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Q&A lets United Church of God elders
sound off and ask the hard questions

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Q&A lets United Church of God elders
sound off and ask the hard questions

by Dixon Cartwright

The question-and-answer session during the United Church of God's general conference of elders in early May 2009 gave the several hundred men in the audience the chance to ask questions.

Some of their queries, directed to the 12-man council of elders, were pointed and apparently difficult to answer.

Elder Bill Bradford of Brisbane, Australia, acting as moderator, announced that oral questions from the audience would follow previously submitted written queries.

"The council, under the direction of our moderator and chairman, Mr. Bob Dick, will answer the questions or apportion the questions out to the members on the panel according to his own discretion," Mr. Bradford said.

The answerers could "take as long as they like or as short as they like to answer the question."

Mr. Bradford noted that, if someone in the audience asked a question and believed the answer was inadequate, its inadequacy was "probably because he didn't ask the question right to start with."

Mr. Dick then took over from Mr. Bradford. The following is highlights, excerpts, of this year's Q&A session.

Micromanagement happens

Clyde Kilough, a council member who also serves as church president, read a question:

"It appears the council is beginning to micromanage through the media and strategic-planning committees. Do you feel this is occurring? Please explain your point of view."

Mr. Kilough replied: "Well, it's a pretty direct question. How do I feel? Well, yeah, I believe so. That's my feeling.

"I believe there is a change in direction [of the council] in certain ways. There is written into our governing documents a word called oversight ... The council has the prerogative to interpret [the concept of oversight] and apply it ...

"My feeling about that: I think I offer that opinion without being adversarial ... If the degree of involvement in that aspect of oversight is more hands-on at one time than at other times, these things will happen ..."

Guidance over all

Mr. Dick invited additional responses to the same question.

Roy Holladay commented: "It's not a matter that we [on the council] want to tell the administration how to do their job, or their daily job, but we do feel that in these areas where it's the overall direction or where we're going that the council has responsibility of setting the overall direction and guidance," and "the administration has a responsibility of implementing that."

The administration includes the presidency and the operations managers. Mr. Kilough straddles both areas, since he is the president as well as a council member.

Besides the presidency, the administration includes financial services, headed by Jason Lovelady, treasurer; ministerial services, with Jim Franks as director; and media and communications, with Larry Salyer directing.

Mr. Holladay continued: "Back in February we were able to sit down with the administration--I'm talking about our committee. We had a whole day with the administration where we were able to sit down with them and talk with them, and we were able to, let's say, get on the same page as far as various items."

The moments add up

Council member Robin Webber answered the micromanagement question this way:

"The best way an organization works is when the council and administration are working with each other and together ... so that when we do get together in those meetings, where every moment does count, we crystallize and bring it down to the fine package where the entire council can really weigh in and give the best judgment on this matter ...

"Micromanagement, at least from my perspective: ... That's certainly something we don't want to do as a council."

Council member Richard Thompson: "I would say that one thing Bob Dick has tried to do while I've been on the council has been to move the council away from micromanaging and to give the administration a vote of confidence ..."

If it's broken, fix it

Council member Victor Kubik read a question about "broken relationships."

What are the council and administration doing about "our history of broken relationships?" Mr. Kubik read. "Will the council and administration directly address rectifying the deficiencies in relationships with individuals and organizations, take specific steps and set an agenda to solve this problem?"

Mr. Kubik replied that the council "has been working on this, and I feel like we've made some constructive progress."

He noted that the same discussion came up in a meeting of the council in 1996 when someone noted that "we have not always treated people in a godly manner, not always treated one another in a godly manner."

Mr. Kubik said that "efforts have been taken" to try to determine the "issues, what the questions are, and there have been surveys."

Recently the ethics committee met during a "retreat," Nov. 12-13, 2008, in Colorado, and focused on "a number of things that have been burning issues."

Forgiveness and reconciliation

Mr. Kubik stated that "forgiveness and reconciliation" are important concepts, and "I truly feel like we need to move into an era of [forgiveness and reconciliation] if we're going to move ahead."

After the general conference, Mr. Kubik predicted, committee members would meet for three days to "huddle and actually talk these things through ... We need to come to a point as Christians to be able to apply the things we have learned ... We understand things the world doesn't understand, but yet, as far as relationships, can we truly say we're Christians?"

Whatever happened to servant leadership?

Mr. Kilough read a question from someone who wondered what happened to the "servant-leadership initiative" in the United Church of God. "Will the council formulate and adopt a godly leadership program and actively utilize it?"

