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When is a church like a game you don't want to play?

by Dennis Diehl

The writer was a pastor of the Worldwide Church of God for 26 years in Ohio, Kentucky, New York and South Carolina. Reach Mr. Diehl, who has nothing for you to join, at

GREENVILLE, S.C.--I thought it might be informative for readers of The Journal to read an update of a letter I wrote a few years ago to the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God. For the record and for your information, dear subscriber, please read on.

To begin with, this letter is for me to help with my processing of events--in my life--and my healing after a 26-year run as a pastor in the Worldwide Church of God.

I came to the church philosophically at the age of 16, having grown up Presbyterian in a stable and loving family. The teachings of the WCG appealed to me and made sense because Iwas learning to understand the Bible as a fundamentally true document in all the areas in which it claimed to express its truth.

The end was near

The world of the '60s was chaotic. Presidents were assassinated, politicians were gunned down, and civil-rights protesters and leaders were beaten, hung, drawn and shot.

The Middle East was on fire, as were many American cities.

The Bible seemed to say that the end of something was near.

I was young and naive but had wonderful intentions.

I went to Ambassador College against the wishes of my parents, who simply allowed me to make my own decisions.


What a wonderful concept: allowing your kids to make their own religious decisions, even though I recently told my dad, now near 90 and a former elder in the WCG, that I wish he had slapped me silly for even thinking of going.

Of course, at that time that would have only proved to me that it was the right thing to do since I was being opposed and, at the time, I just knew I had to be there. I wanted to study and see the world through the eyes of the church.

It just seemed right to me, and any ego loves believing that God Himself was doing the calling.

Went to Ambassador

I was not drawn by the Armstrong personalities at first. There were many times at college when they annoyed me and I knew that what was spoken so brilliantly and with charisma was, in fact, not actually true or was simply speculation about the times in which we're living.

Rather, the information was what caught my attention.

I was a serious thinker at a very young age. There are reasons for that that I now understand completely, but I spare you.

So I went to Ambassador. I wanted to be a pastor and, even though I heard that God had to call you and, of course, the administration had to choose you, I studied as if it was all up to me.

I had a 3.96 grade average. I enjoyed studying the Bible. I simply wanted to know the Truth.

And a pink carnation

I got corrected for hair too long and not enough attendance at basketball games. I didn't care about basketball, but to make me show up they made me be a flag something or other in a white sport coat. I felt like an idiot. I should have said no, but I complied.

I complied a lot over the next 26 years over more-serious topics, though teaching and encouraging the congregation were more important to me than enforcing silly or reckless rules about extraneous topics.

After graduation I went into "the field."

Five states, 14 congregations and 26 years later, in a five-minute phone call at 9:30 in the evening, I was terminated.

Strangely enough, it was the anniversary of my baptism when I was 19 years old.

Full disclosure

Now is the moment I have to be honest about me if I am to continue. I currently am a skeptic as to the origins and history of the Christian church. That is my business and the result of my own study and perspectives.

Transitions between what one thought he knew and has come to see differently are messy.

The WCG experience inspired me to look deeply into origins, and I found I was not told nearly the truth about the matter.

Denominations spin the spin and will not look beyond anything that would upset the paradigm. I discovered they didn't know nearly as much as they pretended to know.

Last days

I was coming to some of these conclusions during the last few years as a pastor. I can hear some of this skepticism in some of my last festival sermons.

I felt that, if a whole church administration can publicly flip an entire organization's belief system and expect compliance, I can certainly quietly and by myself entertain the doubts and "apparent" contradictions I have seen in the Bible.

I could easily have walked off with most of the local congregation had I wanted to endure years of local politics and doing what Christian churches do best: argue, judge and fight. But I was done.

No longer a joiner

I will never lose my interest in theology. I still want to know the truth, even if it is not the one I set out to understand. I simply will not join another church again.

From my perspective the old and the new WCG were and are ill-informed, as is all of literalist, evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity.

That may not be true for you, but it is true for me. My favorite observation is that most Christians are piously convicted but marginally informed. I see that as a truth that well defines many denominations, if not all.

Most of my pastoring years were personally rewarding. I did not have to work in large cities playing games with other pastors who had empires to rule and egos to feed. I simply did my job, loved those I met, laughed with them, cried with them, married and buried spouses, children and relatives, and grew churches.

I drove approximately one million miles (really) visiting, being a friend and believing I was doing the right thing.

There were lots of guys and families like mine. It's the narcissists who messed things up for the rest of us--and still do.

Towards the end, when every visit turned into a slugfest over what the Tkaches were doing--to the church--any capacity was a burden and not a joy.

Read and tell

It was a miserable experience. Your friend one day became your lost friend the next.

On top of that, I was in the American Southeast, where being judgmental and critical of others who are not like you enjoys the status of an art form. Here in the Southeast every third male thinks that if he can read and tell a few stories he is a pastor.

