In February, 2004, the editor at the Painful Truth website contacted me. He asked if I would write a piece concerning what I would say to the next-generation Worldwide Church of God (WCG) members and those who have split off from this “mother” church. He wanted me to express what would be most important for me to try and get those people to understand. He had asked a few others to do the same thing.
Blast from the past… Betty J. Brogaard
I thought about this for quite some time before applying pen to paper (actually, fingers to keyboard) to fulfill the assignment I accepted. I hope relating some of my experiences will not bore you nor appear arrogant. I feel, however, that I must try to establish some credibility before I express my feelings about WCG/AC leadership and members in general with whom I came in contact.
I believe my perspective is unique in that (1) I am a woman–placing me on the low end of the “food chain” as far as the WCG and Ambassador College (AC) were concerned; (2) I had opportunity to interact with many of the top-ranking ministers and executives of the organization; (3) I was married to a pastor-rank WCG minister; and (4) now, even though I am an atheist, I am still married–for almost 40 years–to that same, kind gentleman who remains a dedicated christian and is currently very active as an elder in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
My journey from “faith to reason” was long, careful and often difficult. You may not have taken the same paths that I did. You may not have come to the same conclusions that I have. Hopefully, however, we can agreeably disagree with one another if necessary. Thus, I begin part of my history with the WCG/AC.
Ambassador College (Late 1950s and 1960s)
My initial personal encounter with Herbert W Armstrong was during the first week of my arrival as a freshman on the Pasadena AC campus in late August or early September, 1959–almost 45 years ago.
I had come from Tennessee cross country on a train with three other co-eds–another freshman and two sophomores. We had met through information provided us by Headquarters for the purpose of traveling together. When we arrived at the Pasadena depot, one of the sophomores dialed the library number from a pay phone to let someone know that we needed transportation to the campus. (We had been instructed to do this.)
The person who answered the telephone was Hebert W Armstrong himself! Apparently he had just left his office which was then located on the top floor of the library building. Just as he exited the elevator downstairs, the phone rang at the unattended receptionist’s desk; and he answered it. Within a short time after that phone call, someone from the Transportation Department arrived at the station, loaded our luggage into the vehicle and transported the four of us to our assigned dormitories on campus.
A few days later, I was taking a walk on campus with a couple of other freshmen; and Mr. Armstrong approached from the opposite direction. He stopped and chatted with us for a moment, asking our names and where our homes were. When I told him I was from Tennessee, he smiled and imitated my Southern accent in a friendly, inoffensive way.
Here was the man ultimately responsible for my being on the beautiful Ambassador College campus; here was the primary voice of the World Tomorrow radio broadcasts; here was the author of the many co-worker letters and Plain Truth and Good News magazine articles that I was so familiar with–and he was talking face-to-face with me! I was thrilled beyond words.
My hometown did not have a local church at that time, and I had been baptized two years earlier by a summer baptizing team sent from headquarters–Allen Manteufel and Charles Dorothy. They were the first members of the Worldwide Church of God (which was then the Radio Church of God) I had ever met. Allen and Charles had arranged for a public swimming pool to be opened early in the morning for the purpose of baptizing my mother and me. We had been counseled the previous day and deemed suitably repentant, of course, for baptism. Until the following year at the fall Feast of Tabernacles in Big Sandy, Texas, I came in contact with no other member of the church.
During my years as a student at AC and, after graduation, as a young married woman, I worked for a number of top executives and ministers. My first job was in the Mail Processing Department supervised by Ron Dart’s wife. Eventually I became part-time secretary to Hugh Mauch, the head of that department. I then moved upstairs to the Letter Answering Department where my direct supervisor was Nevelene Swaney, a capable woman who later became Herbert Armstrong’s secretary. After my stint in Letter Answering, I worked in the Legal Department and the Visiting Program for Ralph Helge and Selmer Hegvold respectively.
From there I moved to the reception area of the Administration Building and performed secretarial duties for Charles Dorothy, Jon Hill, Leslie McCullough and Rod Meredith. I, also, occasionally did some work for Herman Hoeh, Al Portune, Sr. and even Stan Rader.
As secretary and receptionist at the Administration Building, I met many interesting visitors to the campus, one of whom was Evangelist Oral Roberts. As I remember, it was an early Friday afternoon when he and his Business Manager came in and asked for a tour of the campus. At that time, Mr. Roberts was in the planning stage of his own Oklahoma college/university. I felt that asking a student guide from the Letter Answering Department, the normal procedure, to show Mr. Roberts and his companion around the campus would not be appropriate. After all, Oral Roberts was quite well known in religious circles. Who knows what questions he might have asked, and who knows what unsuitable information he might have been given if an inexperienced student conducted the tour. (The WCG, at that time, was extremely secretive about its inner workings.)
