Growing up in God’s true Church, I always found it a bit thrilling if someone I knew had heard of “my church.” As the Bible says, it has always been a “little flock” (Luke 12:32)—removed “into a corner” (Isaiah 30:20). Aspects of God’s Work have reached some special fame, but rarely is the Church in the national news.
That was not the case in 1979 for the Worldwide Church of God.
Its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, said these events “will go down in history for the next thousand years!” (Co-worker letter, Feb. 7, 1979).
How familiar are you with this history?
About 45 years on from the fateful day this all began, you need to know what took place. It is utterly relevant to our time right now. If you have issues with faith and trusting in God, you need this history. If you have trouble realizing your importance in this Work, you need this history. If you have fears about what kind of persecution may come against God’s Church in the future, you need this history.
This is the history of how a human government sought to invade and hijack the Church of the living God, and how God responded—not just in how He inspired His apostle to respond, but how He used the membership to change the course of the ordeal.
God’s apostle of our day, Gerald Flurry, has repeatedly pointed back to this event as the reason one particular state continues to be cursed with disaster after disaster. That state was California—the most populous in the United States.
To retell this, we will mostly use the words of Mr. Armstrong himself. This is how I personally approached learning more about this, as I was not quite three years old at the outset of this, and I felt it was too important not to understand. Through Mr. Armstrong’s words, we can almost experience for ourselves what took place.
Some historical material produced by the Philadelphia Church of God will supplement this, including an article from one of our own ministers (Fred Dattolo) who wrote a firsthand account in the November-December 2016 Philadelphian. There is also a book titled Against the Gates of Hell, penned by the late Stanley Rader—an eyewitness, a named defendant in the case, and Mr. Armstrong’s chief legal and financial adviser. Mr. Armstrong specifically praised Mr. Rader’s work in this case, so we will consider Mr. Rader’s account.
The Day Mr. Armstrong Was “Fired”
One thing stands out about Mr. Armstrong’s letters from this time. He opens his first letter about the attack: “Our Great God is still on His throne!” (Jan. 7, 1979). This axiom is repeated in three more letters over the next two months. This is the perspective God’s Apostle had while the Church was under vicious attack.
So what happened?
During the 1970s, Mr. Armstrong was often traveling up to 300 days a year. Such prolonged absences led to an insurrection in 1974 when 35 ministers revolted and took a few thousand members with them. In 1975, Mr. Armstrong still had an “intuition” that a “conspiracy was in progress to take over total command of all God’s Work” (ibid). He told his son, Garner Ted, about it, who assured his father there was no such conspiracy.
This rigorous travel schedule took a toll on Mr. Armstrong’s health. In August 1977, Mr. Armstrong experienced complete heart failure: His heart stopped for nearly a minute. After his miraculous revival, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, to fully recover. Then he discovered that his son had craftily produced an unbiblical doctrinal “bible” of sorts and distributed it to the ministry. Mr. Armstrong had to disfellowship his son. He tried to do so privately in hopes that it might only be temporary. But shortly afterward, Garner Ted took certain allegations to the press—forcing his father to disfellowship him publicly and permanently. That fall, Ted garnered six dissidents of the wcg to plan a lawsuit against their former Church.
Mr. Armstrong described this in his June 8, 1979, letter: “My son prompted and engineered this massive assault on God’s Work … though he managed craftily to keep his name out and let other stooges take the blame.”
In the January 7 letter, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “As a result of things he falsely claimed, a few … ex-members … launched a legal, civil suit against the Church. … They managed to have this suit backed by the acting attorney-general’s office (whose acting authority ends in a few days).” (Americans are familiar with how elections are often held in November, but the inauguration of newly elected officials happens the following January.) But it was the Deputy Attorney General, Lawrence Tapper—who served both the outgoing and incoming AG—who was the main antagonist to the Church.
Mr. Tapper heard the accusations from the lawyers representing the disgruntled wcg dissidents: that the Church was failing to properly track its expenses and that its leaders were siphoning off the wcg’s income for themselves (namely Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Rader). He arranged an ex parte hearing in the chambers of a Los Angeles superior court judge on Tuesday, January 2. Basically this means the meeting was kept secret from the wcg, who therefore could not defend themselves before the judge. The idea that it was “ex parte” was a miscarriage of justice already. Legal action can only be ex parte when the action required is urgent and essential to prevent further wrongdoing.
Eventually the transcript of this secret meeting was released. The judge addressed a man named Steven Weisman, who would be appointed as a “receiver” of the Church—a man who would take control of the Church on behalf of the State of California. To Mr. Weisman, the judge said: “It has been urged that this bowl of spiders [referring to the wcg] be put in your custody. … Are you willing to become involved … as a receiver?” Weisman replied: “Yes, I am.”
