Journal writers ejected from Louisville UCG conference

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Dixon Cartwright and Bill Stough, both Journal writers attending the fourth general conference of elders of the United Church of God, an International Association, were escorted the afternoon of March 8 by hotel security personnel from the meeting after being asked to leave by Chairman Bob Dick of the church's council of elders.

Mr. Cartwright, publisher and founder of the 13-month-old publication that prints news and articles of the Churches of God that are mostly offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God, said he had Mr. Dick's "tacit permission" to attend the conference, even though Mr. Dick, before the assembled elders, stated that he had not given Mr. Cartwright permission to be there.

Mr. Cartwright had attended, without incident of this kind, every conference of the United Church of God since its beginning in May 1995 in Indianapolis. He attended the Indianapolis and Cincinnati (December 1995) conferences and wrote articles on them for In Transition, which ceased publication in January 1997.

Mr. Cartwright started up The Journal, he said, because In Transition ceased publication and he felt the brethren needed the communication and brotherly contact and open forum that could be provided by an inter-Church of God newspaper similar to In Transition.

He attended the Louisville conference in 1997 without incident, sitting in on all sessions except executive sessions, including so-called breakout sessions, with the elders.

At about 4 p .m. Sunday, March 8, Mr. Cartwright was sitting near the back of the hall with approximately 650 other people listening to a panel question-and-answer session that included all 12 council members on stage fielding questions from elders in the audience.

One elder's question was about The Journal. He wanted to know why two members of the council of elders were listed as staff members of The Journal. The two council members he had in mind were Leon Walker of Big Sandy, Texas, and Don Ward of Hawkins, Texas.

Mr. Walker and Dr. Ward both acknowledged that they are listed as staff members, but both men, said Mr. Cartwright, seemed to try to distance themselves from association with The Journal. Mr. Walker said he had been asked by In Transition publisher John Robinson to review potential doctrinal articles for that publication, but The Journal had never asked him, he said, for his help in that way.

Mr. Walker also stated that no one from The Journal had ever interviewed him, but Mr. Walker is mistaken about that, said Mr. Cartwright."I personally interviewed Mr. Walker for the Steve Andrews article in the Feb. 26 issue. I may have interviewed him at other times, and I believe this to be the case, but I'm not sure of that without checking."

Mr. Walker's interview appears on page 12 of the Feb. 26 issue when a Journal writer (Mr. Cartwright) asked Mr. Walker if Mr. Andrews had apologized by the deadline set for him by the council of elders. He also asked Mr. Walker other questions involving the Steve Andrews incident. (For more details on the requested apology, which Mr. Andrews later declined to proffer, see page 1 of the Feb. 26 issue.)

After Mr. Walker's and Dr. Ward's questions and answers, and a comment by council member Gary Antion in support of In Transition, Joel Meeker of St. Louis, Mo., an elder who serves in the St. Louis area who is also editor of the French edition of The Good News, stood and said loudly enough for the panelists on stage to hear him:

"Mr. Chairman, I arise to a point of order."

At first Mr. Dick seemed to resist having the meeting interrupted by Mr. Meeker, replying: "I'm not sure this point of order is in order at this particular time."

Mr. Meeker: "Perhaps a parliamentary inquiry."

Mr. Dick: "Inquire."

Mr. Meeker: "Is the reporter here from The Journal who is not a member of the general conference of elders here with the permission of the chairman?"

Mr. Dick: "No, he is not."

Mr. Meeker: "Then I would request, sir, then, since this session, as I understand it, is reserved for members of the general conference, that he be asked to leave."

Mr. Dick: "The point of order is well taken. There should not be anyone here at this time who is not an elder or a spouse of an elder."

Some in the audience applauded. Several in the audience got up and left. Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough, who were not sitting next to each other, remained in their chairs.

After a pause of a few seconds, Mr. Dick said: "May we continue?"

Mr. Meeker: "Mr. Chairman, the reporter to which [sic] I referred is still here."

Mr. Dick: "I'd like to ask the reporter to leave the room, please."

Mr. Cartwright: "I would prefer to stay, Mr. Chairman."

Mr. Dick: "This is not an option."

Mr. Cartwright: "I'm sorry, sir. This is not an option with me, either."

Mr. Dick: "You have the choice to either leave the room or for us to call security and ask them to escort you from the room."

Mr. Cartwright: "When security comes, then I'll leave, sir."

Mr. Dick: "We will recess at this point in time until we have sufficient staff from the hotel to ask the gentleman to leave."