A minister and head of one of the foreign language departments had an office on the first floor of the Administration Building. He, however, absolutely refused when I asked him to even meet these men. As I remember, when I told him that Oral Roberts was in the foyer, he asked, “What does he want?” He claimed he was much too busy to be bothered.
Since there was no other minister or executive in the building that afternoon, I took a chance that Garner Ted Armstrong’s (GTA’s) assistant might be in the penthouse offices. He was and grudgingly agreed to escort the two visitors from Oklahoma around the campus.
(As an aside, Mr. Roberts barely spoke a word while he was in my presence and seemed, frankly, rather standoffish. He may have been a bit miffed that he had been kept waiting for so long. If he was, I really can’t say that I blame him as GTA’s assistant seemed to take his own sweet time in getting to the Administration Building just across the drive from the library building. Roberts’ Business Manager, however, whose name now slips my mind, was pleasant and friendly.)
I had worked in the Administration Building for about three years before I was sent to fill in for Nevelene Swaney (by then the Armstrongs’ secretary) who had become seriously ill with meningitis. (I believe this was during the school year of 1965-1966 when Fred was a junior.)
Between the two separate times I worked for HWA and GTA in the penthouse offices, however, I helped out in Carlton Smith’s home office in Portland, Oregon, where my husband had been sent as a 1966 summer ministerial assistant before his senior year at AC. It was there that I had the delightful experience of meeting and working in Mr. Smith’s office with Honor Wolverton, wife of Basil Wolverton. (Mr. Wolverton was a Mad Magazine contributor and artist of those frightening pictures in some of WCG’s prophetic and other publications. Some readers may not know that he was one of the first elders Herbert Armstrong ordained.)
My husband and I returned to campus just before classes for Fred began again in the fall of 1966. At that time I was employed for a short time in the Personnel Department under the direction of Paul Royer. Then, I was assigned to work for Norman Smith, head of the Radio Studio. I was in his office when I was summoned to the penthouse once again to work for the Armstrongs. I remained there until Fred was ordained at the end of his senior year in June, 1967. Then we were sent into the field ministry in the Pacific Northwest. (For a more thorough explanation of how I landed in the penthouse offices, please see Dare To Think For Yourself: A Journey from Faith to Reason at Amazon.)
During the almost eight years I worked on the AC campus, I never asked for a particular job. I was simply told where I should go. I received only two raises in pay during all that time. The first one, I nervously asked Rod Meredith for. I had been given permission to live my final year at college off campus with his younger sister, Kathryn, who taught at Imperial School. We shared an apartment several blocks from AC but within walking distance. Without more money I would not have been able to pay my share of the expenses; but, typically, Rod Meredith made me feel as if I were terribly greedy for asking for a little increase in pay. He said, “Well, I haven’t had a raise in quite some time myself.” I wanted to point out to him that there was a vast difference between my salary as a student and his as an evangelist; but, of course, I didn’t. Anyway, I did get a raise; but I don’t remember how much it was. I do remember that I had to be very careful and not overspend to make ends meet.
(By way of explanation, I actually was scheduled to graduate in 1963; but because of my heavy, senior-year work schedule I felt I’d be unable to adequately keep up with my studies. I, therefore, requested that my class load be lessened and that my graduation be delayed until June, 1964. This request was granted by Al Portune, Sr.)
My second raise came after I was sent to work in the penthouse offices the second time. Soon after I had been transferred there, I overheard Herbert Armstrong and Al Portune discussing the salary I should receive as the Armstrongs’ secretary. My husband was then in his senior year and working part-time in the Mail Opening Department. Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Portune, therefore, decided that a woman should not make more money than her husband; so they raised my salary to match but not exceed Fred’s! Overhearing their discussion was quite an embarrassing experience for me. At that time, neither Fred nor I were paid very much; we didn’t own a car, and we rented from AC a furnished, two-room garage apartment behind the South Orange Grove mansion occupied by Herman Hoeh and his family.
Over the years, I learned that every minister and executive of the church and college was very human. The mental pedestal on which I had placed them at the beginning of my church membership steadily lowered as I became more familiar with more of them. I, also, recognized that, by and large, those who held the most important positions were the most approachable (if you didn’t “cross swords” with them). There were, of course, exceptions to this–men who were unduly proud of their achievements and felt they deserved even more recognition.
While I was employed in the penthouse offices I was resented by some, including a few ministers, who didn’t have immediate access on a daily basis to the Armstrongs as I did. Snide remarks were sometimes made and little barbs thrown out–but maybe I was just too thin-skinned as I actually was very insecure about the prestigious position I held.
