In the June 2016 issue of this Letter, we recounted the history of events in Mr. Herbert
Armstrong’s life—and that of the Worldwide Church of God—from 1967 through early 1974.
In this, the tenth installment of that synoptic storyline, we will carry forward with key events
transpiring in that church through the remainder of the 1970s.
Recall that when we left off, the first major change in doctrine of the Worldwide Church of God had finally been approved by Mr. Armstrong in February 1974—the
change from keeping the Holy Day of Pentecost on Monday to Sunday. This had been a long-standing goal of “liberal scholars” in the church, but by no means the doctrinal change
they most coveted. The Pentecost change was accomplished principally to “prime the pump,” for making future doctrinal changes on their wish list more acceptable
to the whole church.
The most aggressive building project ever conceived by Mr. Armstrong was the
Ambassador Auditorium, to be built on the Pasadena college campus to serve not only as a
venue for college functions and local church services, but to be made available for secular
concerts and fine arts performances. The idea for this grand structure formulated in Mr.
Armstrong’s mind in the early 1960s, and architectural plans and funding arrangements were
already being developed by the mid-1960s (Co-Worker Letter, February 28, 1964). Although
Mr. Armstrong made sure to affirm this was not in any way a “holy temple,” he did indeed
envision this building as bearing similarities in quality and grandeur to Solomon’s Temple, and
as a signature edifice to proclaim the identity of the true Work of God on earth.
After many delays, groundbreaking was finally accomplished on January 14, 1972. It
took over two years to complete the project, and when it was finished, it bore a commemorative
plaque with the inscription, “TO THE HONOR AND GLORY OF THE GREAT GOD.” Mr.
Armstrong wrote to the church:
This magnificent new Auditorium will be dedicated to the Honor and
Glory of the GREAT GOD on May 6th, with some 600 ordained ministers of the Worldwide Church of God, from all parts of the world, in attendance (Co-Worker Letter, April 28, 1974).
Immediately on the heals of the Pentecost change in February 1974 was the
announcement of a redefining of what it means in God’s eyes to be “married.” In May 1974, the
“liberal ministers” once again prevailed in securing Mr. Armstrong’s approval for their long-sought change—for the first time allowing hundreds and even thousands of members to
remarry, who until that time had been told that to do so would be adultery. Mr. Herbert
Armstrong approved that change—making the announcement to all of those assembled
ministers in that new Ambassador Auditorium on May 6, 1974. Is it not ironic that the
dedication ceremony of this building to The Great God was accompanied by a monumental
change in doctrinal teaching which would upend the very idea that God had ever “led” Mr.
Armstrong in any unique way over the past forty years? Until that time, Herbert Armstrong had
vociferously opposed the idea of any amendment. It was his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, and
a cadre of other ministers, who had lobbied for years for this change. When Mr. Armstrong
finally approved it, he claimed authority as an apostle from Jesus Christ to make it. But from
which direction had the inspiration really come—from on High, or from his mortal underlings?
Would this relaxation of the marriage doctrine solve the problem of member discontent resulting from the failure of ministerial prognostications about the return of Jesus Christ? Only time would tell. Mr. Armstrong confirmed the long-reaching tentacles of those past
disappointments, which had still not dissipated even by 1976:
Before 1972 many of you made great sacrifices for the precious WORK OF THE LIVING GOD. I TOLD YOU, time and again, I was NOT setting
dates—there was no ASSURANCE our Work would be over by January, 1972.
Yet some DID set the date, and when the Work was NOT finished in January,
1972, some said, “Well, MY LORD HAS DELAYED HIS COMING. I’ve been
sacrificing to support the Work. NOW I’m going to SPEND THAT MONEY ON
MY OWN SELF ENJOYMENT. Christ may not come for another thousand
years!” (Co-Worker Letter, August 19, 1976)
The membership numbers did finally stabilize again. But what those 1974 doctrinal
changes did accomplish for certain was to make every other doctrine of the church suspect. If
the marriage doctrine could have been so wrong, what else had Mr. Armstrong gotten wrong
as well? Through the remainder of the decade, many more changes were made to church
teachings, some by formal proclamation, but many more by quiet adjustment in ministerial
practice and in private counseling. In short, many of the doctrines that formerly had made
members of the Worldwide Church of God seem so “outside of the mainstream” were now
being modified to make it easier to coexist with the world. If Jesus Christ was not really
coming “soon,” then the people would have to have a respite from some of those “hard
teachings” that made them such oddballs in their local communities and which threatened to
drive future members (and tithe contributions) away.
