Stealing From God
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.”
April 7, 1974, the doors were flung open for the new Ambassador Auditorium’s first concert: Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
The Auditorium had been the talk of the Worldwide Church of God for years. It was 13 years before—January of 1961—that WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong was inspired with a plan to build “a house for God.” The Auditorium project became a priority, and Mr. Armstrong updated the church members on its progress regularly. They zealously contributed to a special building fund, over and above regular tithes and offerings that Mr. Armstrong felt should be used for preaching the gospel only. As time went on, drawings, pictures of models, and then of the ongoing stages of construction appeared in church publications. Finally it was finished, and its glittering inauguration brought a host of dignitaries from several countries.
The Auditorium brought world renown to Pasadena as it became a beacon of excellence in the performing arts. It also became a symbol of Mr. Armstrong’s 57-year ministry: a work that was built on the principle of give. Virtually everything the WCG produced was offered freely to the world, and, like the Auditorium, supported by the tithes and freewill offerings of the WCG members. Before Mr. Armstrong died on January 16, 1986, there were more than 100,000 members. Millions regularly tuned in to hear him on television each week. Eight million people subscribed to The Plain Truth, the flagship magazine of the church. Thousands of young people graduated from one of three colleges Mr. Armstrong raised up. His Ambassador Foundation conducted cultural, humanitarian, charitable and educational activities for international projects. He spoke with hundreds of world leaders as an unofficial ambassador for world peace.
But in the 13 years years since his death, politics of destruction have reigned in the Worldwide Church of God. When the new administration took over in 1986, they immediately began making changes—administratively and doctrinally (see “The Agenda,” next page). Here are the fruits of this transformation: More than 60 percent of church membership have either left the church disgruntled or were excommunicated for resisting change. The Plain Truth’s
8 million circulation plummeted to less than 100,000. The television program, once on 400 stations, has been canceled. Ambassador College has been completely shut down; the Ambassador Foundation and the Cultural Foundation dissolved. To many WCG members and former members, these 13 years have been gut wrenching.
And all the while, a tight-knit band of administrators at the church’s headquarters have weathered the storm: the fleeing membership, the plummeting income, the downsizing and phasing out. They can now survey the desolate landscape of a once-prosperous church they’ve destroyed.
But they can do it with a smile. Last month, on the very day Mr. Armstrong died 13 years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that WCG officials had sold the Ambassador campus and church headquarters in Pasadena for more than $100 million.
Today, the Auditorium, God’s house, awaits development as an “urban village.” And former church members gape, wondering what this small group of rebels will do with God’s money.