Sunday, November 4, 2012

Blast From the Past: John Trechack on Fleecing The Flock

It was February 18, 1970. A small group of ministerial students were spending an evening with Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God. Those of us who had been invited were given a glimpse of a life-style which in today's world only a very few are able to afford. At his home, a small mansion on Pasadena's South Orange Grove Boulevard (once nicknamed "millionaire row"), we were surrounded by rare antiques, expensive paintings, and Steuben crystal. The carpets were luxuriant; a Steinway grand stood in the corner of the drawing room.

The gourmet cuisine served at dinner was excellent as were the European wines-all four of them. We had been shown a large number of expensive paintings and objets d'art and, as was his custom, Herbert would relate what he paid for each and what they were now worth. That theme carried over into the conversation at dinner. Then, as the servants began to clear the table, he turned to one of the guests and said, "What do you think all of these beautiful things on the table are worth?" Of course, none of us had even the slightest idea. And so, he was able to proudly proclaim, "Over $125,000!"

He was quick to point out, however, that art objects of this quality were so rare that they were in fact "priceless." The sculptured, foot-high, solid-gold saltcellars were, for instance, the only known copies of those once owned by Louis XIV. (They had been specially made for Herbert by Harrod's of London.) The crystal goblets were identical to those found on Queen Elizabeth's table. The supremely crafted cutlery was of solid gold. The tablecloth was made of the finest Belgian lace. The gold-covered china was of the finest craftsmanship and formerly belonged to Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

As we sat there sipping our four different wines and eating off the czar's china, I couldn't help but think of the incredible contrast all this presented to the meager existence of so many members of Herbert's church-the very ones who were, through their tithes and offerings, making all this possible. I had personally known many Worldwide Church of God laymembers who were barely able to keep their families fed, let alone properly clothed, because of the large amounts they felt compelled to contribute to the Armstrong organization.

Ironically, just five days after the above occasion, one such beleaguered church member, a dedicated employee of the organization, wrote his minister and outlined the tragic financial straits he had come to as a result of obeying the church's teachings. The following excerpt, though a bit lengthy, shows in detail the type of deprivation inflicted on many who have come under the influence of the Armstrong organization and its teachings:

1. Automobile: The automobile is unsafe to drive.
A. The brakes are in poor shape; sometimes they lock the right or left front wheel, and to unlock it one must back up. This happens while driving.
B. The engine is too heavy for the front suspension, and I am in fear of the front suspension collapsing.
C. The exhaust system is leaky and fills the auto with oil smoke and fumes while driving.
This automobile must be replaced. I risk my family's life every time we drive in it; I had Mr. Schreiber check it, and he said to replace it this year before the Feast.
2. Clothing
A. My wife has no underwear, has had none for a year or more. She has only one brassiere and one slip and both are in very sad shape, ripped up, etc. She has no nylons and only one pair of socks.
B. She only has one good dress and with constant wear it is going fast. She has only one pair of shoes, and they are one size too big. When she stands in them, there is a one-half inch gap at the heel, she only has one coat, and it is all ripped up inside. My wife needs clothing badly.
3. Clothing
A. My clothing is in sad shape also, but better than my wife's. I have only one suit I can wear. It is a summer suit I got from used clothing, and when the seams go, I will have none. I have no pants I can wear anywhere. If it were not for the uniforms at work, I would have none at all; to change clothes I have a choice-a uniform from work, my suit, or one pair of levis with holes in them. My shoes need repairing. My socks are all full of holes at the heels; I do have three or four sets of underwear that are good.
B. My children's clothes: If it were not for used clothing, they would have none. We do good to keep them in shoes as they need them. Their feet already have corns because of the wrong shoes in the past; we are finding that used clothing is not able to supply their present needs. They are growing to a size that is not available. There is no money available to go to a Thrift Shop.
4. Our Furniture
A. Most of what we have will be usable for some time, but some items need replacing.
B. The bed my wife and I sleep in is 23 years old, and we are continually being cut by springs coming through the mattress. I woke up one night with a spring stuck into my thigh and had to lift myself straight up off of it. We cut out an average of one or two springs a week; I feel it is also a cause of my constant back problems, but I have no money to replace the bed.
C. We have only two dressers for seven people and this is not enough; because of this we keep the children's clothes in cardboard boxes in the closets. The rest I feel we can get by with.
5. Entertainment
We rarely go any place through the year except to the Feast [of Tabernacles]. I have taken my wife out to dinner once in the past five years. I don't recall that I have ever taken my children any place except at the Feast of Tabernacles. We have gone to the zoo with the children once since being in the Church and that is 10 years or so.
6. Medical/Dental
My wife needs dental work badly. We owe Dr. Howell $35.00 now, but we don't have any money to pay him. My children have never had a dental or eye checkup and they need it. I need glasses. I went to the eye doctor two years ago and was told this but no money. I also need some dental work, but mine is small.
7. Imperial Schools
We owe Imperial [the Worldwide Church of God's now defunct private schools, offering grades 1 through 12] $577.20, and it will take $65.00 per month to pay them off by next school year. We are currently paying $40.00 when we have it. We will have another child in school next year, plus our three.

