Way back in 1984, about two years after my baptism into the Worldwide Church of God, I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the classic history of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer. While reading the book, I was struck several times by the similarities between the Third Reich and my church. I should have heeded my misgivings and left the church then, but like a good cult member I pushed unfavorable thoughts to the back of my mind.
I formally left the Worldwide Church of God in May 1998. Since leaving, my thoughts have gone back to Shirer’s book, and I thought an essay on what caught my attention almost 15 years ago and in the years since would be of interest to the visitors of the Re-examining Herbert W. Armstrong web site. So I went over to my bookshelf and blew the dust off of my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Here goes:
Strength Through Joy
Under Herbert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God never lacked activities for its members. When there weren’t picnics, there were church socials. When there weren’t track meets, there were basketball tournaments. There were Plain Truth newsstands to fill, and there were work parties to clean up Feast of Tabernacles sites. Everything was done under the watchful eyes of the “ministry,” who made sure everybody maintained a happy face, and that nobody complained too loudly about anything, lest a bad attitude infect the entire camp.
Organization was always emphasized. “Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40, KJV)” was the mantra. There was to be no chaos in the Worldwide Church of God. Everything was meticulously planned. Rules, of which there were many, were rigorously enforced.
Typical of Worldwide Church of God activities was the Feast of Tabernacles. I first attended the Feast in 1982 at Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. Everyday an announcement bulletin was handed out not only listing the activities scheduled, but also the rules the attendees were expected to follow. For example:
From the October 2, 1982 bulletin:
HOLY DAY OFFERING: …To ensure proper credit, all offerings must be placed in an envelope and sealed. Please assist the offering processing crew by not folding or crumpling any bills….
SECOND TITHE AS HOLY DAY OFFERINGS: Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong has taught for over 40 years that the second tithe is to enable members to attend God’s Holy Days-especially the Feast of Tabernacles. The second tithe is saved for that purpose-not as offerings for the Work. The Scriptures are very clear on this point (Deut. 14:22-27).
However, members may supplement their Holy Day offerings with second tithe provided they have first carefully planned to meet all their festival expenses, sent in their tithe of the tithe, and have shared a portion of their excess second tithe with less fortunate members by sending it in at the Feast site. Those who fulfill these prior obligations and still have second tithe left over, may give it in addition to their regular Holy Day offerings. (That is, above and beyond the amount already set aside for Holy Day offerings.) Or, they may turn it in as excess second tithe. [Editor’s note: We mustn’t shortchange the church coffers by giving money we already saved for the Feast of Tabernacles in lieu of money we had planned to give as an offering; we should give both.]
USE OF EXITS: Please notice the large signs over the doors on the north end of the auditorium: Handicap Exit Only, Bus Exit Only, and Emergency Exit Only. That side of the auditorium is to be reserved as an exit for these people only. Everyone else should exit via one of the other sides of the building, except in case of emergency.
PICTURE TAKING DURING SERVICES: You are asked not to take any pictures and especially during Mr. Armstrong’s transmissions.
SPANKING OF CHILDREN: There is special emphasis at the Feast of Tabernacles on the family. However, the Feast of Tabernacles is not the place to start child rearing. Please be circumspect in where and how much you spank your children.
No spanking will be permitted in the Mother’s Rooms. If you need to spank your child, please use the restrooms.
From the October 3, 1982 bulletin:
PARKING: Please follow the instructions of the parking attendants and park only in designated lots. No cars are to be parked on the apron around the auditorium. [Editor’s Note: Not true. They did allow handicapped members to park on the apron, a nice gesture. But they also allowed the paid ministry, none of whom was handicapped (except possibly mentally), to park there. It saved them the quarter mile walk from the members’ parking lots.]
WALKING ON THE GRASS: God has blessed us with a beautiful facility for the festival. Let’s all do our part to keep it that way. Please walk on the walkways, and not on the grass.
From the October 4, 1982 bulletin:
LOST CHILDREN: Lost children will be taken to the Information Booth. If your child becomes lost, please look for him there. Announcements regarding lost children will not be made from the pulpit.
From the October 5, 1982 bulletin:
MINISTERIAL SEATING: The ministers are at the Feast to serve you. In order for them to be accessible to you, a special section has been reserved for the ministers and their families. Please respect their need to have these reserved seats and find seating in other sections. [Editor’s note: Not surprisingly, the ministers’ seating area had the best view of the stage in the cavernous Mt. Pocono auditorium.]
From the October 6, 1982 bulletin:
FAMILY DANCE REMINDER: Plan on spending tonight right here in the Auditorium dancing on what may well be the largest dance floor in the Poconos. A wide variety of music and types of dancing has been planned for your enjoyment [Editor’s note: They did not play any music that would interest anybody under age 50, concentrating on big band music and square dances. YAWN!] DRESS IS TO APPROPRIATE [sic], NEAT AND CLEAN [Editor’s note: No, we’re going to come to the dance with vomit all over our clothes. What a @#*$&% moron!].
