Quebec Studies

The Worldwide Church of God in Québec: A Case Study of a New Religious Movement in a "Distinct" Society

Quebec Studies (2011), 52, (1), 87–94.

Abstract

87 The Worldwide Church of God in Québec: A Case Study of a New Religious Movement in a "Distinct" Society Claude Rochon Université de Montréal When it comes to new religious movements (NRMs), is Québec a "distinct" society? Since its foundation in 1933, the Worldwide Church of God1 (WCG) has emphasized doctrinal orthodoxy.2 However, from 1986 to 1995, signifi­ cant doctrinal changes were implemented that brought the church closer to traditional Christian beliefs. Moreover, doctrinal orthodoxy was no longer considered a test of membership. Thus, differences that may have emerged in Québec before and during the changes may provide clues as to the extent to which a NRM ethos is assimilated (and how membership is lived out) in Quebec's distinct society. Through a mix of data collection techniques — including a review of the scant literature 3 and survey of official and offi­ cious websites in and outside of Québec, but mostly informant and partici­ pant observation — a case study is built. Following a brief description of the WCG history and distinctive teachings, I will identify some differences between the French-speaking Québec congregations and those in the U.S. or English Canada. I will then propose an explanation based on Hans Toch's socialization model and offer suggestions for further research. WCG History and Teachings Herbert W Armstrong founded the WCG4 in 1933. Following a series of financial setbacks during the Great Depression, he has a religious experi­ ence, starts studying the Bible on his own, and comes to a number of unusual conclusions, which he starts to preach and publish. In the early 1930s, he starts a radio program and a small magazine, The Plain Truth. In 1947, he moves his ministry to California. The church grows rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, broadcasting the radio program in England, Australia, the Philippines, Latin America, and Africa, and opening church offices world­ wide. In Québec, the first French-speaking congregation is set up in Mon­ treal in 1972. A television ministry is launched in the 1970s, but church growth starts to slow down. Nevertheless, many people continued to be attracted to Herbert Armstrong's style and teachings, and the church continued to grow slowly until Armstrong died in 1986 at the age of 93. He left a denomination that numbered 120,000 people in attendance every week. Annual income was 200 million dollars. Magazine circulation was in the millions every month, and the television program was one of the top two religious programs in America.5 So although relatively small in numbers, this organization had impressive financial means, a significant presence around the world, and substantial Québec Studies, Volume 52, Fall 201 I/Winter 2012

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Rochon, Claude