President Kilough noted that the church "changed the terminology" several years ago from "servant leadership" to "godly leadership" for various reasons.

"The fact that it wasn't front and center at GCEs [general conferences of elders] doesn't mean it disappeared," he said.

"Are we there yet? No. We do have to keep talking about it. Whether it will be formalized in our strategic plan will be another question for another day."

A renegade forum

Mr. Dick read a question: "What, if anything, has the council learned about the alternate [elders' E-mail] forum that may have affected the balloting last year ... [Has] any disciplinary action been taken?"

Mr. Dick responded: "In an autocratic culture it only takes the opinion of someone in authority to make an edict and something to happen."

But, even though elders of the UCG were accustomed in the past (during their days as Worldwide Church of God elders) to operating within an autocracy, the UCG is not an autocracy.

Abandoning the autocracy

Therefore the UCG cannot simply, quickly and unilaterally decide that someone should be punished for an alleged breach of ethics that might take the form of an unofficial discussion such as a so-called alternative elders' forum.

"In this room we have men who removed people [back in their WCG days] based solely on their own authority," Mr. Dick said. "I'm not saying whether that was right or wrong. It's just the way it was done."

But the UCG "moved into a world that said we have a member-appeal system--we have an elder-appeal system--that allows a member to appeal what they feel is inappropriate discipline by an elder ...

"When you vacate an autocratic system and move into that kind of system ...--[and] if you cannot incontrovertibly prove the guilt--we will not prosecute the case ... If you cannot produce the witnesses, we will not prosecute the case. We've entered that world. And, if the hat that's on the head is an autocratic head, the hat of United can be a frustrating hat."

No proof of an impact

Mr. Dick repeated part of the question: "What, if anything, has the council learned about the alternative forum that may have impacted the balloting last year?"

"On an official basis," he said, "the council has not learned anything that would prove incontrovertibly that it impacted the ballot last year.

"Could it have [affected the voting]? Yes. Did it?

"You can sit around the bar tonight and you can discuss that one till the tab is so big you need to pay it and go to bed, but at the end of the day it will be one person's opinion against the other. In an incontrovertible sense, no."

Yes, there are names

Has the council learned how the "alternative forum" operated and who was behind it?

"To a degree, yes," Mr. Dick said. "There are names ... This is at an unofficial level: conversations, discussions, material that has been floated.

"Has any disciplinary action been taken? No, it hasn't. It hasn't for the simple reason [that] it has not formally been presented in the fashion of a prosecutor prosecuting the case and the council hearing the case."

The appeals system

Mr. Dick said other situations in the council's experience have caused the UCG's appeals system to kick in.

"We've had cases ... [and] we've learned that this is a lose-lose proposition where we have formally heard the case, formally allowed people to make their statements before the council, had the council question the person, and there is an interrogation.

"We have gone through the entire formal process, and at the end we have excused the parties that were being heard, then rendered a formal judgment, then notified the parties of the judgment and published the judgment. So we have gone that full route."

Prosecution would require due process

But the situation concerning the "alternative forum" is "simply a case of there is no blame involved. This has not yet formally gone to that level. So I can't tell you where it would end ...

"Something on this level cannot be tried anecdotally, cannot be tried informally. When it is tried, it requires the presentation of all material and [requires] the time for the council to hear it and the council to vote on the action to be taken."

Appeals in the UCG's past

Two notable cases that involved appeals--and neither was discussed in this year's Q&A at the conference--were that of Dan Cafourek and the Tim Lindholm family.

Mr. Cafourek was a UCG elder living in Oklahoma whom the UCG fired and disfellowshipped, and the UCG, through a local pastor, suspended Tim and Hope Lindholm from attending UCG services in Minnesota.

Mr. Cafourek and Mr. Lindholm both appealed the church's decisions.

In Mr. Cafourek's case, his disfellowshipping (for allegedly "sowing discord" and "doctrinal differences," charges the church leveled at him after learning from one of his friends that he had questions about the Jewish calendar) was upheld on appeal and remains to this day.

In the case of Tim and Hope Lindholm, they have told The Journal they feel like they were left hanging, with their case never resolved. Their "temporary" suspension has never, as far as The Journal understands, been lifted.

The Journal has published several articles related to Mr. Cafourek's and the Lindholms' situations.

Concerning the Lindholm family, articles included "Members' Suspension Appeal Unsettled and Unsettling After Three Years" and "1998 Meeting Gives Behind-the-Scenes Look at United's Member Appeal Process," The Journal, June 30, 2000.

