The Journal: News of the Churches of God at TheJournal.org

United Church of God elders
question council members

 
Encouraging Communication among the Churches of God
 

United Church of God elders
question council members

by Dixon Cartwright
 
The writer is publisher of The Journal.
This article contains opinions of the writer.

CINCINNATI, Ohio--It has been this writer's experience, while attending several elders' conferences of the United Church of God an International Association (UCG) over the years, that the Q&As are the most interesting part of the proceedings.

The special meeting of UCG elders here Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2011, was no exception.

In a relaxed setting with 300 elders and their wives in the audience, and the president and 10 current members of the council of elders up on the stage, pastors and local elders asked questions and said what was on their minds.

Topics included the recent major split during which many of the men's fellow elders left to form a new group, the Church of God a Worldwide Association (CGWA).

The Q&As touched on reconciliation, relationships, doctrine, statements of belief, God's preferred form of governance, the gospel, the Ezekiel warning, the watchman's message, the appropriate approach of UCG members to former members, servant leadership, Christ-centered servant leadership, godly leadership, service and leadership, and the WCG's Systematic Theology Project of 1978.

Excerpted highlights

The following is highlights of the two question-and-answer sessions. The first was on Monday, Jan. 31.

On stage were the current members of the council of elders: Aaron Dean of Cincinnati; Bill Eddington of Melbourne, Australia; Bob Berendt of Edmonton, Alta., Canada; Darris McNeely of Indianapolis, Ind.; Mario Seiglie of Anaheim, Calif.; Melvin Rhodes of Lansing, Mich. (council chairman); Roy Holladay of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Robin Webber of Sun City, Calif.; Scott Ashley of Arvada, Colo.; and Victor Kubik of Indianapolis.

Also on stage was Dennis Luker, UCG president.

The council normally has 12 members, but because of the recent split some of the erstwhile councillors are no longer with the UCG. The council is due to be back up to 12 members at the election at the next general conference of elders, set for May 2011.

Latin America

Making the first comment from the audience was Frank McCrady III, pastor of the Dayton and Cincinnati North congregations in Ohio.

Mr. McCrady said he frequently hears questions from church members about the situation in Latin America, which some observers believe lay at the center of much of the crisis leading up to the split.

He asked for "a little clarification" of the circumstances in Latin America. He said he had heard rumors that the UCG had "totally ignored Latin America," that the church's leadership had "written off" the whole region. He also heard that someone had said the UCG had "disfellowshipped" all its members in Latin America, "which I know is not true."

Fluid progress

Council member Roy Holladay replied that the situation in Latin America was fluid, or, as he put it, "progressive."

"Over a period of time,"he said, "we had gotten a number of E-mails from various areas of Latin America but especially Chile, where there were members appealing how they were being treated [by church leaders], how they were being suspended, how they were being dealt with. And we were being asked to intervene."

He said a group of 80 United members in Chile appealed to the council to "come down and do something" about the UCG leaders who were allegedly fomenting problems.

With the help of a United elder in the area, Jaime Gallardo, the council discovered "that a lot of what I would call the anticouncil, antiadministration literature, articles that were being circulated here in the U.S., somehow were being translated and circulated in that region."

The situation, Mr. Holladay said, led to a confrontation between council members and the UCG's regional director for Latin America and other Spanish-speaking regions, Leon Walker of Big Sandy, Texas.

"What we had discovered in Latin America," Mr. Holladay continued, "is that this is not necessarily totally as it's been painted: one happy family, everybody working together [under Mr. Walker's leadership]. There have been a lot of problems, a lot of difficulties."

A quarter remain

He said that, contrary to rumor, about "a quarter of the members" in the region are "still--very much still--with United."

The council, he said, is "kicking around" the idea of appointing elders who would each be "responsible maybe for one or two countries" to make the workload more manageable in the aftermath of the split.

Since the split, Mr. Walker and many other UCG elders and lay members are part of the new group, which is structured as a Florida nonprofit corporation.

Under a system of several regional managers, Mr. Holladay said, UCG officials "can be more acquainted with the people in the area ministry, know what the problems are and be able to deal with [them] rather than one man coming down and trying to oversee the whole area."

Mr. Luker also commented on Latin America. He said he believes the problem was not with "the brethren," and the problem was not with "the pastors."

Pastors and lay members "followed their leader. They followed Mr. Leon Walker. That is the culture. He's been the boss for 30 years [beginning with his appointment as the WCG's Latin American regional director by Herbert Armstrong in the 1970s]. He sets the example for them.

"So they're just following him," and "he rejected the authority of the [UCG] council of elders. The pastors [who left with the new group] are following him," although "not all of them, of course."

Split to keep from splitting

Council member Scott Ashley continued Mr. Luker's thought.

"There had actually been in Santiago [Chile] a group of people who had split off from the official United Church of God there [in order] to remain a part of the United Church of God," Mr. Ashley said.

"By that I mean their pastor was so anti-United, so antiadministration, so anticouncil that they felt they had to leave United to remain a part of United. It sounds bizarre, but it's true."

Mr. Ashley concluded that the UCG's problems in Latin America were "systemic" and existed long before the current crisis.

"They just happened to come to a head pretty much at the same time as the situation did with Leon Walker."

Council member Robin Webber commented further that the current council majority inherited some of the Latin American problems from the "previous administration," which was led by council members and a president who are now with the CGWA.

Leading as servants

John Elliott of Phoenix, Ariz., speaking from the audience, changed the subject. Mr. Elliott wanted to talk about "servant leadership."

He said that in 2006 in a conversation with an unnamed UCG official he asked the man: "Whatever happened to Christ-centered servant leadership?"

