Continuing to Fight
It is hard to believe that five years have passed since the Worldwide Church of God brought suit against us for printing and distributing Herbert W. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages. There have been victories and losses—jubilation and concern. Yet we have not given up the struggle, nor has our determination to win diminished. More importantly, our faith has not failed. The Philadelphia Church of God continues the fight!
Several court hearings took place in late 2001 that resulted in some favorable decisions for the pcg. A damages trial date has been set for October 15, 2002. This is good news. This lengthy court battle is coming to a conclusion, at least at the district level. But before getting into the more current details, let’s review how it all got started.
Although the wcg would like all to believe that its court battle with us is a cut-and-dried copyright case, nothing is further from the truth. The struggle is really not just about Mystery of the Ages. It is about doing what Mr. Armstrong always referred to as the work. Not just any work—he was talking about doing the work of God.
Many interested parties have followed our court battle from the beginning. It is unique in the history of copyright law. It is far from over. Many legal professionals and journalists have been able to see our fight clearly. One of these insightful journalists is Jess Bravin, staff reporter of the Wall Street Journal.
Bravin sums up very well how this war got started. In an article published on the front page of the Journal on February 21, 2001, referring to the history of Mr. Armstrong’s work, he wrote, “On his program, The World Tomorrow, and his magazine, the Plain Truth, Mr. Armstrong called his beliefs the product of methodical explication of the Bible, which he said was ‘a coded message not allowed to be revealed and decoded until this time.’ … Some attended the church’s Ambassador College and joined a media empire that strove to link current events to prophecies of a coming ‘Tribulation.’ Renamed the Worldwide Church of God, the congregation claimed 100,000 members and $131 million annual budget when the founder, who called himself ‘Christ’s chosen apostle,’ died in 1986 at age 93.
“Then his successor had a message of his own for the faithful: Mr. Armstrong was dead wrong. Joseph Tkach Sr., whom Mr. Armstrong had anointed just a week before his death, began abandoning the church’s unusual doctrines one by one. In 1989 he suspended publication of the founder’s final summation, Mystery of the Ages, a 381-page work that Mr. Armstrong had called perhaps ‘the most important book written in 1,900 years.’
“Half of the church’s members left. Tithes dwindled. The church was forced to slash its payroll drastically and liquidate a real-estate empire that had included campuses in Texas and England. Last year it sold its 48-acre Pasadena headquarters complex, including one of California’s leading concert halls, to condo developers.
“Through it all, a splinter group in Oklahoma continued to take Mr. Armstrong at his word. Wanting to provide new converts with all of Mr. Armstrong’s insights, the group began to print Mystery of the Ages and give it away. The Worldwide Church sued for copyright infringement. The Oklahoma group said it was just exercising its freedom of religion.
“The result is an unusual legal challenge in which the courts are asked to decide between two rights protected under the Constitution, with each side claiming not only the law but also God on its side—and a novel copyright twist for good measure. Worldwide Church hasn’t lost sales of its founder’s book because it never charged for it while publishing it and certainly has no wish to sell it now; nor has its adversary [pcg] ever sold the book. But Worldwide claims it is entitled to all the tithes and other contributions given to the splinter group’s church by people inspired by copies of the book that the group printed.”
Bravin is an objective outsider, with no ties to either side. Bravin was able to understand that the pcg is battling to continue the work begun by Herbert W. Armstrong. That has been our goal since our humble beginning on December 7, 1989.
The Message Stopped
The Philadelphia Church came to life in the midst of the doctrinal controversy created in the Worldwide Church after the death of Herbert Armstrong. Time has shown that the men entrusted by Herbert Armstrong to continue the work had begun to make radical doctrinal changes even prior to his death. Yet, the doctrinal changes were introduced deceitfully and gradually to an unsuspecting and trusting membership. Gerald Flurry recognized the doctrinal shift from the beginning and was fired for exposing the wrong change in direction.
Joining with Gerald Flurry, the members of the pcg have rejected the changes and cling to the doctrines established in the Church by Mr. Armstrong. Even more, we believe that our doctrine carries God’s message—vital spiritual knowledge that must be delivered to the whole world.
Worldwide Church leadership has rejected God’s message and stopped delivering it! This is the greatest tragedy of all. God message must never be silenced. God’s people have been called to proclaim His message. Since the wcg refuses to speak out for God, we believe that Gerald Flurry and the pcg have been commissioned by God to do so. Mystery of the Ages and Mr. Armstrong’s other writings clearly and simply explain God’s message. The great truths in the Bible are made easy to understand. The world deserves access to these works.
Understand that the doctrinal changes in the Worldwide Church were no small thing. The doctrinal rift adversely affected marriages, families and many lives. Spiritual confusion and division always produce disastrous and tragic results. Yet, the main point is that the doctrinal changes led to the destruction of the work. Not only members were damaged as a result. Those outside the church felt a dark void—the loss of a great message!
