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Obituaries

Garner Ted Armstrong, 73; TV Evangelist Formed Own Church After Break With Father

September 16, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Garner Ted Armstrong, the controversial television evangelist who founded his own international church in Tyler, Texas, after he broke with his late father's Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God 25 years ago, died Monday. He was 73.

Armstrong, known for being the voice of television's "The World Tomorrow" and subsequent programs, had suffered from pneumonia, supporters said. His death in Tyler was confirmed by his son, Mark, in an announcement issued by the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Assn.

Silver-haired and movie-star handsome, the gifted and persuasive broadcaster had been on the air since 1955, when he was first ordained a minister. In 1957, he took over the weekly "World Tomorrow" radio shows from his father, Herbert W. Armstrong. His voice eventually reached every continent over about 300 radio stations. By the early 1970s he was viewed on about 165 U.S. television broadcast stations, drawing millions of viewers. He was known, he once estimated, by 30% of the American people.

Armstrong interviewed major political as well as religious leaders -- including Anwar Sadat, Moshe Dayan and Itzhak Rabin -- and discussed varied topics such as the Middle East, criminal justice and child training, always relating them to the Bible.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Armstrong obituary -- An obituary in Tuesday's California section of televangelist Garner Ted Armstrong incorrectly referred to Armstrong's wife, Shirley, as his former wife. They were married at the time of his death.

Often plagued by scandal, Armstrong was asked to step down in 1995 as head of the Church of God International, which he had formed in 1978, after a Texas woman accused him of having sexually assaulted her during two massage sessions. He denied the charges but "voluntarily removed himself" as president and chairman of the church board. He continued to preach and appear on television until church leaders demanded his removal in 1997.

He continued his on-air ministry through a reconstituted Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelical Assn., and in 1998 founded and headed a new church, the Intercontinental Church of God. He was president of both until his death.

Born in Portland, Ore., and reared in Eugene, Armstrong earned bachelor's and master's degrees and a doctorate from his father's church-sponsored Ambassador College in Pasadena after serving in the Navy during the Korean War.

Until their well-publicized split in 1978, Armstrong had worked within the Worldwide Church of God founded by his father. A pioneer radio preacher, the senior Armstrong set up the Radio Church of God in 1934, moved it to Pasadena in 1946 and renamed it the Worldwide Church of God in 1968, also building the Ambassador College campus and Ambassador Auditorium.

Herbert Armstrong died in 1986 at the age of 93, amid an outcry by members that he and then church treasurer Stanley Rader, who died in 2002, had siphoned off more than $70 million in church funds for personal use. The church was placed in receivership in 1979, but the allegations were never proved, and the Los Angeles Superior Court civil litigation was dismissed in 1980.

The rift between the father and his heir apparent began in 1972 when Herbert Armstrong ousted his son from the church for four months, after an extra-marital affair, saying the son was "in the bonds of Satan."

The repentant son was reinstated and continued to work for his father's organization until Herbert Armstrong excommunicated him in 1978 over multiple allegations of the son's gambling and adultery and disputes over church doctrine.

Both Armstrongs were tainted by charges from six ministers who resigned from the church, accusing father and son of moral transgressions, financial irregularities and doctrinal rigidity.

Although the younger Armstrong attended his father's funeral and said he had tried to phone his father for eight years to make amends, the rift was never healed.

Garner Ted Armstrong had served as vice president of the Worldwide Church of God and of Ambassador College from 1958 to 1978, and was its principal public spokesman and televangelist.

"I fully intend to follow in his footsteps," he said at the time of his father's death, "as I always have in preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God."

Like his father, he espoused his fundamentalist beliefs in several books as well as on the air. His best-known were "The Real Jesus" and "Europe and America in Prophecy" which asserted that Anglo-Saxon people in England and the U.S. were literal descendants of the tribes of ancient Israel.

Among his other publications were "The Wonderful World Tomorrow: What It Will Be Like," "Modern Dating," "The Plain Truth about Child Rearing," "Facts You Should Know about Christmas!," "The Ten Commandments" and "Satan's Greatest Deceptions."

Although Armstrong was praised for his communication skills in writing as well as broadcasting, one reviewer, writing for the Library Journal, said the greatest attraction of his books to readers was "the notoriety of its author."

Armstrong claimed to reach some 5 million people with his broadcasts, but his splinter churches amassed only about 5,000 members, compared with an estimated 80,000 for his father's Worldwide Church of God.

Armstrong and his former wife, Shirley, had three sons, Matthew, Mark and David. There was no immediate information on services or survivors.

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