Stanley Robert Rader, the long-time confidant of the late Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God, has died. He was 71.
Rader, who successfully battled California during a church finance scandal and then won passage of legislation blocking fiscal investigations of any religious group by the state, died Tuesday in Pasadena, two weeks after he was diagnosed with acute pancreatic cancer.
For years, Rader often was at the center of tumultuous events in the church's history.
In 1979, California Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian opened an investigation into allegations that Armstrong and Rader had "pilfered" millions of dollars a year from church coffers. The church was placed into a temporary receivership by the court. Earlier, Rader was embroiled in another controversy that ended with Armstrong ousting his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, from the church after allegations of gambling and adultery.
In both instances, Rader came out on top. The attorney general's investigation was dropped after Rader, who was joined by other religious groups, succeeded in winning passage of a bill by the California Legislature that removed the state attorney general's power to investigate religious organizations over allegations of misuse of funds or other fraud. And, after the highly publicized father-son dispute, Rader moved into the son's office.
"Mr. Armstrong has said publicly very often that I am a son in whom he is well pleased," Rader told a reporter at the time. "The only other one he ever said that about was Ted Armstrong."
Rader, who grew up as a secular Jew, met Armstrong in 1956 when he came to California from White Plains, N.Y., as a young attorney. He said in a 1978 interview that he had become close to Armstrong by the mid-1960s but didn't become a church member for another 20 years.
"Mr. Armstrong asked me to give up all my commitments and devote my talent, energy and time to him," Rader said. "In 1969 I said yes." Rader left private practice to work full-time for Armstrong.
Rader reportedly was instrumental in persuading Armstrong to open the auditorium at Ambassador College in Pasadena to the public for what became a critically acclaimed concert series. The series was abandoned in the 1990s and the entire campus, including the ornate and luxuriously furnished Ambassador Auditorium, is in the process of being sold.
Rader once proclaimed in court that Armstrong was "God's apostle, Christ's representative here on Earth."
In those days, the church rejected the Christian belief in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and refused to observe Easter and Christmas but kept Jewish feast days. It also imposed unbending requirements on its members to strictly give not only a 10th or tithe of their income to the church, but more.
Since then, the church has become mainstream evangelical Protestant in its faith and worship. The church now reports 60,000 members worldwide, half of them in the United States.
The church jettisoned virtually all of its controversial teachings in the early 1990s after Armstrong's death in 1986, but Rader remained a member even as thousands of disaffected members and ministers left. The church said many of Armstrong's views were heretical.
Rader stepped down as general counsel and treasurer in 1981 and was paid a $250,000 bonus, the church said at the time. He continued to receive payments from the church's "discretionary retirement program," Bernard Schnippert, director of finance and planning, said Wednesday.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Rader was a formidable and controversial presence at Armstrong's side, a self-described lightning rod when the church came under fire. He appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" during the investigation by Deukmejian. The probe was prompted by a lawsuit filed by disaffected church members who charged that Armstrong and Rader were living an extravagant lifestyle and had sold church property below market value for private profit. The church had a reported tax-free income of $70 million a year. In those days, it boasted media and financial power larger than the Billy Graham and Oral Roberts organizations combined.
During court proceedings, Rader said he owned homes in Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Tucson, all initially financed by the church. He sold the Beverly Hills home at a tidy profit and told reporters during a break in proceedings, "Buy low, sell high. I don't take 'stupid pills,' you know."
He also wrote a book about the scandal, "A Church Under Fire," which was a brief for the defense. In it, he attributed the state's temporary takeover to a conspiracy involving avaricious church "dissidents" and slippery state officials eager for an excuse to clamp government controls on church affairs, a book review said at the time.
A news release this week announcing Rader's death quoted the Rev. Dan M. Kelley of the National Council of Churches as praising the book as "the seminal work on church/state relations in the 20th century." The issue, Rader argued, was religious freedom.
Rader is survived by his wife, Niki, sister Joan Klein, daughters Janis and Carol, son Stephen and five grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.