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United Church of God has a month of pain and hope
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United has a month of pain and hope
By Gavin Rumney

The writer, a former member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded and operates, which includes Ambassador Watch

AUCKLAND, New Zealand--While United Church of God functionaries have been in a dither, and Chairman Clyde Kilough has been swatting at dissenters with the musty pages of Jamieson, Faucett and Brown and Matthew Henry, May of 2004 has in fact been a very good month for the UCG.

Not that United's ministry, by and large, will appreciate that fact. The ministers' Pavlovian conditioning keeps getting in the way. Any indication that people are (gasp!) thinking for themselves must mean the sky is falling, and, when the sheep dare to actually face down their shepherds, Satan is on the loose!

But the future of any COG organization--if it is to have one--does not lie with the recycled WCG demagogues who rose to the top of the heap by the standard techniques of guile and bootlicking.

Not that some of them aren't sincere or well intentioned; many are. It's just that they're operating in a mind-set that belongs to the scrap yard of church history. To put no too fine a point on it, the ministry just doesn't always know best, and everyone seems to know that except the ministry.

Out of the mouths of the young

It's interesting that one of the strongest reactions to recent events has come from younger members. Clyde Kilough's overbearing letter (in his communication to the forum of mostly UCG young adults), which managed to come across as pretentious and defensive at the same time, simply drew attention to the fact that, for the under-35s, respect and credibility have to be earned; they don't come as a right.


And they're not intimidated by the "rank" of minister.

Heaven knows, the UCG doesn't exactly have an overabundance of "young people," so you'd think the home-office bosses would sit up and pay attention when those who are still on board start telegraphing a strong message to the graying bureaucrats in cardigans.

The control freaks have surely had their chance and done their time. On the basis of the evidence in hand, they haven't got a lot to show for it.

It's time for an inclusive approach, one that breaks down the artificial barrier between the ministry and the great unwashed who sit in the pews each Saturday.

It's time someone started talking about the "priesthood of all believers," a concept noticeably absent from the reform process in any of the COGs.

Informed and educated

Unordained Christians are not spiritual minors to be treated as children. Many of them are better informed and better educated than their pastors, and the post-Armstrong generation hasn't imbibed the spirit of spineless acquiescence that too often characterized their parents.

The next generation of COG members will want a voice in determining their own destiny and not just sit on the sidelines as passive observers, and they're right to do so.

The current strife in the UCG has exposed a generational fault line. Already most of the up-and-coming generation have up and gone, not least the children of the very ministers who still cling viselike to ministerial privilege.

That's the basis of my optimism. This month we've clearly seen that there are those in the United Church of God with the nerve to stand up and be counted. Is that true of the Living Church of God or the Philadelphia Church of God?

Recognizing needs and meeting them

United desperately needs these people. It needs them inside the camp. These are the leaders of the future, and they are the only people capable of taking the church into a viable future.

This is not the moment for those who have discovered a voice to back off or to turn down the heat.

Loyalty isn't a matter of "do what the pastor says." Loyalty may mean doing the opposite. Walking away is to hand the victory to the very people who will lead the church into stagnation and a long, cancerous decline.

When Clyde Kilough referred to "foes" this week, perhaps he should have first looked in the mirror.

Consider the sage words of Walt Kelly's comic creation Pogo (a more perceptive observer than Matthew Henry): We have met the enemy, and he is us.

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