Recall that since 1968, the primary commission of the church had been amended to begin cultivating relationships with world leaders as a means of proclaiming the Gospel. The church budgetary expenses for Mr. Armstrong to move in such grand circles could not be funded
without loyal, tithe-paying church members, and therefore, relaxing hard doctrines served the
“greater good” of keeping those members loyal, and thereby preserving “the Work” abroad.
In June 1975, Mr. Armstrong announced to church members the creation of a new legal entity to augment his work overseas. The Ambassador International Cultural Foundation
(AICF) was to be a secular organization, and it would have its own magazine. Mr. Armstrong described it this way to the church at large:
Now about the new magazine. Some weeks ago I authorized the formation
of a new FOUNDATION—named the Ambassador International Cultural
Foundation. It is non-profit, dedicated to serving humanity worldwide. It has
become a necessary adjunct to this new worldwide dimension of getting Christ’s
TRUE Gospel to the nations through heads of government. . . .
This new Foundation is giving us great added prestige, credibility, and
favor. It is something NO ONE can CRITICIZE. It doesn’t sound “religious.”
Already it has met with GREAT AND FAVORABLE RESPONSE.
And on the heels of this, the TREMENDOUS ANNOUNCEMENT of a
new magazine! Under the auspices of the new Foundation, I have just authorized
the publication of a NEW MAGAZINE that will go before KINGS! Bi-monthly!
It will be the very highest quality magazine in every respect. It will contain in
easy-to-understand language articles on the very PURPOSE for human life upon
earth, the AWESOME human potential, HOW world PEACE will soon come!
It will carry the GOSPEL MESSAGE in the same PLAIN and
UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE I use personally in speaking with world
leaders, heads of government, and their top officials. It will reveal what science
cannot, what religion has not, what education doesn’t teach. It will have a larger
size page, fully-illustrated, in full-color (Co-Worker Letter, June 5, 1975).
What was not published to the members were some additional comments made by Mr.
Armstrong to the ministers of the Worldwide Church of God specifically, in an issue of The
Bulletin (a publication sent only to the ministry):
Now about the Foundation and the NEW MAGAZINE.
One thing has been a serious handicap, and caused me and my touring
team no little embarrassment. We have had to say that we represent either
Ambassador College, or Worldwide Church of God.
I am regarded as an Ambassador for WORLD PEACE. But if I represent
a CHURCH, immediately that shouts to them “RELIGION!” and that sparks
prejudice and competitive religious prejudice. If I try to get away from appearing
to be a religious crusader by representing Ambassador College, they ask, “where
is this college? How many students do you have?” A college even with two
campuses, having enrollments of only some 500 to 700 sounds pretty small,
compared to the universities all over the world each with from 5,000 to 68,000
Christ said we must be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Some
weeks ago I authorized the forming and incorporating of a new FOUNDATION,
named “The Ambassador International Cultural Foundation.” It is non-profit,
dedicated to serving humanity worldwide. . . .
Already we are finding that this new Foundation is giving great added prestige, credibility and favor. It is something NOBODY CAN CRITICIZE! It
carries no RELIGIOUS connotation (The Bulletin, June 3, 1975, pp. 293–294).
Again, compare this approach to God’s Work with that of the previous forty years. Was it truly God’s will that the spokesman for Jesus Christ be “acceptable” to the nations,
so as not to offend non-Christians? If so, it was certainly a departure from his early ministry. Was the Gospel truly being proclaimed through partnering with world leaders and
secular humanitarian organizations that were attempting to solve the world’s problems through their own physical devices? If you are aiding someone trying to solve
problems without God’s help, does that action really “open the door” to allow you to convince them of the need for the return of Jesus Christ as Savior? This was the
philosophy that was multiplying through the 1970s in the Worldwide Church of God, and the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation seemed to be the epitome of
that new strategy.
The AICF actually seems to have been the brainchild of Stanley Rader, who was
increasing his influence greatly within the WCG during this very time. Concerning his visit in
August 1976 with the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, Mr. Armstrong wrote:
My appointment with the Prime Minister was at noon Monday.
Ambassador Ravid (also formerly Ambassador to Guinea) went along with us.
