There are many dangers associated with being part of the COG, and here we comprehensively run through them.
- View All
- Violence and Death
- Costs of Tithing
- Member Stories
Armstrongism refers to the teachings and doctrines of Herbert W. Armstrong while leader of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), and was professed by him and continues to be held by his followers as the "restored true Gospel of the Bible". Armstrong said they were "revealed to him by God" during his study of the Bible. The term "Armstrongite" is sometimes used to refer to those that follow Armstrong's teachings.
Armstrong’s message has been described by critics as an eclectic mixture of cultic doctrine, Jewish observances and Seventh-day Adventism. The church strictly observes the Sabbath on Saturday, the annual Jewish festivals described in Leviticus and strongly advocates the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.
Members are asked to give up to 10% of their incomes to the church as a tithe, while also being told that another 10% was to be saved for annual festival observances, and every third year an additional 10% had to be sent to the church.
Dating outside the church is strongly frowned upon and there is a dress code for members while attending services. Those who refuse to follow the church's guidelines are excommunicated. Members are influenced by church teachings not to wear make-up nor celebrate birthdays and are taught that the Bible warns believers not to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Halloween.
A major component of Armstrongism is British Israelism, which is the view that America, Britain, and much of Western Europe are the descendants of ancient Israel. Armstrong rejected the traditional Christian views of Heaven, Hell, eternal punishment and salvation as "non-biblical". He also taught that members of the church would actually become members of the God family themselves after the resurrection.
Armstrong taught that most of the basic doctrines and teachings of 'mainstream' Christianity were based on "heathen traditions", including absorbed pagan rituals, rather than the Judeo-Christian Bible. His teachings have been the source of much controversy. Shortly after Armstrong's death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God started revising its core beliefs towards the concepts, doctrines, and creeds of mainstream Christianity. This resulted in many ministers and members leaving the WCG to start or join other churches, all of which continue to believe and teach Armstrongism in one form or another.
DISCLAIMER: The following is a listing of the primary points of dogma for extant COG groups to date. Doctrinal rebuttals against Armstrongism can be found online. Silenced does not endorse a particular religious or philosophical belief, and is not concerned with the veracity of these beliefs, as there are countless schools of doctrinal thought in every religion. Instead, we are concerned with how these beliefs are used to control, scare and defraud people. People can believe whatever they like, but they cannot DO whatever they like if their actions harm other people, including their own families.
It should additionally be noted that due to Armstrong's odd mix of doctrines, the beliefs of WCG mirror those of Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Seventh Adventists and Protestant Christian schools of theology. The following is not an attack on the adherents of any religion. Again, the focus is on how Armstrong and his disciples concocted a collection of beliefs for the expressed purpose of manipulating his followers.Doctrine: Armstrong was an Apostle
Herbert W. Armstrong was a prophet of God and an apostle. Anyone who denies this is viewed by LCG, PCG and smaller splinters as an apostate and a heretic. More "liberal" groups such as UCG and COGWA do not mention Armstrong nearly as much during services and literature, though it is very common as a part of church culture for members to still personally hold this belief as a throwback to WCG.
Why this is harmful: When an authority figure is granted the attributes of 'divine appointment', they become nearly infallible in the eyes of his followers. As in the case of the Roman Catholic Pope, this leads to all manner of personal and administrative faults as being overlooked and ignored. In the case of Armstrong, his was a life fraught with dishonesty and hypocrisy, yet speaking with the average member of a COG cult, they cannot name a single fault in the man. The 'ordained' authority possessed by Armstrong has been claimed by other COG cult leaders after his death, the policy extended to them. This leaves members blinded to corruption at the top.Doctrine: The God Family
"The God Family" doctrine holds that the Godhead is not limited to God (the Creator) alone, or even to a trinitarian God, but is a divine family into which every human who ever lived may be spiritually born, through a master plan to be enacted in stages. The Godhead now temporarily consists of two co-eternal individuals, Jesus the Messiah, as the creator and spokesman (The Word or Logos), and God the Father.
According to this doctrine, humans who are called by God's Holy Spirit to repentance, who accept the gift of eternal life made possible by Jesus' sacrifice, who commit to live by "every word of God", and who "endure to the end" would, at Jesus' return, be "born again" into the family of God as the literal spiritual offspring or children of God. Armstrong drew parallels between every stage of human reproduction and this spiritual reproduction. He often stated that "God is reproducing after His own kind -- children in His own image."
Whatever the changes brought about by this new entrance of humans into God's family, God the Father will always be the omnipotent sovereign and sustainer of both the universe and the spiritual realm, forever to be worshiped as God by the children of God. Jesus, as the creator of the universe and savior of God's children, will always rule the Kingdom of God, which will ultimately grow to fill the entire universe, and He likewise will forever be worshiped as God by the children of God.
Why this is harmful: Being a member of the God family, a "king and priest" in the coming Millennial reign of Jesus Christ on Earth, is the carrot dangled in front of COG members by Armstrongism. All of their literature, sermons and other teaching tools focus on humans as being 'baby Gods' who may be eligible for eternal life and limitless power. Members are scared into being as devout as possible, which translates into spending as much as possible in donations to the church, lest they 'lose their crown', God's promise of eternal salvation for the chosen. This 'special knowledge' additionally makes these so-called Christians believe they are 'called' and therefore better than others.Doctrine: The Sabbath
The observance of the Sabbath from dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday was the first non-traditional religious practice that Armstrong adopted. Armstrong decided that there was no sound scriptural authority for Christian worship on Sunday, but rather that the Apostles and the first generation of Christians, both Jewish and gentile converts, continued for decades after the establishment of the Church age to set an example of observing the seventh day of the week (Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset) as the Sabbath.
Why this is harmful: Jews across the world observe the Saturday Sabbath, and it is true that there is no explicit change of the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday found in the Bible. A Sabbath Day of rest is a part of the lives of millions across the world. Yet, under Armstrong's teachings and within WCG and its splinters, it takes a damaging turn. The Sabbath is taught as a law that 'sets apart the people of God' from the rest of the world. The Sabbath is kept at the exclusion of friends and family outside of the church, and a legalistic interpretation of 'Sabbath rest' is enforced. Like Jews in the Orthodoxy, members are to cut themselves off from the rest of the world, meaning no TV, radio, cooking, cleaning, internet and in some cases electricity. Working or doing anything involved with one's profession is strictly prohibited. Food is prepared before the Sabbath on Friday afternoon.
Members, both adults and children, spend nearly the entirety of the Sabbath being indoctrinated with church teachings, through personal studies of COG magazines and booklets, followed by church services including two sermons and song services, often followed by a 'Bible study' where ministers conducted a very controlled Q&A session from members and ensure that everyone in is lockstep. Children are often whisked away from their parents either during or after services to be instructed by elders or deacons in 'Sabbath School' where they are taught Bible stories through the filter of Armstrong's teachings.Doctrine: Holy Day Festivals
Eventually, Armstrong accepted and observed many principles and laws found in the Old Testament and taught converts to do the same. These included the celebration of high Sabbaths, or annual feast days such as Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Holy Days of the Old Testament are still to be observed by Christians, and teach symbolically the seven steps of God's master plan of salvation for humanity. This seven holy day rotation unraveled annually as follows:
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Day of Atonement
The Day of Trumpets
The Feast of Tabernacles
The Last Great Day
Why this is harmful: Again, the original Jewish versions of these religious festivals are observed by millions, but in COG cults they take on entirely new meaning with entirely different traditions and practices attached to them. Each of these days is an opportunity for the leadership to draw 'freewill donations' from members already mandatorily giving 10% of their incoming to the church. They use the Levitical concept of an 'offering' attached to these holy days in the Bible and translate it from animal sacrifices to monetary donations where baskets are passed around to collect checks from men, women and children alike.
Each holy day depicts a different stage of 'God's plan', beginning with Christ's death and ending with his return and judgement of the dead. Each stage of this plan, as defined by Armstrong, is reinforced in member's minds in sermons on during each of these festivals. This is an annual cycle of brainwashing into Armstrong's teachings, without variation or exception, leaving these concepts fresh and ever-present in the minds of the cult's followers.Doctrine: Church Authority
Armstrong taught the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. He taught that the Bible, while inerrant in its message, had been distorted through many conflicting interpretations, and it was not until the 20th century that God had restored the full Gospel message of the Kingdom of God, as understood by the original apostles, to the Church through him by opening his mind to 'the plain truth' of scripture. Armstrong taught that all other churches calling themselves "Christian" were not merely apostate, but actually counterfeits whose history could be traced back to the first century.
Why this is harmful: This creates a built-in antagonism of other religions, including other Christians, which is decidedly un-Christian. It encloses members off from conflicting ideologies, as they are viewed as 'Satanic distortions' of Biblical truth and 'outright lies'. They view those outside of the church as being 'asleep' and 'not called to God's truth'. This reinforces a cultish environment and guards the minds of members from questioning what they are taught and told to do. In their minds, if it is taught by the church, it is the only truth. This doctrine is especially prevalent in extremist groups such as PCG, RCG, and PKG, but has reared its head very recently in UCG, leading to a split over what 'church authority' truly means.Doctrine: British Israelism
Armstrong was a proponent of British Israelism, which is the doctrine that people of Western European descent, especially the British Empire (Ephraim) and the United States (Manasseh) are descended from the 'Ten Lost Tribes' of Israel. Armstrong believed that this doctrine provided a 'key' to understanding biblical prophecy, and that he was specially called by God to proclaim these prophecies to the 'lost tribes' of Israel before the coming of the 'end-times'. Grace Communion International no longer teaches the doctrine, but many offshoot churches continue to teach it even though critics assert that British Israelism is inconsistent with the findings of modern genetics, archeological findings, and historical records.
Why this is harmful: Not only do members consider themselves 'spiritual Israel', or God's 'chosen people', the largely white European membership believes they are physical Israel as well. This leads to a certain amount of racism, as along with a belief that Western Europeans and Anglo Saxons are 'Israel', they also proscribe to viewing the rest of the world's nations through an Old Testament filter. To them, African ethnicities are descendants of Noah's son Ham, therefore they are "cursed" based on an incident in Genesis, Asian ethnicities are descendants of Noah's son Japheth, and Caucasians are descended from Noah's son Shem, hence why they are 'blessed' as the offspring of Noah's favorite son. They break these categorizations of people down further based on Biblical genealogies found in Genesis and Numbers.
