Follow up to “501(c)(3) and Herbert W. Armstrong”

Howdy, again, and, wow, what unexpected positive feedback I received about the last post on Mr. Armstrong’s choice of 501(c)(3) for the work! I really expected it to be one of those uninteresting posts that is just sort of there for bookkeeping purposes, and, yet, many of you seemed to appreciate it. Thanks much for letting me know! You’ve inspired me to hopefully finish the topic off for good with this follow up. 🙂

If you’re interested, by the way, you can track the entire history of the matter to prove for yourself that Mr. Armstrong never changed this status before his death. The history can be found at the Colorado Secretary of State’s website. The link is a mess because it contains the search terms and parameters, but here is something you can click: Documented History of Mr. Armstrong’s Corporation Sole.

As you can see there, the Corporation Sole did not change until after his death (first change after 7/1981 filing is 3/10/1986). In fact, the name of the Corporation Sole did not even change until 11/19/1991, several years after his death. And you know that the Corporation Sole was not destroyed and replaced before his death, since that would have to be noted there, as well, just as was done at the end of the history, shown on page 2 on the website, in 2001. Which, by the way, could have just meant that the Corporation Sole at that time changed state filing or was replaced by a new corporation, etc.

Actually, since MacGyver is distracting the guards with his Swiss Army knife and a wad of Juicy Fruit (go Mac!), I have a few moments free to myself, so let me answer some of the questions that might come up about that document for those who don’t speak “Corporatese.” I have to warn you, though, that this post will contain a good bit of useless detail, so those on sleep medication may wish to stop here and wait for a more interesting post for fear of overdosing. In doing so, however, I hope to make this post the last thing I will ever have to post on this matter. (Joy!)

First, this might be a good opportunity to ask, “Why Colorado?” You can note in the articles that it was mailed from Pasadena, California, but if he was in California, why did Mr. Armstrong file in Colorado? Actually, it is not uncommon at all for corporations in America to file in a place other than where most of their physical work is done, based on whichever state law best serves the purposes of the organization served by that corporation. For instance, many companies file for corporate status in Nevada since the laws there are very liberal and “pro-corporation” from a certain point of view. All that is necessary is that an office for the business is maintained there. (Note: This is not business or legal advice, and I can’t guarantee I am getting all these details right. I am a pastor, not John Grisham or even Matlock. Just explaining things as they were once explained to me by a business friend of mine. If you are interested in more details feel free to dig them up.) For example, let’s say I wanted to begin a tutoring business (which I did want to do once). If I felt that incorporating here in Ohio might send the wrong message to other businesses because the laws here for corporations are shady or too loose and relaxed (I doubt that they are–I love you, Ohio!–and am just speaking hypothetically), then I might choose to incorporate in, say, Massachusetts if the laws there are stricter and require greater accountability (again, hypothetical!) — something that might look good not only to other companies, since they know I am voluntarily subjecting my company to higher standards, but also to foreign governments who might want to investigate my company to ensure it is trustworthy should I choose to begin a Rent-a-Nerd franchise in those countries and go international. How to file in a different state might depend on the laws in that state (and surely it does) but would probably involve at least establishing an office there of some sort and paying the appropriate state fees, following the state’s regulations, etc.

That’s a long explanation for something very simple: In America we have the freedom to establish our corporation in a different state if their laws, fee structures, taxes, etc. suit our needs better, and the states are allowed to compete with each other for that business.

Some of you may remember the article “Congress of Leading Ministers Hears Redefined and Reemphasized Spiritual Organization of the Church” in the March 1981 Worldwide News where Mr. Armstrong explained that during the receivership crisis he had formed a corporation sole named “Herbert W. Armstrong the Apostle of the Churches of God, and his Successors.” I don’t know if he was in Tuscon or Pasadena at the time, but the corporation was apparently filed, completed, and recorded in Colorado on 4/14/1980 according to the Secretary of State of California. Then later in June of 1981 (in Colorado, but noted in California by at least 1983), it was changed to “Herbert W. Armstrong the Pastor General of the Churches of God, and his Successors,” which is how it stayed until several years after his death. And did he agree in the articles he filed to submit to all 501(c)(3) restrictions and guidelines? Yes, both current and future restrictions and guidelines. Here it is from Mr. Armstrong’s clause #12 from the 1983:

Clause 12

That’s a pretty thorough commitment: Not only committing to submit to all 501(c)(3) restrictions but also to future, related, not-yet-written IRS codes. (Thorough though it may be, it is standard, as I will obnoxiously and tediously demonstrate in a moment…)

Before moving on, let’s note that some might argue, “Hey–that doesn’t say that his corporation is a ‘501(c)(3) organization’, just that it will obey 501(c)(3) restrictions!” First, such a response would miss the point: That’s how one becomes a 501(c)(3)-compliant organization, by legally agreeing to be bound by the restrictions of the 501(c)(3) section of Internal Revenue Code. Agreeing to the 501(c)(3) restrictions is what makes an organization 501(c)(3) compliant. If someone argues otherwise, you can rest assured that there is no point in discussing anything further… It would be like saying, “I’m not saying that I’m that kid’s biological father! I’m just saying that I donated half of the genetic material for that kid through the usual process of human conception, while my wife, his mother, simultaneously provided the remaining genetic material.” Ooooookay…

However, for those who continue to want to split hairs, witness the words of other 501(c)(3) organizations, who, even today, use exactly the same wording as Mr. Armstrong did:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or by a corporation, contributions to which are deductible under section 170(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now enacted or hereafter amended.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now enacted or hereafter amended.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these Articles, the Corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from Federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (or the corresponding provision of any future United States Internal Revenue law).”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as now enacted or hereafter amended.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the Corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from Federal income tax under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, this organization shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by an organization exempt from US Federal and state income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or the corresponding provisions of any future United States Internal Revenue laws.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on (a) by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under section 501(C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or (b) by a corporation, contributions to which are deductible under section 170(C)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.”

(By the way: I found these examples through the powerful assistance of my secret government overlords who provided me with advanced alien/human-hybrid research technology: Something they mysteriously call “Google”… I agree–it sounds terrifying! Fear the Google!)

If that language Mr. Armstrong used means that his personal Corporation Sole was not a “501(c)(3) organization”, then neither are vast numbers of the “501(c)(3) organizations” in the country that use the very same language even today, including the Living Church of God. It is unavoidable: The LCG and Mr. Armstrong stand or fall together on this. If we are government slaves because of 501(c)(3) compliance, then so was he. Accuse us of weird, conspiracy-oriented government control and you accuse him, as well. There is no third door to walk through, here.

In a related way, no one can say that it is ungodly for a church leader to commit to the restrictions of the 501(c)(3) code without accusing Mr. Armstrong of ungodly behavior, as well, since he did just that, in plain black and white. If 501(c)(3) restricts church leaders from preaching part of the gospel, then Mr. Armstrong was restricting himself from preaching part of the gospel, since he says in plain language that he “will not carry on any activities not permitted” to a 501(c)(3) corporation. In fact, he went even further in clause #13:

Clause 13

(Please don’t make me post lots of examples of this in incorporation documents, also. Please? If you really want to see some, here you go: St. John’s Catholic Church of Antioch, Duquesne University, the Daytona Beach Amateur Radio Association. I admit to enjoying kicking dead horses, but can I stop now? Thanks!)

Here in clause 13, Mr. Armstrong makes things explicit. Many anti-501(c)(3) conspiracy folks claim that churches are wrongly giving up their free speech rights by agreeing to submit to 501(c)(3) regulations, and those of a COG flavor who worship their “own personal Mr. Armstrong” (apologies to Depeche Mode and Johnny Cash) claim that Mr. Armstrong would never do that. Yet, here Mr. Armstrong makes it clear–again, in black and white–that he will willingly comply with the restrictions on speech that apply to 501(c)(3)-compliant organizations. You can’t both support the work of Mr. Armstrong and be an anti-501(c)(3) believer, since Mr. Armstrong–in the clearest of words–agrees to every restriction on speech required of a 501(c)(3) organization. If he wanted to preach the gospel, how could he do that?

