Fleecing the Flock: Church Leaders Cash in after Emptying the Pews, According to New Book

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When Worldwide Church of God leaders rejected the teachings of church founder Herbert W. Armstrong, a mass exodus occurred. A decade later, church leaders have made millions selling off church property. Bewildered ex-members and former tithe payers are finding answers in a new tell-all exposé.

Raising the Ruins

Flurry's new book emphasizes how Armstrong's hand-picked successor, Joseph Tkach Sr., and his allies 'betrayed' and dismantled all that the world valued about Armstrong. It's a high-profile challenge to the WCG's official line, which renders the church's 180-degree shift from 'Armstrongism' as 'a sign of God's grace in action.'

Patricia Malone, 65, shakes her head as she watches disgraced Enron executives on the nightly news. Though she is not an investor, she identifies with the feelings of betrayal and loss.

Malone and her late husband, Wilbur, were some of the hundreds of thousands of members and former contributors to a church founded by 1980s televangelist Herbert W. Armstrong.

"We're all asking the same questions," she explains. "How could this happen to our church, and where did all that money go?"

Author Stephen Flurry claims to know the answers. "Had it happened in the corporate world, the CEOs and executives responsible for hijacking a corporation and robbing its investors would have been fired, if not prosecuted in a court of law," he writes.

Founded by Armstrong in 1934 as the Radio Church of God, the church was renamed the Worldwide Church of God after it grew to encircle the globe. By 1985 Armstrong's annual budget exceeded that of Billy Graham's and Jimmy Swaggert's organizations combined and his Plain Truth magazine had a greater circulation than Time.

But once Armstrong died, things began to change rapidly. Church leaders began making changes in doctrine away from the unique teachings of Armstrong, prompting some, like Malone's husband, a WCG minister, to question the direction the church was going. By 1990, Malone had had enough. She and her family left the WCG.

"It was the most traumatic experience in my life," she says. "I knew what was going on and we were helpless. The changes were being made known to the ministry without the brethren knowing it."

Flurry, a former member whose father was fired from the WCG ministry after Armstrong's death, is on a mission to tell the millions who used to follow Armstrong's ministry "the truth about what happened inside his Church after he died."

In his new book, Raising the Ruins - The fight to revive the legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong, Flurry draws upon thousands of pages of official reports, internal memos, and personal interviews to "expose the depth of corruption and deceit that was 'Tkachism' - the administration of Joseph Tkach, who succeeded Armstrong as pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God."

According to G. Jeffrey MacDonald of the Religion News Service, "Flurry's new book emphasizes how Armstrong's hand-picked successor, Joseph Tkach Sr., and his allies 'betrayed' and dismantled all that the world valued about Armstrong. It's a high-profile challenge to the WCG's official line, which renders the church's 180-degree shift from 'Armstrongism' as 'a sign of God's grace in action.'"

In 1994 Tkach publicly disavowed Armstrong's teachings and later the church officially labeled its founder a "heretic" and a "false prophet." The resulting mass exodus of well over half its 150,000 members and the loss of 95 percent of its 1,000-person staff left the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God atop a mountain of abandoned real estate that spanned the globe, with the crown jewels sitting alongside the famous Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena, Calif. where church executives and staff once enjoyed front row seats to the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.

"Quite a coup," says Flurry. "Force new doctrines into the church environment and give the members 'no voice' in determining the church's course. Do away with the church's work -- the television program, most of the literature, the colleges, the high school, the cultural foundation and so on. Excommunicate 'disloyal' ministers. Drive out 'divisive' members by the tens of thousands. Remove all resistance. Then sell off all the church's assets -- including multiple millions of dollars worth of real estate in Southern California and Texas."

For Patricia Malone, the revelations in the book are troubling. "We knew things were bad, but I was shocked by the premeditation of the conspiracy. I didn't know it went all the way back to the 1970s before Mr. Armstrong died," she says.

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Shane Granger
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