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Columnist predicts Jim Franks will be next president of UCG
By Dave Havir
The writer, a former member of the general conference of elders of the United Church of God an International Association and a columnist for The Journal, pastors the independent Church of God Big Sandy.

BIG SANDY, Texas--An old saying goes something like this: If you don't want to be a false prophet, don't prophesy.

I am not writing this article as a person who claims to be a prophet. However, I am writing this piece as a political prognosticator.

Because of the structure of the United Church of God (UCG), its system is more conducive to political speculation than most of the other branches of the Churches of God.

At this point I want to make two political predictions:

o The UCG will never pass an amendment that prohibits its president from simultaneously serving as a member of the council of elders, even though many observers consider the dual role to be a conflict of interest.

o Jim Franks will become the next president of the UCG next spring.

Before we discuss those predictions, let's notice a few other observations.

Catholics vote more

At this time let's compare the system of the Roman Catholic Church and the system of Worldwide Church of God (WCG) founder Herbert W. Armstrong and his numerous successors.

This may surprise you, but the government system of the Catholic Church contains more voting than the system of Mr. Armstrong and his offshoots.

When a pope dies, the college of cardinals votes for the new pope. Mr. Armstrong was not voted into power. Also, the vast majority of Mr. Armstrong's numerous successors were not voted into power.

When Mr. Armstrong died, his hand-picked official successor, Joseph Tkach Sr., was not voted into power. When the older Mr. Tkach died, Joe Tkach Jr. was not voted into power. The Tkaches came into power using the same government style of the last half of Mr. Armstrong's life.

The unofficial successors to Mr. Armstrong (Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, David Hulme, Dave Pack, Rob Elliott, Ron Weinland and others) were not voted into the leadership role of their present church groups.

As you can see, there is more voting in the Roman Catholic Church than in the WCG and many of its offshoots.

UCG votes more

This brings us to the United Church of God. The UCG votes more than the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church votes for a new pope after the death of a pontiff.

However, the UCG has had three presidents in its nine-year existence, and none of them died. Each time, elders in the organization voted to make the change.

Two beginnings

Even though some of the officials in the UCG do not like to admit it, two distinct schools of thought coexist somewhat uneasily within their church organization.

What is the reason for these two schools of thought?

Two major conferences took place in the early months of the UCG. The ideas discussed at the Indianapolis conference in May 1995 were different from the system ratified at the Cincinnati conference in December of the same year.

Some people refer to the Indianapolis conference as the founding conference of the United Church of God. Others maintain that the December conference was technically the founding conference of the UCG.

From that difference of opinion flow many of the contrasts in the two schools of thought.

From 1995 until 1998 our congregation in Big Sandy, then associated with the UCG, tried to abide by the concepts and principles of the Indianapolis conference.

Here are just a few of the ideas discussed at Indianapolis.

o Even though congregations were enjoying a sense of sovereignty, they wanted to associate with other congregations.

o The conference attendees discussed establishing a home office. (The term "home office" was deliberate in an effort to avoid the term "headquarters.")

o The elders at Indianapolis discussed the appointment of an office manager rather than a pastor general.

o Attendees agreed that the congregations would send in the Pentecost offering of 1995 to "jump-start" the home office. The general sense among many was that congregations would exercise their sovereignty in determining how much of future offerings they would send to the home office.

When the UCG separated from us and started a new congregation in East Texas in May 1998, we finally realized that the documents of December 1995 morphed the ideals of Indianapolis.

Someone could ask: Why did it take you three years to comprehend this reality?

My answer: For three years we misread the intentions of the council of elders.

Our congregation witnessed an ongoing power struggle between the council of elders and the first president. When the council finally removed the president, we assumed that the principles of the Indianapolis conference would rise to the forefront. We were wrong.

First president

In May 1995 the interim council elected Mr. Hulme as the interim president of the UCG. In December 1995 the general conference elected him as the first official president.

Many people believe that Mr. Hulme did not view himself as merely an office manager working in conjunction with the council of elders. It is my opinion that he viewed himself more like a pastor general.

During the reign of Mr. Hulme a behind-the-scenes power struggle took place between the 12-man council of elders and the president. (See "Why Would Council of Elders of United Remove David Hulme From Presidency?," The Journal, Jan. 30, 1998.)

Here is something significant to consider: Many people considered there to be a conflict of interest in the organization. Mr. Hulme was president and simultaneously a member of the council of elders.

Conflict of interest

In July 1996 I approached Mr. Hulme privately to recommend to him that he voluntarily leave the council of elders, in view of the fact he was president. I appealed to him to eliminate this obvious conflict of interest.

Mr. Hulme explained that he did not agree with me.

Although I did not discuss it with anyone ahead of time, in August 1996 I introduced an amendment to the bylaws that would have prohibited a member of the council of elders from simultaneously serving as president. If that amendment had passed, Mr. Hulme would have had to choose between serving as president and serving on the council.

Can you imagine how I was being painted throughout much of the ministry? People said I was rebelling against God's anointed.

Some elders in the UCG put heavy pressure on me to withdraw my amendment.

