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UCG's crisis is the latest
in a long line of ups and downs

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UCG's crisis is the latest in a long line of ups
and downs since the church's founding in 1995

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--The United Church of God an International Association is in the news again. It's having to deal with unrest in its congregations ultimately traceable to differences in philosophy of church governance

It's the same old, old story among conservative Christians everywhere: Who's in charge?

The situation in the UCG has especially erupted in Latin America, with the church's council of elders firing its Spanish-language and Latin American director. The Latin American brethren, in turn, have reacted with ardent support for the director.

But, first, here's some background to ease into the story.

President removed

When the council of elders of the United Church of God an International Association (UCGIA, or simply UCG) removed the church's president, Clyde Kilough of Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 9, 2010, that decision marked the fourth time in its 15-year history that the organization had dismissed its chief administrator.

Removing someone from an administrative office is not as drastic an action as removing someone from the council of elders. The president--unlike council members and unlike the chairman of the council--is a church official who is appointed and can be removed and/or reassigned at any time by the 12 councillors.

The UCG, founded at a conference in Indianapolis, Ind., in April and May of 1995, has three governing entities:

  • The 12-man council of elders, directly elected by the church's elders.

  • The general conference, made up of virtually every credentialed elder, whether on the payroll or not.

  • The administration team, comprised of the president, director of ministers, treasurer, and media director.

Difficult transition

In an E-mail The Journal received from Bruce Porteous of Manila, Philippines, Mr. Porteous commented on the church's current series of crises, which mainly involve issues of governance.

Mr. Porteous previously attended with the UCG-NZ in New Zealand and served as that UCG branch's board secretary. He attends with the Church of God International in Manila.

"One of the difficulties UCG has faced from its inception," Mr. Porteous wrote, "has come about as a result of putting together a democratic government structure made up of a ministry who were only familiar with a hierarchical form of government.

"The transition [from hierarchy to a representative form of government] has been much more difficult for the ministry previously only familiar with a top-down form of government."

The council's recent removal of Mr. Kilough as president (Mr. Kilough is still a church employee, a church pastor) was accompanied by a series of noteworthy events.

  • When council members directed Mr. Kilough to resign, they also requested the resignation of Jim Franks as director of ministerial services.

  • On May 2, 2010, the 300-some elders of the general conference voted two incumbents (Roy Holladay of Cincinnati and Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, Ind.) off the council.

  • On June 24 the 12-man council of elders selected Dennis Luker as the church's new president.

  • President Luker, following through on interim president Roy Holladay's earlier decision, removed Leon Walker from his duties as director of the Spanish-language and Latin American operations of the church, a role he had played for the 15 years of the UCG's existence.

    (Mr. Walker had served in the same capacity in the Worldwide Church of God for 16 years.)

Mr. Kilough and Mr. Franks removed

A May 2010 article in the UCG's member newspaper United News headlined "Council Sets Selection Process for President" reported the removal from administrative duties of Mr. Kilough and Mr. Franks.

"On April 9, the Council of Elders asked Clyde Kilough to tender his resignation," stated the unbylined article. "Following his resignation, Roy Holladay asked Jim Franks, operation manager of Ministerial Services, for his resignation."

Operation manager for media and communications Larry Salyer resigned later that day. The article did not say the council asked Mr. Salyer to resign.

"During a teleconference on April 14," the article continued, "the Council approved Victor Kubik as interim Ministerial Services manager and Peter Eddington as interim Media and Communication Services operation manager."

Agenda-item withdrawal

Mr. Holladay, who served as council chairman and interim church president until the council's recent selection of a successor to Mr. Kilough, wrote a letter to the church's elders.

In it he spoke of the withdrawal of an administration-sponsored agenda item (a measure for the elders of the conference to vote on) that was sent to the church's elders without the prior knowledge of the council and the legal department.

Mr. Holladay informed the elders that they had improperly received the item from Mr. Kilough and/or other members of the administration team while Mr. Kilough was president.

The letter stated that the item had not passed through proper channels and had not been vetted by the church's legal department.

The council, Mr. Holladay informed the elders, "has decided to remove the Resolution from the agenda."

No special committee

The resolution, if the elders had passed it, allegedly would have directed the setting up of a special committee that would sign off on measures before they went to the council for its approval.

