Chapter 21: The Infamous Preface
“We’re not going to make a deal with the devil.”
— Gerald Flurry
Sermon, April 6, 2002
By early spring 2002, we decided it was time to call wcg’s bluff. After conducting our own investigation at headquarters to determine from others in the publishing industry what a fair offer would be, we put wcg to the test of their willingness to consider an offer from pcg “in good faith.”
My dad drafted a letter to Matthew Morgan on March 14. In it, we requested to print and distribute Mystery of the Ages and the 18 works we were seeking in our counterclaim. He mentioned to Morgan that Tkach Jr. had vowed in 1997 to keep these works out of print because of his “Christian duty.” And yet, my father continued, the wcg had curiously made recent representations before the court indicating a willingness to license the works. He reminded Morgan of Mr. Armstrong’s lifelong policy of giving away literature at no cost to the recipient. Nevertheless, “based on wcg’s recent representations to the court, we are making an offer in good faith to license these works.”1
We offered to pay the wcg a royalty of 10 cents for every booklet we distributed, 25 cents per book and 50 cents for each correspondence course sent out. My dad concluded the letter by saying,
wcg recently made an “offer” to have pcg underwrite the expense of so-called “e-publishing” most of these works. Aside from not being a license to pcg at all, this “offer” suffered from numerous problems, among them that wcg apparently could withdraw the works from circulation immediately upon the conclusion of the court case between our two churches. wcg’s previously announced “plan” to produce an “annotated” version of Mystery of the Ages—which by all appearances was created solely to gain a litigation advantage and (to our knowledge) has never been pursued—informs our concern in this regard. This concern is reinforced by, among other things, the facts that, outside the court case, neither Mr. Tkach nor anyone else has renounced wcg’s avowed “Christian duty” to keep Mr. Armstrong’s works out of print; and that wcg does not (to our knowledge) “e-publish” any other work in which it claims to hold a copyright. I look forward to receiving your response to pcg’s offer to license these works.2
In all the posturing wcg had made before the court—acting as if they were more than happy to license—they had actually never even made an offer to license the works. And now we had.
Here is how Matthew Morgan responded on April 8:
As an initial matter, Mr. Flurry, with all due respect, I feel it is necessary to mention that your letter, after 12 years of silence, is belated and fraught with self-serving comments. Its obvious purpose is to gain some type of legal advantage. Nevertheless, we will afford the courtesy of a response regarding your inquiry about a license. So there is no misunderstanding, and although we do not address each one of your self-serving comments, they should be considered as denied.3
The bottom line, however, is this: They are the ones who brought the subject of licensing before the court, even though they never made an offer. They are the ones who tried to gain the upper hand in litigation. And no matter how “belated” our offer might have been, it was, nevertheless, a reasonable offer. And they rejected it flatly.
Morgan went on to explain how “valuable” Mr. Armstrong’s writings were to the wcg, which is why they were now moving forward on the e-publishing front. “Therefore,” Morgan wrote, “no need exists to engage in complicated negotiations over the terms of a license. Your church will now be able to purchase as many legal copies of the 19 works as it desires and finds necessary to fulfill all its alleged spiritual needs.”4 (The wcg had since added Mystery of the Ages to the list of works they intended to e-publish, after we assailed their initial offer to publish everything except the one book the Ninth Circuit had allowed them to suppress.)
After all their harping, Make us an offer! Make us an offer!, they now said flatly—no need for “complicated negotiations.”
The Deal That Almost Happened
Not long after my father sent the letter offering to license the works, he gave a sermon in Edmond in which he said it was impossible to make peace with a terrorist, using the example of Yasser Arafat. He said, “[I]f you give Yasser Arafat what he wants, he is still going to be trying to destroy Jerusalem and drive the Jews into the sea. That’s his goal.”5 In tying this in with the court case, he went on to say, “Now we’re not going to make a deal with the devil—we’ll have to fight through courts and go through a lot of problems like that, but we’re not going to make a deal with the devil ….”
By not making a deal, he meant that he wasn’t about to make one concession after another in hopes that we would somehow fall back into the wcg’s good graces. He didn’t want the pcg to be put in a compromising position where the wcg could then turn around and pistol-whip us into submission.