And "in three angry sentences that topic was declared bogus," Mr. Elliott recalled. "It was said to be an artificial layer put into something that already existed and it was put to rest, not to be talked about again."

Servant-leadership milieu

Perhaps a little background is in order at this point. Several articles in The Journal over the years have reported on the United Church of God's quirky and uneasy relationship with the subject of servant leadership.

Some of the apparent discomfort began back in May 2000 when Howard Baker, a United lay member from the Big Sandy area, gave a speech about servant leadership at the UCG's general conference of elders in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

Some of Dr. Baker's concepts are similar to, and perhaps find their origin in, a book by Robert K. Greenleaf called The Servant As Leader.

Servant leadership as espoused by Dr. Baker and Mr. Greenleaf differs markedly from the old-Worldwide Church of God model of church governance.

In the old WCG, the ministers were unquestionably the boss over the lay members. The members were subject to the directives of the ministry in many significant aspects of their lives.

Servant leadership, on the other hand, turned that concept upside down. Ministers--the very word minister in English and other languages comes from a root that means servant--were to be, in a much more real sense than in the old WCG, servants of the church, servants even of the lay members.

Range of reaction

Some of the elders hearing Dr. Baker's speech liked it. Others, as reported in The Journal, did not.

One man in his audience said of Dr. Baker that "we need to ordain this guy and get him on the council."

But others in the audience were heard to groan and comment in disgust at some of Dr. Baker's points.

Over the next few years after Dr. Baker's speech, servant leadership was a hot topic among United's elders.

Some thought "servant" and "leadership" were contradictory concepts and that the phrase can bring to mind a "worldly concept."

Some said they thought a change of name might help. Leon Walker and then-president Roy Holladay made a presentation in March 2001 at the church's home office in the Cincinnati area calling for a name change.

One moniker some UCG leaders were said to prefer was "godly governance." Others liked "godly leadership" or "Christ-centered servant leadership."

For a while the church officially settled on the latter, "Christ-centered servant leadership," as the concept's new name.

Can be a buzzword

Strongly advocating a concept of servant leadership in the UCG in May 2001 was a new council member, Clyde Kilough. Mr. Kilough, who later became the UCG's president and who recently left the UCG and is the president of the new CGWA, in 2001 shrugged off his fellow UCG elders' reservations about the concept.

He went so far as to say that, if servant leadership isn't taught and learned in the church, its members' own "personal salvation" could be at stake.

"It can be a buzzword," he said. "But I don't think Matthew 20:27 was a buzzword to Christ."

We need a definition

In 2000 council member Victor Kubik voiced his concern that some people seemed to promote Dr. Baker's concept as if it were something new in the church. Such people, in Mr. Kubik's view, might be critical of the church administration simply because servant leadership was not a new idea.

Mr. Holladay mentioned that perhaps UCG leaders should use the term "Christian leadership" rather than "servant leadership."

Don Ward said in 2000 that some people's idea of a "servant minister" is "someone out digging ditches and setting up chairs." But "that is not necessarily servant leadership. So we really need to define more specifically what we mean in the ministry by servant leadership."

He suggested it might be better to say "service and leadership" than any of the other names.

What's not to like?

Now let's get back to the present in Cincinnati and the post-split UCG conference in the spring of 2011.

As mentioned a few paragraphs back, elder John Elliott brought up the subject of servant leadership.

"I'd like to know where this is going to go, what your plans are, and the relevance of Christ-centered servant leadership to the ministry of the United Church of God," Mr. Elliott said. "Could you [the council] update us on that, please."

President Luker stated to Mr. Elliott that he likes the term "servant leadership."

"All it means is that we look to Christ, our leader, to set the example for us in love and humble service, and those are the kinds of leaders we should be. The emphasis is on servants of God's people."

Mr. Luker said he would address the subject in his speech to the conference the next day.

(Here is a partial list of issues of The Journal that have included articles about the UCG and the nuanced concepts of servant leadership: issues dated May 31, Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, 2000; March 30, 2001; Feb. 28, 2002; Dec. 31, 2003; and Feb. 28, 2010. See also "The Class System's Roots Run Deep," by Dave Havir, May 31, 2000; and "Servant Leadership More Than Lip Service," by Linda Hardy White, Dec. 31, 2000.)

Addresses addressed

Clyde Hubbard of Brownwood, Texas, from the audience asked another Latin America question. Mr. Hubbard had heard that the church's home office had not had access to the mailing list of members in Latin America, that the list was stored and serviced under Mr. Walker's direction.

Has anything been done to remedy that situation, he wanted to know, because "the home office should be able to contact anyone who's a baptized member in the United Church of God at any time."

Mr. Luker acknowledged that the church's headquarters did not have direct access to the Latin America computerized file of names and addressees because Latin America "was operated more independently [under the direction of Mr. Walker], and we just didn't have access."

But Mr. Hubbard is "right on," Mr. Luker said. "We are learning from that, that we need to have those addresses ... So thank you for bringing that up."

Built-in deliberation

Fred Whitlark of Fort Worth, Texas, asked why the council took so long to remove the president (Clyde Kilough) and other council members who were allegedly disrupting the operation of the church before the split.

"I've had elders comment to me I think things should've been addressed earlier," Mr. Whitlark said.

Mr. Luker responded that the "governance system" of United has a built-in deliberation process so decisions cannot be made haphazardly.

"It isn't that you've got one man in charge like we used to have [in the old WCG] who says fire and it happens, right?" Mr. Luker said. "It doesn't work that way. It takes longer. It is slower, and I've looked at it both ways."

Mr. Luker said he has seen evidence of "God operating."