Regarding Mr. Cafourek, coverage included "Elder Protests UCG Move to Relieve Him of Duties" and "Regional Pastor Denies Elder's Allegations," The Journal, April 15, 2002, and "Disfellowshipped Elder Requests Apology From Church" and "Disfellowshippers Should Take a Break" (an editorial), April 30, 2006.

What about the move to Texas?

Back to the UCG elders' Q&A in 2009 in Cincinnati:

Council members next fielded several questions asked orally by elders in the audience.

Elder Mark Mickelson of Spokane, Wash., wondered about the proposed, and controversial, move of church headquarters from Ohio to Texas, which would make available an expanded and improved "facility for training" church leaders, including ministers.

Mr. Mickelson wanted to know what he could tell his congregation back in Washington about the move.

"What can I say we did as compared to this is what we hoped to do?" he asked. "We've lost 2 1⁄2 years. We can't lose 2 1⁄2 more ...

"Can these decisions be made so that I can go home or at least say that in a process we're going to decide these things, we're going to go forward in this way, that is what we're going to do?"

Mr. Dick responded: "Thank you, Mark ... Comments from the table, gentlemen? My dog is no longer in this race."

(Mr. Dick's mention of his dog apparently meant that, because he had declined to run for reelection to the council, immediately after this general conference he would no longer be a member of the council or its chairman.)

Votes to move and not to move

Mr. Holladay responded to Mr. Mickelson's question about the proposed office move: "This is a topic that was remanded to the strategic-planning committee: Where do we go from here?"

Mr. Holladay (who a few days after the Q&A assumed the office of council chairman, replacing Mr. Dick) recounted the history of the office-move discussion. The general conference of elders in 2007 narrowly voted to begin preparing for the move to Texas.

But in 2008, because of a measure brought up by elders who disagreed with the move, the elders as a body voted again. At that time they narrowly decided not to move, throwing the discussion and plans into confusion and disarray.

"We as a committee have come up with six or seven various suggestions on how to proceed," Mr. Holladay said. "Those have not yet been discussed with the council, although the paperwork has been submitted to the whole council."

Someone in the administration made a suggestion to the council regarding the discussion, Mr. Holladay said, "but I think it would be premature for me to say what that is ... But there are suggestions on how to move forward [while] dealing with immersion education and dealing with where do we go from here."

"Immersion" refers to methods of training church leaders, including elders. One way to immerse future leaders in training programs would be to enlarge the Ambassador Bible Center after moving it from Ohio to a larger facility in Texas.

Mr. Holladay said he hoped more information would be forthcoming by August 2009.

Efforts in many countries

Council member Bob Berendt of Edmonton, Alta., Canada, said he disagreed with Mr. Mickelson that the council has done nothing on the matter of the move for 21⁄2 years.

Mr. Berendt said Richard Pinelli, who works with leadership training, has been "very busy," and "efforts have been made in every nation, every country, including the United States, for the selection and development of the ministry."

Facilities, plural

Paul Kieffer of Troisdorf, Germany, one of three international council members, noted that Mr. Mickelson had asked about a "facility," using the singular rather than plural form of the word.

One of the plans on the table, Mr. Kieffer said, would be to "develop a comprehensive program for ministerial candidates, including facilities"--plural--"to be made available to achieve this purpose."

Does God vote?

Herchial Fisher, an elder from Jamaica, asked three questions of the council.

  • "Will there be another vote [on] whether we relocate or not by the general conference?" he first asked.

  • His second question: "Are you gentlemen satisfied with the growth of the church for 15 years?

"If the answer is no, against the background of a point made in Mr. Dick's sermon yesterday that God is concerned about the environment in which He brings people, is it therefore the responsibility of the church, and primarily the leadership, to ensure that we have the right environment so that God could bring people into it?

"Or, if the environment is right, is it that God just wants us to grow about a hundred [new members] every year? ... Are we satisfied with that growth?"

  • Mr. Fisher's third and last question concerned "the vote to rescind the move last year." How could it be that, with God inspiring two votes after much praying and fasting on the part of elders, the votes contradicted each other?

"Have we now created a situation where there is doubt as to whether the praying and fasting is inspired by God," Mr. Fisher continued, "and, if we believe it is, did God change His mind about relocating and rescinding the vote?

"I want some answers to determine if prayer and fasting does matter, or [if] it's really our decision."

