The Kessler Letter–Corruption in the Cult

A bowl of spiders--revisited?

I just found this surprisingly eloquent and lucid piece of anti-corruption polemical from one of WCG’s disowned top officials. It’s obviously old news, but I’ve never seen or heard of it before. I wonder if anyone else knows about it or about what became of the author’s promised effort to hold Armstrong and his henchmen legally accountable for their alleged financial corruption after the state failed to zero in on the real problem: Armstrong himself.

Well, anyway, enjoy this scathing indictment of the lying fools who cramped your style and played like high-rollers with your hard-earned money (oh, and be sure not to miss the reference to Herbert’s prosthetic dildo! After all, you paid for it)…

W. Jack Kessler

2982 Tiffany Circle

Los Angeles, CA 90077

December 30, 1981

The Board of Directors
and Council of Elders
Worldwide Church of God
300 West Green Street
Pasadena, California 91123


The subject matter of this letter is difficult to treat in writing. An oral presentation could more clearly reflect the genuine concern I have for each of you, and perhaps I could respond to your apprehensions with more compassion were it possible for us to meet and discuss these issues. I shall nonetheless attempt to put the matter in such a way that some emotion is allowed to be expressed, and I can think of no better way than to place this entire communication in the context of our shared beliefs.

I want the tone and organization of this letter to be somewhat conversational, because I sincerely hope that you will not stiffen you resolve to ignore its message, blithely refer the matter to counsel, and go on about your business as if you had no responsibility for action. I do not wish to dissuade you from availing yourselves of competent legal counsel, however, because this letter also serves as a formal, legal demand pursuant to the laws of man (as explained below), my own standards of professional conduct, and, as I hope to show, the laws of God.

This is also the culmination of a long series of letters and memoranda. I am unsure how many of you have read or been involved in all the previous colloquy. For those who shortly will become alarmed at the unsparing commentary that this letter presents, I can only say that it is indeed a method of last resort, used only after every more moderate attempt has been contemptuously rebuffed.

The main evils in which the Church is currently engaged are not those of which a court of law should take cognizance; they are indeed internal, ecclesiastical decisions. Their common source, however, has manifested itself in continuing, persistent, financial abuses that either you pretend are beyond your control, or else you have grown so accustomed to their occurrence that they no longer trouble your conscience. You obviously do not realize that such problems, if uncorrected, threaten the ability of the Church to fulfill its mission in this world, and that you will be held responsible for your failure to prevent this unnecessary and certain persecution. Such persecution will not be for righteousness sake. When you are delivered to the judge, and the judge delivers you to the officer, and you are cast into prison, it will do little good to then remember Christ warned that you would not be released until you’ve paid the uttermost farthing. (Matt 5:25-26, paraphrased.)

The human condition is such that it would shock probably only just a few to learn of the moral depravity that is reported commonly among you. Although others, such as Dave Robinson and Floyd Lochner, apparently though it might work to their advantage to report Mr. Armstrong’s admission (which he’s made to several) that he had engaged repeatedly in incestuous intercourse with his daughter during the first 10 years of his ministry, as well as more recent, self-confessed sexual perversity, such attacks have been weathered, and I know that both you and the membership have steeled yourselves against potential adverse publicity, if any, that such revelations could bring. After all, Christ did say that they that are whole don’t need a physician, and he came to call not the righteous but the sinners to repentance. (Matt. 9:12-13.) I mention this to you for a couple of reasons. First, because some have tried to use such information in an illegitimate way in the past, and because some of you assume that anyone in possession of such knowledge may try to do so in the future (perhaps because some of you would like to think that you could use it as some kind of leverage even now), I want to draw at the outset a clear distinction between that and the approach of this letter. Second, even though by mentioning the more notorious of the scandals, some could accuse me of using it nonetheless, I feel its mention and dismissal as an issue precludes anyone from using it in the future or from construing my actions as being overshadowed by some implied threat of its later disclosure. The particular facts are a matter of fairly wide public dissemination in any event, so their mention here should defuse any remain power some feel their disclosure could bring.

The issue of morality takes on its true significance when it is not a mere weakness of the flesh, but when, coupled with blatant hypocrisy, it is used for political advantage. At the beginning of this year two people responded to a vicious smear campaign that had been launched by Mr. Kevin Dean. Mr. Dean had apparently forsaken Christ to become a disciple of Segretti and Krogh. Showing tremendous energy, if not ingenuity, he (with the assistance of his brother and fellow minister Aaron) purchased an extensive cache of electronic surveillance equipment in Hong Kong and Tokyo, organized a burglary squad, which included the campus locksmith, and set out to discredit any who stood in the way of his rise to power. If he couldn’t dig up any dirt, he could always invent it. (Aaron admitted to being especially anxious to go to work on Mr. Rod Meredith’s phone lines.) I suppose that such antics are par for the course in large centrally managed organizations, but it shocked some of their early targets. For those of you who are not familiar with the mundane details of these covert operations, you might check with fellow board members Tkach, LaRavia, McNair, or Walker. It would not be a good idea to reread the cover-up under Mr. Armstrong’s signature in the Pastor General’s report (ironically referring to Watergate as if that scandal concerned the actual burglaries rather than the web of falsehoods), unless you wish to be disillusioned by fairly clumsy fabrication.

Mr. Dean’s activities are instructive not for their intrinsic evil, but for the reaction their disclosure received. This brings us closer to the heart of why I am writing to you. When Mr. John Kineston and Mr. Joseph Kotora approached Mr. Herbert Armstrong and told him of Mr. Dean’s activities, and defended themselves against false accusations that Mr. Dean had made against them to Mr. Armstrong, he reacted in a way that is now probably all too familiar to most of you. First he told them that he knew them to be men of truth. Second, he told them that they would be given the chance to face their accusers and that he would “clean up this stinkpot” as soon as he returned to Pasadena. Third, he saw to it that Messrs. Kineston and Kotora were fired and disfellowshipped before such confrontation could ever take place. (This result, you see, promotes unity and harmony among the evildoers with the Church and only sacrifices a few innocent lives in the process.) And fourth, Mr. Armstrong made sure that you all saw and heard, once again, how futile it is be a whistle-blower in this Church.

