Trouble in the Empire

TIME, March 4, 1974 (International edition)


Dapper in his modish suit, his silver hair carefully coiffed, Garner Ted Armstrong looked out from the television screen last week and talked to his nationwide audience about their eyes liquefying, their bodies vaporizing and their cities vanishing in a nuclear holocaust. The "end times," he warned, were near. Garner Ted and his father, Herbert W. Armstrong, are the watchful guardians of Pasadena's Worldwide Church of God, a clannish, bizarre, 40-year-old sect (TIME, May 15, 1972) that has made the end times something of a stock in trade. Now it appears that Founder Herbert and Heir Apparent Garner Ted may be approaching an end time of their own - at least the end of their tightfisted, monolithic control of their prosperous church.*

This week several thousand members of the sect will receive an angry 13-page letter explaining why six ministers have quit the church since last fall. The letter's author: Alfred Carrozzo, 41, once director of ministers for the western half of the U.S. (Carrozzo has already incorporated his own church - the 20th Century Church of God - for those who want "liberation" from the Armstrongs.)

One of Carrozzo's complaints about the Worldwide Church is that its multiple-tithing system sometimes takes more than 30% of a member's earnings. The huge assessments are particularly galling to Carrozzo because of the lavish life-styles of the Armstrongs and the fact that the church has built an extravagant auditorium in Pasadena, which may end up costing as much as $24 million. For its opening in April, the Vienna Symphony is being flown over to the tune of an estimated $500,000.

An even sorer point to Carrozzo is the church's rigid doctrine forbidding divorce and remarriage. Anyone with a first spouse still living who has married for a second time is considered to be living in adultery, and the price of adultery, Herbert Armstrong has written, is "ETERNAL PUNISHMENT! ETERNAL DEATH!" Says Carrozzo: "I have watched many a man and his wife and children weep when I told them they must separate in order to enter the faith."

But what helped to precipitate the departure of Carrozzo and the other ministers is the belief that Garner Ted Armstrong has exempted himself from the church's moral teachings. The Carrozzo letter talked of "a major problem involving one of the evangelists." A separate letter from departing Texas Minister Barry Chase charged "monumental immorality in the highest echelons of this church." What both letters skirted was the increasingly insistent rumor in church circles that Garner Ted, married and the father of three, had been a covert philanderer for many years. After some top churchmen complained to Herbert Armstrong some three years ago, Garner Ted acknowledged a transgression "against God, his church... and the wife God gave me." Garner Ted was, however, eventually pronounced repentant. Then, seven months ago, Herbert declared him the anointed heir to the church's leadership.

Now, Garner Ted seems to be invoking a kind of divine executive privilege about it all. "It is not love to expose someone," he writes in the February issue of the members' magazine Good News. "Causing people to lose confidence in their leaders is one of the most terrible things anyone could do - especially if those leaders happen to be God's very ordained servants... You don't need to know about anyone's sins." Armstrong's pleas may have sounded somewhat hollow to one former member, Buck Taylor, who recently slapped Herbert with an $11 million damage suit charging that Herbert had accused him of sexual sins ("bestiality... perversion and homosexuality") at a gathering of some 1,500 members.

The suit, the indignant ex-ministers, and the congregants who have accompanied them out of the Worldwide Church will hardly dislodge Founder Herbert from his posh throne, but they could conceivably induce Garner Ted to step down or initiate his own aggressive program of reform.


*The sect has only 85,000 churchgoers in the U.S. and abroad. But its Plain Truth magazine is mailed free to 3.1 million subscribers each month, and the church probably took in more than $50 million last year from members and sympathizers.