Unsatisfactory growth

Mr. Dick invited his fellow council members to reply to Mr. Fisher's questions. After a pause he quipped: "Nobody wants to answer your question."

Mr. Kubik commented that he thought Mr. Fisher didn't really expect council members to "answer all those questions." But Mr. Kubik addressed the one about whether the council is satisfied with the growth of the church.

"No, I'm not satisfied with growth," Mr. Kubik said. "Even if we had 10 percent growth, I wouldn't be satisfied with growth. I don't think we should ever be satisfied with where we're at. That's why we continually find new methods, new improvement and so forth."

Concerning the rationale for the system of voting by the general conference: "There's also an issue of what are we doing," Mr. Kubik continued. "What is our part? If God only is to call people, and it doesn't matter what we do, then why bother with doing anything? Why have a church or a ministry or anything?"

But God does expect the church's elders to do things, he said.

"He expects us to use our minds. He expects us to find new methodology, new ways to reach people. All that is part of what we should be doing.

"We are creative. Many people are creative. They want to use technology. They want to use their skills. And they should be doing that."

He cited a lack of significant growth of church membership.

"We can't blame God just because the fish aren't there," he said.

"We have to ask ourselves, you know, what can we do to improve the process, to get ourselves out of the way, to provide an environment for people to come in?"

What is God interested in?

Council member Paul Kieffer broke in to address Mr. Fisher's line of questioning:

"We've all prayed and fasted about the decisions the last couple of years," Mr. Kieffer began, "and before every meeting we ask and pray for God's guidance.

"I think all of us have had issues for which we've asked and prayed over a lot of years. There's one issue I've been praying about for 20 years. [That] doesn't mean God doesn't hear, that He doesn't exist."

Mr. Kieffer said he wonders what "God is really interested in."

"If He just lets us make these decisions on our own, it's a wonderful test. [God can test us] by not giving us the answer [and not] placing a star over the place we'd like to [move to]."

God does not change His mind

Mr. Kilough addressed Mr. Fisher: "You ask did God change His mind. No way. God's not double-minded. God is not confused. We're the humans. We're the ones who have the mind problems, not God. Did He change His mind? No."

Mr. Kilough said prayer and fasting serve (1) to "seek God's understanding and will for us collectively" and (2) to improve "our own spiritual state."

He described situations in which he has sensed that God "steps back" and lets people make their own decisions because those people have let themselves become "conflicted."

"I think it's also important ... to sort our way out of being conflicted, whatever the conflict may be."

Mr. Kilough's conclusion about whether God guides UCG elders' votes:

"Many people have asked the same question you have. It's not a simple question. It's a challenging question. It was a question that's going to challenge us for a long time yet."

Taxed minds want to know

William Eddington, council member from Australia, said Mr. Fisher's question about God's role in church decisions "has taxed the minds of people down through the ages, and it's a question of how much is God involved in the decisions we make in the church ...

"We pray and ask for God's guidance and wisdom, and God leaves us to make most of those decisions."

Mr. Eddington said God is allowing the UCG to make its own decision about the office move.

"No, I don't think God changed His mind," he said. "I think God was seeing how we reacted to different conditions ...

"Are we asking God to make the decision for us? I don't think so. I think He's looking at us--how are we going to deal with this--and we're getting back to one of the first issues that was raised at the meeting this afternoon, and that is the relationship issues."

Mr. Eddington would like fellow elders to implore God to give the council and general conference the "wisdom to make the decision that's in the best interest of the church ...

"If we do that, then our fasting and praying will be blessed by God, and we will move forward perhaps in a way that we don't even anticipate or envisage at the present time.

"But did God change His mind? No, He's waiting for us to make ours up."

Behind the scenes: Arcadia, Calif., to Milford, Ohio

Chairman Dick, as one of his last acts as a member and leader of the council, then made what he called an anecdotal comment to add to Mr. Eddington's comments.

"I, like Bill [Eddington], fully believe that the issues are not with God," Mr. Dick said. "The issues, the people and how they respond to the issue are the issue with God."

Mr. Dick told a story about the church's decision to move from Arcadia, Calif., to Milford, Ohio, which eventually happened in 1998, three years after the church's founding.

Contention and disharmony

As Mr. Dick mentioned, many elders in the mid-'90s wanted to move the UCG's headquarters away from Southern California. But there was little agreement on where the office should end up. Some wanted to move to Ohio, but others were rooting for Texas or Georgia or even Oregon.

