Reversing course, the financially struggling Worldwide Church of God has agreed to sell the rights to 19 books by church founder Herbert W. Armstrong to a splinter group. Announced March 12, the $3 million settlement ends a costly round of litigation. It also allows the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) to reproduce Armstrong's teachings.

The WCG, which owned the copyrights to Armstrong's works, initially filed suit in 1997 against the PCG for publishing Armstrong's magnum opus, Mystery of the Ages, without permission. The WCG won the initial lawsuit, but the Philadelphia Church filed a countersuit for the right to reproduce 18 other Armstrong works. At one point, the WCG said it was fighting the countersuit because it didn't want to see the heretical works republished.

Phil Arnn of Watchman Fellowship, a Christian research and apologetics ministry, said the deal raises an ethical question about the WCG.

"These are heretical doctrines that are destructive to the eternal life of anyone who comes under their influence," Arnn said. "To have profited from the release of the copyrights is a matter that I would think [would be] very troubling to the conscience."

Some former WCG members criticized the church's leaders. "They're willing, in effect, to support what they condemn—to permit the perpetuation and promotion of heresy for the sake of money," said Reginald Killingley, a former Worldwide Church pastor.

Bernard Schnippert, the WCG's chief financial officer, said it would be impossible to enforce the multiple copyright violations by Armstong spin-off groups. Selling the copyrights was a matter of stewardship, he said.

"The church has found a buyer who's willing to pay for material which [they] think is valuable," Schnippert said. ...

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