Micah 7:3 comes to mind: “That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.” As Mr. Flurry explains in No Freedom Without Law, “wrap it up” here means they “conspire to subvert justice!” Time would show who was really the “bowl of spiders.”
So on Wednesday, January 3, with the wcg having no prior knowledge any of this was happening, Weisman showed up without notice. This too was illegal. Mr. Armstrong wrote in a letter on the one-year anniversary of this: “The secretly court-appointed receiver, without a shred of evidence, but on the trumped-up ridiculously false allegations of six expelled former members, came with an armed task force to take over $80 million worth of headquarters property.”
God’s Church headquarters had been invaded! At that time Mr. Armstrong was still in Tucson.
He describes that morning in his Feb. 7, 1979, letter: “Ellis LaRavia was the only minister or department head there at the time. To him, Receiver Weisman said, total, absolute power of the Church and Work of the living God had been given to him, including all assets. Mr. LaRavia was told, ‘We’re going to completely reorganize this Church along traditional (worldly) lines, appointing a new Board of Directors, fire and hire whom we please. Herbert Armstrong is out—no longer pastor general, or even in this organization.’ Later, to my secretary, Receiver Weisman said Herbert W. Armstrong is completely out of this organization. Yet both of our people later heard ex-judge Weisman say in Court, under oath, that he had not said he had put me out.”
On multiple occasions, Mr. Armstrong described the attack as “monstrous” and laid the blame on Satan the devil. In a letter over a year after it began, Mr. Armstrong called it “the greatest satanic persecution in the modern history of the Church” (Jan. 10, 1980).
Four days later, God moved to give His Church its first “tremendous victory” in the battles that would lie ahead. Mr. Armstrong described it in his January 7 letter—the first one to approximately 75,000 brethren and 170,000 co-workers about the attack: “… vindicated in the court, the conspiracy actually triggered by Satan broken. … [W]hen this suit came for a hearing in court, Friday afternoon, January 5th, God gave us the victory. Although our records were seized, no evidence of any wrongdoing had appeared. … In the court hearing Friday, the court ordered all our seized records returned.”
The receiver was still there, but his power was greatly reduced to interfere in the Church’s daily business. Mr. Rader writes: “He was no longer ‘the boss’—not, at least, until a court would hear both sides fully on the following Wednesday. … It was a significant victory. But court battles still lay ahead.”
California guarantees separation of church and state in its constitution, yet its officials appointed C. Wayne Cole (who oversaw the ministry under Mr. Armstrong) as the head of the church! Mr. Armstrong writes: “But by Friday afternoon Christ’s chosen apostle was back in power and Mr. Cole was out.”
See, Wayne Cole was in on it with the dissidents! He actually tried to get Mr. Armstrong to employ Beverly Hills lawyer Hillel Chodos to represent the wcg, but Chodos represented the dissidents, and he was also appointed as deputy receiver. How ludicrous! Mr. Rader said, “It is difficult to use restrained language in characterizing that incredible request. Cole was actually asking the pastor general to allow the same attorney to represent both the plaintiffs and the defendant in the same lawsuit! It would be literally placing a fox … in the chicken coop.”
Once Mr. Armstrong realized what was going on, he told Mr. Rader to remove Mr. Cole, stating in a signed affidavit: “I will not submit to the government’s administering of the government of God’s Church and Work. Therefore, as the appointed Apostle of Jesus Christ, I commanded Messrs. Raymond McNair, Roderick Meredith, Ellis LaRavia, Ralph Helge and Stanley R. Rader, in Christ’s name, to do everything possible to protect the Church’s operations under me.”
This affidavit was read from the Ambassador Auditorium stage on that Friday, January 5, in an all-employee staff meeting. Mr. Dattolo, then working in the accounting department, relates this: “However, even though Mr. Cole had been relieved of his post, he and his supporters showed up. There was some shouting and verbal confrontation by his supporters at the beginning of the meeting, and Mr. Cole tried to commandeer the microphone at the end of the meeting, but the team Mr. Armstrong appointed prevailed.”
The “Day of Battle”
In that January 7 letter, Mr. Armstrong also mentioned that he was struck with a sore throat and fever through the “crucial ordeal”—adding in a letter two weeks later that it was actually the Asian flu. This incident was taking its toll on the 86-year-old!
He also learned that the initial victory they received was not full. He told members on January 14: “On January 12, the court [of Julius Title] ordered that … Weisman ‘is to take possession and control of the Church.’” This gave him the right to supervise all Church activities, fire employees and use Church funds as he saw fit. “This order is an abomination,” Mr. Armstrong wrote.
According to this order, the Church couldn’t use its own money to defend itself against the state! Instead, the money was being redirected by the receiver, “whose pay and expenses for his supporting staff are to run much higher than either mine or Mr. Rader’s ever did, and who is using God’s tithe money to pay prosecution expenses and to destroy God’s Church!”