That said, however, it did not mean his conscience prevented him from ever paying the wcg money. He had, after all, offered to license Mr. Armstrong’s works just three weeks before the sermon quoted above. And a month before that, Dennis Leap told our Trumpet readers, “Unless the case is settled out of court, a damages trial must take place.”6 So we hadn’t ruled out settling, it just had to be according to ironclad terms that would prevent wcg from jerking the rug out from under us later on, after litigation.
Soon after our court case began, we seriously considered buying the wcg’s former college campus in Big Sandy, Texas. In May 1998, a little over a year after our lawsuit began, we anonymously offered them $5 million for the property, which they rejected. A year and a half later, with the property still on the market, we upped our offer to $6.5 million. A few days later, the realtor got back to our attorney and said that the wcg still considered the offer much too low and they didn’t like the fact that we were concealing our identity. But they were listening.
In February 2000, the wcg opted to use an auction firm to sell off the property and all the materials inside the structures. In sensing that they might be getting desperate to unload the campus, we worked furiously the next few weeks, trying to arrange financing that would allow us to make a $7 million offer. We hadn’t planned on attending the auction, but we felt that if we could give them an offer high enough to prevent them from having to auction off everything over the course of five days, that maybe we could sneak in and make a last-minute transaction.
As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened—except Hobby Lobby is the group that swooped in with an $8.5 million bid on the eve of the auction. We missed it by $1.5 million.
Of course, a lot has happened since our initial disappointment after Big Sandy fell through. Using the benefit of hindsight, we now see that God didn’t want us to have that campus.
But that’s not the point. The point is that we were prepared to pay the Worldwide Church of God $7 million for the Big Sandy campus. So it’s not like we were averse to giving them money in exchange for property. It just had to be a clear-cut deal, with no strings attached.
The same was true with Mr. Armstrong’s literature. Paying them for Mr. Armstrong’s works did not violate our conscience. But the circumstances for any such deal had to be just right.
Matthew Morgan concluded his April 8 rejection letter by saying, “[T]he wcg is extremely pleased that it’s [sic] decision to publish, not only serves as the best means for the church to capitalize on its literary copyrighted assets, but also has the additional benefit of fulfilling your church’s alleged spiritual needs as well.”7 They were now extremely pleased to be able to serve our alleged spiritual needs! Several weeks later, we found out why they were willing to make the literature available online (besides to gain a litigation advantage): Every e-published work would include a treacherous preface written by Joe Jr.’s childhood buddy, Michael Feazell. This was exactly the kind of “deal” we wanted no part of.
Feazell began the preface by saying Mr. Armstrong was a “gifted communicator” who, after years of personal study, began teaching religious doctrines that were “at odds with traditional Christianity.”8 But because of his “enthusiastic preaching,” he attracted millions of followers, Feazell concluded—as if what he taught was of little or no consequence. He was just enthusiastic.
After Mr. Armstrong’s death, the church “carefully reviewed” his doctrines and replaced them with “theologically sound ones.” Here again, we’re not talking about review, reform, modify or even replace. More like an unprecedented repudiation of foundational beliefs, the likes of which had never been seen in the history of religion!
Mr. Armstrong developed his unique body of beliefs because of a “personal bias against traditional orthodoxy,” Feazell wrote. That bias was imbedded into the “church’s culture” and it gave Mr. Armstrong a “unique advertising hook that captured many people’s interest.”9 According to Webster, “bias” is “a highly personal and unreasoned distortion of judgment.” Feazell was saying that Mr. Armstrong’s unreasoned distortion of judgment was the “hook” that caught people like fish. He just hooked people and reeled them in by his own craftiness and distortion of judgment. Of course, Feazell is entitled to his own opinion, but how vain and arrogant to utterly disregard the opinions of 80,000 others who were either forced out of the wcg or left in disgust.
Most of them don’t believe they were duped by an advertising hook. If anything, they were duped and deceived by Tkachism.
Feazell continued, “In conducting his studies, however, Armstrong had no seminary training and lacked any disciplined study of church history, biblical interpretation and original languages of Scripture.”10 Of course, neither did Joseph Tkach Sr., as we noted in Chapter 4.
