Less than a year ago, a split began in United Church of God. That split is generally complete. A little more than half of the full-time paid pastors in UCG and less than half of all UCG ministers (including local elders) have left UCG and formed Church of God a Worldwide Association. Preliminary indications are that about 40% of UCG's membership (or less) have begun attending COGWA, and that may grow in time. Thus the split seems to be about right down the middle. This is not a case of a small splinter group leaving UCG.
Why did this split occur?
At one time we were together in one fellowship. Most of us in the Churches of God, especially older members, were together in Worldwide Church of God when Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was alive. Then we were split and divided into many Church of God groups after Mr. Armstrong died.
It is easy to look back and understand the immediate cause of that first split. Worldwide was split over doctrine. Those who were leading Worldwide in the decade after Mr. Armstrong's death, Joseph Tkach Sr., Joseph Tkach Jr., Michael Feazell, Greg Albrecht, and others, led that organization and those who were willing to follow them into traditional Protestant doctrines. Those who wanted to retain the older teachings of Worldwide, for whatever the reason (personal tradition and habit, family and friends connections, loyalty to Mr. Armstrong, or faith in God's word, the Bible), left and formed or joined many Church of God fellowships, including many of the main organizations that exist today.
Doctrine was the obvious direct cause of the splitting and scattering of ministers and members in Worldwide from 1987 through 1995.
But what was the cause of the split of UCG in 2010-2011? Is the reason so obvious?
If you had to sum it up to an interested outsider in just one or a few sentences, what would you say?
If your co-worker at the office in the cubicle next to you overheard a phone conversation you had with a Church member, or if a neighbor overheard you talking with your wife in the backyard about the split, or someone not knowledgeable about what happened asked you, "Did your church split?", and "Why did they split?", how would you explain it?
During the time the split was developing, I had assumed that there must be some hidden agenda of one side or another or a cause that was driving the split, something that was known to the ministry but carefully hidden from the membership and outsiders. I thought that before the split was complete the hidden agenda or cause would become clearly known. Well, if there is something like that, it has not become clearly known, not to me, except vaguely, like one can see part way through a fog. There may be hints and clues here and there that need to be interpreted, but nothing as clear and obvious as the cause of the break-up of Worldwide 1987-1995.
There can certainly be more than one cause or force driving the UCG split.
It is important to try to understand because we should learn the lessons God wants us to learn from what we go through in this life. We should learn not to repeat mistakes. We should ask ourselves why this happened and seek wisdom about this. This is also appropriate as we approach the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. This is a season for self-examination and repentance. We should seek to understand why this occurred because if mistakes were made, we need to learn from them, to repent as needed, and to avoid those mistakes in the future.
What do you think were the primary causes of the split?
Opinions among bloggers, writers, and ministers who have written and spoken about this vary.
Bob Thiel (COGwriter) in the Church of God News blog has said that he felt that vanity, ego, and personality conflict have been strong forces driving this split.
James Malm in Shining Light blog has taught that one of the driving forces has been doctrine. He believes that the leaders of UCG want to liberalize and water-down doctrine and/or obedience to God's commandments, and that those ministers leaving UCG to go to COGWA want to set up a hierarchical governance system based on the WCG/LCG model, and that the seeds of this split were in UCG from the beginning of its formation. This seems to coincide with the view of Dixon Cartwright of the Journal who seems to feel that one side (UCG) wants to move away from the influence of Mr. Armstrong and the other side (COGWA) wants to retain the influence of Mr. Armstrong.
Joel Meeker in his letter in the UCG Current Crisis site may represent the view of many ministers leaving UCG. He states that the present UCG leadership has not only shown a pattern of repeated violations of the rules of UCG that the entire ministry had agreed to follow when UCG was set up, but that they have also repeatedly violated God's law in their actions, and that these violations have destroyed the trust that is necessary for effective cooperation as well as the legitimacy of the authority of UCG's leaders, to the point that the ministers leaving UCG cannot support those violations of the law of God and UCG rules. He feels that is it spiritually dangerous to continue to follow leaders who show a pattern of lawlessness in their administration. This may explain why some ministers felt they had to leave, but it does not explain WHY the split occurred. If it is true that UCG leaders violated laws, WHY did they violate laws? If they mistreated certain ministers, WHY did they mistreat those ministers? They did not mistreat their own allies in this controversy. It was all part of HOW the split occurred, but is not an explanation for WHY the split occurred.
