|Against the Gates of Hell
"I Am In Charge" On Thursday morning, January 4, the day after the break-in, department heads and employees learned for the first time the impact the receivership would have upon their Church and their lives. Summoned to a meeting, they arrived in twos and threes long before 9:30, the hour set for the meeting, and sat quietly, wondering and whispering among themselves about the turmoil that had suddenly erupted in their midst.
The buzzing ceased abruptly when Rafael Chodos* mounted the rostrum and, leaning upon a lectern, introduced himself. He stated that a receiver had been appointed and spelled out for them what that meant. "The law," he said, "is that the receiver owns all the property, assets, and the records of the Worldwide Church of God, Inc., Ambassador College, Inc., and Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, Inc. He is in possession of them. The law gives him the right to do with them as he sees fit for the purpose of preserving them, counting them, and reporting back to the Superior Court of the state of California.
"This order was issued the day before yesterday. He came out here yesterday morning to enforce the order. Some people cooperated with us, some people obstructed us. Until the order is removed, and I'll say unless or until the order is removed, it is in valid force and effect. It is a valid court order, and anybody who defies the order is in contempt of court and upon application of Judge Weisman for citation for contempt can be put in jail for his contempt."
* One of the receiver's first acts was to name Hillel and Rafael Chodos and their associate Hugh Gibson, all three of whom were attorneys for the petitioners, as deputy receivers. Involuntary gasps arose from his audience.
Chodos, admitting that "we know zero, except the bad part, about this organization," warned staff members to cooperate with the receiver and his aides. "We're going to need their cooperation, we're going to need their information. We need it and we intend to get it."
He asked them all to hold themselves available for a summons to another meeting that day. "We can call you again to this meet — introduce you to Judge Weisman, the receiver, who is your boss now, who has the power to hire and fire, to dispose of all Church property — I want to emphasize this — as he sees fit in his judgment.
"Some people have not appreciated the extent of the receiver's power. He owns everything. It is his property now (My emphasis.)
Silently, everyone filed out.
One must pause for a moment and reflect. The receiver, a man who had "zero" knowledge of the Church and its wide-ranging work, now had the authority, backed by the state of California, to operate it and do with it what he wished, even to dispose of any or all of its holdings. The mind reels.
Three hours later, each called by telephone, they gathered again in the auditorium. Promptly at 12:30 P.m., Judge Weisman came down the aisle and mounted the stage. A polio victim since childhood, he walked slowly, aided by a cane. He attempted to smile, but what emerged was a sneer.
"Good afternoon," he began. "I'm a retired Superior Court judge and have been appointed receiver in this proceeding instituted by the attorney general..." He was less than five minutes into his remarks when he made his intentions clear. After saying that he wanted to settle matters and "get out of here," he added:
"Now, keep this in mind, too. That when the judge appointed me the receiver, I am in charge [my italics]. I, for all practical purposes, are [sic] in charge of the financial operations of the organization — of all the organizations. The bank accounts have to be changed, and the checks will go out under my signature. So, I think even if you don't like me, or even if you do, let your pocketbooks speak, because you ain't getting a red cent until I sign them."
Judge Weisman had another surprise for the Church officials.
Beside him on the podium stood a Church official named Wayne C. Cole, who held the important post of director of pastoral administration. Judge Weisman introduced him as the acting chief executive officer. Responding, Cole expressed his gratitude to Weisman and assured him of "one hundred percent total cooperation."
So we now had a receiver and a new executive officer.
How did this new development come about? Why was the head of pastoral administration standing up there at the side of the man who had proclaimed himself "in charge?"
The Putsch That Failed A conspiracy, brewing for a long time, had come to a head. With dangerous fire ringing us from without we now had to combat fire from within.
On Wednesday, after the receiver had gained entrance to the Church's headquarters, Cole, three ministers, and a layman had flown to Tucson to see Mr. Armstrong. Later, the Pastor General, who was in bed with a high fever, told me they called him after landing and, for some unfathomable reason, asked him to meet them at a motel. He refused but finally agreed to receive the visitors at his home.
For months they had been plotting to relegate Mr. Armstrong to the sidelines — to an honorary but powerless position. They were determined to "liberalize" doctrines of the Church and to keep the Church out of college activities.
To accomplish this, they knew it would be essential to remove me from Mr. Armstrong's side. I had always been his strong "right arm."