God’s apostle informed the membership that any money sent to headquarters would immediately go into the hands of the state’s receiver, so he requested all tithes and offerings be sent to him personally in Tucson. “Send the most generous offerings it is possible for you to send to defend God’s Work. And please state in your letter, in your own words, that this money is your endorsement of my apostleship, and the money is to be used for defending God’s work as I, Christ’s apostle, deem best.”
He then referenced a vivid end-time prophecy in Zechariah 14:3: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” Jesus Christ doesn’t just battle when He returns in power and glory, but He fights in like manner before that. He defends His Church.
Mr. Armstrong added: “The time has come to stand up and be counted, all you who are on God’s side! Pray! Sacrifice as never before! God’s Work shall go on.”
The receiver tried to stop one such letter from being mailed to Church members, and he sent his own letter to wcg ministry, threatening that anyone sending contributions directly to Mr. Armstrong would be in contempt of court in California, even if the donor lived outside the state!
Our book Raising the Ruins, by Stephen Flurry, notes: “Perhaps at no time is the true character of a leader unveiled more than at a time of crisis. … Those familiar with the wcg during those days witnessed firsthand Mr. Armstrong’s fighting spirit.” He then quoted Stanley Rader saying about this time: “Problems have never upset Mr. Armstrong, and he reacted even to this serious threat with serenity, courage and confidence.”
The Most Important Letter
“This may be the most important letter I have ever written,” said Mr. Armstrong on Jan. 18, 1979. “The very life of God’s Church and His Work hangs in the balance.” Twenty-five years later, Gerald Flurry agreed that it was “the most important letter Mr. Armstrong ever wrote to God’s Church.” It was printed in Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography, and portions of it in our own Habakkuk booklet, but please read these quotes: “I want you to know all the facts about this master-blow of Satan to destroy the Church of God through the civil power of the State, in flagrant violation of the Constitution of the United States!
“I thought on January 7, when I wrote you, that God had then given us the victory in this decisive life-and-death assault against Almighty God, Jesus Christ and God’s Church. It was reported to me then that the judge in the hearing of that day had said he found no evidence of any wrongdoing. And that was true—and no evidence of any wrongdoing or justification for this monstrous outrage against God’s Work has been found against us. Nor will they find any in our records—for few, if any, corporations have kept as accurate and clean-cut records as God’s Church.
“Yet this case hangs on, and the court-appointed receiver (a cigarette-smoking ex-judge in our executive offices) is making every effort to take over to himself the entire Church and all its assets.”
Mr. Armstrong asked why God would allow this and then answered: “… because we were drifting into a careless lukewarm spiritual condition! God has allowed Satan to bring this upon us. First, to wake us up spiritually and bring us back closer to Him, and second, to draw us closer together and third, to sift out from our midst some of the chaff from the wheat. Brethren, this terrible ordeal is accomplishing those three things! It is a sifting time.”
He quoted the first part of Daniel 12:10 (“Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried ….”) and said this verse “is speaking of this very time shortly before Christ’s Second Coming!” He had faith that God would “restore to us and His Work double or much more than double, once His purpose, as I stated above, has been accomplished.” Admonishing members to draw closer to God, he called for a Church-wide fast on the Sabbath of January 27, 1979. It was later noted that the fast brought many closer to God and each other, helped clean up the Church, and caused Mr. Armstrong to reorganize Church administration.
The Brethren Make Headlines
“Then it began,” Mr. Rader writes in the most descriptive account of what happened between that letter of Mr. Armstrong’s and the Church-wide fast.
“Nobody knew what triggered it. There was no summons from Herbert Armstrong, none from me, or from any of the Church officials or ministers. … It started with a trickle of Church members on Sunday, January 21, just after the rebuff in the federal court. Soon the trickle became a flood, a massive outpouring of loyal members who converged on Church headquarters from all over California and neighboring states.
“By Wednesday, January 24, we were astounded to discover that more than 3,500 men, women and children had come to Pasadena to defend their Church. … There were people in suits and ties and in blue jeans; there were parents with infants in their arms, … young people and men and women deep in their eighties and even older. … [T]here were license plates from Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Texas. They were all our people, these faithful, who came because they were determined to save their Church.”
Raising the Ruins called this “a spontaneous reaction of faith and courage by those members who set out to defend Mr. Armstrong and the wcg.”
Someone at headquarters called Mr. Armstrong in Tucson, seeing if he had ordered what one newspaper later called “a defiant human wall.” Mr. Armstrong replied, “I don’t know anything about it.”
Mr. Rader continued: “Watching them come, the headquarters staff was at first puzzled; then, realizing the significance of what they were witnessing, many felt the sting of tears behind their eyes; some wept openly at this remarkable spontaneous display of loyalty, courage, and trust. Soon the large open space on the main floor of the administration building was filled with the arrivals.”
