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Is the UCG becoming
the UNTIED Church of God?

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Is the UCG becoming
the UNTIED Church of God?

by Reginald Killingley
The writer has known Leon Walker for 37 years and worked with him for 14, seven of those in Latin America.  He attended the same Big Sandy congregation with Mr. Walker until about 12 years ago.

BIG SANDY, Texas--The current crisis in the United Church of God an International Association burst into the open just before American Independence Day, July 4, 2010.

Regrettably, upheavals of this nature seldom work out amicably. People's feelings get hurt, and long-standing friendships end. So schadenfreude about schism is inappropriate. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for all the Churches of God.

For years the COGs have kept the Feast of Tabernacles as a foretaste of a millennium of peace after Christ's return. Yet how can they preach that the world will live at peace for 1,000 years and that their members will be kings and priests teaching the world how to achieve peace when they can't live at peace among themselves now?

Unlike information about ecclesiastical crises of the pre-Internet past that could be hermetically controlled, this one has produced a plethora of information accessible to anyone. The challenge now is damage control.

So who is to blame for this latest fiasco?

Slow to resolve

The 12 members of the UCG's Ohio-based council of elders (COE) have sometimes been way too slow in resolving problems. Why did they not act sooner to replace Mr. Walker? After all, has any other administrator in the WCG-UCG continuum remained in the same role for 31 years?

The COE did not seem to understand the need to groom a replacement as regional director or coordinator for Latin America. Mr. Walker is in his mid-70s and could not expect to remain in charge forever. No one is immortal--or indispensable.

Allowing a person to remain in the same position for 31 years (half of that time with the WCG's Latin American members and the other half in a similar position with the UCG) is unhealthy for both the person and the organization.

This may be especially true in Latin America, given its penchant for presidents for life. But an unfortunate predilection in politics has no place in a church.

Each side, of course, is interested in scoring points, often with selective recall.

For instance, a recent message from Mr. Walker to the Latin American ministry referenced the spirit of Indianapolis, the founding meeting of the UCG in the spring of 1995.

Yet a few years earlier, when he took part in the expulsion of a pastor and congregation from the UCG, Mr. Walker publicly stated that he hadn't been at Indianapolis and, furthermore, the decisions made there were not relevant to him.

What happened to change his mind?

An outlook can change

Over the years Mr. Walker has removed some pastors from their pastorates and was never pleased when their congregations rejected the decision and chose to keep the pastor, even if it meant leaving the church organization they had belonged to.

He was unsympathetic to the pleas of any congregants who believed an injustice had been done.

He was unyielding even if the pastor faced financial difficulties.

Yet, as one pastor removed by Mr. Walker wrote recently, "It's interesting to see how the outlook changes when the tables are turned."

Stand up, stand up to Hitler

One of the Latin American pastors who sided with Mr. Walker in this dispute wrote a lengthy denunciation of the COE. The harsh and intemperate criticisms he leveled at the council members did not appear to reflect any desire for reconciliation.

He stated that not supporting Mr. Walker is "exactly" like not standing up to Hitler.

He also complained about the UCG decision to cut off funds to the pastors who reject the COE's authority.

Global possibilities

Mr. Walker argues that he came into the UCG after leaving the Worldwide Church of God and after turning down an offer to join Rod Meredith's group, the Global Church of God. He would have become Global's regional director of Spanish-speaking areas, bringing with him to Global the pastors and the congregations of Latin America formerly associated with the WCG.

Because Herbert Armstrong himself placed Mr. Walker in that role within the WCG in 1979, no one could remove him. In the same role within the UCG, he had no administrative supervisor.

The pastors in Latin America were therefore free to run things as they chose, under Mr. Walker's sole supervision.

They went so far as to produce an "administrative structure" document in 2008, without any involvement from U.S. church administrators or officials. This document granted the Latin American pastors the sole right to determine a successor to Mr. Walker when the time should come.

Yet, in spite of these claims of independence from the U.S. church, most of the Latin American churches appear to have been willing to accept generous financial subsidies from the United States for years.

Naive isn't always cute

Mr. Walker and his supporters in Latin America seem to be arguing that they were and are autonomous and legally independent of the U.S. organization, though graciously willing to work with them even though they have not achieved financial independence.

As any parent of adult children knows, if you want to be truly independent you also need to be fully self-supporting.

Money comes with strings attached. If you choose to reject the conditions that come with subsidization, you must be willing to say good-bye to the subsidies. Naïveté is cute in children but inappropriate in adults.

Yet this seems to be the recent reaction of at least some in the Latin American ministry who are backing Mr. Walker. Did they not realize that the money spigot would dry up? Did they not consider what they would do once the bills start coming in sans subsidy check?

Money is a fact

I doubt that Mr. Walker is in a position to provide long-term subsidies out of his own pocket.

Since the need for money is a fact of life, a tax-deductible address for donations for Latin America was recently set up in Texas. Even if sufficient money comes in to offset the lost subsidies from the UCG, the Latin American pastors who depend on it will be beholden to whoever controls the disbursement.

Realistically, the setting up of any new organization will very much depend on following the money.

Irreconcilable differences

Amid the tumult much has been written about Mr. Walker's E-mail and other communication with the ministers he supervised when they had questions about the UCG's council of elders. Mr. Walker claims he answered their questions truthfully and openly, without seeking to influence their votes or decisions.

But how could he avoid influencing them? Consider the current political situation in the United States. We are a nation strongly divided between those who believe President Obama is leading the nation to perdition and those who believe he is seeking to improve the country.

These opposing views cannot be reconciled. If asked what he thinks of the administration's policies, I daresay a Republican senator would give an answer different from a Democrat's response.

Would they be lying? Not necessarily. But, even when they were trying their best to be fair, the positive or negative spin they put on their replies would reflect their biases.

Apparently Mr. Walker has disagreed with many COE decisions. He sincerely believes the council members are wrong. How could he possibly respond to questions about their decisions without leaving the impression that their decisions are indeed wrong?

The religious life

In the end, the people who are most hurt--and disillusioned--by squabbling of this kind are the rank-and-file members. They want to believe their pastors and leaders are inspired and motivated by spiritual concerns.

Sadly, these struggles reveal that, for too many in the COGs, religious life is really about power and money.


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