Together, Mr. Armstrong and I had crushed every rebellion. First, several rebellions were mounted by various ministers against Ted Armstrong. He was found to be unfit for the ministry by criteria set forth in I Timothy, but Mr. Armstrong felt that the Work would suffer more at that time by the disfellowshipment of his son. Consequently, it was deemed in the best interest of the Church that the rebellions be crushed and his son, at least for the moment, salvaged.
Later, when his son turned on him, Mr. Armstrong again relied heavily on me to support his efforts to clean up the Church of the unsavory and ungodly elements.
Oddly enough, as I have revealed earlier, I had planned to step out of my executive positions on or about January 15, 1979. However, Wayne Cole and his associates were impatient.
They had learned that several former Church members in New Jersey had consulted with an attorney at the instigation of Ted Armstrong and his son Mark, an Ambassador College dropout. They were acting as cat's — paws in an action designed to bring Ted Armstrong back into the Church.
Subsequently, Cole, Robert Kuhn, and one Jack Martin had consulted with the 'same attorney. In turn, the attorney had referred the matter to Hillel Chodos — the obese Beverly Hills lawyer.
From November on, Chodos, Cole, and his fellow conspirators were biding their time. Their vigil ended when the Honorable Jerry Pacht took the bench in the Department of Writs and Receivers in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The action could not actually begin until January 2, 1979 because prior to that date Judge Pacht was holding court elsewhere.
Having raced to Mr. Armstrong's side, as mentioned above, Cole explained what was happening in Pasadena — facts Mr. Armstrong had already heard from me. But Cole put the invasion in a different light. He told Mr. Armstrong that the attorney general had come in simply for an audit, to conduct an examination of Church finances, and investigate charges that improprieties had been committed by the Church administration. Some individual was needed, Cole explained, to act as liaison between the Church and representatives of the attorney general.
In his recital, Cole omitted one crucial nugget of information — that a receiver had already been named by the court, that he was already inside our headquarters, and that he was even then lifting an axe to depose anyone he pleased.
Mr. Armstrong, who knew all about Judge Weisman, was not fooled: why hadn't they mentioned him? Nonetheless, anxious to buy some time and let out more rope, and to tell the world that the Church's financial health was excellent, he told Cole: "We will cooperate fully with the attorney general, giving him all the help he needs." He rose from bed, sat at his typewriter and tapped out a press release. It read:
I have been shocked beyond measure to learn of the raid on our executive offices in Pasadena this morning initiated from the State of California attorney general's office. I know little of the facts as yet. The Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador College are both upstanding institutions, and we are people of integrity. If any improprieties have existed in either institution, I want them to be known, and I shall make every effort to cooperate with the attorney general's office. We are an institution of 46 years' standing. We have many departments and branch offices around the world. We employ many hundreds. I have, of necessity, had to entrust responsibilities to various officers under me. I am appointing Mr. C. Wayne Cole as acting chief executive officer under me until this crisis has passed. Mr. Cole is director of Pastoral Administration over our ministry worldwide.
It is important to note that second sentence in Armstrong's statement — that he knew "little of the facts as yet." None of us knew very much at that point. While I had kept him informed all through that long evening, my own information was still sketchy and, with the other attorneys, I was working hard to learn more.
Armed with that press release, Wayne Cole returned to Pasadena and was introduced by Judge Weisman shortly after noon Thursday in Ambassador Auditorium as the acting — operating officer of the Church to serve under him.
While Cole, the receiver and the others were digging in at the Hall of Administration, the other lawyers and I were marshaling evidence that a receiver was not only unneeded and unwanted but an illegal intrusion.
Steven Weisman, we knew, had only a temporary grip on the Church. Judge Pacht's order had stipulated that a hearing must be held on whether the receiver should remain in place pending a trial. Our initial task, then, was to convince a court to reverse the original order putting him there.
We had applied to Superior Court Judge Vernon Foster for an order dissolving the receivership and a session had been scheduled in Department 86 for late Thursday afternoon. When we ARRIVED, the judge found himself unable to break away from an ongoing case, so the matter was postponed until the next after noon.
We were disappointed because we wanted the receivership lifted as quickly as possible; however, the delay turned out to be fortuitous because by that time Mr. Armstrong had had a chance to make a careful review of the situation as it existed to that point.
By Thursday evening, the Pastor General had a firm grasp of the situation. He now understood why Wayne Cole and his supporters had raced down to see him — that their move was nothing less than a Quisling — like attempt to collaborate with the receiver and take over control of the Church that he, as Christ's instrument, had built with such love, dedication and, above all else, guidance from the Lord.
