Why Did God Come Crashing Back into my Life?

I really don’t know. Certainly, I recognized the irony, having spent perhaps seven years on these blogs and forums as a member of the ad hoc Atheist Sanhedrin, interrogating and challenging the Christians. I hope that I was a kinder inquisitor than some of the examples whom I’ve seen since, but I fear that I probably was not.

At first, in my vanity, I imagined that perhaps God planned to use me to assist some of my former WCG brethren whose minds had similarly shut down towards Him as a result of the false teachings to which we’ve all been exposed, but I’ve since realized that there is nothing I personally can say or do, either logically or by example that will re-open peoples’ minds. Only God can prove that he exists, and only God can open a human mind.

I tried to dissect and deconstruct the process by which I was brought back from my prodigal condition. I remember an Australian lady, who somehow in the course of a forum discussion got me to open, and read a few passages from an old Bible which I’d inherited from my Grandmother. I hadn’t cracked the cover of a Bible in over twenty-five years at that point. I also recall the enthusiasm and determination displayed by a Christian lady from Texas, in spite of horrible persecution on the forums, and some severe trials in her life. She was very knowledgeable and was of great help to me. I remember overhearing a bowling friend in a supermarket when he didn’t know that I was listening in. He was consoling a friend who was undergoing a cluster of severe problems, and he suggested to her, “Ask God to walk with you!” Over the coming months, I thought many times of the beauty and simplicity of that short statement. Nonoffensive. Unintrusive. But, also, very powerful. I remember my neighbor Chris asking me to go down to the mall with him to jumpstart his wife’s car. While I was hooking it up, he asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about “the Lord”. It irritated me at the time that someone would be evangelizing me, but later as I watched how his family always seemed to have guidance and blessings in the face of trials, unemployment, and problems their children got into, I became convinced that something special was going on there.

The pastor at our church (non-ACOG, non-GCI!) has told us many times that witnessing to people does not arouse their interest in God. Changed lives, however, are very effective in this. I had two incorrigible people in my life whom I loved more than life itself. One was my son, and the other was a very special lady. I had rescued both of them from some particularly bad circumstances. I had tried to set a good secular example of stability and balance for them, and to help them make a few minor but very positive changes in their lives. It ended up being a hopeless exercise, and I found myself being very deeply enmeshed in two codependent relationships. As a matter of fact, I could very easily have ended up either bankrupt, or in jail. Sadly, although I put much effort into my relationship with both of them, there was nothing I could do as a human being to help them. I finally and gut-wrenchingly, walked away from both of them. Shortly after I did this, God came into both of their lives. He changed them, whereas I could do nothing. With my then agnostic mindset, in the beginning stages, I thought, “Well, that’s just great! They’re both OK now, but I still lost them. It’s just that I lost them to Jesus!” That turned out not to be altogether true of my son. We have a better relationship now than we ever did in his entire life. As for the lady, she ended up happily married to a Christian gentleman, and just knowing that she’s happy and with the stability that I always wanted for her is enough for me. I had left WCG in 1975 because I could find no evidence that the Holy Spirit was working through it. I had by that time witnessed so much blatant fakery that, religiously or spiritually speaking, I was toast at that point. But, decades later, as I got to have a front row seat, watching the Holy Spirit very powerfully transform two formerly incorrigible people, I immediately knew exactly what was happening. These two made no secret of the source of their help! It is no accident that the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind. You do not see him/it, but you can surely see the work that has been done!

One of my first fears was, what if these people who seem to have been placed in front of me as an example are drawn to the Armstrong doctrines? Believe me, I watched very carefully for all of the signs. But, it never happened, and that became part of the lesson. In fact, I am more convinced today than ever that HWA was very superficial in his understanding of the Bible. There is an incredible understanding, and deep Biblical foundation to classic or mainstream Christianity, the type that was spawned by the Protestant Reformation. The core of this is taught by many of the Baptists and Evangelicals. That is the vehicle through which all of the help became available to my son and ex-girlfriend. What is true, is that most of us who entered Armstrongism were not firmly rooted in the Bible, or basic study and research techniques, making us easy targets for the many cultic fringe doctrinal approaches, as well as HWA’s personal theories.

