First Sip of a Bitter Cup

In his book Raising the Ruins, now available in bookstores, Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry exposes the reality of what happened to the Worldwide Church of God. Here is the 14th chapter.

“I believe the church disfellowshiped me unjustly. Mr. Tkach didn’t even talk to me, even when this was the weightiest of all decisions affecting my fate in this church.”— Gerald Flurry, Letter to Ralph Helge, Dec. 21, 1989

Though I didn’t know it at the time of the groundbreaking ceremony on that rainy afternoon, my father and Mr. Amos were en route to Pasadena. Tkach Jr. had called the house that morning, December 7, demanding that my father and Mr. Amos be on a plane to California that very day if they had any hope of retaining their jobs.

After arriving in Los Angeles late in the afternoon on December 7, they checked in at Holiday Inn Pasadena. That night, for over four hours, they went round and round with Joseph Tkach Jr. and Michael Feazell. During that meeting, my father came to see that the situation inside the Worldwide Church of God was actually far worse than he had realized.

My father complained about Mystery of the Ages being discontinued and the tv program getting weaker. “So let me see if I understand what you are saying,” Tkach said, dissecting my dad’s comments. “You’re saying that you can run the church better than my father can.” They kept turning it into a personality thing because debating the real issues only exposed their true intentions. But my father stayed on point, persistently asking why Mystery of the Ages had been removed, which led to Joe Jr.’s astonishing “riddled with error” outburst.

Suffice it to say, there was no compromise on either side that night. Shortly before midnight, Joseph Tkach Jr.—a man who had been employed by the church for three years—fired and excommunicated my father and John Amos. At his deposition, Tkach Jr. acknowledged that it was entirely his decision to fire these two long-time ministers on the spot. His father, the pastor general of the church, was not aware of the firings until after they had already happened.

Upon leaving Tkach Jr.’s office that night, my father prophetically warned Tkach, “This is the first sip of a very bitter cup you are going to have to drink.” Quite a parting shot from a man who had just been fired! My father also assured Mr. Tkach that he would be one of the first ones to receive the manuscript, as soon as it was completed and printed.

Like No Other Human

On the disfellowship notice filed the next day, Tkach Jr. wrote that he fired my father for “heretical doctrinal differences.” (The same reason he gave for disfellowshiping my mother.) At his deposition in 1998, in trying to explain what this meant, he said my father “was meeting with church members and asking them to give donations to him ….” This wasn’t true at all.

Later, he attributed this preposterous assertion to my father: “He claimed that he was being used by God in a unique way, different from any other human ever to have lived ….” As bizarre as that statement is, Tkach repeated it two more times at his deposition. Later, when asked if Mr. Flurry was disfellowshiped for engaging in heresy, Tkach answered, “Well, when someone tells you that they are being used by God in a way that no other human who has ever lived is being used, I would consider that to be a bit on the heresy side.” And later, “Claims that you are uniquely used by God in a role historically different from any other human in all of history, I considered pretty heretical.”

This was Joe Jr., the psychologist, at his best. Of course, my father never said anything like that during their meeting. But this was Mr. Tkach’s interpretation of what my dad said. After all, Gerald Flurry criticized the pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God. He wrote a paper in which he set out to explain why, from a biblical perspective, the changes were happening. He believed God inspired his paper. Therefore, he must think he’s the most important man to have ever lived on this Earth! How ridiculous.

The irony is that Mr. Tkach Jr. has taken great pride in trumpeting the wcg’s transformation out of “Armstrongism” as something that is “unprecedented” in the history of religion. There has never been an instance in the history of religion where an unorthodox religious sect has transformed itself from a “cult” to a mainstream Christian denomination. Where would the Worldwide Church of God—in fact, Christianity—be today without the heroic and historically unique courage of Tkachism?

Oklahoma City Congregation

The same day my father and Mr. Amos traveled to Pasadena for their meeting with Joe Jr., Arnold Clauson, the previous pastor in Oklahoma City, was en route from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Oklahoma City to announce the firing before my father’s congregations. (He actually left for Oklahoma City before my dad even arrived to Joe Jr.’s office.)

On Friday evening, December 8, Mr. Clauson arranged to meet with all the elders and their wives as well as one deacon from my dad’s territory.

On Saturday, Mr. Clauson read the announcement about the excommunication before the Oklahoma City and Enid congregations. According to Clauson, the brethren were “totally shocked” by the news. “[M]ost had no idea anything of this nature was going on,” he wrote to Mr. Tkach Jr. This squares with what Dean Blackwell, sent from Pasadena to Oklahoma City the following week, also admitted—that my dad’s congregations were left in stable condition.

Mr. Clauson did note these two areas of concern that some members had picked up in conversing with my dad and Mr. Amos: “1) Questioning Mr. Armstrong’s literature being dropped from circulation and/or being updated, and 2) the weakness of the World Tomorrow telecast.” Later, he wrote that my dad and Mr. Amos “apparently asked several members, especially those who came to counsel about this and that, to go back and re-read Mystery of the Ages, The Incredible Human Potential, The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last, and the Autobiography, and then get back to them with comments.”

