The following was posted on Ambassador Watch May 15, 2016
When individuals research the history of the Worldwide Church of God, they generally turn to the Internet. The Internet allows individuals to efficiently gather (and discuss) an abundance of facts, truths and insights. At the same time, the Internet is also a rich source of rumors, lies, and innuendo. For most WCG issues, it is fairly straight forward to separate one from the other. There is typically enough documented data for individuals to make informed decisions without buying into lies or relying upon rumor and innuendo.
When it comes to the Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) and allegations of incest, however, the situation is more challenging. The act is repulsive, the implications are significant, the burden of proof is high, and yet the documentation is somewhat sparse and hotly disputed. His critics say claim that it happened and is proof HWA was not a man of integrity while some defenders say that it did not happen and attack the integrity and motives of the accusers.
What should one do when stumbling across such an accusation… Confirm, deny or ignore these rumors? Having been associated with WCG and UCG for over 40 years, it made sense for me to disprove the rumors so that this troubling topic could be put to rest.
Incest is a very serious topic. It is also an exceptionally sensitive subject and best discussed as objectively as possible. It may help to begin this sensitive discussion with a definition and some comments from the Christian Courier website:
Incest is defined as: “The crime of sexual intercourse or cohabitation between a man and woman who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law” (Black, p. 685). Incest has been held to be repulsive, dangerous, and illegal among many civilizations — even some of the most primitive. In ancient Rome, Augustus implemented a law against incest, and children born to incestuous relationships were deemed illegitimate. Modern laws against incest appear to be grounded mainly in the Levitical code (McClintock, p. 541).
The effects of parent-child incest are particularly significant and long-lasting. Many women subjected to this type of abuse, never fully recover. In these cases, few would argue with the above assertion that incest is repulsive. Likewise, it seems reasonable to infer that God finds such acts repulsive. This would be consistent with general public outrage regarding priests that have committed similar acts by molesting children and consistent with the majority opinion that such priests have disqualified themselves from being considered as representatives of God.
Incest is reprehensible and so are false allegations of incest. Nobody should have to face false allegations of such a serious nature and we should avoid carelessly buying into rumors about others in this area. This brings us to back to the accusations against HWA. How can one separate the lies from the facts on a polarizing topic like this that is supported with equal passion and implied certainty on both sides? It helped me to remain cautious, rational, and skeptical in order to avoid jumping to conclusions.
Although research takes time, it is warranted when evaluating important topics. Having benefited from the research performed by those in the past, I’d like to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing my findings with those who may have the same questions in the future. The following information came from various books, websites, and discussion with COG members and ministers (current and former).
RUMORS LIES AND INNUENDO?
False claims against any individual regarding incest are repulsive, vicious, and damning. Such charges never should be made, nor should they be repeated by others who cannot support such claims.
A number of individuals have indicated that the charges against HWA are false and that the attacks against him are unfounded and evil spirited. Two common positions are:
1. NOT GUILTY as the evidence presented would not stand up in court. A good example of such a position will be discussed below.
2. NOT GUILTY as it is inconceivable for a man of God to have done so. This type of defense will also be addressed below.
The NOT GUILTY due to insufficient evidence defense
Bob Thiel is an individual who finds HWA not guilty of these charges due to insufficient evidence. His full, in-depth explanation can be found here.
Bob personally investigated the issue. He determined that not only could the accusations not be proved, but some aspects were actually disprovable. He concluded that the accusers had merely perpetuated the charade with no direct information and that HWA would be found NOT GUILTY in a real court of law.
In essence, he believes all accusations stem from the charges first aired in David Robinson’s 1980 book, Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web. Significant points Bob made about his own investigations include:
- Art Mokarow would not stand by previous comments about personally hearing HWA’s alleged confession in the “Lochner tapes”
- On January 3, 2007, Dibar Apartian clearly and flatly denied the claim that had previously stated that he felt HWA was guilty of incest.
[Comments: If Bob had nothing to gain personally by defending HWA’s authority, and If he were widely recognized to be a trustworthy individual, then his statements would carry significant weight. Personally, I do not find Bob to be a credible individual based on some interactions with him in the early 1980’s, due to his claims of being a prophet, his misstatements about his religious training, and based on my own conversations with Art Mokarow.]
The NOT GUILTY because “it can’t be true” defense
Some (such as the “HWA Library” site or Frank Nelte) argue along the lines of: God only works through men of integrity. God obviously worked through HWA . Therefore, HWA is a man of integrity and these claims must be false. However, circular reasoning does not prove anything.
