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Author requests help with his study
of the WCG offshoots

 
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Author requests help with his study
of the Worldwide Church of God offshoots

by David V. Barrett
 
Mr. Barrett is researching for his Ph.D. on the schisms in the Churches of God since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong.

LONDON, England--Several years ago I began work on my Ph.D. at the London School of Economics, part of the University of London.

My doctoral thesis (which Americans usually call a dissertation) is a study of what happened in the Worldwide Church of God after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong: the changes in doctrine, the first splits into Philadelphia, Global and United, and the subsequent history of many further churches being founded.

I wrote a couple of pieces for The Journal, in 1997 and 2003, met several senior former WCG people in Britain and had correspondence with a number of leaders of churches and teaching ministries.

I also wrote a long chapter in my book The New Believers (Cassell, 2001) about the changes in the WCG, and I contributed several entries on the WCG and the largest offshoot churches to a four-volume Religions of the World encyclopedia.

For various reasons, including major surgery, bereavement, the retirement of my doctoral supervisor and lack of funding, I had to stop work on my thesis for more than three years. I'm now returning to work on it and have to complete it within the next 12 months.

To do so I shall need your help.

25 minutes of questions

I've written a questionnaire for former lay members and ministers of the WCG and have put it online at www.quest.thenewbelievers.com. It should take about 25 minutes to complete. I've kept it as straightforward as possible; earlier drafts were much longer and more complicated.

I'm particularly trying to find out things like this:

  • What it felt like for members and ministers to discover that their own church was abandoning its teachings.

  • What it was like to leave the WCG after years of loyal membership.

  • Why people left when they did. What was the trigger?

  • Why members initially went to the PCG, GCG or UCG.

  • Why many members later moved on from these to other churches.

  • How members of COGs that had separated from the WCG earlier, such as Raymond Cole's Church of God the Eternal or Garner Ted Armstrong's Church of God International, were affected by the massive changes in the WCG and their aftermath.

I aim to end up with the first major unbiased account of what happened in the years following Mr. Armstrong's death right up to today.

Of course, several books have already been written by people involved in the story with very different perspectives, from Joe Tkach Jr. to Stephen Flurry.

There have also been one or two written by nonmembers, but these have been of the "From Cult to Christ" variety, praising the doctrinal changes in the WCG and ignoring the many thousands of members--yourselves--who held firm to HWA's teachings in one form or another.

No ax in sight

I have no ax to grind. I've been aware of the WCG for several decades but have watched from the outside. I don't have a position on the various doctrinal and organizational differences between United and its offshoots, or between, say, Living and Philadelphia and Restored. I am seeking to understand, not to judge.

Among other areas I'll be looking at how COG members themselves--yourselves--see the differences between all the churches, both in their teachings and in areas such as leadership and authority.

This questionnaire is only for current members and ministers of offshoot Churches of God in the "Worldwide family," so it is not for (a) members of CG7 or other Sabbatarian Churches or (b) members who have remained in the WCG.

Former members who no longer belong to any church are welcome to answer whichever questions are relevant to them. I would like to encourage members of all churches and no churches alike to add whatever comments you want. These are just as important as the box-checking questions.

Why should you help? Because I need to understand more about the conflict between remaining loyal to your church and its leaders and holding firm to what you believe, and I can do that only with your input.

Seeking understanding

Also, because when my thesis is eventually to be published as a book I want it to give scholars of religion as well as members of other Christian churches a deeper understanding of the whole Worldwide family of churches, rather than simply categorizing the Worldwide Church of God as "a former Sabbatarian, Millenarian sect that reverted to conventional Protestant beliefs after the death of its founder," as most books do, completely ignoring the offshoots.

This book will be about the offshoots--about you.

And, not least, because I think it can sometimes be helpful for people on the inside of a situation--former members of the WCG, now scattered in more than 300 offshoot churches as well as countless living-room churches--to view it from the outside, through others' eyes.

When I first began this study nearly 10 years ago the basic question I asked was: Who went where and why?

In many ways that's still my main question: Why did some people initially join Philadelphia or Global or United?

Why, over the years, have some people left these and joined Restored, or CGIC or COG in Truth or the Church of the Great God or one of the many, many other churches?

It's a huge question, and obviously the reasons will be different for each individual, and I don't expect to get all the answers.

I do hope to find some of the answers, but I can do it only if you are willing to spend about 25 minutes of your time answering my questionnaire and telling me what you think.

I'm hoping for hundreds of responses from people in as many Churches of God as possible, large and small--and also the various teaching and support ministries.

Anonymity protected

I want to stress that no one who fills out this questionnaire will be identified. All contributions will be anonymous unless you specifically want to be quoted by name.

However, if you wish to you can give me your name and contact details. I would like to give copies of the eventual book to two names drawn at random as a small token of thanks for your help.

Cooperation of leaders

I should also emphasize that I am doing this study with the full knowledge and, I hope, cooperation of your church leaders.

I have sent a different questionnaire to the leaders of the 50 largest churches and teaching ministries, asking them questions like: When you left your previous church, why did you found a new one instead of joining one of the many others already in existence?

I'm hoping that they will be as open and honest in their replies as I am certain you will be with yours.

And may I thank you in advance for your help.

The questionnaire for members and ministers will be online from Oct. 20 to Dec. 31, 2008, at www.quest.thenewbelievers.com. You will need to enter the password Eugene1934.

It is simply not feasible for me to make printed copies of the questionnaire available for readers who do not have not computers.

I suggest, if you do not have a computer, that you enlist the help of a friend who does.

Thank you again.



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