Imagine that—recommending members read Mr. Armstrong’s most important and effective book. How telling Clauson’s report is. In many ways, the church had already been transformed.

Ralph Helge’s First Sip

On the day of the firing, Ralph Helge wrote my father and demanded that he return any church member mailing lists he may have acquired over the years as a field minister. “Should you fail to abide by the demands contained in this letter within five (5) days, we will have no alternative but to consider filing suit against you and all other persons involved in the removal and misuse of these confidential materials and to seek an injunction against your continued possession and use of these materials, as well as all other appropriate relief, including an award of punitive damages.”

This type of language from Helge is something we became quite familiar with years later in our Mystery of the Ages lawsuit.

On Dec. 11, 1989, Mr. Tkach Jr. followed up Helge’s threat by sending my dad a proposed “assistance agreement and release.” He wrote, “As you understand, Mr. Flurry, late last week you were dismissed from your employment as a minister of the church, disfellowshiped as a member, and your ministerial credentials revoked, because of what the church considers as your adherence to heretical convictions, spreading of the same among members of the church and your refusal to repent thereof. …

“As you know, your employment was for no set term and terminable ‘at will’ at any time, by either you or the employer with or without cause. According to the practice of the employer, your termination does not entitle you to any type of severance pay or other post-employment benefits.

“As a matter of Christian love, however, the employer is desirous of helping you now that your employment with the employer has ended.”

But before he could receive the “Christian love” offering of $6,160, my father had to sign off on five conditions. For instance, the wcg wanted written release from any and all possible liability, like wrongful termination. They also expected him to return church stationery and business cards, ministerial manuals, his ordination certificate, all church equipment and furniture, and any written or computer-generated records that pertained to church membership.

On Dec. 21, 1989, my dad informed Mr. Helge that he had decided to reject the $6,160 “assistance.” He nevertheless agreed to return everything except his computer and his ordination certificate. The computer, he wrote, “will help me in getting future employment.” Regarding the certificate, he said the church had no right to take it. “I believe the church disfellowshiped me unjustly,” he wrote. “Mr. Tkach [Sr.] didn’t even talk to me, even when this was the weightiest of all decisions affecting my fate in this church.”

Mr. Helge responded one week later and said he would discuss the matter with Mr. Tkach Jr. On Jan. 23, 1990, Tkach Jr. sent my dad another release form, only this time, “as a matter of Christian love,” they offered my dad a computer in return for his signature! It was virtually the same form, with much of the same language, only instead of offering the $6,160 in love, they offered an ibm-compatible computer. My dad decided to keep the computer and the ordination certificate and not sign the release. The wcg did not pursue the matter any further.

It is interesting, looking back, that Mr. Tkach Sr. never once communicated with my dad during this whole ordeal. For the most part, Tkach Jr. and Helge handled the situation. And seven years later, when the wcg filed suit against us over printing Mystery of the Ages, Tkach Sr. would again be missing from the equation, having died of cancer in 1995. The two principle players, without question, in the case brought against us in 1997, were Joseph Tkach Jr. and Ralph Helge.

Neither of them would have admitted back in 1989 that the situation they were dealing with was only the first sip of a bitter cup they would have to drink.

Small Beginning

My sister quit her job at Church Administration in Pasadena the day my dad was fired. She flew home the next day, using my father’s plane ticket. My father, in turn, drove home in my sister’s yellow pickup (which had now become the family car). He needed that three-day drive, halfway across country, to sort things out in his mind. So much had happened so fast. There were times when he just parked the car alongside the road so he could get out and walk for a while. On the one hand, he had never been more discouraged. The Tkaches were ruining the church he had devoted his life to. But he also believed that God had revealed the answer to why these things had happened. It was found within a manuscript that only a handful of people had even seen.

I was at the house the day my dad arrived—Sunday, December 10. (I came home for the weekend from college in Big Sandy after hearing that he was fired.) In waiting for him to arrive, I remember fretting over what I would say and how I could encourage him. When he walked in the door that afternoon, we were prepared to uplift him, as best we could, knowing he had just endured the most difficult trial of his life. Yet it was the other way around: It was actually my dad who lifted our spirits. My mom and I, at that point, were technically still associated with the wcg. (My sister severed her ties the day he was fired.) And yet, here was this fired former minister of the wcg encouraging us!

My father, though tired and emotionally drained, had had three days to mourn the sad state of the Worldwide Church of God. He was now firm in his resolve to do something about the problem—to get his manuscript ready for printing—to warn as many as would listen that the church had drifted into the Laodicean era. This realization gave him a great sense of purpose and hope, motivated by relaxed faith—a firm belief that he was doing the right thing.

I left for Big Sandy that night as excited as I’ve ever been. I was beginning to see that God would not stand idly by and watch His Church fade into nothingness. God always warns in love. And if that warning had to be delivered through my dad, better him than no one.

The First Printing

Two other families who had no prior knowledge of the manuscript immediately offered their support for my father and Mr. Amos. Together, these four families—just 12 people—met for the Philadelphia Church of God’s first service on December 16.

