Editorial: Can the UCG become a better place?

The writer, a longtime member of the Church of God and 1969 graduate of Ambassador College, pastors the Arkansas Church of God Fellowship, Springdale, Ark. See also "Elder Protests UCG Move to Relieve Him of Duties," The Journal, April 15, 2002, and "Former UCG Elder Talks About Disfellowshipping," page 1 of this issue.

By Dan Cafourek

COLCORD, Okla.--As many readers are probably already aware, the council of elders of the United Church of God, based near Cincinnati, Ohio, responded to my appeal of my disfellowshipping in a letter dated March 5, 2003.

Chairman Clyde Kilough wrote: "I am writing to inform you that on March 2, 2003, the Council of Elders formally considered your appeal of disfellowshipment. After careful deliberation, the Council supports the decision of the Member Appeal Committee and thus denies your appeal. Therefore, your disfellowshipment is upheld. Although the Council has denied your appeal, we wish to emphasize to you that our hope, as always, is for unity and reconciliation through God's will."

For the record, no one from the committee or council had contacted me in any way for additional information during their deliberations, so they obviously felt they had all that was needed to uphold my disfellowshipment.

Inconsistent policy

I cannot help but marvel. Let's see. When David Hulme was fired and led many UCG members away into the Church of God an International Community, there was no disfellowshipment. [See "Why Would Council of Elders of United Remove David Hulme From Presidency?," The Journal, Jan. 30, 1998].

When there was a major split in Big Sandy, Texas, neither Dave Havir nor anyone else was disfellowshipped. [See Largest UCG Congregation Splits Over Governance," The Journal, May 31, 1998].

When Garry Pifer conducted a Bible study in Illinois that discussed tithing and came to a conclusion on mandatory offerings different from that held by UCG officials (even though his conclusion did not violate the church's statement of beliefs), there was no disfellowshipment. [See "Church Removes Elder From Conference," The Journal, Sept. 19, 1999.]

When the Terre Haute, Ind., congregation split and a good number left the membership of the UCG, no one was disfellowshipped. [See "Terre Haute Suspends Itself for Three Months," The Journal, Jan. 31, 2003].

And when John Jewell split off a portion of the UCG's British membership and headed off in a different direction after causing turmoil in the lives of many, there was no disfellowshipment. [See "UCG British-Council CEO Disfellowships, Fires Council Treasurer," The Journal, April 15, 2002, and "UCG in Britain Reverses Disfellowship, Suspension," The Journal, Aug. 30, 2002.]

So I get the feeling I am officially evil incarnate, that I am formally considered to be a clear and present danger and a mighty threat to the UCG and therefore must remain forever branded and shunned at all costs.

Am I the most dangerous man and most menacing minister ever to affiliate with the UCG? Do those who adhere to the teachings and regulations of the church believe it necessary and even mandatory that I be shunned?

Would a biblically appropriate shunning mandate that no one communicate with me, directly or even indirectly on an E-mail forum?

Should monitors of the UCG elders' E-mail forum cite me as an example of how the likes of Internet malcontents should be treated--and announce a ban on my electronic messages and remove me from forum discussions?

The UCG has inflicted many of these sanctions--and more--on this writer over the course of many months.

Purpose of shunning

What is the purpose of disfellowshipping? Does the way the UCG practices it mean it believes it has the authority and jurisdiction to sever my relationship with God?

I understand that in the UCG the decision of the council of elders is final; there is nowhere else for me to go in the way of an appeal.

Therefore, when someone offered me some friendly advice a while back, I took it to heart.

"There is no one between you and the Father, except our Advocate," my friend said. "And, while we're on the subject, it will be important for your own well-being to pray for those who persecute you. The words are even there for the borrowing: 'Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing.' "

I do pray for the forgiveness for all who have been involved in my situation, even those who have sought political gain in the organization by playing a part in ousting me and shunning me.

Another friend concluded that "I guess you simply are not considered an established member of the old boys' club. The purpose is to stop you rocking the hierarchical boat, just as it was in days of yore."

(To read about the "hierarchical boat" I supposedly rocked, see previous articles about my situation in The Journal, especially in the April 2002 issue.)

Delusion of the day

Was carrying on the Worldwide Church of God's time-honored tradition of disfellowshipping and "turning over to Satan" anyone who didn't fit the WCG's delusion du jour the vision of the elders who birthed the UCG in 1995?

Could someone explain how the disfellowshipping concept developed in the first place, since, as my excommunication shows, one can be ousted from membership in the UCG having committed no sin?