He telephoned me from Tucson and, a touch of anger in his usually quiet tones, said to me:
"Now that I know all the facts I am reversing my decision naming Wayne Cole the acting chief executive officer. I compel you, Ralph Helge, and all loyal Church members to do everything in your power to protect the Church."
His stress on the words "loyal Church members" was not lost on me.
What, specifically, had Mr. Armstrong discovered?
When Wayne Cole learned that I and the other attorneys were working around the clock mobilizing the legal armamentariun, to reclaim the Church and disprove all charges, he called Mr. Armstrong and asked him to halt our efforts. Mr. Armstrong, said Cole, must permit Hillel Chodos to represent the Church Chodos, the lawyer who was pressing the case for the six dissidents.
It is difficult to use restrained language in characterizing that incredible request. Cole was actually asking the Pastor General to allow the same attorney to represent both the plaintiffs and the defendant in the same lawsuit! It would be literally placing a fox (albeit a strangely obese fox) in the chicken coop.
Moreover, the fact that Wayne Cole was cooperating with the receiver — not the attorney general, as he had been instructed — was most upsetting to Mr. Armstrong. The attorney general was investigating allegations of impropriety; helping him clear the air was not only agreeable to Mr. Armstrong but imperative. But the receiver was another matter entirely. Judge Weisman had grasped the reins of the Church tightly, having declared himself in complete charge of everything. Wayne Cole had stood on the platform beside Judge Weisman at that morning meeting on January 4 and, according to a notarized transcript by a registered professional reporter, assured the receiver of "total cooperation." When one Church official inquired as to the legality of Mr. Cole's role, Weisman replied that "whether or not Mr. Armstrong has the authority, I have delegated him as the chief executive officer." In blunt words, Wayne Cole was the chosen one designated by the receiver, to work under him as chief operating officer.
Cole and his small group of supporters apparently believed that the state was firmly entrenched in the Church and would not be dislodged for years, perhaps long after Mr. Armstrong had passed into history. Then Cole, as acting chief executive officer and a minister as well, would easily and smoothly slide into full control It did not work out that way. Mr. Armstrong had seen through the stratagem. He told me he would sign an affidavit reversing his decision of the day before and reconfirming the authority of the incumbent administration, including that of Stanley Rader. Wayne Cole, said Mr. Armstrong, would be replaced as director of pastoral administration by Roderick C. Meredith.
The affidavit was signed, notarized, and brought back. On Friday before an overflowing throng of more than two thousand Church officials and members in the auditorium, Roderick Meredith read it.
When Wayne Cole heard that the Pastor General was removing him from leadership because he "had not presented all the facts to me," he began pushing his way toward the stage. His path was blocked by loyal members and he backed away.
By this time, our agony was big news. Wherever we went we had to wade through media people who thrust microphones into our faces. Later that Friday afternoon, when we appeared before Judge Vernon Foster in Los Angeles, the courtroom, which can accommodate about 100 persons, bulged with humanity. Church members, curious spectators, and the ubiquitous press filled every inch of space, standing in the aisles, craning their necks to peer in from the open doors.
A five-hour session followed. We asked for an order dissolving the receivership which Judge Foster refused to grant. But we won an important victory nonetheless. Judge Foster ruled that the attorney general's men should suspend their investigation until a full-scale hearing could be held on the complex matter. Allan Browne argued forcefully that the putsch had created a financial crisis for the Church.
"Checks are bouncing like crazy," he told Judge Foster; this was the result of the temporary restraining order placed on the Church's financial transactions. "If these checks continue to go bouncing along, this Church is going to be ruined."
Judge Foster, accepting the wisdom of Browne's arguments, thereupon sharply curtailed the receiver's powers, limiting his duties to making certain that all monetary receipts were deposited in the Church's accounts, and that outstanding debts were paid.
For all practical purposes, Judge Weisman was cut down to the role of a custodian. He was no longer the "boss" — not, at least, until a court would hear both sides fully on the following Wednesday.
As for Wayne Cole, the Los A Angeles Times, reporting that he "seemed shaken by the auditorium confrontation," said he met afterward with twenty ministers and area coordinators and told them he had doubts about continuing his fight. Cole, the Times wrote, said he might "just walk quietly out of here (the Church's headquarters) and you may never see me again." A few days later, Cole was disfellowshipped, along with three other high-ranking ministers who supported him. One was David Antion, a brother-in-law of Garner Ted Armstrong.