When it comes to the specific belief that Britain and America are two of the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh specifically, there is also a culture of nationalism, as the United Kingdom and United States become 'blessed nations' and their histories are filtered to portray these nations as 'instruments of God' and 'superior peoples'.Doctrine: Tithing
A system of tithing in which 10% of one's total income is donated to the church ("first tithe") for its operation and for sharing the gospel with the world; a second 10% was to be saved for the Christian family's expenses during the Holy Days ("second tithe"), and during the third and sixth year of each seven-year cycle, a third 10% was to be used for the indigent, widows, and orphans within the church ("third tithe").
In contrast to many other churches' religious services, the practice of the WCG was not to pass around offering plates during weekly church services but only during holy day church services (seven days each year). These funds were considered "freewill offerings" and regarded as entirely separate from regular tithes.
Why this is harmful: Armstrong managed to convince his followers to steadily pay the church, monthly, 10% of everything they made. COG groups manage to suck the second tithe, another 10%, away from members during the holy days by charging for overpriced special church-sponsored events such as dances, dinners and game nights. The third tithe is not required by most COG groups, as 30% is a tough sell even for the brainwashed. However, this has led to families living beneath their means, vanished college funds for children, and abject poverty for some.
The money goes to media projects to expand their membership, church events, which as mentioned they then charge for again, and most importantly, ministerial salaries, which in the early days were quite extravagant. While WCG members lived a lower class lifestyle of sacrifice to 'preach the Gospel', Armstrong and church leadership flew around on private jets, purchased mansions and dined with golden dishes and utensils. COG splinters have not achieved this level of wealth due primarily to the drastic drop in membership since the 1970s, yet the policy of mandatory tithing remains, and judging by the lack of media penetration by these groups, most of it seems to be going to large salaries and bonuses.Doctrine: The Ten Commandments
The strict observance of the ten commandments is a voluntary response of Christians to receiving the "unearned gift of salvation from God". The ten commandments are an eternal and inexorable law set in motion by God which brings about every good effect when obeyed, but which exact pain, suffering, and eventually death (especially an ultimate spiritual death) when violated.
Why this is harmful: Children are frightened from a very young age with the punishment of death for breaking even one of these commandments. They are taught that to break one is to break them all, and that lying or taking God's name in vain is as bad as murder. This fear keeps people in line, as even though they believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins, they also fear that their sins will cause them to 'lose their crown', forfeiting their place in the government of the returned Jesus Christ. The ten commandments have been turned from a moral code to a tool for behavioral control.Doctrine: Satan the Devil
Satan, the fallen Lucifer who 'fell from Heaven', is a real being is actively trying to rebel against and undermine God and destroy his followers and cause them to fall before the end times. He knows his time is short and is trying to tempt the followers of God with an ever-pervasive secular culture and his influence and that of his demons must be fought on a daily basis.
Why this is harmful: Armstrong called Satan 'the great broadcaster' constantly bombarding the airwaves with his deceptions (ironically, Armstrong was a broadcaster doing largely the same thing). Popular culture was just one means of delivering Satan's influence. Demons, in Armstrong's view, were constantly possessing and haunting people and working against God's people. The COG ministry has frequently claimed to perform exorcisms. Mental illness is rarely acknowledged by the ministry and demonic influences are always considered first and foremost. This creates a fearful, paranoid, nearly medieval view towards mental health, the media, and simply setbacks in daily life. When everything that goes wrong can be blamed on Satan and his demons, it only serves to further feed the persecution complex built into the COG culture.Doctrine: Anti-Science
Due to their fundamentalist viewpoints, science was often not only ignored, but attacked in WCG literature and publications as being ‘a deception by Satan’. Scientists were viewed as atheistic ‘God-haters’ who concoct evidence against Biblical accounts, such as the Flood and Creation story, so they don’t have to ‘be under the thumb of God’s law’. Scientific ignorance was rampant among ministers in WCG and promoted within congregations.
Why this is harmful: Hit-pieces written by Garner Ted against Charles Darwin were run on an almost annual basis to renew the fervor against scientific facts such as Evolutionary Theory, even though those writing these articles show little to no understanding of the subjects they’re criticizing. ‘Young Earth Creationism’ and other forms of pseudoscience are often cited and championed by WCG in place of actual, proven scientific evidence, as that is viewed as a direct threat to the the veracity of their beliefs.
Garner Ted Armstrong wrote several mocking, venomous articles against the Evolutionary Theory, and demonstrated laughable ignorance regarding what it actually states and what evidenced backs it. His handful of salient points that pointed out some of the issues that scientists had in the 70s have since been solved or debunked, however his booklets on the subject are still circulated among COG members as if they were valid, up to date, or relevant, which they are not.Doctrine: Divine Healing
In 1952 Armstrong published Does God Heal Today? which provided the details on his doctrine on healing and his ban on doctors. Among his tenets were that only God heals and that medical science is of pagan origin and is ineffective. He believed that most illnesses were caused by faulty diet and that doctors should prescribe proper diet rather than medicine. He taught that members are not to go to doctors for healing but must trust in divine healing alone. This was his teaching despite his father’s death in 1933 after ‘an all-night vigil of prayer.’ This teaching has been the cause of much controversy as individuals influenced by such teachings came to die.
The use of medicine and doctors was discouraged because members were expected to place their faith in God for healing. Various members suffered discomfort and even death due to reluctance to resort to medical help, yet Armstrong made use of doctors and medicine later in his life. Modern medicine was replaced with ‘faith, prayer, and ministerial anointing’, along with the eating of whole grain and organic foods. Homeopathy and other pseudo-medicine were also commonly practiced by laymembers, though not officially endorsed.
Why this is harmful: Members with terminal or serious illnesses often found themselves in the hospital when they found they can no longer cope with their symptoms and only after submitting a congregational prayer request, getting anointed, and trying any number of ‘natural cures’ before bringing themselves to a medical professional. Members with cancer who misdiagnosed themselves had come before doctors and given only weeks to live because they did not catch the illness quickly enough, due to the church culture where modern medicine is a last resort.Doctrine: Baptism
God's children are not actually "born again" into spirit until after the return of Jesus to the Earth, but water baptism as exemplified by Jesus Christ is required for each church member to be officially 'converted' and to receive the Holy Spirit. Members usually council for baptism from age 18 onwards, as opposed to the Catholic teaching of infant baptism, because Armstrong felt that baptism was a choice, and only once the 'old man' was cast aside and a person repented of all of their sins could they be justly baptized by an ordained WCG minister. Members are baptized in a pool of water by one or ministers and elders, usually with other members present as observers.
Why this is harmful: Those who are baptized are 'sealed' as members of the church. There is no turning back, no leaving of one's own free will lest they risk condemnation, disconnection and persecution from one's own friends and family. Baptized members essentially become apart of a special club within COG groups, as only they are allowed to partake in Passover services and eat the bread and drink the wine normally associated with Catholic communion, and only committed, baptized members are allowed to hold any position of influence in their congregations or the greater church. Even those running the sound production for a service or accompanying on a piano must be baptized. Non-baptized members, whether children or adults, are treated like second class citizens, regardless of how much they have given in time and money to the church.
The process to get baptized is essentially a concentrated dose of brainwashing in preparation to take the plunge. All of Armstrong's doctrines must be accepted by the candidate in full and all of their 'sins' must be repented of and forgiven by God and the ministry. Becoming a baptized member is a serious commitment, as they believe that God imparts the Holy Spirit on the baptized person, resulting in their 'eyes being opened' and special understanding and powers being imbued upon them. Though this does not happen, members have invested so much in their baptism at this point, and to deny it afterwards is unfathomable. In this respect, baptism does change the member forever, as their induction into the cult is nearly permanent.Doctrine: Three Days and Three Nights
Christ died and was in the grave for three days and three nights before being resurrected and ascending to Heaven. This did not happen during the time period of Easter as promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, but during the time of the Jewish Passover.
Why this is harmful: This may be the case, as the Bible revolves around Jewish holy days in both the Old and New Testament. This is a fairly benign doctrine, the only impact being the dates when the church's religious festivals are observed. However, it has led to a number of schisms and heated disagreements resulting in expulsion from the cult based entirely on debates over "God's calendar" and how it translates to our current day system.Doctrine: Repentance
Before converting and becoming a Christian, all human beings must repent of their sins, meaning they must acknowledge all of them, ask God's forgiveness, and NEVER partake in them again. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness, and without forgiveness there is not salvation.
Why this is harmful: While most Christian denominations preach repentance, the primary 'sins' that the COG ministries focus on when it talks about repentance are usually fairly petty, such as foul language, improper Sabbath observance, not tithing, breaches of the dress code at services and other points focused on conformity into the fold. Other 'deadly sins' it focuses on are sexual in nature such as suggestive clothing, movies with suggestive themes, and homosexuality which it expressly and strongly condemns. The doctrine of mandatory repentance, rather than serving as a means of reconciling one's own soul with Christ, serves to single-out and persecute those who choose to live their lives and conduct themselves differently.Doctrine: Military Service and War
Christians are not to partake in military service nor go to war, even in a non-combatant capacity. All members must file conscientious objector status in the case of a draft.
Why this is harmful: Many churches preach against military service, citing primarily the sixth commandment of "thou shalt not kill". However, as is often the case, this doctrine takes on a special spin in the view of Armstrongism. COG groups base the prohibition on military service on John 18:36, where Jesus states "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." To COG members, this is not God's world, and the military is not a divine army, therefore they will not take up arms to fight on behalf of a 'secular government'. While the prohibition against murder is cited as an additional reason, Armstrongism views the true war a spiritual battle of God's people against "the world". This is yet another way to divide its membership from their identities as citizens of their own countries. The same beliefs are used to prohibit members from voting or partaking in jury duty. If this were the Millennium that Armstrong preached, then COG members would take up arms and fight, but not in the world where the rest of us have to live.Doctrine: Anti-Paganism
Armstrong taught that the celebrations of Christmas and Easter were inappropriate for Christians, considering them not of biblical origin, but rather a later absorption of pagan practices into corrupted Christianity. Any and all traditions and observances with pagan roots were banned in WCG.
Why this is harmful: There are many extra-Biblical influences on Roman-based Christianity, including Christmas, Easter and Christian symbology and imagery. They refuse to use the Christian cross or any images of Jesus Christ. There is nothing particularly harmful about not adopting these symbols and practices. What is harmful is the outright ideological crusade against others who practice mainstream Christian traditions, the belittlement of others with different beliefs, and the disconnection of families from friends and relatives who do practice these things. Members are forbidden from taking part in Christmas and Easter celebrations, which in modern western culture are popular times for families to come together. Extended families have grown distant from their relatives in COG cults as they remove themselves from family activities centered around these traditions.Doctrine: Unclean Meats
Abstinence of eating unclean meats listed in the Old Testament such as pork, shellfish, and the like was taught and enforced in WCG, which is against traditional mainstream teachings. This policy continues in all COG splinter groups, though Grace Communion International has reversed this doctrine in its modern form.
