Herbert Armstrong certainly did a lot of damage: He wrecked his family, created a bizarre religion, promoted false prophecies, ruined families and set up a cult which splintered into pieces. Even three decades after his death, the impact of the damage Herbert Armstrong continues to spread. Quite a lot of time, effort, energy and money has been poured into understanding just exactly what happened. One such effort was The Fragment of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God by Dr. David Barrett.
And yet, the book tells us about what happened and who went with whom, but it begs the very basic question of why it all happened. The problem is that it is a question of psychology, not sociology — sociology can show what happens to groups of people with their interactions, but it is the psychology behind the behaviors that gives us the key.
In the case of Herbert Armstrong, the Radio Church of God, Ambassador College, the Worldwide Church of God and the World Tomorrow Broadcast, there is one basic philosophy of Herbert Armstrong that explains everything. It explains the mechanism behind his split with the Church of God Seventh Day, the infighting and power politics in the Church Cult Corporate, the splintering of Armstrongism and even bad marriages in the church. The philosophy is a fundamental part of every aspect of Armstrongism — and it is inescapable. It explains disaffected teens and family schisms. It explains why there are so many one man shows out there with insane cult leaders of the various sects of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia.
Let us hearken back to the simple fundamental principle established as the central core of doctrine by Herbert Armstrong. Herbert Armstrong said, someone must always be in charge. This is applied as an hierarchy wherever there are two or more people, whether it is church administration or it is a marriage.
That makes sense, right? Someone must always be in a position of authority to make the final decision. There must always be someone to be the tie breaker if there is a disagreement. Someone always has the final say. It has been this way since the dawn of history. World governments ruled with this. The Military has its ‘chain of command’, which, if violated, can lead — and usually does lead — to dire consequences for the violator. Modern corporations live and breathe the musty nectar of the rigid corporate hierarchy. Yes, some have attempted cooperative high performance work groups, and yes, there is lip service among some to forming consensus opinions, but when the rubber meets the road, that all changes in an instant when a large problem looms and a quick decision is needed — the power brokers step in and use authority from the top down, at which point, the high performance work group is broken beyond repair, but the work does get done because…. dictatorships are far more efficient that democracy, even if the results are less than optimum. In making the choice between fast, cheap and good, the good will be abandoned in favor of the fast.
What Herbert Armstrong did is to short circuit the thinking of generations of church members into thinking that the authority model was the only model which worked or ever could work. There was no other option. He managed to demonstrate this over and over.
Now, in the past decade, the Church of God Seventh Day took 5 years to revise their doctrinal booklet, This We Believe: Teachings of the Church of God (Seventh Day):
After five years of writing, re-writing, reviewing, proofing, preparing, and printing, the North American Ministerial Council of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), with editorial and production expertise from Bible Advocate Press, presents a full-length book on doctrines for your use. This handy guide develops and defends each of the twelve points in the church’s Statement of Faith, using the Scripture as its only authority.
In addition to a Bible and a good hymnbook, it has been said that all Christians should own a book that explains the main teachings of Scripture and of the church to which they belong. This We Believe is just such a book for CoG7.
It should be noted that the rank and file members contributed and were a part of the process. Can you imagine Herbert Armstrong allowing such a thing in the Worldwide Church of God? Look what happened to the infamous Systematic Theology Project. Herbert Armstrong insisted that Someone Must Be In Charge, and, of course, that Someone was him. You can see what Garner Ted Armstrong said about the topic. Of course, when one man at the top is large and in charge with no accountability whatsoever, a lot of decisions and directions can be arbitrary and conflicting, depending upon the mental state and mood of the chief kook in charge. Thus it was with the doctrine of makeup. It was bad. It was good. It was bad again. It is reminiscent of the scene in the Woody Allen Movie, Bananas, where the dictator announces that underwear will be changed every half-hour and worn on the outside of the clothes so it can be inspected for compliance:
Now Herbert Armstrong could absolutely, positively never envision, let alone concede, that there could be anything like an equal partnership. This was especially true of marriage, which results were exhibited quite explicitly with the $5 million divorce settlement with Ramona. Actually, if we are to believe the Ambassador Report, the attorney and court fees may have been as much as another $5 million — imagine: We, as tithe paying church members paid $10 million for Herbert Armstrong — the man who wrote, How to Have a Happy Marriage — to get his divorce. Equal partnership was an alien concept to him.
There can be real joy as well as productivity to form an equal partnership. Jointly working through options can be an enjoyable shared activity. Equal partnership means the elimination of divisiveness, bitterness, competition. Caring and sharing can bring a depth not achieved by the two dimensional thinking of Someone Must Be in Charge. The Apostle Paul wrote that Christians should not be unequally yoked, and yet, Herbert Armstrong violated that principle at every turn, precluding life fulfillment in the social context. Everyone was to be subservient to him. Everyone was a slave to contribute to his Luxury Fund and provide his narcissistic source. His selfishness could not admit that someone could be equal with him and that is where the presets of the thinking of Armstrongists came from. Herbert Armstrong lost his partnership compass, if, indeed, he ever had it. Not only that, but he ruined it for everyone else who subjected themselves to his madness.
Is it any wonder that after Herbert Armstrong died (and in some cases, before) people split off and went their own way — not to form churches as social groups as an equal partnership, but to insure that they would be the ones to be in church, because, you know, Someone Must Be in Charge. After United was formed, smaller groups popped up and split off (something like 50 in the first decade of their existence). One could attend the Feast of Tabernacles of these groups to listen to the background conversations about how the UCG would absolutely not cooperate. The groups were formed to provide a place to go and the minister in charge would speak about how the church was working to stabilize the group.
So if anyone wants to know why there are something like 700+ splinters out there (one estimate was 1,200), they can consider the fact that Herbert Armstrong was at the core of the problem because he just couldn’t fathom equal partnerships.
Do not be deceived: The leaders of the sects of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia trivialize the members as being of no worth except to provide money and narcissistic source. They, like the pigs at George Orwell’s Animal Farm see themselves as more equal than the rest of the congregation. There is no equality. There is no equal partnership. There is only complete submission and surrender to those who bear dictatorial authority over you and every phase of your life.
If we’ve read the Scriptures correctly, Christianity is about all members being equal under God. It is to be a fellowship of equals in a partnership. Anything else is not Christianity and if you are a part of it, expect to see and experience a great deal of damage.
The April / May 2016 Asimov’s Science Fiction has Project Synergy on page 70 beginning with these two paragraphs:
A partnership must always be asked for. If it is to be true synergy, then both parties must agree.
Of course, it only takes one party to end things.