By Gaye Bunderson
Doug Armstrong served for the first time as the Senate chaplain during this year’s Idaho legislative session. “I was a complete rookie,” he said. But, so far at least, no one has accused him of making any rookie mistakes.
He got together with long-time House of Representatives chaplain, Tom Dougherty, and got some words of advice from him. Some of the most welcome information he got was from Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, who first asked him to serve as chaplain, but was told no. What eventually drew Armstrong into the chaplaincy was finding out from Winder that the chaplain is not allowed to take sides or be partisan. Armstrong was used to practicing non-partisanship. He’d worked in television news for 34 years and was motivated by objectivity to remain free from political bias.
Though Armstrong, 63, is well-known in the valley for his work as KTVB’s president and general manager for 22 years and as a frequent speaker at faith-based events, everyone has a beginning that few frequently know little about.
Armstrong was born and raised in Lewiston. “Growing up,” he said, “my mom was a believer and wanted us to go to Sunday school. My dad’s example was not Christian, but he was an amazing man. I thought my father’s world was more interesting.”
His father, Arvid, had a 12th grade education and his grandfather had only an 8th grade education. But both men possessed character traits that Armstrong admired. “They were hard-working, and they’d do anything for anybody. They were two of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” he said.
Ideas about manhood were planted in Armstrong by the way his father cared for his family and other people, but he was left without an image of what a completely committed Christian man might be like. After high school, he attended Whitworth University in Spokane and said of the experience: “Even though it was basically a faith-based institution, that mattered nothing to me.”
In 1977, during his freshman year in college, the No. 1 book in the country was Looking Out for No. 1 by Robert Ringer. Its lessons included the idea that self-sacrifice is foolishness and that a person should work toward attaining sole dominion over his or her own life. The subtitle of the book was “How to Get from Where You Are Now to Where You Want to be in Life,” espousing the notion that getting ‘where you want to be’ will lead to the highest fulfillment. Armstrong accepted that book as his how-to manual for a satisfying life. “That became my navigation app to happiness,” he said.
His primary goal post-college was to build a successful business career. “It all merged into wanting to run a company,” he said. In 1985, armed with a degree in business from Whitworth, Armstrong became a controller and business manager in Boise for King Broadcasting Co., which owned 4 television stations at the time. He was in his late 20s, and around the same time, he met a woman named Amber. The couple got engaged. In 1988, Armstrong was offered a job with KHNL, a Honolulu television station. He and Amber got married and, as Armstrong puts it, “We ended up going to Honolulu for a honeymoon, and stayed.”
In 1989, Armstrong was named president and general manager of KHNL, a job he held for eight years. He was in his early 30s and was living out his life goals, the ones he’d decided on after reading Robert Ringer’s book: master of his own universe, propelling himself to success, standing on the highest rungs of everything that mattered to him. Except that it didn’t.
“The clock started ticking on my discontent,” he said. “I thought I was going to be content, but I wasn’t. Happiness, peace, and satisfaction didn’t arrive. I was still the same discontented person.” He’d gotten the fulfillment of his dreams, and in a Hawaiian paradise no less, but none of it felt the way he’d expected.
“I’m a reader and researcher,” he said, “so I started studying comparative religion.”
Later, during his morning commute, he went through the radio channels and landed on KLHT – sort of like Boise’s 94.1 The Voice – and he would listen to it during his 45-minute drive to work. He listened to such Christian teachers as Chuck Smith, Mike McIntosh, and Greg Laurie. Laurie was a particular favorite of Armstrong’s.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, his wife was also on the search for more meaning in life.
“Amber and I were on the same path,” Armstrong said, going on to highlight his wife’s best qualities.
“She’s dedicated, determined, dependable, a great team partner. She’s a hard worker, independent, self-sufficient.”
His and Amber’s path toward a life of faith was “a slow, incremental, two-year journey, and I began to realize that my navigation app might be leading me in the wrong direction. My job was fun but not fulfilling.”
He and Amber had also started to think about having children. In doing so, they discussed what they saw as “the big three questions of life” that many children are likely to ask in one form or another. Those include: where do I come from; why am I here; and what happens when I die?
“We realized we hadn’t answered those questions for ourselves. We wanted to give an innocent child an informed answer to those questions.” It was uncomfortable to think he might not have all the answers.
His and Amber’s search for meaning and answers intensified. They searched the Yellow Pages in the phone book and selected a church: East Oahu Christian Church, now Island Family Christian Church. They made what Armstrong refers to as “a cold call” one Sunday. The pastor of the church, Ron Hunt, had suffered a neck injury while body surfing and had to wear a large neck brace and medical paraphernalia around his head. In order to read the Bible, he had to extend his arms and hold the Bible up high, which he did while in front of the congregation.
“We found that interesting, like watching a sideshow,” said Armstrong. They kept attending, and before long, Armstrong got to know Hunt quite well, and they golfed together. At one point, the pastor told Armstrong that Greg Laurie was going to hold a Harvest Crusade in Hawaii. “You should go,” he said.
Armstrong’s initial response was no. He was still trying to fly under the radar with this newfound Christian thing. “I said no because I didn’t want anyone I knew to see me. I wanted to pride myself on being okay … but I wasn’t okay.”
Hunt was persistent, and Armstrong and his wife showed up at the crusade. They listened to Laurie speak, and Armstrong – who was 33 at the time – said he felt that it was the Holy Spirit speaking to him as well, not just the evangelist.
“I came to terms with ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. I found out I’m not my own creator,” Armstrong said. “The Scripture verse that most spoke to me at that time was John 3:30: He must increase, but I must decrease. I knew right then that God had put me on a two-year collision course with myself.”
He now gave sole dominion of his life to Christ. Pastor Hunt baptized him in Hawaii.