It's one of the few professions where one with no education or meaningful credentials can claim ultimate authority from God and be someone.

By analogy, I came to a hockey game and at halftime someone came out, melted the ice, put up hoops and demanded I not only play but coach basketball, which, if you remember, I don't like.

I suffered personal depression and regret over having given my youth and energy to the ever-changing Truth.

Along the way Imade some mistakes that would be considered unacceptable in a pastor.

Ilost my faith in faith and its associated expectations. Iam deeply sorry my marriage failed, or I failed the marriage. Transitions are messy. I'm just being honest so I can write honestly. It was me.

So I was a pastor in transition, and I can be criticized. I accept that. But after 30 years of prophetic lunacy, majoring in the minors--with too many little big men, periodic scandals and a belief that years of service would at least not end me up in poverty--I wanted my brains back.

At any rate, I stayed to encourage the local congregation.

But that did not work.

The assault from the WCG's leadership dictating what we must now think and do was relentless, and those who did not participate simply had to go.

If you were a minister you simply lost everything and had to reinvent your life after being "uncalled" if being recalled and retrofitted did not make you a good little evangelical, hand-waving, "cross"-eyed, freak.

Litmus test

I remember when going to Promise Keepers for ministers seemed to become the litmus test to prove we had accepted the changes in the WCG.

I would not go. That group was phony, and I told the local men that PK would not exist two years from then. I was right.

I was not about to be told to stand up, sit down and get on my knees and pray by some yahoo coach.

Weeping men vowing to go home and wash their wives' feet seemed a bit much as well.

Scriptural Halloween candy

At any rate, the WCG administration managed to reduce my local congregation from just under 400 sincere and faithful people to around 25 meeting in some hokey storefront giving out Halloween candy with scriptures printed on the wrappers.

That dubious activity resulted from a story about spreading the gospel reprinted from The Worldwide News that recommended winning converts with scriptural Halloween candy!

It was simply pathetic to see a congregation and its minister reduced to that nonsense. You, not I, managed to reduce all my previous congregations by 90-plus percent. Nice work.

Actually, most simply have disappeared. Anyway, it simply came down to that five-minute call one evening out of the blue informing me that I was done in the ministry and that I could call personnel for the details of the severance package.

I was embarking on a scary new life and signing off on any future retirement benefits in return for six months' pay.

Perhaps one can imagine the position that that puts one in when in my youth the church had ministers agree never to draw their social-security benefits with the promise that "we will take care of you."

That assurance was spoken eloquently by Ron Kelly when someone asked him specifically about whether "we" ministers need to be concerned about retirement.

Well, actually, you have taken care of me--but good. My dad worked for Eastman Kodak and has been retired for years. You know, he once bought Fuji Film stock, but Kodak still gives him retirement.

Most of the people in the WCG came from where you wanted to go. You can't ask people to change their minds, hopes and faith just because you think they should agree with you.

Ask Mr. Hinn

Life, much less the human mind, does not work that way.

Frankly, those of you who "administer" the church should have left long ago and asked Benny Hinn, TBN and the Harvest Crock Church to take you in as spiritual refugees.

I realize you could not continue to grant yourselves lifetime income and security by doing this, but it is what you should have done. You should have left alone the church whose perspective you scorned.

If something is wrong for you, then leave it. Don't destroy it and drive many to despair, skepticism and, in some few cases, literal suicide.

Instead you made everyone else leave. Now, that's power: stupid, self-serving and egocentric power.

Benny Hinn has a rule that he does not want people looking him in the eyes. He makes it a rule wherever he goes. He does it as part of his holy-farce-fake-and-failed-prophecies ministry because he believes he is more special than others.

Perhaps a similar rule would save you from seeing the pain, hurt and spiritual confusion in the eyes of countless good people, including former ministers who gave just as much and more in some areas than even their congregants could appreciate.

Giving from the heart

You need to remember that the moneys you realized in the sale of the campus--moneys that you now "invest" in an almost nonexistent "worldwide church" and give yourselves and a few others as possible a lifetime income--is labor from the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.

I'd say you should calculate how much real giving you (as opposed to your predecessors in the old WCG) inspired. How much real giving from the heart was there during your shepherding of the sheep that was not already inspired by the earlier efforts of others?

You can't count the guilt-laden or habitual-giving types. You can count only the purely evangelical, fundamentalist "New and Improved Worldwide Church of God" giving. That's your money to work with. That's the fruit of your labor in "Him," as some say.

I'd also like to ask that question when you go to eat out, or take a cruise in the fall to not keep an archaic, and Jesus-embarrassing, nonfestival.

I know my own father was able to survive because Kodak had a plan.

