October 9, 2005 ©Homer Kizer
Commentary — From the Margins
On “Pondering the Great Tribulation”
For years, the question nagged
her: if her parents had to eat one of their kids, who would it be? Now, living
as a Jew on the upper West Side of Manhattan, Angela Himsel
wonders if her sins will be forgiven and will she be written in the Book of
Life? She remembers that the world was going to end in 1975,
that all flesh would perish, that the great God was going to spank this
world and spank hard with droughts, starvation, parents eating children. She
remembers that brethren were to be lifted into the sky and transported on
eagles’ wings to a Place of Safety.
And her questions and memories are indictments of not just the Worldwide Church
of God, the Sabbath-keeping evangelical church her parents attended in
In her essay, “Pondering the Great Tribulation” (October 2, 2005 edition of The New York Times), Angela Himsel says she “decided to forswear demons and destruction and convert to Judaism, a religion that worried less than [she] would like about God’s plan and salvation, but one that encouraged [her] to keep one foot firmly rooted in physical soil” (8th par.). But she still thinks about the multiple sermons pounded into her about not leaving the church, about not being left behind when the world ended…
There is no love in fear.
What the Worldwide Church of God lacked throughout the decade of the 1970s was love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control—eight of nine facets of the fruit of the Breath of God [Pneuma ’Agion]. What it had was faithfulness, and it was faithful to a fault.
The 1970s saw
Garner Ted Armstrong’s philandering embarrass the church. There was no true “goodness” in the silvery voice of the church’s number two man (and there
were no women in leadership positions). There was no “self-control” when Garner
Ted shot that Alaskan moose in 1975. And again, so it went throughout the
church, from top down to the person setting up chairs in local congregations.
Love was merely another casualty in the plan of God although many were the
sermons that incorporated chapter thirteen of Paul’s first epistle to saints at
What Angela Himsel couldn’t understand was just how little love was ever in the church of her youth. What basis for comparison did she have? What basis for comparison did any young person reared in the church have? The same basis as the priest and the Levite that crossed to the other side of the road (Luke -37) had—Samaritans were of the world, and were out in the world. They were not in the church.
Besides, it wasn’t the person who would go to the place of safety that would eat his or her children: it was those who were “nominal” Christians, or those who were Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or nothing at all. God would feed the 144,000 who would be safely hidden from the prying eyes of a starving world. And herewith entered the terminal fallacy: what would happen when there were more than 144,000 baptized members? The number of members was, by the middle of the 1970s, approaching 100,000, which further convinced the faithful that what the church taught was absolutely correct.
The Worldwide Church of God of the 1970s imploded in the 1990s before it could flee to a place of safety, before it greatly exceeded 144,000 baptized members.
Armstrongs safely rest in the grave, as does the
Worldwide Church of God of Angela Himsel’s youth. Yet
the plan of God continues towards a period in human history unlike any previous
period. The prophets Angela still reads wrote of this period when
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."