I must admit, it was very difficult to pray again after nearly thirty years. The first prayer was the most difficult. But, soon, it became very natural and actually a pleasure to which I look forward. As a WCG member, I had always done this from a sense of duty, and in the ways that were taught by the church. Perhaps that’s why it had always seemed so dry and mechanical, and caused me to wonder if it was going beyond the ceiling. Also, some of the changes in my attidudes were pretty scary. I had always had a kind of a hard edge, an extreme survival mentality, and was afraid that in becoming kinder and more forgiving, I was becoming weak. I worried, too, about losing friends, but in reality have not lost any friends who were real ones to start with. If anything, I now have more friends, and they are not all Christian. That’s another potential pitfall which concerned me. I didn’t want to become cloistered, and only capable of hanging out with what I used to call the “Bible Thumpers”.

I had just enough of a hangover from my WCG intoxication experience that I became worried about some sort of special calling or purpose. The reality is that there are so many more people, and with greater knowledge, understanding, and articulateness than I, that I really need not have worried about this at all. I’d heard of some people from old WCG who immediately came into the forefront of the mainstream New Covenant churches that they found when “the new” WCG became not a very attractive alternative. But, that’s just not me. Probably my best value is in quietly doing little things behind the scenes, and below the radar to help and comfort others. Still, one must put God first, and if there is some sort of special calling, one should be willing to do whatever He would have us do for Him.

About a year into the Christian experience, I came upon a very interesting book that described a transformation experience that had many parallels with my own. Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the acting Baldwin brothers, was perhaps the brother to whom I related the most. He played confident tough guy roles on the screen, and created some characters to whom I could really strongly relate. Through the influence of one of their maids, his wife had become a Christian, and spent a number of hours praying for him. I honestly wonder if someone had been doing the same thing for me, without my knowing. At any rate, Stephen, or Stevie B as he calls himself, soon found his entire life changing. He likens his adventure with God to being dropped from an airplane, every morning, without parachute, from an altitude of about 50,000 feet. He’s written a very remarkable and inspiring book, titled “The Unusual Suspect” If any one is even remot

ely interested in taking another look at the Christian walk, I’d highly recommend it!

Just in case some people are wondering what kind of life I have lead, it is probably important to also share that when I left WCG in 1975, I pursued my passions to the full. In my professional life, I was always a hard worker. I met a lot of people, and sold and repaired quite a bit of machinery over the decades. This provided opportunities to travel, to stay in nice accomodations, and to indulge in business related partying. In my free hours, there are and were a number of hobbies and activities that I was passionate about. I built and raced (on the street!) an endless string of hotrods and motorcycles. My wives and girlfriends, who were amongst the most beautiful women on the face of the earth, and I rode the motorcycles everywhere! We went to the mountains, the beaches, the deserts, you name it. Having also been a lifelong fitness nut, I spent many hours running, bicycling, weight training, and learning karate. This lead to gigs as a body guard and bouncer at the race tracks and in the performing arts community, with opportunities to meet a number of celebrities. There were also legendary Saturday nights, dancing to live music at the blues bars, and more arena style rock, country, and blues concerts than I can remember. I’ve been to hundreds of professional NHRA drag races, and hundreds of dirt track sprintcar races. Skiing, parasailing, bungee jumping, deep sea fishing, rafting and tubing down rivers, hours of body surfing at the California beaches, hiking and mountain climbing, I and whoever was with me lead life to the full. As I remember and describe all of this, it’s difficult for even me to believe that one person could have done all of these things. And, lest anyone feels that I might be exaggerating for the purpose of dramatizing, I’m not. I’ve deliberately held back on the X-rated, and occasional recreational/illegal stuff. The problem is, that in the end, none of it ever filled a deep void which I had always felt inside. Ultimately, I was left with a decidedly Ecclesiastes point of view.

Anyhoo, this is one of the things which I’ve been asked to share. I’d been told that people wondered what made me a believer again. There were no visions, no burning bushes, no talking asses, and no psychotic breaks or addictive breakdowns. Just an unlocked mind, and ensuing unexpected transformation, one for which I am just so grateful every waking hour. It would be naive and presumptuous of me to believe that my words are going to touch everyones hearts. I know better. But, if just one person gets a little encouragement, a gentle assist in life, or perhaps just a temporary boost for the day, it will have been worthwhile sharing.



