Apr 172014
 

It’s been brought to our attention that COG groups, UCG in particular, could be charged with abuse of elders, as their lack of consideration for senior citizen members may violate state and federal laws.

Elder mistreatment, or elder abuse or neglect, is any action that harms or puts a vulnerable senior citizen at risk — whether intended or not — inflicted by a caregiver or other authority figure of trust. Elder mistreatment can be perpetrated by family members, friends, peers, caretakers or strangers. This broad definition could certainly pertain to COG pastors, whose decisions can impact the lives and comfort of all members, including the elderly.

In the COG, this could inadvertently become a huge issue as cult leaders usually like to treat members in ways roughly akin to dirt and often take advantage of and defraud the average follower. The church’s rapidly-aging demographics make such abuse even more egregious, common and potentially illegal.

There are a couple federal laws that aim to protect the elderly from abuse, neglect and exploitation and more legislation has been considered by Congress. Pretty much every state has some law against elder abuse as well.

So how might the COG be screwing over the elderly? UCG, for example, has reportedly setup restricted FOT sites where seniors are expected to attend and flip the bill for their stays, instead of being able to stay with family members. Deborah had this to say across multiple comments:

Perhaps a more pertinent question would be to inquire about some of these new restricted Feast sites of UCG’s where seniors on fixed incomes are forced to register and pay for rooms potentially meals at a hotel outside of their budgets to attend a required festival?

Can anyone say, “Elder Abuse?”

If you are an elder or if you have an elderly family member or friend who is being misused and/or socially isolated by someone in an authoritative or pseudo-authoritative position, don’t hesitate to report the matter to the DOA.

It’s absolutely ridiculous. If we want to take our aged parents or relatives on fixed incomes to the Feast with us on our dime, that’s our business, and they should not be subjected to getting into trouble with these corporate chiefs for having attended the wrong group.

And, they should not be forced to attend sites and stay at pricey hotels picked out by these corporate guys that are outside of their limited, fixed incomes. It’s time to take back our Church and send a clear message once and for all to these corporatists – hands off!

Meddling is among a COG pastor’s favorite hobbies, so this doesn’t surprise. They might think it’s an awesome idea to send elders off to Senior Citizens Camp come Feast time in a misguided attempt to lump them together with their peers and somehow cater to their needs. But if they are being isolated from their families and support networks and being forced, despite their fixed incomes, to pay for it all themselves, that is indeed abusive.

We usually avoid attributing to malice what can be attributed to stupidity, but in the case of COG leaders, their unwillingness to admit mistakes or see past their own nose could make this an issue unsolvable via complaints. Getting the authorities involved seems like a better option. As Deborah suggests, suspected elder abuse should be reported to the proper authorities. If you know or are related to an elderly COG member being placed in an exploitative situation, don’t hesitate to place a call to the appropriate department.

A comprehensive list of state phone numbers can be found here.

Update:

Reggie, who claims to be a UCG employee, says this in response:

Employee of UCG here. There are NO mandatory Elder Feast sites. We do not force elders, seniors, or even señors to attend any site. If they are unable, or if it is a hardship, we encourage them to stay home. We will be broadcasting church services everyday for those that can’t attend. (For free in case you didn’t know)

We do have small Feast sites set up for those that are unable to travel far, and we do require that those attending to be a senior or a family member of a senior. Why? Because those sites are not set up for large numbers. They are not required to stay at the hotel, nor required to eat the food, or pay for it. (There choice in case you didn’t know)

We have our own response to him in the comments.

Apr 162014
 

Can we just say how nice Wikipedia looks right now? A huge kudos to the editors who have been diligently keeping COG-related entries clean of propaganda and other garbage. The Armstrongism umbrella page is particularly shiny.

Many of the initial edits we made have held fast against the tide of changes over the last year, so that feels good. Sweeping through and making those changes seems to have brought this otherwise neglected niche of Wikipedia articles to the attention of the wider community, so they’ve naturally only gotten better instead of worse.

