Many in the various Church of Gods love to deny that Herbert Armstrong was constantly
Several years ago Norm Edwards posted an article detailing HWA's incessant demands for money.
The main thrust of most of Mr. Armstrong’s co-worker letters was events of "the work". The stories of his successes have been recounted many times in his autobiography and other Worldwide Church of God literature. What is not often told is the story of the incredible number of requests for money made to co-workers—along with the vast array of methods employed to get them to give.Once a co-worker sent in a few bucks for their booklets and /or offerings they started receiving the co-worker letter that also went to the membership.
Of his 618 letters, 525 mention financing in some way. The word "offering(s)" appears in 423 letters, "money" in 378 and "tithe(s)" in 376. No small number of letters were primarily emergency appeals for finances. Over 100 letters contain the word "emergency" .
I remember my mother getting these letters and how she would scrap to find money to send in, much to the detriment of the family finances.
By contrast, nearly every letter also mentioned prayer and praying for "the work". Phrases about the Eternal’s power appear in many letters: "Holy Spirit" is in 134 letters and "Spirit of God" or "God’s spirit" in 128 letters, and "power of God/Christ/Jesus" in 77 letters. "Work of faith" is in 15 letters. But the number of words about money greatly exceed those about prayer and the power of God. "Praying for more money" and "for others to send more money" were frequent themes.
Edwards then continues with this indictment against the incessant begging:
But one thing is certain: A few of his longest co-worker letters contain more words on the subject of "financing the work" than can be found in the entire New Testament. The New Testament does not record one case where some evangelistic activity was not accomplished due to lack of funds. It clearly shows that the Spirit of the Eternal directed the activities, and that The Eternal would provide for physical necessities.Norm Edwards then mentions something that I did not remember. He points out that HWA demanded that offerings be above and beyond regular tithes and that God would KILL anyone that mixed up the two!
May 5, 1969: Now about the annual Holy Day offerings.
HWA writes: I am discouraged and sorely disheartened, Brethren, because THE FACTS ARE that on these seven occasions, the receipt of money at Headquarters to carry on the Work of God drops off AS MUCH as the amount put into these offerings! That can only mean one thing! Most of you Brethren are NOT putting in ANY real special Holy Day offering at all, but instead taking what otherwise would have been mailed in-as tithes and normal offerings-and putting THAT into the Holy Day offering!Brethren I wonder if that is not doing almost exactly what Ananias and Sapphira did! Please read that again-it is in Acts 5:1-11. They professed that they put in the amount they sold their property for. Peter said THEY LIED to THE HOLY SPIRIT. They DROPPED DEAD! If YOU profess that what you put in the Holy Day offering is a SPECIAL HOLY DAY OFFERING, when it is only a regular offering, is not that about the same thing? Brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ I say I WOULD BE AFRAID to do such a thing!
Not only were HWA's demands geared towards the more well to do in the church, but he demanded that even widows send in more than necessary:
It is interesting to compare this warning with the Worldwide Church of God use of funds: Third tithe was used, at times, for expensive mansions and jet fuel. Excess second tithe and "tithe of tithe" were not always used for festivals or assistance, but simply put back into the WCG general fund. Mr. Armstrong does not seem to consider that his co-workers may have already been giving everything they had available on a regular basis, so they could not come up with extra for Holy Day offerings. He continually encouraged them to send in anything that they had available "right now" by air-mail.
We also must realize that Mr. Armstrong was not asking only the well-off to give out of their abundance, but the poor. "Widow’s mites" are mentioned in 98 of his letters. He was careful to point out that widows should give more than one mite:
November 20, 1945: Co-Workers, I have to appeal to you now—this greatly-multiplied program is NOW GOING OUT—we need the widow’s mites IN LARGE NUMBER now as never before—from many who may not be able to send in more, and have sent nothing for some time!June 9, 1947: I know that, while MOST of our Co-Workers are in poor economic circumstances and can send only the "widow’s MITES"—notice it was "MITES," not just one "mite,"—and while it is these many small amounts of a couple dollars, or a five or ten, that are the very BACKBONE OF THIS WORK...March 30, 1969: Remember that even the widow’s mites HELP GREATLY in this Work.
So what was a member to do when they had exhausted their supply of money? You were to take out loans on your home or business borrow money or find some other way of sending in more money.
When it became clear that co-workers could not give enough money, Herbert Armstrong also asked for monetary loans, a practice never used in Scripture to support the Eternal’s work (an axe was borrowed in 2Kngs 6:5, but not money).