Nevertheless, I greatly respected and admired Herbert Armstrong as the head and apostle of the WCG. I never heard rumors of his transgressions and indiscretions until after Fred and I left Pasadena in 1967. In the penthouse, Mr. Armstrong was somewhat like a grandfather figure to me. His wife, Loma, also, occupied a special place in my life at college; and I deeply mourned her death.
In spite of her demure appearance, however, the first Mrs. Armstrong was formidable and outspoken in her position as Women’s Guidance Counselor at AC. She never hesitated to correct a co-ed’s behavior, criticize her attire or assess her looks. Not a few of us came out of her office very close to tears. She could, also, be kind and sympathetic. She was instrumental, for example, in keeping Fred on the Pasadena campus when he had been slated to attend the new Big Sandy campus for his sophomore year in September, 1964. Mrs. Armstrong, however, told her husband that Fred and I were attracted to one another. She thought we should both remain in Pasadena, so HWA marked his name off the Big Sandy list! Fred and I were married in December, 1964.
Mr. Armstrong and I chatted frequently when I worked as his secretary. We even shared on rare occasion, toward the end of the work day, one of those small cans of beer (less than twelve ounces) that the Olympia brewery manufactured at that time. This amounted to, perhaps, two or three swallows for each of us, while we munched Triscuits.
As far as Garner Ted was concerned, he was polite to me. Each day when he came into the office, he always had a smile on his lips and a cheery greeting; but I didn’t feel as comfortable around him as I did his father. I’m sure one of the reasons is that I knew about some of his adulterous relationships with not only then current but past AC co-eds, and Ted knew that I knew. He, of course, had sworn that he would never be guilty of this again.
I performed ordinary secretarial duties for him as well as for his father. Ted had an enormous vocabulary; and when I typed his dictation, Webster’s Dictionary was always at hand and well used. He was an avid reader, and I remember that he was quite fond of Western novels written by such authors as Louis L’Amour.
(As an aside, my height is only 5 feet 3 inches; but I was surprised that neither Herbert nor Ted Armstrong were very tall. I would venture a guess that the father was, perhaps, around 5 feet 6 inches tall, and the son, around 5 feet 8 inches. Nevertheless, they both had commanding appearances and exuded energy and confidence.)
The Field Ministry
As a member of the WCG for 17 years, as an AC student and as wife of an AC student who became a minister, my life was punctuated with pleasurable experiences. Admittedly, I enjoyed a number of privileges as a result of my husband’s later position in the church. Prestige and physical accoutrements seemed automatic. This, of course, was true for most, if not all, wives and children of the ordained and upper echelon administrators.
Fred went from preaching elder, under George Kemnitz in the Seattle-Tacoma area, to the rank of pastor in a short time. Fred then pastored the Tacoma Church and, also, started the church in Olympia.
When George and his family were transferred to the Pasadena campus, we were moved from the Tacoma-Olympia area back to the two large Seattle congregations. Fred, also, started the Sedro-Wooley church in northern Washington state. His workload became quite heavy overseeing these three different churches. He rarely got home earlier than 9:00 or 10:00 P.M. during the week. Often, especially when we were in the Tacoma-Olympia area, I was Fred’s visiting partner when he had no one else to go with him. (You may not know that every minister was cautioned to always have an assistant by his side when he visited or counseled lone females.)
On Friday afternoon and into the late evening, Fred put finishing touches on his sermon that usually had to be delivered twice on the Sabbath Day. Sunday was another work day of counseling and visiting. On Monday morning, there were detailed reports sent to Headquarters about problems confronted, baptisms performed and the total number of and reason for visits made. Monday afternoons and evenings were used as personal time off. Interspersed in all of this were Spokesmen Club meetings for the men of the congregations, meetings for elders and deacons, weddings, funerals and various church fellowship functions.
As a minister’s wife, I often felt guilty that I had so much while others in the church had so little. Life frequently was frustrating and somewhat restrictive. By nature, I am more outgoing than reticent. When I came into the church, however, I learned that women, by and large, like children, were expected to be seen and not heard. I felt I had to reshape my whole personality. I sometimes was confused with respect to what I should do or say in order not to dishonor my husband. I, also, felt somewhat stigmatized that Fred and I had no children.
I struggled to “overcome my carnality,” which all WCGers were constantly admonished to do. I lived as though I were programmed and on display. Often, I felt hypocritical as I knew I was not the person others thought I was. I had doubts about certain doctrines; I had very little respect for certain ministers; I frequently agonized over whether or not my baptism had been “valid.” I regularly prayed, fasted and asked god’s forgiveness for doubting “his” church. In short, I was imprisoned by fears of not measuring up to god’s, i.e. the church’s, standards–especially for women and, more especially, for wives.