Largest Audience Possible
Hungry for the truth, many non-members turned to the pcg to meet their spiritual needs.
Mystery of Ages was first offered by the pcg in January 1997 with an ad on the back cover of the Trumpet. In his February 1997 Trumpet “Personal,” Gerald Flurry explained why the book was being offered. “The first seven years of our work were concentrated primarily on warning God’s own Laodicean churches. There was a massive falling away [from doctrine] and Christ directed us to knock on their door with a strong warning message (ii Thes. 2:1-11; Rev. 3:20). Malachi’s Message was the centerpiece of our work. That meant the emphasis was on reaching God’s own people.
“Now that emphasis has shifted to the whole world and only secondarily to God’s Laodiceans. We have entered a new phase in God’s work. We are now printing and giving away free Herbert W. Armstrong’s book, Mystery of the Ages. It is difficult for any new convert to come out of the world and be led by God through Malachi’s Message only. What they urgently need is to read and study Mystery of the Ages first.”
Mr. Flurry then quoted Mr. Armstrong in his letter to God’s Church dated September 23, 1985: “Since last December I have been working diligently on the largest and most important book in my life. In real fact I feel I myself did not write it. Rather, I believe God used me in writing it. I candidly feel it may be the most important book since the Bible! We want to reach the largest audience possible with this book. I know you will feel the same way when you read it.
“This new book Mystery of the Ages unveils all these mysteries. It puts the many different parts of the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ together. It is, in fact, a synopsis of the entire Bible. It is my prayer that you will read it along with your Bible—that it will make your Bible come alive and understandable. And with God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in you I feel sure that it will. I am now in my 94th year and i feel that this book is the most valuable gift i could possibly give you. This book is a partial expression of my thanks and gratitude to you for being a co-laborer with me and Jesus Christ. With all my heart, I do appreciate and thank God for your part with me in the wonderful work in these closing days.”
When offering Mystery of the Ages again, Mr. Flurry and the pcg fully revived the delivery of God’s message to the world. What had been destroyed had been restored. It is obvious how Mr. Armstrong felt about Mystery of the Ages. He intended the book to go to the “largest audience possible.” He considered it a vital part of doing the work. Mr. Flurry called it “the magnificent summary of all Mr. Armstrong’s work—the accumulated knowledge of his entire ministry.” Time has shown that only a minority of former members of the Worldwide Church agreed with Mr. Armstrong and Gerald Flurry. The pcg is the only group with the determination to print and distribute Mr. Armstrong’s writings.
The Worldwide Church filed suit against the pcg the same month Mr. Flurry published his bold “Personal” stating our intent to print and distribute Mystery of the Ages. The Worldwide Church demanded the United States District Court/Central District of California process an injunction against us barring us from printing and distributing the book. The wcg claimed copyright infringement; unjust enrichment and irreparable damage were the reasons for the suit. Yet, there was a more sinister plan being implemented.
Speaking for the new leadership of the Worldwide Church, Joseph Tkach Jr. revealed the real reason for the lawsuit. In his book Transformed by Truth he wrote, “In February, 1997, we filed suit against the Philadelphia Church of God, one of our splinter groups, headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma, to block the republication of Mystery of the Ages. The Worldwide Church of God still holds the copyright to this book, and we contend that no one else has the right to publish it. We feel it is our Christian duty to keep this book out of print. Not because we ‘recognize the power and clarity of Mr. Armstrong’s vision’ or because our church ‘lacks confidence in the appeal of its own muddled and compromised approach,’ as an advertisement for the Philadelphia Church claims, but because we believe that Mr. Armstrong’s doctrinal errors are better left out of circulation.”
This statement should shock all religion in America! The wcg doesn’t simply want to stop a book—they want to wipe out a religious way of life. Tkach’s statements go against freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They are in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The Philadelphia Church believes that it is our “Christian duty” to circulate Mr. Armstrong’s writings. Our challenge has always been to demonstrate that there is a body of strong believers who did not change doctrinally. Members of the Philadelphia Church of God did not want the changes forced upon us! We never fell away from or left what we have been taught. The pcg is called a splinter group. In reality, that is a wrong statement. The wcg left us. We never left the truth.
Here is the point: If Mr. Armstrong were alive today, he would be attending with the pcg!
The current leadership of the wcg did leave! Yet, instead of being honest about it, there was a deceitful takeover of a church, a college and real estate valued at approximately $250 million. Now it is all evident for the whole world to see. The pcg has never asked for the property or the money—we simply want the freedom to give Mr. Armstrong’s writings to any who request them.
The Philadelphia Church must fight to protect our rights under the U.S. Constitution. We are fighting for freedom of speech. We are fighting for freedom of religion. Even more, we are fighting to preserve God’s work!
Legal Twists and Turns
The wcg v. pcg court case has had many twists and turns. Please see the case history timeline below.