[Comments: There is a big difference between God allowing someone to do something in His name versus God calling that person and working directly through him. HWA had claimed that he had learned from no man and that he had restored 18 truths to the true church and many give him credit for this. However, a little research will show that most of what HWA taught was not new and that he had copied it from others. For example, a good summary of the HWA’s supposed 18 ‘restored’ truths may be found here.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH OR MORE RUMORS, LIES AND INNUENDO?
A number of supposed “proofs” regarding the abuse accusation will now be examined, moving from the general to the more specific.
Some supporters have acknowledged that HWA had committed incest with his daughter but offer the “David defense” to excuse this transgression and say that it has not impact on the role he played. This position need not be examined further as it neither proves non-consensual incest occurred nor would it excuse it.
It would be nice if one could find clear denials regarding these claims by HWA personally, by the church when these claims were first put into print (Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web), and/or by the family members that would have known one way or the other regarding these claims.Unfortunately, none of these denials were made.One may find this odd but the lack of denials does not prove that the incest took place. Innocent people do not have to defend themselves against false claims.
Evidence (or lack of it) found on the Internet (and/or shared by individuals)
1. A Nov. 19, 1979, letter from David Robinson (former WCG evangelist) to HWA alluded to the incest and other sexual issues and requested that HWA resign for the good of the church.
[Comments: Some have attacked David Robinson’s integrity while others have defended him. I had read (likely in The Journal) that he was an honorable man who suffered greatly for making these claims.]
2. 1981 book Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web (An Insider’s View of the Worldwide Church of God) by David Robinson
David Robinson, a former WCG minister and employee in varied capacities, wrote from firsthand knowledge with deep disappointment and has come to agree with Solomon who advised against putting their trust in men. Chapter XX covered HWA and the incest story. This book is available here.
[Comments: This book may not have been the most well-written account of the church but much of the material was consistent with other sources and confirmed through personal discussions with ministers that had been at headquarters. The portion dealing with the alleged incest was distasteful but there is likely no way for anyone to address this topic it in an acceptable manner to all.]
3. December 30, 1981 letter from Jack Kessler to the Board of WCG
Jack Kessler was WCG’s CPA who worked directly with HWA and Rader and his letter detailing a number of corporate irregularities contained the following references to the charge of incest:
“The human condition is such that it would shock probably only just a few to learn of the moral depravity that is reported commonly among you. Although others, such as Dave Robinson* and Floyd Lochner, apparently thought it might work to their advantage to report Mr. Armstrong’s admission (which he’s made to several) that he had engaged repeatedly in incestuous intercourse with his daughter during the first 10 years of his ministry, as well as more recent, self-confessed sexual perversity…”
The entire letter available here.
[Comments: Was this letter credible? In a number of areas, yes, such as the abuse of authority and financial mismanagement. It also brought out a second name related to the accusation of incest: Floyd Lochner, who had allegedly taped HWA hoping to get a denial on record but instead getting a confession. Damning evidence… if true. But where is the tape? Who had heard it personally?]
4. Lakeland Ledger May 12, 1984 newspaper article about HWA’s divorce with Ramona mentions an “understanding” the couple reached about Armstrong’s “prior incestuous conduct with his daughter for many years.”
*[Comments: The reference within this article was quite significant to me. This is not the type of comment a newspaper would make carelessly.]
5. 1997 letter from GTA in response to an inquiry about the incest
The Church of God International
Post Office Box 2530,
Tyler, Texas, 75710
Garner Ted Armstrong, Founder
Dear Mr. (Name Withheld by Request),
I’m sorry, but I really have no comment about the very lengthy letter from Jack Kessler. The entire situation is completely moot at this time, of course. My father died at age 93 1/2 back in 1986, eleven years ago, and I certainly have no desire to resurrect a lot of ancient ghouls from their graves and engage in a lot of criticism involving the actions of individuals in that organization decades ago.
Nothing my father did, negative or positive, matters to my personal salvation, or to yours.
For the last twenty years, I have continued to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness and a warning to the world, and I have never engaged in the kind of spiritual “grave robbing” that exhumes ancient sins of fifty or sixty years ago, and attempts to defile and defame the memory of individuals who themselves are long since dead.
Sorry if this proves disappointing to you, but I simply have no further comment.
Garner Ted Armstrong
This letter is available here.
[Comments: This letter came across more as “I do not want to talk about it” than as “It did not happen.”]
6. 1999 Letter from Bruce Renehan who had interviewed some members of the Church of God 7th Day who reported they were aware of the incest.