Although there had been friction between the council and administrators Kilough and Franks, the attempt to set up the special committee was the decision that prompted the council to, in effect, remove both men from their administration duties.

Mr. Holladay explained in his letter that the church's lawyer "and at least eight of the 12 Council members had not seen the Resolution before it was distributed."

After reading the resolution and consulting with Mr. Darden and an outside law firm, the council determined that the resolution violated the church's bylaws.

Specifically, it went against bylaws "designed to protect the Church and its members against the danger of adoption of significant changes to the governing documents of the Church without careful review and input by all Church constituents as well as granting powers or assignments to others that are reserved, both by applicable law and our governing documents, to the Council of Elders."

Apparent backlash

Some UCG lay members said they wondered if the council's removal of the two men from their administrative posts irritated the majority of elders, thus leading to the elders' decision not to return two incumbents--Mr. Holladay and Mr. Kubik--to the council in the election of May 2, 2010.

Naming names, naming factions

Observers have long noted that the council, since the church's beginning in 1995, has consisted of elders who adhere to two contrasting views about how the church should operate.

Some have characterized the two factions on the council and in the general conference as the conservatives and the progressives.

Other names for the conservative faction are the old guard, the old-timers, the traditionalists.

Other names for the progressive faction are the moderates, the liberals.

In an attempt to use descriptions that elders will not find offensive, this article refers to the two factions as the conservatives and the progressives.

More about the breakdown of conservatives and progressives appears later in this article.

Some reasons

Here are some of the reasons some believe that the timing of the removal of Messrs. Kilough and Franks so close to the scheduled date of the 2010 general conference and to the annual election of some board members had an effect on the outcome:

  • Mr. Kilough and Mr. Franks (both conservatives) are popular with many full-time ministers.

  • Since Messrs. Kilough and Franks were active in the daily administration of the church, their opinions were more widely known.

  • They had the responsibility of selecting the speakers whose messages occasionally went out to congregations on DVDs. They assigned the speakers who would travel to Feast of Tabernacles sites around the world.

  • Even while various Web sites--many of them owned and operated by UCG lay members--were posting information and opinions in support of the dismissed administrators, the council chose not to publicly explain in detail the reasons for the dismissals. Its decision not to explain was apparently in line with its goal of maintaining peace in the church.

  • After the election some have alleged that some elders voted as a bloc against the two incumbents.

Situation background

Dennis Luker, the new full-time president who succeeded interim president Holladay, wrote a 15-page letter, approved by the council majority, titled "Background to the Situation With Leon Walker and Latin America." It was dated July 1, 2010.

The letter cited what it presented as "evidence" that Mr. Walker sought to influence the votes of Latin American elders in Chile and other countries. Mr. Walker's correspondence, according to the letter, included an implied recommendation to vote against three incumbents: Bob Berendt, Roy Holladay and Victor Kubik. Only Mr. Berendt was reelected.

The president and council majority apparently believe Mr. Walker's alleged recommendations helped Mike Blackwell and David Treybig gain council seats in place of the two incumbents.

Progressive Mario Seiglie was also elected at that time.

Over the several months that preceded the election in May, other letters appeared as Internet postings circulated by UCG elders criticizing the progressive majority on the council, including criticisms of the two incumbents who failed to be reelected.

Differences of opinion have always existed among Church of God elders, but thanks to the Internet the opinions and frustrations are seen by many people, including the lay members.

'Spirit of rebellion' letter

On June 24, 2010, the council selected Mr. Luker to be president. The council also considered three other candidates: Gary Antion, Bill Bradford and Roy Holladay.

On Mr. Luker's first day as president (July 1), he sent out a letter describing some of the conditions he says the UCG faces. His letter is notable, among other reasons, for its tenor, which seems inconsistent with the unflappably friendly reputation and history of Mr. Luker.

In the letter he characterizes the elders in Latin America as rebels, and he maintains that Jesus, from heaven, is "directly" leading the United Church of God an International Association.

"You've probably already read or heard that the Council of Elders recently directly intervened in Latin America and ordered the removal of Leon Walker as the regional coordinator for that area," Mr. Luker wrote.

"Mr. Walker has served for many years as a teacher and an administrator, and both out of respect for that prior service and for the hope that he might see the scope of the terrible spiritual errors that were being committed, we deliberately refrained from providing details earlier. Given recent actions, we must now disclose the full scope of this emerging tragedy."

