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In Transition interviews Dr. Roderick Meredith

By Dixon Cartwright

David Havir, Mac Overton, Linda Moll Smith and Ellis Stewart contributed to this article.

HAWKINS, Texas--Roderick Meredith knew something was up in 1990. That year, the long-time evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God was serving as deputy chancellor of Ambassador College, Big Sandy. The church leadership, four years after the death of WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong, "just jerked me out of the college right in the middle of the first semester," Dr. Meredith remembers.

The church, which sponsors the school, moved the Meredith family to California, near church headquarters, and directed that Dr. Meredith would work out of his home on church publications.

Fellow evangelist Ronald Kelly, who was then director of the WCG's publishing division, brought word to Dr. Meredith from Pastor General Joseph Tkach.

"Ron Kelly said, `Mr. Tkach just wants you to disappear for a year or two,' Dr. Meredith remembers. "I went to faculty lunch [in Pasadena] one time, but then Ron Kelly said they want you to disappear for a year or two, so I didn't get to eat there. I was just to come by the office once or twice a week and pick up my mail. I was in internal exile."

Toward the end of 1990, Dr. Meredith says, WCG evangelists Bernie Schnippert and Michael Feazell "began to have brainwashing lunches with me." Dr. Meredith recalls Mr. Schnippert and Mr. Feazell saying that, if he would agree with the new direction of the church, he could "do great things."

"I didn't want to get kicked out" of the church, Dr. Meredith says. "I still thought God would straighten the situation out. But finally, six or nine months after these lunches, I began to realize they had a different agenda. They were really headed somewhere. I'd heard some of their closest friends say they had decided to go mainstream."

They wanted respect

Dr. Meredith believes the movers and shakers in the push for radical change in the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God "wanted respect" from other churches. They had a two-pronged approach, he says: "They wanted to go mainstream Protestant, and they wanted to denigrate Mr. Armstrong. They had a deep resentment against Mr. Herbert Armstrong and everything God had done through him.

"They were determined to destroy his legacy, you see, and now they've pretty well done it in the Worldwide Church of God."

Before he left Big Sandy in 1990, Dr. Meredith had found it difficult to preach some of the items on the church agenda, although he did try to present what he called a balanced approach on two of the points: healing and makeup.

"I announced positively in a loving, friendly way the thing on makeup; that wasn't a big deal."

Some former members of the Big Sandy congregation have a different recollection of Dr. Meredith's comments on makeup during that sermon. Some Big Sandyites recall Dr. Meredith saying that the more converted a woman was the less makeup she would use.

But Dr. Meredith remembers his approach in that sermon as balanced. "I didn't fight the thing on healing, but I gave this one sermon on being balanced. It looked to me like things were going to the other extreme, pushing people to go to doctors and trying to leave God out, not emphasizing faith. An atmosphere of faith was not being created. More people were sick, more people were dying; there were far fewer healings than we used to have."

Dr. Meredith said he had heard from a friend in 1989 that "they were going to get me."

Larry Salyer, then director of church administration for the WCG's international areas, was in Big Sandy on vacation. Mr. Salyer was staying in a guest house on campus, and Dr. Meredith visited him there. Dr. Meredith says he trusted Mr. Salyer "more than the others."

"I said to Larry, `I hear that Mike Feazell and Joe Jr. are against me,' and I asked, `Why?'"

Opposite of the agenda

Dr. Meredith says Mr. Salyer told him he thought Mr. Feazell and the younger Mr. Tkach "had an agenda." He quotes Mr. Salyer as saying, "It's hard to tell, but I think they have an agenda, and you're the opposite of their agenda. You [Dr. Meredith] don't have Mr. Armstrong's voice and his personality and stature, but to them you are the personification of Armstrongism, and they can't stand that. You come across strong on God's law, on prophecy, the old days, Mr. Armstrong, the baptizing tours, the early churches. They can't stand that; they've got to get rid of you."

Dr. Meredith asked for Mr. Salyer's advice. "Larry said, `Well, maybe you can pray a whole lot, and be low-key.'

