Chairman and President Write August 4 Letter
August 4, 2010
Dear Ministers and Brethren,
For the next six weeks or so, observant Jews are expected to actively engage in a centuries-old tradition leading up to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), frequently called a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” and the holiest of all days observed in Judaism. In the weeks that precede the Holy Day, that long-time tradition requires Jews to reach out to those they have offended or harmed and seek both forgiveness and reconciliation. On the Day of Atonement, observant Jews spend hours in a synagogue or in prayer, seeking to be reconciled with both God and man.
We who are called to be part of the spiritual Body of Christ must practice this daily. In the prayer that Christ Himself gave us to use as a model, we are told to pray in this manner: “Forgive us our debts [sins], as we forgive our debtors [those who sin against us personally]” (Matthew 6:12). Christ Himself set the example for us, praying even as He was dying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Christ is our sacrifice for sin once and for all. But the living Head of this Church was very clear: You will be forgiven to the same extent that you forgive others. Just as Jesus was merciful, so shall you be merciful.
Forgiveness sets the stage for real reconciliation. Reconciliation requires that both sides lay down their weapons, lay aside their hurts and resentments—real or imagined—and exercise real love one for other. Reconciliation doesn’t mean that differences are papered over. Reconciliation means tolerance, restored trust and honest communication.
Ministers and brethren, the Council of Elders would like nothing more than to see sincere reconciliation. None of us wanted to see what happened in Latin America happen. We grieve for the members there who have been subjected to spiritual and emotional buffeting—in some cases for years. It is not pretty, and only the divine gift of love from God can truly heal this breach. Tempers have flared and accusations have been hurled by many people within our fellowship.
As we approach the spiritual high point of the year for us—Trumpets, Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day—can we be reconciled? Members of the Council of Elders and senior administrators of the Church have spent countless hours talking and communicating openly with ministers and members alike to achieve reconciliation. Where possible, we have avoided airing the “dirty laundry” involved with certain individuals.
Despite all of this, we still read or hear unmitigated reports of vile and unfounded accusations—both online and in person—using language and insults that never should be part of Christian communication.
As saddening and sometimes discouraging as this is, we still have the unwavering promise that through Christ, His Church will prevail!
During this season of spiritual preparation, while we should be focused on the wonderful and inspiring meaning of the upcoming Holy Days, we now see online a previously secret Web site. On the surface, this Web site purports to be a communication vehicle for the General Conference of Elders. The organizers of this Web site make claims that they are seeking reconciliation. The organizers of the Web site have been quietly approaching ministers across the world, asking them to support the spiritual principles which they purpose to achieve.
We support those same principles, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when the organizers, by clever and manipulative wording, imply and lead others to believe that the Council of Elders and administration lack the desire and have made no effort toward that goal. In fact the opposite is true. The former senior administrator in Latin America was asked at least twice to meet with members of the Council of Elders and Church administrators. In addition, other direct communication is ongoing with several ministers in the region.
While the appeal posted on this formerly secret Web site is addressed to the full Council of Elders, we—Dennis Luker as president of the Church, and Melvin Rhodes, chairman of the Council of Elders—want to address these issues now. The full Council of Elders will meet later in August, and a formal response may come at that time.
Ministers and brethren, let’s be clear here. We want nothing more than true unity and reconciliation! We don’t doubt for a minute that the great majority of those who have agreed to add their names to the online appeal for reconciliation are sincere. Certainly we all want reconciliation!
But when we see among the signers the names of a number who have made and distributed unfounded attacks and accusations against the Council, some who have publicly and privately slandered Council members to their congregations and to other elders, some who have tried to organize efforts to recall certain Council members whom they accuse of “unethical” behavior (for which they have offered zero evidence), and some who are actively supporting a developing breakaway organization designed to draw members from the United Church of God—we clearly doubt their stated lofty intentions. (The fact that these words may come as an unpleasant shock to many of you reading this represents evidence that we have chosen not to respond to their actions in kind. The fact remains that we have tried to be patient in the hope that those who slander and speak falsely will repent.)
Let’s call a spade a spade. In the outside world, forums of this nature are rightly called a political caucus. The purpose of a political caucus is two-fold: Marshal resources to achieve a specific political goal, and draw in as many as possible to support that goal. To the organizers of that Web site we say this: Is your purpose to reconcile, or is your purpose to divide and conquer? To be sure, God will be your Judge!
To you well-meaning ministers who have been drawn in by this seemingly well-intentioned effort—and again, we fully respect and share your desire for true unity and reconciliation—do you know what you are doing? Do you realize that by participating you are unknowingly aiding efforts to undermine the very governmental structure that we all, before God, agreed to some 15 years ago?
