Insights Into Herbert W. Armstrong’s Techniques /
Part 2 Examining Armstrong’s Co-worker Letters
We have been examining HWA’s techniques for gaining control of our minds and our money. Although he is dead and buried, perhaps the most dangerous part of the man remains alive and kicking, in certain of the various X-WCG churches – in the form of his unscriptural ideas and his methods of deceiving his fellow man through spiritual intimidation and abuse. In Part 2 we will delve a little deeper into his modus operandi.
(The following was excerpted from Marion McNair’s “Armstrongism Religion or Ripoff?”, chapter 3, written in 1977. Mr McNair was a Worldwide Church of God evangelist in the 1950’s.)
(All that appears below, including comments, to “End of Part 2” is taken verbatim from Mr. McNair’s book, with the exception of minor spelling corrections, etc.)
Armstrong’s co-worker letters, like a sandwich, consists of THREE basic parts.
1) The top crust
2) The filling
3) The bottom crust
The top part, the opening of Armstrong’s letters, usually contains a short paragraph at or near the beginning, which announces some supposedly startling news – either some world event or an important happening in the development of his work.
Take a look at some examples:
From Armstrong’s co-worker letter dated April 12, 1943:
“WHO (a 50 KW radio station in Des Moines) HELD! SUPER POWER WOAI, San Antonio, ADDED!”
Author’s comment: Large 50 KW station contracts were difficult for Armstrong to acquire. The above announcement, which may not now appear to have much significance, was a real victory for Armstrong in those days. WHO, Des Moines, was trying to cancel his program and he was able to save it by making a special trip there. This was hailed as a direct intervention from God. The same is true for the 50 KW station in San Antonio mentioned above.
From Armstrong’s co-worker letter of early April, 1946:
“I have just arrived in Hollywood from New York where I spent a week attending and observing the vital SECURITY COUNCIL meeting of the new UNITED NATIONS world organization. . ”
Author’s comment: This was thrown out as an opener for two reasons. First, Armstrong associates with the GREAT as much as possible. He wants his reader to think he is betting on a winner when he supports him. It is the old PRESIGE ROUTINE. Associate with the GREAT and others will think of YOU as GREAT.
Throughout the letter Armstrong shows pity and contempt for those “poor deceived men in the UNITED NATIONS” who don’t know how to bring peace. The whole tenor is to subtly sever the reader’s loyalties from constituted authority, bending them in the direction of him and his efforts.
From Armstrong’s co-worker letter dated September 8, 1950:
“Here’s the BEST NEWS IN YEARS! . . . After all the discouraging conditions and troubles encountered this year, 1950 is turning out to be the most productive, the most successful, since God started us in His work!”
What was the big news? Armstrong was finally able to get together enough funds to put a baptizing team in the field. The term “most successful” on this occasion has reference, not to the amount of money brought in (that was a real problem at that time), but to the fact that a number of people were being baptized. There is certainly no reflection upon people being baptized, however, it was unusual for Armstrong to reckon the progress of his work in terms of “souls being saved.”
“Saving souls,” according to his own testimony is not his mission – and his usual criteria of measurement was a 30 percent increase in money. At the time this letter was written, income had been very low. And at the expense of shifting emphasis, he held this out as his brightest star of hope.
From Armstrong’s co-worker letter of January 18, 1965:
“I want to report BIG NEWS!!! It is the BIGGEST news that ever happened in the history of this work! Later on, after the World Tomorrow has dawned (meaning after Christ’s return) the world may look back on this event as a big milestone in world history!”
Author’s comment: What had happened here? Armstrong had contracted to put his broadcast on one of the pirate ship stations off the coast of Britain and this was the date for airing the initial program. A relatively short time later Britain outlawed the pirate stations and forced Armstrong off the air. Little if any significance is now attached to this event. But it did make flourishing copy at the time it was written.
