We pick up Herbert’s story at the height of his “28 fat years” when his income supposedly topped today’s equivalent of $35,000 (p. 261 of his autobiography, 1973 edition). (A few years later, he upped the figure to $70,000, and in the May 1977 Plain Truth on page 3 he claimed his early salary was equal to $150,000 today.) What follows is an amazing summary of Herbert Armstrong’s “success story” as presented in The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, 1967 edition:
1917: At the height of his self-confessed affluency, Herbert decided to marry Loma Dillon. He moved into a furnished apartment rented from a family away on vacation and lived there six weeks (p. 199). Upon return of this family, he rented another apartment from yet another vacationing couple for a month. Then he rented a single bedroom of another apartment with dining room and kitchen privileges. Loma by this time was pregnant (p. 209). About Thanksgiving 1917 he moved into a single room of an apartment on a subrent basis (p. 212).
1918: With an alleged income of $22,000 (p. 221), he rented a house in Indianola, Iowa. But after three months he moved back to Chicago where he rented a room from a family with an apartment (p. 217). During this time and the next few years, he “did not work more than four or five days a month” (p. 221). In November he felt he could finally lease a full apartment (p. 255) but decided instead to rent an old house filled with furniture from his father-in-law. He shared this house with another couple for six months.
1919: He moved into the hotel in Maywood for a few weeks, then into a furnished house on Fourth Street.
1920: He moved into a new apartment, his first since his marriage (p. 226). Late that year depression wiped out his business. Everything he touched “turned to failure” (p. 234). At this juncture in his life, his ” 28 fat years” came to an end; now his 28 years of poverty began (p. 235).
1922: He had to give up his apartment. His piano was repossessed because he could no longer keep up the payments (p. 239). Loma and her two daughters were sent back to live at his father-in-law’s farm. Herbert hung around night clubs and started drinking (p. 240). Next, he moved into a single room. After being three weeks behind on the rent, he moved into a second-rate hotel on Chicago’s north side. Finally even this grew too expensive, and he sought refuge at his father-in-law’s farm. He proved unable to help him very much due to lack of experience. He spent most of the fall and winter resting and recuperating.
1923: After resting, he decided to find something to do (p. 257), but he soon bogged down again. He had to borrow $200 from his dad. He started a laundry advertising business in Vancouver (p. 278), envisioning an income of up to $500,000 per annum (p. 280). But then “the bottom fell out” again. He made $50 a month, but this wasn’t enough to support his family (p. 281).
1926: He worked 30 minutes each week, having nothing but “time” on his hands (pp. 284, 290). He spent all his time studying religion at the Portland Public Library. He “spent a solid six months of virtual night-and-day, seven-day-a-week study” (p. 295). He finally admitted he was a failure, but he found joy in defeat (pp. 296, 300).
1927: He was reduced to real poverty, often going hungry (p. 320). His study of the Bible became a passion (p. 330) that lasted 3½ years, night and day (p. 343), while his family almost starved.
1928: He fell behind in paying rent, and his electricity was shut off because he didn’t pay his bills. One time his children were crying from hunger, and all he had for food was macaroni, which he boiled by using torn-up magazines for fuel. At this time he even lacked the salt to season the macaroni with (p. 355). He worked 30 minutes a week for $50 a month, but that wasn’t enough to pay his rent or keep his family “fed and alive.” He rejected a job offer of $8,000, explaining that he “worked in spurts” and went into a “slump for a week or a month” during which he could accomplish little or nothing (p. 359). Instead he took a local survey job that paid the exact amount he needed to prevent his being evicted (p. 361).
1929: He moved into a house in Portland. Soon he had another crisis of hunger and desperate need (pp. 361-62). He accepted a job offer to throw two truckloads of wood into someone’s basement for pay. While piling the wood, he winced every time a person passed by because he felt so ashamed at being seen doing menial work. He thought people would think he was a “down-and-out bum.” He says that working with his hands was a humbling experience (p. 363). Later that year he peddled “miracle clay,” hoping to make his million (p. 364), but the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t get the financing he needed to start a business (pp. 367-68). He felt selling clay was the only means to keep his family alive. A neighbor had to help him out with food (p. 369).
1930: He hit rock bottom financially (p. 369). When his wife was due to give birth, he hadn’t paid his previous hospital bill, and the hospital would not admit Loma (p. 370). He prayed for firewood, food, money, and a winter topcoat (p. 373). His parents brought him food and fuel, his brother bought him a coat (p. 375), and Loma’s mother’s last will provided the exact amount of money he needed (p. 374). At one time Loma didn’t have enough to eat and couldn’t nurse her baby. Herbert’s credit was not good in any store (pp. 378-79). He peddled aluminum utensils from door to door (p. 381). His father had to pay his house rent for him (p. 383). He obtained a car from his dad (p. 384) and moved in with his parents in Salem (p. 384).
