THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE
Herbert Armstrong's Empire Exposed
The Apostle's New Helpmate
IN THE SPRING OF 1977, HERBERT ARMSTRONG, AFTER TEN YEARS a
widower, remarried. At age eighty-five, he married a woman in her
late thirties, Ramona Martin. In The Plain Truth of July 1977,
Herbert Armstrong wrote, referring to his world travels, "And
what woman could stand that grueling ordeal and travel with me?
Mrs.Loma Armstrong never could have. I think not one in a hundred
- whether man or woman - could. Often our flights last from 12 to
17 or more hours - with perhaps two 30-minute refueling stops -
and crossing six to nine TIME ZONES. It is a killing pace.
Then I became conscious of a woman traveling with our traveling
team as Mr.Rader's assistant, who often did special missions -
like flying on ahead to Nairobi, Kenya to make all advance
arrangements for my big campaign there - a very competent woman.
Our acquaintance developed. In due time I discovered that God had
already done what Garner Ted said He would do - He had chosen and
sent her to me (I had nothing to do with her joining our
traveling team). As with my first courtship, it developed into
ROMANCE and deepened into LOVE. Now, after three weeks of married
life once again after a ten year lapse, I realize now that I have
needed her all along."
Many members wondered about Armstrong marrying such a young
woman at his age. Again, this point was handled well by the
ministry. Picking up on Herbert Armstrong's statements that his
original wife could not have stood the rigors of travel, they
told the members that God mercifully allowed her to die, so that
Armstrong could conduct his world travels and bring the Gospel to
other nations. Because he needed a wife who could act as his
hostess in various social functions, we were told that God
provided him with his new young wife who was able to handle such
heavy travel. Could there be further significance to this? What
about the fact that the new Mrs.Armstrong had been a secretary to
the mysterious Osamu Gotoh and then later an assistant to Stanley
Rader? One wonders whether God really did send her to Herbert
Armstrong or someone else made the arrangements.
Going back earlier in 1977, Herbert Armstrong wrote in the
May issue of The Plain Truth an article entitled, "How I Have
Been Providentially Protected From Harm and Even Death". The
article opens, "I got out of Bucharest just in time to avoid the
most devastating of recent earthquakes. It seems providential.
I had planned originally to spend another week at the Otopeni
Clinic. Then I decided to cut it a week short because of the need
to get to South Africa. So I planned to leave Bucharest on Friday
morning for an appointment in London on Friday. Then I learned
the Friday appointment had to be moved up to Thursday morning.
That made it necessary to plan to leave Bucharest Wednesday
afternoon, spending the night in London in order to be on time
for the Thursday morning appointment. Actually, I was almost
angered at the change in the London appointment. It was planned
at the very last minute. And it got me out of Bucharest just
approximately a day before that devastating 7.2 (on the Ricktor
scale) earthquake struck. The epicenter of the quake was a few
miles northeast of Bucharest. The clinic is some four or five
miles northeast of the center of Bucharest."
Church members were told in letters from Herbert Armstrong
that he had gone to this clinic to rest up after a grueling trip.
Yet Garner Ted Armstrong in a public speaking engagement in
Hackensack, New Jersey, in September 1978 was to say something
quite different. He said, "My father, before marrying this
younger woman, went to a clinic in Romania where they give these
special treatments for sexual rejuvenation, and it didn't do any
good." Again, one must wonder where a lot of hard-earned
donations had been going. Had it been to preach the Gospel, or to
pander to every whim and desire of a self-appointed apostle?
And was Garner Ted Armstrong oblivious to these things when they
were taking place? He wrote in a letter to the members on April
27, 1977: "This letter is gravely serious and I want you to read
every word." He then went on to outline ambitious plans for
increased broadcasting coverage, TV Guide advertising and an
expanded Plain Truth publication. He stated that his goal was to
be on two thousand radio stations. He then outlined budgetary
cuts such as executive salary cuts, sale of the Falcon Jet plane
and the sale of the Summer Youth Camp at Orr, Minnesota. He then
stated further, "But brethren, this is not enough. So unless you
can assure me that our income will increase, starting right now
with a special offering, I will be compelled to make even further
cuts." He further stated, "But we can only do so if God supplies
the financial resources. And God will only do it through you and
thousands of others like you, whose whole hearts have been made
willing." Then near the end, there was strong psychological
pressure. "Maybe it is not the time to sell all, but it surely is
the time to send a large special offering for the Work of God."