Some council members in the UCG called me to make sure I wouldn't pull my amendment. They wanted to see Mr. Hulme's power base diminished.

Even though some elders may have had ulterior motives in supporting my amendment and may have tried to use me in their effort to advance their own career in the UCG, I did not submit the amendment because of them. I did it because of my personal conviction and my interest in the success of the UCG.

From 1995 to 1998 I thought the reason for the power struggle between the elders on the council and David Hulme was that they disagreed with his philosophy. It wasn't until after they removed Mr. Hulme that I realized they had more of a problem with him than with his approach. (It eventually became apparent to me that the approach of some council members was remarkably like his approach.)

That caught me off guard.

By the way, the proposed amendment in 1996 got only 42 percent of the vote. I knew it would never get the required 67 percent that first time, but I was hoping for more than 50 percent. If it had gotten more than 50 percent, I believe it could have built momentum for the future.

At the 2004 conference this May, a similar amendment was proposed again. This year it got 48.8 percent. Not much progress in eight years.

As I predicted earlier in this article, I do not believe such an amendment will ever pass in the UCG.

Key resignation

A key resignation by one member from the council of elders helped to turn the tide from David Hulme to his ultimate successor. In June 1997 The Journal reported the announcement that Doug Horchak would resign from the council and that Les McCullough would replace him.

It was the opinion of many at that time that six men were supporting David Hulme and that Doug was one of them. In fact, many people expressed that Mr. Horchak and Jim Franks were the swing votes to remove Mr. Hulme. I witnessed elders strongly questioning the two men about why they still supported Mr. Hulme.

It is my opinion that the following seven men wanted to remove Mr. Hulme: Gary Antion, Roy Holladay, Vic Kubik, Denny Luker, Les McCullough, Leon Walker and Don Ward. The other five at the time were Bob Dick, Jim Franks, David Hulme, Burk McNair and Peter Nathan.

It took the council until January 1998 to finally accomplish its goal of removing Mr. Hulme.

(By the way, The Journal reported in November 1998 about the resignation of Jim Franks, which took effect in the spring of 1999.)

Second president

The council of elders elected Les McCullough as the new president of the UCG in March 1998.

Since our congregation was no longer a part of the UCG after May 1998, I was not aware of the day-to-day factors that led to the council removing him three years later.

I was personally aware of only one issue during that time frame. Mr. McCullough had told many people (including me) that he would leave the council while he was president. As the months passed, those words were like a campaign promise that went unfulfilled.

I have heard other people speculate that some UCG officials did not think Mr. McCullough was the man to champion the concept of servant leadership.

Let me respond to that theory with a question: Even if that opinion is true, how would Mr. McCullough's alleged aversion to servant leadership be any different from the general reluctance toward servant leadership that permeates and radiates from the organization?

The UCG has found its corporate place on the issue, and future presidents will most likely reflect the alleged view of Mr. McCullough.

An amendment to the bylaws in May 2000 had a profound effect on the presidency of Mr. McCullough.

When Mr. Hulme was president, the bylaws stated that a president could not be removed except by two thirds of the council. In that scenario a minority of council members kept Mr. Hulme in office while the majority wanted to remove him. Therefore the council wanted to make a change to correct such a scenario. The new amendment allowed the council to reaffirm or not to reaffirm a president after three years by a simple majority.

In March 2001 Roy Holladay, then chairman of the council of elders, announced that, although the council had not reaffirmed Mr. McCullough, it asked Mr. McCullough to serve until the May 2002 general conference of elders. (See "UCG President, Council Agree to One More Year," The Journal, March 30, 2001.)

Outwardly, the council of elders complimented the work of Mr. McCullough. Yet they politely removed him.

Questioning the council

At the general conference of elders in May 2001, elders asked questions about why Mr. McCullough was not reaffirmed. The exchange was somewhat intense. (See "Conference Focuses on Urgency; Council Answers Questions About President's Term," The Journal, May 31, 2001.)

This particular article revealed some interesting points about the removal of Mr. McCullough.

In an exchange between then council member Gary Antion and elder Larry Roybal of Mexico City, Mr. Roybal said that "at least five members of the council" voted for Mr. McCullough.

Yet a little later Mr. Antion said that the official vote to remove Mr. McCullough was 10 votes for removal, one abstention and "one other didn't ballot at all."

Here are some questions.

o Who encouraged Mr. Roybal to question the decisions of the council of elders about Mr. McCullough's removal?

Mr. Roybal identified Mr. Walker as the person who encouraged him to question the council.

o Did Mr. Walker tell Mr. Roybal that five council members supported Mr. McCullough? Probably so.

o Was Mr. Walker the council member who "didn't ballot at all" during the official vote? Probably so.

o Who were the five council members who supported Mr. McCullough before the official vote?

It is my opinion that the following five men wanted to keep Mr. McCullough as president: Bob Dick, Burk McNair, Les McCullough, Dick Thompson and Leon Walker. The other seven men were Gary Antion, Aaron Dean, Roy Holladay, John Jewell, Vic Kubik, Mario Seiglie and Don Ward.