Also, we haven’t had to delete any COG linkage to its literature in the body of the text for months. Hopefully the cults are learning.

But, there is one thing that needs to be fixed. COGWA, after a couple attempts, has finally setup a page. It’s okay, but it could be better and should have some tweaks made to it. It’s too…friendly. At least they had the honesty to link themselves to the Armstrongism page, which nobody else had previously done of their own volition.

Apr 142014
 

UCG’s Victor Kubik just took a trip to Africa. Lots of other COG groups are scrambling to send ministers out to African congregations based on fears that smaller upstart cults might be poaching their members. Bob Thiel has bragged about gaining 20 congregations in East Africa.

Wade Cox’s fruity little group brags about how much headway it’s made in African nations. UCG makes Africa one of the focal points of its “charitable” work and is rumored as the focal point of a new split. Lots of other COG groups have maintained some presence in the region for years.

The COG has lots of African congregations, but how many of them are significant in terms of committed membership, financial gain or global influence?

For cults that proclaim a global gospel, as offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God, maintaining a presence in Africa — specifically the non-Muslim countries — is important, seeing as how their presence is virtually non-existent in Asia and the Middle East and extremely sparse in Europe. Without Africa, Church of God of the Americas would perhaps be a more accurate description.

For decades, the COG has fallen into the vortex of attempting to reach citizens of African countries similarly to how centuries of Christian missionaries tried to convert them away from heathenism, without much in the way of what could be called success. The COG sends supplies and ministers and literature to the region and efforts in countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia and Uganda are frequent subjects of church propaganda films.

But African takes on Christianity have tended skew away from western values and have a life and culture all their own. And that’s among those who have taken Christian messages seriously. In countries infected with rampant fraud and corruption, playing along with foreign churches can be a great way to receive financial aid. For all of these reasons and more, it’s difficult to gauge how successful COG excursions into Africa are when it comes to retaining serious, baptized members. If we’re setting the bar for success at levels of American growth, which barely exists, it could be comfortably declared that the COG’s African missions aren’t all they’re made out to be.

Sure, there are some cohesive, longstanding COG congregations where a member visiting from abroad might feel somewhat at home sitting in services, not just in South Africa either, where the other white people live. But a lot of the rural congregations rest on the outskirts of COG normalcy.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that most COG ministers to African congregations are white Americans, most of which don’t speak the native languages or understand the cultures and usually only make the trip to visit and check in with their congregations a couple times a year. While it’s true that COG pastors don’t like letting new people into their fraternity, the fact is that congregations need pastors and elders, some sort of regular interface between laymembers and the corporate leadership, someone to advocate for and understand their needs. That the number of African ordained is so small compared to the supposed number of adherents, it indicates a disconnect between the deemed fervency of the members in these countries compared to the average American COG member.

And we’ve all the seen the COG FOT videos where African members are profiled and interviewed and there’s always that one guy with like six wives who attends services and wears his suit but “has a ways to go” down the road to true conversion, according to the narrator. Guys like that one guy are probably pretty common in Africa, to be honest. There are lots of cultural norms in various African countries that run counter to COG values and it’s not easily combated. While some African countries are more westernized than others, tribalism and various cultural traditions often run deep.

Despite the rarity of ordained African members and the various cultural clashes, COG groups still tend to throw money at these oft-subsidized congregations, which might be the only reason they still exist. UCG got sick of this in Latin America and cut the reins, yet it still hangs onto several Africa congregations that couldn’t really be described as self-sufficient.

One of the reasons for the prolonged efforts in Africa is that as various nations become more developed and more tuned into the pulse of world culture, there are increasing opportunities to make religious inroads where they may not have existed before. In addition to Africa’s great untapped natural resources, it’s human resources are just as valuable a trove in the eyes of western expansionists and have been since the days of rampant colonialism. So it’s not really a shock the COG continues to concentrate so hard on keeping their African bonds tightened.

