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Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Herbert W Armstrong: A Dangerous Cult Leader

Back in August of 2012, Psychology Today posted a piece by former FBI Counterintelligence Agent Joe Navarro titled "Dangerous Cult Leaders, Clues to what makes for a pathological cult leader." Based on his observations and experiences during his tenure at the FBI, Navarro identified fifty personality traits that "stand out as the first warning to those who would associate with them." For those who are interested in viewing that original post in its entirety, you can find it here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/spycatcher/201208/dangerous-cult-leaders

I have included a few of Navarro's list of traits below that stood out to me as being applicable to Herbert W Armstrong:

He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
Demands blind, unquestioned obedience.
Has a sense of entitlement—expecting to be treated as special at all times.
Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives, putting others at financial risk.
Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.
Has ignored the needs of others, including: biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs.
Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.
Has insisted on always having the best of anything (house, car, jewelry, clothes) even when others are relegated to lesser facilities, amenities, or clothing.
Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.
Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.
Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.
Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
Has isolated members of his sect from contact with family or the outside world.
Monitors and/or restricts contact with family or outsiders.
Has taken away followers' freedom to leave, to travel, to pursue life and liberty.

It seems to me that enough of these traits apply to HWA to identify him as a dangerous cult leader. And, in terms of my own experience (and the experiences of others known to me) within HWA's Worldwide Church of God, Navarro's final paragraph seemed to really hit the nail on the head. He wrote:
"When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you, then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer, even if they don’t know yet that they will."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

God-ordained OR Man-made?

Unfortunately, many of us have attributed things to God that humans have fashioned on their own. In other words, humans like to put words in God's mouth! We like to imagine that God sees things the way that we see things, or that God has inspired or caused us to think a certain way. In similar fashion, many of us like to take ancient cultural/societal norms recorded in Scripture and make them into universal principles that apply to all people and all times.

Take a moment to consider just a few of the things that many of us take for granted as being God-ordained: patriarchy (male led society), marriage, divorce, gender roles, paternalism, capitalism, heterosexual orientation, worship, parenting techniques, etc. But how much of the stuff that we associate with each of the things mentioned actually originated in the mind of God?

Is God actually a male? Does God have a penis? Weren't both genders (male and female) created in God's image? Doesn't the New Testament state that gender is irrelevant under the terms of the New Covenant? Was God the source of female silence in the Christian Church or was it Paul (and the Jewish traditions from which he came)?

Many Christians are surprised to learn that there is NO formula for a marriage ceremony given anywhere in Scripture! Marriage licenses are creations of the state. Likewise, the notion of a minister, judge or some other official performing the ceremony is a man-made tradition. Is jumping over a broom an acceptable marriage ceremony to God? Oh sure, the Bible does speak of marriage in the generic sense, but it also mentions concepts like polygamy and concubine marriages that most modern Christians have rejected.

What about divorce? The concept is mentioned in Scripture, but which of the formulas presented in those pages (Moses, Christ or Paul) reflects God's thinking on the subject? And, once again, does the state have any legitimate role in the process?

As for gender roles, does God define for us what is masculine and what is feminine? Does God really care if a woman wears pants or dresses? Likewise, does God really care about the length of a man's hair? Did God ordain that boys like trucks and girls like dolls? Did God ordain that men like football and women like nail salons?

Did God ordain that some men/nations should dominate and exploit their weaker neighbors? Did capitalism originate in the mind of God? Did socialism originate in the mind of Satan? Do either one of these man-made systems actually reflect God's thinking on the subject?

If a heterosexual attraction is the God-ordained formula, then why are so many folks attracted to members of their own gender? Is sexual orientation God-ordained? If it is something we choose, then why doesn't everyone go with their natural inclination - the path of least resistance?

As for worship, the only place in Scripture that attempts to define a God-ordained service is found in the Old Testament Pentateuch. There is no formula to be found in the entire New Testament for a Christian worship service! The pulpits, pews, stained-glass windows, hymns, pianos, guitars, sermons and sermonettes common in today's Christian worship services are all human notions of what that service should look like!

As for parenting techniques, how much of what we know about parenting has been derived from human trial and error over the centuries? Do we really believe that God has mandated corporal punishment for all children? Do we really believe that children have no rights? Do we believe that children who smart off to their parents should be stoned?

How can we tell whether something is man-made or God-ordained? While God may not have given us a marriage ceremony or a clear standard for divorce, we do have the principle laid down in Scripture that we must not be unfaithful to each other. While male and female clothing standards and hair styles have varied greatly among different cultures, Scripture extols the virtue of modesty. Moreover, Scripture makes plain that Christ taught that we should all treat others the way that we would like to be treated - with kindness, mercy and compassion. And, while the format of the worship service may not be important, Scripture teaches us that God must be loved, honored and respected above every other person, place or thing.

