(This is Part Three, the final entry, of a series of blog entries. Please go back and read Part One, “He Didn’t Bring Us This Far,” and Part Two, “Preach it, Bro!” if you have not yet done so. They contain the full “backstory” of the events described in this entry, which won’t make as much sense without it.)
In the first two entries in this series, I shared the story of two life-changing messages I internalized in 1979 at a religious convention from a singer/speaker we are referring to in this series as Bro James. In brief summary:
My family and I had for ten years been a zealous, active part of a Church founded by a man who claimed for himself and his organization an almost “messianic” role in history. It was, he eventually insisted, the “Only True Church on Earth” in modern times. And its primary purpose was to spread an announcement that the Messiah, Jesus, was coming back in a few short years to miraculously set up his Millennial Kingdom on Earth, after a coming horrible time of “Tribulation” throughout the world. Those involved supporting this man in spreading this announcement and “preparing the way” for Jesus…especially through sacrificial financial giving to all of his projects…would have special, powerful “leadership” roles in that Kingdom, and special blessings on their lives now.
But involvement in this Worldwide Church of God required unquestioning obedience to its founder and Pastor General, Herbert W Armstrong. Those who began questioning his leadership, teachings (many of which were very idiosyncratic and contrary to “standard Protestant doctrine”), and practices in any way were subject to being cast out of the organization (being disfellowshipped). And all other loyal members were to shun such traitors totally.
Since the mid-1950s, the “heir apparent” to Armstrong’s role at the top of this Church as Pastor General was his son, Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA). By the late 1960s the son had taken over the primary role as spokesman for the Church, heard daily across the United States and around the world on the Church’s TV and radio program, The World Tomorrow. And he was “second in command” of all other aspects of the organization, including the publication of its Plain Truth Magazine (that had a circulation of 2 million by the time we joined), and its three Ambassador College campuses, that trained minsters for the Church.
But in early 1978 the church membership was shocked when the elder Armstrong unexpectedly removed his son from all Church responsibilities, and within weeks had cast him out of the organization, with no logical explanation for this turn of events. As a result of investigating what was going on behind the scenes, and daring to share our concerns with anyone else in the Church, my family and I were also cast out of the organization.
Garner Ted Armstrong quickly organized his own small group that he dubbed the Church of God, International, and solicited supporters to start his own media outreach, which continued much the same message as his father had promoted. Although slightly less bombastic about his own role than his father had been, it eventually became clear that he considered himself to have taken on the mantle of a “messianic role”–not as “the Messiah” himself, but as “God’s Main Mouthpiece on Earth” to prepare for that Messiah’s Second Coming.
My family and I were among a group of a few hundred who had gathered around GTA’s efforts by Fall 1979, and attended a convention hosted by the CGI organization in Jekyll Island, GA. That’s where I heard Bro James’ beautiful rendition of a Gospel song with the main theme of a reassurance by God that “I didn’t bring you this far to leave you.” I needed to hear that very much at the time…we’d spent ten years of our lives wanting to serve God, thinking all of our zealous efforts in the organization were pleasing to Him. It was tempting, after being cast off like an old shoe and totally shunned by all the people you thought were “family” for a decade, to wonder if God still cared for you! So it seemed like the words of the song were speaking directly to me, and gave me hope for the future. And over the coming years, in other situations which were painful, the words came back to me to reaffirm that reassurance.
At that same convention, Bro James also delivered a profound sermon message. He reminded the audience that Pilate had brought Jesus before a huge crowd of people and asked what he should do with Him. And the whole crowd roared, “Crucify him!” Yet within that crowd there must have been many people who had previously been blessed by his ministry, had heard his profound words such as at the Sermon on the Mount, and perhaps even some He had healed. But no one “bucked the crowd” and tried to intervene. This was no doubt out of fear that the crowd might turn on them also!
As Bro James said, in spite of the danger, “Somebody ought to have said something…” And the obvious implication was that in modern times, also, when evil is called good, when the “majority” (in any situation, from a church congregation to a nation…) is supporting ungodly values, Somebody Ought to Say Something…no matter the cost.