1931: He was still dependent on aluminum utensil sales. He felt he couldn’t employ high-pressure methods as a Christian and hence couldn’t make the big money others made. He earned just enough money to keep his family from starving (pp. 393-94). He moved into a house in Salem (p. 397). Here he earned $20 per week working as an evangelist (p. 409), but his salary was cut off, and he had to return to advertising for 15 months (p. 429).
1933: He returned to the religion business (p. 445), moving to Astoria. He was rehired as a minister at $3 per week (p. 458). Although he was “required to live another 14 years in the barest and most modest financial circumstances,” he never had to go hungry again after that time (p. 454).
This then is the “success story” of a man who, according to his own words, “had been unusually successful in the world of mammon.” He was a man truly on the “move”-from apartment to apartment during the time he claimed he was making the equivalent of anywhere between $22,000 and $150,000 in today’s money. He was a man who moved from job to job, from one failure to another-until he struck it rich in religion in the 1950s. During his so-called fat years, he admittedly worked no more than four or five days a month. When his “lean years” struck, he often worked only 30 minutes a week. He studied the Bible while his family languished in poverty. The only account of his doing physical work for pay is presented by him as a humiliating experience that made him feel like a “down-and-out bum.” (What is so humiliating about physical work?)
Those who have known Herbert Armstrong, including members of his own family, contend that the reason he experienced poverty was simply due to the fact that he was lazy and unwilling to do physical work. They claim that he had a life-long reputation as a moocher and a leech. His account in his autobiography certainly seems to lend support to this conclusion.
Things began to move in Herbert’s direction only after he embarked on the business of religion after breaking away from what he claimed was “God’s true church” in Oregon.
At the Pinnacle of “Success.” None can gainsay the fact that Herbert Armstrong has been an astounding success at building a fundamentalist church organization from the ground up to where the church’s annual income exceeds $60 million-a figure that is at least double what Billy Graham’s organization takes in.
Now Herbert is no longer forced to move from apartment to apartment as a pauper, depending on relatives for handouts. He owns five luxurious homes as richly furnished as any you would find in Beverly Hills. He has confided to several students that his Pasadena home at 210 South Orange Grove alone is worth at least $500,000. (While most of Herbert’s “property” is in the name of the church or college for tax purposes, he still has complete control over it.) Just recently he married again, moving into a magnificent home in Tucson, Arizona. He made this expensive move during a terrible financial crisis in his church that resulted in the closure of Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas, and the laying off of dozens of long-time employees. Many wondered why Herbert didn’t set the example of sacrifice for the church members in this crisis by liquidating some of his personal assets. Instead, while asking all the church members to dig deeper into their pocketbooks, Herbert was busy flying back and forth between Tucson and Pasadena in his private jet establishing his fifth home. Informed sources from the church’s business office claim that Herbert’s spending sprees over the last few months have been largely responsible for bringing his church to the brink of financial collapse.
The Secret of Herbert’s “Success.” It hasn’t been his managerial skill or his business acumen that has vaulted his church into its prominent role among fundamentalist sects. Indeed, for years his church and colleges have been among the most inefficiently managed organizations anywhere-according to hundreds of present and former employees. No, the secret of his financial success lies in his adoption of a tithing doctrine that requires members to give between 20% and 30% of their annual income to his church. True, his claims of having a unique understanding of the Bible and of Bible prophecy attracted the tithepayers, but now, even though his prophecies have been discredited and he has been forced to make radical doctrinal changes on divorce and remarriage and Pentecost, his church is still rolling in money, compared to other churches-all due to his tithing doctrine.
Still on the Move. In the last nine years, Herbert has been on the move more than at any other period in his 85 years. Due to his jet aircraft, he has been able to move from one Hilton hotel suite to another throughout Southeast Asia as he calls on dictator after dictator. But while Herbert has been away, the mice have been at play. During his travels-when he should have been home mending fences and settling doctrinal disputes-two costly blowups rocked his church, causing him to lose thousands of tithe-paying members. (One came in 1974, and the other was in England in 1976.)
At the rate Herbert and his son are consuming church funds and losing members, it appears possible that Herbert will make yet another giant move: into bankruptcy.
Now that he is reaching the end of his road, he can look with pride on the magnificent buildings he has built and the money his organization has wasted. In these things he is truly a success. But when it comes to giving people the happiness, success, prosperity, and peace of mind he promised them, he has been largely unsuccessful-as this issue shows. His false biblical teachings have caused suicides, bankruptcies, and hundreds of premature deaths. They have broken up thousands of happy marriages, wrecking the lives of all involved. His teachings on tithing have kept tens of thousands of members hovering around the poverty level. In many cases, it is too late for him to undo the harm he has caused by his recklessly researched teachings-even if he were to decide to attempt to right the wrongs he has caused. So in his final years he will have to overlook a rich life of failure and prepare for his ultimate move-out of the picture!