I am sorry to be a burden to this work, but I do have a large family to feed; my children eat like adults, and they do wear clothes. If we lived on a ranch in Arizona, we could probably live cheaper, but we live in Los Angeles and there are just more expenses here. I am not demanding. I am only showing you my condition as it is. I will get by as long as I can, but we are getting close to the end of our rope. Please advise me!!

This poor member's dedication and "good attitude" cannot be denied. But he shouldn't have been suprised by his poverty. Not when you consider that he was giving away nearly 40% of his net income in first tithe, second tithe, third tithe, regular offerings, holy-day offerings, special emergency offerings, church emergency loans, building fund contributions, and Spokesman Club dues! And this doesn't include the income he lost by passing up employment opportunities to keep the Old Testament sabbath and holy days, as the Worldwide Church of God teaches.

The Armstrong organization has always been quick to publish letters from individuals claiming all kinds of financial success ("blessings"), divine intervention, and good luck that supposedly resulted directly from obedience to the church's teachings concerning tithing. However, letters such as the one we have quoted above somehow never made it into print. In our Letters section in this issue we have included a number of letters that describe some of those cases the Armstrong neglected to mention.

This Is the Life! The $60,000,000 per year tax-free income that the Armstrongs are able to garner and that they exclusively control attests to the effectiveness of their methods. As Herbert has often stated, "Tithing pays off!" On of his editorials was once titled, "This Is the Life!-Real Abundant Living!" True, for the one receiving the tithes tithing does pay off. But life has been a lot less abundant for thousands of those who have diligently applied Herbert's tithing laws as found in his booklet Ending Your Financial Worries (often jokingly referred to by some WCG higher-ups as "Ending Our Financial Worries").

You can read the rest of this eye opening article here:  Fleecing the Flock


Douglas Becker said...

Both the Ambassador Report and 1975 in Prophecy are in Flipping Book form at

Assistant Deacon said...

It's appropriate for you to bring this back to the forefront.

One of my closest friends at AC eventually just walked away from everything back in the '70s. No fanfare, no fuss. Just moved on. Was nobody special, just a regular person who grew up in the WCG and went to AC, like so many others.

She stayed in Southern California, and I would see her from time to time. One time we got to talking about some of our shared experiences, and she said simply that she had been working in the WCG's accounting department, and the things she saw convinced her that people were being scammed. I remember her saying that the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars that were being spent on luxurious items for executives, or wasted by departments because of inept management and ridiculous decisions, was unconscionable.

She concluded that the Armstrongs and their lieutenants were less concerned about truth than they were about riding the gravy train. She also concluded that most executives and managers in the church and college were totally unqualified to be in such positions. So she moved on.

Few had such an up-close view of things, which is why it was more difficult for the vast majority of church members to draw the same conclusions, let alone leave. However, recalling her comments in light of the eventual disintegration of HWA's empire indicates there was validity to those conclusions, and her actions.

Trechak & Co. were obviously ahead of their time.

Anonymous said...

