On the outskirts of Tyler, Texas sits an unpretentious red-brick building that serves as headquarters for the new Church of God, International. In Pasadena, Calif., 1,500 miles away, is the lavishly appointed $80 million, 40-acre headquarters of the 75,000-member Worldwide Church of God. For Garner Ted Armstrong, the contrast is obvious—and painful. It is a symbol of his expulsion from his father’s church. For the second time.
Only five months ago the 48-year-old radio and TV evangelist was Worldwide’s fair-haired (silver, actually) boy, heir apparent to the religious empire Herbert Armstrong founded 44 years ago as the Radio Church of God. Then last June 26 father wrote son to advise him that he had been “disfellowshipped,” concluding with: “You have dishonored your human father and the Living Christ.”
Because of a much-publicized two-month banishment in 1972, it is possible to surmise that Ted was under suspicion again of sexual improprieties. He shrugs off such allegations. “If it will satisfy some people,” he says, “I’m willing to have a big billboard put up on the side of the road saying, ‘Garner Ted Armstrong is a sinner.’ ”
One man who would be more than satisfied by such a confession is Stanley R. Rader, general counsel and treasurer for the church and spokesman for its ailing 86-year-old founder. Though raised a Jew, Rader was baptized three years ago by the senior Armstrong in a bathtub in Hong Kong’s Mandarin Hotel. Since then, Rader has emerged as perhaps Worldwide’s most powerful official—he sits in Ted’s old office—and, the outcast son declares, “has already succeeded my father as head of the church.”
Rader dismisses speculation that he will be named the next pastor general, although he proudly notes that the senior Armstrong has called him “a son in whom I am well pleased.” Herbert has not seen his real son since last July. “I can’t even get my father’s telephone number,” Ted complains.
The current power struggle seems to have damaged the church’s credibility. Although officials claim membership is holding steady, it was increasing by 25 to 30 percent a year in the early ’70s. “The people have been subjected to gigantic blows to their faith,” says Ted. “If my father doesn’t piece things together in the next six months, a significant part of the Worldwide Church will be supporting me.” Rader acknowledges a decline but blames it on Garner Ted, who until his ouster was the voice and smiling face of the church. One reason for the slowdown in growth is reduced radio and television exposure. “Our broadcasts are only on 100 radio stations and 50 TV stations compared to 350 and 100 before 1971,” Rader says. “Ted was more interested in recreational pursuits than making new shows. You can’t build an audience with reruns.”
The Worldwide Church of God’s 1978 income will be about $75 million, much of it derived from a system of tithing that in some years takes up to 30 percent of a member’s income. (Rader claims the Worldwide Church is “larger than both Billy Graham and Oral Roberts combined in terms of money, subscribers and impact.”) Rader himself is quite open about some of the church’s fiscal policies. “I am the most highly paid person in this organization and always have been,” says Rader. He admits to a salary in “the middle six figures.” A Porsche and an Aston Martin are parked in the driveway of his $300,000 Pasadena home. Ted Armstrong puts his father’s salary at $200,000 and claims that Herbert’s 40-year-old second wife, Ramona (Rader’s former secretary), is paid upwards of $30,000—”for what, I don’t know.” Rader says her salary is $20,000 for services as executive secretary.
Long a critic of the church’s lavish spending (though he lived handsomely himself), Ted recalls advising his father against buying a $250,000 English chandelier for Worldwide’s Ambassador Auditorium. Ted also points to the Credit Card Usage Report for the Pastor General, a computer record kept by the church business manager. It lists $813,000 in travel and gifts spent by Herbert Armstrong in fiscal 1975-76. The report shows that Rader’s expenses were $120,000 during the same period. “The trips were not to get memberships nor to raise money,” Ted maintains. “They were for my father to meet important people all over the world.” The elder Armstrong visited with Emperor Hirohito, President Sadat, Golda Meir, former Prime Minister Vorster of South Africa and others on what his son calls “ego trips—high-powered autograph hunting.”
The younger Armstrong’s disfellowship may have resulted in part from his handling of the church’s Ambassador College, of which he was president for three years. When he resigned last spring the student body had dropped from 1,200 to 100, the emphasis shifted from liberal arts to ministerial training and the faculty had been cut from 177 to 13. “There were pregnancies, rapes, attempted rapes, drugs and drinking on campus,” Rader charges. “There’s a cause-and-effect relationship between Ted’s aberrations and the decline of the college.”
Blaming him for the problems at the school is “ludicrous poppycock,” responds Ted. However, he insists he “will not answer back in kind. I’m not Rader’s judge—God is.”
Meanwhile Garner Ted adjusts to his Texas Elba. “I’m a happier person than I’ve been in years,” he declares. He does a broadcast every day for his new church, which is carried on eight radio stations in seven states. Membership has reached 2,000. The $68,500 house he shares with wife Shirley (their three sons are grown) is just a wedge shot away from a golf course. He drives a ’64 Chrysler and a ’70 Cadillac and flies a Cessna 310 that he is still making payments on. His salary is $28,500.
As if to underscore the austerity of his new life, he admits he bounced his first check since 1953 last August. Still, Garner Ted Armstrong keeps the faith. “They didn’t take away from me the most important things in my life,” he says, “my God, my wife, my children and my preaching.”