These supporters went anywhere in the building they could find space, dropping down blankets, sleeping bags, knapsacks and larger luggage in some cases. “Almost at once, huge hand-lettered signs were fashioned and hung outside,” Mr. Rader wrote. “One, above the door of the administration building, read: ‘You can’t destroy God’s Church.’ Another said: ‘Owned by the Creator God Not the State of California.’ A third: ‘Herbert W. Armstrong is God’s Apostle.’”
Mr. Armstrong commented on this occasion in his letter the day after the Church-wide fast: “This was a brethren-to-brethren outraged response. This made even bigger headlines. Neither I nor any minister had anything to do with this. The suit was a ‘class-action suit’—this was a ‘mass action response!’ Women brought their babies and children, willing to be arrested if the authorities went that far. They were harming no one—just protecting God’s property.” He called the move “history shattering.”
Holy Mighty Majesty!
The Monday morning of what became known as the “sit in,” Weisman and his aides came to wcg headquarters, but Church members blocked the way in. “There was no violence or even the hint of it,” Mr. Rader describes. “They simply told the receiver that he could not enter the nerve center of their Church. Weisman, who had not expected this new development, immediately filed a claim with Judge Title. The judge told our attorneys to warn our people against interfering with the receiver in any way. If the protesting members did not leave voluntarily, Judge Title said, the court would order them removed.”
Mr. Rader got a message to those inside, telling them to comply. “Much as we all wanted them out of there, they were—temporarily at least—legally entitled to be there.”
He continued in his book: “All day long the faithful kept arriving. It was a movement that seemed to feed on itself: news of the first arrivals, published in newspapers and witnessed on television, inspired others. They left jobs, shut the doors of their shops, packed and came.”
A worship service had begun in the hall of administration. After an opening prayer, they sang hymns. One went: “The Eternal reigneth high above, He is mighty. He is great; There between the cherubim He sits; let the people praise His name.”
Mr. Rader recounts: “The voices rose from the blanket-covered marble floor and came down from the upper stories, bounding back from the walls in a mighty wave of sound. … The meaning of the words was not lost on the members, who sang with even greater fervor.”
An account in Acts 4 shows how Church members of the first century encouraged their apostles who had undergone some severe persecution: “… they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is” (verse 24). They too sang a hymn about God ruling.
Mr. Armstrong quotes that passage in his seminal work Mystery of the Ages, stating how fundamental the members’ support is to the functioning of God’s apostles. “Peter and John sorely needed this loyalty, backing and the prayers of the lay members. They were all a team together!” Then Mr. Armstrong writes: “Take a recent modern example.” Here he begins to describe the “sudden, unexpected massive armed assault” on the wcg by the State of California, which claimed “all church property and assets belong to the state, and a court had secretly appointed a receiver to take over, run and operate the Church of the living God!”
Mystery of the Ages then describes: “But when the receiver was about to enter with his staff and deputy sheriffs the Hall of Administration and other headquarters buildings, some 5,000 lay members, with children and babies, crowded these buildings in extended and continuous prayer services. The doors were locked. The armed officials did not quite dare to break down the doors and disturb these massive and orderly prayer services. After three days they gave up. The receiver, an ex-judge of a non-Christian faith, resigned.”
That gives away some of the ensuing events, but here is the drama that unfolded in those three days.
By Tuesday morning, January 23, numbers of members at headquarters had swelled to 5,500. That day, the receiver’s chief operations officer, a man named Sheridan Atkinson, came with two sheriff’s deputies:
“The tall glass doors were locked. Behind them, grim faced, stood a wall of people.
“The deputies struggled with the doors, rattled them, inserted a key into the lock, twisted it. The key did not work. Inside, the members raised their voices in ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ The words of the stirring hymn were heard clearly outside in the still morning air.
“Atkinson went behind the building to try to gain admission through a rear entrance, but this too was locked. From the inside, youthful Wayne Pyle, a deacon who was guarding the door, calmly told him: ‘We do not recognize your authority. You’ll have to break it down to get in. You’ve hurt the Church badly. You are trampling on our religious freedoms.” Behind him, hundreds of members, noting that the scene of the confrontation had changed, moved en masse behind Pyle and again began singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’
“Atkinson, baffled, retreated across Green Street, a few hundred feet off, conferred briefly with the sheriff’s deputies, then left in an unmarked car.”
Acts 4:31 reads: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
After Atkinson left, Mr. Rader and Mr. Helge addressed the brethren there, as they awaited to hear directly from the Pastor General via phone hook-up. His voice was “strong and clear,” Mr. Rader said, as it filled buildings where brethren were encamped. “Like the Apostles Peter and Paul, who were jailed for their beliefs, Herbert Armstrong told us he was ready too. If the members had to suffer persecution by being thrown into prison, the 87-year-old pastor general announced that he would lead his followers into the cells.”
