Front page: Former UCG elder talks about disfellowshipping

By Dixon Cartwright

In this issue of The Journal, a former member and elder of the United Church of God comments on his recent defrocking and disfellowshipping for alleged "doctrinal differences" and "sowing discord among the membership."

The Journal has followed the saga of Dan Cafourek of Colcord, Okla., since the spring of 2002. This newspaper has had a difficult time nailing down a credible reason for his expulsion from the ministry of the United Church of God on May 9, 2002, and especially for his disfellowshipping a month later.

Mr. Cafourek, in an opinion piece beginning on page 3 of this issue, says he did nothing that would warrant his defrocking or disfellowshipping and that he was not even "accused of committing a sin."

When pressed, the former UCG member acknowledges that his "sense of humor" and penchant for long, involved discussions via E-mail could grate on the nerves of his UCG superiors.

Indeed, regional director Larry Greider of Troy, Ill., told The Journal last year that he found Mr. Cafourek to be "cagey" for wanting to conduct discussions in writing ("Regional Pastor Denies Elder's Allegations," April 15, 2002) and for being reluctant to have face-to-face conversations with UCG officials.

But, said Mr. Cafourek, "caginess is not a grounds for disfellowship," and I wanted to communicate by E-mail because I thought it advisable in this situation to leave a paper trail."

Mr. Cafourek says he has good reason to want to get people's comments in writing. He says he requested a transcript of a April 4, 2002, meeting with Mr. Greider, but Mr. Greider denied the request.

A subsequent phone conversation with Mr. Greider is what Mr. Cafourek says inspired him to formally appeal his dismissal as an elder and his excommunication as a church member.

Surprised at decision

The final decision of the 12-man Ohio-based council of elders in the spring of 2003 was to uphold the decision of the ministerial-services department to defrock Mr. Cafourek. A council majority apparently decided that his alleged stance on the feast-day calendar was inappropriate for a UCG elder.

Relieving him of his ministerial duties was one thing, but Mr. Cafourek said he was genuinely surprised the council did not overrule his disfellowshipping.

"After all," he told The Journal, "I have not committed a sin, which is evidenced by the fact that no one in United has told me I committed a sin."

Richard Pinelli of Cincinnati, Ohio, director of the UCG's ministerial-services department, had notified Mr. Cafourek of his excommunication in a letter dated June 11, 2002.

Mr. Pinelli wrote that his fellow elder's ousting from church membership was for "doctrinal differences" and "the sowing of discord among the membership."

As a result, wrote Mr. Pinelli, Mr. Cafourek was "not welcome to attend any United Church of God services or activities."

Mr. Cafourek admits that he holds certain personal beliefs concerning what he calls the "calculated Jewish calendar" that differ from what most UCG elders and other members believe.

But, he said, he kept his opinions private; he did not preach or teach them, and he was present at all of the UCG's feast-day services.

"When questioned by certain UCG officials, I did admit to having questions about the calendar," he said, "and that's what was used to get me into trouble."

But, he maintains, his private beliefs do not violate the official statement of doctrinal beliefs of the United Church of God, much less qualify as scriptural grounds for disfellowshipping.

"The UCG's statement of beliefs in no way specifies a particular holy-day calendar," he said.

The closest the UCG came to explaining to Mr. Cafourek his infraction or infractions, he said, was when a church official told him that "we reserve the right to define 'sowing discord' as we choose."

New pastor

Mr. Cafourek is moving on. He now pastors the Arkansas Church of God Fellowship, Springdale, Ark., which is not formally affiliated with any other church.

Of his recent experiences he said: "I in no way believe my relationship with God has been severed."

So why did he appeal the church's ruling? "It's the principle of the thing," he said.

The Journal invited Mr. Pinelli and council-of-elders chairman Clyde Kilough of Sacramento, Calif., to comment for this article, but they declined to do so.

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