The Plain Truth magazine now has 40,000 subscribers. To some of our readers, that figure means nothing. But for those familiar with the work of Plain Truth founder Herbert W. Armstrong, 40,000 tells quite a story.
You see, at its peak, around the time of Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, the Plain Truth had a monthly circulation of over 8 million. The precipitous decline in circulation since his death also coincides with the demise of the church he raised up. Today, the Worldwide Church of God (wcg) and the Plain Truth might still be breathing, but there’s barely a pulse.
The circulation drop-off, in large part, also explains why the Philadelphia Trumpet now exists. The Plain Truth is no longer plain or true. Mr. Armstrong’s teachings—though supported and enjoyed by millions over the course of decades—were repudiated and ridiculed by his most-trusted lieutenants.
Speaking on behalf of Mr. Armstrong, 10 years after his death, Joseph Tkach Jr., feigning humility, declared, “We have much to repent of and apologize for” (Plain Truth, March-April 1996). Mr. Tkach Jr., current pastor general of the wcg, described Mr. Armstrong’s teachings as “judgmental and self-righteous.”
Michael Feazell, executive editor of the Plain Truth, wasn’t nearly that nice. In his book, The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God, he compared life in Mr. Armstrong’s church with being raped.
And yet they wonder why no one much cares about their work anymore.
Mr. Armstrong’s Legacy
The impact of Mr. Armstrong’s lifelong service to God was felt by tens of thousands of members within the wcg. It was felt by millions who were introduced to Mr. Armstrong through the World Tomorrow television program or the Plain Truth magazine. The impact was felt by world leaders, many of whom Mr. Armstrong met with privately.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan sent this note to the wcg shortly after Mr. Armstrong’s death: “Mr. Armstrong contributed to sharing the word of the Lord with his community and with people throughout the nation. You can take pride in his legacy. Our prayers are with you. God bless you” (emphasis mine throughout).
Otto von Habsburg, a member of the European Parliament, sent this message: “Deeply shocked by news of the death of unforgettable Mr. Armstrong. Am with you all in prayers for him and hopes for successful continuation of his life’s work.”
Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem at the time, wrote, “One could only be deeply impressed by his vast efforts to promote understanding and peace among peoples. His good deeds were felt in many corners of the world.” The mayor of Pasadena called him “a giant of a man.” The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. called him “an inspiring religious and public and educational personality.” The king of Thailand considered him a “close and valuable friend.” The king of Nepal said he was “dedicated to the cause of serving humanity.”
Mr. Armstrong’s impact did not go unnoticed by the media either. Many newspapers carried the news of his death. The Pasadena Star News wrote, “[T]hose who choose—or who believe they are divinely chosen—to spread the message of monotheism in the world are bound to endure more than their share of mortal vicissitudes. Many of these men and women, however, leave a legacy that makes all their suffering worthwhile. Herbert W. Armstrong was such a man” (Jan. 17, 1986).
In the autumn of 1926, Mr. Armstrong’s wife challenged him into an almost night-and-day, intensive study of the Bible. This personal study laid the groundwork for his ministry. Writing at the end of his life, he said, “My research was totally different from that of students in a seminary. They absorb what they are taught in the doctrines of their denomination. …
“But I had been called specially by the living God. … I was taught by Christ what I did not want to believe but what He showed me was true!” (Mystery of the Ages). On the strength of this life-changing experience, Mr. Armstrong set out to proclaim the message he came to understand early on in his biblical education.
He started the Plain Truth 70 years ago with about 250 copies. Headlining that first, eight-page issue, Mr. Armstrong asked, “Is a World Dictator About to Appear?” Five years later, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi machine set out on its quest to conquer the world. After the outbreak of World War ii, even the casual student of Bible prophecy wondered if it might be the “time of the end”—especially as Hitler’s forces in Africa zeroed in on Palestine in 1942. However, Mr. Armstrong wrote in November 1939, “This may not, after all, be the ‘Armageddon War’ at all!”
