Latin American Ministry Reconciliation
Efforts to Reconcile With the Latin American Ministry
December 9, 2010
Dear Fellow Brethren,
In its Dec. 9 letter to ministers and members about there being only one UCGIA–affiliated church organization in Latin America, the Council of Elders noted that it continues to seek resolution of the situation in Latin America regarding former ministers and members. Some have subsequently asked, “What has the Council done to date and what does it plan to do to achieve reconciliation?” These are fair questions. In a spirit of openness and transparency, allow us to summarize the facts to date. Hopefully these will prove useful to you in helping to pray and ask God to open the minds and hearts of those involved that we may all achieve resolution and unity in God’s time.
As you will see, numerous direct attempts have been made by the Council to meet with ministers and brethren in the region over the past six months. Some efforts have achieved at least partial success. Other efforts have failed for the moment, although the Council made—and will continue to make—good-faith efforts to achieve success both in the short- and long-term.
The good news is that more than a quarter of the members in Latin American countries have chosen to remain with the United Church of God, an International Association. As reported in United News and elsewhere, the Church was able to set up Feast sites and Sabbath services for these brethren over the past six months. Additional brethren in those areas are welcome to rejoin our fellowship. The home office in the United States continues to support and fund this fellowship.
The challenge remains that some ministers and members have chosen to form organizations and fellowships apart from UCGIA. Some profess that somehow UCGIA and these new groups are one and the same, although even a casual view of the factual situation shows this not to be the case.
So what has been done and what will be done? In this letter we will make plain and open certain facts that have previously not been disclosed. We previously did not disclose them because we hoped to nurture and achieve real reconciliation (1 Peter 4:8).
By way of review and to put the situation into context, the Council of Elders first sent Mario Seiglie, a then-new member of the Council, to visit ministers and members in Latin America last June. Mr. Seiglie speaks Spanish fluently and has served some two decades in Christ’s ministry both in Chile and other areas of Latin America. He knows many of the Spanish-speaking ministers personally. These travels followed the situation where Leon Walker was removed as the regional director for the region.
During the early part of the summer, acting as the direct representative of Dennis Luker (who was named regional director for the Latin American region in addition to his responsibilities as president of the Church), Mr. Seiglie attempted numerous times to contact certain ministers there. Despite the fact that these ministers continued to receive a salary and support at the time from the United Church of God, an International Association, none of them would meet with Mr. Seiglie.
Sadly, these same pastors and elders also prevented Mr. Seiglie from meeting directly with members in Latin America. Since these ministers possess and control all of the contact information for members living in Latin America—a situation which regrettably still exists—neither Mr. Seiglie nor UCGIA officials have a clear means by which to communicate to everyone directly. We have, of course, translated and posted several pieces of communication in Spanish on the Church’s Inside United: Realtime blog (https://realtimeunited.wordpress.com) and elsewhere, but not all of the brethren in Latin America have access to the Internet.
We must remind everyone that some have spread a considerable amount of disinformation about Mr. Seiglie both during this time and since, and this has distracted from the real issues. Unfortunately, Mr. Walker continues to deny the fact that he has been replaced as director for UCGIA affiliated entities in the Latin American region. This continuing act of denial has sadly created a considerable degree of confusion for those who have limited access to the real facts.
As openly reported last August, the Council at that time invited Mr. Walker to meet and try and find a basis for reconciliation. Sadly, he continued during the meeting to deny any responsibility for earlier divisive actions. These actions led to his removal from the ministry of the United Church of God earlier in the year. To be open to all of you, we here disclose again that his continued stance remains that he must be reinstated as director over the Church’s Latin American region and his ministerial credentials restored before any reconciliation efforts can take place. Given this position, the August efforts proved unproductive.
In a second attempt to meet with the five pastors in Latin America who had earlier refused to meet with Mr. Seiglie, one minister in Latin America was asked to be an independent emissary and extend an offer for each of the ministers in Latin America to meet one-on-one at the home office. Like earlier efforts, this attempt also proved unproductive.
As time passed, another challenge in the region emerged. A number of elders and deacons from the United States who speak Spanish attended our new UCGIA Feast sites in Latin America. Sadly, these elders and deacons were directly told—in unsolicited comments—by many Latin American members that many—if not most—did not want their former ministers restored in pastoral positions over them. Time and time again these members in Latin America expressed emphatically that they did not wish to be in congregations pastored by ministers who remained in support of Mr. Walker.
Despite all of these and other developments, the Council continued to seek reconciliation. In spite of this, leaders of the new groups in Latin America continued to assert that they were still a formal part of UCGIA, even though their actions had demonstrated otherwise.
Accordingly, in a third formal attempt to contact and open discussion with these ministers, on Nov. 11, Mr. Luker sent the ministers in Latin America a letter and an e-mail. To clear up unnecessary confusion and set the record straight for all, the letter simply asked that these ministers let him know their intentions. Were they going to be a part of UCGIA and thus accept Mr. Luker as the director of Latin America, or were they going to continue to support Mr. Walker as their leader, who by this time had been removed for months as director over any UCGIA entities? In accordance with the Church’s governing documents and scriptural conditions, the letter pointed out that if they chose to continue supporting Mr. Walker and his emerging organization, their credentials might be removed. The Church cannot continue to uphold the ministerial credentials of any minister who is openly denying the organizational authority created by the Church’s governing documents.
None of the ministers who received the letter and e-mail responded.
To be as fair and open as possible and to follow established Church policy, the letter and e-mail from Mr. Luker was followed up with a direct phone call or e-mail to each elder. Each was asked whether they wanted to be directly affiliated with UCGIA, or whether they desired to continue supporting and following an individual whose ministerial status had been revoked. Apart from three who refused to respond at all to the follow-up phone calls and e-mails, all declared that they desired to be affiliated with the emerging organization rather than UCGIA.
This has been a time-consuming process for the Council of Elders and for the administration over recent months. Yet we remain committed to seeking reconciliation as God guides us. As demonstrated in this letter, the Council and administration have reached out repeatedly. But in order to achieve reconciliation, we must first begin talking. As noted earlier, even talking with one another has been rebuffed.
We also know that reconciliation is a two-way street. During the past six months the Council and the administration provided opportunities to those aligned with Leon Walker to make overtures to the Council and to the administration. Only one chose to do so.
The Council, together with the administration, must conduct itself in accordance with the biblical principles laid out by God and as they are reflected in the Church’s governing documents. We cannot unethically overturn the Church’s governing documents and pretend they don’t exist in order to accommodate other organizations with different leaders under the same name. Reconciliation does not mean capitulation of the founding principles and documents that the overwhelming number of ministers of UCGIA agreed to in 1995.
This is painful for us to revisit, yet we will press on. We hope the facts presented here will provide all of you with an opportunity to present focused and earnest prayers to God that we can make progress. We remain open to and hopeful for reconciliation according to God’s will and in God’s time. We solicit your prayers that we may all find resolution and that we may go forward together in unity to accomplish God’s purpose of preaching the gospel and preparing a people.
Thank you for your continued support and for your continued earnest prayers!
In Christ’s service,
The Council of Elders—[Scott Ashley, Bob Berendt, Aaron Dean, William Eddington, Roy Holladay, Victor Kubik, Darris McNeely, Melvin Rhodes (chairman), Mario Seiglie and Robin Webber] and
Dennis Luker (president).