It is unfortunate that we can be so easily deceived as to what our human responsibilities are. We all understand that “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished, but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.” (Prov. 11:21.) Elsewhere we learn how this will come about: Vengeance is the Lord’s and He will repay (Rom. 12:19). Far be it from us, therefore, to judge our brother or to correct an unjust situation. If Messrs. Kineston and Kotora have been treated unfairly, and if their accusers are as bad as they seem, then God will deal with the unpleasantries, the rewards will be commensurate, and our responsibility is discharged by being sure that our superior, Mr. Armstrong, has been made aware of the situation. We are responsible to him; he is responsible to God. If God is displeased with anything Mr. Armstrong does, then He, and He alone will correct the problem. Moreover, if we want to do something terribly overt, we can pray about it.

It may surprise you to learn that I agree with the foregoing, as far as it goes. But without more, it is only half a doctrine. By forsaking any effort to entreat our aged apostle, by fearing to suffer the fate of the whistle-blower, you are doing him a grave disservice. The teaching of Matthew 18:15-17 is otherwise. It is well worth the trouble to get into the habit of trying to build a Church of the highest moral integrity in every sphere, and acting as if our lives depended upon it, without any thought for our own necks.

The reason any of these introductory comments are relevant to the principal matters about which I am concerned with is this: The way in which we have dealt with our internal morality, even if it is right (which it is not), wrongly colors the manner in which we think we should deal with external legalities. Because a Mr. Kotora or a Mr. Kineston should rather take wrong and suffer himself to be defrauded than to take his legitimate grievances to a court of law (your probable reading of 1 Cor. 6:7), and because God will deal with Mr. Armstrong, if needed, then any other context in which a legal action is discussed is automatically considered Satanic. A member threatening suit is worthy of immediate disfellowshipment, and the Church need look no further for justification than the fact that the individual initiated a suit against a brother or the Church.

If this is the way you think, you’re wrong.

The 13th chapter of Romans is one with which we are all familiar. (Although the last four verses are generally ignored in this context as going on to another subject, they seem especially apt.) We have long been taught (some of you were my teachers) that we must be subject to man’s laws and only to disobey them where they conflict with God’s (as in Acts 5:28-29). This truth should inform not only our primary conduct, but also our reaction to broken statutes when we become witnesses. I’ll return to this thought later, when I spell out what I feel constrained to do. But it will make more sense to discuss the types of problems first.

Mr. Armstrong is somewhat of a tragic figure. He is a man to whom a great calling has been given and through whom marvelous insight has been revealed. He is also a man motivated by strong passions, and is perhaps one of the most naturally selfish men to have walked the earth, ever. That he has been able to control his desires and egocentrism to an appreciable degree shows some measure of his tremendous will, and only God can judge to what extent he has overcome more than the rest of us, as well he may have. He is also an uneducated man, though he has proved more than any that this does not have to be a handicap; indeed, in his case it may be to his advantage to stick close to the source of his inspiration without trying to refine his understanding in the light of disparate thoughts. But there is a liability implicit in this background, and that is ignorance of the workings of the world, coupled with a disdain for the regulatory milieu in which the Church must survive. Christ didn’t urge his disciples to needlessly insult Caesar; indeed, it is a distinct disadvantage to be neither wise nor harmless. (Cf. Matt. 10:16.) It will be easy enough to attract persecution simply by being righteous. It makes no sense to invite it for the wrong reasons.

As long as Mr. Armstrong and the Church receive competent advice on legal matters, however, the potential can be minimized. But Mr. Armstrong’s advisors not only have to be knowledgeable, they must also be candid, forthright, and vigorous in curbing any of his untoward desires that run afoul of the laws of the land. Because of the tremendous power that his office has within the hierarchy, and because of the attitude of unquestioning obedience that is preached to all subordinates, and also because of the imbedded notion discussed above that he is accountable only to God, Mr. Armstrong is capable of causing considerable problems both for himself and for the Church. And he will do this damage without the benefit of competent counsel if anyone apprehends that he may be feeling a little too much like the queen of hearts on the day that they venture forth to advise.

There have been only two individuals of any consequence whom God has called to fulfill that role that has now devolved upon you. Loma Armstrong and Stan Rader were the only persistent, loving, voices of restraint. Sadly, both are now silenced. With no effective governor, it is only a matter of time before grave damage is done.

I feel a particularly acute sense of need to see some discipline re-imposed. For the past 10 years, in one way or another, I had been used by the Church to help it develop a system of internal controls so that abuses could not overrun the system.

Unfortunately, no system of controls, whether they be financial, administrative, or otherwise, can be any more sound than the people who maintain the system. And every control is capable of being overridden by top management, even more so in the Worldwide Church of God. Having seen each of the key financial personnel wrongly fired or banished in the past 12 months, and replaced by people who have neither the competence, the wisdom, nor the guts to keep the system intact, there appears little hope for the Church to reform its ways.

