Monday, March 16, 2015

Richard David Armstrong: The First Church of God Martyr?

Gerald Flurry has an approved piece up on the Philadelphia Church of God web site that is written by Ryan Malone.  The First Martyr of the End Time.  The article is about Richard Armstrong, the son of Herbert and Loma Armstrong and brother to Garner Ted, Beverly and Dorothy.  According to Malone, using a quote from HWA, Richard was the first MARTYR for the modern day church.

Richard was Herbert's most favored son that he had envisioned to be the leader of the church. He was the studious and devoted one, unlike his brother Garner Ted who was a womanizing, hard drinking and rambunctious young man.

Richard Armstrong was killed as the result of Alton Billingsley not paying attention to a divided road in central California.  The resulting accident was a head on collision that sent Richard to the hospital in San Luis Obispo.

Malone writes:

While Alton Billingsly was driving north on Coast Highway 101 in California at about 1:15 p.m. on July 23, 1958, Richard had his briefcase open, checking his list of people to visit and planning their next few stops. The four-lane, divided highway had merged into a two-way highway. Somehow neither of them noticed it. A half block or so to their left was another paved road running parallel to theirs; Mr. Billingsly supposed that to be the other two lanes of the highway. They moved over into the left lane—the lane of oncoming traffic—to pass, believing it still to be a divided highway. Just before they passed the car on their right, a Cadillac came over a slight hilltop. Mr. Billingsly swerved left, but the cars were moving toward each other too quickly. The oncoming car hit them head-on, just to the right—shearing off much of the right side of the car. Had Richard not dived toward the driver just before impact, he would have been killed instantly.
Although Mr. Billingsly was not seriously injured, Richard was taken to San Luis Obispo Hospital and placed in critical condition. His pelvis and right elbow were badly broken; his jaw was broken in several places with several teeth knocked out; his stomach and intestines were knocked up through the diaphragm against the left lung, collapsing the lung and shoving his heart over on his right side.
A week later, Richard’s kidneys were failing. They would have to move him to Los Angeles where they could hook him up to artificial kidneys. Because he was in traction, moving him could have killed him. So they carried him in a special bed that kept him in traction, slowly driving to Los Angeles in the middle of the night.

Here ends the "facts" that traditional church historians recognize.  Before we turn to to the Philadelphia Church of God's fantasy interpretation, lets first look at the definition of what martyr is.

Merriam Webster defines a martyr this way:


noun mar·tyr \ˈmär-tər\
  • a person who is killed or who suffers greatly for a religion, cause, etc.
  • a person who pretends to suffer or who exaggerates suffering in order to get praise or sympathy
  • a person who suffers greatly from something (such as an illness)

    Full Definition of MARTYR

  • a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion
  • a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
  • victim; especially :  a great or constant sufferer martyr to asthma all his life — A. J. Cronin
Malone continues on quoting Herbert Armstrong.  Armstrong, in his typical fashion, turned the focus off of Richard and onto the membership.  Richard's accident and impending death was a sure sign of faith.  If Richard lived then the membership was proving that they had faith that Richard would be completely healed.  If he died then the membership were guilty of having no faith. Even more appalling is that Armstrong used Richard's accident as weapon to make the members give more money!

He wanted God’s people to build faith from the experience. Driving from San Luis Obispo to L.A. the night of July 29, Mr. Armstrong said he struggled deeply to keep his mind in a state of faith. The Sabbath after Richard’s death, Mr. Armstrong debated going to Church services back at the college. “But then I realized it was my duty to attend …. I realized that some of the students had erroneously assumed that ministers were under such divine protection that no such tragedy could occur to one of them. Dick’s accident and death might shatter this faith. I knew I had to bring a message that would bolster and strengthen, not destroy, faith” (Autobiography, Vol. 2).

Another co-worker letter, dated August 28 of the same year, states, “Some had thought God would never let such a thing happen …. But nothing would please Satan more than to see us now lose faith.”
It’s no wonder why God, in the same chapter known as the “faith chapter,” goes into detail about the martyrdom of so many of His saints. The Church and its co-workers received perhaps the biggest lesson in faith it had ever received! In a co-worker letter written after the accident, before Richard died (on July 27), Mr. Armstrong scolded many of them for letting down in their prayers and offerings. “Co-workers, will you not only pray for my son’s miraculous and speedy recovery—but also for the financial salvation of the Work of God?” Throughout the letter, with the call for more believing prayers, Mr. Armstrong called for more faithful offerings. He said Satan had struck one of God’s “very chiefest laborers,” but that God’s Work needed more co-worker laborers “who help with their urgent heart-rending prayers, and with their tithes and generous offerings, regularly every month, or even every week.
Can you imagine having a father that made your suffering into a tool of fundraising? This sadly was the main tool that Herbert Armstrong used continually over the years.  He used the health of his son, his wife and other church leaders in order to extort more money from members.  The sicker the person got the worse the membership was blamed for their lack of faith and support for the work.

