscience in support of traditional marriage. Millions of Americans are feeling as if their vaunted First Amendment freedom of religion is giving way to the mandate, “Thou shalt embrace gay marriage.”

The deeply-closeted, already struggling gay COG members out there have to be feeling worse than ever reading all this bilge as homosexuality is treated like a subhuman mental illness and the desire to find wedded happiness with a lifelong partner painted as a despicable plot to tear society apart.

The COG, like many fundamentalist Christians, deny not only that LGBT people deserve rights equal to everyone else’s, but also the science behind homosexuality, rejecting the basic facts that sexuality is decided by genetics and exists on a spectrum. After all, if gay people actually didn’t have a choice in their sexual orientation, that would pretty much make the COG a bunch of unfeeling monsters incapable of basic human empathy. Now wouldn’t that be weird?

Jun 272015
 

We’ve mentioned this in passing recently, but it bears some further discussion.

UCG is now 20-years-old, having just celebrated two score of being the largest COG cult. As the organization ages though, it’s starting to have a midlife crisis.

UCG’s rebranding effort is desperately promoting their church, which they jump up and down insisting merely means “assembly” since they don’t have actual buildings people traditionally associate with churches. This places an onus on the special, mindblowing experience of attending their services, putting the actual religious teachings of Armstrongism on the backburner.

This, of course, is a doomed, losing proposition, because while Armstrongist teachings and cultism have long been the downfall of their growth, that doesn’t make the COG’s traditional boring, stiff services a great strength they can fall back on, especially when they completely ignore the coveted strangers checking them out.

The bottom line is that COG services are boring, lifeless affairs with mediocre-to-terrible music and zero draw for the average drifting churchgoer off the streets.

Well, UCG is reportedly trying to fix that by introducing some tweaks to their services. Yes, various COG groups have tried to change the traditional WCG mix up in the past by adding and taking away hymns, or introducing split sermons, or replacing the sermon with a Bible study, etc, etc, etc. But UCG is apparently trying something unheard of within the annals of Armstrongite history: testimonials.

What some churches call “witnessing,” testimonials usually feature members getting up before a microphone and telling personal stories about what God/Jesus/The Church have done for their lives, in the name of inspiring their brethren and promoting congregational cohesion. It’s super Pentecostal and Evangelical.

We’ve received reports from a handful of congregations on the West Coast where testimonials are supposed to be replacing the middle hymn, if they haven’t already. What we know from firsthand sources is the following:

  • This is a pilot program, something various UCG congregations are trying on a trial basis. Obviously, if people don’t want to speak, it’s not going to work in the longterm. James Malm has been looking into this too, and the project’s success rate is reportedly very low.
  • Robin Webber is among those in UCG’s power structure at the forefront of promoting this shift from tradition, so it’s not just some rogue pastors doing their own thing. There pretty much have to be eyes from Cincinnati on this, at least a tacit nod of approval.
  • Some members approached by ministers to give testimonials in church have said they were uncomfortable with the request and turned it down.
  • Other members have been offended by the notion that women have been asked to witness, due to longstanding church bans on them speaking in church.
  • Members who have turned down the offer to speak have been further pressured by ministers, some of whom have called them at home to nag them until they agree.

So we know quite a bit already. We don’t know how long these attempts will last or whether the project will be abandoned right away due to blowback from members. But we would love to hear from people about this.

This marks yet another serious turn by UCG away from Armstrongist tradition. It appears that in the longterm, some five years later, COGWA was right about UCG’s intentions to radically change the church — though there’s certainly a chicken-or-the-egg component to that argument. But the UCG of old versus the blue muppet-infused, testimonial spewing, young adult and marketing-driven Armstrongism lite of the current UCG are quickly becoming two vastly different experiences. Both versions still completely suck, but they’re different nonetheless.

The most important takeaway from these attempts at change is how desperate UCG has become for strong brand identity, for growth, and therefore for money. Its aged leadership’s pocketbooks have only become lighter over its 20-year run and the cult has long seen the writing on the wall. But fixing the problem isn’t as simple as rebranding. It’s a broken organization from the foundation up, built upon lies and corruption, the legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong inescapable regardless of how hard they try to scrub it away.