Mr. Willis J. Bickett, the former assistant secretary-treasurer, was asked by Mr. Armstrong to violate the system “as a test” on the day after Mr. Rader’s replacement had been announced. From an outsider’s viewpoint, he passed the test; that is, he refused to break the established controls with out a direct command from Mr. Armstrong after a chance to confront him in a face-to-face meeting wherein he could explain his actions. But Mr. Armstrong was clearly of the opinion that he had failed. Mr. Bickett was immediately removed from his position and sent to be on the faculty of the Church’s junior college in Big Sandy, Texas. He was later threatened (in writing) with immediate termination if he did not sign a false representation letter to Arthur Anderson & Co. to show that he was thereby on Mr. Armstrong’s “team”. In fairness to Mr. Neff, who signed the threat, I hasten to point out that Mr. Neff’s later claims not to have known that Mr. Bicket considered the representations false, and blames his alleged confusion on the resignation of the auditing firm’s manager who was to have to responded to Mr. Bicket’s reservations some months earlier. Mr. Bicket was terminated shortly thereafter.

The specific financial abuses that have plagued the Church in the past were bred in just such a climate of intimidation. What is to prevent the same scheme that Mr. Ray Wright used to embezzle over a quarter million dollars from being used again? Who is left in the organization, other than Mr. Wright (who is now back in the financial affairs office, without having repaid the funds), who knows how he pulled it off and who wouldn’t recognize it again? Who will prevent the Church from getting involved in another $50,000.00 kickback scheme to a Mexican bank when it sells another jet aircraft, other than the same legal office who so poorly monitored the first sale? Who will tell Mr. Dennis Stauffer that a scheme is more than just ill-advised whereby corporate officers are able to purchase monetized silver and gold bullion from the Church at its cost through the use of fraudulent book entries to show that the investments where purchased on behalf of the officer (through the extension of free credit) when prices have risen and on behalf of the Church’s own account, or that of its employee benefit fund trust, when prices fall?

Each of you should remember the letter I wrote to the entire board exactly 4 years ago today. (If you were not a board member at the time of the January 1978 meeting when Mr. Rader read it into the record, and when he handed each member a personal copy, you must have reviewed by now the minutes from that meeting. At least I have to assume that none would ever undertake to accept nomination to board membership without reviewing what had gone before.) On that occasion I found it my duty to forewarn the Church of its material weaknesses in its internal controls. (See Statement on Auditing Standards No. 20, Required Communication of Material Weaknesses in Internal Accounting Control, AICPA.) I had approached Mr. Rader with the problems, the roots of which he had been trying valiantly to dig out for years, and he said that there were two things to be done. He reminded me of my professional duty to inform the board in writing, and he felt that because sufficient corrective action was unlikely to be forthcoming, he must resign from the board. It’s all in the minutes of that meeting, including a sort of valedictory address by Mr. Rader warning of the consequences of continued misallocation of economic resources.

When Mr. Rader resigned for the last time, in part because he felt ineffective in (or just plain tired of) urging Mr. Armstrong to behave rationally, he received assurances from Mr. Armstrong that the job of cleaning up the Church would proceed apace. Mr. Armstrong told Mr. Rader that I would be asked to become the new treasurer and that “Jack and Jack” (referring to Mr. Bicket and myself, as well as to a famous carriage horse racing team from Mr. Armstrong’s childhood) would be given a free hand to continue the job at hand. Mr. Rader even persuaded me to forego other opportunities so that my services would be available in an amount adequate to the task on a “first-call” basis. My offer to Messrs. Neff, Fahey, and Armstrong to inform them of the bases I was covering, after my services were terminated abruptly, has gone unanswered. The abuses that were in the process of being corrected in the aftermath of the attorney general’s lawsuit, therefore, remain unreformed. All of them to my knowledge relate to the inurement of the earnings of the Church to Mr. Armstrong, members of his family, and close personal aides. Before its discovery, the use of Church coffers as a sort of personal piggy bank for instant credit (always interest-free) or outright appropriation had grown to outrageous proportions through constant circumvention of the system by Mr. Armstrong and his family. We hoped to reconcile the problem within the Church, and out of the cold light of the U.S. attorney’s office, and then to recover the funds and thereby prevent a scandal. I feel particularly motivated in at least one respect to see this corrected because I prepared Mr. Armstrong’s tax returns for years without knowing that he was consistently falsifying his expense account, abusing the trust funds of Church, and misusing Church assets for his own benefit on a relatively large scale. I also represented the Church in its successful defense in 1980-81 of its exempt status before the National Office of the Internal Revenue Service, a status that later facts may prove to have been improvidently granted.

It is ironic that the attorney general, having only part of the story, focused upon a series of highly visible transactions between the Church and Mr. Rader, all of which were in fact proper, and missed the real problem, which was Mr. Armstrong. I have never known Mr. Rader to have ever abused his trust. To his and my chagrin, however, neither of us had ever pieced together the entire picture of Mr. Armstrong’s abuse, and were on the verge of solving the puzzle with Mr. Bicket’s assistance when we were all drummed out of the corps. It is only in my belated abandonment of any hope in realizing a discreet dialogue with the proper Church officials, or in seeing some evidence that the errors would be corrected, that I take more direct steps implicit in the writing of this letter. Recent activities, discussed four paragraphs hence, also prompt this action.