Does a person who dies early in life, without ever being tortured or persecuted for ones beliefs, make them into a martyr?  Richard was not killed for his religion.  He was not persecuted for the message he was preaching.  Neither has any other living or deceased Church of God member over the last 80 some years.  No government has jailed any leader for their beliefs and no one has died for their beliefs.  

Flurry and Pack's personality cults are not being persecuted though they certainly are being mocked.  That is not persecution! What this blog does, what The Painful Truth, Silenced and many others do is not persecution either.  Pointing out the foibles and asinine sayings of church leaders is not persecution.

If Flurry, Pack and Thiel want to see REAL Christian being persecuted then they need to look no further than Syria, Iraq, India, Pakistan and Central Africa where Christians are being slaughtered for refusing to give up their beliefs.  Those people are martyrs. There are no martyrs sitting in Wadsworth, Edmond, Cincinnati, Arroyo Grande, or Charlotte. Never have been and never will be.


Black Ops Mikey said...

In the article at the Painful Truth, News Flash: Herbert Armstrong is Dead!, are some additional details which may help:

It may well be that Herbert Armstrong was responsible for the death of his son: If Herbert Armstrong had not refused medical treatment for his own son, Richard David may have been saved.

Anonymous said...

Morbid though this be, let me pose this question.

If Richard had succeeded Herbert, would not straight-arrow son have provided a continuity that would have kept us in WCG, possibly until today?

Would there have been the focus on “personality” (as there was with GTA), the competition for power from a wayward son who wanted his own (as there was with GTA), or many of the absurdities we remember, with Richard, wholly devoted to his father’s way, in charge?

It is possible to believe that Richard’s death, coming when it did, eventually blessed us. He was long gone when I jumped in, Ted had already racked up sins to discredit himself, and there was no “pure Armstrong” successor. Herbert had to choose someone, and he ended up with someone who tore it down (as the various COG leaders still constantly whine), and broke the “church” in pieces.

This suggested version is less absurd than Flurry’s, at least.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:12 PM, you asked: "...If Richard had succeeded Herbert, would not straight-arrow son have provided a continuity that would have kept us in WCG, possibly until today?..."

I listened to a sermon given about 17 years ago where the speaker said virtually the same thing you stated there. That speaker also thought that if Richard was in charge, then so-called Laodiceans, that Rev 3 speaks about, would not come ito existence......and God would then be a liar. That servant/leader believed in the 7 eras/congregations of God's Church and that there would be no 8th era.

Today, lukewarmness (and other characteristics of Rev 3:14-17) exists big-time from one split-off organization, association, spun off from WCG to another.

So, perhaps Joe Tkach Senior had his "part to play" as "da Man" that needed to follow HWA, in the whole scheme of things after all, but time will tell...

So, Anon 1:12 PM, your question may not be as morbid as you may have thought.


James said...

Is Flurry thinking about pulling a Oral Roberts, so to speak? Is he going to come out as a dying prophet for god to test the blind sheeps faith?

Byker Bob said...

Richard Armstrong was frozen in time by death. You could say that he died doing work for his father's church, and some may see that as spreading the gospel, but that doesn't fit the conventional definition of the word martyr.

The point is, we can't really know what he might have done had he lived longer. What if he had found out about the incest years before GTA had? That's going to knock a straight arrow for a loop more than it would affect an adulterer! He might have even been first to accept proofs of the falsehood of British Israelism. Also, to read David Jon Hill's memoir is to realize that Dick and Jon smoked cigarettes and went on drinking binges together.

Stalwart ACOG types are always going to idealize their favorite leaders, and place them on pedestals. They are also going to use them to bolster the other fantasies which they have concocted to support Armstrongism. It is hilarious that people whose beliefs involve waking up each morning "knowing" they could lose their salvation feel so certain that one of their departed leaders would remain like the snapshot in time they had of him.


Anonymous said...

I heard the opposite of the theory of straight arrow son surviving. But this was in the 1960's well before everything fell apart. I heard ministers say that maybe God let Richard Armstrong die because he knew that GTA had the required personality to spread the gospel on TV and radio, and Richard wouldn't have been so good at this.
Whatever happens it can be reasoned away it seems. I didn't previously know all the details of Richard's death and that he died after days in the hospital. I thought he died soon after the accident from shock because he was denied a blood transfusion or something like that. Did he have any surgery? It would seem with those injuries he might need it. What a legacy of tragedy.