While Fred was in the field ministry, I attended numerous district meetings and conferences at Headquarters with him. Looking back now, I realize that the WCG ministers (and their wives), after all, were really not much different from those in any denomination. Some were sincere, and some were pretentious.
The self-important ones expected the membership, especially the deacons, deaconesses and local elders, to care for them and their families. They would never dream, for example, of mowing their own grass or making minor repairs around their own homes. They never expected anyone to refuse them if they needed a babysitter. They were the ones who never considered that most of the men of the church had 8-to-5 jobs five or six days a week and needed time with their families when they were not working. Family men who happened, also, to be deacons or local elders not employed by the church were nevertheless expected to come at the drop of a hat and assist the ministers with visitation of members and prospective members in the evenings or on Sunday afternoons.
Numerous things were handled incorrectly in the WCG and at AC. One of the worst tragedies, however, was the treatment of children and teenagers who were forced to endure a detrimental, often cruel, lifestyle. It wasn’t until after Fred and I left the WCG that I began hearing how some young people and little children, both male and female, were secretly abused by their parents–corporally, mentally and/or sexually. This, evidently, was much more prevalent than I had realized when I was part of the organization.
Admittedly, much of this abuse was taking place even before parents became members of the WCG. Often, however, the perverted treatment was exacerbated after mothers and fathers joined the church. They instilled fear in their little ones of what would happen if they “told” what really went on in their homes, for they wanted their families to appear “perfect.”
I doubt that any of us will ever know the full extent of what took place in the private lives of some unbalanced WCG members. Appearing so dedicated and righteous in front of their peers and the ministerial “elite,” they were monsters at home. And a number of ministers could rightly be placed in this same monster category as well. This, no doubt, is true of any so-called “spiritual” organization for, in my opinion, much of any religion is all show and of little substance.
Fred and I left the WCG in 1974, not because of the filth we heard about which surrounded some personnel at both headquarters and in the field, but primarily because we began to really study and disagree with major doctrines of the church. One biggie was the divorce and remarriage doctrine. Before we left the church, my husband began ignoring the practice of delving into the lives and privacy of those who sought baptism. Another uncomfortable doctrine for us was the three-tithe system. The more we studied the more sure we became that the WCG was not the “true” church after all–in fact, no church is.
Okay, then, why did I tell you so much of my WCG/AC experiences and observations; and why do I think you should know these things? It is simply because those who don’t know history from different points of view–whether it’s that of a nation, a business, or a church–are most likely to repeat or be caught up in the mistakes of other authoritative organizations which can so easily and detrimentally impact lives.
We in the church were “literalists” who took seriously the seemingly dogmatic commands of what we believed to be inerrant scripture. As a result, families were broken apart; individuals were wounded psychologically and scarred emotionally for years.
Nonetheless, I believe that many, if not the majority, of the members of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God, at the beginning of their involvement, have been sincere, seeking-for-the-truth individuals. Many had been “turned off” by orthodoxy. Most wanted a relationship with the god they believed existed and to be saved from the Great Tribulation and ensconced in Petra, the place of safety, with all the other “chosen,” i.e. WCGers. Some, perhaps, simply wanted to belong somewhere, to find approval. In short, many of us needed to validate ourselves as worthwhile individuals who could eventually become rulers and even gods in the world tomorrow. What better way to prepare for this than to rule mini-kingdoms here and now in the form of our own families and, additionally for the ministry, their local congregations or, at Headquarters, the departments and classrooms over which administrators and teachers had control?
As we all know, however, absolute power corrupts absolutely–no matter how small the “kingdom.” And the bigger the WCG got and the more money it generated, the more important the leaders became in their own eyes. Year by year, they became farther removed from those who supported them.
Yes, far too many people bore the brunt of mistakes and unwise decisions that should never have been made in the WCG and at AC. I believe, however, that we all bear some responsibility for creating the corporate monster that the organization became. As a general rule, no one actually forced any of us adults into this religious entity. Most of us came in of our own free wills and made ourselves the victims of a hierarchical government that used the Bible, a confusing book of contradictions and gross inaccuracies, as their authority.
Now, having said all of this, do I believe that the incest, the adultery, the hypocrisy, the greed should be overlooked? Do I believe the bullying and intimidation should be ignored? Do I think the extravagant lifestyle of a few that engendered poverty for the many should simply be forgotten? A resounding NO, NO, NO!
I don’t even believe that we need to, nor should we, forgive whatever inflated egos and evil obsessions some who ruled over us exhibited. I do believe, however, that we, individually, need to forgive ourselves for being sucked into an organization that deprived us of our right to think for ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves for supporting and staying with it for as long as we did. Once we have done this, we may find it easier to avoid similar pitfalls in the future, to get on with our lives and step into real freedom from religious barbarism, hopefully, for the remainder of our lives.
More by Betty can be found HERE