From Armstrong’s May, 1970 co-worker letter:
“. . . This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT announcement I have ever made to our Co-Workers . . . We are in the process of intensive preparation for the most POWERFUL world program ever launched to WAKE UP this drowsy, sleeping world BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
Author’s comment: The essence of this announcement? Armstrong planned for his son to carry evangelical meetings to all American cities. The effort was known as “AMERICA LISTEN – before it’s too late.” Only a few such campaigns materialized and the project was abandoned for a better format a couple years later. Little notice was taken by any other than WORLD TOMORROW broadcast listeners who were specially invited by letter from Armstrong’s mailing list. The drowsy, sleeping world just didn’t hear the message.
These example cases of Armstrong’s sensationalized letter openings were picked at random. There are literally dozens and dozens of similar examples among his letters where opening statements grossly over-play the situation.
The object of his startle-approach in the co-worker letters gives the illusion of super progress toward fulfilling his interpretation of Mrs. Armstrong’s 1917 dream-vision. Armstrong’s concept of the fulfillment of that vision is essentially that of warning and WITNESSING to the world to get it ready for Christ.
In his words, “. . . we came to realize that this (Mrs. Armstrong’s dream-vision) really was a message from God . . . My wife saw an angel . . . revealing that God was calling me and her to the mission of WARNING this world of the fast-approaching END OF THE AGE, and the second coming of Christ . . . Jesus Christ has called us to a ‘DIVINE MISSION’ ” (See co-worker letters 19 and 28, 1956).
Armstrong’s mission had grown in his thinking from that of “WARNING THIS NATION” (see co-worker letters of the early 1940’s) to WARNING this world” in 1956.
Armstrong wrote on November 15, 1955:
“That great prophecy (Matt. 24:14 and Mark 13:10) is being carried out by . .. YOU AND ME TODAY!..”
This was further amplified in Armstrong’s co-worker letter of Nov 25, 1957:
“Listen! Read this TWICE! Realize this!. . . No other work on earth. . .is. . .preaching this true Gospel of Christ to the whole world!!!. . . This is the most important activity on earth today!”
Armstrong is propelled by a burning zeal to fulfill that vision. He uses those who will be used to advance his work. Those who he considers impediments are ruthlessly and summarily crushed (see Chapter Seven). Thus Armstrong casts a Christian-looking cloak over the Machiavellian doctrine, “The end justifies the means.” This is done by figuratively, relentlessly “martyring” his “LOYAL OPPOSITION” to the tune of his pseudo-innocent refrain, “IT’S ALL FOR THE GOOD OF THE WORK.”
In deference to this VISION Armstrong manages to paint a progressive picture even under the bleakest circumstances. When an obvious reverse occurs, it is negated by his “cocked gun” parable, “It’s just the cocking of the trigger for another mighty plunge forward” (Armstrong’s phraseology).
He avoids revealing decrease in growth rate when possible. Such “growth decrease,” by his own admission (in earlier years), was evidence God may not be blessing the one who suffers the reverse. After all, one of the purposes of his co-worker letters is to relate progress – not stagnation. He is quite aware that people won’t bet on a dead horse. He desperately tries to project the image of being in control of a winner – way out in front!
He vigorously protests, “The work can never STAND STILL. If it doesn’t go forward, it will stagnate, GO BACKWARD and DOWN AND OUT.” He has exerted every psychological pressure possible to make it grow at the rate of 30 per cent a year. But as of publication date the growth rate of his work is constantly going down.
For many, many years he purposely over-extended the budget for broadcast, publishing and general expenditures by 30 per cent. He would then plead, beg, cajole and occasionally threaten his adherents with the lake of fire it they didn’t come to his aid and “SAVE THE WORK!”
By the mid 60’s Armstrong’s habit of over-extension by 30 per cent had so infected the lower and middle management segment of his organization that it was common practice to include in a department’s annual budget a 30 per cent over-extension – predicated solely on anticipated income growth.
This has been a look at the top crust of the parabolic sandwich with which we compared Armstrong’s co-worker letters.
End of Part 2
NEXT TIME: In Part 3, we will take a look at the bottom crust, as it were, to see what the co-worker letter CLOSING generally looks like.
Tomorrow, Part 3 can be found HERE.