UNSUPERVISED CHILDREN: Due to problems that occurred last night at the Young Ambassador Film, if parents are not able to attend scheduled activities, they should not send their children unsupervised. [Editor’s note: As one who was there, I feel that the biggest problem that night was the Young Ambassador film itself. I writhed in agony for two hours at this horribly insipid trash. The morning after the film was shown, the festival coordinator said, “I was so moved that I had tears in my eyes.” I, too, had tears in my eyes, but for very different reasons.]
Please remember that Special Music is a part of the worship service, therefore do not talk during Special Music.
From the October 7, 1982 bulletin:
PARKING: Those wishing to leave the 196 parking lot after the exit gate has been closed should use the Green Street exit. Please do not drive across the grass. [Editor’s note: The festival coordinator was very anal about cars driving across the grass. Not a day went by without him ranting and raving about the lack of respect for authority. He finally threatened to expel from the Feast the next person who violated this most sacred rule.]
TRAMS: The trams are primarily for those who have trouble walking. If you don’t have difficulty walking, please leave the space on the trams for those who do.
FRIDAY NIGHT BIBLE STUDY: There will be a Bible Study tomorrow night, October 8th, here in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Since this will be the Sabbath, everyone should plan to attend.
From the October 8, 1982 bulletin:
BIBLE STUDY: There will be a Bible Study tonight here in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Since this is a Sabbath, everyone should plan to attend.
HOLY DAY OFFERING REMINDER: don’t forget that tomorrow we will be having a Holy Day offering. Be sure to make your checks payable to Herbert W. Armstrong, and to use your personal envelopes to facilitate the processing of the offering. Now is the time to think objectively and positively about the Holy Day offering. Second tithe may be used after you have met all your other Festival obligations. (Housing, excess second tithe, expenses for return trip, etc.)
From the October 9, 1982 bulletin:
HOUSING RESERVATIONS: Please do not make housing reservations for next year’s Feast until the Festival Edition of the Worldwide News comes out in the spring. If you have already made reservations for next year, please cancel them before you leave Mt. Pocono.
Things didn’t improve the next year. Apparently, the Mt. Pocono festival coordinator took any infractions of the rules during the 1982 feast as personal challenges to his authority. The rules given in the 1983 daily bulletins were even more forceful than in 1982.
From the September 22, 1983 bulletin:
HOLY DAY OFFERING: The Holy Day offering will be taken up today, September 22. Please remember to bring your special Holy Day envelopes. If you do not have your personal envelopes, you can obtain one from an usher.
To ensure proper credit, all offerings must be placed in an envelope and sealed. Please assist the offering processing crew by not folding or crumpling any bills. Be sure your name, complete address, and the amount of your offering are on the outside of the envelope.
All checks must be made payable to HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG, a Corporate Sole.
REGISTRATION: A Festival Registration card was sent to you with your Holy Day offering envelopes. (If you don’t have one, the ushers can supply you with one.) Please stop right now and fill out that card. Pass your card to the aisle when you are finished.
This information will be used only to contact you for an emergency during the Feast, and for registration purposes. It will not be given out to anyone else. Thank you for your cooperation!
TAPING OF SERVICES: As was announced recently from the Pastor General’s Report, there should be no taping of services either in local churches or at the Feast. This is not a change, but a restatement of a policy set by Mr. Armstrong many years ago.
Those who are unable to attend may request to borrow tapes of Feast sermons from their pastors. These tapes will be available a few weeks after the Feast.
PICTURE TAKING DURING SERVICES: You are asked not to take any pictures during services, and especially during Mr. Armstrong’s transmission.
APPLAUSE AT THE FEAST: In past years, many members have applauded during sermons and sermonettes at the Feast which, all too often, became an embarrassment to both audience and speakers. We want to alleviate this problem by informing you of the proper approach to this subject.
Normally, it is inappropriate to applaud. for special music, sermonettes or sermons. However, spontaneous applause for announcements of inspiring developments in the Work., special intervention or miracles from God, or a special appearance by Mr. Armstrong would be appropriate and fitting. When we want to show our appreciation to God for the special music or spiritual messages we will be receiving during the Fesst [sic] of Tabernacles, it would be more effective and appropriate to do so by our inspired singing of hymns at services and our private, personal prayers of thanks to God.
Therefore, PLEASE DO NOT applaud for sermonettes and sermons at the Feast.
From the September 23, 1983 bulletin:
FAMILY TOGETHERNESS AT THE FEAST: Throughout the year family members of God’s Church tend to become separated by the demands of jobs, schools, and other daily responsibilities and activities. But God’s Feast of Tabernacles is a time for families to draw closer together as we worship Him.
Accordingly, it would seem only natural for parents and their children to want to sit together in services as they listen to God’s ministers preach from His Word. Parents should therefore take the lead in making sure that their teens and younger children sit with them.
Of course, it would be fine for the teens or younger children to sit with their friends occasionally, provided that the parents of the friends are also there. However, unsupervised teens should not sit together in groups, as this takes away from their attention to the messages and prevents family togetherness. Other problems have resulted from this practice in the past — problems which parents and teens should be striving to avoid this year by sitting together.