Sad duty

President Luker said it was his "sad duty" to inform the brethren "that Mr. Walker and most ministers in Latin America are now openly attempting to divide our members in the region, and have to a certain degree attempted to enlist the support of members and ministers in the United States.

"Together with the Council of Elders, we in this administration are moving swiftly to protect our members and our Church, and we will do so with the full authority and power available to us.

"To those few who falsely think that the United Church of God is not being directly led in full authority by Jesus Christ, I must warn those who embrace a spirit of rebellion that appropriate action will be taken."

He continued: "Brethren, let me be clear: This type of deceived governance led by a well-respected man represents the very reason that hundreds of ministers collectively chose some 15 years ago to embrace and refine the administrative structure that we now have.

"We have seen the destructive outcomes that 'one man rule' in a Church of God organization can wreak, and this current experience in Latin America underscores the reason we changed our model of governance years ago to include safeguards from this happening again."

False rumors

The 15-page letter from the president and council majority mentioned earlier in this article (not to be confused with Mr. Luker's letter quoted immediately above) attempted to answer some of the questions that might come up about the thinking of the council majority in its decision to remove Mr. Walker from his oversight duties in Latin America.

"For reasons that will be explained later," the letter stated, "we have said little to date about this. However, since so many false rumors and allegations have been spread accusing the leadership of the United Church of God, an International Association ('Church' or 'UCGIA')[,] of unethical and unjust actions, we are compelled to set the record straight to protect the Church from those who are spreading defamation and causing confusion and division."

The council terminated Mr. Walker from his job as Spanish-language and Latin American director when he declined to return from church headquarters after the council directed him to do so.

"On June 20, Mr. Walker was directed to discontinue his trip and return to the home office," but he chose not to obey that order.

The next day he explained that he refused to travel to the home office to participate in the meetings because his trip was already in progress.

When he refused to fly immediately back to church headquarters in Ohio, he was "relieved of his duties," stated the letter.

Supporting Mr. Walker and Mr. McCullough

The recent events in Chile, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America have prompted widespread reaction from Mr. Walker's supporters. Much of it has prompted posts on blogs and other Web sites anonymously or attributed to names that are obvious pseudonyms.

No one can ever claim that Lauro "Larry" Roybal, an elder from Mexico City, lacks the courage of his convictions. His letters have shown some of the most enthusiastic support for Mr. Walker.

While The Journal has chosen not to quote some of the stronger, even inflammatory, statements from Mr. Roybal about some UCG leaders, quoted below is an example of his strong support for Mr. Walker and Mr. McCullough.

Mr. Roybal noted he had attended the annual general conference of elders in Cincinnati. He said the year was 2006, but, based on the events he described, it must have been 2001.

"The Latins were so very happy," he recently wrote, "as was all the Church. Then we were told that [Mr. McCullough] was to be replaced. I stood up and asked Roy Holladay why?!!! Why replace him? We thought that he was going to be president for life or until he could no longer perform his duty."

Mr. Roybal, in his letter, identifies several men who are apparently aligned philosophically with himself and Mr. Walker. He lists them (with some of the spellings corrected here) as "Joel [Meeker], Dave [possibly a reference to Dave Register], [Clyde] Kilough, [Jim] Franks, [Leon] Walker, [Tom] Kirkpatrick, [Doug] Horchak, [Dave] Johnson, [Dave] Buchanan, [Richard] Pinelli, [Les] McCullough, and all the Latins . . ."

Persistent theme

The history of the United Church of God reveals the behind-the-scenes friction between the two factions within the organization since its inception in 1995.

As Mr. Porteous noted in his E-mail quoted near the beginning of this article, tension has existed from day one between the two main views of governance within the church.

"Partly because of the ministry's background," Mr. Porteous said, "the ministry has always claimed they did not want UCG to be a political organization, with decisions influenced by party-factions and politicizing.

"Yet . . . the very structure of UCG has ensured [that] it became a political organization.

"When you have elections to select the leadership of the church, politics is involved.

"Denying this is not accepting the reality."

Independent COG newspapers

When one rereads some of the historical accounts found in two independent Church of God newspapers, In Transition and The Journal, throughout the years, one can observe the colliding dynamics at work.

