|Against the Gates of Hell
The Warning Shortly after 7:00 A.M. on the third day of January 1979, I drove down broad Colorado Boulevard in the small California city of Pasadena. The sun, which had shown with a dazzling brightness only two days before on the Tournament of Roses parade along the same thoroughfare, had disappeared. In its place had come a brooding grayness, chilling and ominous.
On New Year's Day, there had been lightness and a heart delighting beauty when the ingenious floral displays, followed by the football game in the Rose Bowl near the western end of this California town, had riveted the nation's attention. Now, just forty-eight hours later, the sixty-one floats were jammed together like abandoned automobiles in Victory Park, a few square blocks of greenery where the three-hour parade had ended. The lovely blooms woven into them so cleverly were fading rapidly; their frisky costumed riders who had charmed the throngs along the sidewalks were gone. A few thousand city residents and visitors had come to view them for the last time before the flowers were stripped off and the motorized carcasses driven away.
The mood of the city had changed sharply. Some debris still lay un-swept along the parade route; a dispirit seemed to have descended upon the residents of Pasadena who were on their way to work, coats buttoned against the rising wind. A "party is over" air hung over the community.
In the darkening sky there was a strong hint of a gathering storm that, from time to time, can lash this usually weather — calm, sunny community.
That storm never broke. But another one struck with a suddenness and fury just ninety minutes later that morning. It was far more dangerous, more brutal, and more potentially destructive to our American way of life than any tempest that can come from clashing clouds.
This is the story of what was set in motion that fateful morning. It is the story, at once terrible and inspiring, of a church under siege; terrible because of an infamous attack against the right of God-fearing people to control their own religious organization; inspiring because of how those people, usually gentle and peaceable in the way they conduct their lives, rose in defiance against those who would take from them the guarantee carved into the very foundation stones of our country — freedom of worship.
And yet it is even more. It is also a warning that no religious group in the country can ignore. For Church (and I use that term in its broad meaning) and State are on a collision course, and what happened to one great spiritual organization headquartered in Pasadena can befall others throughout the land.
The Entry Usually, I am at my desk on the fourth floor of the Hall of Administration of Ambassador College at 8:00 A.M. or earlier. The hall, a four-story glass and granite structure, is on the serenely beautiful campus of the college, a coeducational institution founded in 1947 by the Worldwide Church of God. Just off West Green Street in west Pasadena, it houses the business and administrative offices of the college and Church.
That morning, despite the lowering skies, I felt a new sense of freedom. On my desk at home lay a letter that, I was certain, would cut through a Gordian knot of problems. It had arrived from Tucson, Arizona by special messenger late in the evening of New Year's Day, and was from Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God. Typewritten by Mr. Armstrong himself, it charted a new future for me. And, much more important, it was intended to put an end, once and for all time, to a charge that, though wildly illogical and even ludicrous, was nonetheless having a divisive effect upon the Church.
I had been associated with Herbert Armstrong and the Church for more than two decades, first as a financial consultant shortly after I began the practice of accountancy, then also as legal adviser. As the years passed, I found myself becoming increasingly involved, at Mr. Armstrong's request — and his urging when I demurred — in the day-to-day operations of the Church.
The religious organization he brought into being had been growing by quantum leaps and Herbert Armstrong flattered me by insisting he needed my help and counsel. As millions around the world have discovered, Armstrong can urge very persuasively. So by mid-1975, I had become an officer and director and found myself in a full-time job of administration, having given up all my other business and professional activities. Twelve-hour days devoted to handling the Church's far-flung, diverse activities were routine, post-midnight telephone calls from all over the country and the world not uncommon.
In 1971, as my own involvement was increasing, a problem that was as sad as it was serious came into the open. Differences arose between Mr. Armstrong and his son, Garner Ted, who was then forty-one years old. Garner Ted, a handsome young man to whom one might apply that much-abused adjective, charismatic, had been associated with the Church in a high capacity and was conducting with considerable success a program called "The World Tomorrow" on about 400 radio and 100 television
Mr. Armstrong loved his son, and loves him still; but disagreements between them were basic. They involved theological and philosophical issues and there had also been questions concerning Garner Ted's personal conduct.