"I'm not calling anybody rebelling angels or anything like that," he continued. "God knew what was happening there" in heaven at the time of the uprising of one third of the angels. God "didn't stop it, He allowed it to go on ... He could have intervened much sooner than you might think He did [intervene] in casting them out of heaven."

So, "yeah, we could have done it sooner.

"On the other hand, God uses these kinds of trials and sometimes lets them play out longer than we would to test everybody."

Rumors about treatment

Jim Hopkins of Columbus, Ohio, asked about the UCG's rumored bad treatment of exiting elders.

"Many people, as they've left, [have] struck out at the council and the administration on how they were treated," Mr. Hopkins said.

"I wonder if you could address that and also if you could discuss the severance package that was given to those who left. What ultimately is it going to cost the United Church of God for these men to have left us? What is the total damage?"

Severance-payments policy

Treasurer and council member Aaron Dean commented from the stage that the church followed its "standard policy" for severance payments.

Mr. Dean recounted that in 1998, at the time of another crisis and split, the policy changed because exiting elders who were employees demanded severance payments "up front" that "virtually bankrupted us."

Policy rewrite in '98

So church officials in '98 rewrote the policy to "stop any severance pay." The people who wrote the stricter rules in the 1998 are the ones who recently left in the split that formed the CGWA, Mr. Dean said.

So, ironically, because they themselves changed the rules years ago, "they didn't get any [severance payments] when they left" in the recent split.

However, "they did get all their vacation time that was accrued," Mr. Dean said, "and they did get their work time up to that, and they also get insurance benefits for three months according to policy for free, and then they can buy it for nine months in the transition."

The church paid for the moving expense for some of the men who were transferred just before their resignations or terminations, Mr. Dean said, and "some were quite expensive."

"I don't know anyplace out in the world ... where you request to go somewhere or get transferred somewhere and you accept the bonuses, and you get a bonus for transferring and you accept all the moving costs from the company for transferring ...

"We certainly consider it unethical to accept money from someone moving you someplace under the expectation that they will serve you faithfully beyond that and then you just quit as soon as the checks are cashed."

Expenses are down

Mr. Dean said the church is "obviously taking a big hit financially." On the other hand, expenses are down because fewer people--the departing ministers--are on the payroll.

He said income is down for the first half of the year 12-15 percent from last year at the same time.

"For the year we're obviously down much more than that. In fact, I would say we're probably 35 percent.

"But then again it's the widow's mites that are blessed by God ... We just have to step out and realize that this is His work."

The events connected with the split and the terminations and resignations could cost the church "seven or eight million dollars," Mr. Dean said. "That's a lot, but then our expenses have dropped," although "we want to replace people."

Weight matters

Wilbur Berg of Boise, Wyo., made several comments about his old friends and his history in the Churches of God.

Mr. Berg, who mentioned that he is 85 years old, wanted to talk about subjects related to "the weightier matters of the law."

The weekly Sabbath, the feasts, the other observances, are all well and good, he said, but "without the weightier matters of the law, without righteousness, without love, without faith, justice--oh, that's a big one, without justice--without mercy, what good is just coming and doing these physical things?"

Mr. Berg said the weightier matters "were not brought into practice" in the Church of God, and he was talking not just of United but about the old WCG before the 1995 split that led to the founding of the UCG.

Succinct conclusion

After Mr. Berg had talked for several minutes, Mr. Luker interrupted him to help him complete his point.

"So you would summarize it, then," Mr. Luker began, "by saying that you feel God is giving us a chance and showing us that we need to put the emphasis on those weightier matters of the law?"

Yes, Mr. Berg said, but there is also the matter of prophecy.

Prophecy, he said, "has been a big problem in the church ever since 1844 and onward."

That year marked the Great Disappointment of William Miller and his followers in New York state. The Rev. Miller had prophesied specific events that were supposed to lead to the end of the age. But things did not work out that way. Nothing Mr. Miller prophesied came to pass.

Similarly, the old WCG lost "thousands" of members in 1975 at the time of that church's great disappointment when predictions that centered on the year 1975 failed to materialize.

"We lost thousand and thousands of people," Mr. Berg said.

"Some of us have been trying to open up discussions in the last 15 years with our past administrations here [in the UCG], and we've just been rejected continually when trying to open these things up and to really reexamine things in a way that will not hurt the church."

The understanding about prophecy in the Churches of God, he said, "most of which has been generated from the 1930s era, has discredited the church, and it has disillusioned many of our people."

Uneven payroll policy

When Norm Myers of Stevens Point, Wis., another old-timer, stood up to speak, he mentioned that he felt like he was in a roomful of AARP members.

The organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired People has a minimum age of 50 for its membership and an average age of 64.

Mr. Myers commented on what he sees as the lack of consistency and equity in the payroll policy of the UCG.

When United started in 1995, he commented, its new leaders said, "Well, we'll just pay everybody whatever they got in Worldwide."

That was okay for some people, "but there's a scripture that says a servant is worthy of his hire, and we are very unbalanced today."

Some employees, including ministers, he thinks, are underpaid and some are overpaid.

"I've known ministers that are on the bottom of the scale that are doing much more than those high rollers were getting in Worldwide and in United."

Some ministers' wives must work to make their families' ends meet, and "that should change," he said.

Mr. Luker responded with thanks to Mr. Myers for a "very good comment." Treasurer and council member Aaron Dean, Mr. Luker noted, has been recommending changes in payroll policy.

Servant Leadership Task Force

Elder John Miller of Akron, Ohio, brought up servant leadership again.

"I was involved in the Christ-Centered Servant Leadership Task Force back in 2003," he said, and he wrote a widely circulated paper about it at the time.