That day it reaffirmed to me that I had done the right thing by finally standing up for truth even at the risk of almost everything that was important to my daily life…relationships, fellowship, respect for my opinion, feeling “part of something bigger than myself” and much more. No matter what that cost ended up being, it was the right thing to Say Something.
And from that day forward, that became one of my guiding “mantras.” I refused ever again to sit idly by and allow evil to go unchallenged when by Saying Something I might be able to at least open the eyes of a few to join in resistance to that evil.
It stuck with me a decade later when I found that I had been mistaken about the character of Garner Ted Armstrong, and had to face the fact I was, once again, supporting not a “great work of God,” but the delusions of an incredibly carnal man. I chose once again to Say Something, to speak truth into the situation…and again it lost me most of my relationships and fellowship. But I knew, without a doubt, that it was what I had to do, no matter the cost.
By 1995, both the Worldwide Church of God and the Church of God, International ended up in such turmoil that they disintegrated into hundreds of pieces, split into rival factions that spent much of their time just biting and devouring one another. Garner Ted Armstrong was caught that year in a sex scandal that made the national news, and eventually caused his own organization to push him out. Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, and by 1995 his “successor” had succeeded in driving out tens of thousands of members from the organization through even more “behind the scenes” machinations.
By that time, we had lost almost all contact with any old friends from any branch of the former “WCG world” and had carved out a new life for ourselves. But once I got on the Internet in 1996, I found myself soon back in contact with a wide variety of people across the land from my past thought Internet forums, some I hadn’t heard from in over a decade, some not in almost two decades. Virtually all of the people who had shunned us for “leaving” the church organizations long ago—had now found themselves in the same exact situation, no longer believing the messianic claims of the Armstrongs.
Many still clung onto many of the doctrinal beliefs that had been taught in the WCG, so were unable to just “undo” their years in the WCG and go back to a former Baptist or Methodist church. Some were involved in the many “splinter” groups that had formed, many were just meeting nowadays with a handful of old church friends in their living room for weekly fellowship. Others had abandoned all their former beliefs and had been absorbed back into standard Protestant circles.
For the next 15 years, I kept in contact through the Internet with many of these people because of our common roots. My family never became involved with any more corporate church groups related to our past, nor committed to regular involvement with any local “independent fellowship” groups from that circle. But we did freely and widely visit with such folks on occasion throughout the country. And I regularly participated in discussion forums online with many of them.
But through it all, I always perpetually remembered from Bro James’ song that I hadn’t been abandoned by God… He didn’t bring me this far to let me down now. And I also remembered the mantra I’d learned from Bro James…it is wrong to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to situations in which innocent people’s lives are being put in turmoil and endangered and simple truth is being twisted for evil purposes, or even exchanged totally for lies. Because whenever that is going on, Somebody Ought to Say Something.
Which brings me forward to the recent past…and the present.
In about 2008 I began noticing an odd phenomenon among the many scattered people and small groups with roots in the WCG that I had contact with. As you may remember from the first entry in this series, the WCG had some very strong and a-typical teachings and practices. Since “our citizenship is in heaven,” members did not get involved in partisan politics in their home countries. Which included not voting in national elections.
A fairly strict form of “pacifism” was practiced. Young men were admonished to apply for conscientious objector status and not become involved in any way with the military. (My husband performed two years of “alternate service” in the local community during the Viet Nam war era.) Even in personal situations of threat to safety of self or loved ones, “deadly force” was never to be considered an option. Guns were acceptable for purposes of hunting or target shooting, but members would not keep weapons at home or on their persons to be used for self-defense.
Although one was expected to be a “good citizen” of one’s country, and obey the laws, overt expressions of partisan “patriotism” were avoided, since again we were waiting for a soon-coming Kingdom with Jesus at its head. Because the type of standard Christianity observed in America did not line up with many, many of the church’s teachings (worship was to be on Saturday, not Sunday; traditional holidays such as Christmas and Easter were believed to have “pagan roots” and to be avoided; and much more…) there was no notion that the Founding Fathers had established this as a Christian nation. In fact, part of the reason that there would be a coming Tribulation on the land before the return of Christ was the failure of the nation to adhere to what the WCG believed to be true biblical commandments.