On February 8, 1999, we won the right to print and distribute Mystery of the Ages at the district level. Judge Spencer Letts was able to get to the real heart of our struggle with the wcg. Writing to pcg members, Mr. Flurry summed up Judge Letts’ in-court statements: “Judge Letts made it clear that a copyright cannot triumph over the foundation of religion—which is freedom of speech. He said he believes the copyright will never allow for stopping a religious work. … Judge Letts said Mr. Armstrong had Mystery of the Ages copyrighted on the condition of ‘the church not rejecting it as doctrine.’”
Then on September 18, 2000, in a split decision, we lost that right in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The divided Ninth Circuit panel, reversing the district decision, has granted the wcg a preliminary injunction and remanded the case for a determination of damages. The injunction, stopping the reproduction and distribution of Mystery of the Ages, was put in place on January 29, 2001. The pcg has stopped printing and distributing Mr. Armstrong’s other works also.
On the surface, this could all look negative for the pcg. Yet, the Ninth Circuit’s decision has brought more attention to our case. In the long run, the Ninth Circuit’s decision could help us advance toward the Supreme Court.
This case has not gone unnoticed by some of the top legal minds in America. Many legal professionals view the Ninth Circuit’s decision as not only controversial, but in severe error. The Harvard Law Review reported this concerning the Ninth Circuit’s decision: “The most serious error in the court’s analysis was its failure to credit sufficiently moa’s centrality to pcg, which led it to misapply the first fair use factor …. Moa is required reading for those who seek baptism in the church, and church policy mandates reading the book before services because it ‘provides the key to understanding the Bible.’ The dissent [Judge Brunetti] recognized this centrality. The majority [judges Schwarzer and Tashima], however, treated pcg’s copying and distribution of moa as a straightforward infringement case. It failed to recognize that to prohibit pcg’s use of the book would be to suppress both the unique expression of ideas in the book … and the ability of pcg’s members to live according to their religious faith” (Harvard Law Review, April 2001).
The Ninth Circuit’s decision demonstrates judicial shallowness. There are serious constitutional issues in this case that were ignored.
Recognizing the error in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, the pcg appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear our petition without comment as to why. It could be that the judges viewed the case as unfinished. However, the Supreme Court’s actions let the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand. Unless the case is settled out of court, a damages trial must take place. The pcg will have the right to file another appeal after the damages trial—a right we will exercise if necessary.
There are other issues in the case that must also be decided at the same time as the damages trial. Here are the main issues still open: When the wcg filed its suit in 1997, the pcg responded with a counterclaim. In the counterclaim we stated that we not only had the right to publish Mystery of the Ages under the copyright law’s “fair use” doctrine, but another 18 works of Herbert Armstrong deemed essential to our religion and commission, including The United States and Britain in Prophecy (1980 version), The Incredible Human Potential, The Wonderful World Tomorrow, and Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? Pcg claims that wcg has rejected these works doctrinally and therefore has abandoned them.
In the counterclaim, we also sought protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (rfra). Rfra is a law designed to protect religious practices by overriding other federal laws when necessary. We feel rfra answers the wcg’s copyright infringement claim against us. Early on in the lawsuit, the pcg counterclaim was temporarily set aside. Full attention was devoted to Mystery of the Ages. At that time, the constitutionality of rfra had been called into question, and, not deeming it necessary anyway, Judge Letts did not allow us to use it as a defense involving Mystery of the Ages. Since that time, rfra has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in other federal cases. Unfortunately, because rfra had been removed from our case, it was not used as a defense at the Ninth Circuit level.
Just after our failure to reach the Supreme Court, several motions from both sides were filed in court related to our counterclaim. Early in the summer of 2001, the wcg filed for summary judgment, claiming that the Ninth Circuit’s decision concerning Mystery of the Ages answered our counterclaim. In other words, we could not use the 18 works. Our lawyers contested this assumption and, in addition, filed a motion to have rfra restored to the counterclaim. Wcg and pcg motions were combined and dealt with at one hearing.
On September 24, 2001, the United States District Court/Central District of California denied the wcg summary judgment on the 18 works and determined to conduct a trial on our claim that rfra permits us to use the 18 works in conjunction with the damages trial.
The number-one question that needs to be decided at the trial is: Would it have been futile for the pcg to have requested permission to reproduce and distribute the 18 works? The wcg’s true intent and motives will be uncovered by such a trial. When those questions are answered, a determination will be made as to whether rfra needs to be applied in the trial on our claim for use of the 18 works. On September 24, the District Court denied our request that rfra be used in the damages trial concerning Mystery of the Ages.
There is much work to do to prepare our defense for the trial on October 15. We have a great team of lawyers working for and with us. The most recent court decision—the denial of wcg’s request for summary judgment on the 18 works—shows that some serious questions must be raised and answered. We feel positive that our case is being given careful consideration.
As we draw closer to the time of trial, we will keep you informed of what is happening. Look for future updates on the case in the Trumpet and on our website, www.mysteryoftheages.org.
Be assured, the pcg will never give up the fight to continue doing God’s work!