Then Mr. Rader quotes Mr. Armstrong’s address: “The people of God have always been willing to suffer whatever they have to do for the Living God. And I tell you, this has drawn us together. We are fighting this battle for all churches, for all religions. We’re fighting it for freedom of press and freedom of religion, for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. All of these things are being now threatened by certain judges, ex-judges, and all I can say is this: What God teaches us through the Bible is that we are to be subject to the powers that be of the government of man. But being subject does not always mean obey. When it comes to a difference between God and man, we are to obey God rather than man. But yet we will be subject to man if they throw us in prison …. The Living God is fighting this battle for us, and against forces that are not God’s forces. So I go on record as saying that.
“We are a law-abiding people. We are subject to the law. We are patriotic. We are loyal. We love our country. But unfortunately, we’re living in a world where there is a great deal of evil. … They have not one shred of evidence. We have done no evil. We are only doing what the Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned us to do. And I say to you by the authority of Jesus Christ we shall go on doing it, no matter what happens.
“And if we have to begin to suffer the persecution of being thrown in prison, I will be the first to be ready to go. If they want to throw eighty-seven-year-old people into prison, if they want to throw women and little children that are there into prison, I think they’re ready to go.”
“Deputies mass for church raid,” was a Pasadena Star-News headline then. An ominous storm appeared to be brewing. A park about a mile away had been turned into a staging area for several hundred law enforcement officials—costing taxpayers an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 for every hour they waited—fully equipped with riot gear, including guns, gas masks, tear gas canisters, long nightsticks and helmets. “Parked nose to tailpipe in the park was a long line of buses; drawn up close were dozens of police cars,” Mr. Rader wrote. “There was no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of the newspersons covering the story, that the authorities were preparing to make wholesale arrests.”
But there was an intriguing occurrence here: The Pasadena police department apparently couldn’t muster enough personnel to contribute to the potential assault. Mr. Rader said: “Many members of the force, who knew us and were our friends, were suddenly calling in sick; reinforcements had to be summoned from Los Angeles.”
And the character of God’s people shined through this adversity. Some carried hot lunches over to the assembled deputy sheriffs! Mr. Armstrong described this in his Feb. 7, 1979, letter.
The receiver called Mr. Rader on Wednesday, January 24, asking: “Can’t we work out some kind of compromise?”
Mr. Armstrong described this phone call in his Jan. 28, 1979, letter: “The ex-judge had secured a court order to use force. … Putting about 5½ thousand people in jail would be quite a job!” Commenting on the receiver’s request for compromise, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “This was his first admission of defeat or of backing down! ‘Absolutely no compromise,’ said Mr. Rader, firmly. ‘You have violated the law and the U.S. Constitution in breaking in without notice, and in appointing one representing the state to take over and operate God’s Church. You have violated the First Amendment guaranteeing separation of church and state.’ Finally the receiver agreed to stay off our campus proper. He agreed to work, checking our books, in a small room over in the old press building the other side of the freeway.”
A Mastermind Move
In that letter, Mr. Armstrong said he was happy to have the Church’s financial records checked because it would prove the Church innocent! He praised Stanley Rader for securing the U.S.’s most prestigious cpa firm to audit the books. He later called it a “mastermind move” and declared that the state’s case was doomed from that moment forward.
Here Mr. Armstrong addressed the alleged “lavish spending” and “siphoning off” of funds for personal use. Mr. Armstrong had spent several years to this point having visited the monarchs of other nations. Critics said it was “extravagance” for Mr. Armstrong to buy them expensive gifts, and Mr. Armstrong replied that this is expected if one is to have audience with a monarch, not unlike the custom of the wise men with the young Jesus as seen in Matthew 2:11.
He even addressed a purchase he made in order to bring his daughter Beverly on one of the trips as a hostess. Even though it was for official use for her service on the visit, he made the purchase out of personal funds “on which both federal and state income tax had been paid … not a cent from corporate funds.” This was in stark contrast to the receiver who had, early on, requested $100,000 for his personal use!
Later Mr. Armstrong stated: “I am sure you realize that when I am meeting with kings, emperors, prime ministers and presidents of nations, it is needful to stay at the best hotels. I represent you in these meetings, which pave the way to carry Christ’s message into their countries.”
Remarkably, these prestigious visits did not stop during this attack on the Church. Even the most important one to date happened during this period.
In his next letter (February 7), he defended the Work’s expenses in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, denying their “extravagance.” And though the Church always followed Christ’s admonition to render to Caesar that which was Caesar’s and to God that which was God’s, the Church itself was God’s—and Mr. Armstrong would not yield it to an unlawful “Caesar.” He reinforced that the state had acted illegally and that the Church had not broken any laws—answering claims his ex-communicated son had made on the air about the Church violating the law of the land.