A series of internal arguments, some of which seeped out into the media, followed, culminating in the summer of 1978 when the — elder Armstrong, in a move that caused him great personal anguish, ordered the disfellowship, or excommunication, of his son. In his father's words, Garner Ted had used his authority "totally contrary to the way Christ had led me." Thus Garner Ted who some considered to be the anointed heir to the Church's leadership, was heir no longer, nor was he connected in any way with the Church.
During this unhappy time, King Lear's words came to me often: "Blow, blow, thou winter wind, 'Thou art not so unkind' as man's ingratitude.... For Garner Ted, having been removed from the Church began attacking it. One of his charges was that his father, then eighty-six, had become close to senile he was describing the elder Armstrong as a kind of Howard Hughes, ill, unable to care for himself — much less the complex affairs of the Church — and totally under the control of a Richelieu — like character named Stanley Rader. Rader and his group, Garner Ted was claiming, were deliberately hiding, his father in a secluded residence down in Tucson, telling him what to do and when to do it. All this, he said, had a sinister purpose: to place that same Stanley Rader in a position of strong authority so that, were the elder Armstrong to die, Rader would be able to move quickly into the seat of power and run the Church and all its work. That, in short, was Garner Ted's thesis. It was, of course, totally absurd.
First, Herbert W. Armstrong, far from being "senile" and thus incapable of thought and action, was a busy, active, and productive man. After recovering from a heart attack in early 1978 he traveled extensively, was writing no less than five books at one time, and had participated in several dozen television programs; hardly signs of mental deterioration! I talked with him daily; he was bursting with plans and ideas that he communicated to me at great length and with his usual force and cogency.
Second, the claim that some dark and devious plot was hatching in the recesses of my mind to assume control of the Church made no sense whatever. Although I was a Church member, my position with Mr. Armstrong was quite like that of a Catholic lawyer working in a community for the Catholic Church or some arm of it, but at the same time standing apart from the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Despite widespread speculation, fueled by Garner Ted, that I was Herbert Armstrong's "heir apparent," the Pastor General could no more name me as his successor than the spiritual ruler of the Roman Catholic Church could designate the next pope before he dies. A conclave of the College of Cardinals selects the person who will sit upon the throne of Saint Peter. In the Worldwide Church of God, it is God alone who chooses in His own way and in His own time.
Nevertheless, an untruth repeated often enough can convince some people. Garner Ted's arguments, vociferous and frequent, were creating a widening schism among our members. It had become increasingly clear that something had to be done to heal the rift, to prove that Ted Armstrong's accusation was baseless, and thus to remove an impediment to the continued flowering of the Church.
Thus, about three months earlier I had made a suggestion to Mr. Armstrong. I had asked to be relieved of my active, day — today administrative responsibilities and revert to the function I had years before. This was to act as his personal adviser on financial and legal matters, doing what long years of study and experience had equipped me to do.
My management duties would be limited to administering the Church-funded Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, whose activities include the renowned program of recitals and lectures at Ambassador Auditorium, one of the nation's leading centers for the performing arts. I was the proud creator of this and other cultural adjuncts of the Church, and I was eager to spend more time with them, helping them to grow and, by their flowering, to enhance even more the prestige of the Church. I would continue to act as Mr. Armstrong's personal assistant and adviser, particularly in the crucially important overseas projects, and also as legal counsel.
After months of intermittent discussion, Herbert Armstrong had finally agreed to the reorganization, I had telephoned him the day after I received his letter* to express my delight and appreciation. He suggested I make an official announcement of the change in my duties at a ministerial conference that was scheduled for January 15 in Pasadena.
* Four months later, that letter would resurface in a truncated, grossly disJorted form on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" program during an interview session — With, television reporter Mike Wallace. The full story of that episode, and the le the letter played, is discussed in chapter 13. That was why, with a new lightness of spirit, I went off that morning to play tennis instead of going directly to the office. It would be my first game in many months. I could not know it, but it would be some time before I could play again.
On my way to the courts, I passed close to the Hall of Administration. Later, I was to receive a moment-by-moment account of what was happening inside.