So that there is no misunderstanding, let me be rather more specific about these particular allegations. I can only skim the surface, but you are sitting on all the documentation and can research the facts for yourselves if you have the collective competence to know where to look. (some of you need look no further than the end of your nose.) The ultimate facts are as I stated in the paragraph before last. Some of the specific instances are discussed here and, by the way of illustration, in the two attachments to this letter. (I apologize for adding to the length of this letter by including attachments, and I realize that there are many, many other attachments that you may find of even greater interest, but then again, you already have custody of all of the source documents. These particular attachments are not notable, merely illustrative) Some of you know that Mr. Armstrong takes with him on each trip in his aircraft $10,000 in cash for which he does not account, which is not treated as personal compensation, and which is used for his personal pleasure or given to his private nurses as “fun money” or else given to his wife. When such funds are insufficient to satisfy each of his desires, he has additional funds wired under false pretexts from the Church to pay for such things as a $30,000.00 rental payment for a yacht in Monte Carlo. (Some of you may recall how that he later complained that Mr. Rader (who was not there) either “forced” Mr. Armstrong and his wife to do it or else Mr. Rader had made the arrangements himself. Competent testimony will prove otherwise.) Members of his family use corporate credit cards for personal use on a persistent basis, without any present ability or apparent intention to repay, and he uses actual handwritten checks drawn on the corporate accounts. His household staff includes a full-time cook, who is probably an appropriate perquisite, but she is paid rather handsomely by most standards in that he takes out a corporate check to give her a little bonus every so often. Last year her total cash remuneration from the Church, excluding the value of interest-free loans, a company car, meals and other perks, was in excess of $50,000. Since he requires no approval for the issuance of bonus compensation to himself, he does not hesitate to increase his own pay when the need appears to present itself. Often, he is quite vocal about it: He recently shocked Frank Mariani (President Reagan’s tailor) by loudly complaining for all to hear that with taxes so high he was going to have to give himself a bonus of $100,000.00 just pay for his clothes. Last year Mr. Armstrong’s compensation, at least that which went through the payroll system, was in excess of $500,000.00. (I believe it was around $563,000.00, but that figure may include Mrs. Armstrong’s salary.) I am informed that he keeps on his person cashier’s checks or certificates of deposit in his name in amounts ranging into six figures so that he can, as he once expressed, get out of the country if the attorney general ever comes after him. He had wanted to place $1,000,000.00 in non-interest-bearing cashier’s checks payable to him so that he and the Church would be “protected” in such an eventuality. Of course you know that his daughter Beverly has a lifetime contract for “personal services” with the written proviso that she take orders only from her father and is relieved of providing any services upon his death. In point of fact, she renders no services whatsoever. Her compensation is more generous than that which Cardinal Cody is alleged to have given his friend, and it includes the use of an exquisitely furnished home in La Canada at a guaranteed monthly rental of $250.00 for life. The use of the Grumman Gulfstream II jet aircraft for personal pleasure, whether it be a trip to London for the sole purpose of purchasing a specially made prosthetic dildo (which he carries in a Hermes pouch), or just a trip from Tucson to Jurgensen’s in Pasadena for groceries, is another area of concern. Speaking in Mr. Armstrong’s defense, his actions may have been unthinking, uninformed, or just plain stupid. But I do not understand why do you don’t seem to think of them as problems.

Even if Mr. Armstrong is not culpable in the criminal sense, his example is all too readily followed by others who must be said to know better. I am told that the illustrious Mr. Dean aforementioned felt that he too could stock his private larder from Jurgensen’s to the tune of between $700.00 to $1,000.00 per month until someone questioned why Mr. Armstrong’s Pasadena household expenses were so large when only his Pasadena housekeeper was in residence. When your taste regularly runs to wine that costs $80.00 per bottle, it can be expensive. Mr. Dean may learn that it is even more expensive to brag to others about getting it for “free.” According to Mr. Robin Webber, Mr. Joseph Tkach apparently felt justified in giving himself from a trust fund he controlled a little advance of $5,000.00 as a “needy Church member” to take advantage of a special investment in unregistered securities then illegally being pedaled (against the advice of counsel) by the Dean brothers. In some cases, Mr. Armstrong encouraged others to join in the fun of having treasure troves from Harrod’s of London maintained in their homes so that his conscience could more easily be assuaged.

Perhaps I should also say a few words in defense of my colleagues at Arthur Andersen & Co., who will be as embarrassed as I am that these things happened under our collective nose. They relied, as they were entitled, on numerous representations both from management and from myself, which now appear to have been based on incomplete information. I did tell them everything I knew at the time, but our collective knowledge proved insufficient in the face of Mr. Armstrong’s unreliability. Even the work we did together, cleaning up the festival department, for example, may now be undone. I understand that once again it is becoming routine for people such as Mr. Dwight Viehe to take a 2-week trip to a tropical isle (with his wife) to make sure that the hall that the local minister recommends that the Church rents for the Feast of Tabernacles is the right size. One would think that the policy of turning such aspects of festival administration over to local Church pastors has been totally abandoned for a more “workable” policy as was extant in the “good old days.” I am somewhat surprised, however, that even in light of the admonitions of SAS No. 16 (particularly the section on integrity of management) the firm would not be more careful in getting appropriate representations. Their last examination was concluded without Mr. Rader’s representation letter, even though he had served as the chief financial officer during the year in question and remained an executive vice-president of one of the entities (whose chief financial officer was not even approached for a representation letter). Moreover, Mr. Rader had indicated to the engagement manager that he could not sign a version of the representation letter that was initially forwarded to him because it was inaccurate. In that context, it is all the more curious why they never got back to him. It is also unfortunate that they have allowed the client to backslide on Mr. Rader’s promise to the brethren that full financial disclosure would be made annually in the Church newspaper by reprinting the audited financials. Even though in the recent appellate court hearing leading to the notable vindication of our battle with the attorney general Mr. Helge “misstated himself” by assuring the justices that the Church did so publish its financial affairs, the candor befitting an officer of the court should have led him to divulge that such assurances were no longer true and that the Church no longer intends to disclose any of its financial affairs to its members. (Since this paragraph is supposed to be in defense of the auditors, I should say that I haven’t seen their opinion letter for 1980, and I’m sure that it must contain a scope limitation qualification for not being permitted by Mr. Neff to interview or obtain representations from departed management. They are under no obligation to insist on the lifting of such restrictions, although they undoubtedly notified each of you that management had so encumbered their engagement.)

