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Open letter from UCG pastor Ron Weinland
on UCG concerns and problems

The following letter is from Ron Weinland, pastor of United Church of God congregations in Toledo, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich.

December 27, 1996

Dear Conference of Elders,

Almost exactly two years ago, I began to go through the most trying times of my life. Obviously, many brethren relate to similar circumstances and pain.

In late Dec. of 1994, I was on a trip to Kansas to visit family and particularly my father who has been edging ever closer to death, due to emphysema. Facing my fathers' slow death in such a visit is difficult enough by itself, but just before that trip, I had also received my Pastor General's Report from Pasadena which spoke of sweeping changes in doctrine. Since I was so wide awake and couldn't sleep, due to agonizing over the questions of our future course, I drove the trip straight through. Perhaps that might not be considered wise to do so, but I did it anyway, because my mind was racing with questions, scriptures, prayers, doubt, frustration, and a whole lot more.

As soon as we had returned to our home in the Toledo area, I checked the telephone for messages. A close friend of ours had called, with fear and urgency in her voice, she told us that we needed to call her right away concerning her husband. Then I found out that my best friend, an elder in the church, had just been killed in a car wreck.

In the two months that followed, the stress mounted as it became obvious where the WCG was headed. How does a pastor work with a congregation that barely knows him? Since we had just been transferred here that July, we hadn't had the time to make the kind of close relationships that are needed for a time like this. For the first time in my life, I could begin to see how stress was affecting my health. For somebody who used to sleep like a baby, I found I could hardly sleep at all. My mind was constantly racing and wouldn't stop so that I could sleep.

I gave sermons, trying to calm the church and prepare them for what was coming. Without speaking out against any individuals at headquarters, nor speaking out against the doctrinal changes, I gave some sermons that compared what we had always believed with what was now being taught. By making direct comparisons, I felt that surely most would see through the deception. It didn't happen. On the contrary, some thought I was pushing the new teachings. If they felt that, then my only recourse was to resign, so they would know exactly where I stood. Hopefully that would shock some into examining more closely what I had been saying, but that didn't have much affect either. Then on March 6, after receiving a call from Joe Jr., I resigned.

Looking back, I regret the way I handled matters. As a pastor with a shepherd's heart, I should have been more direct and open with the congregation. But I either wasn't strong enough at the time or had just become too weak. I've repented since.

In addition, I was advised not to speak out and many other pastors who felt as I did were being advised the same. The reason? Because it might be seen as unethical, especially since I was in the hire of WCG. That troubled me, because deep down (and I expressed it later) I knew the faithful tithes that paid me as a minister came from God. But like a parent who can't go back to do a better job on his children a second time, we can only go forward -- repent where we need to and change where we can.

I've spent a long time telling all this, because it has a point. Those things I felt two years ago, I have begun feeling again. I don't like it. It shouldn't have to be this way. There are things that I see being repeated again. If they are not corrected, God will not bless us.

So I have some stress again, because what I am convicted to do doesn't come easy. But I'm not the same person I was two years ago. Yes, I've gone through the various stages of hurt, stress, tears, and betrayal as so many others have. But for all I've gone through, I thank my God with all my heart. It has matured me in ways I could never have conceived of before. I've seen and experienced spiritual growth to a depth I haven't known before, not only in myself, but in the churches I'm blessed to serve.

What I'm going to say in this letter is not the product of anger, fear, bitterness, hurt, nor any other negative influence. Too many today seem to think that just because someone sees something differently or disagrees, that they must be reacting from some of those negative kinds of influences.
What I as a pastor am concerned about at this time, is not doctrine. What I am concerned about is the lack of evidence of God's Spirit at work in peoples' lives. Are people being consistently treated in a Godly way? Is all the ministry, Council of Elders, and H.O. reflecting the fruit of the weightier matters of the law -- judgement, mercy, and faith?

This letter is an appeal to the Conference of Elders, the Council of Elders, and the H.O. We are blessed with having a constitution and bylaws that give incredible strength to sound, basic doctrines we hold dear. But what good are the knowledge and possession of the true word of God if we don't zealously live by it? What we posses must be lived toward each other.

Ask the brethren in your congregations. Ask them to anonymously express their deep concerns, disagreements, and evaluations. If viewed from a genuine collaborative spirit, you will find strong merit in the observations of converted brethren.