Anonymous said...

John, What if Joe Tkach didn't play the part and kept everything largely intact? Would that make God a liar? Needless to say, I don't buy into the seven eras thing. It's pretty easy to pigeon hole anything into an interpretation.

Anonymous said...

According to the story, he initially wanted to "rely on god for healing", but ultimately died of kidney failure before he could be prepped for dialysis. Now, since HWA was telling the story, I dont know how much of that is true.

Anonymous said...

Some misc. comments on Richard David Armstrong's death.
1) Howard Clark (who had publicly been healed from his wheelchair by RDArmstrong) told me he drove up to visit RDA in the hospital and that afterward HWA was furious with him for having done so. I asked Clark "why?" Clark said it may have been because RDA was receiving medical treatment which was not yet known to church members (which was a sensitive subject because of the faith healing doctrine). Clark also told me that in HWA's many screaming rages at Clark about other things (literally, according to Clark--HWA's normal workplace behavior was to lose his temper and rage at people if he was upset with something), that in one of those rages HWA told Clark that God should have taken Clark instead of his son.
That RDA was receiving full medical treatment was later in a sense acknowledged by HWA who explained that the drs forced HWA into agreeing to accept the "bare minimum" of treatment for RD which HWA claimed he didn't realize meant the full works.
2) I knew Alton Billingsley, the driver, at Big Sandy. He was a quiet, gentle man when I knew him. He gave a rather touching sermonette once at Big Sandy in which he talked openly and reflectively about the accident, and how HWA had told him he forgave him.
3) As for the accident itself, a detail missing in the Flurry account of the story which I remember in HWA's account is that as both RDA and Billingsley, the driver, saw the oncoming car that RDA shouted to Billingsley, "Turn left!" or "Go left!" and Billingsley then veered left (a car was at his right). It seems to me that the oncoming driver, the moment becoming aware of the imminent collision, would instinctively turn to his right, the same direction Billingsley was turning. It is possible that the best strategy would have been for Billingsley to "hug right" as close to the car on his right as possible and hope that the other car would swerve right, as most people's natural instincts would be to do. By going left, Billingsley may have turned into the other car attempting to swerve right.
4) I asked Clark what kind of person RDA was and Clark said he was severe and strict or words to that effect, basically not an appealing person to Clark. Clark in his later years did not think well of HWA and seemed to think RDA was essentially his father's son in that regard.

Anonymous said...

"The point is, we can't really know what he might have done had he lived longer."

This is very true. I don't think we have enough info to say whether Richard was a "straight arrow" or a "company man." If he was a "straight arrow" he might have straightened out some of his father's crookedness. If he was a "company man" he might have become even worse than his father.

I think Joe Sr./Jr. were a little of both. I think that by making the changes, they thought they were straightening out Hebert's theological crookedness. At the same time, especially Junior, saw a golden opportunity to get his own personal nest very well feathered at the expense of many other nests. Also he's a shameless liar. Both of which were principle moral failings for Herbert that were instrumental in his starting a church for himself in the first place.

Anonymous said...

wasn't there someone who wrote a book or a movie showing sympathy for it couldn't have been in Jesus Christ Superstar, but there was some kind of sad Judas singing?
Did Judas play a necessary role that was he is not entirely blameworthy. Could the same be said of Hitler? or HWA? or GTA? Nah they are just not that important (HWA & GTA)

Byker Bob said...

HWA was a flamer, no doubt about that. I really wonder if most of the people who idolize him, and make him into a quasi-Biblical personality realize what he was like. We joke about Rod and his preoccupation with sex, but HWA could rarely give a sermon without going off on some irrationally angry tirade. People who openly disagreed with him found themselves assigned to menial employment, if indeed they got to remain in the church.

I seriously doubt that there would be a PCG, or an RCG if Gerald Flurry or David Pack had been as close to HWA as Howard Clark was.


Black Ops Mikey said...

According to my friend who had known Richard David Armstrong in Pasadena, RDA had warned his father, Herbert Armstrong, to end his corruption. Furthermore, my friend seemed to indicate that it was Herbert Armstrong who limited the medical treatment -- not the choice of RDA.

Byker Bob said...

Folks, it is not unusual that a religious movement founded by a former advertising executive would use word play to its advantage! These are churches which have been "marketed" using many of the techniques by which most major products are commonly sold. The difference is that you don't see product liability and personal injury attorneys publishing 800 numbers so that injured parties can call in to become part of class action lawsuits.