How far the Church leaders have backslid during 1981 can only be guessed. I understand that Mr. Armstrong currently is taking increased advantage of his position without any effective restraint, and, sadly, in a way that discloses more, rather than less, personal culpability. Earlier this month he is said to have forced the Church to purchase a residence from his daughter Dorothy for a price that appears to be particularly generous. When the housing market is slow, it is nice to have a rich father, or failing that, a father who controls a rich corporation whose trustees are paid to look the other way. Showing some pangs of conscience (or evidence or mens rea), he is also said to have grudgingly exclaimed at the time the orders were given that this transaction may well “wreck the Church” if it is ever uncovered, but he wanted to do it anyway. And as a matter of trifling significance in the larger scheme of things, but one that may not universally be so regarded, the G-II was sent to Tucson earlier this month to deliver a personal letter. Much better service than the post office, and much cheaper than federal express, if you discount the rental value of the G-II and its crew and supplies and fuel. (For a point of reference, you might ask J. B. Netthercutt how much Merle Norman Cosmetics gets for their G-II when it is idle. (Hint: For the price of each hour of usage you could buy a nice car.) You might also consider how the government treated Mr. Nixon’s personal use of Air Force One when his personal tax return was audited in the aftermath of Watergate.)

I trust I have given some indication of what I’m complaining about. I cite the few specific instances that I do, not to single them out as being particularly noteworthy, but to help you to comprehend that I am not passing on idle gossip and hearsay. I have been careful to ensure that my factual bases are sound, and you should realize that if God wanted to choose someone to serve as an instrument of reform, few have received better training within the Church than I have. Whether I am adequate to the task may be another question, but I have been prepared as no other could have been.

This is an appropriate time to return to the thought that I left in the eleventh paragraph of this letter. you’ll recall that I was discussing whether there was a duty for such a one as I to come forward and serve as a sort of modern-day Phinehas. (Cf. Num. 25: 6-13) As I read Ezekiel 33: 8-9 it is not at all clear that any lowly Church member is commanded to serve as a more or less self-appointed “watchman” (as mentioned in verse 7), or that this concept should even be applied to the problems now extant within the Church. It is clear, however, that no reading of Ezekiel would forbid it. Turning to James 4: 17, the proper focus becomes clear. All that is necessary is to ask whether it would be good for the Church to rot from the inside out, while I stand idly by wondering if lightning will strike (not hoping for it, mind you), or whether it would be better for the process outlined in Matthew 18 to be initiated. I believe the record will show that I have reached the stage spoken of in the last part of verse 17 of that chapter in Matthew.

There is also the question whether there has been any duty conferred by the laws of man. As I understand it, and as I discussed earlier, even if there is no duty as far as God is concerned, if there is a duty in the eyes of man, and if the exercise of such duty is not in opposition to any of the laws of God, then it should be obeyed. I do not have to look very far to find such a duty; there are at least four reasons why my actions are compelled. First, you of all people on earth should be aware of the S.B. 1493 amendments to the corporations code that snatched you out of the jaws of the attorney general. If you’ll recall the course of debate, the reason why it is inappropriate for the government to attempt to regulate the internal affairs of a Church is because individual members (even former members) are empowered to enlist the aid of the legal process, if need be, to ensure that the actions of Church officials are faithfully carried out. The Petris bill made this explicit. Private supervision is a much less intrusive alternative in a constitutional sense, and this is exactly the scenario the Church lobbied for with such vigor in Sacramento.

Second, of all people, I had a contractual duty to the Church (not to its officers) to ferret out and report on precisely these sorts of things. Forgive me for not having been able to complete that which I had been asked to do, but with your indulgence, I will be about it presently.

Third, I feel that there is a professional duty to disclose to the appropriate agencies or courts information clarifying any misrepresentations I may have made in the past. Although I have never made any knowing misrepresentations, and although I remain of the opinion that there was no duty to volunteer the existence of problems that were in the process of being resolved, I now see that unless some action is taken, I will knowingly allow myself to be made a liar. In this regard, it may comfort you to know that I do not feel compelled to go to law enforcement or other regulatory authorities at this point. They have their own ways of becoming involved where they are needed. I would hope to be able to persuade them, should the steps I take attract their attention, that it is better for the self-correcting process to run its course first. For instance, although your recent actions indicate that you are no longer organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes according to the applicable regulations under I. R. C. 501 (c)(3), the reforms that shall be made should once again make the Church an organization that is in harmony with the laws. I see no pressing reason why the Treasury Department needs to get involved at this juncture, although they may choose to do so. I also plan not to seek any publicity, though I fear it may attend. (How I wish all this could have been done “in house,” but thanks be to Helge, you would have none of it.)

Fourth, and this is a weaker point, though nonetheless a valid one, I think most citizens would agree that there is a general duty not to allow improprieties to be committed with impunity in our society. Just as misprision of a felony is a crime, tolerance of fraud is a shame. My motivation, to the extent it deserves comment in this apologia, is to help the Church become a better corporate citizen, not to advance my own interests. The result should be beneficial for everyone who is not himself guilty of any indiscretions.

A far more interesting question is that if I find myself constrained to take some affirmative action, how is it that you members of the board feel no compunctions whatsoever? I can understand how some of the chief perpetrators would like to pretend that we should wait for God to deal with the sin, but I am astonished to think of a Rod Meredith or a Herman Hoeh or a Harold Jackson sitting blissfully at ease while the tragedy continues. Don’t you know that as directors you have an absolute right to total access to all of the financial records at any time? Cal. Corp. Code S 9513. And that you have a duty to inquire? E.g., S 9210. And that there are some very specific standards of conduct that apply to you? See SS 9240, et seq. Don’t you care? I can understand how that some of the weaker members, like a Dibar Apartian or a Norman Smith, would mistakenly take Ralph Helge’s presense [sic] as some sort of insurance policy for their inaction. But for those of you who should know Ralph for the unprincipled liar that he has allowed himself to become, and who realize that Mr. Armstrong is now rather unbridled in his arrogance, and could see that the membership has been fed a steady diet of half-truths about Mr. Rader or any who have tried to correct the ills within the Church, how could you think that you would escape the sting of Prov. 17: 15? Doesn’t the last verse of Romans 12 mean anything to you who rest on the notion that vengeance is the Lord’s? Shame will follow you to your reward. (If you somehow think that the incident in Num. 16 remains a bar to all action, then you misread both it and the rest of scripture. Reread the book of Hebrews and its intent so that you can discern both good and evil.)

