White-Washing the Future

The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Part 2

White-Washing the Future

This post is the second in a series. Each entry in the series will be building on information and commentary in the earlier entries. So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.

I am quite certain that the average “man on the street” these days would draw a blank if asked by a reporter if he was familiar with the Plain Truth magazine or a radio and TV program called The World Tomorrow. It is even less likely that he would have any memory of the sponsor of these media outreaches, the Worldwide Church of God, nor of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong (shown here with his wife Loma, admiring the February, 1965 issue of his magazine.)

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Nor would the “average” American in 2015 likely have any memory of its primary spokesperson on the radio and TV in the 1960s and 70s, Herbert’s son Garner Ted Armstrong.

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(Herbert had been the radio voice of the ministry from 1934 until the early 1960s. At that point he turned the speaking role over to his son and spent much of his own time on trips around the world.)

Quite a different response would have been common back in the year 1969, though. In that year the Plain Truth magazine (subtitle: “a magazine of understanding”) exceeded a monthly distribution of over 2 million copies.

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And you couldn’t turn your radio on and twirl the dial any evening of the week between about 7 PM and midnight without stumbling across the half-hour World Tomorrow program, “starring” Garner Ted Armstrong,  on some station about every half hour.

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It was broadcast daily on 42 major regional US radio stations that were heard across wide areas of the country. This included such popular 50,000 watt “superstations” as WRVA Richmond (Virginia), KXEL Waterloo (Iowa), and WOAI San Antonio (Texas.) It was also heard on 182 local US stations. And beyond the borders of the US, it was on 42 Canadian stations (including four in French and two in Italian language), stations on Okinawa and Guam, and 21 stations in the Caribbean and Latin America (including 17 in English and 4 in French.)

The TV program, in full color, was just gearing up—it was on 17 US and 21 Canadian TV stations. (By the early 1980s, the Worldwide Church of God was said to have been purchasing more broadcast time on radio and TV than any other religious organization on earth.)

Yes, the organization and its outreaches were in their heyday in 1969. When I got married in May, 1965, at age 18, I had never heard of them, though. But it didn’t take me long. My new husband had been getting their magazine and other publications since the late 1950s. He had been in junior high school in about 1958 when he first heard of them. One lazy summer afternoon he was bored, and decided to rummage through a stack of magazines his mother had in the attic. He stumbled across a Cappers Farmer magazine from the previous December (she had kept it for the Christmas cookie recipes) that had an ad in the back of the magazine for a free subscription to the Plain Truth magazine, and three booklets—1975 in Prophecy, The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like, and Will Russia Attack America?

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He was a bored…and broke… young teen. So a free subscription sounded good, and he clipped out the coupon and sent it in. He hoarded magazines as his mom before him had, so by the time we got married in 1965, he had a stack of seven+ years of Plain Truth magazines. He brought them from his parents’ home to our new apartment shortly after we got married, and plunked them down in front of me. We hadn’t really talked at all about “religion” during our three-week courtship, so he caught me totally by surprise. At first I, a college freshman agnostic, was totally skeptical. But it was during the summer, when I had no college classes, and was bored myself during the day. So when he’d go off to work, I’d spend quite a bit of my time rummaging through the magazines. The dogmatic certainty of the writers that they had all the answers to the horrible situations in the world of the time turned me off at first. But their relentless recounting of facts and figures…and matching the screaming headlines of the newspapers at the time with passages in the Bible…soon wore my resistance down. Within weeks I began sending away for all the booklets they offered which they explained would answer all my questions. And within months I had naively become a True Believer.

I devoured every magazine and piece of literature that came from their publishing arm, Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. I twirled the dial every night and listened to Garner Ted Armstrong on the radio, often multiple times in one night. He sounded like a dynamic news commentator, much like Paul Harvey, rather than the usual radio preacher. And he confidently laid out for me every night, as the booming announcer put it at the beginning of every show, “The Plain Truth about today’s world news, and the prophecies of the World Tomorrow.”

I eventually found out that the program and the Armstrongs were very well known in many circles in the US and Canada. Garner Ted was particularly a popular speaker among the country music stars of the US, personal friend of men like Merle Haggard. In fact, after Garner Ted died in 2003, Merle commented that “after Johnny [Cash] died, I lost a real close friend in Garner Ted Armstrong. He was like a professor to me. What education I have, I owe to him.”

