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Should the UCG's headquarters move to Texas?
UCG elder offers his opinion on move and general conference.

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Should the UCG's headquarters move to Texas?
UCG elder offers his opinion on move and general conference.

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--Every once in a while The Journal senses the need to interview a longtime friend and Church of God member about some subject or other.

Several interviews in this newspaper with the friend, Ellis W. Stewart--who lives here with his wife of 55 years, Pat--have touched on matters pertaining to the United Church of God (UCG).

Mr. Stewart, 76, is a UCG elder and has served as such since 1995, the year of the massive splits from the Worldwide Church of God that seeded many of the present-day Churches of God.

The Big Sandy resident's history with the churches goes back several decades to 1956, when Ellis and Pat were baptized at a Radio Church of God Passover service in 1956 in Big Sandy, where they were visiting from their home in Liberal, Kan.

Later, beginning in 1960, Mr. Stewart worked in the printing department at RCG (later WCG) headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., then moved to Big Sandy in 1964 to start up the printing operations on the Texas campus of Ambassador College.

Mr. Stewart, on June 10, 2008, talked with The Journal about this year's general conference of elders, which happened May 18 in the small city of Mason, just northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mr. Stewart here speaks about the conference in general, including topics as current as the recently shot-down plans to move the home office from Ohio to Texas; the new majority on the 12-man council of elders; and the real reason for voting at the general conference if you're a UCG elder.

The interview

Question: So what did you think about the conference this year?

Answer: I always enjoy meeting and seeing people I haven't seen for a while. I enjoyed the food. We had some great seminars and lectures.

Q: What were some of those about?

A: I said lectures, but a lot of those were international reports, and we heard a tribute to the deceased elders and wives. Mr. Ken Giese gives that every year. This year the tribute was much shorter. I think there were only three who had died since last year's conference.

Alice Robinson's presentation

Q: So, from your view, what stood out?

A: Well, we had Sabbath services before the actual conference, with [UCG president] Clyde Kilough giving the main sermon.

Also, I thought that the lecture during the conference by Alice Robinson and Brit Taylor was outstanding. It was about preparing for the loss of a mate. I thought they did a super job.

Q: Did Mrs. Robinson mention her own situation, having lost her husband, John [a UCG elder], in early 2006?

A: Yes. Alice [of Austin, Texas] and Mr. Taylor [an elder from Keller, Texas] brought up things that you just wouldn't automatically think of.

She said that the funeral-home people asked questions like how many death certificates did she need. Most people might think you need just one, but I think they gave her a dozen, and she used most of them because of so many legal requirements nowadays.

She said that something you might not think about ahead of time was computer passwords. John had various passwords and it was very hard for Alice to get into his computer after he died.

There were things like that. Once your mate's gone, it's very difficult to figure out how to do some of these things.

So you should plan ahead for the death of a mate. John and Alice did plan ahead, but she still brought out things that most people don't even think about.

Pitfalls to godly wisdom

Q: Did you attend all the presentations at the general conference?

A: No, I was not able to do that.

I thought Bill Bradford's workshop, called "Pitfalls to Godly Wisdom," was just really outstanding. He brought up things that you wouldn't think of when you're reading the Bible: things about godly wisdom and, you might say, human wisdom and even Satan's wisdom.

Mr. Bradford emphasized that God's wisdom is different from the wisdom of this world. The world laughs at God's wisdom. The world's wisdom helps you figure out how to get on top in this world. God's wisdom is not that. It's from a humble point of view, and with His wisdom you're developing godly character.

Surprising results

Q: What was most surprising to you about this year's conference?

A: I think it was the way the voting went.

Q: Just what do you mean?

A: Well, I expected some of the [proposed] amendments [to the church's bylaws] to go the other way in the voting. One of them was the relocation of the office [from Milford, Ohio, to the Denton, Texas, area].

I also expected the conflict-of-interest amendment to pass, but it didn't.

Conflicts of interest

Q: You want to talk first about conflicts of interest?

Q: Well, there's always two sides. A lot of people think there is a conflict of interest if the same person can serve on the board [the council of elders] and also be a part of the administration [such as serving as the president].

I think this is because the board has the responsibility of evaluating the administration employee. If the president also sits on the board, then maybe he wouldn't make exactly the same decisions he would make if he was not concerned about his position on the board.

But others felt like if someone's going to play that role--if someone has the position of being over the ministry or over education for all these different administrative positions--then being on the board would be an asset to that job.

I can see both sides of the story. You'd want all the help you could get in order to perform that responsibility. So there's two sides.

Example of Mr. Holladay

Q: Didn't Roy Holladay lose his job as president because of what was apparently a principled stand of his to resign from the council when the council selected him as president of the church? Wasn't his resignation from the council to avoid a conflict of interest?

A: I don't know. He was not voted back in. What causes anyone to lose their job? It's voting, or balloting, or whatever you want to call it. Almost all of our presidents have been fired, if you want to say "fired."

Q: So which side do you lean toward? Do you want to reveal how you voted on the conflict-of-interest issue?

