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Church of God Worldwide Association's board
chairman gives reasons for new UCG split group

Encouraging Communication among the Churches of God

Church of God Worldwide Association's board
chairman gives reasons for new UCG split group

by Dixon Cartwright

Although representatives of the Church of God a Worldwide Association (CGWA) twice refused a request from this writer for The Journal to attend its organizational conference on Jan. 9-11, 2011, The Journal was able to gain some insights into the new organization through other means.

The Journal heard some preliminary discussion directly from Mike Hanisko, recently named chairman of the CGWA's board, in a recording of a Q&A he conducted in Wisconsin on Dec. 25, 2010.

The session was recorded and posted on the new Beloit, Wis., congregation's Web site.

In the 70-minute presentation Mr. Hanisko followed a prepared agenda. Although he spent the time discussing selected topics, he answered questions from the group that mostly comprised former members of the United Church of God. Following are excerpts.

Church hall

"Is this hall okay?" Mr. Hanisko asked his audience. "We had 33 here today. We had 49 chairs set up today."

Mr. Hanisko said he anticipated "other people joining the group from various parts of Wisconsin."

Perceived reasons

Mr. Hanisko discussed the three reasons some people claim are why some UCG ministers left and formed the CGWA.

  • "For a while the issues were characterized as, because we didn't move [the UCG headquarters] to Texas, people were unhappy about that. And that's why people are upset.


  • "Then it kind of changed. It became more, well, there were those who were on the council or in administration, and they are no longer there so they are unhappy.

  • "Most recently the comments were made that we disagreed with the government structure and format and wanted to change the governance, the government of the United Church of God. And that was claimed to be the issue."

Mr. Hanisko then stated what he says he believes are the two actual reasons ministers left the UCG.

  • "The issues are only two. That is, one, what we perceived as unethical, sometimes sinful conduct, on the part of leadership.

  • "And, two, ungodly treatment of brethren. Those are the only really two issues that brought us to this point."

View of doctrine

Mr. Hanisko later addressed the allegation that the overarching problem was UCG doctrinal changes.

"Is doctrine being changed in the United Church of God?

"I don't see that. [But] the Sabbath paper [a doctrinal treatise from the UCG] upset a lot of people, and rightly so. It was not sound."

Although the paper "has flaws in it" and "contradicts some decisions we made" years ago," I don't believe that someone has tried, you know, to significantly change doctrine."

Rather, he said, he sees carelessness in how the UCG seeks to "protect doctrine." Carelessness can lead to doctrinal "drift," he said. Doctrinal drift can lead to the defense of an unsound position. "That's kind of what went on most recently."

One more summary

But the real and most important issue, he said, was not the Texas move or whether somebody was voted off the council and was not problems with a change in governance or doctrine.

"The real issues are unethical, sometimes sinful, behavior and, two, ungodly treatment of brethren."

Take it slowly

Mr. Hanisko read comments from people in his audience.

One audience member recommended the new church "take it slowly."

Mr. Hanisko's reply to that comment included information about renting a post-office box so Wisconsinites could contribute to the new church.

"People have been holding onto tithes for weeks, months and up to a year wondering where to send them."

Local boards

Mr. Hanisko talked about collecting money locally and organizing a budget committee to propose a budget to present to the congregation.

Someone in the audience asked Mr. Hanisko his opinion of local congregational boards.

"What I prefer," he replied, "and this is what I have done through the years ever since United began, what I prefer instead of a board is to have regular church meetings, where the whole congregation can meet together, like this [meeting]."

With the congregation in effect acting as a board--perhaps an advisory board rather than a body with literal governing authority--members could stay after Sabbath services until after sundown to participate.

They would submit "agenda items" in advance "to me or to somebody else," he said, for consideration.

Such meetings might happen every three months, Mr. Hanisko said. But twice-yearly meetings might be sufficient.

"But I realize that [in the] beginning you may want to have a meeting once a month," he said. "You may want to have meetings quarterly. You know, whatever. That's up to you.

"So, in lieu of a board or a council, as small as we are, I'd rather see the whole church be involved in these kinds of decisions and what we're doing and get your input."

Giving locally is no problem

Mr. Hanisko said the brethren may send donations to the address of the local congregation or to a central location.

United members, back in 1995, had the option, he noted, of collecting tithes and offerings locally or sending them to the home office, then in Arcadia, Calif.

"Congregations individually could decide to do that," he said. "Individuals within the congregation could decide, 'Well, our congregation is collecting tithes locally, but I prefer to send mine to the home office.' Fine."