Mr. Flurry has drawn a connection between this struggle and the original Zerubbabel, who built the temple to which the Messiah came the first time. God was using Mr. Armstrong as a Zerubbabel type, who was building the spiritual temple to which the Messiah would return. In both ancient and modern instances, these Zerubbabels faced intense persecution from local governments—enemies who “hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:5).
“Hallelujah!! God is still on His throne!” Mr. Armstrong wrote on Feb. 24, 1979. Just three days earlier—exactly one month after the “sit in” began—the “receivership” was suspended. God “has given us victory in a major battle—but the war is not yet over!”
Though the court had removed the receiver, the lawsuit had not concluded. Still, this was a major triumph.
In this letter, Mr. Armstrong quoted a full-page ad that he would run in the Los Angeles Times and other major American city newspapers in mid-March. He kept fighting! The ad trumpeted this fact: “During the two-months term of the receivership the Church has lost $5.3 million in working capital. In addition, normal bank credit lines were curtailed and $1.3 million in demand notes were called.”
The financial strain on the Church had been colossal. Before the attack, the Church had been planning to borrow money early in the year until it could pay the loan back after spring holy day offerings, and then do the same mid-year and pay everything back after the fall holy day offerings. But the January 1979 assault by the state ruined the Church’s credit in an instant.
Looking back on this two years later, Mr. Armstrong noted: “We couldn’t borrow. God was with us! We didn’t need to! From that day we have not had to borrow a cent at the bank. And God has made it possible to keep the budget balanced! For the first time!” (Feb. 8, 1981).
If you recall, Mr. Armstrong had predicted in his “most important letter” that the Work’s growth would double or more after God’s purpose was achieved. Mr. Dattolo’s Philadelphian article documents this growth in detail, stating: “Compared to the 1970s, the 1980s were nothing short of breathtaking! True to Mr. Armstrong’s prediction, God had ‘more than doubled’ the income and in just seven short years!”
Response to Another Receivership
As exciting as the receivership’s suspension was, it came with a price tag. Judge Title ordered the Church to pay the receiver $250,000 in legal fees. The wcg obviously appealed this decision. But Judge Title used that move to reimpose the receivership on March 12. He said the Church’s appeal “raised a question as to why they are resisting.” He saw it as the wcg resisting audit, which was ridiculous since Mr. Armstrong openly welcomed that!
“Word of the appointment of a new receiver was heard with alarm by the membership,” wrote Mr. Rader. “Once again, as they did less than two months earlier, men, women and children converged on headquarters in a massive protest demonstration. Once again families poured in from all over, with suitcases, sleeping bags, Bibles, games for the children, sandwiches and coffee jugs, determined to remain until this new burden was lifted. As before, they stationed themselves inside the building, human barricades against the imposition of the court order they deemed illegal.”
Beyond a mere sit-in, the membership responded in another impactful way. Judge Title gave the Church an option to keep the receiver away: It had to post a $1 million bond. Someone at headquarters quickly organized a telephone campaign throughout the U.S. and Canada to raise funds. The response was incredible. By the next morning, $200,000 had been raised, and by the afternoon $400,000.
The campaign continued 48 hours, during which its organizers “got virtually no sleep,” Mr. Rader wrote. “On Thursday evening, the phone blitz had brought in pledges well beyond the required sum, and before the week was out, the total had reached $3.4 million! Many hundreds of members responded, signing affidavits in which they pledged anywhere from $100 to as much as $50,000 and higher. The affidavits guaranteed that the signers would come up with cash if it was needed. As collateral for the pledges of $2,000 and more, the members listed assets ranging from jewelry, bank accounts and automobiles to their homes and furniture. In court, we posted the surety-backed bond, which was accepted by Judge Title. After a final service, the members who had come a second time to defend their church left for home, smiles on their faces.”
An appellate court document dated Dec. 9, 1981, recorded that 900 Church members pledged in excess of $3.4 million in security. This too is like the sacrifices made by first-century members of God’s Church (see Acts 4:32-35).
Mr. Armstrong said this stay bond “won another major battle in the war launched by the state …. But the main war is not over, and probably may have to be carried to the Supreme Court ….” He lauded brethren for their dedication: “I think I can almost hear God’s voice from above saying, ‘All you children are coming through this test with flying colors. You are my beloved, begotten children, in whom I am well pleased!’” (Mar. 19, 1979).
However famous the ordeal was by this point, on April 15 it reached a new level with an episode of the prominent news program 60 Minutes, hosted by Mike Wallace. Mr. Wallace interviewed Mr. Rader for two hours, but the show ended up cherry-picking a small portion of it to make the wcg look bad. In a letter dated the next day, Mr. Armstrong slammed Wallace for the “below-the-belt swat at the Church and Work of the living God!”