UCG’s leadership might think that they can simply phase out the ragged, stubborn old Armstrongites that comprise the bulk of their membership by way of introducing new blood and indoctrinating the youth into staying and being different from their parents. But this is a delusion, because UCG has proven hilariously, deeply incapable of drawing new members, and its leaders won’t live long enough for everyone else of their vintage to die and for their kids to be molded in a new image — assuming they stay in the church at all.

Seriously, UCG should just be allowed to collapse and if its leaders are really that hellbent on being in charge of a religious organization, they should just start over.

Jun 222015
 

Our hearts go out to the mourning families of those lost to the hands of hatred in Charleston, South Carolina last week.

The historied Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest black churches in the United States, has survived many horrible race-related attacks since its 1816 CE founding and will survive this as well. Racist terrorists will not prevail against a community that has shown nothing but transcendent grace and loving forgiveness following the atrocity that claimed nine of their members’ lives.

Despite tortured logic from FOX News and other conservative media outlets, this was not an attack on Christianity — some of whom have managed to make themselves the victims of this attack — but a deliberate and stated attack on black people by a white supremacist.

Community leaders, churches and citizens of all races and creed have come together in Charleston to mourn those lost and defy forces of terrorist hatred. Aside from the rightwing fringe, this cut-and-dried dreadful assault on innocent lives has created a unified backlash against the lingering and systemic issues of American racism and the cultural remnants of the Rebel South.

Yet, the COG has been predictably silent on the matter.

Charlotte-based LCG, a mere three-hour drive from Charleston, hasn’t issued a statement, and if they’ve said anything, we haven’t been able to find it on their website. Considering their spotty record on church shootings, one would think out of all the COG, they would say something, anything at all.  UCG and other COG cults — many of whom have congregations in and around Charleston — have been similarly silent nearly a week after the murders, even while mainstream Christians have poured their hearts out over this tragedy.

PCG, meanwhile — among most overtly racist and vile of the COG cults — has continued their longtime theme of prophecizing a race war. PCG’s Stephen Flurry unleashed a not-so-subtle racist rambling about the shooting, where he blamed the “liberal media” for trying to “capitalize” on the shooting and suggests that African-American survivors of the massacre are trying to start a race war, all while trying to paint the rightwing as the real victims.

How can the COG, especially organizations like UCG that are so desperate to grow, be so publicly indifferent and even outright combative toward other races in an increasingly-diverse United States?

The COG’s stance on racial equality has been historically awful. The mostly-white Armstrongist movement, despite claiming membership across the world, had longstanding bans again interracial dating and marriage. Even into the 21st Century, ministers would refuse to conduct interracial weddings and frequently forced interracial couples to attend separate congregations to avoid offending racist older members. While this has somewhat shifted in some splinter groups, it’s also not an issue 95 percent white churches really have to confront in a meaningful way.

Armstrongism’s adherence to the inherently racist doctrine of British Israelism further taints their legacy and contributes to the movement’s impending demise as Christianity diversifies nationally.

So we’re not shocked by the mixture of omission and outright racism in the COG’s response — or lack thereof — so far.  That doesn’t make it any less disgusting though. We’re certain that weeks from now, all of the COG cults will have sounded off in their own predictable ways about the terrorist attack in Charleston, but we expect their statements to range from extremely hollow to outright offensively outrageous.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country will continue the process of healing and debating over how to prevent these kinds of crimes against humanity from ever happening again on our soil. We’re certain there still won’t be answers the next time this inevitably happens in the United States.

Update: A commenter shared a COGWA reaction, which was pretty decent, better than most of the rest of the COG has manager thus far. It’s lightyears ahead of PCG and better that they actually said something unlike 90% of the 700 splinters thus far.

Jun 172015
 

The Pew Research Center released a report last month detailing shifts in American religious affiliation, with Christians suffering among the greatest losses. Young adults are those primarily leaving religious folds, though the departure is present among all demographic groups.

Inversely, the unaffiliated (the infamous nones that comprised both the faithful and the faithless) are significantly growing.

And the growth of unaffiliated Christians is driven primarily by generational replacement rather than by attracting new people.

Despite overall decreases, racial and ethnic diversity is increasing among Christians.

So basically, UCG’s pathetic attempts to grow their cult have come at a comically wrong time in history, when people are leaving religion in general and certainly aren’t looking to join up with the fringe. Long story short, the COG — an aging, nearly entirely white religious movement that isn’t retaining its youth — is inexorably screwed.