Feazell went on to say that Mr. Armstrong viewed the adherents of other churches as “children of the devil.” Talk about a personal bias! This is the preface to be included at the beginning of all the literature we were seeking, and its whole point was to make us look like a hate-filled cult. Yes, the Bible says Satan is “the god of this world”11 and that the whole world is deceived.12 To say otherwise is to reject the Bible as God’s inspired word. But the Bible also speaks of all deceived people and churches eventually being given a chance for salvation.13 We believe that too. Jesus Christ died for this world—not for one church only.14
We look upon all peoples of this world as potential sons of God, whether they are presently Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist. Where else is there a Christian denomination with teachings that offer hope for all peoples everywhere—even those who die without ever having known Jesus?
Feazell continued in his preface,
Armstrong also had many unusual ideas about prophecy, and for some these may have been the most attractive doctrines of all. He taught that the United States and Britain are the modern descendants of the lost 10 tribes of Israel, and that most biblical prophecies therefore apply to the Anglo-Saxon peoples.15
As if God were only concerned about the Anglo-Saxon peoples. In his book, Tkach Jr. said church members used The United States and Britain in Prophecy as an excuse not to repent of racism. Quoting from a study paper on the subject, Tkach wrote in his book,
In the church, non-Anglo-Saxons sometimes found fellow Christians looking down on them simply because they were not “Israelites.” To these people, being German, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Ukrainian, Italian, Polish (or a member of any other ethnic group) was to be inferior. Perhaps as a form of psychological self-defense, a few of Eastern or Southern European descent would speculate that, perhaps due to Israel’s wanderings, they were Israelite, not Gentile. It somehow seemed inferior to be 100 percent Gentile. Obviously, such views do not belong among God’s people.16
How sad. We had racism in the church all those years—and all because of Mr. Armstrong’s literature.
Yet one of Mr. Armstrong’s final acts as pastor general in the wcg was to appoint, as his successor, a Gentile man of Russian descent whose parents were both born in Czechoslovakia.
And On It Goes
Feazell wrote, “Armstrong had complete authority doctrinally and administratively. Disloyalty among ministers was dealt with by firing and expulsion from the church fellowship.”17 He described Mr. Armstrong as a harsh dictator. And yet, when you look at how the wcg’s transformation was brought about, it could not have happened without authoritarian rule from the Tkaches forcing their new religion down our throats—or else forcing us out of the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach Jr. (and his father before him) has driven out nearly 75 percent of the church’s membership, including even his own sister and brother-in-law.
Ralph Helge threatened my sister with jail time in 1989 because she retrieved a partial list of wcg ministers from a garbage can. No authoritative threats there! The night Joe Jr. fired Gerald Flurry on the spot, my father pleaded with Tkach to at least discuss the items in question with a group of 15 ministers or so who were also dissatisfied with the church’s direction. He wouldn’t even consider the request.
And my father wasn’t the only minister who was mistreated. As David Hulme wrote in his resignation letter to Tkach Sr., “Upwards of 170 ministers are alienated, some terminated under questionable circumstances.”18
Feazell continued in the preface, “Based on Armstrong’s interpretation of biblical passages, wcg members were taught that use of prescription drugs and most forms of surgery constituted a lack of faith in God’s power to heal.”19 Yet another classic example of doublespeak. Notice what Tkach Jr. wrote to a member who was leaving the wcg in 1990: “Actually, if you carefully read the latter portion of his [Mr. Armstrong’s] own booklet on healing, it will become clear that he was acknowledging that there is much good that doctors can do.”20 Indeed, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[I]t is true that today most doctors prescribe medicines that are not poisons but rather are designed to help nature do its own healing.”21
Today, of course, their story portrays Mr. Armstrong’s teaching as dangerous and fanatical.
The preface concluded with this statement: “The material below is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form without this entire preface and without written permission from the Worldwide Church of God.”22
Thus, as Matthew Morgan said in his rejection letter, due to the “additional benefit” of the wcg’s e-publishing offer to help fulfill pcg’s “alleged” spiritual needs, we could now direct prospective members, who might know nothing about Herbert Armstrong, to download a copy of Mystery of the Ages (at a cost of $25) with a 1,500-word preface denouncing the author as a self-absorbed, racially bigoted, religiously biased, uneducated hack who taught heretical doctrines and bizarre prophecies while wielding dictatorial control over the Worldwide Church of God.