October 29, 1947: Now, even at greatest sacrifice by all, I realize that we are not going to be able to raise all this money quickly enough by tithes, offerings, and gifts. A few of our co-workers have helped us up to now by LOANING us money they have felt they could not GIVE. Some have said they may never need to take the money back, but in case they do need it, they have our note and guarantee it will be promptly repaid. One or two had money saved up they may need a year or two from now, and they have placed this money at our disposal to help us over this terrible emergency, letting their money WORK FOR GOD now, to be repaid to them, if, and when they will need it, later. One has borrowed money on some property he owned, and we are making the payments to him to pay his bank, as the payments and interest come due. Some have sold bonds, or securities, and loaned us the cash, to be paid back in the manner that fits the needs of each one in each case. We need now to borrow several thousand dollars more on this basis. In each case I give the lender a note, binding the Radio Church of God, incorporated, to repay on whatever terms are agreed upon, as fit the need of the lender.
Numerous co-worker letters continue to talk about these loans and the complex circumstances surrounding their repayment. Can anyone imagine Christ or the apostles talking about borrowing money to board a ship to preach the Gospel, and hoping to pay the loan back with money they received from the city they visited? But Mr. Armstrong kept asking for private loans through his co-worker letter of December 29, 1969. After this time, Mr. Armstrong writes about obtaining loans from banks and insurance companies. Why the change? One possibility is that by that time the WCG had so much real estate that it could easily obtain bank loans. It is also possible that the members realized that Mr. Armstrong planned not to pay back most of those loans:
March 30, 1969: Now WE knew, from years of experience, that only about 20% of these loans would be demanded for repayment—80% eventually would be converted to donations. But a banker examining our financial statement would not know that. Actually, we maintained a 20% cash reserve to back up these loans. Actually our practice was TWICE AS SAFE as bank practice. But we cannot afford to have it LOOK unsound. God’s Work MUST NOT BE BROUGHT INTO DISCREDIT by any act or oversight of ours!
At "our discretion-but without legal obligation." This is a church that is saying this. A church that "professes" to love its members who are on a journey towards the Kingdom of God together. Sadly this has been the mantra for the Church of God from HWA on to this very day. When the WCG was terminating employees and ministers this phrase was said over and over to each person. "We owe you nothing - but at our discretion we might give you a stipend or a small token of appreciation." In reality they gave nothing to hundreds of ministers and employees who served the church over the decades. That is another post for another day though.
So I have had to ask all of you who can to cancel out your loans by converting them into donations or freewill offerings. And, if you simply CANNOT do that at this time, to convert them into FIVE-YEAR loans instead of demand loans—that is, we would not be legally bound to repay more than 20% in any one year. I have explained that, IF an unexpected emergency should arise and you should seriously need more than 20% at any time, we would try to accommodate you and do the best we could, at our own discretion—but without legal obligation.
Armstrong claimed this "loan practice" was far more safe than banks. Armstrong ultimately was working a mind boggling ponzi scheme that he got away with.
Armstrognism, its leaders and publications all work the angle of FEAR to get what they want.In reality, Mr. Armstrong’s practice was not "twice as safe as bank practice". Mr. Armstrong may have kept 20% in reserve where banks only kept 10%, but banks invested the other 90% of their money anticipating all of it back, whereas Mr. Armstrong spent the other 80% of his money. If a bank ran short of money, it could sell its investments to pay off its loans. But Mr. Armstrong was simply relying on new contributions to pay off old loans. He never once hinted that he would sell assets of his work in order to repay loans.As it was, the old loan program was replaced by a new kind of loan program. This time, members were asked to borrow the money from their banks, and then give it to the WCG. The letter on the next page tells the story. Notice the underlined portions, where members are given some possible lies to tell their bankers about why they wanted these loans. Notice also that a member must be sure that this loan will not cut into his normal giving. And finally, notice that this was directed toward members who had so little money that they might have to take out a loan to buy a TV or dishwasher. They were expected to forgo these items so the work could...could do what? The letter does not say exactly what the need was for—just "IMMEDIATECASH". While Mr. Armstrong and Stanley Rader probably did borrow $5000 from a bank, it is unlikely that they would have needed to. Their salaries were both over $100,000 per year and later disclosures indicated that both had personal savings of many thousands. They did not go without a TV, dishwasher or limousine to help "save the work"..
Next Edwards throws a bold punch at the motives of Armstrong and the leaders in the COG today.
January 15, 1962: MANY OF YOU WHO ARE ABLE AND OUGHT TO PLEDGE HAVE FAILED OR REFUSED!
Brethren, do you realize this is the work of ALMIGHTY GOD? Do you realize HE is holding you accountable, according to your ability? It is not yet too late-but if you become a spiritual slacker, there is a Lake of Fire looming ahead, and I say to you in all sincerity and love, and by authority of Jesus Christ, you had better begin to fear and TREMBLE! This is EXPECTED of you, and if we don’t do MORE than expected, we are UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS, and Jesus Christ says that the unprofitable servants are to be thrown into the Lake of Fire! I did not decree that-CHRIST DID!