Why this is harmful: Jews and Muslims traditionally hold similar beliefs, however in the case of Armstrongism, they take it to a legalistic extreme. During the golden years of WCG, restaurants in cities where the Feast of Tabernacles was held would be strong-armed into altering their menus for a week to banish the presence of 'unclean meats', and in those days they had such clout and produced so many tourists that restaurants were compelled to comply to cater to their needs at the expense of everyone else.Doctrine: No Afterlife
Armstrong did not believe in the traditional doctrines of Heaven and Hell, but rather spoke of a "sleep" state of the dead, meaning the dead have not yet been judged, rewarded, or condemned, but rather wait to be resurrected. Humans are completely mortal, but salvation is the free, unearned gift of eternal life in God's family as children of God, given upon the prerequisite of faith in God and repentance from sin, which then results in a motivation to completely observe God's eternal laws.
Why this is harmful: This is similar to Jewish belief, which is fine, however in COG groups, this is used to instill the fear of the oblivion of death into its members. They are taught that the soul can be destroyed by God and will be in the 'Third Resurrection' if they do not repent and conform.Doctrine: Prophecy
All Biblical prophecy was viewed by Armstrong as 100% true, and those that were not fulfilled eventually and imminently will be. Armstrong made several of his own predictions, most of which never came to pass, however he viewed his interpretation of the prophecies in the Bible, especially those found in Daniel and Revelation, were divinely inspired and inerrant.
Why this is harmful: This has led to a revisionist view of not only the Bible but history. Members believe that every single prophecy has been fulfilled, and that historians and archeologists are 'deceived by Satan', creating further animosity against scientific understanding and consensus.
Armstrong predicted Jesus Christ would return in his lifetime according to a sequence of events he believed the Bible indicated preceded the return of Jesus Christ. For years, he had written about his beliefs that a sign of the end times would be a dissolving of the Soviet Union, followed by the formation of a 'United States of Europe'.
In August 1985, his final book, Mystery of the Ages, was published, Armstrong calling it a "synopsis of the Bible in the most plain and understandable language." It was more or less a compilation of his theological concepts which concluded that the Bible was ‘a coded book’ to which he had been given the key, and which those 'blinded' by Satan's world could not understand.
He predicted in his book 1975 in Prophecy! that the end times would begin in 1972, resulting in Christ's return in 1975. This caused his legion of followers to brace themselves for the end of the world. Many family's cancelled future plans such as marriage, starting a family, buying a house or similar life milestones, and started to prepare for the impending apocalypse. As 1972 approached, it became clear that these prophecies would not come to pass. While the European Union was a concept in the making, it took another 20 years for it to come to pass.
This was Armstrong's last failed prophecy, but not his first. The ex-member hub The Painful Truth presents a full listing of the failed prophecies Armstrong made throughout his 52 year ministry. A smaller list can be found at On Doctrine.Doctrine: Apocalypse
Revelation speaks of a 'Great Tribulation' upon the Earth in the End Times that will nearly destroy all human civilization in a great war. Armstrong believed every word of the prophecies in Revelation and made several predictions as to a specific date when those events would transpire. Before all life on Earth is destroyed, it says that Jesus Christ shall return to Earth and establish his kingdom.
Why this is harmful: COG members believe that this world is ending 'immanently', and while only a few dare to set dates anymore, they have ceased having any hope that the world will improve, and unlike some other religious followers, do not go out of their way to better society or help their neighbors. After all, what's the point if it's all going to burn anyway? For many, the end of the world is the only hope they have left, the final confirmation of their beliefs that will justify their lives up to this point. It creates a kind of bloodlust, and schadenfreude for world events to take a turn for the absolute worst, a nuclear World War III.Doctrine: The World Tomorrow
God will set up His government on earth, under the rule of Jesus at his second coming, rescuing humanity from sin and self-annihilation, inspiring mankind to voluntarily turn to God's law, and ushering in a 1000 year period of peace, prosperity, and justice under the rule of the children of God, who are the biblical saints and faithful members of the Worldwide Church of God who are "born again" as spirit in the 1st resurrection at Jesus' return to the Earth.
Why this is harmful: People who have spent their lives separating themselves from 'the world' are trained to believe that they will have the wisdom to understand and instruct them in the 'ways of God' as 'kings and priests' in a utopian, however theocratic, government instituted by the conquering Jesus Christ who will return at the end of the Apocalypse. They view themselves as being destined to be "chosen" and set above everyone else during Christ's 1000 year reign, and that they will help rebuild the world as a perfect divine dictatorship where nobody can hide their sins from God. Despite the despotic overtones of this belief, they look forward to this era beyond all else.Doctrine: Christian Reward
Those who are the 'firstfruits' or the 'elect' will be resurrected as 'kings and priests' as spirit beings in the Kingdom of God and will help Christ rebuild the world. The most faithful will be made rulers of their own cities and fiefdoms and they will teach those who were not called in the Second Resurrection the ways of God and show them the error of their ways. They will live forever alongside God in his "family."
Why this is harmful: COG members are trained to believe that death is to be feared and eternal life desired. They also believe that their bodies and minds will be "made perfect" as god beings, therefore they don't need to spend much time bettering their own wisdom and understanding in this life. Instead, they simply blindly conform to receive their eternal reward and become awesome, infallible beings upon their resurrection at the end of days. Why learn anything if omniscience is guaranteed as the reward for a lifetime of servitude to the church?Doctrine: Resurrections
Non-believers are not yet eternally judged, having a future opportunity for salvation after a mortal resurrection.
The vast majority of all people who have ever lived will be saved, thus the relatively small number of true Christians of this age are predestined to be merely the early "firstfruits" of God's harvest to help teach the majority of humanity raised by the Second Resurrection. Armstrong taught there were three resurrections of the dead:
1. Faithful believers as the first fruit harvest at Jesus' second coming
2. Non-believers temporarily resurrected to mortality for an opportunity to learn and accept God's way
3. Resurrection to final judgment of the incorrigibly wicked—those whose minds had been fully opened to God's truth, either in this age or after the second resurrection, and rejected it—mainly those truly called but who fell away, and those who incorrigibly rebel in the "Wonderful World Tomorrow."
Punishment of the incorrigible is not an eternity of torment in hell, but rather a merciful annihilation, through fire, by the edict of God.
Why this is harmful: People who turn away from the church, especially after baptism, are viewed as 'condemned' to the final judgement and the 'Third Resurrection", along with homosexuals and witches. Everyone else, who is simply asleep and not chosen by God in this life are looked down upon as being destined for the 'Second Resurrection' to be taught by church members in the Kingdom of God. They view themselves as the 'firstfruits' destined for the first and greatest resurrection of the dead, as God's eternal children and co-rulers of Earth and the entire universe. This is delusion run amok.Doctrine: Beyond Today
A celestial heaven apart from the created universe is not the reward of saved humans, but rather the remade Earth under the rulership and personal presence of God is coming to Earth. After the 1000 years is up, the Earth will be burned up and God and his family will take to the cosmos to create life on all of the other decimated planets, which Armstrong taught were destroyed in the Satanic Rebellion described in the Bible has having taken place before the Genesis Creation.
Why this is harmful: The influence of Mormon ideas on Armstrong really shines through in this doctrine. COG members are taught that every dead planet in the universe has been 'set aside' for one of them so they may someday create their own life on it and repeat the process all over again. This has lead members to deny the idea that any planet has ever been destroyed by a supernova, as "nothing has been created in vain," and each planetary body was created for each of the chosen who has ever lived. It serves only to enhance the delusional egotism rampant among these "chosen" COG parishioners and ministers.
The Exit and Support Network has a humorous guide to COG terminology, a great example of how mind control cults use "loaded language" to control how their members communicate with one another.
Silenced has built its own version in order to further help people understand what in the world the COG is talking about in its internal communications.
While COG members take these terms seriously and use them as such, it's hard to do when they're put in proper context of the cult's inner culture and politics.
If you have anymore, submit them to us.
A Government problem
What a COG group suddenly has when a power struggle ensues.
Annual Sabbaths, High days, Holy Days, Feast days
The seven annual Old Testament agricultural festivals that were transformed into cult fundraising events by Herbert W. Armstrong.
Questioning COG leadership.
Those working to expose the COG after leaving its fold (e.g. Silenced, Banned!, ESN, etc.). This is the most common label applied to critics by COG members and has become a laughable cliche.
The transformation from mortality to eternal life.
The process of becoming more submissive to the COG.
Called Those gullible enough to fall for the COG's doctrines.
Stumbling across the COG's literature and falling for its scam.
Change your attitude
Change your beliefs, discard your disagreements, and get back in line.
What happens to those who dare to leave the COG. Bad luck and God's curses will fall upon them.
Anyone having a spat or disagreement with how things are done in the COG.
Doing the Work
Paying tithes, attending church-sponsored events with fees, making financial holy day offerings, and other forms of monetary donation for the sake of "spreading the gospel." When a member talks about "doing the work," they are usually referencing how much money they've given to the cult that month.
Only spending time with fellow COG members.
Get with the program
God's people, God's chosen people, People of God, Christians
Submissive members of the COG.
The will of COG leadership at any given time.
The words of Herbert Armstrong's concerning "The World Tomorrow" and "God's Law" as opposed to the words of Jesus Christ.
Government of God
Headquarters or Home Office
Usually a two-to-three story building where COG groups call their corporate home. Usually filled with cubicles, ferns, tiny recording studios, and lavish offices for senior leadership.
The grave. There is no traditional Hell in COG doctrine.
Any thinking that questions or challenges the COG's doctrines.
Inner Court and Outer Court
A PCG term meaning those within their cult and those outside of it, respectively.
What members are taught to constantly do to one another and the world, but never to COG leadership.
Last hour, Last end, End of the age, End of the end time
The end times, aka NOW.
Any non-COG Christian church, or any COG cult not making enough money or considered "zealous" enough.
Used to describe anyone not insanely zealous enough, and therefore not blending-in with the rabid crazy.
What happens to COG whistleblowers.
Any new doctrinal "discovery" within the COG that results in a change in belief, usually at the expense of its membership.
Place of Safety, Place of final training
Where COG members hide during the Great Tribulation, usually predicted to be Petra, but that is subject to change.
Giving enough money and being submissive enough to the COG in order to make it into God's Kindgom.
Any member who questions COG authority.
To stop breaking the rules of the COG.
A COG member's specific position in God's Kingdom in the The World Tomorrow. Usually something lofty like a king, priest, mayor of a golden city, or whatever crazy thing the specific member dreams of becoming at night.