He then closed with, "I am going to rely on HIM to communicate to
the hearts of every single one of you, and await your response in
How, one must wonder, could Garner Ted Armstrong write a
letter such as this, dipping even further into the pockets of
many struggling, sacrificing members, and do so in the knowledge
that large sums of money were being spent for personal use?
Garner Ted Armstrong was to state later in an interview,
regarding his father's marriage to Ramona Martin, "I felt that
every woman over fifty in the Church would be outraged." He
stated further that he strenuously objected directly to his
father and through intermediaries regarding his father's interest
in Ramona Martin during the entire two-and-a-half-year courtship.
Garner Ted said that he was told that his father would drink too
much at dinner in some of the fanciest restaurants throughout the
world, and in his inebriated condition pound his fist on the
table, making a public spectacle of himself as he proclaimed his
anger against his son and his love for Ramona.
Garner Ted was so opposed to his father's marriage that he
said, "As I was walking through the front door of my father's
Tucson home, I was still saying to my wife Shirley, "No, I will
not perform this ceremony. It's not right, it's not good. I won't
do it. She kept begging me, all the way up the steps. I won't do
it. But when I opened the door and walked in there and I saw him
surrounded by all these strangers, my heart went out to my
father. Suddenly, the family tie was there, and I said 'I can't
do this, I'm Garner Ted Armstrong, the executive vice-president
and the person right next to my father and in the position at the
top. How can I let an insignificant young, new pastor of a little
tiny church, whom I had known since the time he was a baby boy,
perform the wedding of the Chairman of the Board and the
President of the Church and the Founder of the Church and the
College and so on, when he is my father. I mean I can't do it.'
So the ridiculousness of my posture struck me. I walked over to
my dad and asked him if I can perform the ceremony. He broke down
and threw his arms around me and just almost with a weeping voice
said, 'Oh, Ted, that's the greatest wedding present you could
have ever given me.' Stan walked in and my father said, 'Stan,
isn't it wonderful, Ted has consented to perform the ceremony.'
Stan's face blanched and he looked at me like he would like to
have me disappear on the spot. He was furious. My wife saw it, I
saw it, we felt it, it was just blazing anger, you couldn't
believe how angry he was. And it was unreasonable. Because he saw
me suddenly winning, he thought it was political of me. It wasn't
political. It was totally accidental. Nothing political about it.
It was just a heartfelt feeling that I had."
What very few people know, was that the events leading up to
the marriage of Herbert and Ramona Armstrong, over Garner Ted's
constant violent objections, were setting the stage for a crisis
in the Church such as had not been seen before. It was during
this same period of time that Garner Ted had been having some
disagreements with Stanley Rader and had also become increasingly
suspicious of Rader's motives and increasing wealth. When Garner
Ted observed Rader's blazing anger at the fact that he was going
to perform his father's wedding ceremony, it became fully
apparent to Garner Ted that this marriage had a great
significance to Stanley Rader.
It seems all so classical now. To become the totally trusted
right hand man and advisor to the autocratic leader of a rich
religious organization. Then isolate that leader. And since
Herbert Armstrong in 1973 had called Garner Ted his anointed
heir, Rader added fuel to the fires of discord between father and
son. For a further isolation, suggest that the leader move
several hundred miles away from the headquarters of the
organization. To maintain total control, plant a trusted
collaborator, not just in the home but in the very bedroom of the
Yes, it all seems so classical now. But most of us, back in
1977 thought that it was wonderful, that God had provided a young
wife for Herbert Armstrong, the apostle.
Strangely enough, this woman, whom Herbert Armstrong
married, suddenly had better things to do, than to accompany him
on his trips. This, in spite of the fact that Herbert Armstrong
made a major point of the fact that a young wife would be able to
stand the rigors of travel, whereas had his first wife Loma
lived, she would not have had such endurance.
Shortly after his marriage, Armstrong was to embark on
another international trip. Ramona, however, could not travel
with him in order to attend to matters of greater urgency. She
stayed home in Tucson, in order to oversee the landscaping
project of their new home.