In 1976 Garner Ted was a guest on the Hee Haw show that starred Buck Owens and Roy Clark. He popped up out of the “corn patch” on the show to say “Sa-loot” to his hometown of Eugene, Oregon. He sang a country western song he had written titled “Working Man’s Name,” and joined “the whole Hee Haw gang” to sing the popular Gospel song “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” He was so well-known that one of the Hee Haw regulars, Archie Campbell, released a parody record in which he did a voice impression of Garner Ted doing the World Tomorrow program. On Archie’s record he was “Gagner Fred Hamstrung.”

Yes, for a time Garner Ted Armstrong became a bit of a “household name” in the US and some other parts of the world where his program was broadcast.

By 1968 I became, along with my husband, a baptized, active member of the Worldwide Church of God. And was proud of the fact that our tithes, sent faithfully every month to the Headquarters of the Church at Box 111, Pasadena, California, were helping to get out the wonderful Good News about that Wonderful World Tomorrow. Which was going to be brought to Earth by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, scheduled to occur by 1975.

So just what was that Wonderful World going to be like? It’s only in recent years, with the advent of Google Search, that I have discovered that ALL the literature of the Worldwide Church of God, including all those old Plain Truth magazines, has been digitized. And made available on the Internet in convenient PDF files. In fact, I can go back long before my involvement with the organization and founder Herbert Armstrong and see what he was writing for the Plain Truth magazine clear back to 1934. So I am now able to refresh my memory of just what influenced me so strongly back in those days, what I found persuasive, and how my mind—and emotions—were discombobulated for a period of my life by what I now clearly see was often just so much gobbledy-gook! We left the organization in 1978, and for many years I had sublimated the thinking processes of that “old me.” In going back and reading some of that old literature from the 1960s online, I am astonished to think that I was capable of swallowing such foolishness. And even more astonished to find that there was even crazier stuff that was appealing to listeners and readers in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s!

As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, few people these days remember the Worldwide Church of God, nor either of the Armstrongs. Armstrong Junior left the organization in 1978 over a blow up with his father, and tried to start his own radio ministry. It never became more than a tiny shadow of the outreach of the World Tomorrow program, and Garner Ted died in 2003, forgotten by almost everyone. Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, and the organization he started began crumbling almost immediately. It no longer exists, and although a number of small splinter groups still adhere to his teachings and try to “carry his torch,” they also are all very tiny shadows of the Glory Days of the “parent organization.”

The dogmatic assertions about the future that were taught by the Armstrongs and their associates back in the 1960s and before was unending, and I certainly don’t intend to try to cover it all in this blog series. But I would like to share the one aspect of it all that, in some ways, troubles me the most in looking back. There was a facet of Herbert Armstrong’s portrait of his warped view of the “Wonderful World Tomorrow” that really stands out in some of those old writings in a way that I am sure I glossed over back in the 1960s.

As noted in the description above of the World Tomorrow program, the focus was very strongly on providing the Armstrongs’ take on the “truth” about the news of the day…their interpretation of how current events lined up with their own idiosyncratic view of passages in the Bible. This was also true of the content of the magazine. Although it did include articles about strictly biblical topics and doctrinal matters such as baptism, much of the emphasis was on news.

I recently did a brief survey of the content of the Plain Truths of the 1960s to see what kind of news attracted their attention in particular. There was a certain amount of focus on natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, and so on.

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European politics was a focus because of Armstrong’s insistence that the expected “Anti-Christ” would be a future German leader of a united Europe. For a time, the leading contender in Worldwide COG writings was this fellow below, Franz Josef Strauss, shown on the cover of the October 1968 Plain Truth.

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The Space Race with Russia was covered in articles throughout the decade, such as in this issue from August 1969 that discussed the “prophetic significance” of the first moon walk.

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But the headline news from America that seemed to draw the most attention was the development of the Civil Rights movement. Or, as the Plain Truth seemed always to put it…’The Race Question,” “The Race Explosion,” or “The Race Crisis,” such as the article title below from the August, 1963, Plain Truth shown here.

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No articles ever explored the plight of the “Negro in America” from Emancipation to the present, the gross injustices they had suffered under the Jim Crow laws in place since the early end of Reconstruction in the 1870s. There seemed to be no mention of the unconstitutional suppression of voting rights, not even a mention of such indignities as separate drinking fountains and separate entrances to theaters … which led to a back balcony—if African Americans were allowed in a theater at all. There was no acknowledgment that “separate but equal” schools were virtually NEVER equal in any sense of that word, no recognition of the horrendous century-long history of lynchings—which were often done with the tacit approval, and sometimes even the assistance of, local law enforcement officials. There was no mention that auto trips for black Americans up to that time period were often a miserable experience because, even in many northern states, they could often not find overnight accommodations or a place that would serve them a meal.