He made the commitment in 1991; in August of 1992, his first daughter, Lauren, was born. In 1994, his son Jay was born. Lauren was 4 and Jay was 2 when the position opened up in Boise for a new president and general manager at KTVB, the job Armstrong held until 2018, when he retired.
In 1998, the couple had a third child, Taylor, now 23. Lauren, 29, lives in Tacoma; Jay, 27, lives in Meridian; and Taylor lives in New York City. “It’s been a joy and privilege to be their father, and I have learned so much about life, being a father. We love our children unconditionally, deeply, and equally, and that’s what we don’t compromise on,” Armstrong said of himself and Amber.
After going through several profound family-related heartbreaks in his last year or so before retirement, the details of which he prefers to keep private, he experienced a crisis of faith. He signed up to attend Moody Theological Seminary in part because he sought to allay some of his doubts through Bible study. He was asking God “why” a lot and came to the realization that with all he was going through, he “couldn’t fix any of it” even though as a boss he was supposed to fix everything – and he did, as much as he could. But during his time of crisis, he was helpless, at a loss, having no ability to fix even the smallest thing.
When he attended Moody at age 60, he said, “The why turned into what,” as he realized God was going to use him for His plans, and use some of his sufferings for His work. He was asked to make a three-minute speech during the Moody Theological Seminary Commencement Breakfast in Chicago on May 18, 2019. The first paragraph of the speech reads: “As the oldest student in my cohort, perhaps I viewed the idea of a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies differently than others. After all, I had no occupational aspirations. Instead, it was a series of life events that drove me to question my faith and test its foundation. I reasoned that if I was going to spend the remainder of my life ‘believing in something’ then it must be founded on historical truth and objective reality. I truly dislike delusion. So, for me, the two-year journey was more important than the destination.”
Armstrong likes to quote D.L. Moody when he explains how he saw his work at KTVB, as well as his chaplaincy with the Idaho Legislature. Moody used lighthouses to make a point about Christianity when he said: “A holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.”
“At KTVB, I never blew my horn, I just tried to shine,” Armstrong said. “Also, the community meant a lot to me.” For instance, he launched 7Cares Idaho Shares and other programs during his tenure at the station. “We set a path and charted a course to come alongside the families in the community. We sought to be radical and helpful to local businesses, organizations, and families. We asked nonprofits like the Boise Rescue Mission, ‘How can we come alongside you and supercharge your efforts by making it a multi-year effort?’ We measured our success by asking: Is the charity meeting its goals?”
7Cares Idaho Shares is still going strong and took in more donations last year than any previous year and also won a Celebration of Service to America Award from the National Association of Broadcasters for stepping up during the pandemic.
As for being the Senate chaplain, he did an about-face on politicians. “I was cynical about politicians until I met and got to know many of them. I thought all politicians were primarily motivated by self-interest and re-election. But now that I’ve gotten to know members of the legislature, my opinion has changed. These are good people, and I say that about both Democrats and Republicans. They care about Idaho.”
In early July, Armstrong published a book titled, “2021 Idaho Senate Prayers: Idaho’s Longest Session.” It includes the words he prayed over and with the legislators and their staff each day, as well as the brief introductions he wrote up for their edification. He quotes such notable people as Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa, giving encouragement and a bit of historical and/or current context.
Armstrong will be returning to the Idaho Senate next year to serve once again as its chaplain. As he has learned that politicians can be good people too, those who meet him may deduce from his behavior that the same can be said of believers like him. They don’t blow their horns. They just shine.
“What I Learned in Graduate School”
By Douglas Armstrong
Speech delivered at Moody Theological Seminary Commencement Breakfast, Chicago IL 5/18/2019
As the oldest student in my cohort, perhaps I viewed the idea of a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies differently than others. After all, I had no occupational aspirations. Instead, it was a series of life events that drove me to question my faith and test its foundation. I reasoned that if I was going to spend the remainder of my life ‘believing in something’ then it must be founded on historical truth and objective reality. I truly dislike delusion. So, for me, the 2-year journey was more important than the destination.
Graduate school helped me see why the Bible is the most unique and best-selling book in the history of the world. This year alone, over 100-million copies will be printed worldwide. The Bible is really more like a small library; made up of dozens of separate books, penned by 40 different writers, written over a period of 1,500 years, spanning 50 generations, originating from 3 continents, and in 3 different languages. Its authentic historicity is anchored by early manuscripts that number in the thousands. Moreover, it contains diverse literary genres including law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, songs, epistles, and prophecy. And yet, from this ‘stew’ of diversity, the Bible voices one single unified, seamless, and beautifully integrated “story of God” from beginning to end. How is this perfect unity possible? It’s akin to a large symphony orchestra with diverse musical instruments, yet the conductor blends diversity into harmony. I see why the Bible is more than ink-on-paper, and how it delivers divinely-inspired answers to questions like: Who is God? Why am I here? What is wrong with this world? How can things be made right?
To be clear, we do not worship the Bible. Rather, we exalt the person whom the Bible reveals: the Lord Jesus Christ. There are nearly 300 scriptural references to over 60 prophecies of a promised “Messiah” that were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The odds of one person fulfilling all these prophecies is beyond all mathematical possibility. Beyond this, the disciples of Jesus witnessed the first Easter, and this miraculous experience emboldened them to spread the good news. Even under the constant threat of prison and death, the disciples’ devotion to what they knew to be true literally changed the world.
Saint Augustine said this about the Bible, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” Charles Dickens said, “It is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.” President Theodore Roosevelt said, “No man, educated or uneducated, can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.” And, D.L. Moody, the namesake of this university said, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.”
My transformation is due to biblical beauty, goodness, and truth. After questioning my faith and testing its foundation, I was led back into the loving arms of Jesus Christ.