Back in the early seventies, I remember that we used to attend the Feast at the Mt. Pocono site in Pennsylvania. Each year, the local Stroudsburg paper gave a blurb about the comingWorldwide Church of God church for its annual festival. This meant big money to the local a of rea, and the all businesses loved our attendance, even if they thought we were all a little strange.
One year, in the Stroudsburg paper, Worldwide Church of God was given its usual blurb, but on this year they chose to tell the readership more about us and one particular doctrine. Even though they had it all wrong, it brought home a point. “Those members,” it mistakenly said, “who do not smoke are allowed to drink.” And drink they did. Within the first two days at the beginning of the Feast, the liquor stores were always packed with Worldwide Church of God members. All that week the liquor sales were up, and the state run stores told us that they used to “stock up” for the members during that time.
With his gravel voice, Raymond Cole barked at the membership one evening in services, with one of his predictably long, straitlaced, legalistic, and boring sermons. He yelled that each year, the liquor stores are packed with the Worldwide Church of God folks, and we’re all getting a reputation locally of being “drunks.” He needn’t have bothered with his comments, as it appeared no one listened. This was the Feast. Many a motel room had its assortment of multi-colored liquor bottles, the brethren visited each other, shared tales of the past year, and many consumed their over-fair share of alcohol. Teen pregnancies among singles that incurred at the feast were commonly reported to the ministry as a result of drinking too much.
The reason was simple. It was Ok to drink in Worldwide Church of God, even a little too much . . . just as long as you didn’t get really drunk. This was an acceptable thing to do, especially at the Feast, because the church leadership drank themselves, and they set the example.
Herbert W. Armstrong never smoked. If he had, we’d probably have had thousands of later cases of lung cancer and emphysema. But, Herbert drank, and drank, and drank. So did Garner Ted Armstrong, his minions, and most of the higher ups at Pasadena. And so, the ministry drank and drank, and the brethren followed the example. What the heck, many said, we’re leaving for Petra in a year or two anyhow. What harm can it do?
In 1957, the medical authorities across the country basically agreed that alcoholism was a sickness, an illness, and/or a disease which you don’t catch, but you most probably inherit. The reason, they’ve concluded lately, is that alcoholics have a defective DNA with a distorted mitochondria which triggers the alcohol craving.
However, there are some interesting observations about such genetic problems. Doctors have concluded that alcoholism may never be manifested if a person doesn’t either drink, or get into the habit. Simply . . . if a person who has this genetic weakness never drinks, then they’ll never show the problem.
Far too many people that I’ve spoken to over the years have stated that they hardly ever drank before entering Worldwide Church of God. It’s the cheapest tranquilizer around and with the pressure of church legalism, disgust with oneself, and pressures of tithing, the tendency is for people to want to relax from the strain of following a set of rigid laws they could never completely fulfill. Since it was acceptable for everyone to have a few, they admitted that they “got into the habit.” And far too many people that I spoke to in later years, realize they now have a serious alcohol problem triggered by their continued and regular drinking in Worldwide Church of God. While Worldwide Church of God does NOT make anyone an alcoholic, it can bring out the problem that a person was probably born with, and a problem that could have been avoided if the bright, green light of excess drinking was not there. After all, the leadership drank . . . why shouldn’t we all?
Herbert W. Armstrong’s drinking was no secret. He drank heavily many times, and was considered an alcoholic by many who had to watch the “apostle” guzzle his way through an excess portion of whiskey, sherry, or wine. Many of the top echelon, who knew of Herbert’s excesses, also indulged. Young secretaries who occasionally accompanied him in the G-II, would relate how they would try and prevent an inebriated Herbert from downing full glasses of whiskey on many of his “gospel preaching” flights. Since Herbert listened to no one, the ladies later said that he would drink his fill, then throw up all over the table in the cabin. Invariably, he was drunk quite often, then he’d pass out, and had to be helped to bed in many a situation. But many of the leadership, who knew of the problem, never said a word. And they did set the example of the same excess themselves whenever social time came. I know, because I saw it near the end of my tenure.
Garner Ted Armstrong also had the same cravings as papa. Many people who closely knew him had experience of his heavy drinking. Garner Ted Armstrong used to crawl into his room, lock himself in with a bottle and a six pack anytime he felt that he was “unloved.”
In the late seventies, Garner Ted Armstrong and his entourage traveled the world (for the “work,” of course), and stopped off in Sydney. One evening, there was to be a dinner at the hotel where they all stayed, and where the ministry was all invited to hear from Garner Ted Armstrong and others. But when the time came for his appearance, and throughout the whole dinner, Garner Ted Armstrong and the others never showed. The following morning, at near checkout time, one ex-minister related to me that he and others went to Garner Ted Armstrong’s suite. They were shocked with what they found. The maids were disgusted.
The whole place stank of whiskey and the stale vomit in the bathroom. Bottles were everywhere, and the hotel staff collected all the half empties for themselves. But the entourage had already left. There was no way of telling how many were there in that suite (entourage plus?), but I was told the place looked like a typhoon had hit it. There was mess everywhere, and the hotel staff were stunned when told that this suite was used as a party place by men who were supposedly “ministers” of God.