Identifying Richard David Armstrong as a martyr is as misleading and disingenuous as any ad I've ever seen in my lifetime. Not unlike Ronald Reagan pictured as claiming that Chesterfield cigarettes were mild and never irritatied his throat. Years later, he explained that he was telling the truth, but that they didn't irritate his throat because he never smoked them!

The Armstrong movement does not have any St. Stephens walking amongst them. No stonings, no beheadings for preaching the gospel or refusing to eat pork on demand. HWA set an example of wussing out on these things when in the presence of powerful people whom he wanted to lime him.


Retired Prof said...

gld, on some speaking occasion at Ambassador College--I don't remember which--HWA defended his permitting medical treatment for Dick by explaining that repairing injuries is justifiable. For example, we should set broken bones an sew up gashes, and that was the kind of medical attention he had authorized.

In the same speech he also denied rumors that he had been heard in the halls of the hospital exclaiming "I'll pay a million dollars if you can heal him!"

Those rumors were not swirling around when I was at Ambassador. In fact, I would never have known they existed if he hadn't gratuitously denied them.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the facts regarding his medical treatment or lack thereof, the guiding principle in all this is that the nut doesn't fall far from the tree. As the son of Herbert Armstrong, Richard would most likely been just as wacky as GTA, although in different ways. He didn't have his brother's looks or charisma --- I don't know about his speaking ability, though it's hard to imagine how anyone could have surpassed Ted in that regard --- but he probably made up for it by being even more like his father, which is scary. I doubt that much would have been different in the trajectory WCG and various offshoots have taken had Richard lived. The biggest difference might have been less of a role for GTA. Maybe the brothers would have gotten into a classic WCG power struggle. Then add Stan Rader to the mix and what a battle that might have been. But we'll never know.

Byker Bob said...

During an Ambassador College Speech Class, I had been privileged to hear excerpts from some very early tapes of different 1950s "pioneer students" doing World Tomorrow Broadcasts. These were played to help motivate us, and to demonstrate the importance of our Speech Classes.

Just as you see on some of the TV shows involving mentoring to and development of emerging talent, GTA's voice, body language, facial expressions, and usage of the English language all had to be worked on, refined, and developed so that he would become the effective talent with whom the entire world was familiar. There is no question that he had a great deal of natural ability, as do the young talents appearing on a weekly base on The Voice. But, he worked very hard to refine his craft. If anyone were to hear his voice on the earliest tapes, he almost sounds as if he had inhaled helium as compared to the deep resonant voice we all heard in the 1960s. He was not just "GTA" the moment he sat down in front of the microphone.

Apparently the old man had extended the same broadcast opportunities to a number of the students, including Rod Meredith, Dick Armstrong, and several others, but GTA was the one who displayed the most aptitude, embraced the opportunity, and ran with it. It's not as if any high ranking splinter group minister can purchase the equipment and just fall into it.


Anonymous said...

The talents and/or legitimacy of the Armstrongs aside, odds are there are plenty of people in the PCG who know the definition of the word martyr, and therefore know that the way their church is applying it to the story of someone dying in a car crash is just plain silly. Such events are referred to as "accidents" for a reason.

Nonetheless, those same people will sit there in PCG services, week after week, and overlook such moronic concepts because they're caught in a vicious circle of warped thinking that justifies such mindless behavior.

We all did it, mind you. The key is for them to develop the courage and common sense to walk away. It takes longer for some than for others. Hopefully, idiotic ramblings like the PCG's article exploiting someone's sad and accidental death will nudge them ever closer to such a departure.

Anonymous said...

"No government has jailed any leader for their beliefs and no one has died for their beliefs."

The Roman government during Christ's lifetime had a hand to play in the arrest, jailing and death of Christ and eventually many of His disciples.

We see images on television in the news today of professing Christians being jailed and killed, dying, for not renouncing their Christian faith.

The Armstrong's were correct on keeping the 7th day sabbath as Christ also observed it on Saturday the 7th day of the week. The Armstrong's were also correct in teaching against celebrating man made rituals like Christmas, Easter and Halloween - which the Bible condemn and Christ never celebrated. The Armstrong's were correct their teachings that Christ will return to Earth to set up his government and kingdom on Earth and the first command or order Christ will make is for all the peoples of every nation left alive at His return to come to his world headquarters in Jerusalem every year to celebrate His real birtday, The First day of the Feast of Tabernalcles - a 7 day celebration.

The Armstrong organization had its faults like all organizations, but they are telling the truth about the Bible and Jesus Christ, while all Sunday 1st day of the week churches are not following Christ's example, and doing as He Himself did by observing the 7th day Saturday sabbath.

A Christian follows and does exactly what Christ Himself did.