You never had a plan. Please remember, when you are tempted to judge or put people in categories of worthy or not worthy, that you're coming to "know" Jesus and reinventing the wheel of truth and discovering the "old, old story," which is older than you can possibly imagine and has cost others a lot.

It cost the lives of some who were unable to distinguish between literal death and the emotional death of their hope and faith.

That is not a judgment. That is just the way it has been for some.

Anger turned sideways

Being a hard-wired sensitive human being (ENFP; let him who reads understand), I understand that feeling and shock. The depression I have wrestled with is internalized anger, and the sarcasm I am capable of is simply my anger turned sideways.

Neither you nor the previous administration were particularly easy people to reason with or explain things to. You were always right, it seemed. And, to date, you are a rather emotionally cold and calculated group outside your circle and towards those who have reacted to your administration.

God inspires

I have always said that, when the common folk simply have had enough and say no to childish posturing and the phony authority ministerial-administrative types put on, all of a sudden God inspires a new and better understanding.

But in fact the inspiration is simply a realization that one can't dismiss the common-sense perspectives of educated people and survive.

We get depressed because people don't listen, and we lose our bearings with little or no genuine support. You need to understand that.

I am still amazed that, since that one fateful personal call that ended my career, no one ever contacted me again--ever. That is what I mean by cold.

I encouraged the local church in my last sermon to continue to support you. I have since regretted the content and misplaced loyalty of my last sermon.

I believe that was back when I had just been assured that "we will not be changing" this or that, and yet it all changed that month.

Reckless change

The bewilderment that people direct towards the collective "you" for reckless change and your indifference to the spiritual and physical sacrifices made by thousands that now result in your having more money than you need to "do the work" are quite understandable. I suspect, as do others, you knew what your losses would be but did not care, and still don't.

Maybe even you don't know why you do and did what you have done. Perhaps that would take a professional to sort out.

I don't know the games you played with your evangelical supporters behind the scenes, but I do know that the "Bible Answer Man" and others you have embraced also show a pattern of financial gain through religious manipulation and theological ignorance.

Hank Hanegraaff's perspective on literal human origins is simply ignorant. He is not qualified to write on such topics as if he knew what he was talking about.

'I'd lose my job'

I can't tell you how many evangelical-type ministers I have met in my present life who have said, "I know you are right, but I can't teach that. I'd lose my job."

Grab a copy of Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong and then try to say the Bible is all harmonious and literally true.

It's a simple read and, with your backgrounds, you should be eminently capable of grasping its message. The same is to be said of many of the theological articles you now write: pious conviction with marginal information.

Finally, and I know I will always be able to think of more to say, I wanted to comment on your "ministry of reconciliation."

People problem

Although I am all for black-white reconciliation, it is majoring in the minors at this point. I know how difficult it is to communicate with people you have offended. Or maybe I am seeing this topic only through my own eyes and for you it is not difficult at all. I don't know.

I do know that reconciling with races is not your main problem. It is the inability to reconcile with people that has been your undoing.

It may take a few more years, but this lack will leave the WCG dead and buried in just about any form. Only a small group of people will realize success, if you can call having a lot of money a legitimate form of success in what is supposedly a holy endeavor.

I imagine you can afford to dabble in just about any evangelical fantasy you choose. You can associate with whoever is the most emotionally satisfying regardless of how the folks left in the WCG feel about your associations and whether your new connections represent their hopes and dreams.

I also feel that the new owners of the property in Pasadena are another religious scandal waiting to happen. Men with that much emotion, power, influence and ridiculous religious showmanship wear many masks and cannot maintain all of them all the time. Truly spiritual people don't need others to define them. But sheeple, remember, need shepherds.

At any rate, I suggest you put some thought into who you really might need to reconcile with and see what you come up with. I won't hold my breath.

I thank any and all for listening to me open up and express these things. I realize I can be sarcastic. I realize I still hold onto anger I don't wish to have and regrets about not speaking up in times past. I can only attempt to remedy these shortcomings by speaking up now.

I also realize I have nothing to lose. I took my severance papers to a lawyer as suggested, and I can't print what she actually said, but it went something like this:

"This is a church?"


"You're ----ed."

Had to be

I wanted to be a pastor from a young age. I don't any longer. My reasons were probably rather hokey, but they were sincere. The WCG seemed right at the time. I had to be there.

I accept responsibility for being there and for being here now. I simply ask you to reconsider your perspectives and responsibilities. You might be able to dismiss them because "we weren't responsible for the past."

I will simply say I am not talking about the past. That is over and done with.

I don't expect you to take responsibility for the past administration's way of being and doing. But your way of being and doing in the recent past and present is more than enough for you to take responsibility for.

Sadly, I believe you probably have done about as much as your Jesus would have you do.

Be warmed and be filled. Or, as only one WCG administrator ever said to me, we're praying for you.

But I bet they weren't.

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