“I’m not exactly sure what constitutes proof to everyone. Before I began to author my book, my wife and I visited the Church of God, Seventh Day, both in Bakersfield and in Fresno. That is the church that Herbert Armstrong started attending in 1927. I first heard of the incest from some of their members, two of whom–Israel Hager and John Keiss [correct spelling Kiesz]–had known Armstrong in the 20s and 30s. Keiss, who was Armstrong’s closest friend in the COG7 had actually discussed the incest with Dorothy Armstrong who confessed to him. Not wanting to believe hearsay from just one group, I placed a call to a friend of mine (Bob Mizell) in Pasadena. Bob was a very close friend to Joe Tkach Senior and, if anyone would know if the stories were true or not, he certainly would. Bob told me openly that both he and Joe Tkach had known about Armstrong’s incest with his daughter and then he quickly brought up the David was a man after God’s heart” ploy. “
The full letter is available here.
[Comments: To me, Bruce Renehan came across as sincere and credible but this does not constitute proof that what he said was true.]
7. Statement by Keith Hunt
“Oh indeed, the WCG was going to SUE Ambassador Report a NUMBER of times over the next years, especially over HWA having an affair with one of his daughters way back when, that came to light [and for those who still say it was all slander and lies; I personally heard GTA say he confronted his dad on the matter and HWA admitted it was so, saying, I was not always close to God”]. What was the reply from Ambassador Report to the WCG stating they were going to sue them, it was “Come on do so, will be happy to see you in court.” The WCG NEVER did sue Ambassador Report!!”
http://www.keithhunt.com/Hwaexp.6.html (Editors note: dead link)
[Comments: I spoke with Keith Hunt in April 2015 and found him to be sincere and credible. A direct confirmation by GTA is significant. Also, WCG never following through on their threat to sue Ambassador Report for repeating these claims is telling.]
8. WCG ministerial confirmations (various dates):
- When asked by various church members, David Antion (related to GTA though marriage) has acknowledged that the incest occurred.
[Comments: Two credible individuals in my church area confirmed this is true as they meet with David’s group occasionally and had asked Mr. Antion directly about the allegations. Generally, families do not want to talk about such things openly (and most don’t) but they do tend to know what happened. This is compelling evidence. Another member reported that she had come to the Antion home in the late 1970’s, when Dorothy was inside crying about this. She is absolutely certain that it happened.]
- Several individuals have reported that Art Mokarow confirmed that HWA committed incest while in a public setting.
[Comments: After hearing about Art Mokarow’s statements from Pam Dewey, I contacted Art in Dec. 2014. He came across as being a very honest and sincere individual that had nothing to gain by lying about it. When I asked him how he knew for sure that the incest had occurred, his answer was clear, candid and direct – he had heard Mr. Armstrong’s taped confession that had been recorded by his friend Floyd Lochner. After reading Bob Thiel’s “proof that the incest had not occurred” in 2016, I again contacted Mr. Mokarow. We spoke on May 14th and Art did not back away from his statement at all. Yes, he had heard the tape himself. He also had heard Mr. Armstrong confess the incest directly to him and many other of the leading ministers (at what appears to be close to the time when David Robinson’s book was released). This is likely why Mr. Tkach, Dr. Albert, and many others felt comfortable in acknowledging this to be fact when they were asked. Art said that the incest had continued well beyond the 10- year period that others had reported. Bob Thiel appears to have misunderstood his conversation with Mr. Mokarow.]
- Other ministers have acknowledged the rumor to be true when asked including Gary Antion and at least one of the current UCG Council members.
[Comments: Although not proof when considered alone, such acknowledgments by ardent HWA supporters do carry weight and may be related to the HWA admission to ministers somewhere around 1979/1980 that Art Mokarow had mentioned in our May 2016 discussion.]
9. 2014 Interview of HWA’s niece Deborah
In a radio interview, Deborah related that the family had kept quiet about Dorothy to protect her. Deborah’s mother had told her it was true. She was also was told by her grandson. Interestingly, Deborah noted that the only thing HWA had given her was a hand signed copy of his “Missing Dimension in Sex” book.
Start at minute 50:00.
[Comments: For someone that would want to attack her credibility, please explain how Deborah would benefit from lying about this.]
10. 2014 Interview of HWA’s grandson Larry Gott
In a radio interview, Larry Gott said that the incest was an accepted as fact within the family and that it had started when Dorothy was 14 or 15. When asked, what kind of character was HWA, he said, “He was tyrannical… He was a person who craved and used authority over other people. That was sort of the essence of him. Nobody was really close to him – ever – including his wife. He was an authoritarian and I would tell people that he was not completely honest with everybody about himself.”
Start at minute 1:01:20.
[Comments: How would Larry benefit from lying about this?]
Conclusion: At this point, I would be more fearful of God for attacking the credibility Art Mokarow, Keith Hunt, Deborah, David Antion and Larry Gott on this topic than by stating that I feel certain that HWA did commit incest with his daughter.