It was the first Feast of Tabernacles my family attended in the newly built auditorium, and the post-service huddle over which adult would watch which child had begun. I won the bracket, as far as I was concerned, because my grandfather would take me on his fellowshipping rounds, and he was one of the few adults who I found able to manage consistently interesting conversation.
He held my hand as we walked, stopping to talk to an older gentleman. The introductions of each name, and then a pause – the gentleman repeated my grandfather’s name thoughtfully.
“I’ve read that name somewhere recently, in my study, oddly …”
My grandpa smiled, patting my hair down with his left hand while extending his right in a second handshake to the man. “Page 224 of Raising the Ruins.”
Interesting conversation I was used to; revelations of celebrityhood I was not. That afternoon, I asked my parents to show me page 224. And years later, I began to wonder: what was the story off the page?
In 1996, Mark Carroll was a husband, father to three teenage girls, vice president of a printing company, Peerless, and the prepress manager for all pcg publications. And walking away from a meeting with Mr. Flurry and Mr. Stephen Flurry, he also became a key participant in a confidential plan, to remain undisclosed not only from his coworkers and boss at Peerless, but also initially from his fellow brethren.
The Worldwide Church of God copyright held Mr. Armstrong’s works hostage at this time. But God had given His Church access to a printing company and placed one of His own in a high rank inside it for just such a time as this.
After Mr. Stephen Flurry placed a call to a copyright attorney, it had been decided that the new copies of Mystery of the Ages would be printed under the copyright “Herbert W. Armstrong,” a solution that, while wholly true to Mr. Armstrong’s intentions in distributing the book, still led to litigation by men determined to perform their “Christian duty” in silencing the message completely. Mr. Carroll knew this, and thus felt excited moving forward with the project—while also giving some consideration to the decor he’d like in his prison cell when this was all over.
He didn’t waste any time in beginning. Tens of thousands of uncut pages streamed from the presses and laid out on massive palettes on the pressroom floor. In those days, the Central Arkansas Spokesman’s Club met at Peerless, and due to the sensitive project spread across the presses, Mr. Carroll instructed the men to enter through the front entrance instead of the side doors as they typically did. One member came in as usual, however. He stopped in the center of the room, setting his briefcase high on a palette and admiring the machinery around him, oblivious to the hundreds of running headers on each page that with one glance downward would have informed him of the then-covert undertaking to revive Mr. Armstrong’s greatest work. Mr. Carroll rushed him out of the room.
Mr. Carroll took care to keep the project as low-profile as possible at his company, scheduling time on the floor for its printing as “Mark’s project” rather than specifying the product and keeping it below the radar of his boss, Sam Bracey. Mr. Carroll prioritized plausible deniability for everyone else at this point in redistributing Mystery of the Ages so he could take responsibility himself and avoid implicating those around him when legal issues arose.
The WCG sued the PCG on March 3, 1997, just months after printing began—but only after 20,000 copies of Mystery of the Ages had come off the presses at Peerless. Mr. Carroll’s next priority was to keep his family safe as he began to be targeted by WCG lawyers. The landline phone, he instructed his daughters, was no longer to be answered by any of them.
However, lifelong habits are difficult to break, even when your dad is having a stressful time at work.
“Carroll residence, Meredith speaking.”
A man’s voice, dripping with southern drawl, answered her. He asked to speak to her father, Mr. Carroll.
“He can’t come to the phone right now,” she replied.
The man sighed. “Now, Mere,” he said, “I’m not lookin’ to hurt your dad.”
Meredith, though startled, kept insisting her father couldn’t talk at the moment, asking if she could take a message. The response worried her further: “No, I wouldn’t like to leave my name.”
Immediately, Meredith shoved the receiver back onto the cradle.
Shortly after the wcg filed the suit, court documents began to arrive in the mailbox at the Carrolls’ home. Letters from lawyers threatened more legal action against him and his daughter “Marilyn.” The lawyers knew one of his daughters also worked at Peerless and meant to implicate Meredith, but their source was mistaken about the name. This didn’t disturb them more than other letters had until the family realized, later that summer, how the name had come to the lawyers’ attention. A former pcg member had leaked the vaguely remembered name to threaten them.
Meanwhile, the President of Peerless, Mr. Bracey, also received threatening letters from lawyers. Since Mr. Carroll hadn’t involved him in any of the printing, the letters confused him. Mr. Carroll walked to his office, explaining what he had done. He accepted full responsibility, offered to be fired, and further advised the President on how he could avoid legal trouble for the company by proving that Mr. Carroll had acted on his own, without the company’s knowledge.
After listening intently, Mr. Bracey leaned back in his chair and spread his hands. “I hate those lawyers. So whatever you and your church need, I’m here for.”
Mr. Carroll breathed a sigh of relief on the other side of the desk. God allowed him to keep his job and support his family, not despite the fact that he printed Mystery of the Ages, as his youngest daughter explained, but because of it. “We were protected and so was Peerless, and I think that had a lot to do with his ‘yessir’ attitude. I think God was happy with that,” she told me.
Even after the lawsuit began and printing halted at Peerless, the Carrolls stayed busy, fielding calls from lawyers and driving to Edmond to prepare for potential depositions. Every distributed copy of Mystery of the Ages had to be returned from across the world, and although members of the Church were aware of the ongoing court cases as they progressed into the early 2000s, Mr. Carroll still stressed to his girls the importance of keeping the details of the printing operation private.
Finally, 2001 arrived. Mr. Carroll’s daughters had grown up and the court battle taxing the Church was over, reaching the Ninth Circuit court: The pcg had lost the court case, and the Supreme Court had denied the appeal to hear the case in April 2001. The ruling stood, and although the pcg countersuit was underway, no concrete victory appeared near.
At this point of apparent defeat, God miraculously brought the WCG to agree to sell 19 copyrights for Mr. Armstrong’s works on January 16, 2003, a greater victory than even a positive Supreme Court ruling could have provided. God’s victory over Satan’s attempt to silence His word still impacts God’s Church today: Each work continues to be printed and changes readers’ lives worldwide.
But there is a larger lesson to learn from this story—one that I understood more personally only after looking up page 224 in Raising the Ruins. Mark Carroll, my grandfather, was not the only one to take risks to stand up for God. Most likely, your family sacrificed also, perhaps missing summer camps and increasing financial offerings. And most likely, when you read this history, when you realize how personal it is, you will find yourself willing and wanting to sacrifice for it too.
So what can you and I, the next generation, do to continue our families’ and the Church’s legacy of serving and fighting for God? As young people, we look up to our parents as teachers and leaders. But obedience is a family affair: Our job is to support our families as building blocks of God’s work through faithful obedience and prayer. Your parents are in God’s hands because they obey Him in faith just as you are in His hands because you’ve obeyed your parents in faith.
We know that the court battle for Mystery of the Ages was not the last time the U.S. legal system will be involved in Satan’s attempt to obscure truth. But if we know our family history, we will know the outcome of future persecution as we stand up for God; after all, He has placed us here for such a time as this.