An article in In Transition dated May 5, 1995, by John Robinson headlined "150 Elders Convene in Indianapolis, Organize the United Church of God" reported on the original council of elders.

"The assembled elders," Mr. Robinson wrote, "all of them fresh out of the Worldwide Church of God, named nine of their own to the interim board: Bob Dick, Jim Franks, Roy Holladay, Doug Horchak, David Hulme, Victor Kubik, Mr. Luker, Burk McNair and Ray Wooten."

The board soon selected one of its own as the first chairman: Mr. Hulme (see "UCG Board Refines Plans," a July 21, 1995, In Transition article by Dixon Cartwright). Mr. Hulme would remain interim president until the next general conference, which occurred in December 1995.

Second UCG conference

Following is information from In Transition that ran in the Dec. 18, 1995, issue under the headline "800 Elders, Wives Convene for UCG Conference":

Eight of the nine interim-board members were elected to the new council of elders. Ray Wooten, a guiding force at the organizational conference six months earlier, was not reelected.

Four new board members were now sitting on the council: Gary Antion, Peter Nathan, Leon Walker and Donald Ward. The council named Mr. Dick as its chairman and Mr. Hulme as church president.

The location of the new church's new headquarters, or, as church leaders preferred to call it, the home office, was Arcadia, Calif.

The move to move to Ohio

Here is a report from the second issue of The Journal, dated March 26, 1997, headlined "UCG Elders Vote to Move to Cincinnati":

"The dramatic moment of the conference was the vote on the office-relocation proposal. After earnest pleas by elders on both sides of the issue, elders voted to move the office [from Arcadia] to Cincinnati.

"The Ohio city won by 20 votes, although the results on all 10 ballot items weren't generally known until two days after the conference.

"The vote tallies were delayed because of the process involved in counting votes from elders present and those who stayed at home and cast their ballots via telephone lines and fax machines."

Mr. McCullough replaces Mr. Hulme

During Mr. Hulme's term of office, a behind-the-scenes disagreement strained the relationship between the council of elders and the president. After a protracted struggle, The Journal ran as its lead an article in its issue dated Jan. 30, 1998, headlined "Why Would Council of Elders of United Remove David Hulme From Presidency?"

The article, by Dixon Cartwright, based on an interview with an anonymous UCG official, listed 16 reasons for Mr. Hulme's removal. (Not long after the council removed Mr. Hulme as president, he and friends left the UCG and started another church.)

The Journal reported in its March 30, 1998, issue that the UCG's general conference of elders met in Louisville, Ky.

The headline was "United Conference Meets for Fourth Time; Council of Elders Chooses New President."

President Les McCullough announced, reported the article, "that he was willing to serve as president for three years. Then, he said, he would ask the council to either reappoint him or select someone else."

(The church's bylaws allowed for the president to serve indefinitely until he resigned or was removed by a two-thirds majority--eight votes--of the council.)

Throw out the council

Since people were upset with the change of administration from Mr. Hulme to Mr. McCullough, some tough questions arose in the question-and-answer session during the 1998 conference.

The Journal reported: "The next question concerned a resolution, from European elders, demanding the recall (the resignation en masse) of the 12 council members.

"The council had withdrawn this resolution ahead of time, not allowing it to be voted on, said the questioner [during the Q&A]. How should this kind of situation be handled in the future?

"Jim Franks answered that the format of the resolution 'was problematic' for technical reasons. 'My opinion,' he said, 'is that to remove all 12 en masse is problematic. It is provided in the bylaws, but there is no methodology spelled out.'"

Just as disgruntled people in 1998 asked for the resignation of the entire board in one fell swoop, some UCG elders and other members in 2010 are asking for the resignation of the entire board.

Some observers say they are disappointed when UCG ministers over the years have stressed the importance of following the leaders and then change their mind when their preferred leader is not in charge.

Another Journal article in the March 30, 1998, issue, this one headlined "Several UCG Personnel Leave Posts," mentioned that Mr. Hulme and Peter Nathan resigned from the council and Steve Andrews resigned as church treasurer.

Mr. McCullough given an extra year

Three years later, in the March 2001 issue, Journal publisher Cartwright reported that President McCullough and the council agreed he would serve one more year as president.