Evolution of tithe collection

Mr. Hanisko described the process in the UCG in which congregations in general ceased collecting tithes and offerings locally and began sending them to church headquarters, which moved from California in 1998 to the Cincinnati, Ohio, area.

In the UCG's early days, he said, "85 percent of congregations collected tithes locally and only 15 percent sent the tithes to the home office."

But "within about five to eight years that exactly reversed," he said, "where 15 percent of congregations collected locally and 85 percent sent to the home office."

Mr. Hanisko said congregations decided to direct their members to send tithes and offerings to church headquarters "as trust grew."

Reminder of their choice

Mr. Hanisko said the local brethren have a choice.

"It's up to you. If we collect locally and we have more than enough to cover our expenses, well, then, I would ask that [the] excess be sent" to a central location.

"Initially, of course, we'll have needs here, hall rental and some of those things. Some of you have already asked about paying for today's hall. Well, we've got that covered. But there are other things too.

"So that will, you know, kind of be up to you."

Will we change our mind?

Mr. Hanisko mentioned the possibility that a congregation could change its mind about where to direct tithes and donations.

"What developed in United was that congregations just said, 'We want to opt out of doing things locally. We are going to ask everybody to send their tithes to the home office, and the home office will provide a subsidy based on the budget, and that will cover all of our expenses.'"

Casting lots

Some in the congregation had recommended that a new church should consider casting lots as a way to make decisions.

"Well," Mr. Hanisko said, "that was done in the Old Testament. There are some examples in the New Testament."

He said he could envision a situation in which members would vote to narrow down the choice of a candidate or measure to, say, 24 measures or candidates.

"We put those 24 names in a hat, and we choose [draw] five names out.

"... People can't campaign, and, you know, it takes away some of the politics. We [could] ask the whole church to pray and fast that day or before the meeting . . ."

In choosing a president, Mr. Hanisko said the board could possibly come up with the names of three people who would be qualified to serve. Then someone could "put those three names in a hat and we pray and we fast and we ask God to help us and we draw a name out and say you're the president.

"Maybe that's what we'll end up with . . . But there are other options too."

Mr. Hanisko promised to toss the idea of casting lots "into the mix."

Input on credentialing

Mr. Hanisko told his audience he was in favor of congregations expressing their opinions about who should be credentialed as elders.

"I think it's wise to seek congregational input." he said. "So that's what I would favor."

False doctrine

When Mr. Hanisko began talking about protecting the brethren from false doctrine, he revealed an aspect of his perspective on the beginnings of the UCG and some of its problems over the years.

"We were so excited about coming out of false doctrine [in 1995] that our focus was God's truth, serve the brethren with truth. We came away from Indianapolis [the location of the UCG's founding conference] with, among other things, two strong commitments.

  • "We said, No. 1, that we would never again allow the brethren to be deceived by false doctrine.

  • "Two, we said we would never allow there to be abuse of authority without raising our voices.

"And, most recently, that's kind of what we're dealing with."

The current crisis and split are "much more subtle than the last one," Mr. Hanisko said.

In the UCG "we got a little too locked in and enamored of bylaws and process and rules and regulations so that in discussions when there were difficulties between and among brothers . . . we lost sight of some basic foundational Christian principles, I think."

Temporary nature of things

Mr. Hanisko said the new group is still in transition.

"What will come out of the meetings Jan. 9-11, again, will be temporary. We've already said that within six to nine months we will be reviewing everything and asking the question: How is it working?"

Conference call

Mr. Hanisko referred to a special meeting by telephone the previous week.

"We had a conference, you know, last week with about 70-some ministers . . . and we discussed a number of things. Where do we go now? A lot of those men have since resigned [from the UCG]. More will be coming after the Louisville weekend."

Reference to memo

Mr. Hanisko quoted from a memo he had written to some ministers who were organizing the Louisville conference.

Since The Journal staff did not have a copy of the letter, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between Mr. Hanisko's quotes in the letter and his extemporaneous remarks. Still, the following comments are from Mr. Hanisko, whether part of the letter or whether they are his side comments as he read the letter.

He said: "I said: I'm looking forward to our conference in a couple of hours. However, after reading the agenda and related material, I felt it necessary to express a few cautions to consider as we move forward.

"We need to be careful that we are not creating United Light, as I call it. This is of concern to many brethren who are and will be very sensitive to how we organize, what are our first steps, etc.

"For example, in my opinion to begin talking about possible locations for a permanent office is premature and will generate much concern among the brethren.

"Why not just work out of our homes for a period of time and see how things develop? This is the age of instant communication . . . and brethren will be watching closely how money is spent . . .