Mr. Armstrong used this April 16 letter to quote more of the interview and give proper context (even more is quoted in Mr. Rader’s book). Then Mr. Armstrong said the entire lawsuit centered on “whether we are expending funds for the purposes for which we incorporated.”
He explained: “When we have expended the smallest amount of money of any department in the Work, on our budget, for proclaiming Christ’s gospel message around the world by my personal evangelism, they try to misrepresent that as siphoning off money for my own pocket. Perhaps I will have a steward on our jet plane write an article of what he actually sees me and Mr. Rader do on trips around the world. We are busy every minute. I am writing articles, letters, or proclaiming the gospel on my typewriter on the plane, in my hotel rooms almost every minute I am not out preaching to big crowds ….”
The legal struggle rumbled on through the summer months. Mr. Armstrong noted, “other churches and religious organizations are lining up behind us, on our side, in this suit” (Aug. 20, 1979). Whether or not other churches agreed with the wcg doctrinally, they saw the danger of what the state was doing and wanted to protect their religious freedoms. “It is still a battle to decide ‘who is Lord—Caesar or Christ?’ Rest assured, Christ will win this battle!”
The 1979 Feast of Tabernacles was approaching—the first since the state’s attack, and “perhaps the greatest in 1,900 years,” Mr. Armstrong anticipated (Sept. 20, 1979). After the festival, he dubbed it “the greatest Feast of Tabernacles in our time …. We have not had such unity and togetherness in 15 years” (Oct. 26, 1979).
Shortly after that, Mr. Armstrong took “probably the most important and successful single trip overseas” (Dec. 18, 1979). He called it “the most important event in the Work in our time” (Jan. 10, 1980). This was not exaggeration. In the December letter, he explained: “I was honored to be the first church leader from the world of Christianity to be invited as a guest speaker for personal conference with leaders of the Communist People’s Republic of China. There I spoke with leaders who shape the minds and thinking and beliefs of one fourth of all the people on Earth! … God was with us. He gave us great favor in the eyes of Chinese hosts.”
This was just one example of the “great year for God’s Work,” he wrote, “in spite of the massive assault by the attorney general’s office …. We have gotten through this year without having to borrow from the bank, as in former years. Income has been up—and it is up to you and me to keep it that way. Meanwhile God’s Church has been getting back on God’s track after a several-years’ conspiracy to secularize and liberalize it. We are now really getting closer to Jesus Christ & God our Father through more prayer and Bible study. Keep up the good work!”
The financial blessings continued into 1980, Mr. Armstrong wrote on the anniversary of the attack. At that time, no more receivers had been appointed, and the case was on the back burner. But it “hangs over our heads … until a higher court discharges this whole thing.” Speaking about the income, “God has blessed us so that the income for carrying on the Work of God has continued, and has shown enough increase through 1979 to offset inflation. … So the living Jesus Christ has protected God’s Work completely, and given it great advances, in spite of the state’s attack.”
A week later, with an even clearer picture of the previous year, he celebrated “the greatest year of progress in God’s Work in our lifetime.” He said the Church was “more alive” at the beginning of 1980 than the beginning of 1979.
Though on the “back burner,” another powerful development occurred in March 1980. Representatives from various American religious organizations held a press conference in Washington, d.c. Its purpose was to draw attention to a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The May 19, 1980, Worldwide News commented: “The aggregate constituency represented by these religious associations is more than 80 million Americans … more people than have ever been represented by any brief presented to the Supreme Court … by anyone other than the attorney general of the United States, who speaks for all Americans. … What single uniting factor brought these 83 million Americans to this point?” The Worldwide News prepared an advertisement that was essentially the transcript of this unprecedented press conference. These religious associations were fighting “an astonishing and unconscionable effort” by California’s attorney general “to destroy the Worldwide Church of God simply because it preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ in a manner not acceptable to the attorney general of California.”
60 Minutes aired yet another segment about the Church on June 8, and Mr. Armstrong responded on June 10 with a letter to Plain Truth subscribers. He called the segment “largely a rehash of the program they broadcast against us a year ago.” He was “indignant at this ‘yellow journalism.’” So he wrote a full-page ad to run the following Monday in the three most prominent papers in the country and enclosed the ad with this letter. The ad’s headline read: “Why, Mike Wallace, on 60 Minutes, did you not tell the plain truth?”
Mr. Armstrong mentioned the religious leaders representing 83 million Americans who were rallying behind the wcg, plus legislation that was now in the works that would require the attorney general to drop his case. Mr. Rader was working behind the scenes in Sacramento—California’s capital—on this Petris bill, or sb1493, which would remove all civil jurisdiction of the attorney general to supervise and control churches.
