Offensive Warfare, Part One
“The way we look at it, this preface gives us much greater opportunities in the upcoming depositions and trial. I believe this is the only way we can win.” — Gerald Flurry, Letter to legal team, June 11, 2002
Like Tkach Jr.’s “Christian duty” footnote in Transformed by Truth, Feazell’s preface backfired. For one, it showed how phony the e-publishing scheme really was. They weren’t about to produce Mr. Armstrong’s literature unless it was introduced by Feazell’s remarks. And there is no way we would have ever directed prospective members to download that filth. Though we knew it all along, the preface fully revealed just how interested they were in “helping” fulfill our spiritual needs. The whole e-publishing sham, as it turns out, was just another way for them to trash Mr. Armstrong’s legacy.
But the preface’s impact on our legal arguments was minor compared to the way it impacted us. I won’t say it surprised us—not after witnessing Tkachism’s destructive assault on the church the previous 16 years. But it did serve as a jolting reminder of what we were fighting against: people who hate everything Herbert W. Armstrong stood for. We couldn’t reason with them. We couldn’t deal with them—all we could do was fight.
So from that point forward, everything in the lawsuit would turn on Feazell’s preface—at least, as far as we were concerned. My father wrote to our legal team on June 11, 2002, “The preface to the wcg e-publishing sham is the opportunity we have been waiting for. Ever since Judge Letts was involved, I feel like we haven’t been able to thoroughly get across what really happened in our church.
“This preface has opened up a tremendous opportunity to do that again. I feel like we can now go on the offensive as never before with an even bigger goal in mind (rfra, writing a book, etc.). I strongly believe that our answer to the preface is going to make them feel the heat. …
“Perhaps we lost the appellate court decision because the wcg made a few comments labeling us a cult. … The preface allows us to answer the cult attack. But it gives us a greater opportunity. We can now expose them for what they really are—a cult and much worse. At the same time, I believe we can help the judge and jury to understand the pcg’s true motives.
“They say a battle is 50 percent won when you go on the offensive. The way we look at it, this preface gives us much greater opportunities in the upcoming depositions and trial. I believe this is the only way we can win.”
Over the next two months, our attorneys probably heard the word “preface” so often, they might have thought we were a broken record. Of course, they still had to accumulate evidence to support all of our legal arguments, insofar as copyright law is concerned. But since the wcg now wanted to insert Armstrong-bashing into the case, we insisted on telling the behind-the-scenes story, whether during a deposition, before a judge or jury, or within court documents. In fact, as you can see from the letter above, the preface is what prompted the whole idea for this book. The case had now gotten much bigger than just fighting for the right to distribute Mr. Armstrong’s literature. Now we had to obtain the literature—and expose them in the process.
Even though we were technically going into the damages trial as the “loser” (with respect to Mystery of the Ages), my father believed something dramatic would happen, whether in court or out, that would eventually turn the tide in our favor. “If God is with us,” he said, “we will win this. If He’s been with us, He still is with us—that is, if we keep the faith.”
Judge Snyder was hoping for a mid-October 2002 trial, which meant discovery and depositions needed to be completed by the end of the summer. As we geared up for a busy summer, my dad instructed his entire staff at Edmond to make the court case their top priority. More than a dozen people involved themselves in gathering information and helping to prepare for the depositions of the wcg’s key witnesses—Joseph Tkach, Michael Feazell, Ron Kelly, Ralph Helge and Bernard Schnippert, as well as a few others. My father relieved Dennis Leap and me from some of our youth camp obligations that summer so we could devote more time to researching for depositions. pcg ministers Gary Rethford and Tim Thompson were also instrumental in digging up information for our lawyers.
This was a real turning point. In 1998, the bulk of deposition preparation was left to our attorneys, although Dennis and his wife made sure they were supplied with church documents and literature. We also offered a lot of feedback during conferences we had before depositions. But, for the most part, the lawyers were responsible for doing most of the research and drawing up the questions.