"Of course, how can you be low-key when you're deputy chancellor? I lasted just a few more months."

Joe Tkach Sr. died Sept. 23, the day before this interview with Dr. Meredith, who says he believes Mr. Tkach's passing will hasten the completion of the metamorphosis of the Worldwide Church of God, although "I think they'll be smart enough to have a lull."

Dr. Meredith says the work of God did not die with Herbert Armstrong. "I was in the room when Mrs. Armstrong died," in April of 1967 in Pasadena. "She said, `I'm going to die. You fellows go on and finish the work.' We tried to do that, of course."

Almost two decades later, shortly before his death, "Mr. Armstrong put in his final coworker letter that, the work of Herbert Armstrong may be over, but our greatest work may be ahead for the church. He told us things like that in the council-of-elders meeting."

Global needs more ministers

To accomplish its part in the work of God, Dr. Meredith says the Global Church of God needs more ministers. "We have over 21,000 people on our mailing list now, and we have a number of big [television] stations. We've just gone on WWOR, New York, which is networked all over the nation. We're on KCOP, a big station in Los Angeles; we have gone on that station in just the last couple of weeks.

"We're hitting new records every week. We had about 298 calls a couple of weeks ago, then last week 333, this week 441. This week we're expecting over 500 because I'm starting a new series on prophecy."

Dr. Meredith sent out a special member and coworker letter dated Sept. 18 asking for a "special offering" to help pay for broadcast media.

"We have slow, steady growth. We're not growing fast. The first year we grew in financial income with a 113.1 percent increase over the previous year, and this year so far we're running about an 85 percent increase over the previous year. We have about 6,500 people attending church regularly, including children, of course, plus we feel we have about another 4,500 or 5,000 people hearing the audio tapes.

"We're expecting 7,000 at the Feast this year. We have 12 to 14 Feast sites worldwide, seven in North America."

Dr. Meredith is advertising a book by fellow GCG evangelist and brother-in-law Raymond McNair, America and Britain in Prophecy. Mr. McNair's book "has far more historical data than did the book [of a similar title] by Mr. Armstrong," Dr. Meredith says.

The presiding evangelist of the Global Church of God says people affiliating with the Global Church are not just former WCG members. In fact, "quite a number of new people" are coming into the church. "We have of course many new prospectives, and we have the feeling that it will be thousands more."

Work not over

"I definitely feel the work is not over. I think Christ used Mr. Armstrong more than any man we know of, not because he was greater but because he had the tools. Some people are constantly criticizing him, and I think some of the rumors against him are way overdone. I think they have crucified Mr. Armstrong in a very rotten, damnable way. I think God used him powerfully. We in the Global Church want to build on the foundation that Christ laid through Mr. Armstrong."

As evidence that there is more work to be done, Dr. Meredith cites that most people still have never heard of the Worldwide Church of God or Herbert Armstrong. "I've literally made a hobby of just seeing how much we were doing. I ask, `Have you ever heard of The Plain Truth of the Worldwide Church of God?' And very few people have ever heard of Mr. Armstrong. They've heard of Louis or Neil, but they have not heard of Herbert Armstrong.

"That's not to his discredit, but we have to carry on. The way to honor him is not to put him on a pedestal and say he finished everything, but to do what he taught us to do."

When Christ returns, Dr. Meredith says, "God's people will be found doing the work."

Dr. Meredith addressed whether he had had an agenda of his own. Some say he was planning for years to found his own church before he made his move. "That was a lie," he says. "I prayed, I fasted more than any time in my life, asking God to straighten it [the Pasadena mess] out from the inside. As one of the senior evangelists in God's work, a lot of people respected me. If I had been trying to line up hundreds of people, I would have.

`I didn't call anyone'

"Finally, when I was kicked out, I didn't call anyone. But hundreds of people called me. I didn't have time to grind on anyone. Joe Jr. accused me of grinding on people." Dr. Meredith did, however, send letters to friends of his in the Worldwide Church of God, announcing his plans and his reasons for them.

