To begin with, this letter is for me and perhaps part of my own life experience and healing after a 26 year run as a Pastor in the Worldwide Church of God. I came to the Church philosophically at the age of 16, having grown up Presbyterian in a very stable and loving family. The teachings of the WCG appealed to me and made more sense if one was to read and take the Bible as a fundamentally true document in all the areas that it claimed to express it’s truth. The world of the 60’s was chaotic. Presidents were assassinated, politicians were gunned down and civil rights protesters and leaders were being beaten, hung, drawn and shot. The Middle East was on fire as were many American cities. The Bible seemed to say that the end of something was near. I was also young and naïve, but with wonderful intentions.
I went to Ambassador College against the wishes of my parents, who simply allowed me to make my own decisions. What a wonderful concept, allowing your kids to make their own religious decisions, even though I recently told my dad, now near 90 and a former elder in WCG, that I wish he had slapped me silly for even thinking of going. Of course, at that time, that would have only proved to me that it was the right thing to do since I was being opposed and at the time, I just knew I had to be there. I had to study and wanted to see the world through the eyes of the Church. It just seemed right to me and any ego loves believing that God himself was doing the calling. I was not drawn by the Armstrong personalities at first. There were many times at college where they annoyed me and I knew that what was spoken so brilliantly and with charisma, was in fact, not actually true, or simply speculation about the times in which were living. The information is what caught my attention. I was a very serious thinker at a very young age. There are reasons for that that I now understand completely, but I spare you.
And so I went to Ambassador. I wanted to be a pastor and even though I heard that God had to call you and, of course, the administration had to choose you, I studied as if it was all up to me. I had a 3.96 grade average. I enjoyed studying the Bible. I simply wanted to know “the truth”. I got corrected for hair too long and not enough attendance at basketball games. I didn’t care about basketball, but to make me show up, they made me be a flag something-or-other in a white coat and I felt like an idiot. I should have said no, but complied. I complied a lot over the next 26 years over more serious topics, though teaching and encouraging the congregation was more important to me than enforcing silly or reckless rules about various topics.
After graduation I went into “the field”. Five states, 14 congregations and 26 years later, in a five minute phone call at 9:30 in the evening, I was terminated. Strangely enough, it was the anniversary of my baptism at 19 years old.
Now is the moment I have to be honest about me if I am to continue. I currently am a skeptic as to the origins and history of the Christian Church. That is my business and the result of my own study and perspectives. The WCG experience caused me to really look deeply into origins and I personally found I was not told near the truth about the matter. They didn’t know near as much as they pretended to know. I was coming to some of these conclusions during the last few years as a pastor. I can hear some of this skepticism in some of my last Festival sermons. I felt that if a whole church administration can publicly flip an entire organization’s belief system and expect compliance, I can certainly entertain the doubts and contradictions I have seen in the Bible quietly by myself. I could have easily walked off with most of the local congregation if I wanted to have years of local politics and doing what Christian Churches do best… argue, judge and fight, but I was done. I will never lose my interest in theology. I still want to know the truth even if it is not the one I set out to understand. I simply will not join another church again. From my perspective the Old and the New WCG was and is ill informed as is all literalist, evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. That may not be true for you, but it is true for me. My favorite observation is that most Christians are piously convicted but marginally informed. That is true to me.
Most pastoring years were personally rewarding. I did not have to work in large cities playing games with other pastors who had empires to rule and egos to feed. I simply did my job, love those I met, laughed with them, cried with them, married and buried spouses, children and relatives, along with growing churches. I drove approximately one million miles (really) visiting, being a friend and believing I was doing the right thing. There were lots of guys and families like mine. It’s the narcissists that got all the bad press and still do. Towards the end, when every visit turned into a slug fest over what the Tkach’s were doing in the Church, any capacity was a burden and not a joy. It was a miserable experience. Your friend one day became your lost friend the next. On top of that, I was in the American Southeast where being judgmental and critical of others not like you has been raised to an art form. Around here, every third male thinks that if he can read and tell a few stories, he is a Pastor. It’s one of the few professions where one with no education or meaningful credentials can claim ultimate authority from God, and be someone.