Now, granted, there are probably many who don't see or don't want to see what I'm going to express. But if all will consider these observations, I think you will have to agree, at least in part. There seems to be such an intense desire of many who want everything to get back to "normal" and get as far away from the past as we possibly can. That pursuit can be so intense that one only wants to see the good in everything that is happening and strike out at anything that might seem to interfere along the way. Such a trait is very good when used in a balanced Biblical way. But it can also be very negative and hurtful if it begins to cloud our vision and taint our relationships.

One can begin to look at everything in a Pollyanna context. It isn't a healthy thing to see all things through rose colored glasses, with a blind faith that God is somehow inspiring and doing all that is taking place in UCG. We should never forget that in our past, God has allowed people to make very wrong decisions and has allowed people to be placed in positions of administration that have caused great harm to the church.

The apostle John makes it very clear that we should "try" or prove those who serve God's people. As ministers, we should welcome such inspection by the brethren. I certainly do in my ministry and I am confident that the congregations know that. If I make a mistake, stray off course, or slip up somewhere, I want to correct it.

Pollyanna attitudes of blind faith begin to see any questioning of direction, administration, etc. as threatening or divisive. I've personally experienced this reaction several times over the past year in conversations and meetings with other ministers.

In one such experience, even the name of "In Transition" brought out agitation and threatened responses. In a meeting, I expressed how enjoyable and rewarding it was for me to watch how God's Spirit was working with and leading the brethren. I explained further that by exercising God's Spirit the brethren were able to be inspired by the good and were being sharpened to discern the bad, wrong, and off the wall ideas reported in the publication. The reaction to my comments was met with strong disagreement and the publication was viewed only as vile and threatening to the church.

When I've experienced such reactions, I have to ask, "What is there to fear?" Too many people have been deeply hurt because of an intolerance to different ideas, programs, and plans of local congregations. There is the distinct feeling from many in the church that H.O. is pushing and pulling for more control over everything. This discourages and limits personal opportunities for growth, training, and education within the membership. Some programs of local publications, local evangelism, local broadcasts or telecasts, church buildings, local collections, local boards, local youth camps, etc. have been squelched, discouraged, or refused by H.O. in some instances and by ministers in others.

Some seem to see such local initiatives as divisive, too unprofessional, too threatening to a different vision of "doing the work" or spreading the gospel. So instead of working with people in their dreams and desires, instead of allowing for differences and perhaps even learning from them, God's people are treated as though they are too inferior or unprofessional to handle such matters.

There is also an observation that I've seen in the dissemination of information to the ministry and the churches. We seem to be treated as though we can't handle information regarding what goes on behind the scenes. God's people have incredible discernment due to God's Spirit. If a minister treats the congregation with respect, the congregation will treat him with respect. If a minister trusts the congregation, the congregation trusts him. We won't have to hammer on brethren about trusting the ministry or H.O.

So I have concerns about how some of us in the ministry are being dealt with by some of the Council of Elders and the H.O. We are a family that is experiencing growing pains. If everything is above board and all are being truthful and honest with one another, there should be nothing to fear about total openness. We can give openness lip-service or we can just do it! We can give collaboration lip service or we can truly do it.

Collaboration is two way communication, with Godly tolerance (allowing for differences), and truly listening to what is being said, with the intent of doing what one can to meet their needs. Collaboration is not listening to someone so we can figure out how to actually get them to go in the direction we already consider best for them. The perception is that too often, surveys solicited for input are only used to determine how we can get everyone to go in the direction we want (already predetermined). If so, that is not truly listening to the desires of the membership.

Now I want to list the concerns and questions I have, for which I desire answers. These are listed in the order of importance.

  1. Is it true that only one day is being planned for the meeting of the Conference of Elders? Is it also true that unpaid elders will not be given the financial help to attend and if they cannot afford to do so will be hooked up by a telephone conference?

If one day or even if only two days is being planned, I feel the yearly conference will be a disaster for the church. Regardless of the cost, we are in our infancy as an organization and we have many things that need to be addressed. There is a greater need than ever to have an Acts 15 openness, without many of the limitations we experienced at the last conference. If an Acts 15 openness isn't allowed or planned for, then we will ironically find ourselves back where we were two years ago when seeking such openness with WCG.

All elders need to be present unless it is the desire of the international areas to send certain delegates of their own choosing. Our future is too critical to allow for such restrictions of only a teleconference at this stage of growth. And as an additional question, wasn't this full conference budgeted for at the Cincinnati Conference? If those monies are not in reserve at this time, we have some serious ethical problems to address.