Do we begin to see that there is a profound difference between cultural norms and eternal/universal spiritual principles? Of course, the Fundamentalist Christian believes that Paul's statements about clothing, women and homosexuality also reflect God's will. Most of them believe that God actually wrote these epistles, not Paul. Likewise, they believe that God wrote the Pentateuch, not Moses. For them, the human authors of Scripture were magically immune from being influenced by their own culture/society, prejudices and feelings. For them, inspiration means Divine dictation - that the human authors were only acting in the capacity of scribes. For them everything that was penned by these humans IS the "word of God." For me, however, the likelihood that any human could be completely immune to any influence by their own experiences and circumstances stretches credibility. What about you? Are we following God-ordained rituals or man-made traditions?   

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Juneteenth: Freedom from Slavery

Tomorrow, African Americans will celebrate the liberation of their ancestors from slavery. However, Christians all over the world realize that we have been slaves to sin during our lifetimes on this planet. Even so, Paul explained to the saints at Rome that Christ has also liberated us from that bondage.

He wrote: 

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

15 Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:5-23

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%206&version=NLT

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

GOD AND THE MORALITY OF A NATION

Many modern Christian leaders are fond of pointing out that God is standing at the ready to punish the United States (and other Western nations) for its (their) sins. Of course, the majority of these prophets of doom have a few very specific sins in mind when they say such things.

Notice this exchange that recently took place on Pat Robertson's The 700 Club:

“How can God heal our land and forgive the sins when abortion and same-sex marriage are laws and many people are anti-Israel. Doesn’t this prevent his healing and forgiveness?” a viewer named John asked on the television program.

In response, Robertson said John was "right."

“The Bible says ... turn from their wicked ways," said Robertson, adding, "We are not turning when we have done terrible things. We have broken the covenant that God made with the mankind. We have violated his covenant.”

“We’ve allowed this terrible plague to spread throughout our society. And it’s a small wonder God would hold us guilty," he said. “But the answer is, you confess your sins and forsake them. Then he heals the land. It’s not before."

see https://www.out.com/news/2020/4/21/pat-robertson-same-sex-marriage-plague-caused-coronavirus 

Likewise, many years ago, Herbert Armstrong wrote in his The United States and Britain in Prophecy:

It will now be made plain — from God's own warning prophecies — that this greatest multiplied intensity of corrective punishment will fall on Britain and America — including British peoples in Commonwealth countries. And it will strike them down first!
   But they are not the only nations to suffer corrective disaster. God is Creator of all other nations, too! God is concerned about the people and races we have called "heathen." They, too, are human. They, too, are made in God's own likeness, with the potential of being molded into God's spiritual and character IMAGE! God sent the apostle Paul to Gentile nations!
   All mankind has rebelled against, rejected, and turned from God and His ways! There can never be peace on earth until all nations will have been turned to God and His ways, ruled by His supreme government!
   All mankind, right now, is caught in the vortex of the swiftly accelerating crisis marking utter destruction of this world's man- built, Satan-inspired civilization...God will use a Nazi-Fascist Europe to punish Britain-America. Then He will use the Communist hordes to wipe out the Roman Europe.    We are entering a time of world trouble — utter world chaos! There is war, strife, violence in Asia, Africa, South America — as well as Europe and North America. The population explosion is a worldwide threat to human existence. Crime, violence, sickness, disease, inequality, poverty, filth, squalor, degeneration, suffering — these infest ALL nations! 

see https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbook&InfoID=1326034388&InfoType=&page=&return=books 

For these (and many other) preachers, the sins of a nation invite Divine punishment. But which sins are societal in nature, and which sins are personal in nature? Is abortion a sin? Who decides? Does individual conscience play any role in determining whether or not it is a sin? And, if it is a sin, is it a personal sin, a societal sin or both? Likewise, is homosexuality a sin? OR Is same-sex behavior the sin? And, if we say that homosexuality is a personal choice, how can it also be a societal sin? Does a Supreme Court decision make everyone guilty? What about the folks who reject abortion and homosexuality? What if there are fifty people in the nation who reject these behaviors? What if there are only ten people in the nation who reject those behaviors?

What about America's other sins? What about the sins of stealing lands from Native Americans and breaking treaties with them (not to mention all of the deaths that those policies generated)? And, since these were government instigated or led sins, aren't these sins clearly collective in nature? What about the sin of slavery? What about the hundreds of thousands of deaths associated with that institution and the war that was fought to end it? What about all of the societal, political, economic and criminal justice inequities that slavery engendered in America? And how many generations did it take to wipe away those sins? Were those sins laundered away by the generations who succeeded the generations who actually committed those sins? Does a painting that was stolen from a Jewish family actually become the legitimate property of the descendants of the Nazi who stole it? And, if previous generations didn't suffer Divine punishment for their sins, why must the current generation pay for theirs? Is that justice? Is that fair? And, if we say that those individuals paid for their sins, what does that do to the entire concept of collective punishment?

Is God just waiting to pounce on sinful nations? OR Has God "bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all"? (Romans 11:32) Are particular nations going to be singled out for Divine punishment because of their sins? OR Have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? (Romans 3:23) Is God eager to zap wayward nations? OR Does God want "all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth"? (I Timothy 2:4) And, if that's truly what God wants, is that what's going to happen? Hmmmm, maybe this whole subject isn't as straightforward and simplistic as some of these evangelists would have us believe?