Blast From the Past. "Herbert Armstrong's Trout Stream"


By Retired Prof

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The Painful Truth is full of big reasons to doubt that Herbert W. Armstrong was a true apostle: illicit sex and excessive alcohol, failed prophecies, lavish spending of tithes and offerings on personal luxuries, and so forth. But sometimes the little reasons count for something too.

During the 1959-60 school year at Ambassador College I knew nothing of his bouts with incest and alcohol. I didn’t find out about his long history of false prophecies because he hid his past prognostications and focused our attention instead on 1972-75. He did show off his lavish spending when he invited groups of students over for short visits. For example, in his opulently paneled and furnished mansion he demonstrated for us a color TV, at that time a rare and precious object. He explained that all this extravagance was not wrong, because circumstances forced him to live that way. He needed to make a good impression on leaders of the business world he might have to deal with on behalf of the church. I confess to harboring seeds of skepticism when I entered Ambassador, and this presentation should have nudged them to germinate. Nevertheless, I tried to suppress my doubts and accept his explanation.

One thing that raised doubts I couldn’t suppress was a trout stream. Yes, I know trout streams per se carry no biblical weight. The bible never mentions any, and for good reason: the holy land is too warm for them. But hear me out.

That fall on the Ambassador campus Armstrong had an artificial one built, a winding concrete channel with rocks and gravel in the bottom, over which water flowed down from a man-made spring for fifty yards or so into a wide concrete pool. The water was pumped through a pipe back up to the spring to flow down into the pool again in a continuous circuit. The workmen who built the streambed configured one of the bends wrong and water sloshed over onto the lawn, but that didn’t bother me much. The foreman who oversaw construction was the one guilty of error, not the “apostle” who commanded it. After that bend was jackhammered out and reconstructed, the stream was quite pretty and I enjoyed it a great deal. It was stocked with rainbow trout, and many were more than a foot long. I often dreamed of fishing in a real stream like it where the fish were that large and that plentiful.

Its beauty lasted through the short southern California winter. When the weather warmed up, those lovely trout one by one turned belly-up and died. Rainbows, like other trout, are a cold-water species. Even I, a freshman hillbilly from Arkansas, knew that much.

The death of those fish bothered me a lot. It didn’t stem from a mere glitch in executing the plan; it bespoke appalling ignorance in forming it. If Armstrong really did get divine guidance in every decision, why hadn’t god told him to refrigerate the water? On the other hand, if god didn’t actually direct all his decisions, but merely granted him insight to sift and winnow the words of others and cull out nuggets of wisdom, why hadn’t Armstrong read a fisheries book or consulted an expert on aquaculture?

I could find no answers to those questions that supported the proposition that Herbert W. Armstrong was an apostle of god.

Of course I was guilty of gagging on the gnat of an ignorant mistake and swallowing the camel of the deadly sin of greed, but there were extenuating circumstances. The gnat was tiny but raw and scratchy, whereas that camel was well greased with rhetoric and force-fed through an authoritarian funnel.