The supposed reward of eternal life for those who give enough money to the COG.
Satan is attacking
What happens whenever a current or former member tries to expose the group as a corrupt scam (e.g. Silenced).
Satan's lies, Garbage, Rumors
Anything that disagrees with the doctrines of the COG or criticizes its leaders.
Those who survive the coming Apocalypse and "Great Tribulation."
Spiritual widow (or widower)
Some poor soul in the COG married to a non-member.
The First Resurrection
The reward of COG members who are resurrected to eternal life.
The Second Resurrection
Reserved as a "second chance" after a thousand years for those nasty people in "the world."
The Third Resurrection
Anyone who fouls up or doesn't like The World Tomorrow after a thousand years gets brought back to life, only to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
The Church, God's Church, Small flock, God's family, Spiritual husband
The COG -- specifically, that person's particular church group
The Elijah to Come, The End-time Elijah, God's Apostle, God's man, God's end-time man
To the COG, a reference to Herbert W. Armstrong, which has been applied to Flurry, Weinland, Meredith, and any number of false COG prophets.
The God Family
The supposed transformation of COG members into "spirit beings" at the "end of the age."
Held in a number of cities throughout the world, this is an annual COG celebration where members live in hotels for a week, attend church services every day, give two monetary offerings to the cult, and pay for expensive church-promoted activities with the Second Tithe they have saved throughout the year for that very purpose.
The Last Great Day
The holy day immediately following "The Feast" where another offering is taken before everyone finally goes home. It is supposed to symbolize the "Great White Throne Judgement" where those not faithful enough are punished by the newly-promoted COG members in the Kingdom of God.The Sabbath
The seventh day, usually Saturday, as taught by Herbert W. Armstrong.
What all COG cults claim to have to the exclusion of other Christian groups, and even to each other. When the COG starts talking about "the truth," it becomes a slippery notion.
The Two Trees
Taught by Herbert W. Armstrong as examples of the ways of "give" and "get." Clearly Adam and Eve chose the way of not giving money to the COG, which is why humanity suffers.
The Windowshade of Understanding Closes
When the brainwashing wears off after leaving the COG. Used to describe what happens to ex-members by current members.
The Work, God's Work, God's End Time Work
The supposed "mission" of the COG to spread the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong throughout the world. Very little actually gets done, since tithe money and other donations get mostly spent on ministerial salaries instead.
Everyone else. To be avoided at all costs.
The World Tomorrow
The prophecized utopia predicted by Herbert W. Armstrong. Essentially a crazy, oppressive theocracy where those who were COG members in life "rule as kings and priests" under the returned Jesus Christ. Not a world anyone else wants to live in.
Trunk of the Tree
The basic tenants of Armstrongism to be accepted no matter what. Even if there are certain doctrinal disagreements among members, as long as they stick to "the trunk of the tree," they're just fine. If they start to depart from these fundamentals, they are singled-out and shunned.
Anyone outside of the cult.
Used of God
Being used by the COG for certain responsibilities, usually without pay, either within the organization or local congregation.
Way of Get
Not giving all of your money to the COG.
Way of Give
Giving all of your money to the COG.
You just don't get it
What non-members in "the world" suffer from when it comes to COG doctrine, because they are not "called" and therefore can never understand until "God opens their eyes."
Abuse is enabled within the COG's unaccountable and destructive culture and takes on many forms.
Child abuse is rampant among the more extremist COG groups that hold to Herbert W. Armstrong and Garner Ted Armstrong's teachings on corporal punishment. Even the more moderate groups have members who subscribe to this old way of thinking about child rearing, creating a destructive environment for youth growing up in the COG.
Spousal abuse is also very common within certain COG circles for largely the same reason as women are viewed as being completely subject to man's whims and therefore punished for not conforming. Many congregations had that handful of wives who frequently came to services with black eyes and other bruises without drawing a single blink from COG ministers.
Sexual abuse has also been a systemic problem, as the COG has tolerated stalkers, sexual harassers and other criminals to lurk freely within their congregations with impunity. Even elders and pastors have been accused of sexual impropriety, continuing a long tradition of abuse that started with senior WCG leadership.
There is also rampant spiritual abuse, where members' faith is repeatedly taken advantage of for financial gain.Former WCG Minister Convicted for Child Molestation
On July 10, 2015, Congregation of God, Seventh Day pastor and former WCG minister John Aubrey Pinkston, 78, was found guilty of molesting two young girls who were members of his congregation.
Pinkston was scolded by prosecutors for not taking any responsibility for the crime. He was sentenced to 20 years, with 10 to serve in prison.
On November 12, 2014, Stephen Gough, a 79-year-old woodworking teacher and member of Fred Coulter’s Christian Biblical Church of God in New Zealand, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for molesting children between the ages of three and 16 while reading them passages from the Bible.
Gough was formerly a WCG member and reportedly a spokesman for CBCOG.
British and Kiwi media ran with the story, describing Gough’s abuse as using children as “sexual toys” and “carefully orchestrated” his crimes.
No COG group turned him in. For years he was reportedly in therapy for his “addiction” instead of rotting in prison.
On June 11, 2014, 63-year-old Joseph D. Wagner -- a reported COGWA member in the Cleveland, Ohio congregation -- was found guilty of raping two young girls aged 6 and 10, whom he held prisoner in his house, turning his bedroom in a "torture chamber" for his victims.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The two girls in question were reportedly not his only victims.
Wagner was reportedly a frequent host to the local COGWA elder and fellow congregants who helped clean his house, cook food for him and other charity work under the auspices that he was "disabled." There have been rumblings of a civil suit against Wagner as well, which could also name and blame COGWA for negligence and providing material support to this hideous rapist.
William Koeneke, the 86-year-old former WCG deacon turned Church of the Eternal God minister, was convicted on four counts of the dreadful crime of child molestation in England in 2013. He had molested young boys in a Paddington, London residence between the years of 1985-1989 while he was an ordained church official in WCG at the height of the cult’s power.
Koeneke since joined the Global Church of God, which later became known as COEG, as a minister who frequently gave sermons and wrote COG literature promoting British-Israelism.
Koeneke was arrested in 2011, his four accusers now in their 30s. Since he is nearly 90, it’s possible Koeneke could die in prison while serving his term for his crimes against children.
A member of Herbert W. Armstrong's inner circle in WCG's heyday, 61-year-old Kevin Owen Dean is still on the run from authorities for fleeing a courtroom in 2010 where he was to stand trial for child molestation charges and 12 other counts. Dean was out of jail on a $75,000 bond.
Description: Caucasian man; 5-feet-11-inches tall and 175 pounds; brown hair and hazel eyes.
Last Known: Kennesaw, but Dean owns Imperial Medical, a business in Cartersville.
Anyone with information on Dean's whereabouts should call BCSO's dispatch, non-emergency line at 770-382-5050, option 7.
Cartersville-Bartow County Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous information on its tip line at 770-606-TIPS (8477). It gives cash rewards for tips the lead to an arrest in some cases.
In December 2008, then 40-year-old Yedidiyah Hawkins was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually molesting his niece when she was 11-years-old. He claimed to be checking her for cervical cancer. His niece testified against him when she was 15-year-old.
Hawkins was an elder in former WCG member Yisrayl "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins' dangerous bunker-dwelling cult, the House of Yahweh.
As reported in: Religion News BlogYisrayl Hawkins Bigamy and Child Labor Charges
In May 2008, Yisrayl Hawkins of the COG splinter the House of Yahweh was charged with bigamy. The cult lives in an Abilene bunker, its members are largely closed-off from the outside world, and it was alleged that Hawkins had over 30 wives.
All four counts of the bigamy charges were dropped in October 2009. Hawkins also entered a no contest plea to charges of child labor within his compound and was fined and put on a 15-year probation.Drowns Child Abuse Case
In 2008, a COG couple who abused their children entered the media spotlight, and the cults instantly played defense to cover it up. Robyn and Graydon Drown were indicted on 11 felony accounts of first-degree assault and 14 counts of second-degree assault against nine of their youngest children. They took Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong’s and Roderick C. Meredith’s child rearing tactics to the very extreme.
After WCG’s doctrinal changes, the Drown’s moved to Alaska and switched to Judaism. It was actually their Rabbi who helped land them in prison for child abuse, something no COG minister had ever stepped-up to do during their time of carrying out corporal punishments while in the cult. They justified beating their children using Armstrong’s teachings.
How they raised their children was typical of many WCG families during its height of insanity. They use were 2″x4″s, metal pipes, whips and tent poles to punish their kids. In January 2012, they were sentenced to 29 years in prison.UCG Elder Sexual Abuse Accusations
There was an entire UCG congregation in West Virginia that seceded from the cult in 2005 in the midst of allegations that a local elder molested a young woman in their congregation. The local elder in question allegedly had a history of sexual abuse and had repeatedly been admonished by church leaders to stop, though he was never disciplined. The elder was accused of giving out intimate hugs to young women, which made some uncomfortable. He was asked to stop, but continuing touching at least one young woman this way despite her protests. A relative of the woman described the incidents:
the elder would sneak up from behind, lock his arms directly under the breasts and then squeeze very tightly and lift for an extended period of time. There was indeed touching that could be categorized, at the very least as grossly inappropriate, and more accurately as molestation.
Members sent UCG's Richard Pinelli emails about the problems and the lack of action by the church's Council and cult leaders dismissed the allegations, even though the situation caused an entire congregation to leave the organization.UCG Stalker Incident
There have been a number of incidents of sexual predators stalking young women at the Feast of Tabernacles. One such story was related on Silenced about a stalker in UCG physically chasing two young women. He was never caught or held accountable by church ministers.
In addition, there was a man locally who not only stared at me, and touched a friend of mine, he literally chased a me and another YA woman around a Feast site (the hall and the downtown area) – we were LITERALLY running away from him, and hiding in buildings, after he had been told to stay away from us. He actually tracked down where one of us YAs worked and stalked her there! However, when he touched my daughter a few years later, I smacked him, and soon, he was no longer allowed in services. I was very frustrated with how long it took to him oustered. We were on the edge of reporting him to the police, and had it been me who he had stalked at work, I would have! So, I must say, I completely agree that creepy 40 year olds (altho this man was older) have DEFINITELY been a HUGE problem in the COG. Whether they still are, I don’t know..I’m no longer of “their ideal age” However, if my daughter ever experiences them, they’ll have to deal with me – and it won’t be pretty. I am not likely to wait for a “proper course of action” at that point. Just saying. I love COGWA so far, but there are things I’m not likely to exercise patience regarding.UCG Hidden Rape Accusation
The following comes from a member of the Silenced staff about a rape accusation by a teen girl in UCG was instantly denied and covered up by a UCG minister without further investigation. Regardless of the truth behind her accusations, the lack of care or concern by the ministry is indicative of how sexual abuse is systematically tolerated an ignored.