More remarkable is what Mr. Armstrong wrote after the war—when Germany was in rubble after the Allies bombed it into submission and total defeat—after the Allies split up the remains of the country—after President Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill assured the world in February 1945 that “Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world” (in a signed document on American-British policy in Germany). At the time, Mr. Armstrong assured World Tomorrow listeners and Plain Truth readers that Germany would one day re-unite and rise again to lead Europe into World War iii.
Here is what Mr. Armstrong asked in a radio broadcast while attending meetings for the newly formed United Nations on May 9, 1945: “The war is over, in Europe—or is it?” Later, he said, “We don’t understand German thoroughness. From the very start of World War ii, they have considered the possibility of losing this second round, as they did the first—and they have carefully, methodically planned, in such eventuality, the third round—World War iii!” Using the one source that always underpinned the Plain Truth’s analysis, Mr. Armstrong went on to say, “The Bible foretells that third round—and it spells doom for us, as God’s punishment, because we, as a nation, have forsaken Him and His ways! The third round is termed, in prophecy, an invasion by ‘Babylon’—a resurrected Roman Empire—a European Union. I have been proclaiming that since 1927.”
There have been so many other instances where the Plain Truth hit its mark head-on. (We documented much of this in the Trumpet in our February 2000 issue—request a free copy or view it under “Issue Archives” at www.theTrumpet.com). Long before 1989, it prophesied that East and West Germany would reunite. In October 1967, it wrote about a future united Europe adopting a “common currency.” Even at the height of the Cold War, Mr. Armstrong blared this headline: “Russia Will Not Attack America!” The Plain Truth correctly foretold the end of the British Empire before it happened. It prophesied in advance that the U.S. and Britain would lose many vital strategic sea gates, like the Suez and Panama Canals. Before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Mr. Armstrong told readers that Israel would eventually seize control of the entire city of Jerusalem. He later prophesied that Israel would give back some of the territory it gained in 1967, such as the Sinai Peninsula. And he repeatedly said that there would not be peace in the Middle East until Jesus Christ returned to Jerusalem to enforce a lasting peace! And on and on we could go.
With such incisive, plainly written articles about tomorrow’s news, you can see why the Plain Truth’s circulation peaked at a figure that exceeded those of popular newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek.
Where We Have Been
Mr. Armstrong left a tremendous impact on many people. His successor, Joseph W. Tkach, said on the day Mr. Armstrong died, “The admonishment is now for those of us still living, who now have a task that is set before them, a course that has already been charted by God’s apostle. We need to maintain that course and not deviate from it one iota.” At Mr. Armstrong’s funeral, Mr. Tkach prayed, “We readily admit and acknowledge that there is no man who can fill his shoes, but, Father, we aim to follow in his footsteps.”
The wcg has since veered way off that footpath. And that, as I said earlier, is a big reason why the Trumpet now exists. Fourteen years ago, in the same way Mr. Armstrong began the Plain Truth, we started the Trumpet with a shoestring budget, a handful of subscribers, and one objective: to pick up where Mr. Armstrong had left off.
For the first seven years of our work, the main thrust of our message was directed at members and former members of the Worldwide Church of God who had become disillusioned by the doctrinal changes. The centerpiece of this warning was the book Malachi’s Message, written by Gerald Flurry. The Trumpet, during those early years, complemented Malachi’s Message, keeping readers updated on what was happening inside the wcg and, more importantly, on what the Bible had to say about it.
And so, even as Joseph Tkach Jr. put the finishing touches on his dreadful book Transformed by Truth, we were preparing to offer our Trumpet readers Mr. Armstrong’s most significant book—Mystery of the Ages. Tkach Jr.’s book tells the story of how Tkachism had now publicly renounced the “unorthodox teachings” of Mr. Armstrong and forced the wcg to enter the evangelical mainstream. Though we were not aware of his plans to produce this book, looking back on 1997, how satisfying it is for us to know that in the same year Tkach released his book, we re-released Mystery of the Ages. In fact, we were offering free copies of Mystery a few months before Mr. Tkach’s book hit the shelves.