But the next time you hear a COG group bragging about the success of African missions, remember that like most cult claims, it’s likely grounded in exaggeration, omission and hyperbole. The COG’s very existence is rooted in a very American religious fundamentalist phenomenon, so it shouldn’t be surprising it doesn’t carry the same water abroad.

Apr 102014
 

bsa_seal_clipart_bw1Douglas Becker brought an interesting topic to our attention:

Seeing as though the Boy Scouts now allow gay male teens to join up and even transition to the Eagle Scouts, it’s no surprise there has been a backlash by fundamentalist church groups who have previously been very supportive of the organization. The LDS released a vague, backhanded statement voicing its concern. Some Christians have been bailing on the Scouts to join Trail Life instead.

The Church of God, Big Sandy (warning: horrible web design), where Dixon Cartwright of The Journal attends, has actively worked with the Boy Scouts of America. Some COG members have also been known to send their sons into the Scouts over the years. In fact, COGBS (the best COG acronym) chartered Cub Scout Pack 393 and Boy Scout Troop 393 for the purpose of serving church families. Whether these troops still exist as rogue, anti-gay groups isn’t something we could determine, but it wouldn’t shock us if they were still around as some sort of independent group divorced from the larger Boy Scouts of America as a result of the new gay-friendly rules.

There has been a noticeable backlash against the Scouts in the COG, including within UCG and LCG. Even among organizations that are somehow viewed as fluffier and more open and tolerant than their fringier brethren in PCG, RCG and elsewhere, the message from COG groups is clear: “honesty, hard work, truth and justice are all fantastic…unless you’re gay. In which case, we no longer support you.”

Some COG groups have been using the Boy Scouts change of policy as another opportunity to fearmonger against the LGBT community, Darris McNeely describing the march of gay equality as “a giant river that is flowing through and it is wiping away every sense of morality and traditional approach to living and culture that we have known in our whole lifetime in the United States.”

While it’s been months since the Boy Scouts changed their policy, in retrospect it is an interesting point to highlight that all it takes for the COG to abandon support for something is to introduce homosexuality into the mix. Their homophobia is pretty disgusting and has to be alienating to the underground gay community in the COG.

The COGs will have to go back to relying exclusively on their summer and winter camps for indoctrination. The Boy Scouts were probably too mainstream anyway.

Apr 062014
 

Troy Fitzgerald’s Secular Safehouse, after some brief downtime, is back up and running with some recent COG-related podcasts. Welcome back!

We have to say, this site is an excellent resource and Troy has scored some really big interviews, including Larry Gott and Deborah Armstrong, relatives of the deceased Herbert W. Armstrong. Through those interviews, he helped shed additional light and lend even more support to the assertion that HWA was just simply a hideous human being.

For that service, and for providing a great outlet for those coming out of cults, the closet or both, we tip our hat to Troy for a job well done.

Here are the newest COG-related podcasts. The other non-COG interviews on the site are fascinating too.

Tracey – Worldwide Church of God

Tracey shares her experience growing up in the church and how the various ministers counseling her about her pending marriage to a man who was also raised in the church but not yet baptized lead to her questioning more about the church. She ultimately left not long after the church went through it’s massive split in 1995 and now describes herself as an agnostic.

Jeff – United Church of God

Jeff, the oldest of 5 kids, was born and raised in the Worldwide Church of God, but at the age of 11 his parents left to join a new church, United Church of God, which split off of the WCG due to massive doctrinal changes they did not agree with. He was home schooled and largely taught himself, which made him self-reliant and independent. An analytical, science-loving student, by the time he was a teen he was already beginning to secretly doubt the teachings of the church, and before he was 18, he didn’t believe in the religion or Christianity at all. He watched his friends who left the church be shunned and ostracized and, despite being hounded for his “rebellious attitude,” he continued to attend until he was 21 when he could move out on his own.