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Meditation 155
Garner Ted is dead and gone

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Garner Ted Armstrong died on 16 August 2003. Probably most visitors to this site have not heard of Mr. Armstrong, but once upon a time he was ubiquitous on television and radio. From the mid '50s to the mid '70s, he was the public voice and face of the Worldwide Church of God, a church founded by his father, Herbert W. Armstrong.

Garner Ted was always perfectly groomed. He just oozed sincerity. He would have made a great used car salesman. Instead, he followed his father into the religion business.

This operation was surprisingly successful. At its peak, it took in over $70 million a year, more than Billy Graham and Oral Roberts combined. The Armstrongs' ministry may have had a smaller membership than those of other televangelists, but they were remarkably adept at squeezing donations out of their members.

Their flagship program was nothing more than a world news program specializing in disasters with, at least on the surface, relatively little religious content. They recruited members by offering a free magazine which would expand on the news in their broadcasts. This is where they linked the disasters discussed in the news to the coming Apocalypse; this is where they started asking for money. Then, for those they hooked, donations turned to tithing. Eventually additional tithes up to 40% of income were solicited for special occasions. And they raked in tens of millions every year.

I have little doubt that the financial success of the Armstrongs is what has lead to the proliferation of televangelists. They demonstrated there is no limit to the amount which can be extracted from the suckers. And other con artists have moved into the game, enriching themselves greatly.

Unfortunately Garner Ted had a little problem with his zipper. After one too many students at the church's Ambassador College became pregnant, Herbert W. felt it necessary to excommunicate his son.

But that did not end Garner Ted's career. He just turned around and founded the International Church of God, and continued his career as an evangelist in competition with his father. Unfortunately his zipper problem went with him, and eventually his Board of Directors fired him over a "massage" incident.

But he was persistent, and founded the Intercontinental Church of God which he managed to remain in charge of until his death. He continued to preach on radio and television to the end, though his audience was greatly reduced. He also moved his ministry onto the web. And now he's gone, his son is going to take over the family business.

Next time you run into an televangelist when channel surfing on TV, consider whether he or she is really inspired by faith, or just by the financial example set by the Armstrongs.