Mr. Miller supports the concept of servant leadership, although he has "some concerns" about whether that name "is the most effective one, not because I'm uncomfortable with Christ-centered servant leadership but because it will associate us with other material out there that has been a discredit" to the concept.

He said some people had accused him of not supporting servant leadership.

"No, I do," he said. "I believe very much we need to serve."

Build it and who will come?

The next speaker from the floor was Gary Petty, a popular pastor of UCG congregations in Texas.

"In 15 years this is the first time I've ever said anything at a conference, so bear with me," Mr. Petty began. It was also "the first time I've ever had anything to say" and "the courage to get up and say it."

Mr. Petty wanted to talk about "lessons learned" in the split situation.

He mentioned that his father, who died during a Feast of Tabernacles, had asked him many times: Why is there no peace in the church among the members?

Mr. Petty spent three months recently mulling over his father's question, and "I have a couple of conclusions I'd like to share."

Mr. Petty used to think that "when Jesus returned I was going to stand there and receive a pat on the head." But "I realize now this [Christian life and practice] isn't about what we do for Him. It's about what He does for us."

A problem of culture

The United Church of God has a problem, and it's "systemic," Mr. Petty continued.

"We spent years bragging about what we do for Him. It's a core problem that I started to realize that not only I have. It's part of our culture, and if we don't change it [the phenomenon of church splits] will just happen over and over and over again and it will never stop."

The second problem Mr. Petty mentioned came to his attention in an E-mail. The E-mailer wondered "how can God do any work of reconciliation through a group of teachers who cannot even model reconciliation in their dealings with one another?"

The E-mailer's question "has haunted me," Mr. Petty said, because somehow "we failed at reconciling."

As a result, he began an in-depth study of the subject of reconciliation.

"I realize that not only do I not know what it is, I can honestly say in my life I've met only a handful of people who do: ministers, members, only a handful. Yet we are ambassadors for the ministry of reconciliation.

"I believe we've failed. I have failed."

Reconciling with God

In the midst of what he perceives as his and others' failure, Mr. Petty is "trying to be reconciled back to God in a way that I haven't been for a long time."

If Church of God members cannot bring themselves to reconcile with God, they will "plant the seeds for having another conference like this one."

Mr. Petty is "trying to reach out to the ministers who have left and be reconciled to them on a personal level, and I've spent many hours with them, because that's what's required of us."

He described a movie starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones that came out in 1989.

"When United started, remember the analogy of Field of Dreams, the movie?" he asked. "We talked about it all the time. Build it and they will come. Remember when we said that" about the 1995 start-up of the UCG?

"I liked the movie, and I liked the analogy."

In the movie the Kevin Costner character hears what Mr. Petty called a "supernatural voice" that told him to build a baseball stadium.

And he does. He builds the stadium, and at the end of the movie thousands of people visit it. The Costner character builds the facility, and, sure enough, "they" come.

Misinterpreted message

Mr. Petty rewatched the movie a couple of years ago and concluded that he, and UCG elders in general, had misunderstood and misinterpreted the movie's message.

Attracting thousands of people to baseball games was "not what the movie's about at all." Rather, "the movie's about a man who had a broken relationship with his father, and he was tormented because his father died before they could be reconciled."

We took it wrong

The movie is not about attracting new members to a baseball stadium, or, by analogy, new members to a church.

"The movie's about reconciliation," Mr. Petty said. "If you go back and watch the movie, it--the supernatural voice--does not say build it and they will come. It says build it and he will come.

"The whole point of the movie is that the supernatural help doesn't build a facility. But that's how we took it. We thought if we built churches and we built camp programs and we preached the gospel and we ... did all this stuff, the people would come."

But "the analogy's about reconciliation. Build it and he will come."

At the end of the movie, the man's father, played by Dwier Brown, "comes back from the dead to reconcile. That was the purpose. We missed the meaning of the analogy then, and we're paying for it now. We didn't learn it, and we didn't do it."

Mr. Petty talked with a church member who, counting the current split, has experienced six of them since 1995.

"He's gone from church to church, and we just plant the seeds again," Mr. Petty said.

"So I simply ask all of you to join me as I plan on spending the next few months praying and fasting and asking God to help me understand the ministry of reconciliation."

ABC accreditation news

Braden Veller of Tampa, Fla., asked if ABC, the UCG's Ambassador Bible Center, can accept students from lands other than the United States.

Gary Antion, who works with ABC, from the audience responded that the school, based at the home office in Ohio, would like to accept international students, but "we're not accredited," and "we're not even certified here in the state of Ohio."

Mr. Antion said he is working with Roger Widmer, who was an employee of Ambassador University in Big Sandy in the 1990s, to work toward accreditation. Mr. Widmer is president of Ellis University, an accredited online school based in Chicago, Ill.

"We're also," Mr. Antion said, "looking at doing a quick turnaround for pastoral education for men who are coming in as new pastors ... Maybe a week in the springtime and maybe another week in the summer."

Children of divorce

An elder named Tim from San Jose, Calif. (Tim's surname was unintelligible to this writer), remarked on "several members who feel like they're children of divorce" as a result of the church split.

That kind of talk "kind of resonates with me," he said, "because they said to me that my spiritual brothers and sisters are now attending in another group, and in my own family we have family members who are attending in another group.

"My question ... is how we might counsel these people who are in a dilemma. They're in a divorce, as it were, where maybe their spouse or a brother or maybe family members want to attend with this new group."

The two horses

Bob Berendt, council member from Canada, responded to Tim's and Gary Petty's comments about reconciliation.

"This concept of reconciliation, this concept of how we do things in the churches, is very dear to my heart," Mr. Berendt said. "I've been a pastor for over 40 years. I've been in the church since 1962, when I was first called."