When we come before God as a family, He will bless us individually and as a family. This is because worshiping God in this way glorifies the One who created family life for a great purpose. Let’s do everything we can during this festival season to draw our families closer together!
MOTHERS’ ROOM: Please respect the needs of others in the Mothers’ Room by observing the following rules:
* No spanking is allowed.
* No unnecessary visiting.
* Please return to your seat as quickly as possible.
KEEP THE AUDITORIUM CLEAN: Please take a few moments today (and every day) to clean up the area around your seat. This will greatly help the ushers keep the Auditorium clean.
Also, please do not move chairs from their proper places.
From the September 24, 1983 bulletin:
SPANKING OF CHILDREN: There is special emphasis at the Feast of Tabernacles on the family. However, the Feast is not the place to begin a child rearing program. Please be circumspect in where and how much you spank your children. There is a fine line between disciplining and child abuse according to the world’s standard. No spanking is permitted in the Mothers’ Room. If you need to spank your child, please use the restroom.
CURFEW: While attending the Feast of Tabernacles, God wants us to enjoy fine food and fellowship. However, the primary purpose for attending the Feast is to worship God. We need to be sure that we get plenty of rest to be alert during services. Please wrap up socializing early enough to get plenty of rest. [Editor’s note: Maybe the reason why people fell asleep during services is that the sermons were boring. The typical egotistical Worldwide Church of God minister would never admit this, however.]
LATE ARRIVALS: As noted in the Festival Brochure, morning services always begin at 10:30 a.m. Please plan your morning to arrive at services on time.
TRAFFIC: Please help our parking attendants by using your turn signals far enough in advance to indicate your intention to turn into the parking lot. (This is so that the attendants can distinguish church traffic from the general public.)
STAGE: Parents – please be sure to keep your children away from the stage and the ropes around it. (Some children have been playing with and sitting on the ropes.)
From the September 26, 1983 bulletin:
FAMILY DANCE: Tonight from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. a dance will be held for the whole family in the Auditorium. This is for all ages and all groups. Punch and refreshments will be served. A wide variety of music and types of dancing are planned which should bring toe-tapping enjoyment to everyone. Appropriate dress for this event is Sabbath wear [Editor’s note: Which means coats and ties for men and dresses (no slacks) for the ladies.]
The days spent at the Feast of Tabernacles were crammed full of activities to keep the membership busy. Throughout the year, the church would sponsor activities on most weekends, and the membership was admonished to attend as many of them as possible, lest we find ourselves “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25, KJV),” a sure sign of spiritual weakness in the eyes of the “ministry.” Like the Feast of Tabernacles, these activities were full of rules, with the prying eyes of the ministry always present.
As I read through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I came across a passage that was eerily familiar. The thought that popped into my mind was, “This is just like the church!” Shirer wrote, on page 265:
“Tied down by so many controls at wages little above the subsistence level, the German workers, like the Roman proletariat, were provided with circuses by their rulers to divert attention from their miserable state. ‘We had to divert the attention of the masses from material to moral values,’ Dr. Ley once explained. ‘It is more important to feed the souls of men than their stomachs.’
“So he came up with an organization called Kraft durch Freude (‘Strength through Joy’). This provided what can only be called regimented leisure. In a twentieth-century totalitarian dictatorship, as perhaps with older ones, it is deemed necessary to control not only the working hours but the leisure hours of the individual. This was what ‘Strength through Joy’ did….
“To the ordinary German in the Third Reich this official all-embracing recreational organization no doubt was better than nothing at all, if one could not be trusted to be left to one’s own devices. It provided members of the Labor Front, for instance, with dirt-cheap vacation trips on land and sea. Dr. Ley built two 25,000-ton ships, one of which he named after himself, and chartered ten others to handle ocean cruises for Kraft durch Freude. This writer once participated in such a cruise; though life aboard was organized by Nazi leaders to a point of excruciation (for him), the German workers seemed to have a good time.”
When I read this, the first thing that leapt into my mind was the startling resemblance between the church activities I attended and the Strength Through Joy activities. I found this very disturbing, and I spent a great deal of time thinking about it. I also curtailed my participation in those activities. All of the church activities were closely supervised. The pastor and/or the associate pastor was always present. Any deviation from accepted behavior would have been pounced upon immediately, even if you simply stated that you weren’t enjoying yourself. I know this because I saw it first hand. My pastor (who, by the way, was also the festival coordinator for the Mt. Pocono feast site in 1982 and 1983) saw my closest friend and me sitting at a table during a picnic and asked us if we were enjoying ourselves. My friend made the mistake of telling the pastor he wasn’t, and both of us (guilt by association, which is common in totalitarian states) got a lecture about how picnics were held for our benefit, that it was ridiculous for us not to be enjoying ourselves because we were with God’s people, and we had better do something about our attitudes.
Article by Marc