For the same reason we can: Literally nothing that we are commanded to preach from God’s Word constitutes political propaganda, active attempts to influence legislation, or campaigning for a political candidate. As I have noted here, before, we are equally irritated by virtually all carnal facets of mankind’s governments and political parties, and, thus, have the joy of being equal opportunity offenders. 🙂

That Mr. Armstrong personally agreed to all of these things is beyond doubt. He signed the document personally in Pasadena, California on 6/30/1981, agreeing to all of these restrictions:


Any change to these agreements must have been filed with the state. Yet there is no record of his changing a single thing in those articles–which governed Mr. Armstrong’s corporate operation of the Church’s services until his death in January of 1986–and the first change that was made in the articles did not occur until later that year after his death. Again, here’s the history of the Articles of Incorporation for those who like to check things out. Don’t believe me, believe your Bib… er, your Colorado Secretary of State. 🙂

Those who claim that all who agree to 501(c)(3) restrictions are puppets of the government continue to defame Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, however inadvertently. (I have asked my wife if I am a puppet of the government, by the way, and she said that I am not. However, I do note that she wasn’t wearing her tin foil hat that day, so it could be that is what the aliens who control the President told her to say. Or not!)

Thankfully, it is only a tiny few that I know of. Most 501(c)(3) conspiracy-believers would be just as happy to condemn Mr. Armstrong as the rest of us (and they do). If the maniacal thoroughness with which I have written this post is mind-numbing, well, join the club. It just hit me that perhaps with just enough effort, I could answer the question for all time and, from that point on, I can just say, “Go read this.” And, if bothered by others, you can do the same. 🙂 May the characters “501(c)(3)” never have to be typed in that sequence on my poor beleaguered laptop keyboard again!

That brings me to one more item. One kind individual out there who saw something not nice apparently being said about me on Facebook let me know about it and about how upset she was that someone would twist things so. I appreciate her concern very much. However, honestly, it’s par for the course. 🙂 You can’t do this wonderful job without people mistreating you and misrepresenting you–and so many of you out there blessed like I am to live this amazing way of life know that, personally, through your own experience, don’t you? (Consider 1 Cor. 2:15.) As I mentioned to the kind lady who mentioned it to me, Mr. Meredith, Mr. Ames, and Dr. Winnail live through such accusations (frankly, much worse) on a daily basis, and they just calmly keep on keeping on, doing God’s Work. They are wonderful examples, and over the years I have gotten very used to the hot heads on various blogs, Facebook pages, personal websites, etc. who enjoy tearing and rending (often with a smile on their face and polite words, cf. Psalm 55:21).

Generally, it is of no use to respond to such folks. I have done so — especially those few who are stuck on this 501(c)(3) conspiracy theory. (Oops! I typed it again.) In fact, you can read of my response to one on this blog post: “Herbert W. Armstrong and the ‘Whole, Pure Gospel'” back in 2011. If you do, scroll down to the comment left by someone calling himself “Truth Seeker” or “TJTruthSeeker.” (His first comment was left at 11:02PM on December 11, 2011.) You will see how much I try to explain over the course of those comments. Come to find out, the name was a false one being used by one of these conspiracy fellows to hide his identity–something you will notice in the comments that I suspected at the time. That experience, as well as the countless e-mails I shared back and forth before that time with him and his family, taught me something. Well, “taught” is a strong word… Rather, it reinforced something I already knew, though I had foolishly ignored it at the time. It was that if someone will not be honest with you and if they will not listen to your answers, then there is no more point in continuing the discussion. Actually, what I said in that post’s comments was this, specifically:

“…I won’t waste time answering questions for people who won’t listen. I don’t mind answering questions of those who are sincerely asking, but many are not sincerely asking because when you give them answers, documents, etc. that prove them wrong—factually, biblically, or both—they just keep on going.

“I bring this up because it is entirely possible that it is relevant here. If someone proves that they are so self-deceived that they are truly not listening to anything I say, then why should I waste God’s time and the time of God’s people on answering his questions? Frankly, it’s virtually sinful to do so.”