By analogy, I came to a hockey game and at half time, someone came out, melted the ice, put up hoops and demanded I not only play, but coach Basketball, which if you remember…I don’t like. Suffering a personal depression and a lot of regret over having given my youth and energy to the ever-changing truth, I made some mistakes that would be considered unacceptable as a pastor. Outside of the ministry and its neurotic demand to “become perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,” it would just be what it was and a common, oft told tale and theme of what I would help many a member with and through. But as a pastor, I could be criticized and I accept that. No one can live the life, feel the feelings or have the thoughts of another. Not in a real world.
At any rate, I stayed to encourage the local congregation. It did not work. The assault on what we must now think and do was relentless and those who did not participate simply had to go. If you were a minister, you simply lost everything and had to reinvent your life after being “uncalled” if being “recalled” and retrofitted did not make you a good little evangelical, hand waving, “cross” eyed, freak. YOU, not I managed to reduce my local congregation from just under 400 very sincere and faithful people to around 25 now meeting in some hokey storefront giving out Halloween candy with scriptures on the wrappers! Oh barf (it was a printable story on spreading the Gospel in the WN) …winning converts with Scriptural Halloween candy!! It is simply pathetic to see a congregation and a MINISTER reduced to that nonsense. YOU, not I managed to reduce all my previous congregations by 90%+ Nice work.
Anyway…It simply came down to that five minute call one evening out of the blue informing me that I was done in the ministry and that I could call personnel for the details of the severance package. It was six months pay to get a new life and signing off on any future retirement, unless WCG, which means Bernie Schnippert, deems you loyal enough to support. Of course, I was not so that’s quite a savings right there…. Perhaps one can imagine the position that puts one in when in my youth, the church had all ministers sign off on Social Security with the promise that “we will take care of you”. Well actually you have taken care of me… but good. My dad worked for Eastman Kodak, has been retired for years and you know, he once bought Fuji film, and Kodak still gives him retirement. Retirement is not based on loyalty. It is based on years of service.
You can’t ask people to be loyal to something that was pushed upon them and with which they had little agreement. Most of the people in WCG came FROM where you wanted to go. You can’t ask people to change their minds, hopes and faith just because YOU think they should agree with you. Life, much less the human mind does not work that way. Frankly, those of you who “administer” the church, should have left long ago and asked Benny Hinn, TBN , and the Harvest Crock Church to take you in as spiritual refugees. I realize you could not continue to grant yourselves lifetime income and security by doing this, but it is what YOU should have done and left the Church, whose perspective you scorned, alone. If it was wrong for YOU, then leave it, don’t destroy it and drive most to despair, skepticism and in some few cases literal suicide. Instead, you made everyone else leave. Now that’s power…stupid, self-serving and egocentric power. Benny Hinn has a rule that he does not want people looking him in the eyes. He makes it a rule wherever he goes. He does it as part of his holy farce, fake and failed prophecies ministry because he believes he is more special than others. Perhaps a similar rule would save you all from seeing the pain, hurt and spiritual confusion in the eyes of countless good people, including former ministers who gave just as much and more in some areas a congregant could not appreciate.
You need to remember that the monies you realized in the sale of the campus which you will now “invest” into an almost non existent “worldwide church” and give yourselves and as few others as possible a lifetime income, is labor from the 1950’s, 60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s. I’d say you should calculate how much real giving YOU inspired. Real giving, from the heart during your Sheepling of the Sheep and not the efforts of others, whether you agreed with them or not. And you can’t count the guilt or habitual giving types. You can only count the purely evangelical fundamentalist “New and Improved Church of God” giving. That’s your money to work with. That’s the fruit of your labor in “Him” as some say. I’d also like to ask that when you go to eat out, or take a cruise in the fall to not keep an archaic, and Jesus embarrassing non-festival. Or when you pay a mortgage or get a new car or have your health needs taken care of, and do whatever your good Christian Evangelical heart wants, you might remember what others might be struggling with just to keep up. I know my own father was able to survive because Kodak had a plan,
I am not so sure about myself at this moment in my life. By others, I include former members also, but mean former pastors with whom I also have had great experience. Please remember when you are tempted to judge or put people in categories of worthy or not worthy, that you’re coming to “know” Jesus and reinventing the wheel of truth, and discovering the “old old story”, which is older than you can possibly imagine, has cost others a lot. It cost some who were unable to distinguish between the emotional death of their hope and faith and literal death, their lives. That is not a judgment. That is just the way it has been for some.