Finally, in the summer of 1977, it appeared that I would be
able to serve in the Church as I had so desired to do. By this
time a Sabbath school program had been established in our
congregation and Paula had the responsibility of a substitute
Sabbath school teacher. Being a nurse, she was also a member of
the first aid staff. Due to the large congregation of over four
hundred, consisting of many who were elderly, Richard Frankel
felt that it would be good to have qualified people on call to
administer first aid, in the event of injury or even heart attack
or stroke. Paula was very enthusiastic about her being able to
serve and had her own ideas of what the ideal emergency would be.
She said, "There are always so many women pregnant in the Church,
wouldn't it be great if we delivered a baby at Sabbath services."
Well, that never happened, and probably just as well.
The Sabbath school program was headed up by Harriet Barkei,
wife of Elder Herman Barkei. It seems strange that Church
headquarters had no Sabbath school materials at all for use in
the program. All lesson materials had to be developed locally,
and Harriet, with a group of assistants, did a fine job preparing
a complete set of lessons. What seems so strange was that in
discussing the financial needs of the program with the minister,
Harriet was told that there was no money in the budget at
headquarters to fund a Sabbath school program. All such funding
had to be done on a local basis. We had no idea, at the time that
we were told this, that Garner Ted Armstrong, at about the very
same time, was being instructed by his father to sign checks for
tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewels and furs for his
wife Ramona. There was plenty of Church money for pearls of
adornment, but no money to bring the pearls of great price to our
little children. Money for international trips and gifts for
world leaders, but no money for Sabbath school lessons. In spite
of this handicap, we managed. The Ladies' Club provided the money
as best they could for the needs of the school and I reproduced
all the lesson materials on my old Remington photocopier.
Although we did not know of the wasteful spending at that
time, Paula did say to Harriet, "If they have so much money for
all those fancy buildings and campuses out in Pasadena, why can't
they scrape together a few dollars to finance our Sabbath
school?" Harriet responded, "Oh, headquarters has to look nice as
a respresentation of what God's Kingdom will be like, after all
this is God's Church. Mr.Armstrong knows best." Of course, we
should not have expected anyting other than that from someone who
would have a life sized photograph of Herbert Armstrong as the
main focal point in their living room.
These minor frustrations we had regarding the Sabbath school
program were overshadowed by our enthusiasm over my having been
appointed to the position of The Plain Truth newsstand
representative. I was to be the volunteer representative in the
Central New Jersey area, and have responsibility for the newly
instituted newsstand distribution program. This program was to
involve the placing of wire magazine racks in stores where The
Plain Truth could then be prominently displayed for free
distribution. One of the most exciting aspects of the program in
our area was the fact that arrangements had been made by Church
headquarters to place racks at Newark Airport. Hudson County
News, a large magazine distribution company, which had the
franchise at Newark Airport, was to be paid $750 per year per
rack for the privilege of our placing the racks in their stores.
There were to be a total of four racks spread between the main
newsstand in the central terminal and also satellite newsstands
at the boarding areas. I was so excited because now I could have
a direct personal part in helping get the Gospel out to the
world. My allocation was to be twelve thousand copies per month
of The Plain Truth.
Just prior to the inauguration of the newsstand program in
our area, Herbert Armstrong suffered a massive heart attack. The
attack struck him immediately after he returned exhausted from a
lengthy overseas trip. He survived the attack and refused to go
to a hospital. He remained at home in his bedroom, which had been
virtually converted into a hospital intensive care unit. He had
around-the-clock nursing care and was amazing everyone with his
At one point while trying to get out of his bed, he slumped
over because his heart had stopped. He was revived by those in
attendance, and miraculously recovered from that crisis as well.
The entire Church was stunned by this crisis as Armstrong's life
hung in the balance before he again began to recover. Many were
reading all sorts of prophetic meanings into the fact that
Herbert Armstrong had been stricken. As it appeared that he would
be well on the road to recovery, it was considered by most that
God had miraculously intervened to save His apostle so that he
may continue to fulfill his commission.
In August, I was visited by Mark Armstrong and Dr.Gordon
Muir from headquarters in Pasadena. They were traveling around
the country helping the various newsstand representatives get
started. The main purpose of their visit with me was to introduce
me to the Hudson County News people and assist with the
establishment of the outlets at Newark Airport.