Ministers and brethren, please be assured that this is as hard to write as we’re sure it is to read. Ministers are called by God to be peacemakers, to teach, to guide, to shepherd and most importantly to serve.
We would like nothing more than to reconcile with as many ministers and members in Latin America as possible—those who want to be with us. We have had several sound, spiritually mature, Spanish-speaking men traveling in Latin America for weeks now. Those men have been meeting with any and all who are willing. Yet they have been rejected with hostility by some who out of the other side of their mouth “seek” reconciliation.
Those sent by the administration, with support from the Council, have been helping members and elders who want to remain part of the United Church of God to meet safely for Sabbath services, free of politics and heavy-handed rule. We have been working with them to set up Feast sites where they can meet and celebrate with us the wonderful promise of Jesus Christ’s coming reign on earth. We have continued to financially support those who want to be part of us. They have not been cut off.
Meanwhile, the former UCG administrator of the Latin American region claims that he was independent all along, that he does not recognize any spiritual or managerial authority from the president, the home office or the Council, and has openly compared our ministers to Satan, who “appears as an angel of light.” Some ministers who now follow him have used far worse language in describing loyal ministers and members of the Council of Elders.
At the same time, these same individuals issue moving and emotional appeals for help and support, accusing the Council of Elders of doing nothing to promote “reconciliation”!
Given this onslaught of unfortunate and distorted comments coming from Latin America, we will shortly make available a more detailed summary of recent events since the July 1 update that we previously made available. As you desire, you will soon be able to access it on the Members site (members.ucg.org) or request a copy. This is not our first choice, as we have actively sought to achieve reconciliation without bringing this often-ugly truth out for all to see. Since our desire to achieve repentance and reconciliation has been interpreted by some as an unwillingness to act, we will now speak openly.
Ministers and brethren, both of us have served in other pastoral and administrative roles before assuming our current positions. Dennis Luker served as a regional pastor for the northwest United States. Melvin Rhodes served brethren in Africa. For years we both heard whispers and smooth accusations against certain current Council members from certain men whose names appear on this new online document. The men on that list know who they are. We submit to you that our current crisis is the result of listening to that smoldering resentment, of allowing a root of spiritual bitterness to take hold, and to now hide behind proxies and assumed online names to try and divide the very Church of God!
As we mentioned before, we don’t doubt the sincerity of many who—regardless of the communication platform—call for unity and reconciliation. We join with you. But on our watch—as being directly accountable spiritually to Jesus and God His Father—we will not mince words, nor will we shy from any action needed when we see attempts to divide, to split those who want to fellowship together, to rend asunder what God calls His own!
This is serious business. It takes work to reconcile. It takes honesty. And it takes a sincere willingness to yield to God, be patient and turn this over to the living Head of this Church. Once we do that, we can have a real spirit of forgiveness, which is the foundation for true reconciliation.
Over the past year, we have heard this comment many times from members: “Why are you ministers fighting? We don’t want your political battles. We want to be able to come to church, worship God and be supported in our daily lives. Stop fighting!” We couldn’t agree more.
We would like to close this with two thoughts: First, true change results when God mercifully grants that His spirit transform our human spirit, our thoughts and our actions. Hopefully we have all experienced this change in our lives. Second, God knows our weaknesses and our frail frame. He knows that we are tempted, that we can fail and that we will fall short. That’s why He sent His Son to stand in the breach and reconcile us with Him.
That means that at any time, at any moment, we have the spiritual capacity to reach out, to change, to repent, to forgive and finally to reconcile. Nothing is impossible with God. Can we believe this?
That means that even now, as emotions run high, we can individually yield to God’s spirit, invite the living Christ to live in us, and find a way out of this crisis. It has happened before, and it can happen again.
To seek this divine and powerful healing, in our individual roles we are joining together to call a fast for the Church for the weekend of August 21-22. Some of you may choose to fast on the Sabbath and others may choose to fast on the following day. Either way please set aside that weekend for intensive prayer, meditation and focused Bible study. Please ask God to give us all a spirit of humility, repentance and unity. Please renew the very prayer of Christ on the night before His crucifixion, when He prayed for protection for all of us and asked God His Father that “You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Let us truly forgive. Let us truly seek reconciliation. Let us abandon all efforts to divide—whether online or elsewhere—and draw together to accomplish the work that we have been given to do.
In Christian Love,
Dennis Luker, President and Melvin Rhodes, Chairman of the Council of Elders