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UCG's announcement of its disapproval of conference leads to resignation by two of its founding elders
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UCG's announcement of its disapproval of conference
leads to resignation by two of its founding elders

By Dixon Cartwright

The Ohio-based United Church of God an International Association on July 8 expressed its official disapproval of the "evangelism conference" planned for Indianapolis, Ind., to begin July 31 by two of its elders, including a pastor on the church's payroll.

Four days later, reacting to the official statement from UCG president Roy Holladay, Guy Swenson and Bill Jacobs, the two conference organizers, resigned from the UCG.

Roy Holladay
Roy Holladay

Just before this issue of The Journal was to go to press, Mr. Holladay, who lives in the Cincinnati area, E-mailed a letter to the denomination's ministers to announce that the Conference on Evangelism sponsored by Mr. Swenson, of Plainfield, Ill., and Mr. Jacobs, of Albuquerque, N.M., "is contrary to our Ministerial Code of Ethics" because its organizers did not "appropriately communicat[e] with the Home Office staff and the equivalent office in other countries."

Further, said Mr. Holladay, "comments both private and on [the UCG's] Elder's Forum" make it evident that the event is "divisive and controversial."

Since one of the elders, Mr. Jacobs, was also an employee of the church, Mr. Holladay averred that planning the conference, through Mr. Jacobs, violated the church's "Employee Conflict of Interest policy."


List of conflicts

Mr. Holladay listed points to make the case for conflict of interest explicitly and implicitly. His listed items included the following:

  • All UCG employees must represent the church in "the best light at all times" and are not to "bring disrespect" on the church.
  • Mr. Jacobs' and Mr. Swenson's conference "advocates division within the Church."
  • An "apparent conflict of interest" exists between the two men's activities and the UCG.
  • The UCG is being embarrassed, criticized and abused because of the two men's plans.
  • The planned event creates "sharply divided opinions among the ministry."
  • The whole affair "sets a dangerous precedent."

Inspired by the actions of the conference organizers, "an elder could disagree about policy, the budget, doctrinal issues, pastoring or any number of topics and decide that he is going to organize a seminar to lead a discussion on the topic," Mr. Holladay warned.

The UCG president concluded his letter by announcing that the church administration "does not support or approve this activity and does not recommend attendance at these seminars."

Change of plans?

The same day the letter came out, The Journal talked with Mr. Swenson to ask him if his and Mr. Jacobs' plans had changed.

Mr. Swenson said the conference would go on as scheduled Saturday and Sunday, July 31 and Aug. 1, at a hotel in Indianapolis.

Four days later, in announcements dated July 12, both men resigned.

"I am sorry it has come down to this," wrote Mr. Jacobs, who until July 12 pastored two UCG congregations.

"In my memory I can still hear the calls from the floor at Indianapolis [during the UCG's founding conference in 1995] asking for more openness, more inclusiveness and less control in our new church.

"Who could have imagined at that time that UCG would become an organization so tightly controlled that ministers would need permission to sponsor an event on the subject of evangelism, the very mission of the Church?"

Mr. Jacobs said Mr. Holladay and ministerial-services director Richard Pinelli of Cincinnati had asserted that he had violated policies of the corporation by his involvement in the conference.

"I believe, based on Scripture," said Mr. Jacobs, "that permission to evangelize has already been granted by Jesus Christ."

Both men said that, rather than risk further accusations of violations of ministerial ethics, they had decided to resign from the UCG.

Mr. Swenson, who was not a UCG employee, specifically resigned his status as elder and his membership in the church in a letter to Clyde Kilough of Sacramento, Calif., chairman of the council of elders.

Mr. Jacobs resigned in a letter to the council of elders. He specifically resigned from his church employment, but his letter did not mention whether he was resigning his membership in the UCG.

Code of ethics

The Journal asked Mr. Swenson if he believes his plans for the conference were a violation of the UCG's code of ethics.

"In a conversation with Roy [Holladay] and Richard [Pinelli], I pointed out that it should never be considered unethical to talk and confer about something so basic as evangelism," Mr. Swenson said.

He defended the discussion of the conference on the elders' forum.

"We did not advertise on the forum," he said. "Other elders posted about it, and one asked specifically by name for Bill and myself to comment. We did. We answered questions that were raised by elders, and when they stopped asking questions we stopped posting.

"There is nothing in the elders'-forum rules that addresses personal agendas or promotion. I specifically asked [Mr. Holladay and Mr. Pinelli] if evangelism was a doctrinal issue and received no reply."

Mr. Swenson cited the precedent of a UCG elder in good standing founding and operating a personal ministry alongside his duties with the UCG.

His reference was to Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, a founder of the UCG, an employee (church pastor) and member of the 12-man governing council of elders.

A local pastor's critique

The conference has inspired widespread comment in Church of God circles, including a sermon by a UCG pastor, Vernon Hargrove, of Crown Point, Ind., during a June 26 Sabbath service.

Mr. Hargrove's main point centered on the futility of personal evangelism efforts in light of the principle set forth in John 6:44 that "no one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [Jesus] draws him."

He also talked about the two men in the context of Matthew 7:15 and Acts 20:29, which warn of "ravening wolves" and "grievous wolves" who infiltrate the Church of God to "devour" true believers.

He also implied that Mr. Swenson's and Mr. Jacobs' underlying motives were to gain a personal following.

"You'd never ever get them to admit that," Mr. Hargrove said.

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