The head of the conspiracy was cut off. There would be no more collusion between the dissidents and collaborators from within the Church. It was a significant victory.
But court battles. still lay ahead.
0 Absalom! The chasm that developed between Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted is one of the most grievous aspects of this entire confrontation.
Since 1963 Garner Ted had appeared on radio, television, and other public platforms as the voice of the Worldwide Church of God. He had been executive vice-president of the Church, president of Ambassador College and executive editor of The Plain Truth and Tomorrow's World. Herbert Armstrong had hoped his son would follow him as head of the Church if it became necessary for him to step down, or when he was summoned by God.
But by 1978 Mr. Armstrong had learned that Garner Ted could never be helpful because the son had turned his back on God. That year a deeply distressed Herbert Armstrong was forced to banish his son.
I did not want to have to put him out," the anguished father repeated several times in a bulletin to Church members. But Garner Ted had been an instigator of the plot to destroy the church; he had sought to demean his father and those close to him in an attempt to usurp authority — an authority given Mr. Armstrong not by man, not by any group of men, certainly not by the attorney general, but by God.
A startling parallel to the Garner Ted — Herbert Armstrong 'tragedy — no softer word will do — can be found in the biblical story of King David and his son Absalom. Coveting the king's power, Absalom fomented a rebellion that quickly ended in failure. Few passages in the Bible are more poignant than the grief of David as he mourned the son who had proven faithless but whom he loved still. Told that Absalom had been killed along with all those who had risen against him, David wept: "0 my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, 0 Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33.)
The Biblical message is clear: No one has ever succeeded in removing a man from a position in which God has placed him until God Himself was ready to act. For his actions, the father had to send the son away. He loved his son when he banished him from the Church and the love will never cease.
Coming events cast their shadows before. Many years earlier, father and son had clashed over a theological matter. In 1956, a disagreement erupted while they were discussing a biblical passage in Paris. The specific point is irrelevant; what matters is that Garner Ted stubbornly insisted that his view was correct while Mr. Armstrong patiently attempted to convince him of his error. But Ted would not yield. He became hostile and antagonistic, speaking angrily to his father. Mr. Armstrong went to his room, kneeled and prayed to the Lord to make his son repent. Then, more deeply upset than he had been in years, he walked the quiet streets of the city trying to puzzle out a solution to what he called "one of the most serious and crucial" crises to strike the Work.
Hours later, there was a soft knock at the door of Mr. Armstrong's hotel room. Ted stood outside, his eyes wet with tears. He admitted he had been wrong, and asked forgiveness. The elder Armstrong, who above all else wanted his son beside him, working and praying with him and helping to spread the message of the Gospel, forgave at once.
Ted was given the opportunity to work on radio and television. But despite a virtually captive audience turned over to him by his father, audience ratings over the years showed that he was stumbling badly. Although the Church spent between $40 and $50 million for his broadcasts, other religious broadcasters were drawing greater numbers of listeners and viewers.
The reason is simple. God will not permit anyone to prosper if he is not totally with God. If he is merely pretending to do God's work and to be something he is not, he is doomed to fail.
From 1966 through 1970, rumors concerning misconduct on the part of Garner Ted, coupled with his failure to tend to his duties as a minister and a broadcaster, grew in number and volume. Matters got worse instead of better. After the turn of the decade, the "Garner Ted problem," as it had become known, began to occupy much of the time, energy, and talent of the Church leadership. Inevitably, too, the members were also affected because Ted was, after all, considered the person responsible for the day-to-day activities of the Work. Furthermore, as the "voice" of the Church on radio and television broadcasts, Garner Ted's profile among members was high.
All during these years, Herbert Armstrong, understandably trying to shield his son, was giving him the benefit of every doubt. Three times he banished his son for transgressions, only to forgive him when Ted pleaded to be allowed to return.
Garner Ted was sent away for the first time in the summer of 1971. "When I knew of my son's sins," the elder Armstrong said later, "I privately put him out of the Church. I told him he had to leave Pasadena, and go to a place away, not attend Church services... I hoped that he would repent, so I did not tell the Church membership."
Ted went to El Paso, Texas, but just before the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall, he telephoned his father, professing complete repentance. Convinced of his sincerity, Mr. Armstrong summoned his son home for a tearful reunion.