Mr. Berendt spoke of two horses: a couple of large, solid-footed herbivorous mammals that humans employ as draft animals or beasts of burden or for riding.

In his equine analogy, Mr. Berendt, who mentioned that he's 80 years old and has served four and one-half years on the council, described a "strong" horse and a "humble" horse.

Ideally, he suggested, a humble horse is preferable. However, riding only a humble horse can lead Mr. Berendt and his fellow ministers to "beating ourselves up."

Of course, a minister, an elder, should humbly serve. But there is a time and a place to seat oneself solidly in the saddle of a strong horse.

Violence sometimes appropriate

Mr. Berendt's analogy expanded to include a shepherd, a spiritual shepherd as in Acts 20:28.

A shepherd much of the time rides a humble horse, but a shepherd must carry a big stick because a shepherd "protects the sheep."

The stick is not meant "to hit the sheep with. It's to hit wolves with. It's to protect the sheep."

Because of the existence of wolves, in this case of the human church-leading variety, shepherds must sometimes wield sticks while riding strong horses.

"We have a responsibility, as a council we have the responsibility, as ministers we have a responsibility, to take care of God's people, and sometimes that means getting violent."

Mr. Berendt said during the previous week someone had asked him, "Are you guys ready to reconcile?"

"I spoke to the lady and I said, 'You know, a marriage is based on trust, husband and wife. You trust your husband, you trust your wife. When adultery is committed, there's something that happens to that trust.'"

When a fellow minister "looks you in the eye and lies directly to you," Mr. Berendt said, "there's a trust that's broken. You can say, oh, well, let's just work this out and so on," but "there needs to be something else happening."

He implied that, now that the split has come and gone, ministers might not have as much need to ride bold horses while carrying big sticks.

"To be honest with you, there's a black cloud that's gone" after the exit of the elders who formed the new church. "There is a wonderful attitude where people I've talked to say hello to everybody.

"It's amazing to be able to walk up to everybody you see and say hi. I couldn't do that last year or the year before or the year before that" at conferences of elders.

Lesson on forgiveness

Remember, Mr. Berendt admonished, "God does not forgive until a person repents."

Accordingly, he seemed to be saying, it is not appropriate for elders and other church members to forgive someone who has not repented.

"Not only repentance" is required, he continued, "but fruits. Bring forth fruits meet for repentance."

He concluded: "Let's try to be Christlike. Let's quit beating ourselves up. If you prayed and fasted and turned to God, then you are His child, His servant, His person. And, when you move forward, get on the bold horse sometimes too."

Personal decision

Mr. Luker responded to Mr. Berendt's comments by talking about church attendance.

"When it comes down to where people attend what church, what congregation, what group," Mr. Luker said, "that's a personal decision, isn't it? Everyone has to make that decision.

"Many have family members in many different groups all over the place, and there are different homes out there for people. Some people will feel more comfortable in one of the other groups, one of the other churches ...

"As we do our best to make United a loving, caring, humble place of healing for God's people, then those who feel comfortable that this is their home will be with us, and some will be more comfortable in one of the other Church of God groups."

Who goes first?

From the audience Don Ward--who will soon move from Houston to the Big Sandy area to pastor United's Big Sandy congregation after the exit of Big Sandy pastor Ken Treybig to join the new group--reacted to comments from Mr. Berg, Mr. Petty and Mr. Berendt.

"First of all," he said, "I'd like to reinforce Mr. Berg and Gary Petty and in a direct way in a sense address what Mr. Berendt said."

In some cases, Dr. Ward said, "we play the old standoff: If he'll go first, then I will." But "those who are in the seat of authority should lead with regard to reconciliation. That is my firm belief."

Dr. Ward touched on the subject of servant leadership. Some years ago he chaired a committee for the UCG that dealt with servant leadership.

"I think we called it the Ministerial Services Committee. We started out on Christ-centered servant leadership. I was the one who suggested that Clyde Kilough chair the group."

In any discussion, including one about leadership and servants, language is important, Dr. Ward said.

"Some of the language here today speaks of what the Internet will jump on as ecumenism," he warned: "We're going to get all these groups together, and we're all the same, we're all brothers."

However, "there are a lot of differences in some of these groups. One leader claims to be That Prophet. One leader claims to be Joshua of Zechariah 3. One leader, he and his wife claim to be the Two Witnesses. [Some say] the tribulation's already begun. There are a lot of differences and a lot of spirits."

United's dilemma

The UCG has a dilemma when it comes to governance and doctrine, Dr. Ward believes.

"I would suppose of all the doctrines that Mr. Armstrong emphasized in the latter years of his life [the most repeated] was that the government of God has been restored in the Church of God."

Church of God leaders tend, on one hand, to "quote extensively Mr. Armstrong said this, Mr. Armstrong said that, and yet on the other hand one of the main things he taught was the [one-man-rule] form of government."

Mr. Armstrong even taught, "in the latter years of his life, and it's in print, the Petrine [primacy-of-Peter, or apostolic-succession] doctrine.

"So we have to be careful with regard to our statements about government and trying to prove things."

Dr. Ward concluded by calling for lay members, "the brethren," to "take ownership of our total efforts, to move beyond pay-and-pray. I know some hate that term, but I like it. I like to criticize it ...

"We need to get our people, all of them, involved and mobilized in spreading the Word."

Dividing and conquering

Shannon Lucas of Big Sandy commented from the audience on Satan, division and conquering.

The devil, Mr. Lucas said, "has made a big divide here," so "we can't worry too much about the other side. What I think we need to focus on is on our side. We [must] not allow what Satan has done to take our mind away from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

NT governance

Howard Davis of Portland, Ore., spoke from the floor about what he perceives as the superiority of United's form of governance.

