Herbert W. Armstrong’s ministry was characterized by a message of outcast isolationism with regards to his church. It was WCG against “the world,” which members could only live in without ever actually be part of it. These “called” people were far too special to intermingle with civilized society, Armstrongism rejecting basic tenants and traditions of mainstream Christianity and even social convention to set its followers apart. This paranoia and arrogance-fueled attitude has been passed down by HWA’s acolytes to their respective cults, positioning the COG squarely in the fringe of American Christian Fundamentalism.
Living on that lonely edge has deterred growth, the COG withering on a vine of its own planting as it continues to promote a closed culture of control and unorthodoxy for its own sake. COG attempts to distinguish itself from the packs of other doomsday followings haven’t made the church stronger or more recognizable, nor has it added power to its message or microphone. Instead, the COG is left to dwell in obscurity even while trying to pour more money into its media projects. What most COG groups don’t seem to understand is that growth problems aren’t rooted in a lack of money and resources, things it constantly tries to hustle from its members for bigger and better toys. Rather, its message isn’t gaining popularity or recognition because it continues to embrace HWA’s legacy of rejecting the mainstream in a world it’s trying to warn.
In short, the cult’s message just isn’t inherently appealing to most and it hasn’t figured out a way to package fringe beliefs in more publicly-palatable packaging. COG tactics are outmoded and obsolete in the digital age, its words don’t resonate with the current generation and it simply comes across as insane.
UCG though has tried something different. Its ministry is among the youngest in the COG (which says a lot about ministerial seniority in the church) and it has spent mad bucks to make its image slicker, sleeker and more accessible. We’ve discussed at length the disparities this creates between UCG’s actual culture and beliefs in contrast to its public face. A question that remains, however, is whether UCG, or any COG group for that matter, will ever effectively interject Armstrongism’s fringe message into mainstream consciousness, which is essentially the stated goal of most Armstrongist sects?
The answer is no.
Take UCG’s recent series of short clips, including the infamous Sand and Drive. These were attempts to flirt with mainstream Christian imagery and messages as a Trojan horse for its more unorthodox teachings. This trend becomes more pronounced in its recent acquisition of a blue muppet (taking a page from WCG’s Young Ambassadors) to sing about the Ten Commandments, a subject broadly appealing to Christians everywhere. With productions like these, along with Beyond Today and many of its face-lifted magazines, UCG is trying to garner the attention of mainstream Christians to lure them into its home on religion’s fringe outskirts.
But the problem with these shiny-yet-bland and generic projects is that UCG isn’t really distinguishing itself because what they say isn’t too different from the mainstream. But in order to make itself more noticeable, it would need to preach more strongly Armstrongism’s unorthodox teachings, which risks scaring people off. Essentially, in order to bring Armstrongism’s message to the masses without turning people off with its doomsaying and unpopular tidings like how evil Christmas is, UCG and other COG groups would need to strike balance of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy, something none of them seem equipped to handle. And considering Armstrongism’s decades-long track record of attacking mainstream Christians, something many COG groups still do, the entire exercise seems doomed to failure.
Essentially, no matter how the COG tries to package its message for the mainstream, its fringe contents aren’t going to attract many new customers.