The article stated: "Since three years have passed since Mr. McCullough became president, a discussion of whether he would be confirmed to continue as president was one of several listed on the council's original agenda for the scheduled three hours of executive [private] session on Friday, March 16."

Mr. McCullough did not receive the seven votes needed for a three-year reconfirmation.

The article noted that the council passed a resolution "confirming Mr. McCullough as president for another year."

At the time, some observers said the council did not want to reconfirm Mr. McCullough at all but settled on a compromise by agreeing for him to serve for one more year.

The men who were on the council when this decision was made were Mr. Antion, Aaron Dean, Mr. Dick, Mr. Holladay, John Jewell, Mr. Kubik, Mr. McCullough, Burk McNair, Mario Seiglie, Richard Thompson, Leon Walker and Don Ward.

The Journal speculates that the following five people (and maybe one other) voted for Mr. McCullough in the hope that he would serve for three more years: Bob Dick, Mr. McCullough, Burk McNair, Richard Thompson and Mr. Walker.

The Journal bases its speculation on the information that follows in this article.

Willing to serve longer

As reported in another article in the same issue of The Journal, elder Joel Meeker asked Mr. McCullough during a conference Q&A if he wanted to serve only one more year.

"I have to honestly say, no, my preference would have been to serve another two or three years," Mr. McCullough answered. "The council made a decision. It may not be what I would like, or it may not be what I would want, but it is their decision to make . . ."

Mr. McCullough also commented that the council has "the prerogative to ask me to serve longer if they choose in the future."

Mr. Holladay chosen

The Journal, in its Feb. 28, 2002, issue reported that the UCG had picked a new president.

"The council of elders of the United Church of God an International Association (UCG) selected Roy Holladay, chairman of the council, as the new president of the church on Feb. 28 during council meetings at church headquarters in Milford, Ohio" (Milford is a suburb of Cincinnati).

The article noted the contrast between the events surrounding the removal of Mr. Hulme in 1998 and the corresponding events involving Mr. McCullough in 2002:

"A major difference in the conclusion of the presidencies of Mr. Hulme and Mr. McCullough was that the council terminated Mr. Hulme spontaneously at a board meeting whereas Mr. McCullough's transition was part of a systematic process that by May 7 will have taken 14 months."

Attempt to reverse

The article described an attempt by council members to reverse the council's decision made in March 2001 to end Mr. McCullough's term as president. It reported on a proposed amendment that revealed strategies to keep Mr. McCullough as chief executive.

It said: "Later in the fall of 2001, some members of the council proposed an amendment to the bylaws related to the council's decision not to reconfirm Mr. McCullough in March 2001.

"This amendment may reveal the identities of some of the men who wanted to reconfirm Mr. McCullough in March 2001.

"Three council members (Bob Dick, Richard Thompson and Leon Walker) and a man who is now no longer a council member (Burk McNair of Victoria, Texas) submitted the amendment that addresses the issue about whether a president should be reconfirmed and how many council votes it takes to remove a president.

"When Mr. Hulme was president, the bylaw stated that a president could not be removed except by two thirds of the council.

"After a minority of council members kept Mr. Hulme in office while the majority wanted to remove him, the council submitted an amendment in the fall of 1999 to change the situation. The obvious purpose of the bylaw was to support the desire of the majority of the council. The GCE passed the amendment at its annual meeting in May 2000 . . .

"It is this bylaw that authorized the council to consider reaffirming Mr. McCullough in March 2001. However, the majority of the council did not want to reconfirm him.

"When Messrs. Dick, Thompson and Walker participated in the submission of the amendment to return the bylaw to the wording that was in effect while Mr. Hulme was president, they revealed a possible preference for keeping Mr. McCullough in office, even though the majority of the council voted not to reaffirm him."

Declined a second time

Later in the article: "Some observers say they believe Mr. McCullough was one of the two finalists in the Feb. 28 voting. If enough council members continued to vote for Mr. McCullough in the early rounds, he would remain in the running until the number of candidates narrowed to two.

"The overriding question was which of the other four candidates would also be a finalist. It turned out to be Mr. Holladay.

"If Mr. McCullough did make it as one of the final two candidates, the council faced the same situation it had encountered in its March 2001 meeting when council members chose not to reconfirm him . . .

"Just as it had demonstrated in March 2001, a majority of the council of elders reiterated their decision to remove Mr. McCullough as president."


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