That summer, Mr. Armstrong ran more ads directed at the attorney general. “Mr. Attorney General of California: You cannot shut these doors opened to me for world travel to proclaim the gospel!” he thundered in the July 11, 1980, Los Angeles Times. He pointed out that his global trips—as “extravagant” as they might sound—only cost the work less than $1 million annually—the smallest amount of the wcg’s annual $80 million budget.
To the attorney general, Mr. Armstrong related the honor the Chinese government had given him, allowing him to be the first Christian leader to be guest of the Chinese government.
Remarkably, he also told the attorney general he would pray for him, as Christ commanded His servants to pray for their persecutors. “I shall pray for your enlightenment, and that you may be forgiven by the Higher Power!” (This is the power he had just told him he was fighting against.) “I would like to take you with me into the soon-coming Kingdom of God!”
Two weeks later, an L.A. newscaster held up this ad while interviewing the attorney general himself—asking why he picked on the wcg. He replied that “all charitable trusts ought to be supervised to protect the public.”
Mr. Armstrong replied with intensity that the wcg “is not a ‘charitable trust.’ It is not a public charity! It is a church! … [W]e do not handle the public’s money! We never do—never did—solicit the public for money. … Therefore we are not responsible to the public. … [W]e owe nothing to the public except love, and upstanding law-abiding individual citizenship and good neighborliness!” It was God’s money that came “without solicitation or charging—and I was accountable to Him, not to the California attorney general for the way He directed it to be handled” (July 28, 1980).
Never forget who was actually “siphoning off” money.
During his interview with Mike Wallace, Mr. Rader tried to draw attention to this travesty. This is quoted in Mr. Armstrong’s aforementioned letter of April 16, 1979. Wallace asked: “Are you suggesting that Tapper, Chodos, Weisman are in cahoots, if you will, to milk the [wcg] for their own benefit?”
Mr. Rader replied: “I am more than suggesting. I’m stating it emphatically so no one can misunderstand it.”
A Chilling End
The case never reached the U.S. Supreme Court, as it never had to. Later that summer, sb1493 passed in Sacramento, and the case had to be officially dropped.
As we state in our afterward to Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography: “On Oct. 14, 1980, after siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars or more from Church funds to pay for the unjust and illegal receivership. … California dropped the case against the Church when the legislature passed a law barring the attorney general from investigating religious organizations the way they had accosted the [wcg].” Raising the Ruinsalso documents Oct. 14, 1980, as the official end.
As Zechariah 4:6-7 state, mountains become plains for Zerubbabel. Mr. Armstrong himself declared victory in his Nov. 26, 1980, letter. In that letter, he warned that Satan was very much alive and would continue to fight the Work any way he could.
When Mr. Armstrong died, one of the leading men during the “sit in” became the pastor general. But he and his administration led the Church into a fatally lukewarm condition, and God began working with the Philadelphia Church of God.
Another way Satan fought God’s Church was to use some of the same men who were on God’s side during the receivership to fight God when the pcg sought the copyrights to Mr. Armstrong’s most significant literary works.
A chilling testament to this is seen in how our court case began to resolve. You are probably familiar with how the wcg settled out of court with us to sell us the copyrights to Mr. Armstrong’s works, and how the terms of this settlement were agreed to on January 16, 2003. But another disturbing anniversary is nestled there.
Raising the Ruins records that “on October 14 [of 2002] … events took yet another dramatic turn: The wcg offered to sell us Mystery of the Ages …. It left us in a state of shock. … Why—after all the rhetoric about annotation and e-publishing, … after Helge’s scathing editorial about pcg’s hopeless position (‘the case has been finally decided and concluded’; ‘legally there is no place else for [the pcg] to go’; ‘pcg’s only “right” is to stand before the bar of justice and have damages assessed against them and attorney’s fees for the wrong that it has committed’)—would wcg now ask us to settle?”
The events of the pcg’s court case are another astounding segment of Church history, but did you notice Mr. Helge’s name in that quote? Should it not make us shudder to hear the name of a man who fought on the frontlines for God’s Church during the receivership now fighting against it—particularly being that the date the wcg’s legal woes ended in 1980 became the same calendar date when the wcg later reached out to the Church God was working with, agreeing to surrender Mr. Armstrong’s literature?
October 14, 1980, was a date of great victory for God’s Church, and some of its agents ended up surrendering on that same date 22 years later.
This sobering angle aside, consider what great encouragement, inspiration and strength we can take from this dramatic Church history—both in our personal battles, but also as a Church.
Mr. Flurry said in a Sept. 23, 2000, sermon that he thought that event “was the Church’s finest hour. … It unified God’s people as nothing ever did.”
As our literature proves, we operate under the same “signet” as Mr. Armstrong, the end-time Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23). We have the same “mantle” and work of the end-time Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). Before him, by the power of God, obstacles were leveled.
We serve the same God. Our God is on His throne, and He fights for us in the day of battle.