WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: Garner Ted Armstrong

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

It is interesting how things find their way into one’s life. Things that don’t really matter to you or even impact your life, but they are there for that time. Sometimes, they are so powerful that you can’t forget them. And so it is for me and televangelists…

It is more like ONE televangelist; and it was probably the result of the times and timing, but I think about Garner Ted Armstrong often and am reminded of him when I least expect it.

It was probably only for a year in the early 1970s. I didn’t know evangelists from car salesmen, but I was ‘forced’ to watch Garner Ted, as I affectionately called him, each morning as I got ready for school. Now, I say ‘forced,’ not as in coercion, but as in ‘there was nothing else to watch on TV!’ Realize that these are the days of three TV channels in America. Cable TV was in its infancy at best; and we were rural, so those three channels were gold.

The other two channels at 6 o’clock in the morning were running news programs; and what 12-year-old wanted to watch ‘the news’ much less some stuffy network version of it. One channel, and I don’t remember which one—might have been Channel 11, the independent station, didn’t have news on as I got my jeans on and shoes tied, so by default, it ‘won’ this viewer’s attention every morning. The bad news: this channel aired ‘The Garner Ted Armstrong Program’ during this obscure un-Godly A.M. hour.

So began my yearlong connection to Garner Ted and televangelism in general; thank God that was it, but what a year it was!

Now, I’ll bet you are wondering what drew a pre-teen to ‘end of the world’ sermons and prophecy as a way to start his day…well, see above for one reason, but the other one was Garner Ted Armstrong. His dark messages were provided by an All-American charismatic persona that could extemporaneously sell ice to the Eskimos. He was so genuine, even if his message was suspect. At that young age, I was taken in by his demeanor—what can I say, I was impressionable.

Full disclosure: I was the son of a minister and lived in a religious home, so none of what he represented was new to me. I had the background, so to speak.

Based on the time I got up, I only caught the second part of the broadcast each morning. Yet, there he was in his suit and tie and that smile telling me that there was no tomorrow. I wasn’t transformed by his rhetoric by any means, but I liked listening to his voice and wondering what he’d say next. To this day, I can see why televangelists have made their mark on America and the world; and Garner Ted was one of the earliest and the best…

As I thought about Garner Ted, I decided to do some research on televangelists because I haven’t cared about them in any way since that one year. Did you know that there have been about 150 televangelists to grace our airwaves since the 1930s?! This is when they ‘began’ in our society with the advent of radio. They really got going with the changes in FCC guidelines in the 1980s. They have come a long way in this country since that first one before the American Revolution who used that new medium of ‘newspapers’ to hone his craft and get his message out.

Garner Ted’s own network, at its peak, was 360 radio stations and 165 television stations reaching some 20 million people on five continents every week. It took in $70 million annually, more than Billy Graham and Oral Roberts combined. The guy knew his stuff, even if it was suspect.

Sure, I was there for the Jimmy Swaggert ‘crying’ confession and the Tammy Faye Baker interview (Will make-up ever be the same?!) and the other scandals. Basically, televangelists are con-men (and women) who eventually will succumb to some horrible sin that they preach against every week from their mega-church pulpit.

And Garner Ted was no exception—adultery was his choice of sins. I didn’t know this until I did my research, but GT had a big scandal in 1974; so big that he was ex-communicated from the church. But don’t despair, he simply founded another one until another scandal happened; and he had to found yet a third church. Garner Ted died in 2003 only a few years after his last church was started.

His first scandal was an expose magazine article from a young, college-aged woman he seduced and sexually assaulted (it came out that he had been doing this sort of thing for 25 years at that time-1974) titled, “In Bed with Ted.” You cannot make this stuff up! Google it! Of course, GT had a rebuttal article entitled ‘Darn Her!, says Garner.’ (I did make this one up, but you have to admit, it is perfect…)

Nowadays, I consider people who swindle money out of little old ladies and families of ailing veterans abhorrent, but back when I put my shoes on in front of the television, I was enthralled by their manner and message. I am glad I outgrew them; hopefully, more people will do the same.

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.