Back in 1995, at United's founding, the church "had not come to grips with the fact that this [form of governance] is the New Testament, biblical form of governance," he said.

He explained what he meant by United's form of governance. It is "a shared, broad eldership responsible because of a calling through the Holy Spirit of all elders who are not employed [by the church], as well as those who are employed, sharing in the shepherding of the Church of God."

UCG organizers in '95 participated in the "miracle" of "repudiating the Catholic form of governance that was initiated and really firmly put in place [in the WCG] in 1978 in November. You can Google it. My daughter works for Google."

Mr. Davis urged his listeners to Google "Worldwide News November 1978" for evidence of Mr. Armstrong's introduction of "error into the church" in his latter years and that "the church that largely was built around his work was destroyed."

Since United is blessed with the God-inspired form of government, a problem arises "when we try to reconcile with those brothers who do not agree with that governance form," Mr. Davis cautioned.

"It's more than just trying to relate to them. These are gentlemen who apparently do not agree fundamentally with this inspired form of governance."

He called on his fellow elders to "help articulate the biblical form of governance that we have and bring it appropriately to the doctrinal level, that what we do represent is [understood to be] different from everyone else and it is inspired by Jesus Christ."

A safe place

Next stepping up to the mike in the midst of the audience was Karen Walker of Bend, Ore. Mrs. Walker was at the conference representing her husband, Larry, who could not attend because of his health situation.

She said that, although she has been a minister's wife for 30 years, the conference was "the first time in 30 years, I have to say, that I feel safe. I feel safe standing up here talking to everybody.

"I have heard over the years some horrible comments: You can't be a minister's wife, you've never been to Ambassador College, da da da da da, you know, all kinds of things."

Since Mrs. Walker and others in the audience could feel safe, she was confident that the brethren back in the congregations can also feel safe.

"It's going to be a growing experience for them as they see you feeling safe and everybody else feeling safe."

Mr. Luker responded: "Thank you, Karen, very much. Let's give Karen a hand."

Seeing both sides

An unidentified elder commented that he sees both sides in the sheep-and-wolves discussion.

"I want to be soft and tender and compassionate," he said, "but I want to be firm and courageous and victorious because God gives us the strength."

Mr. Luker responded that the elder's comments fit well with Mr. Berendt's humble and bold horses.

The precious ones' potential

John Elliott was back at the microphone for the second time to ask:

"How do you as a council and its administration feel about the developing of the potential of the spirituality of all those precious ones? How is that going to be part of our culture from here on?"

Mr. Luker's response to Mr. Elliott's question: "Shall we all say amen in answer to your question?"

The audience in unison: "Amen."

Mr. Luker: "Amen. We're all for that, John. We really are. I think every man, everybody, is on that page, absolutely."

Mr. Elliott: "Are we going to really make this part or [will the situation] go on being the members playing a--?"

Mr. Luker: "No. That's where we're going by the grace of God. So keep praying about it and we'll do it with God's guidance and help.

"It's all about the brethren and serving them and helping them prepare for being the bride of Christ, and they deserve the praise and care. And very good comments. I wish we had another hour or two."

Conflict of interest?

Dan Barrett of Edmonton, Alta., Canada, said he didn't want to ask a question but to make an observation. However, he did ask a question:

"Do you see any potential conflict of interest in being on the COE [council of elders] and also being on the administration as either president or the operations manager?"

He continued: "Three COE members answered one way and nine answered another way [when asked that question] ... It's my observation that all three of those who had no problem with a senior administrator being on the COE are not with us today."

Scott Ashley, from the stage, responded: "There has been another amendment submitted for the constitution this year, and it was approved by the council to prevent operation managers and the president to serve on the council.

"So that is something that the GCE [general conference of elders] will have the opportunity to vote on again this year."

Who cares what group?

Next to question and comment was Tom Damour of Midland, Texas.

"The sheep see men they love and respect on both sides of this debacle," Mr. Damour said, "and they're saying I don't care who's right or wrong, just stop fighting.

"Then what happens? The parents begin to pit the children against the other parents, and I think we've done that too much.

"So I would ask the council, the president and the chairman, all the rest of us, every elder in here, every pastor: After today, stop, because it only hurts the sheep.

"I don't care what group they're in. I don't care. Stop hurting the people, and we do that unwittingly. Preach the Word in season and out of season, but stop hurting the sheep."

Heart to heart

Next up was Herb Teitgen of Moorhead, Minn., who serves brethren in parts of Minnesota and North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba.

"Someone from the home office E-mailed me about a month ago, I think," Mr. Teitgen began. "Said: Herb, how are you doing really?"

"And I E-mailed back: I'm depressed, discouraged, troubled, conflicted. I've spent hours and hours talking to many of my friends who have since left, but some who have not, trying to understand the issues at hand."

Mr. Teitgen apologized to anyone on the council or in the administration whom he might have offended by his "words, E-mails or actions."

"I sincerely have tried to understand what is happening and come to realize that, unless you're right there in the room hearing two individuals with their conflict, you'll never know the whole story, even though you've talked to both of them [separately].

"My bottom line after a day of fasting and sincere prayer was that these issues for me do not rise to leaving or fragmenting God's precious people. I had to do all I could to hold them together."

Mr. Teitgen, in his obviously heartfelt message to his fellow elders, said he was concerned about "the mood, the message, what would come forth" from the conference.

"We must not win arguments; we must win hearts," he said. "We will do that through humility, through acknowledging however we can that we have fallen short, we have made mistakes, but we care for God's people. We're willing to humble ourselves.