Mr. Dick said the various versions of the "relocation issue" have "raised the most contention" and "caused the most disharmony throughout the church" since its founding 14 years ago.

He offered his anecdote to round out the current discussion about church-office moves.

"I've never had a vested interest in where the home office is located," he said, "except I didn't want it in Portland. You're laughing, but we have a member who donated property, and it would have been a beautiful location. At that time I was in Seattle."

Mr. Dick said he preferred the office not end up in the Pacific Northwest--Washington state or Oregon--because a central U.S. location would be more convenient for more people.

Ohio move a fluke

"But it's a fluke that we're here" in Ohio, he said.

Speaking "as the keeper of the records, as the person who had all the internal documentation," he characterized the location discussion as "the biggest brouhaha in this organization since 1998."

(That year was one of controversy and tense moments for the UCG that saw the council's firing of the president, David Hulme, which in turn prompted several elders and other members to leave the UCG at about the same time.

(Along with friends, Mr. Hulme then helped start up the Church of God an International Community.

(See "Why Would Council of Elders of United Remove David Hulme From Presidency?" and "Two Council Members Report on Arcadia Meetings, Firing," The Journal, Jan. 30, 1998.)

"I don't think it's a mystery to you that the [Hulme] administration between '95 and '98 had absolutely no desire to leave Southern California, zero desire, nada," Mr. Dick continued.

"As we moved structurally up to the place where we had finished all the haggling over whose survey was the survey--[some said] the first survey that came out ... was so rigged there was no way we will accept that--the council threw it in the wastebasket and said we'll assign our own surveyor."

After surveys and discussions and interminable meetings, the elders finally decided that "now it's time to vote," Mr. Dick said.

King Finlay's memo

"We were literally this far from the vote when a memo came in containing a suggestion from Clyde's father-in-law."

Elder Clyde Kilough's father-in-law is King Finlay, an elder from Quakertown, Pa. Mr. Kilough is the current president of the UCG.

Mr. Finlay, as recalled by Mr. Dick, asked, "What do you think about making this a two-stage vote?"

As council chairman, Mr. Dick passed on Mr. Finlay's idea for a two-stage vote to his fellow council members.

"The council looked it over," Mr. Dick said. "The council said, 'That makes sense,' including the then-president [Mr. Hulme].

"The vote was taken, and the vote was unanimous, and it was that two-stage vote that moved the home office out of California."

Mr. Dick referred to the vote as unanimous, and no doubt it was. However, this writer, in the early days of the UCG, reporting for a publication called In Transition in 1995 or '96, attended a UCG council meeting in Kansas City, Kan., in which the 12 council members voted on various church matters.

A question would come up for a vote and, typically, a majority of the 12 would vote one way and a minority the other.

Then Mr. Hulme, who was a member of the council, would request that the vote be retaken and recounted so that everybody the second time could vote the same way.

This was apparently so other elders and church members, if they learned about specific votes, would hear that all such matters were decided unanimously rather than by a nonunanimous majority.

Mr. Dick didn't say whether the vote that followed Mr. Finlay's suggestion was unanimous on the first or a subsequent ballot.

Whatever the case, "the vote was taken and the vote was unanimous, and it was that two-stage vote that moved the home office out of California."

In the first stage of the vote to move, California won "hands down," Mr. Dick said. "It wasn't even close."

Because the council had decided to follow Mr. Finlay's suggestion, it conducted a second vote, which could be called a runoff.

"Then everyone who was against California all got together, [and] it came down to California or Cincinnati." (Milford, Ohio, is a suburb of Cincinnati.)

"Now the Georgians and Texans and Ohioans all combined their vote because the option was between California and Ohio, and we ended up in Ohio."

Humorous move

Mr. Dick said he thinks the way the vote occurred to move to Ohio was hilarious.

"I have found that absolutely comical since 1998," he said, "because people who were thinking they could work it that way and work it that way and work it that way got caught in the mechanics of how it would work, and an innocent recommendation from an elder in the field at the last minute--it looked innocent enough that everybody said it sounds great [and] adopted it--absolutely knocked the whole house of cards down."

Mr. Dick noted that, if the vote to move to another location, presumably Texas, comes up again, he will no longer be a council member.

Rather, he will be "sitting where you're sitting, and ... filling out my ballot like the rest of you."

For a discussion of the politics of, and reasons for, church leaders to vote, see also "Should the UCG's Headquarters Move to Texas? UCG Elder Offers His Opinion on Move and GCE," The Journal, April 30, 2008.

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