But "temporary remorse, with tears, is not necessarily remorse a sorrowing father was to discover. Garner Ted's continued misconduct led to his second disfellowship, again privately. This time Ted left for Colorado. After a few months, he wrote to his father and again pleaded for forgiveness. A gentle and generous father recalled him.
The misconduct did not cease. In February 1972, Mr. Armstrong was forced to disfellowship Ted a third time, but this time with the knowledge of all evangelist-rank ministers at Pasadena. The action, too, became known publicly. Time magazine asked "Garner Ted, Where Are You?"; other newspapers wrote similarly sensational stories. Herbert Armstrong was besieged by newspersons for an explanation. To a Time reporter, he said: "Look up I Timothy, Chapter three, first five or six verses and Titus, Chapter one, verse 6. Time wrote: "Both passages make two points in common: that a bishop or church elder must be faithful to his wife and rule strictly over believing children." To the magazine's request for a more detailed explanation, Mr. Armstrong replied: "The fault was spiritual, not moral."
Mr. Armstrong later told the entire membership that "personal and emotional" problems made it impossible for Ted to carry on his duties as a minister and an executive and that he was being relieved of them until he achieved stability again.
By June that year, Mr. Armstrong felt Ted had "truly repented" Accompanied by several of the ministers, we flew to Colorado to see him. "He put on a good show for us — all were convinced he had repented and we asked him to come back on the job," Armstrong told the membership. Then, as later, all of us were trying to protect Ted Armstrong and his reputation, in order to help him and the Church, covering his sins with Christian love. He was permitted to resume his Church activities and Herbert Armstrong hoped we would now see what he called the real fruits.
But the fruits were bitter harvest.
When Mr. Armstrong suffered a severe heart attack in August 1977, Garner Ted attempted to seize control. "My son assumed authority beyond that delegated to him," the father charged in a letter to the membership in 1978. "Under him, God's Church, the Work and the College had been turned around until it was actually scarcely God's Church any more. Everything was run as a strictly secular and worldly organization."
In April 1978, recovered from his illness, Mr. Armstrong once again resumed leadership of the Church and acted swiftly and decisively. He reversed a decision to move Ambassador College to Big Sandy, Texas, and Ted's appointment of Big Sandy dean, Donald Ward, to replace him (Ted) as Ambassador's president. He took away Garner Ted's executive title and powers, canceled the television show, and announced that Ambassador College would become a training center for ministers.
Accusing Ted of emphasizing secularism at the expense of theology, he wrote to him: "You are defying and fighting against
Jesus Christ, whose chosen servant I am. Ted was ordered to take a leave of absence for the remainder of the year and instructed not to contact the press. However, when Los Angeles Times reporter Bert Mann tracked young Armstrong to a Church camp in Minnesota, Garner Ted told him the Worldwide Church of God was "shot through with fear," and in financial distress because of what he termed lavish spending.
It was the final straw. Garner Ted had now demonstrated his rebellion publicly. He had damaged the Church, his father and the Living God. Furthermore, neither members, ministers, nor employees could reconcile his conduct with the doctrines of the Church as promulgated to the unconverted. and as taught and retaught in congregation by congregation around the world. Morale of the Work was in a sharp decline, and members were leaving. Church attendance, baptisms, the number of prospective members — all were down. Mr. Armstrong finally became convinced that as long as Garner Ted Armstrong was in his position of responsibility and authority, the Work would continue in its tailspin.
The string had run out. Every hope the father had was finally extinguished. In June 1978, with the backing of leading ministers and executives, Armstrong disfellowshipped his son for the fourth and final time, and began to turn the Work around. He has not stopped since.
I know that, like King David, Herbert Armstrong has wept alone and cried out for "Absalom, my son, my son!" But his Absalom had left him with no other choice. He had to be a spiritual father to members of his Church, and that sacred trust had to be placed above the ties of flesh and blood.
As I write this, Garner Ted has formed a church of his own in Tyler, Texas, called the Church of God International. I can only repeat here the warning which the Pastor General has issued to members of the Worldwide Church of God: "The Garner Ted Armstrong Church has now started a campaign to draw away both whatever sheep and shepherds he can entice to follow him — to follow a man instead of the Living God."
This man, banished by his father from the Church in which he grew up, for "personal and emotional problems," now casts himself in the role of a religious leader.
On that note, we will charitably draw the curtain.