The Sadducees

Humor me for the moment. I fully realize that some of my dear readers question the historicity of Jesus, the Apostles, or even Moses for that matter, seeing those individuals as perhaps fictional characters in an elaborate anthology of novels produced by the ancient Jews and proto-Catholics. But, even if I have just described your particular viewpoint, the Sadducees would appear to be a most remarkable, and very curious group! They are described in the pages of the Gospels, and in other historical documents, along with other sects of the day, the Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots.

Here is a list of the beliefs of the Sadducees, as enumerated in the Jewish Sects list found in Zondervan’s TNIV Study Bible:

1) They denied that the oral law (Talmud) was authoritative and binding.

2) They interpreted the Mosaic law more literally than did the Pharisees.

3) They were very exacting in Levitical purity.

4) They attributed everything to free will.

5) They argued that there is neither resurrection of the dead, nor a future life.

6) They rejected a belief in angels and demons.

7) They rejected the idea of a spiritual world.

8) They considered only the books of Moses to be canonical Scripture.

What do you make of this? My own take, assuming that this list is accurate, would be that the Sadducees appear to be first century Jewish atheists or agnostics, who simply relied on the code of Moses as the most advanced, logical, and humane system of government known to them. History tells us that this sect had its genesis during the time of the Hasmonean kings (166-63 BC), and ceased to exist shortly following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

Normally, one would tend to think of Judaism as being YHWH-based. Yet, here we have a sect with numbers and noteworthiness sufficient to merit mention in the New Testament, fully embracing the laws and rituals for which YHWH is credited in the works of Moses, yet apparently totally disassociating these laws from any type of spiritual implications. While that might seem mind-boggling, we would appear to be living in a modern parallel of this in the USA today, which is now well advanced into the post-Christian era. Many non-believers today have a great love for the system of justice and the founding documents which were created by a group of predominantly Christian and Deist forefathers, based on a combination of logic and principles found in the pages of the Holy Bible. Truly the Ecclesiast was accurate in his observation that there is nothing new under the sun!

Despite their non-belief in the spiritual world, or in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees would not have qualified for any more humane treatment from the occupying Romans than would their believer brethren. The Romans considered all peoples who did not believe in the Roman gods, or the godhood of their emperor, to be atheists. Would it be any different today, in the USA, if suddenly we were conquered by Muslim jihadists? No. Our modern day agnostics and atheists who refused to worship Allah, even though their decision would be based totally on logic, would be executed right along with Christians who refused to worship Allah because he or it is a false god.

Some people, upon reading their Bibles, seem to have a black and white concept of the Jews and Israelites of Jesus’ time as being an homogeneous group, with unified beliefs. Not only is this clearly not the case, but it presents an overly simplistic picture of the civilization of ancient Jerusalem and the covenant lands of Israel. Consider the sizable population of Samaritans, the mongrel spawn resulting from the Assyrian and Babylonian occupation, in addition to the Jewish sects. Later, Peter and Paul had even more complex challenges in their ministries to the Roman Empire nations surrounding Israel. There was a sizable Jewish diaspora in these nations, as well as a very diverse Gentile population. Throw in a couple of tax collectors, factor in the balance of power between Jewish leaders and the Roman occupation, and you have a pluralistic society rivaling our own modern civilizations.

It seems obvious that in the time just preceding Jesus, and the times shortly thereafter, that the challenges in building and maintaining relationships were just as great, and just as complex as what we experience in our own era. Though perhaps ignored by most of us in the past, although
they were a part of the Septuagint (the “Bible” of Jesus and His disciples), the books of the Maccabees are quite fascinating as historical documents. In these books are described some very troubled times during which apostate Jews actually assumed the roles of persecutors of their former brethren, often even worse than the gentile peoples who held areas of Israel captive. In our modern vernacular, we’d say that these apostates “ratted out” their neighbors, turning them over to the captors for punishment and torture. Though shocking, this is yet another variant of man’s inhumanity to fellow man, and has not been as uncommon throughout history as one would hope. Knowing this propensity of human nature, and reading the narratives in the Maccabees might serve to help all of us as former guinea pigs of the Armstrong experiment in dealing with certain challenges today. The lesson lies in seeking not to make the same mistakes, and in seeking not to cause or incur the pain which accompanies these mistakes. And, I believe that it is important to include current splinter group members under our umbrella of humanity. I’m sure that many of us still have relatives who are part of these groups, and one of the things which could possibly help influence some of their major decisions in the future would be the love which we feel for them, and can show them.