"And thank you, Denny [Luker], for your opening message that sets the tone. Let's go forth from this conference to continue to win hearts, not of our people but of God's."

An impractical biblical directive?

Tom Robinson walked to a microphone to comment. Mr. Robinson, who lives in St. Louis, Mo., is a full-time UCG employee working with church booklets and the church's flagship magazine, The Good News.

"One thing I think has contributed to the problem is that people didn't know what was going on," Mr. Robinson said.

It was "such a shock and such a stunner for everybody who found out very late that this was going on."

Mr. Robinson wanted to talk about a biblical principle, indeed a scriptural directive, that he said none of the Church of God groups follows.

The practice of rebuking a sinner in the sight and hearing of the assembled brethren so that "all the rest may fear" is almost never done, Mr. Robinson said, "unless it's done very late. It's done after the guys go out and spread their story."

Mr. Robinson remembered that early in the run-up to the current crisis "people were passing around stories about what was going on, and people were saying the council's not talking; the council's not saying anything. They're not getting anything out.

"And then by the time these things were addressed, and then the situation with the Latin American regional director, by the time this came out I actually asked people on the council why were some of these things not said earlier."

God's responsibility

Mr. Robinson was told: "Well, the reason is because we actually knew things about this situation that if this person repented would make it very difficult for [him] to continue in the ministry."

He noted that he is aware that people can sue for slander and libel, and "I don't know how to implement this ... because I do believe there's legal concerns."

But if the church is going to be sued for following "the biblical directive and all our money is taken away from us and we were not able to preach the gospel, ... who would be responsible for that?"

God would be responsible, Mr. Robinson concluded, "because He's the one who told us ... how to deal with the situation."

Mr. Luker, tear down this password

Dael Baughman of Big Sandy asked about cybercasting.

"Three years ago we had about four [local] churches that cybercast their services," he said. "You could listen in if you wanted to."

But then members of the "previous administration," who are no longer members of the UCG, decreed that cybercasts should be available only to people who knew a secret password.

"We've got a number of churches that cybercast now, but they're password-protected, and nobody can listen unless the member knows the password.

"My suggestion would be to remove that password."

Let's give him a hand

Another old-timer, Al Mischnick of Little Rock, Ark., stepped up to the mike and asked his fellow elders to applaud Mr. Luker for his responsible manner in fulfilling the role of president during the crisis.

"Do you appreciate our president?" Mr. Mischnick asked.

Audience members clapped enthusiastically.

"No, no, you don't need to do that," Mr. Luker reacted. "Thank you for that, but you know it isn't about me. Thank you."

The door is always open

Mario Seiglie, a council member who works directly with Spanish-speaking brethren including Latin Americans, gave his view of the crisis.

"We're survivors," Mr. Seiglie explained. "We're trying to stabilize those areas of the world, but those brethren come first. The ministry comes second ... We're here to protect the flock. The flock is not here to protect us."

Unfortunately, he said, "many wonderful relationships" are now broken, but "we are open, the door is open, [for dissenting members] to come back under the terms we have talked about."

Talking back

The Q&A continued after other business on the next day, Tuesday, Feb. 1. It began with a question from an unidentified elder who asked about the feasibility of the church's sponsorship of a "talk-back" radio program.

Peter Eddington, media-operations manager, replied that "we're open to ideas," so "please write up a proposal."

Jordan and poaching

Braden Veller of Tampa, Fla., asked about something called the "Jordan project."

Mr. Kubik, from the stage, replied that the project's "sponsoring individual, primarily Cory Erickson," is no longer a member of the UCG, having gone with the new group. Therefore the UCG no longer is involved in the project.

Then Mr. Veller made a suggestion about "poaching."

"In some areas there's been some poaching going on with our membership from those who have departed," he said.

He suggested the council come up with a strategy to "help us know what to say, what not to say, to our own people officially or publicly if need be. We'd love to be all together, but there's still this going on."

Code-of-ethics challenge

Melvin Rhodes, chairman of the council, responded from the stage to Mr. Veller's suggestion.

"What I've done" in a similar situation, Mr. Rhodes said, "is challenge them [the poachers] based on their own code of ethics. I think any pastor can do that. Just challenge those that have left because their own code of ethics says they won't do that.

"That's one thought, anyway, and we'll think about that some more."

Numbers matter

Bill Cagle, an elder from Tulsa, Okla., said he found it "heartwarming" to listen to UCG leaders talk earlier in the conference about the "commission scriptures, about repentance and Ezekiel 33 and the watchman's message."

In fact, said Mr. Cagle, there needs to be a lot more of that approach: focusing on what he considers the basics in any message going out to the public through the church's outreach media.

He continued: "The broadest scripture about our commission, of course, is Mark 16, where it says that we should preach the gospel to every creature, and also in Acts 1:8-9."

Down through the years Mr. Cagle has heard comments to the effect that "numbers," as in the number of baptisms and conversions, "don't mean anything.

"But I believe that according to the parable of the sower numbers do mean everything, because when that gospel is preached there is repentance and there is conversion."

The UCG's baptisms over the past 15 years, according to Mr. Cagle, "have been about 200-plus-or-minus each year. We have all of these small churches with 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 people in them when we've got room to have 200 or 300 or ever how many."

Further, he said, "we ought to apply that template with all the commission scriptures and all prophetic scriptures to every article we write, every telecast we make, every magazine we put out, 100 percent of our outreach.

"One hundred percent of the people who hear our outreach ought to hear a witness and a warning. They ought to hear the good news of the Kingdom, they ought to hear Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior, they ought to hear repentance and remission of sins, Luke 24:47, and a trumpet message and a watchman's message."

What about the videos?