Those may indeed be contributing reasons, but I have long maintained that a primary driving force for division is the form or structure of governance that UCG adopted since its formation. That form of governance, governance by the authority of the ballot-box, is a recipe for division and strife. It magnifies small differences of opinion that could otherwise be reconciled or lived with peacefully. It tends to encourage politics and the taking of sides in a controversy. It can take a small cause and magnify it till it splits an organization.
The voting process creates an arena for ministers to battle it out with the ballot box, to fight for their ideas, to try to help their side win, which is directly contrary to the spirit of Proverbs 17:13. Ministers feel a responsibility to vote wisely and to offer wise and helpful counsel to others who vote and who want to practice the principle of seeking a multitude of counsel before making an important decision (Proverbs 11:14). They feel a responsibility to seek wise counsel in how to vote and to "get all the facts". The voting process also sets up a state of mind that tells the ministry that the leaders are responsible to them. So some advise the voting for or against this or that, and that magnifies and intensifies differences and tends to line people up in opposite camps.
But the worst and most insidious effect of ballot-box governance is that it can motivate those who have been elected to leadership positions to get rid of potential opposition voters before the next election so they can stay in office.
Imagine if President Obama had the authority to drive out citizens of the United States who disagree with him or to remove their voting rights before the next election. Would he use that power? Would any president?
I think that at some point many or most of the members of the Council of Elders wanted those who disagreed with them, who are the ones with the authority to vote them out of office, to just leave. In other words, if you don't agree with us, leave. Leave peacefully if possible, but leave. Don't stay in UCG and vote against us and vote us out of power. Just get out. We will help you to leave and give you a push.
That is a direct effect of ballot-box governance, because the voting process creates the fear that those who disagree will vote against those in office. Those in office do not want that. They do not want to be voted out or voted against.
Desire for power may be a motive here, but not even that necessarily. The motive can be a sincere motive to protect what are thought to be right policies and decisions. UCG council members may want to stay in office because they believe their leadership, policies, and decisions are right and good for UCG. Only God can read minds and know if the leadership wants to stay in power for their own personal desire for power and money or because they think it is best for the Church.
But either way, making leaders subject to being voted out of office by those under their authority can be a motive for those leaders to use their authority to push opposition voters out of the organization. And I think this has been a big contributing cause for the split. Without ballot-box governance, there would still be differences of opinion, but they could better be managed and reconciled without a full-blown split.
Look at the history of how this split started.
It started with an accusation of wrong-doing against Leon Walker for giving information and advise about voting. That in turn led to his being fired by the Council, and that led to the removal of many Latin American ministers who supported him.
It all started with an email about voting.
There was also an issue about the Sabbath doctrine. That issue was magnified with a document published by UCG leadership that "stirred the pot" and created concern on the part of many ministers and members because it implied that it was ok under certain circumstances for a Church member to employ people to work on part of a sabbath day. That paper became a divisive influence, and I think UCG leaders knew that it would be. Members went to their pastors about it and pastors often had to take a stand one way or another. UCG leadership later clarified their position on that issue, stating that it is NOT ok to employ someone to work on a sabbath day, but they only issued that clarification AFTER the split had passed the point of no return. It certainly gives the appearance that UCG leaders intended that paper to create division so they could separate out those ministers who were not deeply committed to supporting the UCG leadership no matter what. If that was their purpose, they succeeded.
So here is a recipe for division.
Start with differences of opinion on a variety of issues. These could include how much money to allocate to preaching the gospel, relocating headquarters, cooperation with another Church of God fellowship, interpretation of the law of the Sabbath, details of governance, etc. People might line up in a variety of ways in these issues where some who are on the same side on one issue would be on different sides on another issue. It would be a real mix, not necessarily two well-defined sides. This creates an environment for growth of division, but not yet - other things are needed. It is like a bread mix with flour, water, sugar, salt, but without the yeast.
So add personal ego and animosities. These are like seeds that can grow, or like yeast in bread.
But yeast doesn't grow very fast in a cool environment. So add a structure of governance with elections every year to turn up the heat. Then the personal animosities can grow, feeding on differences of opinion. The structure of governance then accelerates the division. Small things become big. Towards the end, the division can be deliberately maximized by those in power in order to sway future voting results in their favor.