Since the Apostle Paul was such a pivotal character of the New Testament, the one who presented a well-developed theology, and basic practical applications for the teachings of Jesus Christ, he is somewhat of a lightning rod, a controversial person about whom virtually everyone has some sort of opinion. He is not a person that it would be easy to be neutral about. What is noteworthy from his ministry would be the principles we find him fighting for, in other words, his passions. We find him preaching amazing tolerance amongst the various factions of Jewish and Gentile Christians. In ministering to his Gentile churches, he had to deal with a number of gut wrenching situations, not the least of which were the expulsion from Rome and eventual repatriation of the Jews, including Jewish Christians. He also had to deal with Judaizers from Jerusalem who insisted that Christians first became Jews before they could become followers of Jesus Christ. These carpetbaggers made numerous attempts to co-opt Paul’s ministry. Somehow, he had to manage these situations not only while enjoying personal free

dom, but also from a Roman jail cell, sometimes all but deserted by his students and personal friends. His harshest words were reserved for those causing dissension and contempt amongst the brethren, disrupting relationships, causing elitism, and violating the Golden Rule which encapsulates the New Covenant.

These provide some timeless examples of human behavioral patterns, both good and bad. It so happens that they are described in the versions of scripture native to and used by several different cultures. I’ll leave it up to the individual reader, rather than actually quoting chapter and verse, whether or not to delve more deeply into the books of the Maccabees, or the epistles of Paul. I fully realize that in some cases, and for many reasons, people who were once Armstrongites actually require years or even decades of recovery before they have the stomach to revisit scripture. Whether we find lessons like the above in scripture, or whether we find them in the works of Shakespeare, Freud, Aristotle, Gandhi, or Dr. Martin Luther King, the best and most timeless precepts for human behavior would seem to be rooted in love and tolerance. Knowing that an unusual group, a seemingly anomalous group, such as the Sadducees could exist somewhat harmoniously in the mainstream of first century Judaism, no less during a period of Roman captivity, certainly we who are dealing with the aftermath of Armstrongism can peacefully coexist in the face of diversity of opinion.




I had originally planned to post a previously written entry here today, but since the topic of 1975 spawned some interest in some of the comments yesterday, here are some of my thoughts and recollections of what conditions were like in Pasadena during that era. It was indeed a pivotal time period for many reasons. Let me preface my remarks by noting that I personally did not leave WCG because of cruelty. I left because it became obvious to me that WCG was a bogus church, did not in any way have the witness of God behind it, and had been propped up and supported by intellectual dishonesty (end justifies the means) in many ways. I think that by the end of this article, we’ll plainly see that following the events of 1975, the church took on a decidedly harsher undertone.

Looking back on the latter portions of my childhood and teenage years, I’d have to say that we did not have cruel, authoritarian, snoopy ministers, at least not in our area of the country. If you like Allen Dexter, you probably would have liked most of the people who preceeded him, those with whom he worked on a daily basis, and those who immediately followed him. Frankly, I have never seen any of these gentlemens’ names on the lists of abusers here on the PT website, or any of the other ex-WCG sites over the past ten years. Let me list a few of them for you. There was Wayne Cole, Carlton Smith, Guy Englebart, Raymond Cole, Walter Sharp, Reg Platt, and Ivan Sell. While I don’t pretend to know everything that went on in our district, I only knew of about 6 to 10 disfellowshipments over about a decade. Some of those were due to out of control alcoholism, and a couple more were due to schizophrenia, which of course was labelled as demon possession. When these people were marked, the minister generally expressed that he hoped they would repent so that they could be welcomed back. It was not as if they were seen as suddenly being enemies of God and country.

From my list above, Wayne Cole eventually got the axe during the receivership era, because he favored cooperating with the state authorities. His brother Raymond started one of the early splinters immediately after HWA modified some of the original church doctrines. Raymond passed away a few years ago. At last report, there had been a Walter Sharp sighting in Pasadena at the former AC campus, as he and his wife were touring the USA on their Harley Davidson. I have not heard any recent news concerning the other gentlemen on my list.