Bill Eddington, council member from Melbourne, Australia, asked from the stage what would become of the video recordings of the conference.

"This has been a watershed conference, really," he observed, and "I think the members would be greatly encouraged to hear the messages ... We've recorded everything, I believe. How will it be made available to us?"

Answering Mr. Eddington's question was another Mr. Eddington, Peter, Bill's son. Peter Eddington works at the home office as media-operations manager.

"Thank you, Mr. Eddington," the younger Eddington quipped, prompting laughter from the audience.

"We are thinking of providing much of what was said here to the membership to view online," Peter Eddington said.

But "there may be some sensitivities on some things like the Q&As.

"We're not going to put out the Q&As, but the keynote addresses from the president, the chairman, ministerial services, maybe some things from today, we will make available for the members so that members can see what the ministers were told to do. Just kidding."

To view the videos of just about everything except the Q&A sessions, see coe.ucg.org/videos.

Running for office

Rex Spears of Oakland, Calif., gave his opinion that there needs to be a better way to add elders' names to the list of candidates for council-of-elders positions.

Sometimes, he says, elders think that, "if you have enough vanity to put your name in to be on the council of elders, you probably shouldn't be there."

Chairman Rhodes asked Mr. Spears to send him a memo elaborating on his suggestion.

Bottled-up doctrine

Texan Dael Baughman was back at the mike to ask about doctrines and fundamental beliefs.

"I believe that all fundamental beliefs are doctrines," he said, "but I don't believe that all doctrines are necessarily fundamental beliefs."

Mr. Baughman commented that the church's doctrinal-review process is a hindrance to accepting new understanding as officially sanctioned doctrines and beliefs.

In the last 15 years, and even before that going back 25 years in the WCG, "we've had almost no new understanding on anything. I would like to see the council take a look at maybe restructuring our doctrinal-review process. I believe it's been bottled up for the last 15 years, primarily by two people."

He didn't mention the names of the two people he was speaking of, but maybe he was referring to UCG leaders who departed in the recent split.

One doctrine has changed

Council chairman Melvin Rhodes, replying to Mr. Baughman, noted that one doctrine stands out as having been changed in the last 25 years, "and that is government."

Indeed, 25 years ago in the WCG the accepted form of church governance was authoritarian, with the pastor general, Herbert Armstrong and later Joseph Tkach Sr., as head of the physical, and some would say the spiritual, organization.

Mr. Rhodes encouraged elders who have suggestions for doctrinal changes to write them up and send them to the council.

A problem he noted is that, when Church of God folks send in such suggestions, they typically run to 60 pages or more. The sheer size of the documents discourages anyone from reading them.

"So I would strongly suggest that you edit them or get somebody else to edit them to make the major points."

Mr. Baughman gave an example to illustrate his point. He said that had not Mr. Armstrong before he died "changed Pentecost"--that is, changed its yearly date of observance from a Monday to a Sunday--United members would be observing the wrong day.

Mr. Baughman mentioned "D&R," the doctrine governing divorce and remarriage, in the same context. Had Mr. Armstrong not modified the teachings on D&R to make them less rigid, United's official practice might be to unnecessarily break up marriages.

Systematic theology

Herb Vierra of Monrovia, Calif., said he's "always a little nervous when I hear us talk about doctrine. I know how sensitive we are."

He said the comments during the Q&A were reminding him of the "infamous Systematic Theology Project that some of you may remember. Mr. Armstrong heard about that and he squashed that like a bug."

An unrevised ancient 'STP' history

Readers of The Journal may remember an expanded version of the history of Mr. Armstrong and the STP.

According to eyewitness Brian Knowles, who helped write and edit the STP, he, Wayne Cole and Robert Kuhn showed a draft copy of the book to Mr. Armstrong for his approval while the pastor general was living in Tucson, Ariz., in the late 1970s. (The STP volume bears a copyright imprint of 1978.)

Mr. Knowles was quoted in an article The Journal published last year that he witnessed Mr. Armstrong thumbing through the STP and saying, "Well, I suppose that's all right."

Then, said Mr. Knowles, "like the idiots we were, we went out and told everybody it was all right."

Mr. Knowles continued: "Of course, HWA then denied that we'd ever been there and said that he hadn't seen it.

"It may have been that he just forgot it ... or he didn't want his imprimatur on it."

(See "The Journal Unearths a Never-Before-Published Interview With Brian Knowles at the 1998 Feast," in issue No. 138, dated Feb. 28, 2010.)

Back to Mr. Vierra

Although Mr. Vierra seemed to be unaware that Mr. Armstrong had approved the publishing of the STP, his larger point about the codification of church doctrine is quite reasonable.

"I never quite understood why until recently" Mr. Armstrong did not like the STP, Mr. Vierra said. "I think this was the reason: He was afraid that it would hinder our learning."

The gist of Mr. Vierra's observation: It is not advisable to set doctrine in stone by reducing it to an official and sacrosanct statement of doctrine or beliefs, because understanding of doctrine and beliefs can and should change over time.

"I would hate to see us hindered by a written document that doesn't represent the things that we've learned since it was written," he said.

A church's formal and detailed statement of beliefs can set teachings in concrete, although Mr. Knowles said the STP's purpose was not to do that.

Rather, it was a "rearticulation," he said, of traditional teachings of the Worldwide Church of God and was not meant to canonize the church's doctrine.

 
 

Church Links  -  Addresses  -  Church Logos  -  Finances  -  Photos  -   Memorial

The Study Library  -  In Transition  -  Messages Online  -  Live Services

Back Issues  -  Subscribe  -  Email List  -  Ad Rates  -  Site Map

© The Journal: News of the Churches of God