Monday, July 25, 2005

The Low Down on Flurry Town: PCG 101

This is in part an answer to the person who posted a response to one of my rantings on That Prophet, Gerald Flurry. It is also an attempt to summarize just what family members and friends often struggle with when dealing with a loved one who becomes ensnared in such a group.

So much of what is written and discussed about Coggish groups becomes a mixture of opinion, fact and emotion. Generally speaking, whenever religion is brought into a conversation fireworks are soon to follow. Especially when one person feels that they know what God wants. People seem to have a bad habit of focusing on the minor points and clinging to them with all their might e.g. circumcision, dress length, and hairstyle meanwhile losing track of the big picture.

They forget to ask themselves the question, "If the God I believe in exists, what is he really interested in accomplishing here? What is the vision that He is working towards?" In my view human relationships are important, as well as the one we have with our natural environment. We cannot cast a blind eye to suffering and misery the world over and pretend to be doing "God's Work". Nor can we destroy the earth, and pretend that everything will be fixed at a later time by an invisible God with a magic sweep of His hand. That is irresponsible thinking.

Gerald Flurry is an ex-minister of the Worldwide Church of God. He was and is an ardent follower of Herbert W. Armstrong. There are many web sites exposing the details of Armstrong's ministry such as Ambassador Watch ( and the Painful Truth ( In essence Armstrong turned to religion in the early part of the twentieth century after many unsuccessful business careers. Unfortunately, we will never know how much he personally believed in the things he taught or whether his teachings were just a part of the overall marketing plan. Of course once the idea took off he had to keep going, and maybe did eventually start to believe himself.

Armstrong's church was initially called the Radio Church of God and he started a radio program in the 1930's. Armstrong's beliefs were tied closely to the Church of God 7th Day (hope I am not getting my flavours mixed here). He was accused at times of borrowing from other groups, and in particular of plagiarizing books like United States and Britain in Prophecy (from a similar work by J. Allen, Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright).

Much can be written about Herbert W Armstrong. I think some background is important in understanding Gerald Flurry and where he is headed in the future. I will leave out the details of Armstrong's personal life, as juicy as they are, and focus more on the brand of religion he sold.

Armstrong started preaching on air during wartime (WWII), and his message involved the impending return of Christ to the earth. [This didn't happen in case you are wondering] He continued with his message apparently unshaken with his lack of prophetic accuracy. His church taught against all things having a "pagan" origin: birthdays, Christmas--well pretty much every major Western holiday. He worked to establish a college in Pasedena California and cranked out ministers and trained followers to teach the corporate line and keep the lay members under control. His message was always one of urgency, Christ was always just over the horizon. The Church must prepare the world by announcing His arrival. And that needed money, lots of it, up to three tithes. That's right, up to 30% of your gross salary. In Canada where we can pay on average 30% just to the government, there's not a lot left over. Continual requests for special donations to the building fund or the jet fund or the hot tub fund or whatever was on Herb's mind at the moment were frequent.

There was another attempt at a second coming in 1972. That was a bad decade in general with Armstrong's heir Garner Ted Armstrong being sacked and disfellowshipped for being a sexual predator and bad for the corporate image.

Armstrong died in 1986 at the age of 93. His empire collapsed, and exploded as ministers fought for power and broke away to start groups of their own. That's where Gerald Flurry enters the picture.

Gerry views Armstrong as a father figure. Most likely because his own father was an alcoholic. Too bad he didn't have a better role model, this could have saved others a lot of problems. He holds Armstrong's writings as near scripture, calling the book Mystery of the Ages, "The most important book since the Bible". He has waged court battles to gain publishing rights, and lost. The Philadelphia Church of God ended up paying 3 million dollars to the Worldwide Church of God to gain the publishing rights. But these guys are spinmeisters, they turned a legal defeat into a great victory for God. I can just hear them saying something like, "God has provided a great victory, and has opened a window of opportunity for us to get MOA to the whole world."

The PCG holds to most of Armstrong's teachings and has added some "new truth" of its own. New truth is a code phrase for, "we're adding something new because the old thing didn't really make sense." No worldly holidays, Sabbath observance, following the Old Testament food laws, observance of the Old Testament Holy Days and tithing are standard operating procedure.

Flurry has a catalog of his own writings and publishes a magazine called the Philadelphia Trumpet. He also has a television program called The Key of David. There are a few internal publications for members only--the general public would view these as completely strange and not understand the many references and code words that are found. Flurry's key document is called Malachai's Message and he considers this to be the Little Book of Revelation, delivered to him by an angel directly from God. There is some evidence that it may have been delivered by the US Postal Service. Some allege that the book was plagiarized from writings by Jules Dervaes.

Flurry believed his initial message was to warn the Church (Worldwide Church of God)for straying from the teachings of Armstrong. He read a little further into his Bible, and found that his mission changed to warning the world, and Israel. Israel is another code word for the United States and Britain and several other western nations. This is all based on the group's belief in British Irsaelism. So Flurry's new mantra is that of a warning and watching work. He is watching the Germans (and the European Union) for us (considers himself like Winston Churchill), and warning us that the end is nigh. Flurry also considers himself a Prophet--That Prophet--most consider that a reference to Christ in the Old Testament.

Gerry has settled into his Edmund, Oklahoma campus, trying to rebuild what Herbert Armstrong once had in Pasedena. I read in his literature that he pegs 2010 as being a good time for the Great Tribulation to start. The Great Tribulation is the time of worldwide war and natural calamity just before Christ's return. Memebers in good standing will be shuttled off to Petra at that time. Petra is an ancient rock fortress in Jordan, mentioned (somewhat vaguely) in the Bible as a place of safety. The reference some believe is in a prophetic section of scripture that refers to the second coming and time of trouble for Israel. Flurry also predicts persecution by the state before that event (that's the worrysome part).

That is a high level view of what the PCG is all about. When you have a family member that becomes entrenched in the teachings of Flurry and his henchmen this obviously sends a shock through your mind. However, the COGs as far as I am aware have never been ones prone to violence (other than a good dose of spanking), and don't seem prone to harming themselves. There is a longstanding tradition of not seeking medical care. This is viewed as a test of faith and members often anguish over the final decision to seek treatment. It should be noted that Armstrong and others made good use of the medical profession while preaching a different message. They stopped publishing this belief after becoming concerned over legal challenges, and now publicly state that these are "matters of conscience".

What's he teaching? Flurry is teaching his followers that God has called them to be future leaders and teachers in God's Government. Once they are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, to reject that calling (code words: "fall away", "return to the world", "become Laodicean")is to put your eternal life at stake. Those are the key hooks. For others there is the added social element or some psychological need for "living, loving, learning, leaving a legacy" at play. But I am not a professional so please consult one if you need medical help. Flurry really pushes the God the Father line, and to leave the church is both rejecting your Father and losing your eternal life. Those are high stakes for someone who is not highly motivated to leave.

Isolation is a key factor in breaking the group's hold. To counteract the actions of the PCG, someone needs to introduce alternate behaviour and get the person away from the group. In essence, re-programming, but I really don't like that word. Everything the member is being taught fights against that, for example,

-Satan is against all of us, he wants to destroy you, he will use family or friends to get to you (again eternal life is at stake here); Isolate, induce fear
-you need to study hard, attend services, do not attend family birthdays, holidays, etc.; Isolate, indoctrinate, modify behaviour

Personally things got to the point where my view of the world moved past that of the COGs in general. Reality didn't match what they were teaching, so I started to read outside the approved material. My personal relationships were straining at the seams, my family relationships had declined, my work life was impacted, and I needed to change. Everyone does not follow the same "exit strategy".

My recommendations cannot be specific enough to help in every case. I will say to keep the lines of communication open. Anger and ridicule only further the case for isolation. Rarely do individuals leave their existing community, Flurry does not require them to live on a compound. Discuss beliefs openly and educate yourself, so that you can challenge the group's ideas without getting lost in a maze of proof texts and memorized "facts" about the Bible. Keep it human, don't focus on the idealistic. I think I would be more aggressive if children were involved. They are losing years that time cannot replace.

So that's Flurry 101. Perhaps I will discuss more on doctrine and methods later in Flurry 102. Some searches on Google will no doubt fill in many gaps.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Profiting from Death

Does your church, it's leader, or your God profit from death and suffering? If they do, is this a moral activity?

I think this is a timely question given the events in London the past week. Herbert Armstrong and his trainees use similar tactics to generate a response from members and from the listening audience through various media outlets. At one time they used radio, then television and also print. Armstrong is now dead, but his techniques are alive and well.

The premise is that we are living in the end time. God has allocated 6000 years for man to run the show, and then there will be a divine government (dictatorship) set up. The government will be comprised of the god family and those humans that are converted to spirit beings at the second coming. Those issues can spawn a whole series of discussions, but to stay on topic I will leave them as assumptions.

Another premise is that as time advances, world events will get worse. Crime will increase, natural disaters will increase, wars, etc. You know the story. Apparently the only way that a super-being can get through to a stubborn, wooly-headed human is to break him at the point of death, or to threaten death, and hope for repentance. I can teach my daughter to act appropriately without threatening to kill her, so why can't the god of cogdom? Interesting topic on its own.

Since the world began natural forces have acted to change the face of the earth. These forces resulted in Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, fires and more. On top of that humans have worked to modify the environment and stress the natural systems that support us. Science tells us that as the human population increases, the demand for resources increases and so does pollution. Solutions to these problems must be found. None of this should be a big mystery to anyone who has watched TV or read a newspaper in the last few decades. Yet this is pointed out to be another "sign of the times". Oh really? Just like it was in 1844, 1934, 1972, 1975? And that's just a few of the COG-related "end times". imagine if we include all of the other religious groups and their predictions of "the End".

Terrible things happen. These events are on the front page of every cogger magazine, on all of their TV programs and preached from sea to sea as proof positive that your minister has "the Truth". Pay and pray and you're on your way--to Petra of course. You might get a stone suite next to Gerry the Rockin' Prophet. I think in older times they called this a tomb. Leaders such as Flurry, Pack and Meredith rely on hyping these events such as the bombings in London to put a little fear into their listeners. The fear is intended to produce an action. A listener might write in for literature, request to attend services, send in dollars to keep the warning message alive. For members, these events are seen as an affirmation of firmly entrenched beliefs. It is not a controversial fact that responses increase after a television program recently following a disaster, when the speaker delivers an "end time" message.

Does your church benefit when it delivers a message like this? My opinion is that it does, and that it delivers this type of message on purpose to increase listener response. Part of that response is a cash inflow. The cash inflow is to support "God's Work". So your God is profiting too, the money is flowing right into His headquarters on earth. Doesn't this seem a little crass? God making a profit on the death of his own children? Even if you believe He is not trying to "save" them at this time, generating cash on their death is hardly a wholesome business venture.

I'll discuss more on these issues later. But the next time you see Ger' or Big Dave with a new suit or spiffy new tie, you should ask yourself whether this is what your Bible meant when it stated that it was unfair to muzzle an ass when plowing. Or was that an ox?