In 2002, the lawyers still did all that, it’s just that we did too—only coming at it from the preface angle. If Tkach’s fellows wanted to talk about Mr. Armstrong’s heavy-handed approach to governance, then Tkach Jr. and Feazell were going to be asked about the legacy of Tkachism—how it forced people to go along or else forced them out of the church. If they wanted to bring up how Mr. Armstrong supposedly “hooked” people into his system of beliefs, then they would have to testify about all the lies Tkachism told in order to lull unsuspecting members to sleep so they wouldn’t lose their tithes. If they wanted to bring up Mr. Armstrong’s lack of “study” and “seminary training,” then we were going to ask them about Tkach Sr.’s academic and theological credentials. If they wanted to talk about how burdensome it was in the church under Mr. Armstrong, then they were sure to hear about Tkachism’s heavy legacy. And if they wanted to bring up Mr. Armstrong’s “extravagant” lifestyle, then we would ask, Well what did Tkachism do with its billions?
So as we got ready for the 2002 depositions, our attorneys prepared their questions and documents and we prepared ours. Then, in a status conference before the depositions, we worked to blend the two together.
Joseph Tkach Jr.
In the Tkach Jr. deposition on Friday, Aug. 23, 2002, Mark Helm wasted little time in setting off explosives. Fifteen minutes into the deposition, Allan Browne instructed Tkach not to answer on account of Mark’s “harassing and oppressive” questioning. Thirty minutes after that, he threatened to leave unless Mark lowered his voice!
Mark began by reviewing the Dec. 4, 1998, Advisory Council of Elders minutes—where the wcg officially explained its position on discontinued literature and how it had plans to use the material again. In the case of Mystery being discarded, the wcg minutes explain, “As a consequence, an ecclesiastical determination was made that moa and other such works be retired from circulation and not be distributed until appropriate revisions could be effectuated, compatible with the Bible.”
Now that the wcg intended to e-publish these works, Mark wondered if the preface counted as an “appropriate revision.” After Tkach said “no,” Mark then asked if the ecclesiastical determination had changed. Tkach indicated that they hadn’t changed their decision, but that they felt comfortable enough e-publishing the literature as long as it had a preface to provide background. Since the wcg had made statements throughout the lawsuit that they would have considered licensing the works, Mark was trying to pin Tkach down to see if the terms for the hypothetical licensing meant the literature had to be prefaced by derogatory remarks about Mr. Armstrong. He also exposed the degree to which the wcg wanted to control the literature if a licensing agreement ever happened.
Later, he got Mr. Tkach to talk about Gerald Flurry. Tkach said he thought my father was mentally unbalanced, that he taught heresy, approved of lying and was engaged in unethical conduct. Mark then asked if Tkach’s personal views toward Mr. Flurry might factor into any decision considering the pcg as a possible licensee. It was brilliant. Tkach answered, “I think the key here is that in developing a license agreement, we would be in a position to police or control that by the terms we dictated in the license agreement.” That’s exactly the point. Assuming Tkach ever licensed the literature to a mentally deranged, heretical liar, he would only do so if the wcg maintained “control” and was able to “police” our actions. In that scenario, what would prevent him from then pulling the plug on the license agreement after litigation ended?
Later in his deposition, Tkach Jr. complained that we had misrepresented his “authorial intent” in saying he had a “Christian duty” to keep Mystery of the Ages out of print. When asked what he meant by “out of print,” Tkach said he was “expressing a feeling, but not a course of action.” Of course, with that kind of reasoning, you can back away from practically any hard-and-fast position. But the facts prove that their whole reason for filing suit in the first place was to prevent us from distributing Mystery of the Ages—to act on their Christian duty. In his book, Tkach Jr. also made this statement about another one of Mr. Armstrong’s works: “… don’t bother writing for a copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy. You won’t get it from us.” Was that just a feeling or do the fruits prove that they acted on that conviction? Tkach wrote, “Today we reject what is well known as ‘Armstrongism,’ that is, adherence to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong ….” Feeling or action?