With this permissive approach to drinking, it’s no wonder that many of the brethren were liberal with their approach to alcohol. Once more, while we’re NOT saying that Worldwide Church of God made people alcoholics, their endorsement of over drinking – as exemplified in the top leadership – gave many the tacit approval that most possibly started a decline in many lives. Please remember, many quit smoking because of Worldwide Church of God beliefs and have never started again. How many, who are now full blown alcoholics, could have been spared the inevitability of the disease, if the leadership had never set the example with their overindulgent approach?
Over a short space of time, I watched too many Worldwide Church of God friends drink more and more. Many of us finally realized what was happening and we had to cut way down or quit completely. Others never worried. After all, the leadership drank, so why shouldn’t they? In California, many knew of the drunken escapades of the top brass, but dismissed it because they were all “God’s servants.” Even after I was in the hireling ministry, some brethren didn’t care if I knew they had tumblers of whiskey for breakfast, and some that I personally knew had upped their quotas to a quart plus of bourbon a day. After all, the leadership approves . . . don’t they?
The Bricket Wood campus always came alive when Herbert W. Armstrong came to visit. Cases of Dom Perignon were shipped to Herbert’s home on the grounds, and they were followed by cases of Mateus Ros,. The advanced shipments were so the wines could be properly chilled in time for the apostle’s arrival. Caviar (supposedly clean) was also shipped in to complement the rest of the apostolic feasting.
A sad fact should be noted here. Many of the young ladies on campus had little money in those days, and when third tithe year came around, they literally had no money to buy their monthly feminine napkins. I was told this by one lady who went through this situation. Many ladies were forced to use whatever torn up cloths they could find, wash them, dry them, and re-use them. Meanwhile, Herbert feasted each night, with the upper group of the campus, on caviar and washed it all down with liberal bottles of Dom Perignon. The plight of the ladies was obviously of little consequence. The price of just one bottle of Dom Perignon could have alleviated much needless discomfort.
Ex-ministers later told me that many of the “Sabbatical” ministers were called in because of alcohol problems and wife beating. The latter, it was surmised, came as a result of the drinking. For the most part, it appears that the Sabbatical did little good.
By the mid to late 1970’s, drinking had become such a problem (but one that was generally covered up), that Pasadena CAD decided to send around to many of the church areas, a man who was conversant with alcoholism. Dale Hampton, a minister and an admitted alcoholic, had been through re-hab and AA. Dale was clean and sober when I knew him, and he went from area to area, to minister to the ministry and brethren, and address this problem which was now becoming serious in Worldwide Church of God. He counseled, he lectured on the subject, discussed the twelve steps, and he genuinely tried to help. The results were not spectacular. After all, why quit? The example hadn’t changed. The leadership still drank, didn’t they? Not once, during this time, did the leadership rise up and condemn the practice of over drinking, as they were reportedly still happy with their own inordinate consumption of alcohol.
While there were indeed some in Worldwide Church of God leadership that were against any excess of any type, many were not. It was the latter that people saw as their example. I sat in one evangelist’s office in those days to discuss a management decision relating to the church. He never heard a word I said. He was falling asleep after a heavy lunch date with his buddies. I don’t know how many he’d had, but it was enough to put him out for the rest of the day. But, that was Ok. He was an evangelist . . . right? I’m sure he didn’t even remember my leaving his office.
People have the choice to drink or not. But when the people you most respect are drinking to excess, then if the genetic weakness is already there, it doesn’t take much for that person to go the full distance. If leadership example is what you consider to be Ok, then the chances are that a latent alcoholic will ultimately manifest himself and/or herself. Women were not exempt from this problem either.
In a recent article, one contributor remembers her church experiences in that particular area. She recalled that there were alcoholics in the congregation, and apparently one of them decided to leap and go crashing through a window in the building. That was the last service Worldwide Church of God was permitted to have there. I too remember in the areas that we attended, there were people openly drinking way more than moderation, with the excuse that it’s Ok, as Pasadena would approve. Again, while there were some in Pasadena who would have criticized the practice, there was no open condemnation of this problem which they KNEW was happening. Many who didn’t approve of the drinking problem in Pasadena, openly said nothing, because of the obvious retaliation. So, Dale Hampton was recruited to “instruct” people and churches individually, rather than any leader should show himself, and have the courage to stand up, and give an open condemnation of the problem that the Pasadena leadership knew about and chose to ignore.
While any organization does not make people alcoholics, how many ex-members who are now full blown and manifested as alcoholics could have been spared the needless suffering IF that leadership had been less tares and more human? Unfortunately, as is the case with other areas of needless suffering, Worldwide Church of God didn’t really care about the consequences of its untoward actions. The gratification of the leadership was more important than the lives, stability, and future sanity of any of its members. Like any corrupt business, it produced NO product, charged a fortune, and left human debris in its path. Part of that debris is now evidenced in the tragic lives of full-blown alcoholics who might never have reached that level if it wasn’t for the disgusting, abhorrent example set by the tares and leadership in the cult of Worldwide Church of God.
Article by John O.