Herbert Armstrong – the Man, the Legend

I never met the man.

 I gave him more than $40,000 of my hard-earned money, but… I never met the man.

 

 I suffered persecution for his sake, but he never called me on the phone, never said thank you.  I lost jobs for his sake, gave up sports for his sake, avoided dating girls who really liked me (but were not “in the church”) for his sake.  But he never knew my name, never knew I existed.

 He ruled my life, but I never got to shake his hand.

Very few people ever did.  Of the hundreds of thousands of people who passed through the Worldwide Church of God, only a tiny percentage ever got to meet him in person, ever got to say hello, ever got to shake his hand.

Part of that was geographical, of course.  When you live thousands of miles from Pasadena, the odds that you will ever speak personally to the Pastor-General are remote, but there’s more to it than that.

No One Did

 Very few of those who lived at Headquarters (which I did for two years) ever saw him from a distance of less than a hundred yards.  Students got to meet him, high-level employees occasionally got to meet him, but very few others ever did.  He didn’t mingle with the crowd, didn’t stand around after services and fellowship with the commoners.

 I only saw him a half-dozen times in my life, always at major feast sites.  People anxiously anticipated his arrival, and his entrance onto the stage (often late) was always heralded by standing ovations.  Thousands were on their feet, applauding.  Had it been allowed, many would have cheered and whistled as well, but such expressions of affection were not tolerated.

Early Memories

 He ruled my life from the time I was four years old.  My first memories of him are as a child in Coolidge, Arizona, at my grandpa’s house.  Grandpa listened to “Herbert” every night, no matter who was there.  If you didn’t like it, you could leave – Grandpa listened.  I still remember Grandpa’s house, across the road from a cotton gin, the smell of cotton oil permeating the air.  A dirt yard with big red ants that dug furrows in your flesh if they got on you.  And Herbert’s voice on the radio at night, shrill and screaming, threatening gloom and doom and the imminent end of the world.

 “Herbert Doubleyou Armstrong, Post Office Box-uh one-uh one-uh one-uh, Pasadena, California.  Bringing you the plain truth about today’s world neeeeeews, and the prophecies…of the wor-uld tomorrow!”

 That voice terrorized me for the next forty years, even after it was dead.  My mother followed Grandpa’s example and listened to Herbert on the radio, as many times a day and on as many stations as she could find it.  Only Mom went one step further – she actually joined his church.

 That voice filled me with cold fear, a pervading dread of nuclear war, starvation, concentration camps, and Nazi torture chambers.  It was a helluva way to grow up, and it never got any better.

 Not even after he was dead.

 And yet I never met the man.  I did meet his son once, Garner Ted, when he visited my local church area.  But I never met the man himself.

 Cash Cattle

 Years later, after I had quit the church, I learned of a local congregation back in the Midwest somewhere who actually had a visit from Herbert himself.  But when the sermon was over, Herbert left the building and sat in the back of his limousine, windows up, ignoring the adoring church people who clustered around his car, wanting to meet him.  They wanted to meet the great man himself, to shake his hand, to thank him for all he had done to them – er, for them.

 But he didn’t want to meet them! 

 And he didn’t.

 Just a couple of years before he died, I transferred to Pasadena for the FOT.  For the first time that year it occurred to me that it would be nice to meet the man, to shake his hand, to thank him for everything he had done, er, for me.  To let my small children meet him.  So I watched for an opportunity, but there was none.  Herbert always arrived after the congregation was seated, and left from the rear of the building afterwards.  He allowed no opportunity to meet him, to shake his hand, to thank him.  He simply did not want to be bothered with any of us.

 One friend of mine who worked at AC for many years told me that he did get the meet the great man once.  Only once.  And he asked for an autograph.

 And Herbert chastised him for his vanity.

 No autograph.

 I’m sure others did get to meet him, but the vast majority never did.  We were beneath him.  He no more wanted to fellowship with us than a cattleman wants to have a beer with his cows.  That’s all we were to Herbert, just cattle.  Cattle who provided him the finest income he could imagine.

 Cash cows.

 The Next Generation

It saddens me to realize that today, 18 years after Herbert’s death, he still rules over many thousands of helpless people.  Thousands of believers still attend the various splinter groups that claim to carry on his “work”, and many of those – perhaps most of them – never saw Herbert Armstrong when he was alive, never heard his voice on the radio, never saw him on TV, and have no idea what he was really like.

 I have no doubt that in their minds, he is now a legend, a superstar, some kind of biblical prophet who was so pure he never even farted.

 That’s how it is with most legends.  Truth mingles with fiction and the fiction eventually edges out the facts.  In Herbert’s case, precious little truth was ever made public to begin with; throughout my lifetime he was already a legend, so I can only imagine how he has been deified by the successors who fight among themselves for his leavings like a pack of wild dogs fighting over the scraps of a kill.

 Even worse is the fact that these same believers are now raising their children in the same bondage that I suffered as a child, in spite of the fact that only one of Herbert’s prophecies ever came true (Germany did reunite, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out in advance; throw enough prophecies against the wall and one of them is bound to stick).  Oh, I know, the standard response is that Herbert “never claimed to be a prophet”; no, he never claimed to be a prophet, but he prophesied – every day on the radio, in every article he ever wrote, in every sermon he ever preached!  He made predictions, and what is a prediction but a prophecy?  Look it up:

“Prophecy: …A prediction of the future, made under divine inspiration.”  — Yahoo online dictionary.

 

Herbert Armstrong was a prophet.

 A false prophet.

 Prove All Things

 If you are a member of one of the COG splinter groups, it’s time you did the one thing that Herbert said which makes sense: prove all things, and hold fast that which is true! 

 Documentation exists, tons of it, that tell you exactly who and what Herbert Armstrong was.  Look at it.  Read it.  Start with Ambassador Report (the link is on this website); read Herbert Armstrong’s Tangled Web (by David Robinson); read Armstrongism – Religion or Ripoff? (by Marion McNair); read the first-person accounts on this website, and elsewhere.

 Don’t be afraid of demons – if you are truly converted, you surely don’t think Satan is stronger than the Holy Spirit, do you?  God gave you a mind.  Use it!

 Find out for yourself whether the legend was real or just another idol with feet of clay.  You need to know.

Blast from the distant past….

By John B

03/02/2004

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