All of this sounds too disturbing. It gives a little deja-vu, of what was recently experienced when many of us in the ministry tried to communicate with one another on ccmail and were told to cease because of the cost. Many efforts have been long and arduous to give us an open forum to discuss important matters over an E-mail format. Now I understand there will be by many rules of control placed on the process and further control through moderation of the process by H.O. (Conflict of interest?) This doesn't sound much like an OPEN forum. Can't the ministry be trusted to exercise God's Spirit and discuss difficult matters? I would hope so.

Concerning the next meeting of the Conference of Elders, I am requesting of the Council that they provide and plan for the minimum of three full days for the conference (four would be better). In addition, Bylaws Article states that it is the responsibility of the Council to recommend and publish the proposed agenda for the annual meeting. With that in mind, I am requesting that the Council propose a minimum of one full day (two are probably needed) of OPEN, UNRESTRICTED forum discussion be provided for at the annual meeting. This open forum should provide us with what was not given in Cincinnati. This forum must be set up for spontaneous, but orderly, open discussion for issues the elders deem to be most important. Perhaps the most important of issues can be predetermined from a consensus of the elders. We must have available an Acts 15 openness in order to work toward true spirit led consensus. In addition, this open forum should also be placed in front as the first order of business.

  1. Didn't the budget that was ratified in Cincinnati allow for only 22 people to be employed by the H.O.? Now it is reported that there are 34 full-time employees, 7 remote employees and 8 on-call employees for the H.O. Why have a constitution and bylaws if they are not going to be followed? Why have the elders of the church ratify anything?

According to the Constitution, Articles 4.1.2 and 4.2 make it clear that the General Conference of Elders have a duty to ratify a balanced budget and annual operating plan. Unless the same Conference of Elders amends the Constitution and changes this format or ratifies a different plan and budget, it is the responsibility of the officers of the corporation to uphold and work within the parameters of the directives of the Conference and Constitution. Perhaps I am in error, but my understanding is that the Conference of Elders is the primary governing body.

Are not the directives of the Conference of Elders to be carried out by the Council of Elders, who in turn direct and govern the officers of the corporation? If any employees have stepped beyond the governing Constitution and Bylaws, then shouldn't there be a strong reprimand or even immediate dismissal? If monies are not budgeted for a full Conference of Elders and if ratification of the budget has been ignored and monies have been misappropriated in order to double the H.O. staff, we have some very serious problems to resolve immediately.

I'm beginning to have other concerns about the stewardship of the finances. In a report from the Council of Elders meeting in November, it was reported that, "There has been a strong support in the income." In asking about this statement, a council member reported to me that this statement means, "that it is good to see the level of support continue to increase (that is the amount of total income)." Yet, the ministry has been informed that "we are facing a cash flow crunch". And that the "problem is exacerbated by the fact that we have three payrolls in the month of January and the fact that the Holy Days come later than normal". Wouldn't we normally plan and budget for these matters long in advance? Perhaps we need to find more diligent personnel to develop our budget and adhere to what expenditures have been approved.

In addition, there are many questions concerning the "Statement of Activities" which is being reported in "New Beginnings" on a quarterly basis. This accounting method only gives data and is not informational. It is quite incomplete to be of real value to the brethren. This is especially true since they have no comparison they can make with the budget, nor are the beginning and ending balances recorded. How much money is actually in the bank? Is it true that the reserves are being depleted at a rate of nearly $500,000 per month? Wasn't the estimate for reserves for April 1, 1997 figured at $5.5 million, but will instead be closer to only $1 million? These and many other questions need to be asked and answered.

  1. Another concern is the recent firing of a minister. I'm going to list this concern in sections.

a) The minister was terminated by the President and a member of the Ministerial Services Team. According to the Constitution's Articles and 4.5.1, it is clear that only the Council of Elders can remove and preclude a minister from performing ministerial duties.

In addition, in the Bylaws section under Article 8.6 "Responsibility of Council Members" section, Article 8.6.2 ("Specific Responsibilities" section) makes it clear that only the Council of Elders is entitled to conduct specific activities permitted only by law, as well as only those permitted by the Constitution and Bylaws. Only the council has been entitled or given specific rights by the Constitution and Bylaws to conduct specific activities. And one of the very specific activities listed in this section is Bylaws Article which states that the selection and removal of all employees are the responsibility of Council of Elders.