"The statement in point 13 [of the conference agenda] is [that it is] best that from the beginning we focus attention on a central organization rather than creating so many independent groups.

"We need to be very careful how we do this. It will be important to allow and plan for a looser association in some cases than we might desire and work on restoring a measure of trust before we place too much emphasis on this. I think this is something we should be concerned about.

"One more example: I said how leadership is chosen: If we simply use the same method as we did in United, our ballot process in its present form, this will send the wrong message to many brethren.

"Below is an example of four communications I have received in the last week from brethren in Wisconsin and Illinois. This is just a sample and represents the concerns of many others.

"Some of you will recognize what you wrote.

"One: 'I wanted to let you know I was disheartened a little. I am speaking only for myself. I do not speak for my husband in any way, but I wanted to encourage you, even beg--I know that's a strong word--to please not lead us back into a corporate body again.

"Not a demand, not a desire, not a condition, but a fear.'

"[2] Another comment: 'I am leery, as are others, of going back into a UCG situation. And we prefer to see a more independent approach, that is not to say that we shouldn't retain some affiliation. I know there isn't one of us that wants to spend our next 15 years discussing bylaws and legalities.'

"[3] Another comment . . . : 'You all realize how leery the sheep are about another corporation. I don't know how certain things can be done without a corporation, but I guess I would be looking for flexibility and not setting things in stone at least initially. Start slowly.'

"We are committed to doing that. We have this conference. We review things in six to nine months [so we can ask]: How are we doing?

"Having a built-in review of whether the government is working: That's an excellent suggestion . . .

"[4] And then I submitted a fourth comment. This is a clean-slate opportunity. 'Take it slowly.' How many times has that come up? There is a strong general feeling that we do not want to rush into another large organization.

"Utilize the talents and abilities of the members. [Solicit] congregational input on credentialing. Consider using lots for the selections of positions.

"So then I conclude[d]: These are issues I know I will be discussing with brethren in this area. Please consider these carefully.

"All the brethren will not automatically rally just because the ministry does . . . I did get a few responses [from the ministers]."

A committee chairman responded

Mr. Hanisko read from a letter he received from the chairman of a governance committee.

"You raise some very valid points," he quoted the man as saying. "I think the governance task force will have to carefully not only structure [the new church organization], but [consider] how do we do it in such a way that brings people back together instead of distancing them . . .

"We have a veteran church, and I think the members who go with us will, by and large, be the more spiritually mature. They cannot be treated like children. In fact, we will not tolerate it."

Details requested

Someone in Mr. Hanisko's audience asked for details about the governance committee.

"The chair[man] of the governance committee is going to be Clyde Kilough," Mr. Hanisko said. "But there are approximately 20 ministers also on that committee, and we're going to divide that up into four groups."

The four groups within the committee will concern themselves with (1) immediate administration, (2) long-term administration, (3) immediate governance and (4) long-term governance.

Another minister responded

Mr. Hanisko read from a response he received from another minister.

"You can imagine that people are pulling from all directions," he quoted his fellow minister as saying.

"There are those who are upset about any idea of independent groups. There are those who say, no, you cannot have any independent groups; they all need to be joined.

"There are those who want to know immediately how you will preach the gospel."

Warnings about Satan

After Mr. Hanisko read a suggestion from an audience member about the need to avoid church politics, he talked about the power of Satan.

"'Make things as politics-free as possible': I hope we can do that. You know, knowing Satan, even if we have just an independent congregation, not affiliated with anybody else, Satan finds his way in there too.

"We try to keep that out . . . but the enemy never stops . . . Protection is our own personal relationship with God."

Servant leadership

After Mr. Hanisko read a suggestion about servant leadership, he gave some of his own opinions:

"[We want] the concept of servant leadership that we can get from the Scriptures," he said. "I don't want to go into somebody's psychological mumbo-jumbo on the subject of servant leadership. And I've read some of those too.

"But there are biblical scriptures, biblical principles from the Scriptures, very sound, about servant leadership."

Widows, wake up

Mr. Hanisko mentioned the importance of helping widows.

"I've gotten several letters from some of our dear widows," he said. "They have no Internet access and they don't know [what's been going on]. And they've asked what happened . . . I've written back to them [to] tell them what happened.

"People wake up for all different reasons."

Leap of faith

At the end of the session, someone asked Mr. Hanisko how he deals with not being employed by a sizable church organization.

"I've taken leaps of faith before," he said, "and this is one of them. You don't know where you are going to land."

The Journal wishes to thank Dave Havir for helping to provide research for this article.


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