Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, excommunicated his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, a famous television evangelist and church leader as well, for personal misconduct. Ted, accused by his father several years earlier of being in the “bonds of Satan,” later founded his own church and faced a sexual assault charge in 1995.

Summary of Event

In June, 1978, Herbert W. Armstrong publicly excommunicated his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, from the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), which Herbert had founded in 1933. Although long in coming, Ted’s removal was a shocking development to the adherents of the church and millions who followed Ted through the media. The event made national news. At the time, Ted was heir apparent to his father. He also was vice president of the church, vice chancellor of the church’s Ambassador College, and the telegenic face of the sect, watched by millions of people worldwide. [kw]Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son, Evangelist Herbert W. (June 27, 1978) Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert W. Worldwide Church of God Courlander, Harold Evangelists;Herbert W. Armstrong[Armstrong] Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert W. Worldwide Church of God Courlander, Harold Evangelists;Herbert W. Armstrong[Armstrong] [g]United States;June 27, 1978: Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son[01730] [c]Religion;June 27, 1978: Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son[01730] [c]Communications and media;June 27, 1978: Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son[01730] [c]Radio and television;June 27, 1978: Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son[01730] [c]Families and children;June 27, 1978: Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong Excommunicates His Own Son[01730] Rader, Stanley Fischer, Bobby

Herbert founded the WCG with unique doctrines that included the following: God consisted of a family of members to which his followers could aspire, the use of triple tithing, the observance of the Old Testament Sabbath, feasts and regulations, the prohibition of medical assistance, a racially segregated Heaven, and the identification of the British with the ten lost tribes of Israel. The chief engine of the church’s remarkable growth was Herbert’s Plain Truth magazine and radio and television programs, in which he would describe current events as prophetically ushering in “the world tomorrow,” when God would establish His kingdom on Earth after a violent apocalypse.

Garner Ted Armstrong at Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, in 1972.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The programs provided a natural platform for Herbert’s youngest son, Ted. Born in 1930, Ted began his career as his father’s office manager in 1952. In 1953, Ted married Shirley Hammer, with whom he would have three sons. In 1955, he was ordained to his father’s ministry. Soon appearing on the World Tomorrow broadcasts, Ted’s smooth manner and silver voice attracted a wide audience. Like his father, Ted employed the tools of modern advertising to promote his show. By 1957, Ted had taken over World Tomorrow and was the lead voice and face of the ministry, eventually appearing on about 400 radio stations and 165 television stations with an audience of about twenty million people. In 1962, Ted gained for the WCG its best-known enthusiast, chess champion Bobby Fischer, who joined the church after hearing Ted’s radio broadcast.

Ted’s popularity even led to appearances on the popular television comedy show Hee-Haw. His progress was not slowed, even after his yearly prophecies of imminent doom did not materialize. In 1968, Ted was made executive vice president of the church and vice chancellor of the church’s flagship Ambassador College Ambassador College. However, allegations of gambling, drinking, and adultery soon surfaced. They were ignored by Herbert until Ted began a long-term affair with a flight attendant and threatened to leave his wife, despite the church’s strict teachings against divorce. In 1971, Ted was relieved of his duties and placed on leave of absence. In 1972, Herbert removed Ted’s ministerial authority, claiming Ted was in the “bonds of Satan.” On May 15, 1972, Time Time magazine magazine published an exposé of Ted’s scandalous behavior. Fischer was disturbed by the revelations and eventually spoke out against the WCG.

Missing broadcasts by Ted, the listening audience declined and church income plummeted. After six months, Herbert felt obliged to reinstate Ted, yet, seemingly incorrigible, Ted was again suspended by his father in 1974. Within months, Herbert once more reinstated Ted to his position as heir apparent, announcing that his son was his divinely appointed successor—Solomon to Herbert’s King David. By 1978, however, Herbert felt compelled to act. Ted had been participating in a so-called systematic theology project designated to reexamine some of his father’s doctrines in the light of mainstream theology and to gain secular accreditation for Ambassador College. There also were reports that Ted was engaged in a power struggle with WCG attorney Stanley Rader for influence over his father.

Time Time magazine magazine reported in a June 19, 1978, article that Herbert admonished Ted in an open letter to the faithful that stated

I derived my authority from the living Christ. You derived what you had from me, and then used it totally CONTRARY to THE WAY Christ has led me.