There is a contradiction to this made by a recent H.O. ccmail report of 12/6/96 that states that there are some misconceptions concerning the Council of Elders responsibilities. It states that one misconception is that the "Council is involved in hiring/firing. (There is, however, an appeal process which the Council does handle.)" This contradicts what is clearly delineated in the Constitution and Bylaws. According to the Articles listed above, the procedure outlined in the Constitution and Bylaws takes precedence above any other practice unless or until amended.

b) The matter is further worsened by the minister not only being terminated, but also removed from all duties as an elder, without any stated or implied justification due to any sin, doctrinal disagreement, or ethics misconduct.

In addition, the termination was followed by his removal from ccmail. This appears to be totally unnecessary abusiveness to so humiliate a fellow minister.

c) Not only were reasons not given for the termination that took place on a Sunday, but no final effort was made to try to discuss or reconcile whatever was supposed to have been worthy for cause of termination in the first place. It is also obvious that there was no plan for such discussion by the fact that all papers and checks were completed and dated the previous Friday. The meeting seems predetermined and was not even given enough importance to open with prayer as other meetings have been.

d) The Miami church's letter of concerns and their setting aside of a day of prayer and fasting in support of their minister, prior to his termination seemingly fell on deaf ears and they were accused in a letter from the H.O. that the Miami church had circulated "many hurtful rumors" about the minister. Based on the letter from the Miami church and the letter from the H.O., this statement about the Miami brethren was not true and should have been apologized for immediately.

  1. Is it not true that the Council of Elders stepped in on the issue of H.O. location since the H.O. had hired an outside consulting firm and had only given limited criteria? Didn't the criteria given ensure that the resulting report would reflect a need to keep the H.O. in southern California? How much did this useless, outside, independent survey cost? Isn't all this the reason for the Council of Elders stepping in and broadening the scope of the investigation into other locations in the U.S.? If so, why weren't we kept informed to these actions? Holding back such information fuels distrust.

If all this is true, all should know it. The ministry is entitled to total openness as well as all the brethren too. There has been such a cloud of secrecy over all this that even the locations being considered had to be first reported by "In Transition".

Actually, many in the congregations I serve have found this knowledge, of how the Council of Elders has stepped in on this process, to be very encouraging. The reason for encouragement is because it shows that the system has strength and can work. It isn't a bad thing for anyone in positions of administration to have checks and balances.

Conclusion: There are several other issues I could discuss, but I think you see why I'm concerned. This shouldn't be taken by any in the church as something that should divide or hurt us in any way. Openness serves only to illuminate and help Spirit led people to better accept their personal responsibilities. UCG,AIA has a strong Constitution and Bylaws that uphold the doctrines we all hold dear.

We shouldn't be discouraged by going through some growing pains. We are bound to make mistakes. The Council of Elders and Home Office staff have worked incredibly hard for God's people, as have field ministers and local congregations. We have obstacles in front of us that can be addressed if we hold on to a humble and meek spirit. Some changes will have to be made, but we need to work to make United not just a name we bear, but rather, a reality we live.

My hope is that this letter will move ministers and members alike to stand up for God's Way, like a Phinehas, out of a unity of spirit filled with humility. One can do so with mutual respect toward one another, not crossing the bounds with a Korah type mentality of divisiveness, bitterness, or defiant spirit.

I am not encouraging heavy use of the ccmail system with comments being made to everyone on the mailing list. My hope is that elders will respond by sending concerns and recommendations to the Council of Elders before their meeting scheduled for January 10. The Council needs to know our concerns, so they can more accurately make judgements based on a spirit led consensus of the General Conference of Elders.

This organization has great potential if we hold to a spirit of unity and openness. Yes, we will have obstacles and problems to be faced in our family, but as a family can stick together to work them out in a God fearing way.

As ministers that must be willing to stand up for God's people, regardless of the consequences, we must first consider the welfare of the brethren above our own welfare. I've written this with the hope of encouraging greater exertion toward unity, genuine collaboration, mutual support and trust within a united body. Trust is not owed to us in the ministry. It is earned as we follow Jesus Christ and it is the duty of every member of the body to prove us in those steps. The structure of UCG,AIA is now being tested as to the viability and workability of our Constitution and Bylaws. Let's seek God's will in these matters and in how we treat one another.


Ron Weinland

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