With the recent disintegration of David Hulme's COGIC, the COG landscape finds itself more fractured and incoherent than ever. COGIC's complete lack of growth and loss of members and money is indicative of larger trends among the Armstrongite cults.
Disunity has been a constant theme within the COG, and the simmering discontent within COGIC reported a couple years ago boiled over into a catastrophic crisis that has essentially rendered the cult defeated and barely functional as it begs for money and loses a sizable clip of its wolves and sheep.
Stephen Elliot sent this to David Hulme a couple weeks ago:
In the Feast film, the media team told us that we must find words that the world will like so they will listen to us. Jesus said that the world would hate us and not listen to our word, just as it hated Him and did not hear His word—but that was the commission He gave His disciples (John 15:18-20). Seeking to be accepted by the world is seeking to become friends with the world, and scripture says that makes us God’s enemy (James 4:4).
In August I mentioned to you that the fruit of this organization is bad. Our membership has declined, not grown. After 15 years and an estimated expense for Vision of $3+ million dollars for salaries, advertising, publishing, design, shipping, PR, video, travel and whatever, there has been no fruit from Vision or the Vision website. The only new members, other than children of members, have come because of a personal relationship with a member—not because of Vision.
The parts in bold could apply to virtually any COG group at this point. Tithe money is spent like water on useless media endeavors. There's a complete lack of growth, if not a bleeding of members. Ministers are receiving salaries despite not really doing their jobs. No good fruit is growing from the COG trees.
Let's examine the state of the various COG groups entering 2014.
Church of God, Preparing for the Kingdom of God: As Ron Weinland rots in prison for tax fraud, he has continued to write letters to his few remaining members from his cell. When he gets out, it's possible COG-PKG could pull a Lazarus and come back to life -- but we doubt it. The feds are going to essentially keep him on a leash and watch him very closely. Between that, the number of his followers who have jumped ship, a series of false prophecies andMike DDTFA's wonderful work exposing Weinland's lies, it would be shocking if COG-PKG ever became a notable player on the COG landscape again or rise anything above a cautionary tale.
Church of God, an International Community: David Hulme's cult is broken. Many of its senior ministers have jumped ship, taking many members with them. COGIC is hurting badly for money and the problems that lead to the split -- ministerial corruption, media stagnation and bleeding funds -- will finish it off, if they haven't already. Hulme has proven himself a failed cult leader and his reign is a cautionary tale of megalomaniacal self-destruction. This cult is basically done for, especially if Hulme moves forward with revisions to doctrines related to British Israelism. His remaining followers will likely join the dissenters or scatter to other COG groups.
Continuing Church of God: Bob Thiel's split from LCG made for some online entertainment and his disastrous YouTube videos are hilarious. But Thiel's following is nearly non-existent, and if it weren't for his relative notoriety within the COG world and the fact that his pathetic organization is incorporated, he would probably be rolled up into the vast wasteland of other independent COG evangelists littering cyberspace. CCOG will never spark to life as anything more than the butt of jokes.
Global Church of God: GCG broke a long time ago after Roderick C. Meredith left with 80 percent of its members to start LCG. It's reached such a lowly point now that Global virtually has ceased to exist as an organization, even while various wings of it linger under different names around the world.
God's Church Worldwide: David Moore's microcult never really gained any traction. It's basically dead. One visit to its website confirms.
Church of God Fellowship: This is literally the Living Room Church of God. It has no corporate structure and is a mesh network of members who listen to sermons online and do not interact outside of a very small handful of actual congregations in the U.S. There's nothing to see here.
Sabbath Church of God: SCOG is another Global splinter, even smaller than most. The tiny Little Rock cult has not fared well.
Church of God, In Training for the Kingdom: Dan Cafeo has a single Palo Cedro congregation and a website that doesn't look like it's been updated since August. 'nuff said.
Independent Microcults: If little online churches like ICOG, Ron Dart's Born to Win and other virtual ministries ever really affected the world around them, they definitely don't now. The Independent Church of God has two issues of one publication and a whopping total of 6,800 hits on its website. Potentially violent COG cults like the Obedient Church of God got some online attention but then faded to zilch.
Everyone Else: The COG cults focused on bySilenced are the largest and most relevant on the Armstrongite cultscape, but they're still extremely tiny and pathetic. If the biggest ones are small, how nothing are the 700 other splinters? They're hardly even congregations. E.W. King and other Internet evangelists keep posting stuff that's primarily given voice by anti-COG blogs making fun of them. These aren't even churches. In most cases they're just websites that are rarely updated. It's hard to be more irrelevant.
Church of God, a Worldwide Association: Since its split from UCG, COGWA has not made what could be considered progress. It's managed to copycat and restore most of the institutions they left behind in UCG, but that only brings them up to their mother cult's level of stagnation. COGWA, clocking in at roughly 5,000 members or less, inherited most of UCG's foreign expenses through subsidies to third world congregations. It would be shocking if it's breaking even, since it's likely bleeding money. It lacks major media projects. COGWA cannot even reach the size of RCG's microphone through YouTube, television and Internet ads -- and that's pretty pathetic.
