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WCG Minister David Covington resigns,
accuses church of spiritual abuse

By Mac Overton

Church government is still a concern of the Worldwide Church of God and the groups that broke away from the WCG, as shown by two letters recently posted on the Internet.

David Covington, a former Worldwide Church of God minister and contributor to The Plain Truth magazine, although supporting the doctrinal changes in the WCG, cited "damaging cultic aspects of the WCG system" in his May 11 open letter of resignation addressed to Pastor General Joseph Tkach Jr.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-day Adventist scholar whose writings on the Sabbath and Holy Days have been popular among many Sabbatarian groups, posted an Internet response May 9 to a man who had commented on past mistrust of scholarship within the WCG. Dr. Bacchiocchi said he posted the letter to share his recent experiences with the Global Church of God.

Mr. Covington, in a cover note to his resignation letter, identified himself as a pastor of the WCG in Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., and a writer for The Plain Truth until Saturday, May 11, which was also the date of the open letter.

WCG still dangerous

Mr. Covington said "some outsiders such as [cult watchers] Hank Hanegraaff and Ruth Tucker" believe the WCG has reversed course "and has become healthy. While its doctrinal statement is much closer to orthodoxy than ever, I feel there are major underlying dynamics that indicate its continuing danger to the Christian community."

Citing his credentials, Mr. Covington denied that he is a "disgruntled pastor." Rather, he was "a person favored by your administration and well acquainted with the significant problems of the WCG."

He took credit for facilitating 24 groups on "spiritual healing" for 600 WCG ministers and their wives over the past year and for writing the lead article in the May-June issue of The Plain Truth, "The Healing Ministry of Jesus." He said "spiritual abuse" is a continuing problem within the WCG organization.

Mr. Covington's dealings with the majority of WCG ministers and with Mr. Tkach, Mike Feazell, director of church administration, and Greg Albrecht, editor of The Plain Truth, "have led me to a painful conclusion: Your administration shows no willingness to address the core, most damaging aspects of the WCG system. As a result I must resign from the WCG ministry."

Mr. Covington is "encouraging WCG congregations to hold open forums to prayerfully consider local incorporation, local governance, and local maintenance of funds. Where that is not possible, I am encouraging members to leave and join healthy Christian churches where they can find help and healing."

He said he decided, after addressing his concerns with the Tkach administration over 19 months, that "it had became apparent that I was actually enabling a sick system that does not desire genuine change for Jesus."

He said he acknowledges the goals of Mr. Tkach and other church leaders, "yet you have implemented these changes through our historically abusive dynamics."

Mr. Covington likened "the 1996 WCG to a husband who used to beat his wife seven days a week and now has cut back to four. And the wife is supposed to be satisfied with his progress! Worse still, he's holding seminars on domestic violence!"

He informed Mr. Tkach that he had asked Ken Blue, author of the book Healing Spiritual Abuse, to list the symptoms that might point to a spiritually abusive group. Mr. Blue's response: "The first thing you look for is a hierarchy. In the New Testament we are all brothers. There are no number ones, twos and threes . . . The second thing I would look for is an emphasis on rules and regulations rather than on a relationship with Jesus."

Mr. Covington said those words appeared in The Plain Truth Dec. 20.

Mr. Covington continued: "The abusive organization has two major empowering dynamics, two legs which work independently: an authoritarian hierarchy and legalistic rules . . . Without addressing these fundamental structural issues, the doctrinal changes of the past five years seem merely cosmetic."

The recent Plain Truth writer said the magnitude of the WCG's doctrinal shift toward orthodoxy "has indeed led some outsiders to believe genuine repentance was taking place in this group," citing Mr. Hanegraaff and Dr. Tucker. "These observers cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a member of this church. They miss the dynamics of this system which remain abusive."