During my teen years, my sister felt isolated and unwanted among her peers. She was more pious and judgmental than many of her friends and she tended to drive them away. She was concerned she would never get married. Since then, she’s married the first guy she ever dated after just a few months of knowing him and has had two children by him. But during her adolescent years, she was alone, and very loyal to the COG. At a Feast of Tabernacles site one year, she befriended a girl her own age we’ll call Ms. L. Since my sister had very few friends, she became quite attached to Ms. L and they started sharing their lives with each other after the Feast had ended that year. One evening, my sister received a frantic email from Ms. L. The panicked message claimed she had been raped at the FOT by male member attending services. The message was very detailed and seemed very authentic, and even “named names” without spelling out exactly who it was (the COG is still comparatively small, so it’s hard not to know people by rough description). Ms. L was terrified that her parents would find out, and worse, the ministry would find out because the man she accused of raping her was close to a minister’s family. She seemed alone and only had my sister to reach out to. Unfortunately, my very brainwashed sister, instead of keeping her confidence and urging Ms. L to go to the police, told our parents instead, who instantly went to Ms. L’s pastor with the story. The pastor called my family back in two hours and said the whole situation was a lie perpetrated by Ms. L, who would be punished accordingly by her parents. Apparently, Ms. L “admitted” to having made the whole story up and was shamed into confessing her deception. Somehow, an extremely serious and realistic rape allegation had been swept under the rug in record time, without law enforcement getting involved or any further investigation. Ms. L sent a heart-wrenching letter to my sister afterwards, about how betrayed she felt by her. My sister lost another friend that day and we never saw Ms. L again. Regardless of what truth may have been behind Ms. L’s allegation, the way it was handled was appalling. Rape victims suffer a wide range of emotional damage, distress and trauma. To simply force a “confession” out of a frightened, troubled girl and call it a day is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever encountered in the COG.Incidents Involving "Mr. H"
One illustrative example of a sexual predator online and in real life was a COG member we’ll call Mr. H. He was a young man, late teens/early twenties, who was an infamous stalker of UCG women, teens and young adults. He would send them salacious, sexually charged messages, harass them before and after church, made lewd and suggestive phonecalls, and do things that would usually get people arrested. However, his victims were afraid to speak out against him, because he was a “member in good standing,” his profile’s gallery was full of pictures of him and prominent church pastors shaking hands and smiling, and he outwardly was one of the pious and self-righteous church sheep ever produced, and that hid a very dark side that was gaining fear and infamy throughout the young people in UCG. Mr. H is still a member in good standing, as the ministry has done nothing about him. A horror story related to Mr. H was recently left on one of our posts by a current member of COGWA:
I will say that I completely agree 100% with Silence/et al, who point out the creepers/stalkers. I know exactly who you are referring to with Mr. H – I have had my own experiences with him, and after he sent salacious messages to a MINOR, I had him reported.
Mr. H was not reprimanded by the COG for this and stories still circulate indicating he's still an active threat within the church that hasn't been properly dealt with by the ministry.UCG and WCG Stalker Cases
In Seattle, one man stalked a married woman in WCG and then UCG for seven years until she and her husband took him to court and got a restraining order. The UCG deacons, deaconness and elders supported the stalker in court, though the judge ruled against the stalker and the church.
Dennis Luker was the Senior Pastor at the time. A young man was married and the Sabbath after his honeymoon when he returned, the female stalker accosted him and told him, “You are mine!”. This woman allegedly had stalked several other men. A transcript of the case can be found at The Painful Truth.
Over a couple of decades back in the Midwest in WCG, a professional woman attended services and a creepy man much older than her told her that she needed to submit to him. The minister supported this arrangement. He stalked her. He was in her apartment building. Then one day, she got a call from an insurance agent. She was puzzled. The agent was checking on her marriage to this man because he was named beneficiary if she died. She made it clear that she was NOT married to him. She moved to a secured facility with 24/7 armed guards.Creepers and Stalkers
Stalkers and predators are allowed to operate within local congregations without intervention from the ministry. Stories abound of ‘creepers’ stalking teenage and young adult girls within these small groups, usually single men of varying ages who send harassing messages via the internet and cellphones or who sexually harass these young women before and after church services. Some individuals have gained wide reputations for this behavior, and yet action from the ministry in response is extremely rare, and in some cases, this behavior has been defended by pastors.
This behavior is partially caused by COG prohibitions against dating outside the church, which results in aging men becoming desperate for spouses within a very limited pool of available individuals.
GTA Sexual Assault Charges
Garner Ted Armstrong was frequently accused of adultery and sleeping with Ambassador College coeds, as well as with sexual assault. His father, Herbert W. Armstrong, eventually disfellowshipped him for these activities, and the same thing happened to him before his death as the leader of Church of God International.
GTA's behavior was common among WCG ministers and for years he got away with his sexual improprieties, even while hypocritically preaching against such behavior as a married man.
Allegations against Herbert W. Armstrong himself include incest, as allegedly proven by photos of himself and his daughter Dorothy that were used against Armstrong by his second wife as grounds for divorce (though, in all fairness, vast sums of money were probably her real motivations for marrying and divorcing someone decades her senior). There are also the "legendary Lochner Tapes" purported to feature Armstrong's voice admitting to to a lengthy affair with Dorothy. Other pieces of evidence include newspaper clippings reporting on the divorce case, apparent conversations during Armstrong's final argument with his son Garner Ted, who knew about the affair, and an entire chapter dedicated to the matter in Daniel Robinson's book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web.
Not a single person in the know has ever denied the incest allegations, which include a purported incident of rape. Instead, GTA and others had refused to comment when asked. Armstrong's followers, at least those few who even know about the allegations, are the only ones strongly denying such an affair took place and they have no direct knowledge of the matter. The preponderance of evidence suggests the allegations are true and would likely convict Armstrong in a court of law.
Armstrong was also accused of bringing hookers aboard his private jet during world travels, earning his plane the moniker "The Flying Whorehouse."The Plain Truth About Child Rearing
Much of the COG's use of corporal punishment can be traced back to a WCG book called "The Plain Truth About Child Rearing" by Garner Ted Armstrong where violence against children is advocated based on Biblical principles. Corporal punishment against children was common and even carried out by Herbert W. Armstrong himself against the kids of other members.
There were even "spank tents" setup at Feast of Tabernacles sites and paddles sold to members with Bible verses inscribed upon them. Stories from child survivors of WCG are replete with incidents of rampant physical abuse from parents and ministers alike.
The issue of brainwashing in the COG is a contentious one. Of course, the cults claim they don't partake in such reprogramming, but they do in many forms, some intentionally, others by virtue of the fact they're simply enclosed religious groups.
Most COG cults are isolationist in nature. They view everyone else as being "of the world," and therefore not to be trusted or interacted with. These churches work extremely hard to keep members active within the cult's community, focusing only on sanctioned activities. They control and spin outside information flow to fit into their own worldview and squash dissenting or differing opinions.
There is also a lot of miseducation in the COG. Ambassador College was notorious for being unaccredited with curriculum that was scientifically and theologically suspect, if not just plain wrong. Members are taught things in Sabbath services and in the myriad Bible schools run by COG groups that are historically and scientifically unsound, yet they are trained to accept them as matters of faith, even on issues that don't directly pertain to how Christianity is traditionally viewed.
Armstrong believed that early Christianity was corrupted through the absorption of many pagan traditions and influences, and that the true form of Christianity was oppressed. He associated this corrupted form of Christianity with Roman Catholicism and the various other denominations that arose out of Catholicism. Critics believe that this represents a demonization of “mainstream” Christianity and is an attempt to present an exclusively correct form of “true” and “authentic” Christianity, i.e. Armstrongism, as the only way to receive Salvation. WCG had a strong antagonism towards those who are ‘of the world’, mean of course everyone outside the “Churches of God”who “don’t understand the truth” or “have not been called” to the ways of God.
They view everyone as a potential convert, but only if God directly calls them. Until then, other people are to be interacted with on a casual or professional basis. However close friendships with those outside of the WCG fold are rare and discouraged. Grace Communion International has softened its tone in this regard. COG splinters, in the tradition of WCG, have a strong antagonism towards those who are ‘of the world’, mean of course everyone outside the COG who “don’t understand the truth” or “have not been called” to the ways of God. They view everyone as a potential convert, but only if God directly calls them. Until then, other people are to be interacted with on a casual or professional basis. However close friendships with those outside of the COG fold are rare and discouraged. Young people in the COG have a common issue with this belief as they feel conflicted about having friendships in school. COG youth programs are geared towards “deprogramming” youth who are influenced by their non-believing friends on a daily basis by trying to show them that the church community is a superior environment to that of “this corrupt current age.”
In UCG, this deprogramming is referred to as “The Zone” and is enforced not only at camps but at large UCG-sponsored events such as the Winter Family Weekend. In other groups it takes on different names and uses similar-yet-different terminology, yet the goals and results are the same.Cultism and Culture of Fear
Critics alleged that the original Worldwide Church of God was a cult and that Armstrong exhibited symptoms of psychosis. WCG was very enclosed and hostile not only to those in the “outside world,” but even those within other Christian churches.
In WCG it was taboo to question ministers or other authority figures or to challenge church doctrines in Bible studies and other open forums. This often times led to members being hesitant to discuss their beliefs at all, before or after services during "fellowship" time, because they are uncertain of the stances of their brethren and are afraid of saying something construed as being wrong.
They attempted to create a culture that is supposed to mirror that of "The World Tomorrow" at church activities, Holy Days, Youth Camps and other church events. A questioning nature isn’t something promoted in that framework. PCG, under the leadership of Gerald Flurry, continues explicitly promotes this culture in his church, and in other COG churches it is simply saturated in its members mind subtly and constantly.Closed Communications
The right hand rarely talked to the left in WCG, and those at the top rarely directly communicated events and goings-on to those in the local congregations. Decision-making processes were almost never transparent, and the reasons for ministerial decisions rarely adequately explained. Embarrassing or damaging incidents that gave a black-eye to WCG and its leadership were swiftly covered-up and kept from the laymembers, and there were virtual no channels for members to learn about these issues.
Today, COG splinters maintain these closed communicati0ns and keep important information confined to private channels. Nothing embodied this lack of transparency like the 2011 split of UCG where members were systematically kept in the dark regarding the church’s leadership crisis and the reasons for mass terminations of ministers and staff.
