Two Campus Encounters

Blast from the past…




By Retired Prof

The most important lesson Christianity offers for our daily guidance is that we should treat other people the way we ourselves hope to be treated. Armstrongism smothers that message under a pile of petty rules about what people should eat, when and how they should observe holy days, and how they should behave toward members above and below them in the hierarchy.

The rules about hierarchy are the most damaging. Herbert W. Armstrong repeatedly insisted that democratic principles, which he derided as “government from the bottom up,” are all wrong. “Government,” he would shout, “is from the TOP DOWN!” According to this principle, the duty of church members is to submit to authority. Just as surely, the duty of ministers is to wield it. A name Armstrong never used for church governance, but which nevertheless applies to his style of it, is tyranny. By demanding that people treat others strictly according to their rank instead of their shared humanity, tyranny tramples all over the Golden Rule.

Most of what, as a child, I heard Armstrong say on The World Tomorrow has either faded from memory or never made it there in the first place, but I do remember how he contrasted the behavior of two groups of diners in a German restaurant after the war. The Americans tried to interact with the waiters (or waitresses, I forget which) and treated them politely, saying “Bitte” and “Danke schoen.” The British pretended they were invisible except when barking orders and shouting rebukes at them. Armstrong declared that the British got better service. Only dimly do I recall what his main point was. Probably he meant that you have to get stern with people you have just conquered, especially if they happen to be Germans. However, I clearly remember the satisfaction in his voice, and that tipped his hand: he didn’t just recommend ordering people around, he gloried in it.

In some public presentation or another during my school year at Ambassador College, Garner Ted Armstrong explained how Herbert corrected him for missteps in doing the broadcast. For example, he told us that in one series of programs he had repeatedly used more statistics than listeners could absorb. His father said nothing about the problem at first; he waited till listenership fell off a few points and letters of complaint came in. Then Herbert called Garner Ted on the carpet and went on a long and abusive tirade. One thing he yelled, as I recall the son telling it, was “Are you trying to DESTROY the work of God?” Garner Ted presented the story admiringly, as an example to follow, but I couldn’t help thinking it showed bad management style.


I never personally saw Herbert blow up but once; on that occasion he displayed a zest for chewing people out that bordered on hysteria.

For part of my work-study duty, I worked on the construction crew. On one project, we were restoring a reflecting pool on the grounds of one of the old mansions Ambassador had acquired. For us laborers with little appreciation for the intricacies of restoration, it was merely a hard, dirty job with shovels and wheelbarrows. Our foreman, though, found it fascinating. He set up a surveyor’s transit and eagerly checked our progress. For sealing cracks he experimented with a newly introduced product called epoxy and grinned in satisfaction when it worked. He was a stern and distant boss, but I didn’t hold that against him because it was clear that the church expected him to be. Stern or not, he did treat us fairly. I wish I could remember his name, because he deserves credit.

One day Herbert came out to inspect the project. He brought four or five guys in suits. Since I didn’t recognize them, they might have been men from “outside” that he wanted to impress. He took one look at our work and started yelling. THIS wasn’t what he had in mind! He didn’t want that shabby old pool RESTORED! He wanted a NEW one! Somebody should get some heavy equipment in here, tear everything out, and START OVER! It took him a couple of minutes to reach his oratorical peak, wind down, and stalk off. The suits followed, looking abashed.

Armstrong hurt my feelings a little even though I held no stake in the project other than grunt work. Our foreman, who had invested so much of himself in it, kept a stoic expression. Yet I knew he must have been crushed and humiliated, and I grieved for him. I wondered why in the world someone claiming to be the apostle of a loving god couldn’t manage the decency to make a private appointment with the foreman. There he could have explained with regret and sympathy that the work, fine as it might be, was not what he had in mind. It was cruel to humiliate the poor guy in front of both his crew and a gaggle of outsiders. My coworkers must have felt bad for him too, but we all kept our faces as stony as his, and we did nothing to console or support him. After all, how can underlings presume to offer consolation or support to their superiors? The strict hierarchy robbed us of our common humanity.

It also rendered us inert in the face of abuse. None of us expressed disapproval of Armstrong’s behavior. None of us uttered the name for a person who acts the way he had just done, because in our unwritten church thesaurus that word was not counted among the synonyms for apostle. On every other job I’ve held—as farm hand, mill hand, service station attendant, construction worker, short order cook, gravedigger, office flunky, dialect fieldworker, and college teacher—the accepted term is asshole.


Well, it is encouraging to report that some people can resist pressure to act tyrannical even when standing on their particular rung in a hierarchy. One such was Lynn Torrance, who taught my freshman English class at Ambassador.