Nine WCG problems

Mr. Covington cited "nine fundamental problems" he feels the WCG must change to "become a healthy Christian church":

  • Authoritarian hierarchy: The church has a totalistic nature; the "pastor general" is all powerful.
  • Lack of accountability: The pastor general is legally accountable to no one.
  • Closed communication: Open and honest discussion is still thwarted by the church's structure.
  • Manipulative tithing: Current heavy emphasis on tithing seems characteristic of past exploitation.
  • Financial control: Congregations still send 100 percent of their donations to church headquarters.
  • Local congregations not a true priority: He doesn't believe that congregations will benefit from the sale of the church headquarters grounds for an expected $250 million.
  • Chaos and confusion: "Jesus" is lost among ever-changing policies, programs and crises.
  • Lack of respect for lay members and ministry: The current administrative approach is condescending.
  • The WCG organization is most important in the hierarchy, more than Jesus or people. The corporation comes first, the church second.

In a response to Mr. Covington's letter by the pastor general on the WCG's home page of the Internet, Mr. Tkach wrote, "The continuing doctrinal and organizational development of the Worldwide Church of God has come across as too fast for some members and ministers and too slow for others. We are sorry that David chose to leave during a period when the church is experiencing far-reaching change and spiritual growth of a historic magnitude."

Defending the WCG's hierarchy, Mr. Tkach referred to forms of church government, including congregational, presbyterian and episcopal. "This fellowship has always been episcopal, which is hierarchical, but . . . the church has been actively working toward broad changes in congregational empowerment."

Dr. Bacchiocchi's GCG experience

Dr. Bacchiocchi responded to a comment on the Internet signed "Randy K. Whited" that "generally speaking [those from a WCG background] have a history of mistrust of scholarship and scholars in general. If you have followed our heritage, you are aware of this general sense. There are exceptions and things are changing. However, these years of influence are not so easily set aside."

In reply, Dr. Bacchiocchi wrote: "What you say is very true, and it is evident when reading some of the literature produced by the Worldwide Church of God. I find that writers often jump to conclusions from a superficial reading of a text. They can [get by] with their fanciful interpretations by keeping their membership in ignorance. Scholarship is a serious threat to any church whose doctrines derive from sensational but senseless biblical interpretations. Members trained to think analytically soon discover the fallacies of the doctrines taught by their church. Thus the best course of action is to keep members in a state of ignorance so that serious questions will never be asked."

The SDA scholar said, ". . . This truth was brought home to me recently by the inconsistent behavior of the Global Church of God. Last January, I was invited by the editor of their World Ahead magazine to visit their headquarters to be interviewed on my new book, God's Festivals in Scripture and History. I accepted the invitation with the understanding that the interview would inform the readers about the availability of my book."

Here is Dr. Bacchiocchi's description subsequent events:

"The interview was published in two parts, in the February and March issues of The World Ahead, under the title `Does It Really Matter Which Days You Keep?' In the February issue at the end of the interview, the readers were invited to write to the editor for information about my Sabbath and Festival books discussed during the interview. Apparently, a good number of people wrote, some of whom may have complained about some aspects of my research with which they did not agree."

Some disappointment

He said that, as a reaction to the complaints, "the leaders of the Global Church of God decided not to give information about how to obtain my books to anyone. In spite of this, some succeeded to locate me and told me by phone and by letter how disappointed they were by the refusal of the GCG to let them know how to get in touch with me.

"I find this kind of conduct reprehensible for several reasons. First, because it shows that they were only interested to use me as long as I could support their teachings. Second, because they reneged on their promise to inform the readers about how to obtain my books. Third, because they operate on the assumption that by shielding their members from scholarly literature that challenges their positions they can ensure the continued support of their members.

"What they fail to realize is that a faith that cannot be defended is not worth holding to."

Dr. Bacchiocchi said the GCG policy "reflects to a large extent the traditional policy of the WCG ... My impression was that the WCG operated as a secret society which tried to shield its ministers and members from any scholarship that could have undermined confidence in the church.

"It is not surprising that when doctrinal changes were introduced, some of which were badly needed, over 70,000 members and 500 ministers left. Church members who have been trained to accept as truth only what had been packaged by their leader were not prepared to think for themselves and decide what needed to be retained and what needed to be changed."

Dr. Bacchiocchi said his "fervent hope and prayer" is that "church leaders will come to realize more and more that they have nothing to gain by shielding their members from responsible biblical scholarship that ultimately can help them to understand and experience more fully God's revealed truths."

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