Aug 142014

Olderandwiser left this comment in response to the story of the COGWA member getting life in prison for raping two children:

There were a couple of perverts in the NYC area in the 60′s when I was a teenager. One groped me before I was rescued by my brother. Years later, he married a young widow with a few young kids. Didn’t take long for him to dessimate that family. 38 years later, my mother found a picture of him in a box of photos. I took it and slowly ripped it up. “Why, that was Uncle Dewitt!” Weel, I told her that Uncle Dewitt was a pedophile, and I knew, first hand. When she asked me why I never told her, I said she would never have believed me. The almighty WCG came first, and we kids were non entities. I got off lucky I guess, but I can’t imagine how many others have been ruined because of the rule of silence.

Aug 022014

From the Norwalk Reflector:

Child rapist gets life without parole

A Milan Township man was sentenced to life without parole Monday for raping two girls several times when they slept over at his Mudbrook Road home.

An Erie County jury convicted Joseph D. Wagner, 63, of 10 counts of rape for sexually assaulting two girls who were younger than 10. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incidents which happened between 2011 and 2013 when Wagner lured the victims to his bedroom.

Wagner maintained he didn’t abuse anyone when he made a statement to Erie County Common Pleas Judge Roger Binette.

“I did not abuse anyone, nor have I ever considered the heinous things I’ve been accused of,” said the defendant, who was found guilty June 11.

Binette, according to the Sandusky Register, told Wagner he groomed the victims “in your own sick ways” and made his bedroom “a torture chamber for those two children.”

The judge also told the defendant the sexual abuse was similar to a life sentence for the girls. Binette said he took into that consideration plus a woman’s testimony who alleged Wagner abused her decades ago — and possibly at least five other victims — when he decided the defendant’s sentence.

Banned! tags him as a UCG/COGWA member in the Cleveland congregation frequently visited by the local elder. Sounds about right.

Rage does not describe the feelings this kind of horror conjures. So many dreadful things happen beneath the noses of the ministry, sometimes with their knowledge, all the while anyone, anywhere one might call brethren in the cult could be a monster.

Jun 092014

moneyFinding out any internal information, especially financial information, can be remarkably difficult when it comes to cults, or just churches in general due to the special unconstitutional privileges granted to them by the government.

But every so often we catch a glimpse of a COG cult’s income and financial picture, as we did with PCG recently. But its rare, since as we’ve discussed before, religions are unfairly tax-exempt and don’t have to file forms describing their income like other nonprofits do.

However, despite this gap, we have collected enough information over the years to make a fair estimate of what the combined income is among the most significant COG groups, for the purpose of highlighting how much the sheep are being fleeced and how ineffective the cults are at growth and promotion despite their stockpiles of cash.

From what we know based on past data, we can surmise the following income estimates for various COG cults:

UCG – $20 million (what it inched toward between 1995-2005)
PCG – $19.5 million (2012)
LCG – $14.3 million (2010)
COGWA – $3.8 million (2011)
RCG – ~$2 million (it has to be making at least this much just to function, though no public data exists)

The total hovers around $60 million among these groups. This doesn’t factor in recent membership loss, and income doesn’t indicate wealth, especially since cults like PCG are in considerable debt and RCG pretty much has to be as well after the Wadsworth construction project.

Some notes:

  • WCG at its height was reported to have been generating $200 million in annual income. The top five make around a fourth of that.
  • Membership size doesn’t necessarily seem proportional to annual income, as PCG reportedly makes more than LCG and COGWA combined.
  • It’s long been known that only about 30-40 percent of COG group incomes are spent on media projects and “preaching the gospel” — roughly between $18 million and $24 million of these group’s total income being spent on spreading Armstrongism.
  • That leaves between $36 million and $42 million being spent on organizational overhead like property and staff salaries each year.
  • While this is a massive income fall from WCG’s heyday to a modern day significant remainder of that church, there’s still a lot of money being generated by a relatively few number of people to pay even fewer. COG members are being squeezed hard.
  • It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that COG cults lie about their income, so these numbers could be purposely skewed.
Apr 142014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 012014

Long ago we postulated, based on personal experiences, that COG groups were at times likely overcharging for “discounted” church events in cases where members have to make bookings through ministers. A few months ago, PCG proved this hypothesis as true when a conscientious member blew the whistle on what he termed “the perfect money laundering plan” among various of the cult’s international congregations. Since then, some have shared their similar stories and suspicions and some rigorous debate has broken out about the extent of this fraud throughout the COG.