I would also like to return, for just a moment, to that which a court cannot easily correct: the evils I alluded to at the outset of this letter. Truly the real problems in the Church are not just financial. They are just symptomatic of the disease. That is why your collective dereliction of duty as directors and elders is so abominable. The unfortunate state of affairs with Mr. Armstrong and his family could have been prevented. It did not need to rub off on impressionable young men like the Dean boys. When a scatterbrained issue like whether women should be allowed to groom themselves modestly in a way not inconsistent with Biblical teaching is mistakenly presented, you who are strong should not be so cowardly as to not speak up. I have difficulty believing that a man of the supposed stature of a Rod Meredith could allow a Joe Tkach to dissuade him from standing firmly for truth on the issue (not that the issue is that important, and at this point it might as well be left alone). I’m saddened that I cannot take the time to discuss these matters further; just to introduce the subject properly would easily treble the length of this letter. I do not think, however, that it should take much searching of your consciences (I speak to those who have them) to see that if you have never counseled Mr. Armstrong adequately on the mundane affairs of the work because you thought it presumptuous, you have probably done an even worse job of speaking up forcefully on matters of doctrine (especially as applied). For one small of food for thought, why is it that people can be disfellowshipped for no reason that is explained to them, and no effort whatsoever is made to reconcile the lost brother? Does 2 Cor. 2:7 mean anything to you? How about Luke 15? Also, how is that you allow Mr. Armstrong to approve abortions for “special circumstances” without reconciling this with the Church’s public position (not to mention the sacred Word of Truth)? How many more murders shall we encourage before those of you who are supposed to be shepherds realize that there is some duty to protect a flock from wolves, from the type described in the second chapter of 2 Peter, or in Jude?

I wish so very much that I could have been allowed to talk to some of you. I wish you had been able to counsel me on what to do instead of forbidding me from your presence just for raising the issue. I would like to have talked to my own pastor Abner Washington, but he too must have been afraid to go after one of his sheep for fear of what “those who seemed to be somewhat” in Pasadena would do to him for acting like a normal human being to whose care my father had entrusted me. Would Paul have been afraid to get kicked out of the synagogue for refusing to sow to the flesh so that he would not have to reap corruption? He exclaimed his concern for the Galatians in the first part of the third chapter in that notable book. For those of you whose eyes are now too dull to try reading the Bible, perhaps I should quote a secular source, a man for whom it may well be more tolerable in the day of judgment. In another context, in another time, the words were said by such a man as Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Perhaps I should give you the complete quotation, without paraphrase (you can supply the analogue), from the page of the book that introduced me to that plea of Cromwell. A remarkable human being (who died in 1974), a Polish physicist who escaped from Hitler to help create the monstrous weapon that ended the war, and who then spent the rest of his life reflecting on what he had done, visited the ruins of a tragedy and made these observations from his incomplete, but thoughtful, and knowledgeable, and human perspective:

It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

Jacob Bronowski has studied other great men of science who pondered the consequences of standing up to established evil. For those of you who distrust Stan Rader as an intellectual, or fear him for the supposed power that such intellect brings, you would have also hated Christ if you had ever met him. They all walked down the same road:

What did Sir Thomas More die of? He died because his king thought of him as a wielder of power. And what More wanted to be, what Erasmus wanted to be, what every strong intellect wants to be, is a guardian of integrity.

There is an age-old conflict between intellectual leadership and civil authority. How old, how bitter, came home to me when I came up from Jericho on the road that Jesus took, and saw the first glimpse of Jerusalem on the skyline as he saw it going to his certain death. Death, because Jesus was then the intellectual and moral leader of his people, but he was facing an establishment in which religion was simply an arm of government.

J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, (Little, Brown & Co. 1973) at 374 (previous page) and 429 (supra).

I cannot take the time to outline for you the specific steps that I will be taking as soon as I am able. Suffice it to say that short of a miraculous coming to your senses there remains little that you can now do to rectify the situation other than prepare to cooperate fully. You have sat on my letter dated October 26, 1981, to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for altogether too long for me to even feel that an additional 5 business days would be of any use. (For those of you who haven’t been given a copy of even that communication, you may consider such treatment when you make your future plans for retention of the legal services you all require. I cannot believe such a firm as Gibson would not have made sure that each of you received a copy, unless they were given deceitful assurances by Helge that he would take it upon himself to look out after your welfare. For any of you who have placed your trust in that man, may God have mercy on your souls. Such a son of perdition will soon be exposed.)

If you don’t feel as I do that you are under some duty to help put the Church on the right course, then you have no business accepting the accolade of board membership. There have been only three board members who have resigned in the past for concerns such as I express here: Albert Portune, David Antion, and Stan Rader. Whatever other faults each of those men may have had or yet has, they did have some inkling of what decency requires. If you are willing neither to act nor to resign, then someone else will see to it that the proper steps are taken. You have personal liability in this matter gentlemen. I suggest that you govern yourselves accordingly.

Very truly yours,

W. Jack Kessler




14 thoughts on “The Kessler Letter–Corruption in the Cult

  1. Thank you for including the letter here: It may enable people to see how corrupt Herbert Armstrong was, along with the entirety of the so-called “leadership” of the Worldwide Church of God.

    Jack Kessler is to be commended for his ethical and moral center — something terribly lacking in Herbert Armstrong and the WCG. The WCG existed solely for the selfish gratification of Herbert Armstrong, nothing more.