Seven years ago this month is when we splashed Mr. Armstrong’s book across the cover of the Trumpet. In that February 1997 issue, we told readers about how the wcg had failed to carry out Mr. Armstrong’s commission regarding Mystery of the Ages—that of reaching the “largest audience possible” with the book (co-worker letter, Sept. 23, 1985). “Suddenly,” my dad wrote in his Personal from that issue, “we now have a message for billions of people.” Anyone who reads Mystery of the Ages can understand God’s supreme purpose for man as it is revealed in the Bible.
Yet, only seven years old, we were still small. The circulation of the Trumpet, at the time we first offered Mystery, stood at 62,500—higher than the Plain Truth is today, but not nearly high enough to reach the “largest audience possible.” In addition, right after we started with this “new phase,” we became bogged down in six grueling years of litigation. The wcg did all it could to prevent the world from ever receiving any of Mr. Armstrong’s literature again.
Though small and somewhat distracted by litigation, the Trumpet has still undergone a number of changes the past seven years that are reflective of the “new phase” we entered in February 1997. Overall, the focus has broadened considerably, giving the magazine a worldwide perspective. Indeed, we now produce the Trumpet with the “largest audience” in mind.
Laying the groundwork for this world view started in the same month my father announced the new phase for this work. He transferred Ron Fraser from England to our offices in Edmond to head up our magazine’s News Bureau. Serving as the Trumpet’s news editor ever since, Mr. Fraser and his staff have kept Trumpet writers supplied with the most relevant news items for our message—particularly the lesser-reported items that are connected to Bible prophecy.
A year after Mr. Fraser came on board, our editorial department started another magazine primarily for members and co-workers of the Church, Royal Vision. As another vehicle by which to deliver more religious-oriented articles, Royal Vision has helped free up more space in the Trumpet for stories having to do with prophecy in the news.
For most of our readers, “Tomorrow’s news today” is all they have ever known the Trumpet to be. Since we began striving to reach the “largest audience possible,” the circulation has climbed from 62,500 to over 340,000. In our view, we still have a long way to go, both in circulation figures and in Trumpet improvements, but we also have good reason to be excited about what lies ahead.
A Look Forward
Last year, as most of our readers know, we finally prevailed in the aforementioned court case—obtaining the copyrights to Mystery of the Ages and 18 other works by Mr. Armstrong. (See the May 2003 Trumpet for more about the copyright victory.) At present, we have five of Mr. Armstrong’s books and nine of his booklets in stock, available upon request. So, not only are we finished with the time-consuming (not to mention expensive) litigation, we already have most of what we fought for in print.
Additionally, for most of 2003, The Key of David did not air on television. My father decided toward the end of 2002 to go off television for a while so we could devote more time, resources and money to finishing the court case. From the point of that decision until now, Trumpet circulation has been about the same.
But now that the court case is over, now that we have much of Mr. Armstrong’s literature in stock, now that we are back on television with The Key of David and close to finishing an 18,000-square-foot mail processing center, you can understand why we are excited about what lies ahead—especially for the Trumpet.
With the circulation of the magazine now set to increase, we hope to improve the overall quality of this publication.
First, you have probably noticed the facelift given to the Trumpet’s appearance. It has been several years since we have modified the magazine’s layout, so we hope you enjoy the new style.
Second, if you flip to the back of this issue, you will notice eight extra pages. We have been looking for a way to add a few features to the publication without deviating from our main purpose—giving God’s perspective on the news. The extra pages will give us that flexibility. This way we can keep featuring hard-hitting articles on current events, while including more articles in other general categories such as society, living, religion and science/technology to help round out each issue.
Additionally, since we can only cover so much in our feature articles, we have expanded the “WorldWatch” department to make sure you receive a good overview of what news is truly significant each month. And building on the “WorldWatch” model, we have added a new department called “SocietyWatch.”
You will hopefully notice other improvements, like in the letters department, where we intend to give more editorial responses to some of our feedback.
So let us know what you think. We hope you enjoy the enhanced Trumpet!