|Posted on December 9, 2010 at 8:29 PM|
This letter was sent to the president on the evening of December 4th. It had already been signed by 57 ministers (56 salaried and one retired). It has now been posted on the GCE website.
*Effective December 8, 2010, non salaried elders, as well as additional pastors and retirees began adding their names, endorsing the content of the letter below.
An Open Letter to the President of the United Church of God, Dennis Luker
Dear President Luker,
This open letter is being sent to you as the chief executive officer of the United Church of God (UCG) from current pastors, former pastors and otherwise employed elders in good standing of the General Conference of Elders of the United Church of God, an International Association. We write with deep concern over the conduct of the current administration and the Council of Elders, a concern shared by numerous non salaried elders, many of whom would readily add their names to this letter.
We have supported the governmental system agreed upon in 1995 and this letter is a confirmation of working within that system. Our deepest hope is the complete healing and the effective continuation of the UCG.
The biblically mandated responsibilities of pastors and elders compel us to state our concerns, as do those duties specified in our governing documents, which do not permit us to allow the present situation to continue. As our Constitution states, “God has established the office of elder to provide care and oversight to the congregations. Thus, the General Conference of Elders is responsible to God to ensure that His people are served and their needs attended to” (Article 22.214.171.124). We consider resolving these concerns to be the greatest need God’s people under our care face at this time.
No one doubts that the UCG is in a dire crisis. We believe that the steps necessary to resolve the crisis are in your hands and those of the Council. Over the last year there have been repeated attempts to bring genuine concerns to both you and the Council. We believe that those concerns have not been addressed in a way that is appropriate for the established leadership of the UCG—or any Church of God.
Your letter of November 4, 2010 attacks the ministry in general and contains a number of misleading and false accusations. Among them are attempts to link ministers and members who have sincere disagreements with the administration to a handful of people posting extreme or ungodly views on Internet sites. Less than two decades ago, most of us were accused of being divisive, rebellious and satanic in our previous association, and it deeply grieves us to find ourselves in a similar toxic environment in the UCG.
While there have been some improper comments made on Web sites, none of us have made or encouraged them and we do not condone them. And we will not join you or the Council in condemning ministers or members who respectfully ask questions, challenge wrong behavior or who simply post factual material.
Both Scripture and our historical origins have taught us that Christianity is a matter of individual conscience, conviction and action. Members have rightly been encouraged to think for themselves and that is exactly what many are doing (Philippians 2:12; 1 John 4:1). Those who have spoken out responsibly should not be accused of causing division. Nor should they be charged with unthinkingly following sowers of discord, when their conclusions are often based upon what they have witnessed personally.
At the heart of our immediate concern is a pattern of wrongly equating loyalty to God’s government with submission to human organizational authority and then labeling as disloyal or rebellious any who express concerns over leadership’s decisions and methods. Recent home office documents, letters and recorded sermons have repeatedly contained negative accusations about supposed plots to sabotage our governing documents, to start a new church and that there is a spirit of rebellion in our ministers. This barrage of accusation and inaccuracy is disheartening the members; it is wearing down the church and it is causing increasing frustration among the ministry and the membership.
Unknown to many members, the administration has engaged in punitive action against certain pastors, accusing them of disloyalty to Christ, when what they have done—conscientiously and respectfully—is voice disagreement with doctrinal statements that they deemed unsound. Or, they expressed concern over administrative decisions that these ministers believed to be outside the bounds of our governing documents or Christ-like management. This pattern of punitive behavior does not follow the biblical or organizational standards. Men have been accused of and/or punished for “disloyal behavior” on the word of a single witness or on mere rumor. In contrast, Scripture is explicit: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). Punishments have been administered at the highest level—suspension followed quickly by decredentialing, instead of our traditional and biblically mandated pastoral attitude of working with someone to address the issues at hand in an effort to resolve them and to retain every minister if at all possible.