One day, a few class members got into a discussion about some minor point of usage. I can’t remember what it was; all I recall is that both options sounded fine and the slight difference between them would have very little effect on either clarity or grace. I sat there scratching aimless doodles in my notebook, waiting for one side or the other to give in or drop the subject. Neither side did; the discussion dragged on.

Torrance had confidence in me. Partway through the school year he had come to trust my knowledge of grammar and punctuation enough to hire me as his grading assistant. When he needed some bibliography work done, he gave me the keys to his car and sent me downtown to the public library. It’s not surprising that he assumed I could offer a worthwhile insight to this discussion. He asked, “August, what do you think?”

I looked up from my doodling and said, “I think we fail to recognize the overwhelming insignificance of this question.”

There must be a way to utter that line so it sounds lighthearted and amusing, but I didn’t manage to do it that way. My boredom and irritation showed through, so the remark just sounded snotty. Nobody—not even a person “of the world,” much less a believer in church hierarchy—could have blamed Torrance if he had pinned my ears back. He did not.

Without either rancor or defensiveness, he explained that he thought the discussion was worthwhile because he was trying to teach us to become careful stylists. He wanted us to understand that even the smallest decisions about sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation are worth considering. When we revise, they are worth reconsidering.

That lesson was a good one. I profited from it. But I profited even more from the lesson Torrance taught by example to this teacher-to-be: when confronted with a young smartass, it is generally worthwhile to exercise a little forbearance. The Golden Rule is not just the law, it’s a good idea. Best to deflect barbs and redirect them toward a lesson that will benefit the whole group. In my own dealings with students, I usually managed to follow Lynn Torrance’s example. On those occasions when I fell instead into the “blow up and humiliate the offender” behavior displayed by Herbert W. Armstrong, I nearly always regretted it.


7 Replies to “Two Campus Encounters”

  1. One of the measures of a person’s character and humanity is how he treats the little people, the ones who have neither power nor wealth. Respect is not the private province of the ruling class, it is best applied to everyone with whom we deal. It would not have diminished HWA one iota if he had realized that respect is not something you can command; it is something that comes back to you in return for respecting others. Even members of street gangs and prisoners in jail realize that!


  2. I cannot recall one example of HWA that one can call ‘acting in a Christian manner.’ All of his writings reflect an image of a tyrant. How anyone, including myself, could see Christ reflected in him, is beyond comprehension. Today, we see the same characteristics in the so-called leaders of the splits. None of them have the image of Yahshua, but instead reflect the image of the beast. The day is coming when they will face the Most High and will receive the shock of their wrenched lives.

  3. If there is such a thing as conversion, it is clear that Herbert Armstrong didn’t have it. Perhaps it was of his hubris. If there is a God, He’s not interested in arrogant people and certainly wouldn’t want to associate Himself with someone who committed incest with his daughter for 10 years after his baptism and as he started his ministry and, certainly, would not want someone who never worked a day at manual labor in his life (it didn’t take a whole day to stack the wood) and was embarrassed to be seen doing grunt work, particularly if you believe that Jesus is God’s son who started out in the trades at labor as either a carpenter, or as some would have it, a stone mason working on Herod’s Temple.

    Herbert Armstrong was not the only tyrant of the lot. Those who ended up in GCI don’t seem to realize the damage Joseph Tkrap, Senior did. He took a woman who was innocent of doing anything wrong and yelled at her full force for five long hours. She was devastated and never seems to have been the same. He was nasty and vicious, yet people seem to want to give him a free pass. For those of us who have read the Ambassador Report, there is no small discomfort with Junior, who had a terrible temper and took it out on his first wife, Jill.

    One only read the account over at Silenced, “Operation: We Want the Member Dossiers” to see how nasty and vicious Dennis Luker was behind the scenes:

    “During the chaos of the UCG/COGWA split in 2010, UCG president Dennis Luker was firing and excommunicating anyone even rumored as being disloyal. Things that were whispered in private between members, said at local Bible studies or mumbled under someone’s breath all seemed to reach the burning ears of Dennis Luker who axed people left and right. In the aftermath of the split, UCG pastors are spying on members and punishing them for their internet browsing habits”.

    Last year, I talked with a man who had suffered through David Pack when he came to his home to spend the weekend verbally eviscerating his wife.

    Gerald Flurry is just as abusive, as has been Ronald Weinland: In Weinland’s case, a couple drove for hours for marriage counselling only to be told on arrival by Weinland that he didn’t want to waste his time on them. Apparently, they didn’t give enough money to his luxury fund.

    John Ritenbaugh of the Church of the Great God and Don Haney of the Church of God in Peace and Truth (where there isn’t any of either) aren’t particularly benign.