    The process used to deal with the Jack Kessler is oft repeated in the Church Corporate environment and is exposed in detail (a href=””>here..

    Jack was in our church area and I had met him while he was still a teen. I dated his sister… once. We knew his dad, “Doc” Kessler. It is personally surprising to me how Jack’s sterling character had been forged in the Pacific Northwest, mostly prior to the Kessler family coming in contact with Armstrongism (Nancy Kessler had been student body president of the Renton High School).

    If some had reservations about the total corruption of the entire venue (a very prime example of “Laodocean” if you believe in such things), they should be dispelled.

  2. The Kessler Letter has been on The Painful Truth for a very long time. It is now located at

    In 1983, we were at the Feast of Tabernacles in Hawaii where I overheard Ralph Helge comment about the California State Legislature “solving” the problem with the occupation / receivership (closing the door forever on the State Attorney General being able to do anything). Ralph had little to say except that the Legislature “took care” of the problem when their more direct approaches at resolution failed. David Frasier was the minister in charge of the Feast and his wife was the former Nancy Kessler. “Doc” Kessler was also there.

  3. I seriously had no idea it was this bad…I never even really imagined it could be. Even in my current atheist skepticism I guess I still believed HWA was still trying to go “by the bible”, even if he was completely wrong. I thought maybe he was as deceived as my dad is when I mention 1975 in prophecy and he shouts back “Mr. A never claimed he was a prophet! He said ‘maybe’…”

    But apparently he was just in it for the perks, as a way of assuaging his exceptional arrogance he admitted to having, perhaps ironically (or perhaps appropriately), in his 1300 page Autobiography.

    Now I must go, for I feel mildly ill…

    • I feel the same kind of shock right now Eric.

      It’s so sickening. Disturbing.

      What worse than Herbie’s actions, is how so many must have stood by watching it happen. In some ways, I feel they are more to blame than Herbie himself IMO.

  4. In truth, I had always been secretly suspicious of a religion started by an AD MAN, b/c, you know, it wouldn’t matter if it is true or not if he could make it sound good. Well, guess that answers that!

  5. I’ve met and observed businessmen for decades and their self-promotion and the promotion of their business was always as pointed and focused as any religious con man. Without a score card, except for the name on the door, no one would be able to determine if it were a business or a religion: The religion of Herbert Armstrong was his business as an extension of himself and his ego — he was fully invested. He was fully and sincerely dedicated to his business because it was an extension of himself. Of course he would be sincere; of course he would be credible: He believed it because to do so would be to undermine himself.

    This blog isn’t designated “Armstrong Delusion” for nothing and the one most deluded (as to his sucess and self-worth) was Herbert Armstrong himself.

  6. I have recently discovered your web site. You represent in a number of places on this blog that you are an honest, truth-seeking bunch. If so, I wonder why you didn’t post this letter in the context in which it was written. For instance, I think it is relevant for the reader that Mr. Kessler wrote this letter in the midst of a power struggle in the administration of the WCG – a struggle in which he was intimately involved and which he (and the Rader faction) lost. He was a core supporter of Mr. Rader, and to this day still is associated with that family as a member of Mr. Rader’s son’s private equity firm (you can Google it). At the time he wrote this missive he was also embroiled in a battle with the church in which he had a personal financial stake. His private firm (which was apparently staffed by he and his wife) had, as alluded to in this letter, been appointed as an accounting/legal adviser to the church in the last days before Mr. Rader’s exit (by Mr. Rader). Given his close ties to Mr. Rader, in historical hindsight it is reasonable to believe that this appointment (which included a hefty monthly retainer) did not qualify as “arms-length”. When this arrangement was discovered by Church officials it was annulled – an act posing a significant financial loss to the author of this letter. Furthermore, according to reports from the time, Mr. Kessler was also involved with the Church in a dispute over the law library and other records which had been loaned to him. Quite simply, the WCG wanted them back – a request he declined.

    All of the above is relevant for appreciating why this letter was written. As an adviser and professional bearing a fiduciary duty to the WCG at the time, it is strange, if not a breach of professional ethics to write a letter which repeats unsubstantiated rumors (couching allegations with “I believe…I have been told … I am informed”) and personal attacks against executives of the corporation, even when such allegations bear no relation to the issue of financial wrong doing – or at the very best, have an incidental and attenuated connection. For instance – assuming that HWA had committed incest 30 years earlier (for which the only evidence is 4th hand hearsay repeated by individuals whom he had previously disfellowshipped), how does such an allegation affect the financial state of the WCG in 1981?

    The clear answer is that it doesn’t, and thus it is obvious that it and other rumors (it doesn’t appear that he left a single one out) which were repeated in the text of this rather long tirade were included for emotive effect. To put it plainly, Mr. Kessler was pissed about being terminated and decided to use his tenuous claim to being an adviser to the board to launch a written attack against Mr. Armstrong and the faction of administrators around him whom he blamed for being pushed out of the organization. In light of this, what is the evidentiary value of the letter of a man who had a personal financial stake in the affairs of which he complains – not much.

    But of course these facts are lost in the salacious details of unsubstantiated rumors and we are left, over thirty years later, with a letter which is repeated and passed on as “proof” of wrongdoing but which was written with a clear motive of antagonism (it has never been revealed how it was “leaked”). Let me finish with just one simple, and incontrovertible point. Prior to this letter being written, the State of California entered the WCG’s property and confiscated and reviewed boxes and boxes of records and accounting details. In light of Mr. Kessler’s accusations above, the obvious question that arises is as follows: out of this entire investigation conducted under the auspices of the State and under the direction of a retired California state judge, which included subpoenas for discovery, depositions and further, how many charges of criminal or civil wrongdoing were brought against Mr. Armstrong? The answer: zero.