Being a hard wired sensitive human being (ENFP-let him who reads understand); I understand that feeling and shock. The depression I have wrestled with is really internalized anger, and the sarcasm I am capable of is simply that anger turned sideways. Neither you nor the previous administration were particularly easy people to reason with or explain things to. You are always right it seems, and to date, a rather emotionally cold and calculated group outside your circle and towards those that have reacted to your administration. I have always said when the common folk simply have had enough and say “NO” to childish posturing and the phony authority ministerial administrative types put on, all of a sudden, God inspires a new and better understanding. But in fact, it is simply realizing one can’t dismiss the common sense perspectives of educated people and survive.
We get depressed because people don’t listen and we lose our bearings with little or no genuine support. You all need to understand that. Personally, I am still amazed that since that one fateful personal call that my career was over, no one ever contacted me again…ever. This is what I mean by cold. I encouraged the local church in my last sermon to continue to support you. I have since regretted the content and misplaced loyalty of my last sermon. I believe that was back when I had just been assured that “we will not be changing” this or that, and it all changed that month.
The emotions that people direct towards the collective “you” for reckless change and indifference to the spiritual and physical sacrifices made by thousands and which now result in your having more money than you need to “do the work”, is quite normal. I suspect, as do others, you knew what your losses would be, but did not care, and still don’t. Maybe even you don’t know why you do and did what you did. Perhaps that would take a professional to sort out.
I don’t know the games you played with your Evangelical supporters behind the scenes but I do know that “the Bible Answer Man” and others you have embraced also show a pattern of financial gain through religious manipulation and theological ignorance. Hank Hanegraaf’s perspective on evolution and literal human origins is simply ignorant. He is not qualified to write on such topics as if he knew. His mistake as well as that of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical mind-set is to take the text as literally and historically true from the start without question, but that is another whole topic. I can’t tell you how many Evangelical type ministers I have met in my other life now that have said, “I know you are right, but I can’t teach that, I’d lose my job.” Grab a copy of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, by John Spong and then try to say the Bible is all harmonious and literally true. It’s a very simple read and with your backgrounds, you should be very capable of grasping it’s message. The same is to be said of many of the theological articles you now write. Pious conviction with marginal information.
Finally, and I know I will always be able to think of more to say, I wanted to comment on your “Ministry of Reconciliation.” While I am all for Black/White reconciliation, it is majoring in the minors at this point. I know how difficult it is to communicate with those you have offended. Or maybe I am only seeing this topic through my own eyes and for you it is not difficult at all. I don’t know. I do know that reconciling with races is not your main problem. It is the inability to reconcile with people that has been your undoing.
It may take a few more years, but this lack will leave WCG dead and buried in just about any form. Only a small group of people will have a lot of money. I imagine you can afford to dabble in just about any Evangelical fantasy you choose. You can associate with whoever is the most emotionally satisfying regardless of how anyone left in WCG feels about it and whether it represents their hopes and dreams. I also feel that the new owners of the property are another religious scandal waiting to happen. Men with that much emotion, power, influence and ridiculous religious showmanship wear many masks and cannot maintain all of them all the time. Truly spiritual people don’t need others to define them, but Sheeple remember, need Shepherds. I will say that if I hear or see any of you standing with Benny Hinn in the Rededication of the Ambassador Auditorium, to a new and improved God from the last time it was dedicated, I will vomit. It will however prove that the unchangeable God changes often depending on who gets to write the script. It would be a great symbol of everything that is wrong with all those various denominations that know the one true mind of God. God is so often in the image of the men who speak for Him. At any rate, put some thought into who you really might need to reconcile with and see what you come up with. I won’t hold my breath.
I thank any and all for listening to me open up and express these things. I realize I can be sarcastic. I realize that I still have anger I don’t wish to have and regrets about not speaking up in times past I can only remedy by speaking up now. I also realize I have nothing to loose, which even Janis Joplin defined as true freedom.
I wanted to be a pastor from a very young age. The reasons were probably rather hokey, but they were sincere. The WCG seemed right at the time. I had to be there. I accept responsibility for being there and also for being here now. I simply ask you to reconsider your perspectives and responsibilities. You might be able to dismiss it because ” we weren’t responsible for the past.” I will simply say. I am not talking about the past. That is over and done with. If you can’t take some responsibility for the past, then you can’t control the money you have now gotten from the sale of the past. It’s that simple. I don’t expect you take responsibility for the past administration’sway of being and doing. But your way of being and doing in the recent past is more than enough for you to take responsibility for and do whatever you really think your new Jesus would do.
Warm regards and thanks for listening,