“Cursed be he that removes his neighbor's landmark.
And all the people shall say, Amen.”
After the passing of Herbert W Armstrong and the emergence of a great apostasy within the Church, a plethora of fellowships (“splinter groups”) began to appear on the COG landscape. Many of them simply wished to preserve the truth they had come to understand and to worship their Creator in peace. Others felt a deep and abiding commitment to continue an end-time work of proclaiming the gospel. Noticeably absent was any genuine cohesion among these organizations. As a result, many of them became hugely territorial with respect to their particular group, thus greater importance was placed on the preservation of an organization than on preserving the faith.
One of the manifestations of this spirit involved the writings of Mr. Armstrong. After his death, his successors began to systematically alter them and would ultimately expunge his name from their modified versions. Because they held the copyrights on all literature produced by Mr. Armstrong they enjoined all groups holding copies of his work to cease and desist publishing them in any form (print or electronic)—threatening those who failed to comply with severe legal consequences. The threat apparently worked as many fellowships stopped publishing a host of literature as well as removing these offerings from their websites.
Although Mr. Armstrong’s successors thought they were preventing the ramblings of a heretic from being perpetuated, in truth they were exploiting a technicality in copyright law to extinguish the life’s work of one of the great theological minds of his day. Fortunately, there were some who simply defied the order and continued to maintain libraries dedicated to his message. Unfortunately, the lesson from this chapter in the history of God’s work was not learned and now, the approach employed by the enemies of Mr. Armstrong, is used as the model in virtually every splinter. As a result, authors who have produced meaningful writings have been denied any access to them if they terminate their association with the Church that published it. This occurred a few years ago and the result was devastating. To better understand what transpired we need to go back to the beginning of one particular splinter.
Forsaking Wisdom in Order to Preserve Power
Approximately fifteen years ago, a small community of believers raised up a COG fellowship in southern California. Like so many others, they carried the wounds of numerous abuses inflicted by those in power. As a result, they were committed to making sure they wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
This new fellowship was under the leadership of two longtime members—one an elder who had served as a District Pastor as well as a member of the Council of Elders for two prominent splinter groups, while the other had a distinguished career in the corporate world, serving as a Vice President of an 8 Billion dollar corporation. However, for both men, their real passions centered around their faith and God’s Church.
Although their group was small, they aspired to do a dignified and meaningful work including: 1) publishing informative literature, 2) hosting a thoughtful television broadcast and 3) building a website that could effectively speak to the world outside and to God’s people within the greater Church. It was at this time a decision was made to place the copyrights on all materials in the name(s) of their authors as opposed vesting them in the name of the Church. This was done in the unlikely event that the Church and the author(s) would become estranged. In essence, it would prevent the Church from commandeering the intellectual property of the one(s) who actually created it. In an effort to further ensure this wouldn’t happen the Church was required to place a disclaimer on all literature stating that it was being published “with permission of the author(s).”
During the group's inaugural year numerous booklets were produced in an extraordinary blend of talents. While the pastor was a tireless researcher with a deep understanding of God’s word, the member was an excellent composer and story teller who was also thoroughly grounded in the scriptures. During the early years over twenty books and booklets were published as a direct result of their collaborative efforts. Sadly that would change.
After approximately three years these longtime friends and publishing colleagues began to have different views concerning certain doctrines. In an effort to minimize any friction, the member began attending one of the larger COG associations. However, to their credit, these men remained friends and their literature continued to be published by the Church. The member was even invited to speak to them on numerous occasions. On the surface their relationship looked healthy, unfortunately, it wasn’t.
“The meek are better equipped to lead because
they will not seize the ideas of others”
A few years later the member was advised by another member that certain literature was being altered to reflect new understandings of the Church, Furthermore, a new name was added as a co-author of numerous works. Additionally, copyrights were placed in the name of the Church. In response to this, the member met with the pastor and expressed great displeasure at what had taken place. The pastor indicated that he was unaware of what had transpired and even acknowledged that what they had done may even be “illegal.” As it turned out, an elder who oversaw a variety of administrative functions of the Church took it upon himself to unilaterally insert his name as a co-author as well as change all copyrights. The member, who was understandably agitated, characterized the elder as “profoundly unethical” and informed the pastor that he was severing his relationship with the Church. Within a matter of days the member’s named was expunged from all literature.
Shortly after that, the member (now former member) who was also a co-founder of a very prominent COG website, was contacted by the elder and informed that several pieces of literature he had co-authored were now the exclusive property of the Church and as such he had no standing relative to them. He was then ordered to remove them from his site. When the member advised the elder that, although they now held the copyrights to his work, they had obtained them fraudulently and because of this he would not comply with their order.
It didn’t end there
At this point the pastor (and former co-author) claimed that the member had no standing because he had terminated his associated with the Church. He also asserted that the member’s role in producing literature was insignificant and not worthy of being acknowledged. This assessment was patently false and simply born out of a deep contempt he now had for him.
Although the former member was silent concerning the estrangement, the pastor and his elder became so hostile they actually contacted his web server and demanded that they remove certain literature from his site or shut it down altogether.
Today, these brothers in Christ have now become enemies, and a friendship that was once closer than blood has become a contentious battle of accusation and counter accusation. Sadly, the Church abandoned its original covenant, justifying their actions as a divine right bestowed on God’s true servants when dealing with their enemies.
One of Many Examples
This is just one of scores of stories in which those in power subjugate those who are not. In some cases prominent COG leaders have altered the words of great figures of the past in order for them to conform to new beliefs. Others place their name on virtually all literature published by their group regardless of whether they wrote it or not. Still others will actually invite the intellectual efforts of members only to later commandeer them for themselves. Then, if the member attempts to retrieve the product of his labor he is disfellowshipped and thoroughly eviscerated from the pulpit. Noticeably absent in the wake of this acrimony is the Kingdom (Mt.6:33). Instead of seeking it, all too many make self-preservation and self-promotion their number one priority.
"Stacking the Deck"
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