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. "We'd be imprudent not to participate in that kind of transaction."

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on our site today:

Doctrinal Aftershocks | Worldwide Church of God seeks a new start in face of fresh opposition.

Christianity Today's previous coverage of the Worldwide Church of God includes:

Weblog: Worldwide Church of God Settles (Mar. 27, 2003)
Unfair Use Alleged | Religious groups fight Internet copyright abuses. (March 30, 2001)
Weblog: Worldwide Church of God Wins Control of Controversial Book (Sept. 28, 2000)
Splinter Groups Dismiss Leaders (Mar. 2, 1998)
Worldwide Church of God Joins NAE (June 16, 1997)
From the Fringe to the Fold | How the Worldwide Church of God discovered the plain truth of the gospel. (July 15, 1996)

On its Web site, the Worldwide Church of God offers a brief history of the changes it has experienced.

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