At precisely 8:30 A.M., Virginia Kineston, my executive secretary, arrived at her office, which is behind a wide glass pa Ion on the fourth floor, just outside mine. Virginia, a Texan by birth, enrolled in Ambassador College in 1965, where she met and subsequently married a fellow student, John Kineston. John now serves as my executive assistant. Minute's later, other young women, members of her staff who assist her with the complex secretarial functions of the Church and college, were also at their desks.
By 8:45, a steaming mug of coffee before her, she was settling down for her usually busy morning. A light flashed on the multiline call director at the left of her desk. Willis J. Bicket, head of the Church's accounting and data processing center was on the phone.
"Say," he asked Virginia, "what's going on up there?" He had just received a cryptic call from Ellis LaRavia, head of plant maintenance, whose office was down the corridor from the executive suite. Urgency in his voice, Ellis had asked Jack Bicket to come over to the hall at once. Jack's office was in the accounting and data processing building, a quarter of a mile away. "Something funny is going on," Ellis had told him. "There are people in the building here and it looks like they're trying to take over! " Ellis, customarily calm and self-contained, is not easily thrown off balance, but this time he sounded upset.
Virginia was amazed. What in the world was Jack talking about? Who was trying to take over what? She told him to remain where he was; she knew, of course, that the long, low structure where he was contained many of the Church's and the college's records — all duly and legally reported to the proper authorities — but certainly not open for seizure by persons who were barging in like SS troopers making a midnight raid in Nazi Germany.
Jack promised that no unauthorized persons would gain entry. Virginia went out the door and hurried down the corridor to Ellis's office, about fifty yards away. On the way back, half running, she glanced down the four-foot-high rail of the balcony. The Hall of Administration is a modern, airy structure consisting of an open central core or atrium reaching to the roof. This interior light well is surrounded by balconies running along all four sides, from which one can look down on the main floor. Ellis was there, a burly man at his side.
Virginia called out, her voice echoing through the atrium: "Ellis! Can I see you?" He arrived upstairs, clutching a sheaf of papers and looking agitated. "What does all this mean?" Virginia wanted to know. "What is happening?" Ellis stunned her by repeating what he had told Jack Bicket:
I've just been handed some documents from people who are trying to take over the church."
Throughout religious history, no church has ever been able to avoid internal strife. The Worldwide Church of God was not so naive as to think it could escape its share of dissent, for nothing engages man's deepest emotions so much as religious beliefs. Every schoolchild knows about the schism that developed within the Roman Catholic Church in the ninth century, which, two centuries later, resulted in the separation of the Greek Church from the Roman Communion. And of the great split that occurred in the late fourteenth century, healed forty years later at the Council of Constance; and, of course, of the Protestant Reformation that came about in the 1500s as a result of another division. Large religious bodies, those of lesser size, and those on far smaller scales have had — and probably always will have factional strife.
So we knew of and expected problems with some disgruntled former members. And they came. Some were motivated by sincere, deeply held beliefs, others impelled by less honorable reasons. All, however, were settled as the Church grew.
In recent years, we had known that a few dissenters had been dissatisfied with the way tithes and voluntary contributions, upon which our Church depends for its financial support, were being utilized to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in our Church. Trouble had been in the air, but few believed it was serious. We knew our house was in order, and we were fully confident of answering all questions satisfactorily and handling all problems.
Nobody expected the state of California to engineer a shocking and lawless takeover move to support the claims of a handful of former members. Nor one conducted with such a mind-boggling disregard of legal procedures and the civil rights of the individuals and the spiritual body against which it was directed.
Later I would learn that the invasion had been planned and conducted like a military coup d'etat, complete with armed officers instructed to "use all force necessary." The terrifying details were to come to light in the astonishing days and weeks that were to follow.
Suspecting that something highly unusual, if not evil, was about to erupt, Virginia dialed my home telephone. As she did so, she glanced at the glass door and saw two burly men walking down the corridor toward the executive office. My wife, Natalie ("Niki") answered the phone but Virginia now had no time for explanations. "Please ask Mr. Rader to call as soon as he arrives," she told Niki. "It's an emergency." At that moment I was on my way home to shower, dress, and come to the office.