    • Thank you N/A for taking the time to compose such a lengthy and eloquent comment. A couple things in response. First, I am compelled to remind our readers that we the editors of Armstrong Delusion don’t have a stake in the rumor-mongering that goes on at most anti-Armstrong sites (we are an anti-Armstrongist site, in contrast). Furthermore, the percentage of our material that concerns itself with the various charges of corruption and scandal surrounding Armstrong and his family and associates is vanishingly small. I can only wonder why this one piece, out of all the others, has attracted so much attention from you (though if you are who I think you are, then it makes sense). Secondly, I’m afraid your entire argument reduces to a non-sequitur in the form of ad hominem: Kessler’s charges are untrue because he was fired by those he was accusing. Such a conclusion might be intuitive, but it is not logically warranted. After all, now you are making an unsubstantiated claim regarding Kessler’s motivations for writing the letter.

      To be sure, many of Kessler’s remarks do not reflect the views of the editors, and in fact I personally do not put much stock at all in the anti-corruption angle utilized by Kessler and, it seems, the entire end of the blogosphere dedicated to CoG criticism. You’ll notice, I hope, that precisely zero of the articles here actually written by us discuss corruption in the cults. It is a side issue for us, if anything, and is about as important as the irrelevant theological disputes. Certainly we have, in the comments here and on other vaguely similar sites, dutifully spoken out against the very popular tale of incest for all the reasons you bring up.

      That said, and despite your invalid argument to the contrary, I remain convinced that Kessler was onto something and, further, that his resolve was based on something rather more noble–and more naive–than the pursuit of lucre: his earnestness comes through pretty clearly to me (and the bringing up of the various scandals, it seems to me, is more coherent with this view than it is with yours, and worked, as you point out, to the perceived detriment of his overall argument), and I have no real reason to believe he was insincere or that he was guided instead by ulterior motives. Incidentally, the fact no charges were brought against Armstrong is hardly evidence that he or his organization were innocent of the activities detailed in Kessler’s letter–that doesn’t mean the accusations were true, obviously–and they may not be–but one cannot logically get to that conclusion merely by pointing to the failure to bring Armstrong up on charges, or, as I have said, to the person of Kessler.

    • By the way, that last item might have something to do with this (taken straight from the letter in question):

      “First, you of all people on earth should be aware of the S.B. 1493 amendments to the corporations code that snatched you out of the jaws of the attorney general. If you’ll recall the course of debate, the reason why it is inappropriate for the government to attempt to regulate the internal affairs of a Church is because individual members (even former members) are empowered to enlist the aid of the legal process, if need be, to ensure that the actions of Church officials are faithfully carried out. The Petris bill made this explicit. Private supervision is a much less intrusive alternative in a constitutional sense, and this is exactly the scenario the Church lobbied for with such vigor in Sacramento.”

  7. Just a couple of points. First, again, Kessler by referring to SB 1493 misrepresents the true position in his letter. The fact is the bill in question entered into law after the receivership by the State of California had begun (which was an action undertaken at the petition of angry ex-members of the church supportive of Garner Ted Armstrong.) So it was not even in force at the time the investigation was terminated. Rather the State Attorney General ended the investigation after A) no evidence of wrongdoing had been found even though thousands of records had been taken from the church; and B) agreeing that the receivership was clearly an act that breached the constitutional protections providing for the freedom of religion. The State Attorney General regarded SB 1493 as merely a correct statement of public policy pursuant to which he terminated the investigation, but not because the legislation had removed his standing.

    Secondly, in the Deukmejian v. Worldwide Church of God, California 2nd Court of Appeal case (attorney’s fees), the court states very clearly the history of the receivership and notes repeatedly that no evidence of wrongdoing had been found despite thousands of records being seized; in fact most of the accusations had actually been affirmatively proven to be false (eg. liquidating assets for personal benefit, destroying records etc…). The court’s summation of the receivership case was as follows: “We are of the opinion that the underlying action and its attendant provisional remedy of receivership were from the inception constitutionally infirm and predestined to failure.It follows that the burden of the ill-conceived litigation, including the expenses of the receivership [lawyers] should not be borne by the prevailing party-the Church”

    So the story is not that the WCG bribed some state officials to pull them from the fire, but rather that the entire escapade was a constitutional farce which cost the Church substantial losses and which exposed it to having its records seized and investigated. Out of this, no fraud was found and in the end the courts agreed that it was an “ill-conceived” act.

    Finally, you may want to dismiss Mr. Kessler’s motives as having any bearing upon what he wrote, but the historical fact is that he sent this letter as part of a litigation strategy. He clearly states (5 days etc..) that he is about to initiate proceedings (which he never did) and is attempting (by including these accusations) to essentially give a preview of what he intended to bring out. But again, he didn’t initiate an action despite the church publicly rejected his statements, which I think speaks quite clearly to the veracity (lack thereof) of his allegations. I don’t know how you couldn’t see this as being about anything other than money.

    As a funny post script, it is interesting that Mr. Tkach would be the one who rehabilitated Mr. Kessler in the WCG, asking him to come back after he took over. Moreover, it was Tkach Jr. who preached Rader’s funeral in 2002. One could consider this as possible evidence as to the original leaker of the letter. In the end, it seems the Tkaches were very much in line with the Kessler-Rader camp.

    • It’s an interesting history lesson, N/A, but you’ve already revealed your own bias–and we all know who writes the histories. That said, as I’ve already pointed out, this Kessler business is hardly a major concern for this site, whether the accusations are true or false. We’ll keep the post and the resultant discussion up as a matter of historical trivia. Now, what have you to say about the meat of the matter? My bet is you’ll just quietly slink back off to whatever splinter you’re a part of and continue to shelter your delusions from the light of day, like all good sheep do.

Say anything you want. We do.

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