The cloak of secrecy was eventually torn by anonymous blogger Abigail Cartwright who published internal UCG memos, emails and resignations letters which quickly triggered a massive schism.Childhood Isolation
There are many “child survivors” of COG cults with tales of varying degrees of emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse. Homeschooling is very common within COG culture, as it is the first instinct of members to shelter their children from the influences of “the world,” even at the expense of their own social and emotional development.
Children are often kept in an enclosed world where the only friends they are allowed are also within the church. Sabbath School teachers are known to preach to children who are in public or private schools to ‘discard’ their friends outside of the church as “Satanic influences.”
COGFF runs a cult homeschool association focused on raising children in an isolated environment in the tradition of Herbert W. Armstrong's teachings, which appeals to all churches in the greater COG. Homeschooling is also rampant in PCG, UCG and LCG.Oppression Through Biblical Misinterpretation
Armstrong taught the observance of principles that he believed could be inferred from “biblical intent”. This generated much controversy and resulted in a collection of legalistic church laws that directly affected the culture of the church and the lifestyle and freedom of its members.
Women were not allowed to wear makeup because it was believed that this was “not pleasing to God”. The ban was eventually lifted in the 1980s, re-instituted, and then lifted again after Armstrong’s death in 1986. Some COG splinters still adhere to this ban and lingering cultural remnants still compel many women to continue to follow this guideline long after the requirement was dropped, either out of habit or a misguided belief that it is in line with biblical commands. Divorce is strongly discouraged, and for a brief time in the 70s members that had previously divorced and remarried were required to divorce their new partners so that they were not “living in adultery.”
This was required even if they were happily married and with children. Divorcees either had to re-marry their original partners or remain single. This causes divorce to still be very uncommon in COG cults, which also has high instances of couple getting married very young, sometimes just out of high school. Interracial marriage is also discouraged as Armstrong emphasized requirements for Ancient Israelites (who, according to British Israelism, became Western Europeans) to remain racially and religiously separate from other nations. Most COG cults still will not offer marriage counseling or a church-sanctioned wedding to interracial couples, and men and women who are interracially married are often required to attend separate congregations as to not “inflame the sensibilities” of their brethren and create controversy. Armstrong believed that the body is part of the “temple of God” and should therefore be kept in good health and presented in a manner “glorifying to Christ”. Members to this day are consequently still expected to conform to strict dress codes.
Long hair, piercings and colored hair are not allowed for men, whereas makeup and short hair are frowned upon for women. Members not adhering to these standards are frequently pulled aside and lectured by ministers. Members are expected to dress very conservatively and church attire consists only of formal wear. Smoking is considered to be a “spiritual sin” and is grounds for a minister to refuse baptism. Armstrong taught that a “third resurrection” would take place, in which the incorrigibly wicked and those who had been converted (baptized members of WCG) but had ‘fallen away’ (left WCG) would be resurrected and sentenced to eternal death in the Lake of Fire. Critics reject this interpretation, yet it was and still is frequently cited by COG groups to keep members in line and to shun and persecute those who leave the cult.Miseducation at COG Educational Institutions
Students at Ambassador College were taught Armstrongism rather than true theology. It’s generally thought that Ambassador graduates had been done a great disservice, being miseducated by professors with a specific bias and agenda, the bias being towards Armstrong’s teachings and the agenda being to groom their students for positions in the church. There was a general lack of critical thinking or an atmosphere of curiosity and learning. Students were preached to instead of encouraged to think for themselves.
The education they received in regards to the Bible lacked anything in the way of knowledge of Biblical scholarship or a critical analysis of what the Bible is, its history, canonization, how it was compiled, what was added or edited later on, and the like. They were only taught to translate and interpret the Bible in a way that agreed with Armstrong’s viewpoints. This is why when confronting Ambassador graduates with well-known information, for instance that the story of Jesus and the Adultress was a later addition, written longer after the death of John in the 4th century, one will often be treated with a blank stare from the COG member. The very basics of Biblical scholarship were thrown out the window, along with anything resembling fair comparative religion presentations, as other faiths were belittled or savaged in the classroom, especially mainstream Christianity.
After the fall of WCG, several copycat institutions sprung up within its splinters. UCG has the Ambassador Bible Center, PCG building Herbert W. Armstrong College and the Imperial Academy, and several online schools have been built as well. All of these “schools” offer basically the same information as was taught at Ambassador, in several cases by former Ambassador faculty, the legacy of miseducating COG youth continuing strong to this very day. Additionally, like Ambassador College, current day knock-offs also have disproportionately high tuition rates charged to students and their families as another means of siphoning more money out of congregations that already tithe 10-30 percent of their income to the church.Nationalism and British Israelism
Armstrong taught a form of British Israelism, which is the belief that those of Western European descent, notably England (Ephraim) and the United States (Mannasseh), are direct descendants of the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel. The theory is inconsistent with the findings of modern research on the genetic history of Jews, and is commonly criticized for poor standards of research, and general inconsistency with archeological, anthropological and linguistic research. However, this view is deeply ingrained in COG culture to this day, which creates an Anglocentric bias in church teachings and the worldview of its members.
Not only do members consider themselves “spiritual Israel,” or God’s “chosen people,” the largely white European membership believes they are physical Israel as well. This leads to a certain amount of racism, as along with a belief that Western Europeans and Anglo Saxons are “Israel,” they also proscribe to viewing the rest of the world’s nations through an Old Testament filter. To them, African ethnicities are descendants of Noah’s son Ham, therefore they are “cursed” based on an incident in Genesis, Asian ethnicities are descendants of Noah’s son Japheth, and Caucasians are descended from Noah’s son Shem, hence why they are ‘blessed’ as the offspring of Noah’s favorite son. They break these categorizations of people down further based on Biblical genealogies found in Genesis and Numbers. When it comes to the specific belief that Britain and America are two of the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh specifically, there is also a culture of nationalism, as the United Kingdom and United States become “blessed nations” and their histories are filtered to portray these nations as “instruments of God” and “superior peoples.”War Against Science
Due to their fundamentalist viewpoints, science is often not only ignored, but attacked in COG literature and publications as being ‘Satanic’ in nature. Scientists are viewed as atheistic ‘God-haters’ who concoct evidence against Biblical accounts, such as the Great Flood and Creation story, so they don’t have to “be under the thumb of God’s law.” Scientific ignorance is rampant among ministers in COG and pseudoscience such as Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and Flood Geology are promoted during Sabbath sermons and in published literature. Evolution and the life of Charles Darwin are attacked with particular vigor and demonized in the eyes of COG youth from an early age. Some COG splinters have special letters to give instructors (for students in normal schools) to exempt them from lessons regarding Evolutionary Theory. This had always put WCG at odds with mainstream scientific consensus in the same standing as other fundamentalist Christians promoting creationism in schools.
Corruption in the COG is at the root of its many problems. Some of this corruption is malicious and intentional. Much of it is accidental and rooted in incompetence and cultural tradition instituted by Herbert W. Armstrong and his cronies in WCG's glory days.
Issues of corruption within the COG's leadership are fueled by greed, a lust for power, delusion and misguided behavior on the part of its ministries. This creates an atmosphere lacking in accountability, transparency and integrity and instead promotes irresponsibility, tyranny and a severe lack of ethics.
The business model Herbert. W Armstrong forged, alongside Stanley Radar, for WCG was a simple one that's been replicated by just about every COG minister since and by multiple other evangelists across the cultist spectrum.
- Preach a doomsayer's message about the Apocalypse, sometimes setting a specific date, other times more generally.
- Require tithes and donations from members to "warn the world," making them think they're doing their part to save souls.
- Repeat. Change end time dates as necessary.
It's a simple game of fear-mongering and bribery, threatening the member's souls with oblivion in the Lake of Fire if they don't tow the line and promising them eternal life and their own planet for giving generously. Obviously, this situation has been rife with false prophecy and financial fraud throughout the COG's history.
Many COG groups are simply running on automatic, replicating the bad behavior of their long-dead predecessors without really knowing why. Many in the COG are fearful and angry and the church's toleration of bad behavior has systematically dwindled these cults nearly beyond the point of recovery. It will eventually be the remaining members left holding the bag once all of the money is gone and the corrupt within the ministry are nowhere to be found.
- A Culture of Bad Behavior
- A Problem of Entropy
- A Problem of Fear
- A Problem of Anger
- A Problem of Automation
- Does your church demand money?
- Please Donate
- Are you being gouged?
Mark Nash IRS Bust
Mark Nash, a PCG minister with plenty of articles on the cult's website, was sent to federal prison for defrauding the IRS. All throughout his sentence, PCG kept him on its payroll and he was even allowed to give sermons on leave from his cell provided he exhibited "good behavior." He was also given his full salary the whole time. It wasn't until later, after his release, that PCG finally suspended him.
While he was a prisoner, PCG was more than willing to prop up a convicted felon and didn't get around to punishing him until after the fact, showing that they don't view financial fraud as a big deal -- afterall, they do it all the time.The Seabreeze Collusion
In 2013 it was revealed by a church member that PCG was defrauding FOT-goers in international sites. PCG tried to get members to book hotel rooms through the church at “discounted rates” but member Alex Foster discovered — through clerical screwups on PCG’s part — that the cult was charging members more than its agreement with the Seabreeze, where many members were staying. Members directly booking with the Seabreeze were paying less under its agreement with PCG than members booking directly through church officials. PCG was adding a secret markup to the price.
Foster, rightfully, called this the "perfect money laundering plan." It would not have been discovered without the clerical mistakes on PCG's part and some savvy observations by a conscientious member. Foster wrote PCG cult leader Gerald R. Flurry about the fraud being perpetrated by his ministers. Flurry never responded to the issue.
It is unlikely that PCG is alone among COG groups running these types of booking scams using church events.Ron Weinland Tax Evasion Indictment
Ron Weinland, leader of the Church of God, Preaching the Kingdom of God, was indicted on tax evasion charges in November 2011 for using tithe money for his personal use and expenses. Federal investigators said Weinland failed to report more than $356,000 in taxes between 2004 and 2009, translating to millions in received tithes from his followers.
Weinland’s acts of evasion included filing tax returns understating his gross income, using church funds for personal expenses and failing to report the existence of a Swiss bank account where he funneled many church donations.
Weinland was found guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to 42 months in prison, which he began serving in February 2013.Failed Prophecies and Predictions
Proponents believed that Herbert Armstrong was inspired by God and had the gift to understand prophecy. They believe that many of his predictions were inspired. Critics counter that Armstrong’s predictions were rife with speculation and remain mostly unfulfilled.