Virginia stood in the doorway as one of the stranger's — in his middle-thirties, six feet tall, with dark wavy hair and a swarthy complexion — came up. Behind him was a black man, taller and heavier.
"What can I do for you?" Virginia asked quietly, though admitted later her heart was racing.
"I've come to take over," the first man said, thrusting a sheaf of papers at her.
"Who are you?" Virginia demanded.
For the first time, the man identified himself. "I'm Rafael Chodos," he said, "acting on behalf of Judge Steven Weisman. He's the receiver and he's now in charge." Chodos is a private attorney with offices in Beverly Hills. Weisman is a retired judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Virginia was not intimidated. "I don't know you from Adam," she said firmly. "And you're not coming in here to take over anything until I talk to the attorney for this Church and the college." She half expected the two men to force their way into the office but they remained outside the door.
The call director on her desk flashed. Virginia called to young Michelle Dean, one of her assistants, to guard the door while she answered. Feisty little Mickey Dean, barely five feet tall and well under 100 pounds, glared at the invaders and they glared back, but they did not move from the entrance. "Go get your camera," said the one called Chodos, "and take a picture of her, for our files in case we have to arrest her." Mickey would not be intimidated. "Take a picture if you want to," she told them, "but you're still not coming in."
I arrived at my home, which is about a half mile from the college, at 9:00 A.M. My wife met me at the door and told me to call Virginia. I could tell at once that Virginia was under considerable emotional stress but controlling herself.
She explained what was happening: "They're trying to take over."
"Who's trying to take over what?"
"They say they're receivers and that they're going to take possession. They're on the other side of the door." Less than a dozen feet from where she was calling, tiny Mickey was standing like Horatius at the Tiber Bridge, holding off the Etruscan army to Protect Rome.
Are they private people or state people?" I asked. She replied "That they seemed to be private lawyers. In that case," I told her, "call Security and have them thrown out.
Lock the door. And keep them out until we find out what this is all about."
That was all Virginia needed to hear. "Fine," she responded. "I'll do just that." And she did. At the door, she told the two men: "Our attorney says that until he has had time to study your papers, you are not allowed in this office." So saying, she shut the door in their faces and turned the bolt.
A moment later my phone rang again. Virginia reported that, for the time being at least, the office was secure.
We had to mobilize our defenses and there was not a moment to lose. I knew that Ralph K. Helge, counsel for the Church as well as a director and its secretary, was in Tucson on Church business. I asked Virginia to call him at once. She reached him by page at the airport, while she was telling him what was occurring, she looked up and saw a local policeman behind the locked door, banging on the glass with his billy club and demanding entrance. Helge said he'd be in Pasadena within the hour to confer with me at my home.
Not even a policeman threatening arrest could make Virginia or her staff of loyal secretaries buckle. "It's my job to protect this office," she told him through the glass. "You're not coming in!"
Meanwhile, I instructed Virginia to call all offices at the college. Every critical entrance and exit must be locked and guarded to prevent anyone from removing records until the papers flaunted by the invaders were studied to determine what they were and if they had been properly and constitutionally executed.
As an attorney, as an American, I have faith in the American, system of justice. If a clearly illegal act was being committed, I felt certain that, in the end, the law would prevail. In the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution such sacred precepts as due process of law, presumption of innocence, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are clearly set forth.
I began rounding up the Church's lawyers to state our case, called Morton Gerson, a young attorney who had acted in our behalf from time to time, and asked him to obtain the documents the invaders were using as excuse to "take over" the Church and college. He got them from Virginia and brought them to my home; we then drove at once to the office of Allan Browne of the law firm of Ervin, Cohen and Jessup, on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Allan, a classmate of mine at the University of Southern California Law School, is a brilliant attorney with whom the Church consults often on legal matters.
We began poring over the papers. Soon Ralph Helge joined us; en route from Tucson he had received a special message from us I which the pilot had delivered to him in midair. After reading the documents, their full meaning became only too plain.
The most dramatic — and the most perilous — confrontation between Church and State in the two centuries of American history had begun.