We pretty much have to rely on information from members to learn about how often and in what cults this scam has taken place. But we recently launched our own direct probe into the matter and have prepared some initial findings.

The scam basically looks like this:

  1. There’s a big COG event necessitating that members book in advance, be it for a meal, dance, FOT site, conference or whatever.
  2. The COG group strikes a bulk/group discount deal with the venue involved, negotiating for reduced per-person prices and perhaps other benefits too. Since COG groups usually hold off-season events, this is usually a given.
  3. COG members, instead of booking directly with the venue, are required, or at least encouraged, to book through church employees.
  4. The event prices charged by the COG are greater than it would be if the member had booked directly through the venue.
  5. The COG group pays the member’s booking to the venue after receiving the money and secretly keeps the remainder resulting from the overcharge.

It is a clever scheme, and at the very least, we have strong evidence PCG has engaged in it. This is unfortunately a difficult scam to uncover, because in the case of Alex Foster, the member who flashed light into PCG’s dark corners, his discovery was based on a clerical error. Essentially, we only know about it because PCG screwed up. So it takes some alert members with their minds and eyes wide open to discover what’s going on, because unfortunately, too many COG members absolutely trust their pastors, even though they should be far more skeptical.

So what about other COG groups? We have some anecdotal suspicions about this going on in UCG and elsewhere, but we haven’t known for certain. Without the kind of document-driven smoking gun, anything we produce would be hearsay. However, there are some indicators to look for when investigating the presence of this scam within COG cults:

  1. Is there a COG event being held at a large venue that is not the standard church meeting hall?
  2. Does the event cost individual members money to attend?
  3. Has the church announced a group or bulk-discounted price for the event?
  4. Are members asked to make their reservations, buy their tickets or whatever through a church intermediary instead of contacting the venue directly?
  5. Do members have the ability to go around the church intermediary and book directly through the venue (meaning the venue is alright with people doing that)?
  6. Is the direct booking price less than the church’s intermediary price?

Taking this issue on an case-by-case, cult-by-cult basis, if a specific church event manages to check all of those boxes, the opportunity for corruption is there and the likelihood that members are being overcharged for that additional money to fall through the cracks, at least to us, seems very high.

When debating COG members about this, they often insist to us that item four — members being asked, able or required to book through church employees — absolutely not does not happen. However, we’ve found evidence this does occasionally happen and we have the screenshots to prove it. Members are frequently assessed event fees and are required to register through online, church-run web forms where payments can be made directly to the church, including for hotel rooms, sporting events, dances, shows, etc.

Silenced made a sample list of COG groups — those hosting big gala church events — and examined events from the recent past, measuring them against our checklist to see if there was at the very least an opportunity for groups to covertly overcharge members.

COG Cult
Event?Winter Family Weekend 2013Kansas City Family WeekendWinter Family Weekend 2013
Intermediary?Yes, UCG could be paid and registered with directly.Yes, LCG could be paid and registered with directly.Yes, COGWA could be paid and registered with directly.
Venue?Yes, you could book directly through the venue.Yes, you could book directly through the venue.Yes, you could book directly through the venue.
Price?$114.69/night for UCG
$189/night normal rate
$79/night for LCG
$115/night normally
$63/night for COGWA
$122/night normally

COGWA just straight up says they're charging you event fees.

Please note the normal venue prices listed are based on 2014 prices for those dates and do not necessarily reflect the 2013 prices from when the events actually took place. Unfortunately, it’s all we could find.

So it’s clear the opportunity for fraud has been present in recent years, counter to COG member claims. What’s very difficult for us to do is prove those opportunities have been seized upon by church employees to defraud members. Based on the pricing structures for these events, it doesn’t seem like any fraud took place within this sample group. However, the setup is there. Ministers are directly handling registration, event fees and managing the group discounts. If they wanted to, they could pull something without raising suspicions. Documented proof is really something only members can provide. But this hopefully sheds some further light on subject. We would further urge members to obtain a healthy skepticism and keep their eyes open.

The question members really should be asking, is why they should be paying for these events at all? Members already pay 20-30 percent of their income in tithes and offerings. The COG groups don’t generally own property beyond their home offices, do not pay taxes and recent numbers put the largest ones only spending 30-40 percent of cult income on “preaching the gospel.” Members aren’t getting much bang for their buck. One would think an annual bit of hoopla using the money members have already funneled into the church would be reasonable. Guess not. A good indicator of a scam is something you’re required to keep paying into without getting much, if anything, in return. The COG groups fit that description very well.