Both Sides of His Mouth
Four times during his deposition, Tkach Jr. accused Mr. Armstrong of speaking out of “both sides of his mouth”—particularly with respect to his role as an apostle. At times, Tkach explained, Mr. Armstrong seemed to think he was right up there, on par with the apostles of the first century. Yet on other occasions, he apparently made statements relegating his apostleship to something less than first-century-like. But as we have already seen in this volume, it is Joseph Tkach Jr.—not Mr. Armstrong—who spoke from both sides of his mouth.
In his 1997 book, Tkach Jr. wrote, “Over two or three decades he claimed rank on a par with the first-century apostles”—a very definitive commentary on Mr. Armstrong’s views. Two or three decades! But on March 16, 1992, in a letter the wcg turned over in discovery, Tkach Jr. wrote, “It is good to remember, however, that Mr. Armstrong’s role was not synonymous with the original 12 apostles.” Later, he wrote, “Mr. Armstrong never claimed his writings were equivalent to Scripture.”
We reminded Tkach Jr. about what his father said two days after Mr. Armstrong died—that he was “confident that the same policies, doctrines and everything else which [Mr. Armstrong] taught would be preserved and carried out.” We asked if this comment contradicted what his father said about the “deathbed repentance”—that Mr. Armstrong commissioned Tkach Sr. to make the very changes in doctrine that had been made between 1986 and 1991 (a list of changes so extensive, you will recall, that he wanted a tape recorder so he could remember all of them). Tkach Jr. responded, under oath, by saying “no”—there is no contradiction.
We asked him about this statement from his book: “It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Mr. Armstrong may have never wielded absolute power in our church, but by that same token, there weren’t many who would challenge him on an issue.” Tkach defended the statement this way: “The audience for this book was not only church members …. They were counter-cult ministries who viewed Mr. Armstrong in this way. And I’m explaining for the historical record that that was inaccurate for them to view him that way.” So the comment was actually intended to defend the manner in which Mr. Armstrong led the church!
Earlier in the deposition, Tkach described the manner in which Mr. Armstrong would sometimes deal with subordinates. “When he would correct people at times, he would ask, Do you believe I’m an apostle? Do you believe I’m an apostle just like Peter and Paul are apostles? And the person would be generally trembling and responding in the affirmative.” He then described an incident where Mr. Armstrong called Tkach Sr. about a Bible study given in Pasadena. According to Tkach Jr., Mr. Armstrong “was very angry and yelled at my dad for about 40 minutes.” Yet at the same time, what he wrote in Transformed by Truth about Mr. Armstrong’s governing style was supposedly a defense of the church’s founder.
We reminded Tkach about the changes in government he promised in his 1997 book and got him to admit that nothing had changed in the five years since the book was released. He still retained all the absolute powers he is quick to condemn Mr. Armstrong for.
When asked about his description of the pcg in his book—that we are a “militant church of God”—he explained that we would “confront” their members and tell them if they didn’t accept Malachi’s Message, “they were going to burn in hell ….” He said that “numerous people were confronted that way in restaurants and grocery stores.”
When we asked him earlier about whether or not he thought the pcg was a cult, he responded, “Unquestionably.” He went on to explain that there are two types of cults—theological and sociological. “Theological cults would be the ones that misrepresent history and Scripture but aren’t necessarily pathological in nature. And then you have sociological cults, groups that are dangerous, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Heaven’s Gate.” At least we only made it onto his list of theological cults. But “we’re concerned,” he went on to say, “that [the pcg] may be crossing the line into the sociological realm.”
For clarification, Mark asked, “So you have concerns that the Philadelphia Church of God may be a cult in the sense that it is dangerous, sociopathic?”
“Certainly,” Tkach answered.
Yet they wanted, all along, to license Mr. Armstrong’s literature to us as a “benefit” to our work.
Talk about speaking from both sides of your mouth.
We also made sure to compare Mr. Armstrong’s academic background with Tkach Sr.’s, which made the younger Tkach very uncomfortable.
Since he was primarily responsible for authoring the preface, we were quite anxious to depose Mike Feazell. At our Edmond offices, our employees combed through Feazell’s book and other writings of his, as well as documents that were written about him.