Armstrong’s prediction that the "Great Tribulation" would being in 1972 and the Return of Christ occur in 1975 was his biggest black eye in this regard. Current-day followers of Armstrong point to the formation of the European Union as a fulfillment of one of his prophecies, that a European super-state would form the "Biblical Beast Power" and usher in the End Times by way of a partnership with the Roman Catholic Church. However the current day EU doesn’t resemble any of the imposing terror attributed to such a political formation by Armstrong, and the role of Rome is puny in today’s Europe with no trends of these traits changing any time soon.
In August 1985, his final book, Mystery of the Ages, was published, Armstrong calling it a “synopsis of the Bible in the most plain and understandable language.” It was more or less a compilation of his theological concepts which concluded that the Bible was "a coded book" to which he had been given the key, and which those "blinded" by Satan’s world could not understand.
Throughout his career, Armstrong used several end of the world predictions, all of which failed to come to pass, to his immediate advantage, each pronouncement leading to an influx in membership, and therefore money, into his church. While the major COG splinter groups have shied away from naming specific dates, some small splinters have copied this tactic. Ron Weinland of COGPKG constantly makes specific predictions about the impending Apocalypse, as does “Buffalo Bill” Hawkins of the House of Yahweh. Even in more “liberal” groups such as UCG, fundraising efforts have doubled in an attempt to “preach the Gospel” to prepare for Christ’s return, which in their own words will be in “three to five years”.
These pronouncements are manipulations designed to pump money out of members and keep them scared and loyal. The number of current-day ministers who actually believe these prophecies is difficult to quantify, but the effects prophetic doomsaying has on their congregations is plain to see.WCG Receivership Crisis
Garner Ted Armstrong blamed Stanley Rader for his two-time ouster from his father’s church. Garner Ted and other former and discontented members of the Worldwide Church of God prompted the State of California to investigate charges of malfeasance by Rader and others involved with the AICF. By 1979, California Attorney General George Deukmejian had brought civil charges against the church, and the church was placed into an investigative financial receivership for one year.Wallace invited Rader to appear on 60 Minutes on April 15, 1979. Wallace showed Rader a secret tape recording in which Herbert Armstrong had alleged Rader was attempting to take over the church after Armstrong’s death, reasoning that the donated tithe money might be quite a “magnet” to some evangelists. Rader abruptly ended the interview.
Rader, with the approval of Herbert Armstrong, was spending millions to fend off any financial audit or examination of the church’s income and expenditures by litigating the issue all the way to the United States Supreme Court, several times, unsuccessfully. Having lost in the courts, Rader lobbied the California legislature to force the California Attorney General to drop the charges against the church and him. Under Rader’s lobbying, the California State Legislature passed legislation known as the Petris bill, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, which changed the applicable law of California so that the Attorney General had no authority over churches in such circumstances.
Rader and Armstrong, then, were relieved of any further concern about civil liability or any outside exposure of their own internal financial dealings as the directors of a California religious corporation. In trying to defend his fight against the investigation, Rader wrote the 1980 self-exculpatory polemic “Against the Gates of Hell: The Threat to Religious Freedom in America” arguing that his legal fight with the Attorney General was more about religious freedoms rather than about abuse of public trust or fraudulent misappropriation of tithe funds.
The church received a minor vindication of its position when, in denying a request for fees by the dissidents’ attorney, Hillel Chodos, the Second Court of Appeals over turned the decision on procedural grounds and added as dicta, “We are of the opinion that the underlying action and its attendant provisional remedy of receivership were from the inception constitutionally infirm and predestined to failure.”
Stanley Rader left his positions within the church in 1981. While Rader was able to legally, then politically, prevent the investigation of church finances, he could not prevent the collapse of AICF. A lawsuit had been filed against Steven Spielberg and George Lucas alleging that the pair stole the plot for Raiders of the Lost Ark from AICF. When the lawsuit went nowhere, AICF collapsed. Meanwhile, the church was eager to sever its ties from AICF, as the Foundation had been producing works which were not in keeping with church doctrine. Rader parted church leadership, and reportedly received a six figure financial package upon leaving his post.1975 in Prophecy!
Armstrong predicted in his book 1975 in Prophecy! that the end times would begin in 1972, resulting in Christ’s return in 1975. This caused his legion of followers to brace themselves for the end of the world. Many family’s cancelled future plans such as marriage, starting a family, buying a house or similar life milestones, and started to prepare for the impending apocalypse. As 1972 approached, it became clear that these prophecies would not come to pass. While the European Union was a concept in the making, it took another 20 years for it to come to pass.
This was Armstrong’s last failed prophecy, but not his first. The ex-member hub The Painful Truth presents a full listing of the failed prophecies Armstrong made throughout his 52 year ministry. A smaller list can be found at On Doctrine.Abuse of Compulsory Tithes and Donations
Armstrong and senior church personnel were often criticized for having lived in extravagant wealth when many church members paid three tithes and consequently often lived in relative poverty. Personal luxuries enjoyed by Armstrong included lavish residences, a personal jet, and the finest jewelry, clothing, furniture and other conveniences.
WCG taught that there were two “required” tithes as dictated in the Bible, and 10% of all member income is sent via check directly to COG leadership for the sake of ‘preaching the Gospel’. This donation is fixed, monthly, and required. Besides this mandatory “First Tithe,” a “Second Tithe” is commanded, where members set aside another 10% of their money for the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. During this 8-day observance, members flock to set-aside “Feast Sites” in cities across the world and meet at services every day, after which they are free to spend their saved-up tithes however they like, though the church tries to sap away as much of it as they can by charging for events, meals, dances, and youth outings.
Aside from leeching mandatory tithes from their members, which comprise 20% of an individual’s income, they also require periodic “free will offerings” during certain Holy Days, such as Pentacost, Feast of Tabernacles, Atonement and others. An “offertory message” is usually delivered by a deacon before the offering is taken up, where they will guilt-trip members into giving more and by promising that “God will bless them proportionally to what they give.”
A “third tithe” is also promoted, but not required.Lack of Accountability
When ministers, elders or laymembers behave in ways that some may construe as inappropriate, there is virtually no means of holding them accountable. Members can report to their pastors, but their concerns are then usually dropped into a black hole, as the ministers don’t have anyone to directly report to who can effectively address the concern. Some ministers wear so many hats that they are often uncertain of their responsibilities and who oversees what.
The central authority of WCG was detached from the activities and incidents in local congregations. Misbehaving members, such older gentlemen stalking younger women and teen girls, which is still a common issue across the board in COG groups, were rarely if ever dealt with. Ministers who abused members also never were dealt with and there was no means for a member to file a grievance that would be addressed.Ministerial Abuse
Ministers frequently meddle in the private affairs of members, even going so far as to burst into members’ homes and search their houses for anything that wasn’t according to doctrine. Some even struck or attacked members in anger for “disrespecting their authority.” Ministers in WCG adopted the "sheriff instead of shepherd" approach to pastoring their flocks. Dissenters are directly confronted and swiftly dealt with, either by way of lecture or disfellowshipment.
Youth are strictly policed for their clothing and styles, and children’s behavior is put under the microscope and concerns about their upbringing are brought directly to their parents. Pastors are often aloof and distant, rarely forming personal friendships with their followers and instead set themselves up as ordained authority figures, in accordance with the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong.Cattlegate
The so-called Cattlegate affair in 2011 following the split of COGWA from UCG featured mutual accusations of cattle theft of Lifenets-owned oxen by dissenting church members. Legal authorities were brought into the mix as COGWA's Tine Banda sparred with UCG's Victor Kubik. The Abigail Cartwright blog published internal emails between the two.
They both come across as childish, immature grade-schoolers engaged in a playground spat over a stolen toy, accusing each other of lies and propaganda. The emails are extremely indicative of the the venomous COG ministerial culture that has driven so many churches apart.Abigail Cartwright
Throughout 2010, leading up to the UCG/COGWA split, an anonymous blogger going by the handle "Abigail Cartwright" launched a blog entitled UCG Current Crisis leaking insider information surrounding a spat amongst UCG leadership surrounding the ouster of president Clyde Kilough. This was information being purposely suppressed by the ministry, even by those who disagreed with the official propaganda being distributed to the masses, out of fear of losing their jobs. The blog contended with issues regarding censorship, baseless rumors, and outright lies being perpetrated by ministers, elders and laymembers alike within the church.
The lack of transparency around the split has caused many members confusion regarding what the schism was about and revealed a poisonous ministerial culture of corruption.
The presentation of the emails themselves, sans context, was an ethical issue within itself. The pro-dissident slant of the blog and the fact that internal letters simply dried up after the split indicate a senior minister was behind the blog and likely has taken a leadership position with COGWA since the schism. The emails reveal several breaches of UCG's own ministerial code of ethics, especially the part about splitting off to form a rival church, something the blogger(s) behind Abigail Cartwright likely had in mind from the beginning.The Kessler Letter
The Kessler Letter was an open note to WCG leadership written in 1981 alleging systematic illegal and unethical among church ministers, including wiretapping, harassment, evidence planting, the silencing of whistle-blowers, financial fraud and abuse. This legacy of corruption trickled down into a new generation of COG leaders, which they took to their myriad splinter groups following the 1995 WCG schism.
The specific nature of the accounts and the authority with which W. Jack Kessler lays them out adds to their credibility, along with the fact many of these allegations had been circulating around before he ever produced the note. WCG never properly acted upon any of these accusations, but the letter has been spread around ever since.The Manpower Papers and Member Dossiers
The criteria and selection process for COG ministers has been stringent and extremely revealing of the standards required to be a pastor in the church. It's less about spirituality and more about petty personality and physical traits, along with one's willingness to be molded into a tool.
It’s why, despite the crisis of an aging ministry, few younger men are being selected as the future of the COG. Being a COG minister is an exclusive club of narcissism and abuse of church funds, and they don’t take just anyone.
The Manpower Papers, from 1961, describe meeting minutes and summaries of the selection process for WCG ministers and reveals that the cult's leadership kept detailed files about each member, including personal and sensitive information obtained through supposedly private counseling sessions. Potential staff members were disqualified for petty reasons such as beard length, physical stamina, suspected sexual orientation, speech patterns and other personal mannerisms.
This practice reportedly continues today in PCG and some have reported similar instances of members being closely tracked in UCG.Online Censorship
The COG is notorious for its misunderstanding, abuse and sometimes downright hatred of the Internet. YouTube channels are traditionally locked down against comments and ratings, rabble-rousers are instantly banned and blocked from social networks, while most COG websites don't allow public comments are feedback of any sort.. While the cults are fine attempting to adapt it for their own uses, they constantly command members not to visit dissenting websites or do research online. They've embraced the "walled fortress" philosophy of Internet administration while casting aside the virtues of Web 2.0 as a threat.