Last-ditch effort

In the Feb. 28, 2002, issue of The Journal, an article ("United Church of God Picks New President; Roy Holladay Set to Assume Office in May") explained how three council members had submitted an amendment to the bylaws in the fall of 2001 in an apparent effort to keep Mr. McCullough as president. According to the article, the three men were Bob Dick, Dick Thompson and Leon Walker.

(By the way, the proposed amendment about changing the method of reaffirming the president did not pass at the May 2002 conference.)

Repeat decision

When the council of elders elected a new president on Feb. 28, 2002, this meant the council voted to remove Mr. McCullough two times within the calendar year: in March 2001 and in February 2002.

(Mr. McNair, who had apparently voted for Mr. McCullough in March 2001, was replaced on the council by Clyde Kilough in May 2001 and therefore could not vote for him in February 2002. I am not sure how Clyde voted.)

While this scenario was not as explosive as the removal of David Hulme in 1998, this was another major event in United's history. Two presidents had been removed.

Third president

In February 2002 the council of elders elected Roy Holladay president.

Even before taking office, Mr. Holladay agreed to remove himself as a member of the council of elders (see "UCG President-Elect Decides Not to Serve as President and Council Member Simultaneously," The Journal, April 15, 2002).

Someone could ask: Did Mr. Holladay's decision to leave the council of elders help his standing in the UCG?

My response: The jury is still out on that one.

Shifting balance of power

In 2001-02 I believe the council of elders narrowly voted to remove Mr. McCullough.

Someone could ask: Do the majority of the present council members still support Roy Holladay over Les McCullough?

My response: Probably not.

Of the seven or eight men who voted for Mr. Holladay, four of them (Gary Antion, Roy Holladay, John Jewell and Don Ward) are no longer on the board. They have been replaced by Jim Franks, Doug Horchak, Joel Meeker and Tony Wasilkoff.

A kingmaker

Someone could ask: Who do you think would be the leading candidate to replace Mr. Holladay, if they chose to remove him?

My response: I believe some people would want to see Les McCullough back as president.

It is my opinion that Mr. McCullough is a very influential force on the council of elders. Although I do not think council members will reelect him, I believe he will be instrumental in choosing the next president.

Some could ask: Does Richard Pinelli (the director of the ministerial-services team) have a shot at being president?

My response: Sure. The fact that Richard is regularly nominated as a candidate for the council of elders reveals that he should be taken seriously.

Allow me to give you two possible explanations for Richard's yearly candidacy.

First, it is possible that many elders do not consider the views of the candidates and merely vote for name recognition. Mr. Pinelli has an important job, and headquarters sends out his videos.

Or the elders are keenly aware of Mr. Pinelli's work as director of the ministerial-services team, and they enthusiastically endorse his approach.

Either way, he will be considered.

Six candidates

If the council of elders chooses not to reaffirm Mr. Holladay in the spring of 2005, I believe that six candidates have the inside track.

I am using two indicators to establish my criteria.

o Earlier I mentioned how three men supported an amendment in an apparent effort to keep Mr. McCullough as president. They were Bob Dick, Richard Thompson and Leon Walker.

These three men showed loyalty to Mr. McCullough and persistence to their goal.

o Here is my second criterion. Do you remember the proposed amendment that got 48.8 percent of the votes at the conference this month? Jim Franks, Joel Meeker and Leon Walker wrote official statements of opposition to the amendment this year.

These three men exhibited leadership by taking a stand on an evenly divided issue.

That makes five names, but I'll include Doug Horchak in the mix just because he is such a good candidate.

Let me make a few quick observations about each of them.

o I'll lump Bob Dick and Joel Meeker together. Their claim to fame, among many, is their getting The Journal's publisher (Dixon Cartwright) and writer (Bill Stough) kicked out of the 1998 Louisville, Ky., conference. Plus, they also transformed their image as zealous disciples of Mr. Hulme to being loyal supporters of Mr. McCullough.

o Leon Walker is a close friend of Mr. McCullough and a mover and shaker on the council. He is an intelligent man and a shrewd politician. I believe he prefers to work behind the scenes to accomplish things.

o Dick Thompson is a protege of Mr. McCullough. My friend John Warren, who spent more than 20 years as a student or an employee at Ambassador College in Big Sandy, calls Dick the best manager he saw there. Plus, Dick serves simultaneously on the council and on the ministerial-services team.

o Initially, I will lump Doug Horchak and Jim Franks together. Although they both had previously resigned from the council of elders, they both were reelected to the council in May 2002. They have served simultaneously on the council and on the ministerial-services team and have many supporters among the full-time ministry.

Apparently, the majority of elders in the UCG like the approach of Jim, Doug and the ministerial-services team.

My prediction

Though Doug and Jim have many similarities, I predict that Jim Franks will be the next president of the UCG.

(I wonder if Jim will choose Doug or Ken Giese as overseer of the clergy.)

Someone may ask: Why are you predicting a candidate so early when it's only a possibility that the council of elders may be looking for a new president in spring 2005?

My response: As a political prognosticator, I am not afraid to be wrong. But, if I am right, I want you to remember that you heard it here first.

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