Mark Armstrong was in his early twenties and is the son of
Garner Ted Armstrong. Although not a baptized member of the
Church, Mark was employed in the circulation department as
assistant to Gordon Muir on the newsstand program. Gordon Muir,
in his late thirties, had been an opthalmologist in Britain
before being baptized. He had all the fiery enthusiasm and the
Scottish accent to go with his name. He had come into the Church
during that time when Armstrong's doctrine on healing was so
rigid that one could not be a doctor and be a member of the
Church. Muir actually gave up his medical practice at the time of
his baptism. In spite of the fact that he later realized the
doctrine was wrong, as was proven by the Church's correction of
the teaching in 1974, he was willing to accept that error and
felt, as he said, "We have a job to do, I want to do everything I
can to help get the Gospel out to the world."
After making our space rental arrangements with Hudson
County News for their outlets at Newark Airport, we went to visit
a large drug store in Newark. The owner of this store held a
lease on one of the shops at Newark Airport, not directly
operated by Hudson County News. It had been suggested by the
people at Hudson County News that we see this man and try to make
arrangements with him for the placing of a rack. The store was
located in the back streets of downtown Newark, and it was like
driving into the bowels of the earth attempting to find it. Mark
commented, "Wow, I lived in Jerusalem for a while, and this place
looks almost as old as the old city of Jerusalem." Finally we
found the place. It was a large discount store with narrow
aisles. The merchandise was piled high on the shelves. The owner
sat in an office on a small balcony overlooking the store. The
entire balcony was barely large enough to contain his desk. The
three of us crammed ourselves into this tiny cubicle and Gordon
Muir discussed our proposal and told the owner the price of $750
would apply. The owner was like a character right out of a movie.
He sat behind his desk with his fat little fingers ringing
together as he said, "$750 might be okay for the other outlets,
but I have the high traffic area, see. So it's going to cost you
more money, see. Here, take your magazine. I really don't care
what's in it, see. How much are you going to pay me? You're going
to pay me more? I ought to get double, see. If you can't pay me
double then I'm not interested, okay?" Gordon Muir said, "Well,
in that case, we'll leave. We have one price, we can't make
separate deals for everybody. That will just cause us a lot of
What a crazy experience that was. The man was out to wring
every last buck out of every deal he could make. On the way out
of the store, Mark stopped at one of the shelves and pointed to a
patent medicine, a well known brand of laxative with a
bulking-type vegetable fiber in it. He said, "Hey, John, that's
the stuff that killed my grandma, she always had bowel problems
and used to live on that stuff. While grandpa was preaching
healing with no medicine, grandma was forever drinking that
stuff. One time it just got like cement in her bowels and she
just couldn't go. Then grandpa wouldn't have any doctors, and
they kept praying for her, and she finally died. That's the stuff
that did it, John." On the way out of the store, Mark kept
talking, he said, "Now old Stan's got my grandpa right where he
wants him. He's got him married to that fat Ramona, and there
ain't a thing that grandpa says or does now that Stan doesn't
know about." While I was still getting over the shock of these
statements, Mark continued, "I know grandpa would like to go back
to the old doctrines of no doctors again, and stop having people
celebrate birthdays, but I guess there is not much he'll do about
the divorce doctrine now, because now he's married to a divorcee.
Well, I guess as the apostle he can even find his way around that
if he wanted to." It was quite a shock to hear such statements
about Herbert Armstrong, not just from an employee of the Church,
but from his very own grandson.
Gordon managed to get the subject back to the matter of our
newsstand program and we went on to Newark Airport. After setting
up one of the racks in a satellite store right at the loading
gates, we then stood and watched for the reaction of the patrons.
The large FREE sign immediately attracted attention and many
people would pick up the magazine. Some would just see the FREE
sign and grab it. After all it was free, it didn't matter what it
was, so they would just take it and walk away with it. Others on
seeing the sign would look at it for a moment and then very
cautiously approach the rack and carefully lift out a magazine.
Even more carefully, they would open it. Perhaps expecting a
letter bomb. We could almost read the mind of such a person as he
was thinking, "It must be a hitch, there's no such thing as
something for free these days." We left the airport very excited
talking about how these magazines would now be getting carried
off on airplanes and perhaps left on seats for others to read.
Each issue of the free newsstand magazine contained a free
subscription coupon inside.
On the second day of the two-day visit, I was alone with
Gordon, as Mark had to go on to another appointment in New York.