No, the ONLY emphasis seemed to be continual details of any incidents of rioting and looting, such as in this article by Garner Ted Armstrong from August, 1967.

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It included a montage of previous article titles from earlier Plain Truths.

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There was seldom any mention that such riots were always soundly renounced by the majority of Civil Rights leaders and groups. The magazine never contained anything about the incredible positive record of the method of non-violent protests, the mind-boggling abuse heaped on peaceful protestors by police using dogs, high pressure hoses, billy clubs and more in places like Mississippi.

Yes, the ONLY emphasis was that the problems reflected in race confrontations were to be blamed almost entirely on the failure of blacks to TOTALLY submit to the Powers That Be. If they would only accept the way things were, accept the laws in all local areas no matter how abusive and discriminatory, and quit demanding ANY “rights” … then peace would return.

But of course, it was obvious from the headlines that the movement was well under way and not to be stopped. So the Plain Truth’s continual prediction was that Race Riots would escalate to horrendous proportions and be part of bringing the soon downfall of the US, which would lead into the Great Tribulation.

I find all of this troubling, because there was so much evidence at the time that it was obvious, long-term injustice that had brought about the unrest. The blacks in America HAD been subdued and obedient to Jim Crow for generations. They HAD been patient for the dominant white world to throw them crumbs of progress. But it had become miserably obvious nothing substantive was going to change without pressure. I am still amazed at how self-controlled the non-violent branch of the Civil Rights movement was for so long during those times of protest.

Yes, it is troubling to me that an organization claiming to be the “spokesman” for God on Earth was so incapable of looking honestly at the realities of the roots of the  race problems in the US.

But that is not what troubles me the most. Looking back now at some of the Plain Truth magazines of the time, I am astonished that I somehow overlooked the Hidden Assumptions behind the whole approach of the organization. I somehow missed what Herbert Armstrong said was going to be God’s Solution to the Race Problem in the Wonderful World Tomorrow. One might think it would be God miraculously “changing hearts” and causing people to no longer have prejudices and hatred. Or one might think it would be God instituting programs in the World Tomorrow to “educate” people from a young age to live by the Golden Rule.

Nope. Here’s the solution, in Herbert Armstrong’s own words in this October 1963 Plain Truth. 

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Like all of his articles, it was VERY long and rambling, but he eventually got to his main point (the “ALL CAPS” are in the original. Herbert Armstrong loved using all caps for emphasis…to a ludicrous extent.):

…if you want to know how CHRIST is GOING to solve this problem now flaming toward a violent crisis in America, I can tell you! Just as He DELIVERED the White Israelites from Egypt, and took them to the land HE had appointed to be theirs, so He will DELIVER the Negroes from American Whites, and take them in an Exodus to THEIR OWN LAND where HE foreordained they should live. AND THERE THEY WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND HAPPY! ALWAYS! GOD ALONE knows the WAY TO PEACE!

Yes, the way to peace will be for God to ship all “Negroes” back to Africa. That will allegedly eliminate any racial discrimination, because there will no longer be any “objects” of discrimination left. No need to change the hearts of racist bigots. You just eliminate their targets and they become nice guys.

I’ve rummaged and rummaged and can find no “details” on just how Herbert thought this would all work. Who was a Negro? Was it someone with 100% Negro DNA? 90%? 50%.

Or, as I am highly suspicious, was it anyone with a drop of Negro blood? This was, after all, the theory of the Eugenics movement of the early 20th century. The movement responsible for getting over 30 states to pass laws forbidding inter-racial marriage on penalty of imprisonment.  Although some states defined a Negro as anyone with perhaps a minimum of a single grandparent or great grandparent of African descent, Virginia indeed had a “one drop” law. ANY ancestor, however far back, of African descent made you a Negro, and thus it was a crime for you to marry any “pure” white person.

I don’t know if Herbert would have supported a “one drop” position. But I have no doubt that he would define anyone who had inherited the slightest hint of features considered “Negroid”…whether lips or hair or whatever… as a Negro. And he would have insisted that that person would be “going back to Africa where he belonged” in the Wonderful World Tomorrow.

We’ll go back to 1963 in the next entry in this series,  and begin exploring some of the “Roots” of Herbert Armstrong’s view of what a coming Perfect World would be like. Join me next for a look at

American Graffiti 

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