Sadly, I have seen this on many topics, and this 501(c)(3) conspiracy goofiness is probably the least of them. (Arg! Typed it again!)

But Christ gave his admonition in Matt. 7:6 about being wary of those who will “turn and rend you” after you try to help them. When someone has been dishonest with you, publicly accused you repeatedly of grievous wrong, ignored all the evidence you researched to try and help them, ignored all the answers you’ve already provided as if you had said nothing, and ultimately demonstrated that they are so self-deceived that they can see none of this for themselves, what is left for you to do? Like I said in the previous post: shake the dust off of your feet in the manner of Matt. 10:14-15 and let them say what they will.

And, finally, one tiny word: Who cares? (Actually, that’s two words.) Why worry about all these regulations, anyway? Because we want to do things well–decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Some will say it is not necessary to file all of this corporate stuff and worry about such regulations. That may be. Unlike most conspiracy folks in this area, I actually do not pretend to be a corporate law expert, in spite of the work I have done to understand all of this. But what I do know is that God expects us to handle the money that will inevitably come into our hands (just as it did for the first century church; e.g., Acts 4:35) not only in a decent and orderly manner, but also in a manner that is above reproach, going the extra mile (Matt. 5:41) and avoiding even the appearance of wrong-doing as far as we are able (1 Thess. 5:22 KJV). That is part of why we publish our financial statements, even though we do not have to do so. And that is part of why it makes sense to use the standard, accepted means of declaring our work to be not-for-profit, whether we Constitutionally “have” to do so, or not. (Actually, I am reminded if Timothy’s voluntary-though-not-required circumcision for the sake of the Work. That’s going the extra mile!) If it interfered with the Work of God, we would not do it. And if things change to interfere with it in the future, we will change as well, as we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). The burden of proof is on those who claim that such restrictions are ungodly, make you government slaves, are incompatible with the Work of God, etc. However, there can be no doubt: If it applies to us, it applied just as equally to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.

So, let this be the conclusion of the matter–the final repository of my digging on 501(c)(3) items (OK, typed it one last time!), and my final answer, Regis! If this post is not enough to help someone see that we and Mr. Armstrong are in the same boat when it comes to non-profit regulations, then there is clearly no more I can do.

7 thoughts on “Follow up to “501(c)(3) and Herbert W. Armstrong”

  1. I would not have thought that this subject would be of general interest, except that it hits at the intersection of paranoia concerning government behavior as well as the generally consistent behavior of “corporate” churches (which you and I both attend) in seeking 501(c)(3) status and willingly accepting the limitations that involves.

  2. Texasborn

    Mr. Smith, I enjoyed very much your light-hearted humor with which you presented your topic of the 501(c)(3) material! If any of the 501(c)(3) dissenters reads this blog post, I would hope it would be with a kind smile on his/her face, instead of perhaps a scowl. I do not know how much importance they put upon supposed restrictions on speaking out against “public policy”–which is really what the restrictions are concerned about–but it should be noted, as you showed above in Mr. Armstrong’s clause #13, that the amount of “speaking out” will/must not be a “substantial part” of the corporation’s activities.

    The dissenters may not realize it, but, according to what I have found out about that aspect (not sure if I got the information from the IRS or some other authorized source–it has been so many years ago since I was informed of it), that the resources of time and money may be expended by a 501(c)(3) church (in what the dissenters probably call “speaking out”) of a percentage not to exceed five per cent! Churches are not completely prohibited from speaking out against homosexuality, et al, but are completely prohibited in doing what Mr. Armstrong detailed in clause# 13 that which is not authorized by federal and state law. I may be wrong in my statements here, since policies of the Federal government change over the course of time. Please correct me if I am incorrect, due to said changes over the last 20 years.

    You pretty much put closure on this subject, I believe! Well done, sir!

  3. Joan Griffith

    I’m thinking I have questions I’m afraid to ask, but not because I don’t want answers… more like What’s the use. So commentary like this is welcome, even tho it’s not my question/problem. On the East Coast, we have Delaware corporations created to avoid taxation, so this is not unfamiliar to me.

