Herbert W. Armstrong, who built his Worldwide Church of God (WCG) into an $80 million religious empire, saw his power crumble last month under the weight of alleged financial mismanagement. In a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the California state attorney general’s office accused Armstrong and top aide Stanley Rader of “pilfering” millions of WCG dollars and of selling church property at prices below market value. Then the court placed the church in receivership—in effect, giving all control of church financial matters to a retired California judge, Steven Weisman.

There had been other charges of financial misdoings within the WCG during its thirty-two years in Pasadena. Son Garner Ted, at one time the heir apparent to WCG leadership, was excommunicated after making such allegations. But the most recent charges may prove to be the most damaging to the 100,000-member church. Superior Court Judge Julius M. Title already has denied one motion to remove the temporary receiver (January 10), and in court proceedings last month he was to decide whether to make that receivership permanent.

Even if the court finds the claims invalid and returns financial control to the WCG hierarchy, the future of the church probably has been affected in permanent, and certainly damaging, ways. In the wake of the suit, the WCG was shaken by threats of defections, an internal power struggle, and revelations of extravagant spending by WCG leaders.

Coplaintiffs in the suit (which also named as defendants the WCG Ambassador College and its cultural center) were six former members of the WCG. What particularly upset them was the sale of church holdings at prices far below their actual value. The sale of the Texas branch of Ambassador College for $10.6 million, when it was reportedly worth over $30 million, was “the last straw,” said plaintiff Earl Timmons (see January 5, issue, page 47).

Timmons told the Pasadena Star-News that “Big Sandy [the 1,600-acre college] is not just a college, but a place for all the people to observe the church holidays.… It is something we’ve been paying on for years and years.”

The legal action against the WCG signified an ongoing, joint investigation by church members, said Timmons. “Hundreds have been piecing together bits and pieces for years,” he said. He reserved judgment against Armstrong, saying the ailing 86-year-old leader had been “misled” by other church officials. Timmons and the other plaintiffs preferred that a responsible board of trustees be set up to handle church finances, with Armstrong serving as an emeritus leader.

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Timmons said that the defendants would have continued selling off church property “until the church was dissolved,” and that the suit would, in effect, save the church, not destroy it.

Records ‘Destroyed’

Other charges in the suit, as revealed in the Los Angeles Times, were: 1) that Armstrong and Rader were not providing an accounting of church finances according to state laws governing charitable organizations; 2) that the two men pilfered property and assets of the church “for their own use and benefit” amounting to millions of dollars each year; 3) that they “shredded and destroyed” financial records after removing them from the church office on the Ambassador College campus. (After the suit was filed, the court stationed twenty security guards outside church offices to prevent tampering with church records.)

Central to the case is the issue of “public trust,” and whether a court has the right to determine how a church spends its funds. A Los Angeles judge stated that “the state, while concerned with religious rights, has a responsibility to see that charitable organizations disburse their funds in … the public trust.”

Allan Browne, the chief attorney for the WCG, argued otherwise, saying that the WCG should be able to spend its monies as it deems fit. His comments came after revelations of extravagant outlays for gifts and world travel as revealed in the Los Angeles Times, which acquired WCG financial records for the fiscal year, 1975–76.

Included was $1.7 million for travel, lodging, and public relations. The church spent thousands of dollars for world airline travels. (Armstrong, himself, usually travels in his own Grumman II jet.) Expenditures included gifts of crystal glassware for the late Israeli premier Golda Meir and President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and $26 for golf balls for King Leopold of Belgium.

When asked why the church courted world leaders, Stanley Rader, the general counselor and treasurer of the WCG, claimed this was all part of the WCG goal to “spread the Gospel.” Rader told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t think it is their [the state’s] right to tell Mr. Armstrong he should not give golf balls to King Leopold.”

Meanwhile, Browne argued that the temporary receivership would destroy the church financially. He told the court that the WCG both spends and collects about $1 million per week. The receivership was causing members not to tithe, he complained, so that “a million dollars worth of checks have been bouncing.”

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Top Level Shake-Up

Armstrong stayed in his Tucson home during court proceedings, but from there he directed a shake-up of top level church personnel that resulted in confusion for all involved. First, he named C. Wayne Cole as executive director of the church, replacing Rader, and he implied that he would go along with the state’s inquiry. Cole, popular within the WCG and reportedly its longest-serving minister, lasted only one day in his new post.

Armstrong rescinded Cole’s appointment and instead named WCG clergyman Roderick Meredith, identified with conservatives in the church and reportedly a supporter of Rader. Armstrong then excommunicated Cole and three other top officials of the church. Hillel Chodos, attorney for the plaintiffs, alleged that Rader “apparently went to Armstrong and persuaded him to rescind the order to cooperate.”

Garner Ted, the popular radio and television evangelist, was not named in the suit. He had established his own church six months earlier in Tyler, Texas, where he remained during the preliminary court proceedings.

Garner Ted told the Dallas Times Herald that Rader was causing most of the problems in the WCG. Garner called Rader an “evil man” who had gained increasing control over Ted’s ailing father, who still is recuperating from a heart attack suffered more than a year ago. (When asked on a Pittsburgh radio talk show last November whether he would ever consider returning to the WCG, Garner Ted said he would not, unless Rader, his former rival in the WCG, left the organization.

But father Herbert’s misfortune may be his son’s gain. Several Worldwide Church leaders announced that they were awaiting the outcome of court proceedings before deciding whether to join Garner Ted’s fledgling Church of God, International.

Garner Ted’s church mailing list has increased to 5,000 and he claims a daily church income of $2,000. His expanding radio ministry numbers fourteen stations nationwide, and he has announced plans to return to television broadcasting perhaps “no later than the new fall season in 1979.” One-night “personal appearance campaigns” are projected.

Quality four-color booklets are distributed free upon request, and a monthly magazine—evidently a counterpart of the WCG’s slick journal The Plain Truth—was to make its debut this month, CHRISTIANITY TODAY correspondent Joseph Hopkins learned.

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Apparently Armstrong’s son has profited from his experience in the WCG. Garner Ted announced—even before legal actions were taken against the WCG—that his own church would make regular financial reports to its constituents. His church books would be reviewed periodically in an outside audit.

For father Herbert, however, there is no longer the question of voluntary disclosure of finances. The California attorney general has seen to that.


Andrew Leigh Gunn, 48, resigned as executive director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the influential organization with headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland, that is involved in issues of First Amendment religious freedoms.

Recently elected as president of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) was A. Kurt Weiss, a Hebrew Christian and professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. The ASA is a 3,000-member evangelical organization for scientists.

First president of the School of Theology of the International Christian Graduate University is Ronald Jenson, who has been pastor of the Church of the Savior in the Philadelphia area. The theology school, first of many parts projected for the university, opened last fall. Presidency of the university is retained by Bill Bright, who also heads Campus Crusade in San Bernardino, California, where the school is presently located.

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