Finally, on June 27, Herbert excommunicated Ted for conspiring to seize control of the WCG and Ambassador College. The next day, Herbert wrote to his congregation, saying his letter to them was “the most difficult letter I have ever been compelled to write.” He continued, “I would rather have cut off my right arm than having to do this.” In this lengthy letter, he revealed a lifetime of difficulties with Ted, leading to his dramatic expulsion from the WCG. This excommunication represented an irrevocable breach between father and son with dramatic consequences. Without the facile Ted, the success of the World Tomorrow broadcast was imperiled, Herbert was left without a successor, and his public anointing of his miracle son had come to naught.

Ted moved to Tyler, Texas, and formed, with several other former church ministers, the Church of God International, affiliated with his Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association. Ted launched his own magazine, Twentieth Century Watch, and television broadcasts. He also accused his father of committing financial improprieties, one of the factors that prompted the California attorney general to launch an investigation of the church in early January, 1979, for misappropriation of funds. The attorney general also requested that the California courts place the WCG in receivership for one year.

Although Ted’s media charm kept his denomination alive, his scandalous behavior did not die. In 1995, a masseuse, who had secretly Video evidence videotaped Ted’s offensive sexual advances, brought a sexual assault suit against Ted. Ted was soon removed from the Church of God International but launched a new church, the Intercontinental Church of God. Despite several overtures, Herbert and Ted never reconciled, and Herbert died in 1986 at the age of ninety-three. On September 15, 2003, at the age of seventy-three, Ted died of pneumonia.


Herbert’s excommunication of his son, Ted, was the most traumatic event in the history of the WCG. In its first forty years, the denomination had experienced explosive growth. Although its membership would reach 150,000, its worldwide reach through its magazine, The Plain Truth, and its radio and television program, The World Tomorrow, reached tens of millions of people. Ted was the star evangelist of this religious empire, Herbert’s second-in-command, and his heir apparent. That Ted’s transgressions finally compelled his father to excommunicate and disown him damaged the credibility of the church. Only four years earlier, Herbert had claimed that God appointed Ted his successor.

Moreover, Ted’s excommunication deprived the church of its most charismatic presence. He began his own splinter denomination, which, in turn, split into the Biblical Church of God (1979), Philadelphia Church of God (1989), Global Church of God (1992), and United Church of God (1995). By 1993, membership in the WCG had begun to drop sharply, and many of Herbert’s doctrines were rejected. Within a couple of years, The World Tomorrow program was canceled and Ambassador College closed. In 1997, WCG became a member of the mainstream National Association of Evangelicals National Association of Evangelicals, a final rejection of Herbert’s teachings.

Herbert and Ted Armstrong were significant figures in the development of Christian evangelism on radio and television. They pioneered religious broadcasting’s use of certain advertising techniques—saturation programming, free giveaways, appearances with world figures, and Madison Avenue hyperbole—now staples in televangelism. Ted brought the glib manner of a television anchor to his broadcast delivery. Most of all, he perfected the sales pitch during the show, which accounted for much of the church’s revenue.

Ted also was farsighted in urging more tolerance of other denominations, a more scholarly Ambassador College, and the easing of some of the denomination’s most onerous restrictions. However, his good deeds were overshadowed by accusations that he used his religious message and appeal to accumulate personal riches and have extramarital affairs. Ted would tell his liaisons that his indiscretions mattered little in the light of the important prophetic messages he was bringing to the world. The troubles he brought to the Worldwide Church of God, and televangelism in general, would seem to say otherwise. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert W. Worldwide Church of God Courlander, Harold Evangelists;Herbert W. Armstrong[Armstrong]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Armstrong, Garner Ted. The Real Jesus. New ed. Tyler, Tex.: Emerald, 1984. In this book, often insightful but at times banal and bizarre, Ted Armstrong revises traditional teachings about Jesus, rejecting, for example, the holidays of Christmas and Easter and claiming that Jesus was the senior partner in a construction business.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flurry, Stephen. Raising the Ruins: The Fight to Revive the Legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong. Edmond, Okla.: Philadelphia Church of God, 2006. A Herbert Armstrong loyalist argues that Ted Armstrong attempted a coup against his father and the church in 1978.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gufeld, Eduard. Bobby Fischer: From Chess Genius to Legend. Davenport, Iowa: Thinkers’ Press, 2001. Recounts the chess genius’s involvement and disaffection with Herbert and Ted Armstrong and their church.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oliver, Myrna. “Garner Ted Armstrong.” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2003. An obituary of Ted Armstrong that discusses his life, evangelistic career, and his troubles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tkach, Joseph. Transformed by Truth. Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1997. An account by Herbert Armstrong’s eventual successor about the movement of WCG into the evangelical mainstream. Includes information on Ted’s failed predictions, his 1972 removal for “moral and doctrinal” failures, and his 1978 excommunication for “liberalism” and “modernizing” tendencies.

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