Reading this made me wince. Poverty was so widespread in the WCG, I have horror memories. As a child, I couldn't believe the vast chasm of economic diversity at church, the haves, to which the ministry pampered and elevated in rank, to the povery stricken, admonished to endure to the end. The absolute end for me was when my elderly mother was turned down for emergency funds after being in the WCG, then GCI for over 50+ years. So much for "good and faithful servent."

Douglas Becker said...

Of course, the ministry and the leadership had its own rationalization:

- You have sinned and God will begin blessing you when you repent;

- There are lessons you need to learn before God can bless you;

- You have the wrong attitude and God cannot bless you;

- You need to fast and pray before God will resolve this problem;

- You are specially blessed to understand the problems of poor people in the millennium;

- You are rebellious and God will not bless you until you submit to your leaders;

- You cannot outgive God, so give more with a cheerful and willing heart;

- This is just a trial and it will pass;

And my personal favorite:

- Be warmed and filled.

All of these are a form of "It's not my problem" so prevalent with those who have become so comfortable with power and personal wealth.

It is also a reflection of what comtempt Herbert Armstrong had for all of us as nothing more than collateral damage he left in his profligate wake with absolutely no concern for anyone but himself and how important he appeared in the eyes of the rich, powerful and leaders of this world.

Ah, there's nothing like abject narcissism where the Universe revolves around you.

Anonymous said...

This brings to the forefront extremely painful memories of the years our family spent in servitude to Armstrongism. We all suffered needlessly, and especially our 3 children, but we thought we were living according to God's will. My husband would frequently say that we/he just needed to learn some lessons first, and then God would bless us.

Anonymous said...

I remember as a child growing up in Armstrongism that my mom, who took care of the household finances, was always trying to build up a savings account, but every time she would manage to build up several thousand dollars in the bank, something unforeseen would happen and wipe out her progress. My parents were so careful with their money, and I can't imagine what would have happened if they had not been. Still, I remember my mom on her knees praying and crying at the same time, and then she would say to me that "God was spanking us." I don't ever recall my mom saying that god was blessing us, only "spankings."

If it hadn't have been for all those tithes and offerings, my mom would have been able to build up a savings account during those years, and I am sure she would have felt differently about life and about god.

Anonymous said...

The mention of John Trechak brought back many memories. A lot of people who were in AC at that time left, we saw too much of GTA's problems, and the splendour of the livestyle lived by the top people. Most of us just left, Trechak made the Ambassador Reports his life mission. I always wondered why, as he was a gifted musician who turned his back on Julliard and a promising career to go to AC.

I left in 1972, I kind of got thrown out for various indiscretions which happened in the Canadian office. One of the leaders in the French work turned his back on the Church after becoming convinced that GTA didn't was a long story but he started stealing/embezzelling money from the offerings and amassed a huge amount before he was caught. He said he was just giving himself the lifestyle of an evangelist -- beautiful house, large salary, boat, several cars and a harem of young Church girlfriends. Things did not end well for him as he had to leave the country in a hurry to avoid arrest. He thought the Church would hush everything up, like many of the banks do, and especially as he viewed them all as crooks worse than him.

Anonymous said...

One week after I decided to tithe the right way I was offered another job and accepted. My firm would not allow me to leave and gave me $10,000 and an extra weeks vacation. Tithing works. BTW, God thru HWA and others has many thousands of people and hundreds of groups here in the US that still worship in the WCG tradition (Sabbath, Holy days, meats) and the numbers are rising.
S. Cooksey Ft. Worth TX

Anonymous said...

"God thru HWA and others has many thousands of people and hundreds of groups here in the US that still worship in the WCG tradition (Sabbath, Holy days, meats) and the numbers are rising."

The numbers are rising!!!

Yep, there's more and more ego-inspired splinters, while the dwindling numbers of adherents grow ever older- chasing that carrot on the stick called "the World Tomorrow" that's always only three to five years away.

Reminds me of ...
"World Tomorrow, World Tomorrow,
You're always a day away!"

Did Annie sing that?

A new play is, "Annie Get Your Gun II- Blowing Away Herbshit"