Church of God International/International Church of God: Garner Ted Armstrong's cults are nothing without their leader. Over the decade or so since his ouster for sexual assault and eventual death, these cults have only floundered and have lost their identity and voice.
Church of God Faithful Flock: This tiny little COG cult run by Alton B. Billingsley out of Modesto somehow manages to keep operating its single congregation, webcast services and homeschool group. Though this is not a growing organization. It's RCG-lite in how it operates. When Billingsley goes, so does COGFF.
Church of the Eternal God: The last wing of GCG to survive, CEG may still publish literature but like other COG cults is not growing. It has the additional problem of a U.K. minister being convicted on four counts of child molestation. Bad press, tiny congregations and no traction leaves Global's remnant bleeding in the street.
Church of God, the Eternal: One of the older splinters is barely getting by. Considering that it split over issues within WCG during HWA's reign that aren't even relevant anymore, and the fact that its leader Raymond C. Cole died years ago, there's not much reason for this cult to exist anymore...and it barely does.
Christian Biblical Church of God: Fred Coulter's little cult soldiers on, but since it's really all about Coulter, it's hard to envision it carrying on without him should he pass on, and the sect definitely is not growing. We get email from their members every so often, somewhat satisfied we rarely mention them in any critical ways. That might change this year, but it's also indicative of how irrelevant they truly are even to a discussion as niche as the COG.
Philadelphia Church of God: Cult leader Gerald R. Flurry has long suffered ill health and recently collapsed onstage. When he dies, PCG will likely limp onward revering the memory of two "Apostles" -- Herbert W. Armstrong and Flurry. What happens after that should be interesting to watch.
Living Church of God: Roderick C. Meredith is not in good health and UCG has already measured LCG's drapes. LCG only exists to gather around Meredith, the whole reason 80 percent of Global left with him. The loyalty is to him, not to his lieutenants. When he dies, LCG will likely break and scatter and there are already grumblings and defections. We can't predict when that break will be, since tyranny and longevity seem to commonly be associated. But LCG as an organization is unlikely to have long.
Restored Church of God: David C. Pack experienced a major embarrassment over the false prophecy that the whole COG would rally around him by the end of August 2013. It was so damaging to his image -- imagine that for a moment -- that he felt the need to give his version of an apology and fall silent. But aside from a failed prophecy, RCG is suffering all of the same symptoms that COGIC did before its recent explosion: malcontent members, ministerial abuses, rumors of members leavings, pastors being fired for challenging Pack, tons of money being spent on ineffective media projects and boondoggles like the cult's Wadsworth office. What's more, Pack is actually crazier than Hulme. RCG is not a healthy organization. We'll give it two years or less before it experiences a major crisis that shreds it.
House of Yahweh: Yisrayl "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins has weathered a lot of self-inflicted storms: a child labor conviction, one of his elders being sentenced for child molestation, bad press and a slew of failed apocalyptic prophecies. But he's not in prison and continues to run his little Abilene bunker community. HOY continues to be extremely dangerous, and the mixture of crazy, dangerous and a lengthy lull in any news is a recipe for impending disaster. The cult has been increasing efforts in its front group, Peaceful Solution Character Education Incorporated, which is likely to be a recruitment tool. Watching HOY in the coming months might prove wise.
United Church of God: Bottom line: UCG is too big not to fail. It will split again. In fact, "it will split again" should be on UCG camp t-shirts. There are too many variables at play within the largest COG cult, and tensions are set to rise as their third president in five years also fails to spur growth within the church. Like COGIC, it's pouring money into media projects and seeing nothing out of it, a problem exacerbated by its loss of members, money and congregations when COGWA split. UCG is throwing money into a black hole, even as it somehow attracts a million unique web views a month and no new members. This kind of failure won't sit well for long before more internal strife breaks out.
Christian Churches of God: The lawsuit-happy Wade Cox hates being mentioned online, it seems. He gets to be in charge of CCG through 2019, and if he does not relinquish power by then, it could lead to major tensions. CCG is also making some disturbing gains in Africa, according to reports. This is a deceptive and vile cult that manages to do a lot of damage despite its meager size.
A Congregation of the Church of God: This tiny little bunker-dwelling cult hides in the deserts of Arizona. Almost nothing else is known about them. That's kind of scary for anyone in their thrall. It also makes it very tough to gauge their status.
End Time Assembly: Everything we hear about David Nix's tiny little cult -- recently re-dubbed the Church of Covenant Blessings -- makes our skin crawl. He micromanages his followers' lives worse than any current COG leader we've heard of. He is spinning some pretty strange doctrines and keeps his handful of congregations extremely small and enclosed. This sect is set to have bad things happen.
Church of God, a Family Community: The newest COG cult was created by the vast chunk of Hulme's COGIC he jettisoned for defying him. At the moment, its collective of newly-unemployed ministers seem content to focus on greater transparency, less corruption and abuse and more sanity. We'll see if they will actually practice what they preach -- a rare thing in the COG -- or prove once again that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It may not be too long until we find out if COGFC -- or whatever name it ultimately settles on -- keeps making noise.