This has rapidly accelerated to include several resignations by church pastors who felt they could no longer in good conscience work for the church. Others have been terminated by the administration, greatly increasing an environment of tension and uncertainty for the ministry and the membership.
Undoubtedly, the most damaging administrative action that was taken in plain view of the membership (as opposed to Council actions taken in executive session) was the wholesale removal of the Latin American members and ministers—approximately 10 percent of our entire church! The ensuing stream of paperwork from the home office has not mitigated the alarm or the bewilderment caused by the removal of loyal people from church membership for no justifiable biblical reason and by the severance—without warning—of the financial support that the UCG had promised to some of our poorest members in that part of the world. We should all imagine ourselves in their shoes.
Funding for the Latin American work and ministry was cut off on July 1, 2010. Yet most of the Latin American elders remained members of the GCE until November 30, 2010 when the Council decredentialed them. This adds to what we ministers and many of our lay members can only describe as inconsistent and bizarre.
Lengthy and differing explanations from the home office for these actions have left us unconvinced that the church leadership action was fair, decent, gracious—or even legitimate, whether according to biblical standards or the UCG Rules of Association.
What is seen as a conspicuously offensive error has only been compounded by the administration sending representatives throughout Latin America to convince members and elders to “join United” when they believed they already were part of the UCG. The glaringly obvious conflict of interest in your choice for the primary administrative representative in this matter is evident to thousands of UCG members, and seems to indicate a callous disregard for the clearly expressed objections of the Latin American brethren and ministry.
When 166 pastors and elders appealed to the leadership to bring the Latin American members and ministers back into our fold, the president and chairman of the COE acknowledged receipt of the appeal and said they would get back to the senders soon. That gave hope to the entire church (especially to the UCG in Latin America), only to have their trust dashed when the appeal was answered with a letter—not to the 166 ministers, but rather to the entire church membership. The response falsely accused the signers of being part of a rebellious conspiracy, a political caucus and an attempt to undermine our governing system. In contrast, many ministers and members understood the appeal for what it was: a sincere request for reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that no serious attempt at reconciliation has ever been made adds to the disillusionment.
The so-called “white papers” on the doctrines of fasting and Sabbath observance generated great concern about our doctrinal purity and integrity, without which the UCG cannot truly remain part of the Church of God. Valid questions from members and ministers alike have been met with ridicule, unproven and unreasonable assertions that “one or two people” are stirring everyone up and with repeated statements that questions about the papers are not worth answering. This demonstrates that the administration does not perceive the serious doctrinal errors within the papers. It further illustrates a troubling lack of respect for discerning pastors and members who have been dismayed by these papers.
The question currently in the minds of a growing number of elders and members is, “What do we do now?” You have said you are willing to talk. But in reality, the present administration and the Council have rebuffed or ignored specific requests to talk from individual ministers; from all of the 10 U.S. regional pastors at the time (including you, Mr. Luker), as well as several requests from approximately a dozen men, serving in the previous administration as well as on the Council of Elders.
The workable—and what we believe is biblical—pathway to proper functioning as a church has repeatedly been proposed to you and the Council privately and publicly. That is, an open (not executive session) face-to-face meeting between current and past leaders of the organization for the purpose of identifying and removing the obstructions that impede the function of the United Church of God.
Sad to say, every such proposal submitted to the Council has either been significantly altered, ignored or rebuffed, publicly or privately. Even you, Mr. Luker, proposed such a meeting to the Council, only to be denied. On the other hand, the method the administration and Council has chosen to deal with the situations previously mentioned is one of confrontation, seeking to impose control with no attempt to resolve the underlying issues.
If you and the Council deny the viability of meeting to discuss openly the issues that have divided the ministry and the current leadership, then we are left with no other conclusion than that you and the Council of Elders have already decided that our differences are irreconcilable.
Is that your conclusion? If so, what would you have us do?
Respectfully submitted this 4th of December, 2010,
Resigned or Terminated Elders Who Endorse This Letter: