Friday, September 20, 2019

A Darkness in the Armstrongist Heart: Blackwellian White Supremacy

A Darkness in the Armstrongist Heart: 

Blackwellian White Supremacy

Back in the Seventies, Dean Blackwell, an evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), was sent out to many congregations to present the official understanding of race then held by the WCG. I heard this special message in a large WCG congregation in the Midwest. To my knowledge, none of Blackwell’s material exists in official written form. I am working from memory in the writing of this op-ed. It is unfortunate that crucial elements of WCG dogmata are not documented. Two generations of Armstrongists have come and gone since the Seventies. Eventually and unfortunately, the doctrinal nature of Armstrongism at its roots will be lost to the passage of time.


While the WCG did believe in White Supremacy, it was not one of the traditional types of White Supremacy current in the USA. British-Israelism had to be accommodated. British-Israelism would dictate a different racial hierarchy that looks like the following list with the superior class at the top and then descending:

1. Whites descended from Ephraim and Manasseh (British-Israel; most  White Europeans of USA, Britain and former British colonies). 
2.  Jews and other Tribes of Israel (Jews and Northwest Europeans).
3. Other Whites (with purported descendants of Shem as defined by Herman Hoeh at the highest status among White people).
4. People of color (with Blacks occupying the lowest status). 
This was the WCG view of humanity as I understood it when I began attending the WCG in the late Sixties. Since this was never formally taught but existed as oral tradition, there may be slight variations in how this hierarchy is viewed by different WCG members. And it was not entirely without documentation. Herman Hoeh’s two volume “Compendium of World History” was dedicated to portraying the profound importance of British-Israel in all dimensions of world civilization. Point 2 is controversial with regard to Jews. An unofficial faction at Ambassador College, Big Sandy regarded Ashkenazi Jews as Gentiles in alignment with some of the right-wing, anti-Semitic White supremacist groups outside the WCG.


Blackwell taught that Israel, principally Britain as Ephraim and the British-Americans as Manasseh, would rule over all other peoples throughout eternity. It was not clear if this encompassed other “Israelitish” tribes (point 2 above). This was supposed to be for the good of all humanity. Afro-American WCG members, Blackwell asserted, were readily accepting of this idea once it was explained. Essentially, this was Manifest Destiny in a religiously intensified form. Implicitly, it denied the competency of all peoples to function as nations without the leadership of British-Israel. And these nations would be servants to British-Israel.

The momentum and pervasiveness of this belief in the WCG is illustrated by the following incident involving one of Blackwell’s sermons that I heard a few years later. Blackwell explained Isaiah 19:23-24 but altered its meaning even as members of the congregation were actually looking at the scripture in their open Bibles. He preached that the scripture stated that both Egypt and Assyria would be servants of Israel in the future. Whereas, from larger context, it is clear that the scripture refers to Israel, Egypt and Assyria all being one day servants of God together. And the status of the three is that of equality rather than a super-ordinate Israel with a subordinate Egypt and a subordinate Assyria. Blackwell’s mishandling of this scripture based on the already established WCG racial model provoked no reaction from the audience.

Error in Translation
Blackwell based the supremacy of the British people on a scripture in Deuteronomy 32:8-9:
“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.”
This was interpreted by Blackwell to mean that God organized the nations in order to allocate them to the oversight of the “sons of Israel.” This was not just a transient, temporal plan but would extend into eternity.

The problem is, this scripture does not say that. It instead refers not to the “sons of Israel” but to the “sons of god.” The full passage speaks of “El” and “Yahweh” and the “sons of god.” The nations were to be parceled out by El to the “sons of god” and Yahweh was to receive Jacob’s descendants from El as his portion in this process. The Masoretic translators altered this to read “the sons of Israel” to expunge anything that would seem to even hint at polytheism (see Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God” and also Peter Enns’ interview with Mark Smith entitled “Who is Yahweh and Where Did Yahweh Come From?” both available on the web.) Heiser concludes:
“In light of the evidence there exists no textual or theological justification for preferring the Masoretic reading of verse 8. That verse should read "sons of God," not "sons of Israel."

This reference to other divine beings as “sons of god” should not alarm Armstrongists. Ron Dart preached a sermon that included this topic back in the Seventies. He initiated the topic with the scriptures Daniel 10:13 and Daniel 10:20.


Deuteronomy 32:9-9 reads differently in various translations – sometimes “sons of god” is used and sometimes “sons of Israel.”  The text may be footnoted with an alternate translation.  The KJV, the likely text used by Blackwell, uses the phrase “children of Israel.”  We cannot fault Dean Blackwell for a mistranslation made by Masoretes.  We can fault him for not researching this passage further. And we can fault him for immediately jumping to the conclusion that this verse should be translated in a way that means that all nations will be servants to supreme Israel throughout eternity.   This verse, if it actually were to contain the “sons of Israel” phrase, would be much more compatible with the spirit of the Old Testament commission to the Jews to bring the knowledge of god to the Gentiles rather than the White supremacist declaration of Dean Blackwell.   As it has happened, this is now a case study in the particular way that Armstrongists gratuitously spun scripture to support White Supremacy. 


I spoke with Dean Blackwell in his office in the Roy Hammer Library on the Big Sandy campus back in the mid-Seventies.  This was within a few years after I heard his presentation on race and I had a number of questions.  Unfortunately, we did we did not spend much time on my interests.  His cordial discussion ranged across a number of other general topics.  The only substantive idea I remember was a statement by Blackwell that the WCG leadership in Pasadena was very hesitant about releasing Herman Hoeh’s two volume “Compendium of World History” to lay members.  The lay membership would be likely to misunderstand and misinterpret it. It may well be that Blackwell did not have a strong background in the WCG dogma of race and was using scripted ideas developed by others when he delivered his sermons on race.  I finally excused myself and felt as if we had not communicated much.  


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submitted by SHT