Again, I'd planned to post another in a series of pre-written posts, but, always sensitive to the latest trend, and wanting to be on the cutting edge of all of the breaking news in COGdom, I thought it might be good to tackle this question.
The ACOGs believe that it is their "Great Commission" to preach the Armstrong version of the gospel around the world prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Yet, compared to the early pioneering efforts of both HWA and GTA, they are virtually invisible. It was once true that when one mentioned the name "Armstrong", there was instant recognition, and the ministry of HWA, or later GTA, was considered to be just as recognizable as that of Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, AA Allen, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and others. No ACOG splinter member in his or her right mind would even attempt to compare the World Tomorrow "cookie cutter" offspring of any of the splinter groups to some of the major evangelists of today, such as Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, James and Betty Robison, Jack Van Impe, Charles Stanley, and a plethora of others.
If indeed, much of the shakeup at UCG is due to differing opinions on diverting funds to increased usage of the media, (and rumors of this type of discord have surfaced before), then it would be of interest to consider one of the primary scenarios available to them.
In the sixties and seventies, there were no huge Christian networks. Religious broadcasters negotiated directly with the management of the stations which they considered desirable in terms of ability to reach their core audience. Many of these broadcasters used what was called "clear channel" AM radio stations. In any given area, smaller, local AM stations were compelled to sign off, or finish their broadcast day at sunset, if they happened to be operating on the same frequency as the huge powerhouse 50,000 and more watt "clear channel" stations. The large stations would then "turn up" their power, giving them incredible coverage throughout their region. At ten in the evening, one could receive WABC, New York in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Or, WLS, Chicago in the mountain towns of Pennsylvania. On the West Coast, one could listen to
the Wolfman Jack program, broadcast from XERB, Monterey Mexico, up in Oregon! (Remember American Graffiti?). These "clear channel" stations were very desirable to radio evangelists, and if you happen to have a very old Plain Truth, you would see from the radio log that most of the stations carrying "The World Tomorrow" were such stations. But, something happened! With improved technology, the ability to broadcast in stereo, FM radio all but ghettoized AM radio, starting in the 1970s.
Paul and Jan Crouch suddenly came into the picture. They had a very small Television station in Orange County, California, which carried Christian programming. With much work, the support of the Christian Community, and the advent of satellite technology, they turned this into a powerhouse that revolutionized televangelism. Anyone who wishes to have any impact in terms of preaching the gospel today both recognizes, and is often overwhelmed by the incredible superiority of TBN around the world to any other Christian media capabilities.
Before I began to include TBN in my daily television watching experiences, I had focused on the word "trinity" in the acronym which defines the network. I had imagined that those who presented the individual shows were somewhat united in their doctrinal approach, probably, in fact, some of the evangelicals we had all heard about that seemed to be taking over the schools, the government, wooing Rush Limbaugh, and in general having a huge impact on the politics of the USA. But, that is simply not true. Many of the hosts or evangelists are evangelical, and some are Baptist. They preach classic Christianity, and are very mainstream. But, there are also Messianic Jews, who refer to Jesus as Yeshua, and tell of the blessings realized by those who keep the sabbath and holy days. Walter Pearson is Seventh Day Adventist, and recently has lectured not only on sabbath observance, but also on clean and unclean meats! Jack and Rexella Van Impe, Grant Jeffries, and David Jeremiah all base their ministry on prophecy and the end times. Now, they don't handle this topic in the angry, manipulative way to which we became accustomed, partially because they also believe in the Rapture. Considering the sheer diversity, I can picture ACOG ministers blending into this gumbo of Christianity. They would be accepted, no doubt. But, would they be as accepting of those who did not believe or preach their own views? That, IMO, would probably constitute the largest obstacle!
Many of the shows on TBN are funded by megachurches. The show consists of the evangelist's sermon or lecture the previous weekend (many have 4-5 identical services spread out over Saturday and Sunday). Some of the ACOGs, although geographically spread out, do have the same overall population as do these megachurches, which often, as it turns out, also believe in tithing. So, the financing would be there, and the financial picture would improve because viewers would also contribute, send in donations, and request CDs and monthly devotional booklets. Other shows are not set in a church congregation. Some are in the format of a variety program, others in the classic HWA form, in an office, behind a desk. Still others are organized in the talk show format. Again, there is no question that an ACOG evangelist would fit into all of this.
Finally, once one splinter made entry into the weekly schedule, and began enjoying success, there is no doubt that others would follow suit. In fact, some of the evangelists on TBN appear in one anothers' personal appearance conventions as featured guest lecturers. So, one could almost envision a Roy Holladay convention, in which Rod Meredith and Gerald Flurry are featured guest speakers. If one of the ACOGs succeeds in getting on TBN, it could actually end up reunifying the entire splintered Armstrong movement.
Clearly, there would seem to be an opportunity here, but somehow, I don't see it as ever coming to fruition. Within the Armstrong movement, there has always been the pervasive belief that there is "one true church", and that non-sabbatarian Christians are in fact "Christians, falsely so-called". This type of culture has isolated them from any type of Christian cooperatives, and it is a self-imposed three lock box. Following the Wisconsin LCG massacre, there was an outpouring of sympathy from the local Christian community. All ministers and members could seem to do was to complain about all of the "pagan" crosses used symbolically in this outpouring. When disasters occur, ACOG ministers warn members against sending any of their tithes to relief funds. While the World Tomorrow did appear during timeslots following the evangelists representing other church groups, it would be difficult to imagine an Armstrongite minister contracting with an evangelical network owner, or want to appear complicit with trinitarians, Sunday keepers, or cross wearers. The owners of the radio stations were secular. The owners of the Christian networks are competitors (read "Satan's People")
Is any of this even remotely being considered at UCG? I have no idea. Clearly, if the ACOGs are to survive and grow, they will need to come up with a more contemporary approach. We here on this website have a history of providing information for those who might be considering Armstrongism as their sole-source spiritual solution. I would suggest that we watch this situation carefully, and to be prepared to continue sharing our experiences in ways that help others avoid the toxicities which could come into their lives courtesy of these cults.