A: No, I don't. I think our voting should be private. I see both sides of the story.

The new majority

Q: What do you think about the new makeup of the council?

A: We prayed and fasted [before the recent election of council members], and I feel God's will was done. Apparently God wanted new people on the board with, probably, new ideas. New people usually have new ideas. I don't know why God calls different people to different jobs, but it says that Christ places us in the church where it pleases Him.

This [the UCG] is just a physical organization that helps run the church. United's a part of the church. So I would think this [the election results] is God's will. I think, when we fasted and prayed, God tried to show us something.

Why not unanimity?

Q: You elders fasted and prayed for God's will to be done in the election. So why didn't God inspire the votes to be unanimous?

A: God guided the men who were voting by letting their opinions be known.

Q: So you voted not necessarily to determine God's will but to determine what the elders' opinions were?

A: There is safety in a multitude of counselors. Maybe that's what Christ is trying to show His church. That's what we're trying to do. What does the vote tell me? What does it tell the president? What does it tell the council? What does it tell God?

It says that the opinion of the majority of the elders was that the decision to move the office should be reversed.

Q: A minute ago you said the vote reflected God's will, which I assumed meant you believed God's will was that the church not move its office to Texas. Now you seem to be saying that the vote was successful, and in line with God's will, simply by determining and documenting the majority opinion of the elders. Aren't those two different things?

A: The conference is a way for the elders to participate in a multitude of counsel, which is the system we set up in Indianapolis [at the UCG's founding conference, in 1995]. Voting, maybe we should call it balloting, is a way to determine the consensus among the elders, and I believe it is God's will that we determine what the consensus is.

How large a majority?

Q: While we're at it, could you define consensus.

A: A majority. A large majority. The administration had not sold the ministers on the move to Texas. If we had been sold on it, the opinions of the elders would have been different. Don't you think that?

Q: I think so.

A: If you and Linda, Dixon, decided to build a house and Linda said, no, we're not building that house because we don't have the money, yet you're in charge and you say we're going to build anyway, what is going to happen? If your wife is against building and you're for building, then you've got to show her from facts that it'll work.

And I don't think that was done with the question of moving to Texas with the overall body of elders. The vote was almost even. In both votes [the vote in May 2007 that approved the move to Texas and the vote in May 2008 that rescinded the approval], about half the elders were in favor of the move and about half were not. That's not a consensus.

Last year before we were going to vote on this [during the 2007 conference] was the first time that many of us had even heard about the proposal to move the office to Texas. The move had already been decided ahead of time. No one, ahead of time, went to the elders to encourage, to build, a consensus on the matter.

Q: Both votes were very close. So you don't think either one reflected any kind of consensus?

A: It means that half the people are for the move and half are against it. If the vote had been 90 percent for and 10 percent against, I'd say let's get on with it.

Q: What about 60-40?

A: Sixty-40 maybe, but not when it's this close.

Two problems with WCG

Q: So you're saying that trying to build a consensus that's more than just a simple majority is a way to get back to the principles espoused at the founding conference in 1995?

A: When we went to Indianapolis, I think some people thought that the only thing that was wrong with Worldwide was that the doctrine was wrong because in Worldwide we were going to throw away God's law.

But when we got to Indianapolis we also changed the way the government is run, and I think a lot of people still do not see that. They think it was just a doctrinal change rather than both a doctrinal and a governmental change.

Eventual move?

Q: Concerning the other surprise for you at the conference, do you think the church will eventually move its headquarters to Texas?

A: Why do I need to answer that?

Q: Well, you don't have to answer it. It's just that this is an interview, and that's one of my questions.

A: I think that, because in a multitude of counsel there is safety, after all the facts are in, our administration will see whether it's God's will to move to Texas, okay?

Why haven't we moved already? Because we're trying to get a consensus, through a multitude of counsel, to see if it's what we should do or not.

Q: To do what? To build a consensus or to see if it's God's will for you to move? Remember: You've been implying that those are two different things.

A: To get a multitude of counsel, and I don't agree that we've been talking about two different things.

Texas advantages

Q: What are the advantages of moving to Texas?

A: I think the No. 1 advantage would be that, if we have to have meetings where flying is required, Dallas is a center of the United States and easy for foreigners to fly into. It can be very difficult to make the connections to get to Cincinnati.

That to me is No. 1. But you could also have an expanded school in Texas, although your school doesn't necessarily have to be in Texas. If you fly people in for training at the school, then, yes, it might be best if the school was located in a central location like Texas.

I don't know. Maybe things would also be a lot cheaper in Texas.

These questions are why it's good to seek a multitude of counsel. People can look at this from all different backgrounds, views, personalities. Everybody's different.

The main thing in Houston was training leaders.

Q: Houston? Training leaders?

A: Yes. I attended a meeting of elders in Houston in January of this year where the president, Clyde Kilough, and others explained to elders in this part of the country the reasons for the move from Cincinnati to Texas.