Most of the people I knew in 2008 with a WCG background still held to many WCG practices, including worship on Saturday and avoiding Christmas and Easter. But around the edges, some things were changing quite drastically. I discovered that it had become typical for many of these people to have “done a 180” on the topic of weapons and self-defense…now many were armed to the teeth, “packed heat” at their church services, and were involved actively in the NRA and “second amendment” issues.
All notions of avoiding partisan politics were tossed to the winds, and many were adopting a decidedly right wing Republican worldview which guided their enthusiastic involvement in elections. Although they had abandoned “following a man” in their “religious life,” rejecting the bombastic and dogmatic claims of the Armstrongs, not wanting “someone to tell them what to think,” many had evidently missed that in their lives, and started “following after” bombastic, dogmatic right wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Many had become addicted to watching Fox News on cable, and running off after every new political conspiracy rumor tumbling into their email inbox and Facebook page—no matter how often such rumors were absolutely proven, by careful documentation and research, to be baseless.
And many had begun jumping on board “super patriot” type movements that promoted an American history narrative that ignored or whitewashed any “unpleasantness” in US history, from slavery to the treatment of the Indians to the horrible abuses of unfettered capitalism in the days of the Robber Barons and more. In this world America could do no wrong, had always “worn the white hat” in every interaction with other countries and towards all of its citizens, and the Founding Fathers were almost all presented as “devout Christians” who intended to establish close to a theocracy under Christian leadership in the country.
According to this world view, God’s blessings (primarily evidenced by prosperity of the middle class and a high GDP, along with tremendous military might) had been poured out on the land because it had always lived by Christian principles. But now, because of issues like Gay Marriage, God was about to withdraw His blessings. Thus it was necessary for those who understood this to “take back control.”
I stood back in amazement to see the notion of the value of having Christian concern for “social justice” or “caring for the poor” or “welcoming the stranger”—or treasuring, caring for, and nurturing the environment and all of God’s Creation including plants and animals and people… and water and air and soil—biblical values emphasized throughout the Bible…were almost totally ignored.
It became difficult to keep in contact with many old friends, as they were so adamant about their newfound zeal for their form of “patriotism,” and their newfound champions, like Rush, that it was difficult to avoid contentious topics. But I tried. I really tried. I understood that these things met some deep-seated needs they had, and they were thus impervious to calm discussion based on logic and reason and documented facts. So I tried to focus on neutral topics in conversations.
Things went on for several years like this. And then came 2015 and the run-up to the 2016 national election. And it became impossible to find any common ground in discussions…especially once it became obvious that many of these people actually embraced Donald Trump as a near-messianic figure, sent by God to rescue the nation. In some circles it has even become common to compare him to various biblical heroes. My former WCG friends had joined the vast mass of regular Evangelical Christianity (which most had mocked at one time as being “nominal Christians” because they didn’t understand Saturday was the biblical Sabbath…) that was jumping on the Trump bandwagon.
For most of my life I have had little interest in political campaigns. I realized that it almost didn’t make any difference whether a Democrat or a Republican would win the presidency…the “system” of American government is so complex and convoluted after 250 years that it would chug along in cycles no matter what. If all my former friends would have been all excited about a typical Republican candidate such as Marco Rubio or John Kasich this year, I wouldn’t have shared their excitement, but I would feel no urge to try to change their minds. I had no particular interest in Hillary Clinton, realizing that, as many have put it, she was a “deeply flawed candidate” with all sorts of strikes against her from her past. She was just one more politician in a long line of politicians on both sides of the aisle in the government.
Yes, if we had just had an election pitting Hillary Clinton against Marco Rubio, I would have mostly ignored the election cycle, and not had any serious concerns about the political rants of my former WCG friends. I would have felt no compunction that Somebody Ought to Say Something, and would have focused on my Facebook page on posting the latest, cutest pics of sloths and hedgehogs and kittens and puppies.
And then came January 23, 2016
At a campaign stop in Iowa on Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he could shoot someone in public and still not lose any voters.
“They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” he said. “It’s like incredible.”