There is no doubt that people who do not obey Christ will be put into the lake of fire. But in these letters, Mr. Armstrong makes failure to obey him the same as failure to obey Christ. Beside the "stick" of the Lake of Fire, he also dangled the "carrot" of a Place of Safety for those who supported him:
December 8, 1947: Every individual who HEEDS this warning, turns to God, is WATCHING and PRAYING ALWAYS, being filled with God’s Spirit, living by every Word of God, with a life consecrated to Him, will be given special divine protection—taken beforehand to a place of SAFETY—preserved thru the final horrifying tribulation, time of plagues and human anguish soon to visit this earth!But if we to whom God has revealed this terrible future thru His divine prophecies fail to heed it—if we fail to each play his or her full part in WARNING this nation and the world, now, while we may—then God says we shall not escape, but He will require the blood of this entire people at our hands!…I tell you, ON THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST, IT IS COMING! Many of you NOW, are in financial condition to DO A LOT MORE than you are doing for GOD’S CAUSE..
Norm Edwards correctly points out in his article that if HWA and others KNEW that the end was so close and the work was so desperate then they WHY did they spend so much money on themselves at the detriment of the membership?While the co-worker letters contained numerous requests for money, and asked for all kinds of sacrifice, they contained almost no guidance as to how co-workers might balance these requests with commands in the Bible:
If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs (Deut 15:7-8).But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1Jn 3:17).A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children... (Prv 13:22).But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Tim 5:8).Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
Thanks to computer searching, we can be nearly certain that Herbert Armstrong never explained these verses in his co-worker letters. He talked about the giving of "widow’s mites" in 98 letters, but never once talked about helping to care for widows. Co-workers were left completely on their own to determine how to balance their contributions to Herbert Armstrong’s work with helping those they know that were in need, helping take care of their spouse, taking care of their children, planning for their education, paying for medical bills, or buying things that would save them money in the long run (for example: new, energy-efficient appliances can pay for themselves in a few years by reducing utility bills).
Here are a few of the homes that church leaders lived in on Waverly Drive while the membership suffered:
January 29, 1948: NOWHERE else can this money do so much good, or reach so many people! Except ALMIGHTY GOD interferes, this world faces certain DOOM—utter annihilation of human life on this globe by atomic destruction at the hand of man! The glorious GOOD NEWS of the coming KINGDOM OF GOD, and the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST to at last straighten everything out for us and bring a blinded and deceived humanity understanding, peace, and joyful salvation—the true GOSPEL of Jesus Christ—must now be shouted in great power to the entire world. Soon it will be TOO LATE. NOW is the time! YOU have your part, just as I have mine. I’m doing my very best—will YOU do ALL that YOU CAN? Please rush your offering, as large as possible, as soon as possible—air-mail (now only 5 cents) or even by telegraph.
God bless you—SOMEHOW I know we will be carried through, and this great work will survive and continue on, TO THE END!
But his work did not endure to the end. A great many of his co-workers did not help others in need, did not attend to their own medical needs, did not plan for their children’s education, did not plan for their retirement, did not plan for their own funerals and now they are dead. "The End" predicted by Herbert Armstrong did not come in his or his listener’s life times and his "great work" is gone. This writer knows of many people who suffered greatly because of the money sent to Herbert Armstrong, and others who appeared to receive miraculous protection through it all—the Eternal may well have honored their zeal. But all of these co-workers will be judged by scriptures like the ones listed above (1Pe 1:17; 2Tim 3:16), not by their response to the co-worker letters of Herbert Armstrong!Several places, Herbert Armstrong claimed that he would not ask co-workers to do anything that he would not do. He also talked about how he suffered more than any of his readers would ever know. But he virtually never shared any information about how much money he personally received, the type of house he lived in, the cost of his office facilities, the type of clothes he bought, etc. When he wrote about his own personal wealth he was usually claiming to be giving up some of it.He did sell his home (which was partially paid for by the local congregation) and put the money into "the work" in 1944. But this "forced" him to eat in restaurants for the next three years as he lived in various rented rooms without kitchens. (Most poor people I know who find themselves without a kitchen eat sandwiches and raw fruits and vegetables). Three years later, he admitted that this expense of eating in restaurants was equal to a house payment: "It [the new home] came to us with no down-payment except just three monthly payments in advance, and on monthly payments which just equal what we have had to spend in restaurants for food" (June 9, 1947).
In the late 1970’s when court proceedings and private investigations delved into Herbert Armstrong’s finances, they found that he had a salary of over $200,000 per year, benefits worth hundreds of thousands, and assets he personally used worth millions. When Mr. Armstrong entertained the Ambassador College seniors in the 1970s, he would boast that his table setting cost over $100,000. If he could have served the seniors on a $1000 table setting, every poor person in the church worldwide could have have had a new pair of shoes.To this very day most leaders in the Church of God defend HWA's extravaganza. They connive and manipulate brethren to send in as much as they possibly can and then guilt them into sending in more. When one's salvation is at a stake because an idiot leader like Dave Pack says so, the members tremble in fear and fork over the money. They are dumb to do so, particularly in this day and age when sooooooo much information is available about the misuse of funds by COG ministers and leaders, how tithing is no a New Covenant stipulation and that no one should fear their leaders.
You can read much more in Norm Edwards article here.