On Wednesday, December 20, with the help of two other church members, Tim and Melody Thompson, the pcg became an incorporated entity. Back in Big Sandy, I clearly remember my surprised reaction to the news that the church was incorporated. They only have 12 people, I thought to myself. How could they already consider themselves to be an official church? At the time, I was planning to leave school at the end of the semester. But I hadn’t yet fully committed to the pcg.

When I got home on Thursday, December 28, I could see that this little group of people had been working at a breakneck pace—especially my dad and Tim Thompson. Mr. Thompson entered my dad’s typewritten manuscript into a word processor. He, my father and Mr. Amos then worked to proofread, edit and lay out a final version.

I started working my old high school job at Kinko’s. Sometime during the second week of January 1990, I took a finished printout of Malachi’s Message with me to work. Mr. Amos and my dad had accumulated over 900 addresses of wcg ministers and members—the bulk of which were from the areas around Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio (Mr. Amos’s previous pastoral assignment).

We made 1,000 copies of that first version of Malachi’s Message—spiral bound, with a brown cardstock cover. Though few would have considered it a book, it was at least a good-quality manuscript. Meanwhile, my dad prepared a personal letter to be included with the books sent to those in his former congregations: “Dear Oklahoma City and Enid Brethren,” he wrote.

“So much has been distorted about what I said and did, that I felt this letter was necessary. I feel it isn’t asking too much of you to allow me to set the record straight. I hope you will read what I actually said and did.

“Mr. Arnold Clauson was sent here by Mr. Joe Tkach Jr. Arnold had a meeting with the deacons and elders on Friday night, the 8th of December. He related some statements that Mr. Tkach Jr. said about me. (Mr. Clauson did not contact me while he was in Oklahoma City.)

“Here is some of what I was supposed to have said in the December 7 meeting in Pasadena with Mr. Tkach Jr.: 1) Gerald Flurry is supposed to have said he could ‘run the work better than Mr. Tkach does.’ Actually, I have never made such a statement in my life. Has any one of you ever heard me say anything like that? 2) Supposedly, I told Mr. Tkach Jr. to ‘shut up and listen to me.’ The truth is I have never told even a deacon or local elder to ‘shut up’—much less one of my superiors. I did not say anything even close to those statements in that meeting. 3) Also, he said that when I send in magazine articles, I demand that they be printed because people must read what I have to say. The truth is I haven’t submitted an article in about six or seven years. And I have never demanded that any articles be printed. Why should this even be mentioned now, after such a long time? What is the motive?

“Any of you can verify what was said about me by asking your deacons and elders. But you have probably already heard about these comments I was supposed to have said. The sad part is, these distorted statements filter down into the congregation. I ask you, brethren, in my almost five years of service here in Oklahoma, have statements like that ever been made by me? Did I ever conduct myself in that fashion?

“Mr. John Amos knows those statements about me are not true. So does Jesus Christ ….

“Would you please read the enclosed, finished message of Malachi. Then you can evaluate me by what I say—not what people think I said. Obviously, I don’t want a stained reputation if it can be avoided.

“The Oklahoma City and Enid churches went through terrible turmoil in the 1970s—more than most churches. I desperately wanted to avoid causing you any more problems. But trouble now could mean far less difficulty in the future. I hope that serving almost five years in this area has revealed my love for all of you.

“The decision to take a stand on the issues presented in the message of Malachi was not taken lightly. Mr. John Amos and I have given up almost any physical security we had. It’s hard on our whole families. As you know, my wife has had serious heart problems for years. Why would we decide to take such a stand?

“Hopefully, no one will think I’m doing this for money. The church offered me $6,000 ‘assistance’ or severance pay if I met several conditions, and also took my only car (I don’t have a ‘second car’). I do not qualify to receive social security or unemployment compensation. Headquarters called the $6,000 a ‘love offering.’ That view was not shared by me, so the money was rejected.

“None of this is mentioned for sympathy. I say it only to help you see my true motive. Jesus Christ has promised to provide our needs—so we don’t worry about money (and believe me, we have very little).

“You may think I have a government problem. If you will read the Malachi message—you will see that loyalty to government is my motive for doing this! Then you will also understand the real reason why I was fired.

“Please search the Scriptures as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11) and prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Then pray for God to guide your every step. I believe Mr. Amos and I would die—if we had to—for what is written in the message of Malachi. We desperately want you to make up your own mind—and not let others do it for you. That is a very biblical approach. …

“[P]lease don’t believe me or any man—believe the Bible.

“Love always, Gerald Flurry.”

With me now added to the original group, 13 of us gathered at the Thompson home Wednesday night, January 10. We packaged 921 copies of Malachi’s Message, several hundred of which included the above letter. No one could possibly gauge what kind of response there would be to that first mailing. But we all knew that this was the beginning of something special. Finally, members of the Worldwide Church of God could understand what was happening to their church.

We delivered the bundles to the post office the next day, Thursday. Many of those books from the first mailing landed in mailboxes on or just before Jan. 16, 1990—four years, to the day, after Herbert W. Armstrong died.