For those of you who came along sometime after 1975, let me just say that during that era it literally appeared that World War III was breaking out at headquarters. On a day to day basis, we did not know which way events were going to turn. For the previous ten years, some in the field ministry had had grave misgivings about the interpretations of certain scriptures and the ways in which this influenced the church’s doctrinal approach and in many cases negatively impacted individuals in their congregations. HWA had been approached, had agreed to review the concerns, but had postponed and procrastinated until there was an increasingly open revolt. If memory serves me correctly, the main issues concerned divorce and remarriage, the church’s teaching regarding medical care, and some of the details related to tithing. Dr. Ernest Martin, who was one of the primary researchers, and one of the few actual legitimate Biblical and historical scholars apparently became so frustrated with the endless delays that he began openly sharing some of his research. Others in different areas of the world were also doing this on a local basis. As if to add gasoline to this fire, the full depth of GTA’s addictive sexual activities became known, churchwide. At one point, he had actually been reinstated to his position within the church and college, only to relapse into what was by this time a pathology.

As HWA, Stanley Rader, and others wrestled to regain control, an alarming percentage of the field ministry left, for reasons of conscience. This mass exodus caused a radical change in the corporate culture of WCG. The fallout from this affected lay members and employees as well. One morning, I showed up for my shift at AC Press, and was ushered into a rather somber meeting. Forms were passed out, and we were told that in order for our employment to continue, we had to sign oaths of loyalty to HWA. Long term deacons, using some of the college’s vans and camera equipment, parked surreptitiously in the vicinity of meetings conducted by Dr. Martin, Al Carrozzo, Richard Plache, and others. In this undercover sting, the deacons photographed any WCG members whom they observed entering the meeting halls. The dormitories at Ambassador College were also electronically bugged. The accounting department, in a joint project with the MIS department, was instructed to review the payroll and tithing records of employees in various departments, an early detection of possible mixed loyalties. There were also frantic member letters, exemplifying HWA’s most embarrassing overuse of punctuation and variations in type size, telling of Satan pulling out all stops in his war against what he called “God’s Church”.

There had been persistent rumors for months amongst employees, staff, and local members in Pasadena concerning secret overseas bank accounts, expensive art collections secreted in the basement storage areas of some headquarters buildings, and extravagant overseas junkets involving HWA, Stanley Rader, Osamu Gotoh, and others, some of it allegedly funded by misappropriation of third tithe funds. A cadre of members and former members contracted with a prominent Southern California attorney in an effort to force financial accountability. The courts felt that there was sufficient merit to their allegations to institute receivership proceedings, but over a period of months the church managed to totally obfuscate the effort, and ultimately had enough lobbying power with the state legislature to get a special law passed that essentially quashed the receivership and investigation. While church officials later credited themselves as having helped preserve the civil liberties of churches throughout the USA, and protecting the Constitutional separation of church and state, the end result was that there never was any sort of financial accountability. As if this were not enough, in the background of all of this, a number of prominent ministers’ kids were both indulging in and selling various kinds of dope at Imperial Schools and Ambassador College.

It is difficult, in retrospect, to imagine how WCG could possibly have survived this perfect storm.
They were on the front pages of many newspapers, and the lead story on TV news, day after day after day. This fact did not lend itself to the recruitment of new members!

I was not around much after 1975. Having discussed this with those who were, and having read extensively on the subject, I believe that policies and procedures were gradually put into place to prevent even the remotest possibility of a similar revolt ever again. You’d have to guess that the field ministry, after that point, was instructed to be very suspicious of members, and to take a hard line with possible dissenters to the official doctrinal stances, and even to closely monitor the tithing patterns of members. Eventually it was a total lock, the final ones being applied during the “back on track” era. As we look back on all of this today, it is plain to see that all of the additional suffering, confusion, and general misery were for nought. Gamaliel, in the end, was proven right, in living color right before our eyes!


To learn more about the Worldwide Church of God during the mid 1970s, check out Ambassador Reports, archived conveniently right here at The Painful Truth Website.