We assembled at the Los Angeles offices of Munger, Tolles and Olson for his deposition on Wednesday, July 24, 2002. Early on, Mark Helm quoted from Feazell’s book, where he spoke of the church’s transformation.
“One by one these core values shriveled and fell from the wcg tree. As they did, leaders and members became increasingly unsettled, fearful, and frustrated. ‘How are we different anymore?’ ‘Where is all this leading?’ ‘What will be changed next?’ they asked.
“The church these people had come into had slowly ceased to exist.”
Any time we found statements by wcg officials describing the wcg today as being completely different from what it once was, we made note of them. If the old church no longer existed, why should the new church be allowed to keep others from continuing to distribute the traditional teachings?
When Mark asked him about his comparison of life in the Worldwide under Mr. Armstrong to a rape victim, which we discussed in Chapter 1, Feazell tried to brush it aside as a “figurative expression.” Mark pressed further. “But by using the figurative term … ‘raped,’ that is a feeling of the highest order, correct? It’s not a casual feeling of unpleasantness, it’s—it’s a very serious feeling that you’re trying to describe here; isn’t that right?”
Feazell’s lawyer tried to intervene repeatedly for his client by interrupting Mark. But Mark ignored him and insisted that Feazell answer the question. “Is rape a terrible crime?” Mark asked. Feazell’s attorney asked Mark to calm down, but he refused. “No … he is trying to walk away from what’s clearly stated here, and acting as though … ‘spiritually and emotionally raped’ … [is like] a typo in a memo.”
After Feazell wouldn’t answer, Mark came at the subject from another angle: “When you said you had been spiritually and emotionally raped, were the feelings that you experienced akin to having had a terrible crime committed against you?” Feazell said no, repeating that he only used the term in a figurative sense.
“So when you figuratively used the term rape, it’s not a terrible thing?” Mark followed. It was as heated as we had ever seen Mark during a deposition. It made Feazell noticeably uncomfortable.
Later, Feazell said he believed the pcg is a cult “at least in the sense of its submission to the authority of one individual and his personal interpretation of the religious views of the organization … .” In his book, he wrote about how Mr. Armstrong’s authority had brought the church to a virtual “standstill administratively.” He said “decisions of any significance could not be made without” Mr. Armstrong’s approval. So at the deposition, we pointed Feazell to other statements in his book that talk about the authority Tkach Sr. inherited from Mr. Armstrong: that Tkach would not have been able to transform the church “without the unfettered hierarchical authority delegated to him by Armstrong” ; that the changes would have never happened unless Tkach had “total authority.” We then asked about Tkach Jr.’s supposed plans to dismantle the authoritarian approach to governance in the church—and how that was one of his first goals after becoming pastor general in 1995. But as of 2002, when we asked Feazell if the younger Tkach had the same powers that Mr. Armstrong did, he responded, “[T]hat may well be true.”
On page 107 of his book, Feazell wrote, “In the Worldwide Church of God, however, we found ourselves in the no-win situation of having to change the core values. The changes we were forced to make devastated the very sense of identity of our church and its members.” Since the Tkaches had “total authority” to change the church’s “core values,” we wanted to remind Feazell that they forced their transformation on the ministers and members of the Worldwide Church of God. In response to that charge, Feazell testified, “The church no more forced … itself … on the ministers after the changes than it did before the changes.” To which Mark brilliantly responded, “But after the changes took place, these were ministers who had joined a church [that] had different doctrines and were now being told: Either teach the new doctrines or hit the road. That is different from the ministers under Mr. Armstrong, isn’t it, who joined the church knowing what the doctrines were and believing in them?”
Feazell couldn’t see how that was different at all.