Look at how small this started. Leon Walker shared some facts and views in an email with some Latin American ministers about how they might vote in an upcoming election. Then he did not cancel a trip to meet at headquarters when he had already met with headquarters' representatives and was willing to meet again after his trip. So for the sake of a delay in meeting with Mr. Walker of perhaps a few weeks, UCG leaders split the whole Church of God organization right down the middle.
I don't think small things like this would be so magnified without a process of balloting.
I am sure there is not just one cause for this division and split. Nor is there just one leader on either side. Many people are involved on both sides. Even one person can have many reasons for taking one course of action or another, and the reasons and causes for what happened multiply with many individuals making decisions for many reasons.
Since most ministers in COGWA elected to resign from UCG, they face the responsibility of explaining to their members why they had to resign, and collectively, those individual explanations may help paint a picture of a cause of the split, at least from the point of view of those ministers.
Doctrine is probably part of it. Even if the purpose of the sabbath paper was not to change doctrine at this time but to put pressure on some ministers to leave UCG, that tactic would not work if there was not a difference in doctrinal views between the two camps. And probably personal ego, vanity, and selfishness played some part. We all have human nature.
There was a difference of opinion regarding a move of headquarters to Texas, and there may be a difference of opinion regarding the relationship with Living Church of God. Prior to the proposal to move to the Dallas area, Clyde Kilough and Jim Franks, UCG leaders who held office at that time, had visited Living Church of God headquarters and met with Roderick Meredith, Richard Ames, and other LCG leaders in late 2006. Mr. Kilough and Mr. Franks are now with COGWA.
But I believe a large, contributing cause of the split was democracy in action, democracy of such a form and structure that it enabled small differences of opinion to be magnified and to become a catalyst for a struggle for power that split the organization right down the middle.
There is an irony in that the justification for using balloting to govern the Church is that it is an implementation of the scripture that says, "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). Did government by voting provide "safety" in this case? Did UCG leadership behave as if they were receiving and following a multitude of wise counsel?
It appears that the whole system of UCG's governance has failed. This split is the proof. Splits usually occur because of an important issue. This split apparently occurred because of NO clear, outstanding issue. That is the big news.
There is no outstanding issue, as there was in Worldwide in 1995, which can be clearly identified as the cause of the split. The Sabbath paper was a minor issue. The doctrine has not been changed. Whether the UCG leadership intends to change the Sabbath doctrine in the future, the fact is they have not changed it so far. The move to Dallas is minor. Who cares where headquarters is located? The mistreatment of some ministers is not the issue. The division was the CAUSE of the mistreatment, not the other way around.
Members could understand in 1995. I do not think they understand today. To the membership, it must look like their ministers simply could not get along with each other. The members seem to set a better example of Christian tolerance and fellowship than some of the ministers. Yet the members must suffer because of the division. And if there is no clear cause, how can COGWA start in an atmosphere of enthusiasm for the future?
In 1998 Global Church of God was split because of disagreement between Mr. Roderick Meredith and board members Larry Salyer and Raymond McNair. Mr. Salyer and Mr. McNair gained control of the corporation and its assets and copyrights. But 75-80% of the ministry and membership stayed with Mr. Meredith and they formed Living Church of God. I remember that at the time I thought that Mr. Salyer and Mr. McNair were simply unable to give any good reason for separating from Mr. Meredith. And it may have been the lack of a clear and understandable reason for the separation that contributed to the lack of credibility of Mr. Salyer and Mr. McNair with about 80% of the membership.
UCG was formed in 1995 by ministers coming out of Worldwide Church of God over doctrinal differences. At that time, they chose the name "United Church of God" and they chose a form of governance based on the authority of decisions made by balloting, a structure of governance they hoped would prevent a repeat of the split that had occurred in Worldwide. But that form of governance did not prevent a split, and the church governed by that structure has not lived up to its name. It has undergone two major splits, one with David Hulme in 1998 and now a greater split with the ministers who have formed COGWA. I think the evidence shows that the ballot-box structure of governance chosen for UCG has been a major contributing cause of the latest split.
I have added a few blogs to my Church of God Blogs site (see sidebar for link at left). John Carmack's "Church of God Perspective" blog is back up and running. It was down for a while as he switched from Blogger to Wordpress.
More to come...
Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:
A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5
Government in the Church, Chapter 5
Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6
Church Government, Chapter 7
How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7