As you know, I am nearly always accompanied on such visits with Mr. Stanley
R. Rader, our chief legal counsel, and now also Vice President for Financial
Affairs, and Executive Vice President of the Ambassador International Cultural
Foundation (AICF). This time Mrs. Rader also accompanied us (Co-Worker
Letter, August 19, 1976).
In 1977, at the age of eighty-four, Mr. Armstrong announced to the church his marriage to thirty-eight-year-old Ramona Martin, who had a fifteen-year-old son from a
previous marriage. She had been in the church since 1962, becoming one of Mr. Stanley Rader’s secretarial assistants in 1974, and thereafter working more closely with Mr. Armstrong as well
(The Worldwide News, April 25, 1977). Here are some excerpts from the letter Mr. Armstrong
wrote to the whole church the day following his marriage:
Since her death [Loma Armstrong], God miraculously has opened to me
doors (Rev. 3:8) to kings, emperors, presidents and prime ministers, so that
Christ’s message may be taken into nations whose doors were closed to this
message. At this stage no one but myself can do this. And I could not endure the
grueling worldwide travel had not God blessed me with youthful vigor, vitality,
and energy (Isa. 40:28–31) enabling me to carry on more vigorously than one in
a hundred half my calendar age. This almost constant travel (last year 300 out of
365 days) and loneliness has reawakened me to the serious need God recognized
when He said, “It is not good that a man should be alone.” . . .
Of course no one could take the place of my beloved wife of fifty years.
But the Work of God must go on, finishing the GREAT COMMISSION God
committed to me, in this new and MOST IMPORTANT phase of the entire Work.
And God now has graciously provided the wife to be constantly at my side—a
woman truly led by God’s Holy Spirit. We have given the matter much time, to
be sure it has grown into true love and like-minded rapport, as well as definitely
sure it is God’s will.
This is to announce my marriage to Ramona Martin, in an informal and
simple ceremony, attended only by our respective families on Sunday, April 17th,
Garner Ted Armstrong officiating (Co-Worker Letter, April 18, 1977).
In spite of Mr. Armstrong’s heartfelt belief at the time that God was behind his new
marriage, that turns out not to have been so. The couple were separated in 1982, and after the
legal filing of divorce made headlines in local newspapers, Mr. Armstrong then wrote the
following to the church:
. . . But in my letter to you April 18, 1977, I said the loneliness had reminded me how God said, “It is not good that a man should be alone,” and I felt God had,
after 10 years, provided me with a wife to be constantly at my side and give the
help and companionship needed for God’s Work.
But with deepest regret I have to say to you now, Mrs. Ramona Armstrong
has refused to be at my side here in Pasadena headquarters or in further travel, but
has insisted on living separately in Tucson. It has been determined by events,
facts and fruits that I am not spiritually bound by God and only by man’s law of
Circumstances now render it ill-advised that I condone the continuation of
the legal marriage, both from the Church point of view and of my own. It was my
hope and effort to resolve the matter, and with the least publicity possible, for the
benefit of the Church, for her and for myself. All attempts to do so have failed.
It has therefore become necessary that I accede to the advice of Church legal
counsel and file the necessary legal proceedings. I assure you every effort has
been made, at cost of heavy stress on me personally, to avoid this.
God HATES divorce. So do I. I have gone to every effort to prevent this.
It would be inappropriate at this time that I state all the facts, but if necessary and
proper later, I will reveal more. . . .
This determination SHOULD NOT BE USED AS A PRECEDENT TO
ENCOURAGE OR JUSTIFY OTHER DIVORCES IN THE CHURCH (Co-Worker Letter, April 21, 1982).
For the first forty years of his ministry Mr. Armstrong had championed the inviolability of marriage, but then compromised in 1974 to permit divorce within the church, followed next by his own marriage to a divorcee and then subsequent divorce. Sadly, all of this provided great fodder for critics of the Worldwide Church of God, and Mr. Armstrong in particular.
This brings us to the last portion of the 1970s. In the next installment, we will cover the most serious threat ever faced by that physical church in the aftermath of a final separation between Mr. Armstrong and his son.
Dear friends and brethren, the history we are covering now is very sad indeed, but if you will keep in mind that we are speaking of the very fulfillment of God’s prophecies
concerning an attack upon the Truth in the last days and the scattering of the sheep, you will have a basis for putting all of these events into perspective. The story most definitely
will have a happy ending.