I then began discussing with Gordon the fact that I felt that the
Church could do so much more than it was doing. I referred to
reports that I had read of an income of approximately sixty-five
million dollars a year, and why, I asked, couldn't the Church be
much more effective in blanketing the world with its message. I
said, "Look at Billy Graham, his message is much more well known
than ours, and he has a lot less money to work with. And then
what about some of these newer evangelists, such as Jerry
Fallwell and Jimmy Swagert. They don't have any where near the
money that we do and yet they are making quite an impact. What's
wrong?" That was all Gordon needed to feel that he could be
candid with me regarding his own feelings. He said, "There's
something very wrong, John. I'm very discouraged. We have a
message of hope for the world and we just can't seem to do much.
Everytime we seem to get going, a new scandal erupts. I really
begin to wonder if the Church will ever be effective, if the name
Armstrong is associated with it much longer. We are the Church of
God, but the Armstrongs made it a cult."
He then went on to say further, "I don't know what I'm going
to do. Maybe I ought to go back to England and practice medicine
again. I could make a lot more money at that than I do in the
Work. I'm willing to sacrifice a substantial income if I feel
that I can be effective. I just don't know if this organization
is going to be able to finish the job of getting out the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. You heard of the Ambassador Review? Well, now
those people are coming out with an update called the Ambassador
Report. I heard that it's due to come out very soon, and it's
going to be a bombshell. I'm waiting to see what happens after
that, and then also what happens as a result of the ministers'
conference next January. Then I think I'm going to have to make a
difficult decision." And he went on further to say, "Here we have
the message of Christ and an understanding of the Scriptures like
no other Church, but it's hard to keep your sanity if you work
for the organization, because then you see that at the top it's
totally corrupt." That was all it took to take many of the
suppressed questions and feelings that I had had for some time
about the organization and just drive them into the conscious
portion of my mind.
Our discussion continued along this same vein and, although
I was very upset, I did not want to become discouraged. We both
agreed that since this was God's Church, Satan would surely try
to cause every bit of confusion that he could try to destroy it.
I decided to hang in and try to work as hard as I could at my
newsstand distribution program and just see what the next few
months would bring.
Obviously, one factor that no one could anticipate at this
time, would be the outcome of Herbert Armstrong's illness and the
effect his recovery or lack of recovery or even death may have on
the Church. In the following weeks, Herbert Armstrong did appear
to make dramatic steps towards full recovery.
In a letter dated September 12, 1977, Garner Ted Armstrong
wrote to the members, "Though he was very near death, he is now
steadily improving, growing a little stronger every day; is able
to sit up several times each day and even walk short distances!
Only a few weeks ago, even the exertion of getting out of bed
very nearly cost him his life! I count it a great miracle that my
father is alive and is making steady progress now! He is eating
solid foods like breakfasts of poached eggs and whole grain
cereals; with fruits and vegetables and wholesome foods during
the day and is generally feeling and looking better than at any
time since he was confined to bed several weeks ago. I said,
'Dad, you must climb a ladder one step at a time - one step at a
time.' And climb he did, one step, one hour, one day, one week at
a time! I have every reason to believe now and every hope, that
God will fully raise him up and give him yet another infusion of
renewed strength and vigor which will allow him to carry on the
vitally important work he has been given to do; that of carrying
the greatest message ever given to humans - the very Gospel of
Jesus Christ about the soon-coming KINGDOM OF GOD to dozens of
heads of state and the real leaders in government, business and
education in countries around the world."
And then, with money never to be forgotten, the letter
closed, "That's about it for now! I wanted to give you a quick
update on my father's condition and to thank you very much for
your prayers and to remind you again that last year at this time
we experienced a very serious financial slump! We must not let
that happen again this year, so THANK YOU in advance for holding
up our hands - and thank you for your continued prayers for my
father's complete recovery!"
It's all so strange that in this letter Garner Ted is
telling the membership that he hopes his father will again be
able to continue his visits to world leaders. Less than a year
later, Garner Ted was to refer to these very same trips as
"glorified autograph hunting trips."; "Why, he never preached the
Gospel to those people, he would just give them his same old
standard line about God's way of give and the world's way of get,
and that was about it. Sure they come to listen to him, why not?
The Church pays for a fancy banquet. My father gives a gift of
expensive Steuben crystal and the next thing you know The Plain
Truth is running an article praising the regime of the leader
that he had visited."
To be continued with "The Ambassador Report"