At the Jan. 2, 1993, service, "we started there with 42 people," and the GCG now serves about 11,000 people, counting coworkers who receive tapes from GCG headquarters, in San Diego, Calif. "Our job is not to just grab Worldwide people," Dr. Meredith says. The founder of another offshoot group "is targeting Worldwide, and he'll have his people call them. We've never done that. Our goal is to target the six billion people on earth, especially the Western world at first, because we feel the brunt of the great tribulation will start on them, and we have to have the base to go elsewhere."

Dr. Meredith's radio broadcast reaches Europe over a station the WCG made use of for years, Radio Luxembourg. "Mr. Jean Carrion is on 50 minutes every week. We're reaching, frankly, many thousands of people in Europe. We've got more calls now than they used to get for the French program.

We plan to put Mr. Mario Hernandez on the air soon in the Spanish language; he is already translating our booklets into Spanish and putting them on tape."

Dr. Meredith further described how he feels the Global Church of God is different from other groups and their efforts to preach the gospel.

"It's better that I don't mention names, but I feel I'm different because some of the men who left before I did didn't just leave; they were kicked out of God's church, and they were fighting, frankly, and opposingdirectly competing withthe work that Christ built through Mr. Armstrong. They were competing with a viable, organized Church of God. We did not do that at all.

"I did not leave. I prayed and fasted until it got so awful when they [the WCG] came out with the God Is book and the damnable Trinity doctrine. Then I realized that I had to act.

"But I still didn't do something; I was waiting and praying and asking God to show me."

Bucketful of lies

In discussions with leaders from WCG headquarters in Pasadena before he founded the GCG, Dr. Meredith says one man "put his face in my face at a meeting and said, `Mr. Armstrong gave the church a whole bucketful of lies.' I just challenged him: A bucket of lies? He came right back and shouted it at me: `Yes, a bucket of lies.' I saw that hatred through a lot of other meetings."

Dr. Meredith says that one of his last acts as a speaker in the Worldwide Church of God came in 1992 at the Feast of Tabernacles in Palm Springs, Calif. The festival coordinator was absent that day, he says, and the substitute coordinator called on him for the opening prayer at a Feast service. Dr. Meredith gave a traditional WCG prayer. "I just thanked God that He used Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon to bring His people to the truth and asked God to bless the service and us and for us to be thankful to be here in His Spirit.

"Several people mentioned to me later that that was the best part of the Feast."

The prayer didn't go over well in certain quarters in Pasadena. "The young men in Pasadena called me in in about two weeks and strongly criticized me for that prayer." Dr. Meredith says the "young men" accused him of showing his "true colors."

"I said that's fine. Then a few weeks after that I was fired."

At the time of his separation from the WCG, Dr. Meredith says the church tried to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. If he had "repented and stayed in the Worldwide Church of God," the "young men" would have paid his way for him to move anywhere he wanted to live.

"I thought of going, but the time was short. I realized, no, these people are determined to stamp out the truth. So, when I was kicked out, I was determined not to sit in a rocking chair and do nothing. I was 62 1/ 2 years old. I had no retirement, nothing. I just had to step out on faith. My wife, Shyrel, was with me; she's a real gutsy girl."

Audience with Mr. Tkach

After his firing, on Dec. 4, 1992, Dr. Meredith asked for an audience with Joseph Tkach Sr. A meeting took place Dec. 10, but Dr. Meredith says it was obvious to him then that Mr. Tkach was determined not to stray from the course of transforming the church.

He says the WCG leader accused him of dividing God's church.

"I said, no, sir, you are already dividing the Church of God. Thousands of people are going with [Gerald] Flurry and with Ted [Armstrong] with [John] Ritenbaugh, going everywhere, going back to the world, you see. You are already dividing the church."

"Well, Mr. Tkach didn't have an answer. He knew that was true."

No longer sets dates

As a WCG evangelist, Dr. Meredith--along with other church members--gained a reputation for setting dates for the fulfillment of prophecies. For example, at one time church members were taught they were going to flee to a place of safety in 1972, and Christ would return Sept. 18, 1975.