One of the main things brought up in that meeting was the need to train leaders for the church. That would fit in with moving a modified ABC [Ambassador Bible Center] to Texas from Cincinnati.

Ohio advantages

Q: So what are the disadvantages of Texas? What are the advantages of staying in Ohio?

A: I don't know. I would say everything's already established in Cincinnati. If we stay in Ohio we save the cost of moving, the cost of building, the cost, the cost, the cost.

We have beautiful facilities there. I feel like the majority of elders do not think we should spend the money right now to move to Texas. I think that's what the vote showed.

But a lot of the vote was about the way we went about giving the reasons to move before the original vote.

In other words, we decided to move before we had discussed the matter thoroughly enough with the elders and before we ever convinced them of the need for a move.

Q: Do you want to say how you voted in the two elections about whether to move the office?

A: No. If I say how I voted, some people will think I'm biased toward one way or the other. I want the decision to be made with a multitude of counsel.

Changes of direction?

Q: Are you optimistic about the new majority on the council?

A: I've been optimistic about United from day one. Yes.

Q: Do you see any changes of direction--course corrections, so to speak--with the new council majority in charge?

A: This involves people. I hate to compare the church with Democrats and Republicans, but you'll have different people with different views ruling for a while, and then they'll switch and rule a different way. God lets things like that happen. I don't want this to be a political thing.

I think with new people there's new blood, and apparently it's good to rotate responsibilities. That's why we transfer people around a lot of times and give them different responsibilities. I think it's good for the organization. So I am optimistic.

What do you think, Dixon? Do you think there's going to be some changes?

Q: I think, yes, there will be some. I see, at least in small ways, the possibility that UCG members will get the go-ahead to innovate on a local level concerning preaching the gospel or whatever they believe constitutes doing the work, as the Churches of God like to say.

In other words, the new majority could signal a return to some of the original ideas and ideals of the majority in Indianapolis in 1995.

A: Any organization is going to make mistakes, and I think, by consulting a multitude of counselors, the new people will realize the mistakes that we made in the past. Then we will step out and get the opinions of the elders before a major decision is made in the church. So I think that will be a plus.

However, I also think that if we have leaders we should let them have the responsibility. I don't think we individuals should try to micromanage the men we've put there for those responsibilities. That's one thing I don't want to see happen.

Who micromanages whom?

Q: Seems to me in the last 13 years of the UCG's history the micromanaging has happened in the opposite direction, with the council micromanaging the elders and certainly the lay church members. The original Indianapolis mandate, before December 1995, was to go the opposite of the way the church has been operated as far as where the initiative originates.

The original mandate was for the home office and administration to assist the general membership in doing the work, whatever doing the work was thought to be, and even that decision--of what is the work--was to be the decision of the general membership and could, of course, vary from area to area and congregation to congregation.

A: Dixon, there's two different ways to look at things. If I'm going to vote for someone to be in authority, I need to give him the responsibility and accountability to go with that authority and not try to micromanage that individual.

In other words, if I don't like what's going on, I'll just go over and start me up another church. Not really. That is what I don't want to happen.

You've got questions?

Q: How were the Q&As this year?

A: I thought they were great. [Pause.] There were no Q&As.

Q: No Q&As? Why not?

A: I don't know why there weren't any this year.

But I imagine Q&As would have taken a long time, and I don't know if you can ever satisfy the people and answer all their questions, because our voting at the conference showed that there is a great diversity of ideas.

Q: So you're saying it's a good thing to minimize the display of diversity that the Q&As had become?

A: I'm not saying that. I don't know. I don't know why. That may be a part of the reason.

Q: Do you think the Q&As, which were some of the most colorful and entertaining features of the conference in past years, will be back in 2009 since the church will fall under the responsibility of the new council majority, which some see as at least slightly more progressive than the old majority?

A: I don't know. We have people who plan these every year. Do I think they'll be back? Yes, probably.

Church outlook

Q: What's your current outlook on the church, specifically the UCG?

A: Well, I have been super pleased lately with the messages that we hear from our ministry every week at the conferences, everywhere. I have not heard a message that has not been loaded with spiritual food. Tremendous messages.

Q: So you recommend that if someone moves into an area, or someone is dissatisfied with a particular Church of God, he consider becoming part of United?

A: We've never been a proselytizing church. God calls people, and He places them in the church where it pleases Him.

Q: Yes, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about. I'm talking about someone who's already a Church of God member. God has already opened his mind and called him. I'm not speaking of the concept that God must call a person into the spiritual body.

A: Our policy from Indianapolis until now has always been that the door is wide open for people to come into United as long as they don't come in and try to proselytize our members, teach our members, whatever, as long as they're not causing problems.

Q: So is that a yes?

A: Well, I'd love to see them there, yes. You're trying to make a proselyte out of me. The doors have always been open. I think this interview is going to cause me a lot of headaches.

Q: So what's the conclusion of the matter?

A: I think there are people in the church now who are growing in this thing of love toward one another, love toward God, love toward their enemies.

They're letting God work with their mind to where they're becoming more godly. I think God is building His character within us.

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