There is a comment on the Silenced blog in regards to the Withering Branches of the Church of God. It poses a great question in wondering how we would prioritize the beliefs of the church if we were asked by a reporter.
I remember the reporting following the tragic shooting at LCG by Terry Ratzmann. The news team was interviewing people outside to find out the basic facts, both about the situation, and about the group. When asked about their beliefs, one woman said, "We believe in keeping the sabbath."
That got me to thinking at the time about the beliefs that I had been raised in. If I had to pick just one representative religious belief as an Armstrongite to tell a news reporter that I held, what would it be? And what would that answer say about me?
What do Armstrongites believe, in order of priority? I think Armstrongite's beliefs are prioritized very tribally, according to what differentiates them from others. What is interesting about this is how these priorities differ from what arguably should have a high priority.
Ask any Armstrongite, especially a minister, to list his beliefs in order of priority, and I guarantee you, you'll get sabbaths, holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, prayer and bible study. All physical rituals intended to symbolically communicate to god what an eager suck-up you are.
Not in the Top Ten? Becoming christlike, overcoming, looking out for "the least." "Oh," they might say, "that goes without saying." Sure it does. It also goes without anything else. These aren't Armstrongite values. If you corner them, they'll pay lipservice to them, but that's about the beginning and the end of an Armstrongite's thoughts about these things. And not without good reason, since these things were not on ol' Herbert's list of priorities at all. But probably the vast majority of his followers are better folks than he was. Still, as a normal, decent human being, you only have a limited amount of time, energy, and attention, and the things at the top of your list of priorites will crowd out all the things further down.
One thing Armstrongite doctrines arguably do not do is curry favor with the deities. Even if the god of the bible did exist, there's biblical reasons, as well as common sense ones, suggesting that his priorities would be very different from Armstrongite priorities anyway. If these rituals aren't appeasing any deities, then they aren't doing the members any good, and they certainly don't do anyone else who isn't a member any good. There's only one set of people who derive any tangible benefit from these doctrines.
Yes, that's right, the "trunk" of the Armstrongite "tree" is a set empty rituals that don't do anyone who isn't a minister any good. These rituals have long served to reinforce tribal allegiances while keeping the cash flowing into church coffers. So the COG twigs have not fallen far from the "trunk" in this regard. The doctrines are the business model.
Guys like Vic Kubik, who are eager to keep their pension's nest feathered, are desperately trying to solve the problem of how to get more people to feed cash into their system. Maybe if they had a church that had a more practical set of doctrines as the "trunk" of its "tree," they would be able to succeed at this. However, we know they're between a rock and hard place in that respect. And that's what keeps the twigs so close. That proximity is also what ensures they'll keep withering.
I was raised to believe in "keeping the sabbath." And I did keep it back then. But when I thought about it, if I had to say I believed something, keeping the sabbath, or any other ritual that I performed for the sole reason of trying to appease a deity, well, it just wouldn't be on any sincere list.