I realize my friends in the UCG may assume I committed an infraction of God's eternal and perfect law, but, as even certain UCG officials have privately admitted, such is not the case.

Yet, though I requested that ministerial-services director Richard Pinelli, the member-appeal committee and the council of elders explain what the "doctrinal differences" and reported "sowing discord" were, all refused to respond to the question.

(One elder, Larry Greider, did inform me that UCG leaders reserve the right to define "sowing discord" as they pleased.)

Certainly some must assume my case is similar to what Paul faced in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, when the apostle admonished the brethren to "deliver" one of their own number "to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

If my situation is similar to the one Paul wrote about, then certainly my sin should have been clearly spelled out.

Is it biblically sound to brand and shun me, and not allow those who had said they were my friends to any longer befriend me, which is what the UCG's method of disfellowshipping amounts to--just so I will not rock the church's political boat?

The UCG's continued and unscriptural use of the tool of disfellowshpping is not a trivial matter, even though the church's leaders go on with their duties and their lives as though nothing is dreadfully wrong.

Relevant facts

The UCG's "Policy for Member Appeal to the Council of Elders" clearly states that "the decision of the Council of Elders is final and binding on all parties" but that the case may be "reopened at the Council's discretion if substantive, new and relevant facts are discovered."

In my recent letter of response to the denial of my appeal, I wrote to the members of the council:

"Those new and relevant facts do exist, though they have never been sought by the Council. So if the Council ever chooses to seek and accept those facts (perhaps after the majority of those now serving on the Council have been replaced) I do leave the door open (I will even leave the light on for you).

"But I also recognize the remoteness of [the possibility of] that ever happening unless United truly comes to understand and practice servant leadership--rather than to just give lip service to the concepts."

I doubt that I will ever hear from the council or anyone else in the UCG hierarchy again, but a question remains in my mind: Do they really believe they have delivered me over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, and do they intend to leave me there forever?

If so, what of verses in Luke 15?

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost until he finds it? . . . Likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner who repents, more than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."

Rather than practice the old WCG's method of shunning and branding and marking and excommunication and pretending I no longer exist, would it not be better for the UCG to show me where I have sinned?

What does God think?

I have repeatedly asked UCG officials to do just that, and they have refused to do so. What does God think of leadership that reacts in such a manner? What did Jesus say should be done?

This situation--as well as others, including the events surrounding the still-unresolved "temporary suspension" of the UCG membership of Tim and Hope Lindholm of Minneapolis, Minn., in 1997--is important for all who believe they are trying to make United a better place.

Trials of a lifetime

It wasn't until the day that Larry Greider suspended me from the UCG ministry that anyone in a hierarchical capacity finally acknowledged my part in helping to form the United congregation in northwest Arkansas.

Before that time, while I was undergoing some of the worst trials of my life (including the destruction of my house and all my worldly possessions by arsonists), I received not so much as a phone call or E-mail or card from the regional pastor (Mr. Greider), ministerial services (Mr. Pinelli, director), the president (Les McCullough) or anyone on the council (which then consisted of Gary Antion, Aaron Dean, Robert Dick, Jim Franks, Roy Holladay, Victor Kubik, Dennis Luker, Mr. McCullough, Joel Meeker, Burk McNair, Leon Walker and Don Ward).

I make this point only to confirm that I believed something was wrong--that the UCG hierarchy had something against me--even when I was supposedly a member and elder "in good standing."

Lessons to learn

We can all learn a lesson from the trials and persecutions that have come my way.

Someone once wrote:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.

"If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.

"If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

"If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.

"What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.

"If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; find serenity and be happy anyway.

"The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow; be good anyway.

"Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway.

"You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway."

In my situation I have added:

When you are called to minister unto God and His people, some may seek to discredit you and remove your credentials; continue to serve God and minister to His people anyway.

You see, in the final analysis it is, has been and always will be between me and God; it never was and never will be between me and the United Church of God an International Association anyway.

With the death of our Savior, the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. We now have direct access to God the Father through Christ, who intercedes on our behalf. It is the judgment seat of Christ that we will all stand before (Romans 14:10), not that of men.

Verses that comfort

I am thankful for Romans 8:28, which tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

I'm thankful for verse 31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

I'm thankful that no tribulation or distress or persecution or peril shall separate us from the love of Christ (verse 33).

We can all be thankful. When scriptural principles are misused, we can be assured that neither Richard Pinelli nor even the council of elders can sever our relationship with God.

May all who continue to affiliate and associate with the United Church of God keep in mind the monumental tasks that remain if United is to be a better place.

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