    Oh, sure, occasionally you will find a “nice” minister who will talk to you and treat you well, but you would do well to check out his background because you might find, as I did, that he committed adultery on his wife while she was dying of cancer….

    And if you think things have changed any, it does appear that Victor Kubik is going after the Ukrainians in the Church of God Seventh Day in Portland, Oregon. The CoG7 congregation there has at least three distinct social groups: Caucasian, Hispanic and Ukrainian. During services there are two translators: One for the Hispanics and another for the Ukrainians. Many in the congregation lean to Jesus and grace. Others, particularly the Ukrainians attempt to keep and preserve as much of the Old Testament Law as they can. Victor Kubic has, apparently, been in discussions with the Ukrainians, some of whom are interested in what United might offer them in terms of keeping the Feasts, particularly the Feast of Tabernacles.

    You are probably way, way, ahead of me, since we’ve all been through the fragmentation of the sects of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia: If Victor Kubic is successful in getting a segment of secession of the Ukrainians to consider UCG, he will have accomplished what United has become so very good at: Causing division. It’s inevitable. United had something like 50 splits in it’s first decade of existence (I frankly lost count after 42). I have talked with Canadians who were quite unhappy with the Council of Elders and left and, of course, I’ve watched the disastrous injustices rendered against their “members” (such as the couple who had to get a restraining order for a stalker within the UCG and Victor Kubic, in particular, was not about to render assistance to the beleaguered couple).

    This is all a cautionary tale which should warn those who are floating about among the CoHAM that none of them are worth your time because they are Toxic with a capital “T”.

    Our thanks to Retired Prof for rendering greater clarity to this topic (and as always, being so very interesting).

  4. I remember Lynn Torrance. He was a good and sincere man who came in about the same time I did in the mid-fifties. Soon, things degenerated into the mess so many of us fled. We were just so thoroughly deceived that it took a long time to begin to see through it all, and many never have.

  5. “I have a theory that everything is bullshit.”

    Truth has been thrown to the ground these days. In politics and religion, money is the key to happiness or so some think. True happiness is realizing when money is understood to be a tool and not a way of life. The quest for money is the path towards immorality and corruption. Nothing is sacred when money in the only focus in your life. Someone tell Dave Pack!

  6. This particular problem of hierarchy in the modern world is not of religion but of corporations. Perhaps the problem began with religion with the religious leaders at the top, actually on top of the government made of a hierarchy with absolute power held at the top, but now this is the corporate model of the modern world.

    In the United States, the Democratic Republic has become the government corporation, adopting the worst of the corporate model and implementing it badly. The government was supposed to be of the people, by the people and, most importantly, for the people, but that has all lapsed into chaos of profitability. The government is not supposed to make a profit, but (in spite of arbitrarily printing money) it is dedicated now to make a profit: And now, local governments, like Detroit, are declaring bankruptcy — just like some business — and the people with retirement are losing out.

    Herbert Armstrong didn’t know anything but the corporate environment, so when push came to shove, he established a hierarchical corporation with all the evils that come with that model. Much of the absolute corruption stemmed from that corporate model in the 1970s (it was really bad, particularly at Pasadena with all the corporate infighting and even spying). Herbert Armstrong was narcissistic and soulless, just like the religion he created from his delusion and defiance.

    If he really wanted to be “the watchman” to preach against the evils of this world to the real leaders (which he didn’t — he just wanted ego boosting photo-ops), he would have gone to the source of the evil: Instead of visiting presidents and kings of countries, he should have gone to the CEOs and board members of giant corporations — the Fortune 200 companies — who are responsible for the mess we’re in today. He should have dropped by Goldman Sachs and given them an earful about James 5:1-6.

    But he didn’t.

    He didn’t because he was just as much a liar, thief, con man, oppressor, sociopath as the leaders of the corporations and the corporations themselves.

    And since he had none of the “fruit of the spirit” and committed incest with his daughter the first 10 years of his ministry (until her husband showed up with a gun and waved it in Herb’s face), it’s clear that he couldn’t be described as ‘converted’.

    But yet, people want their Nimrod heroes who speak confidently and boldly, even if what they say is utter rubbish, because people want to believe crap and give power to those who promise them a bright future where they will be able to be like gods. Or in this case, God as God is God, to be able to torment people who irritate them, just like when Hogwarts got taken over by the evil wizards, witches and warlocks.

    Herbert Armstrong created a fantasy like Hogwarts that everyone wanted to believe and buy in to, to get on the bandwagon of selfish opportunity. And what they got was no less a fantasy as the Harry Potter series.

    Armstrongism: It’s magical.

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