For several minutes while the conference was recessed, with most people remaining in their seats, Mr. Cartwright packed up his computer and camera and put on his coat and waited for the hotel security people to arrive. At least two conference attenders walked over to Mr. Cartwright and asked him if it might not be better if he left right away. Mr. Cartwright told them both he would leave peacefully when the security people arrived.

A UCG elder, Larry Roybal of Mexico City, walked over to Mr. Cartwright and said some nice words to him and said he would stand there with him until security arrived. Mr. Cartwright said later that he greatly appreciated Mr. Roybal's gesture.

Three hotel security people escorted Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough down the aisles and out the door. Some people in the crowd applauded as the two men were escorted out. The applause was apparently to register approval for the conference's ejection of the two Journal representatives.

Mr. Stough, who had flown from his home in Lonedell, Mo., to help Mr. Cartwright with Journal coverage of the conference, was surrounded by the security people and told that he must leave the meeting. Mr. Stough, who with his wife, Scarlett, is a longtime member of the Church of God, is not an elder. Mr. Stough took photographs of Mr. Cartwright and the security personnel while they were being escorted out of the room.

In the hallway outside the meeting room, the three security personnel questioned Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough about the incident, asking for their identification and why they were ejected.

Mr. Cartwright told a security man he wasn't sure of the exact reason he was asked to leave because he felt he had Mr. Dick's tacit permission to attend every session except the one he had been specifically asked not to attend earlier in the day (and which Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough did not attempt to attend).

The security personnel asked the name of this newspaper and were shown a copy. They wrote the name of it down, along with the two men's identification information, and thanked them for their cooperation.

Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough walked to Dixon and Linda Cartwright's room in the same hotel to write this article.

More information on events of the day before this incident, and more information on events after this incident as Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Stough are able to learn about them from delegates to the conference, are planned as later additions to this Web site and for the March 26 issue of The Journal.

As to why he attended the conference if he felt unwelcome, Mr. Cartwright said:

"I certainly didn't feel unwelcome by many people at the conference. I know there were some who attended who felt uncomfortable with my being there. Of course, I did not realize the depth of feeling of Mr. Meeker, and I don't think Mr. Dick thought much about it one way or the other until he was put on the spot by Mr. Meeker.

"But, as to why I didn't leave when Mr. Meeker demanded that I leave, this is my church. I was at the founding conference, even though not an elder. I was a member of the United Church of God Big Sandy even before it was United, and when it became part of United so did I. I feel much a part of the founding of this church; I have wanted it to succeed. Even when we have printed articles that are perceived to be unfavorable to the church, such as the many congregational splits and the news about the president's firing, it has been with the sincere belief that, in the long run, such openness--advocated from the first by Bob Dick and Dennis Luker in Indianapolis--was best for all of us as brethren in the long term.

"I am deeply disappointed in the way Mr. Dick handled--or didn't handle--the situation. I do feel he was put on the spot and in calmer moments would certainly have acknowledged that I had his tacit permission to be there. I had interviewed him earlier in the day about the conference and the rumors of a UCG-CGI merger. He had courteously asked me not to attend the voting session, and I complied as cheerfully as I knew how with that request.

"He said nothing about my not being allowed at any other session. I told Mr. Meeker only a few minutes before he interrupted the meeting with his point of order that I had Mr. Dick's tacit permission to be there."

"I am disappointed that Mr. Dick did not, in my opinion, speak truthfully when he said otherwise.

"Besides publishing The Journal, I am a member of the staff of The Good news. I serve as copy editor right along with Scott Ashley and Shaun Venish and others on the staff. I have done my best in my work on that magazine and booklets for the church. I am not an employee of the church; the United Church of God is one of my customers in my editing, writing and publishing business.

"The United Church of God, since Indianapolis, has steadily moved away from its founding principles when it comes to being above board and, as Bob Dick says, transparent. The United Church of God needs people, including the men on the council, who will stand up for what they know is right. Surely all 12 of those guys know in their hearts that what happened today simply wasn't right. Members of the Church of God, including members of the UCG, are ill served by a structure that hides from them information about their own church."

During the remaining day and a half after the conference, which was not attended by Mr. Cartwright or Mr. Stough, several United elders contacted Mr. Cartwright (while he was still a resident of the Galt House Hotel) in person or by phone to say they were "ashamed" (the word used several times) because of the way the situation was handled.

One elder, from one of the foreign areas, said to Mr. Cartwright that he hoped that the incident would not discourage The Journal from working with the United Church of God.

"I was encouraged," said Mr. Cartwright, "by the reaction of many of the conference delegates to what had happened. I was also encouraged by the election of Mr. McCullough as president. He's a man who has no trouble thinking on his feet, and I assume we will not have this kind of situation arise at next year's conference."

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