Dr. Meredith still believes time is short, but he says he no longer sets dates. "I think time is short in the sense that I think Christ will be on this earth within about 10 to 25 years.

"Please don't leave out the `about.' I'm not setting exact dates, but I think certainly the tribulation could begin in eight or 10 years. Things are moving. God says watch and pray, but I don't want to be setting dates. That's up to God."

In the two-year history of the Global Church of God, Dr. Meredith has witnessed the startup of other groups, notably the United Church of God, which began officially May 1 and now has an estimated 16,000 members. He is asked about the possibility of a merger of the Global Church of God and United or other Sabbatarian Churches of God.

"I love many of the people in all of those churches," Dr. Meredith says. "There are very fine people in those branches of the church. But there's a slightly different spirit that I perceive, frankly."

A spirit other than the Spirit of God?

"No, not different Holy Spirits, but different attitudes. I think we have more of the spirit of going through the open doors, building on that foundation. I think some others have tended to want to put down Mr. Armstrong and forget that he existed.

"They want to just have local churches, argue over the size of the church building and not do the work. I think they're going to have to get a different spirit, that of wanting to preach the full truth."

"If we were to merge with a larger group such as United, with no World Ahead program, no World Ahead magazine, that would not honor God at all, in my opinion. I feel the work is important to do."

Where is Laodicea?

Rumor has it that the Global Church of God teaches that it is the Philadelphia era of the church, and other offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God are, at best, Laodicea.

Dr. Meredith says he does think the "true Philadelphians" will be "carrying on the work. We've got to go through the open doors and reach the world every way we can."

He believes the GCG set a good example, because within six weeks of its founding the church had its first magazine in print, and then six or eight weeks later broadcast its first radio program, on KIEV in Los Angeles and KAAY in Little Rock.

"This was in about February or early March 1993. We started Jan. 2, 1993, officially. We had one [church] service in my home with just our closest friends on Dec. 29, 1992."

Yes, but is United part of the "Laodicean era"?

Don't want to label anyone

"We don't want to label United as Laodicean; we don't want to label the International people as Laodicean; or anyone else. I said just the other day that there will be Laodiceans among the Global membership, Laodiceans everywhere. I hope that most of us can be Philadelphian, because I want most of God's people to be Philadelphian in spirit and attitude.

"But I deeply feel that one of the major things Mr. Armstrong taught was the church eras. One man, when he left, said there ain't no such animal, but there is; there is a definite progression [in Revelation 2 and 3]. There are church eras, and the Laodicean spirit is to predominate to the end of this age. I hope all who hear and understand and read your article will try not to be Laodicean, but to be Philadelphian."

What about another traditional teaching of the Worldwide Church of God, that the church will flee to a place of safety?

"I think the Bible is very plain that God is not going to save just everyone in little pockets. We do not know where [the place of safety] is; if the Bible does indicate it, then it would be Petra, but we can't be sure.

The main thing is not to concentrate on the place of safety, but to concentrate on being really close to God so we can be taken whenever it is and wherever it is by God. There's an attitude of total surrender to the people of God: not playing games, not playing church, but total surrender."

No plans for suit

Dr. Meredith addressed the rumor that the Global Church plans a lawsuit against the Worldwide Church of God.

"No, we've not planned a lawsuit against anybody, and I mean ever. There are all kinds of rumors.

"There's a rumor that I have a $1.2 million house overlooking the coast. There's a rumor that Mr. Meredith is driving a Lexus. Actually, it's Mr. Michael Meredith, my son. He's vice president of an insurance company in Atlanta.

I drive exactly the same car that Mr. Salyer and Mr. John Ogwyn do, a white 1993 Buick LeSabre, midpriced."

Just before leaving here, where he was visiting friends, and heading for Houston and a church conference there, Dr. Meredith speaks of his vision for God's people at the end of the age, before the return of Jesus Christ. "I hope everybody can get together before the end," he says.

"I'll put it this way: I pray that every one of the faithful, zealous people of God will eventually be together in one work. I think we need to do a real work to reach this world where they know where we are and they have heard a message.

"I think that would honor God."

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