Since Ron Kelly is mentioned in Transformed by Truth as having heard Mr. Armstrong supposedly say “I am Elijah,” we were anxious to hear what he had to say under oath. Not surprisingly, Mr. Kelly could not remember where or when he heard Mr. Armstrong say that. We then showed Mr. Kelly the letter Tkach Jr. wrote to Mr. Leap in April 1990, where Tkach insisted that the Elijah prophecies had been fulfilled by the work of the church and that Mr. Armstrong never claimed to be the exclusive fulfillment of them. We asked Mr. Kelly if he made his “I am Elijah” comment before or after Tkach wrote the letter to Mr. Leap. He said it “would have been made much later than this letter, which was April of 1990.” But Mr. Armstrong died in 1986. And in Transformed by Truth, Tkach Jr. indicates that Kelly came to him after he heard Mr. Armstrong say “I am Elijah.” It wouldn’t make sense for Kelly to go to Tkach Jr. “much later” than April 1990 about a comment he heard Mr. Armstrong make. But that’s the illogical chronology Kelly had to go with during his deposition, otherwise he would have been forced to admit that Tkach Jr. spoke from both sides of his mouth.
Ron Kelly went to Ambassador College in 1956 and went into the ministry after he graduated in 1960. He became the first dean of students at Ambassador College in Big Sandy in 1964. After Big Sandy closed in 1977, Mr. Kelly transferred to Pasadena and soon after settled into the field ministry as a pastor serving in Colorado. He returned to Big Sandy briefly after the campus opened in 1981. In 1982, he moved back to headquarters in Pasadena to fill a position in the editorial department. Two years after Mr. Armstrong died, Mr. Tkach appointed him to manage the editorial department. In 1991, Mr. Kelly transferred to Church Administration, where he directed pastoral development. In 1998, he became the church’s controller in the finance and planning department. That was the position he held when we deposed him Aug. 1, 2002.
In our preparations for Mr. Kelly’s deposition, several articles and messages of his stood out because of his long history in the church. One document was particularly interesting. It was a sermon transcript the church produced in 1987—a year after Mr. Armstrong died. He built the sermon, titled “Principles of Living,” around lessons he learned from Mr. Armstrong. He said, “Twenty-nine years ago, I began to sit at the feet of Mr. Armstrong and listen to what he had to say.” Later, he said, “I would especially like to bring out those points and principles that I feel Mr. Armstrong was uniquely able to instruct us in.” In his deposition, Kelly acknowledged that he had learned from Mr. Armstrong, but that today he wouldn’t use the word uniquely. “I look at things from a more mature point of view,” Kelly said. “I realize Mr. Armstrong had wonderful things to teach. They weren’t always unique to him.”
Mr. Kelly then highlighted several of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings that he now considers burdensome. Of course, he didn’t think that way before embracing Tkachism—and we reminded him of that. “Mr. Armstrong taught me how to love my wife,” he said in that 1987 sermon. “I told him so, and I hope it pleased him to realize that what he taught did work.”
Here is how he once described life for his children in the wcg: “My children have been reared all their lives with a knowledge of God’s festivals. Now that some are grown, many of their fondest memories are of keeping the holy days. We have saved for trips to England and Australia. By observing the holy days with God’s people, we have traveled as a family throughout most of the United States and Canada. … We have grown each year in spiritual understanding and have profited from the education of travel.
“No one can ever tell me keeping God’s feasts is a yoke of bondage and a burden.”
Those memories have seemingly faded from view, along with the practical, biblically based way of living Mr. Armstrong taught and recorded in huge stacks of written works.
In March of 2005, someone contacted me anonymously about a bound collection of almost all the wcg’s periodical literature, including the Plain Truth, Good News, Tomorrow’s World and Youth magazines, between 1934 and 2004. The collection also included a complete set of the 58-lesson Bible correspondence course, produced during the 1960s. The individual wanted $10,000 for all the magazines and another $500 for leather-bound volumes of all Mr. Armstrong’s books, including Mystery of the Ages.
My father thought the collection would be a great addition to our college library. So we made a lower offer and ended up settling on $5,000 for everything. We didn’t know who to make the check payable to until about a week before we arranged to pick up the materials.
As it turns out, the anonymous seller was the same man who, because of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings, learned how to really love his wife.