Social networks are also carefully controlled. In 2011, a UCG member was suspended for pressing "Like" on the wrong post during the throes of the COGWA split. Silenced contributors have been banned from COG pages and discussion threads for simply trying to have a conversation.
In 2013, an expelled ABC student was banned from related Facebook pages in advance of fears that she might publicly criticize UCG. These practices have been constant hallmarks of cults that have embraced censorship and the silencing of critics.
Violence and Death
While only a small handful of COG sects are violent as a matter of doctrine, the destructive culture in the greater church has bred some horrifically bloody incidents and many tragic, untimely deaths. These incidents are rooted in a number of cultural and doctrinal traits and traditions within the COG.
Those suffering from mental instability are rarely told to seek professional help and are instead "counselled" by untrained and unqualified COG pastors who usually make problems worse and oftentimes cause more sparks near volatile situations. The depressed are left untreated and many common psychological ailments are treated as the work of "demons" subject only to prayer and anointing. This has allowed many would-be killers to lurk within COG congregations unnoticed and unaddressed and has led to unspeakable tragedies and the deaths of innocents and many suicides.
Medical malpractice has caused many untimely deaths as a result of WCG's traditional prohibition against modern medicine, vaccination and doctor's appointments. This ban was lifted when Herbert W. Armstrong fell ill, but many members still adhere to the dangerous and ineffective alternative medicines since it's so ingrained in church culture.
When it comes to detecting these threats, members frequently experience tunnel vision that doesn't allow them to acknowledge problems within the fold, so when a member snaps and commits an act of violence, or when someone who should have treated medically falls ill, the congregation is almost always taken by surprise. Warning signs are systematically ignored as a result of a groupthink-based culture.
Terry Ratzmann Shooting Massacre
Terry Ratzmann was an American mass murderer who killed seven members of the Living Church of God before committing suicide at a Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin in 2005.
Previously living with his mother and sister, Ratzmann was known as an avid gardener who often shared his homegrown produce with his local congregation. On the verge of losing his job as a computer technician, and potentially disturbed by a recent cult schism, Ratzmann was known to suffer from bouts of depression, and was reportedly infuriated by a sermon the minister had given two weeks earlier where he insisted that depression and mental illness were “directly tied to demonic influences.”
Ratzmann had left the Sheraton Hotel building twenty minutes earlier, returned carrying a 9mm handgun, and fired 22 rounds into the LCG congregation, killing the minister and six others, including the minister’s son. Four others were wounded, one critically. Ratzmann shot and killed himself midway through the second out of three magazines.
His victims were:
- Pastor Randy Gregory, 50
- James Gregory, 17
- Harold Diekmeier, 74
- Gloria Critari, 55
- Bart Oliver, 15
- Richard Reeves, 58
- Gerald Miller, 44
Ratzmann’s shooting rampage created a massive public outpouring of sympathy LCG and the victims, but also put the group under the microscope in the local and national media and opened a lot of old wounds related to WCG. Ratzmann’s mental health had been a frequent concern of his family and friends, but in counseling with LCG pastors was dismissed as “Satan trying to bring him down,” and no professional or medical treatment was suggested for his depression. A crisis of faith struck LCG in the wake of the massacre and their ministerial staff were trying to quell people’s fears for months that “God had turned against them,” as it’s a commonly held belief that COG members are directly protected by the hand of God, and if that were not the case, that Satan’s wrath would pour down upon them for “knowing the truth.”Chuck Harris Murders
Chuck Harris was a WCG member in Seattle lobbying his pastor, Dennis Luker, to allow him to marry a fellow member, Brenda James. Harris was African-American and Brenda was Caucasian, therefore Luker prohibited them from even dating. This situation disregarded the fact that Harris was already married to a woman in Canada. Harris became furious and brought a revolver to church services. He later shot and killed James and others in a rampage on January 6, 1985.
Attorney John Weston and friends Patricia Tobis and Susan Marie Dietsch returned to Tobis’ home after dinner where they found Harris present with James, who had been babysitting Tobis’ two children. Tobis allowed him to stay and air his grievances with James, until he heard a gunshot and ran to investigate, only have Harris shoot him in the chest. Tobis alleged Harris said “two down, one to go” as he continued through the house and shot Weston in the chest, followed by Dietsch in an effort to eliminate all witnesses. James and Diestch died.
Harris had been previously charged with killing his estranged wife in 1970, which he confessed to and was found innocent by reason of insanity. Harris was committed again to a mental hospital following the murders. WCG tried to distance itself from Harris, but completely overlooked his history fighting in Vietnam and multiple mental issues and violent tendancies, yet baptized him anyway and accepted him into the fold as a ticking timebomb ready to go off at any time. Harris would not be the last mentally disturbed church member to slaughter innocent people.
Burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque
On August 21, 1969, WCG member Denis Rohan attempted to set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The fire destroyed the southeastern wing of the mosque, along with a 1,000-year-old wood and ivory pulpit, which was a gift from Saladin.
Rohan was arrested for the arson two days later. Rohan had studied the WCG Bible Correspondence Course and listened to The World Tomorrow Radio program avidly. After reading the editorial written by Herbert W. Armstrong in the June 1967 issue of The Plain Truth, Rohan said he received divine instructions to “hasten” the coming of the Messiah by burning down the mosque. Pictures of Rohan surfaced of a WCG magazine stuffed into his coat pocket. Rohan was found to be insane in an Israeli court and hospitalized in a mental institution.
An Ambassador Horror Story
A reader shared a story in one of the comments the ESN: Stories of COG Trauma post, detailing WCG’s response to a tragic suicide on the Ambassador College campus. It’s another tragic example of the dreadful atmosphere generated at Ambassador that continues to permeate in COG culture today.
An Ambassador student, Dennis Jeffrey Stephenson, listed as Jeff Stephenson under his pic in the 1974 Envoy, committed suicide after a Roderick C. Meredith sermon on March 6, 1974:
I want to briefly share an account that I have never heard anyone share before. I was a freshman student at AC Pasadena in the spring of 1974, which happened to be at the height of the ministerial crisis that occurred that year, mostly over the conduct of GTA, and a few doctrinal issues. Early one spring day I attended my usual bible class, except that this day Roderick Meredith was the substitute teacher. He spent the better part of an hour rehearsing all of the horrors of the coming tribulation — in graphic detail. I can remember him telling us how all of our unconverted loved ones would suffer. A fellow freshman, whose real name was Jeff S. stayed after class to talk to Meredith about this — and Meredith gave him more of the same. As I walked to my next class, Jeff S. happened to appear along side of me, visibly upset about this, and made some comment about how hopeless all of this was. That was the last I saw of Jeff. Later that afternoon, we all arrived at a mandatory assembly in the gym, where it was announced that Jeff S. had committed suicide earlier that day by jumping off the Arroyo bridge — evidently just minutes after I had last seen him. The announcement was made — but it is what followed that was most troubling and revealing. The person doing the announcing of the suicide, who was a college administrator, took great pains to make sure everyone in attendance understood that Jeff’s parents did not blame the college, and that no one at the college was at fault. Then, after this terrible announcement and explanation, which took maybe 5 minutes, HWA got up front. Without the slightest acknowledgement of this terrible event, and without breaking stride, he launched into a tirade against all of those ministers who would dare question his authority. To HWA it was like a bake sale had been announced for the coming weekend. I will never forget the appalling atmosphere in that gym that day — students were crying because of Jeff S., and then HWA launches into his usualy fit of anger. Years later I found out first hand from someone high up at AC that Meredith was reprimanded for his insensitivity. I’m not blaming anyone for a suicide — that falls to the individual who commits it — but the complete indifference to this tragedy, as well as the atmosphere that contributed to it, is very indicative of what that college and that church was all about.Alternative Medicine Cabals
In 1952 Armstrong published Does God Heal Today? which provided the details on his doctrine on healing and his ban on doctors. Among his tenets were that only God heals and that medical science is of pagan origin and is ineffective. He believed that most illnesses were caused by faulty diet and that doctors should prescribe proper diet rather than medicine. He taught that members are not to go to doctors for healing but must trust in divine healing alone. This was his teaching despite his father’s death in 1933 after “an all-night vigil of prayer.”
This teaching has been the cause of much controversy as individuals influenced by such teachings came to die of preventable illnesses or diseases that were survivable with early detection, such as cancer. Modern medicine in COG cults is replaced with “faith, prayer, and ministerial anointing,” along with the eating of whole grain and organic foods. Homeopathy and other pseudo-medicine are also commonly practiced by laymembers and tolerated by the ministry, though not officially endorsed.
There are many cases of alternative medicine practitioners joining COG groups and preying upon gullible members who decline real medical attention. Members, including minister’s wives, are sold on supplements that are useless at best and harmful at worst. There are recorded instances of the use of an electrical device that runs a current through the body of the person holding it to “destroy infections.” These alternative medicine clubs are extremely popular among women in COG groups and even children are subjected to crackpot treatments in place of regular visits to a family physician.
Members with terminal or serious illnesses often found themselves in the hospital when they found they can no longer cope with their symptoms, and only after submitting a congregational prayer request, getting anointed, and trying any number of ‘natural cures’ before bringing themselves to a medical professional. Members with cancer who misdiagnosed themselves have come before doctors and given only weeks to live because they did not catch the illness quickly enough, due to the church culture where modern medicine is a last resort. Annual cancer deaths in COG groups are very high per capita and can average between two and three fatalities per year, a devastating rate for congregations so small.
Costs of Tithing
Cultspotting a guide to determining if you, in fact, could be cult member. Each installment will touch on a different feature of a COG cult, and all cults in general, to better prepare people for the likelihood that they may, in fact, be members of a psychotic doomsday sect.
One of our missions is to provide a voice for those who have been members of Church of God groups, or are currently attending a COG congregation. If you have a story to tell or a perspective to share, feel free to write us an open letter and we will post it without hesitation, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with what it says.
All of our letters are anonymously posted unless the author specifies to include their name. Nobody should have to fear repercussions for speaking out. So if you have an experience you would like to share, or just want to tell your life's story from the perspective of a church member, please do so.
Another great resource for stories and accounts from ex-members is Robert McNally's site, which has a focus on ex-COG who have since become atheists or freethinkers. We here at Silenced have no preference as to whom we receive our letters from, so long as they are relevant to the discussion, but Robert's site is an excellent source for some heartrending tales from former WCG members. The Exit and Support Network also has a sizable listing of stories.