  4. Thanks, Texasborn. I’ve read the “public policy” statement in descriptions before, and I think too much is read into it. There are no prohibitions on speaking out against the sinfulness of homosexuality (at least not yet). In fact, there are non-profit organizations that are entirely, 100% devoted to positions that would be against “public policy” defined in that way. (In fact, someone told me that a church recently did a full 30-minute program on abortion withhout trouble.) The actual restrictions are just much narrower, as Mr. Armstrong’s and the other examples show. Otherwise, those “100% devoted” organizations would not even be able to exist. It isn’t a lack of enforcement; it’s a matter of what the regulation actually says in its details as opposed to the non-binding and more colloquial descriptions. It is like describing math to the non-mathematician: the math, like the actual regulation, is very specific; but in describing it out of the mathematical context, words are used that generally help but that also risk miscommunicating a bit. When I checked into it, the “public policy” thing was one of those. We are absolutely not restricted against preaching on that to whatever extent we may need to; though, again, that may change. If such restrictions were to come into place, we would simply do what we have to in order to keep preaching the truth! [By the way, I wouldn’t call the folks who are so confused on 501(c)(3) “dissenters.” They are just confused Christians who are not a part of any organized Church of God (ironically, also against what Mr. Armstrong taught).]

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. Back when I was at Ambassador, GTA was invited to speak on a news talk show. After giving a brief introduction on the state of the world and the world events impacting millions around the globe, the show opened its phone lines for the radio audience to ask questions. The next 45 minutes were so filled with esoteric inquiries about obscure topics of triviality that GTA came back to Pasadena and wrote and recorded a heavy rock tune entitled “Is it in the Bible?”

    I don’t remember all the lyrics but the chorus repeated “Did Adam have a navel? Were the walls of Jericho unstable?”

    The church will be doing its mission in “all nations” even those which do not have laws concerning charitable organizations. Donors to the church do not have to claim their charitable donations on their tax returns. Do those inquiring about 501 c3 realize the charitable church distributes donations to assist the needy widows and orphans?

    But what if the tree falls to the East or West? Eccl 11:3 only specifically mentions the North and South!!!

  6. Texasborn

    Mr. Smith, I apologize for my late reply to your reply on my comment; I just a few moments saw the reply notice in my Inbox. I was using the definition of “dissenter” as it is used in the Webster’s Dictionary (print edition): “a nonconformist.” Generically speaking–according to that source–a “dissent” is “a difference of opinion; a religious nonconformity.” So, I “call them as I see them”–though you may “call” them differently. That’s what I get for being a “lexicographical purist”! (:-D)

    Also, I am still searching for the document I printed from the governmental web site that defined “public policy” at that time. As I stated earlier, that definition may have changed in the meantime, and restrictions being completely relaxed against speaking out against homosexuality–as you cite in your reply.

  7. Howdy, again, Mr. Moore, and no problem! I was not necessarily expecting a reply. Concerning “dissenter” I was not objecting to the meaning of the word, only to the implications of its application in context. In this case, COG history has tended to use “dissenter” in the context of someone who is nominally a part of the fellowship but who protests some specific aspect of it. Yet, other than possibly being a part of the broader, spiritual church, these fellows have not been a part of our fellowship. Word meaning is, as ever, the servant of understanding. 🙂

    As for the “public policy” matter, I have seen an IRS publication mentioning it, though a number of years ago, and from what I read it has always been overblown by those who inordinately fear government conspiracy. It comes across to me as a much more sensible “you don’t have the freedom to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded room if it isn’t burning” sort of sense than the “You can never contradict the government” sort of sense that conspiracists claim. On the latter, even common sense would agree, but on the former there is simply no evidence at all. In fact, our own many articles and commentaries expressing disagreement with many items of that sort of “public policy” (pro-homosexual policy, pro-abortion policy, pro-voting policy, et al.) would be strong evidence against such an conspiracy-oriented interpretation.

    Maybe I should do a post following up with some examples. Something for me to think about! 🙂

    Thanks for following up.

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