Trump said his supporters were smart and loyal, citing his strong poll numbers and criticizing his opponents as “soft” during the stop in Sioux Center, Iowa, according to reports by multiple outlets.
After leaving the event, Trump wrote on Twitter that the speech went well. “Just left Sioux Center, Iowa. My speech was very well received. Truly great people! Packed house- overflow!” he said. [Source]
I froze in my chair as I watched him utter those words, and pull his “air gun” out of his pocket and point and shoot it, as you see in this screen capture from the event. Up until that point, I had been under the misimpression that Donald Trump was just a cheesy TV celebrity who was playing games, making a bumbling run for the presidency that would end with him losing—but with lots of free publicity that he could spin out into some new TV reality series or the like.
But his words that day changed the game. Those were not the words of just a blowhard fellow with a big ego. He wasn’t just bragging about how big his hotels…or his hands…were. He wasn’t just gloating at how famous he was because he’d been on TV shows, and run a Miss Universe and Wrestlemania contests.
No, his words this time weren’t just personal boasting.
Those were the words of a psychopath. Praising that level of blind loyalty…and even calling it “smart”!…is the product of a twisted mind. What was even sicker was the cheering and applause of the audience at his words. No, those were NOT “great people.” Those were utterly deluded people.
At that point I realized that it was time.
SOMEBODY OUGHT TO SAY SOMETHING. NO MATTER THE COST.
I’m only one small person in one corner of the Internet, with a few blogs and websites and a Facebook page. I don’t have a ready-made audience of millions to pay attention to my every burp and tweet, like Donald Trump. Nor do I have the power or influence to change the reality that he is President-Elect of the United States, about to become the most powerful man on Earth.
The only thing I have is the power of truth on my side. Truth about what he has said and done and plans to do, and where history warns us such a man can take a whole nation of people—down VERY dark paths. Truth that many people are ignoring, or disinterested in, or don’t have the time to pursue…or are temporarily too blinded to face even with the documented evidence right at the end of their noses. Many read scattered news stories about it all, but seem unable, for some reason, to “connect the dots” and see the bigger picture… a picture that should be terrifying to anyone with common sense—and a sense of history…that emerges when you do so.
All I can do is share, with whoever may listen, the documentation—not obscure rumors spread by “fake news” sources, but actual documentation of the man’s own words and deeds—and explain how I see the dots connecting. I have no control on who may come across the things I share. My role is to just share them, and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps a few will pay attention, and come to their own conclusions…and thereby be able to better prepare to respond to the bone-chilling challenges that our country may be facing. Perhaps more than a few may come across what I share. Perhaps many may. The potential size of the audience doesn’t change what needs to be said at all.
SOMEBODY OUGHT TO SAY SOMETHING. NO MATTER THE COST.
I know that actually many others are “saying something” now, and the voices get louder every day. Many of them in the media with much larger audiences than mine. But no one person can reach everyone. My voice may be the only one some people hear. So I want them to hear a clear voice.
Because Donald Trump clearly said THIS on May 16, 2016, when speaking to a crowd in Bismarck, North Dakota, after the state gave him the final votes needed to win the Republican Primary.
“Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing,” Trump said.
I will give you everything.
I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years.
I’m the only one.”
Those are Messianic Claims. He is claiming to be the only “Savior” of America.
This man is NOT a messiah, nor the representative of one.
On that day in North Dakota…
As he offered his closing argument to the crowd rising to its feet, whistling and whooping loudly inside the Bismarck Events Center, he continued to emphasize himself as something altogether different from what Clinton, the Democrats and even the other Republicans in his party are offering. His supporters heard a champion, a leader they trust, while detractors heard the words of a dangerous demagogue.
I am one of the latter. And thus I am totally convinced…
SOMEBODY MUST SAY SOMETHING. NO MATTER THE COST.
I am one of those somebodies. I will be saying it on this blog in the coming weeks and months. You are invited to listen.
The Thought Police can’t stop me. Yet. 🙂
Oh…and Thanks again, one last time, Bro James, if you ever read this. Your words of long ago are continuing to fuel my courage.