Moves are afoot to make 2010 the year Joe Tkach can't ignore the call to accountability, with the initiative coming from the Purple Hymnal blog site. AW supports that unreservedly. Here - in condensed form - is an editorial from way-back-when (2004 actually), and a series of graphics, that appeared on the precursor to this blog. Nope, the call for Joe to finally get a conscience and surrender his sinecure is hardly new, but the old boy apparently has a hide as thick as a rhinoceros: the man apparently has no shame. This year, maybe, the hammering on the door will be loud enough, and insistent enough, to force some movement at last. If that amounts to GCI belatedly signing up to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, it would be a good start.
Americans elect their president every four years, and wisely limit any one incumbent to two terms. The same cautious approach is evident in the constitution of many churches. A church, like a nation, should not become the personal fiefdom of any individual, no matter how sincere or gifted they might be. Yet Pastor General Joe Tkach was appointed, not elected. Moreover he's already served a lengthy term as spiritual leader of the Worldwide Church of God, and apparently has "life tenure". Doesn't that sound more like a fringe cult than an evangelical denomination?
Almost all churches, including related movements like the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the United Church of God, have systems in place that hold their leaders accountable to the membership. Church presidents serve a limited term. Not so the WCG. Joe Jr. (he prefers to be addressed as Doctor Tkach) holds the very same title and office that Herbert W. Armstrong held. And while Joe is happy to trash any number of church traditions and doctrines from the past, he shows no enthusiasm for seeking endorsement for his position as the church's top dog. No General Conference exists to provide a counterbalance to the Pastor General's authority. The power of the ministry has been shown to be severely limited: stand up to Joe and Co. and you're likely to become a "pastor without portfolio".
The traditional argument that the Pastor General is accountable solely to Christ won't wash. The theology on which that particular bit of self-deception was based has long since been swept away in the flood waters of change. Has Joe heard about "the priesthood of all believers"? His friends in the wider evangelical community certainly have. In practice, "accountable to Christ" means not accountable at all.
But it gets worse. Legally it appears that the Worldwide Church of God is still "privately owned", and Pastor General Tkach is "sole proprietor". Caught off guard in a radio interview, he was asked what would stop him from just taking the money and leaving. The only reply he could come up with was that hisfamily would stop him.
While Tkach might deny that he "owns" the church, with the current legal structure of the organization the reality seems to be that he can hire and fire all board members at his personal discretion with absolutely no reason given. That's in writing. He can do whatever he wants with the corporation as long as it complies with government rules for a non-profit organization.
Here's what Michael Feazell said back in 1996, speaking to a conference of regional pastors.
"The church needs to be a priesthood of believers... It needs to be doing ministry. Everybody in the church has a stake in that--whether it's women, men, teens or children."
Stakeholders must have a voice. They are not powerless, passive observers.
The simple truth may well be that Joe doesn't trust the church he presumably serves. He won't risk relaxing the reins lest people come up with ideas he doesn't endorse. Perhaps Joe considers himself indispensable. Perhaps he's a control freak. Could it be that he is unwilling to lose his comfortable sinecure?
Pastor General Joe has been chief shepherd of his dwindling flock for far longer than is decent without, at the very least, endorsement from the membership. How long will he remain on his pontifical throne? (even the pope is elected by a college of cardinals). Will he be Pastor General for life - a religious version of Fidel Castro?
Michael Feazell writes in the July 2001Worldwide News: "If your church is a spiritual detriment to you, then you should consider finding another one... When the leader of a church indicates that he is God’s unique messenger or special representative in comparison with other Christian ministers... then you have another example of a church that is spiritually detrimental to its members."
Wise words. But what about churches where the leaders have safely elevated themselves beyond the influence of the members? A church, for example, that permits only token involvement of it's members in governance at either local or denominational level? How can Feazell justify the office of Pastor General and the hierarchical structure of the church in light of his own statement?
Tkach is on record as saying: "This fellowship has always been Episcopal, which is hierarchical..." Perhaps so. But this fellowship had always been Sabbatarian too, but that wasn't allowed to stand in the way of change. Even if an "Episcopal" model is to be used, there would need to be a long hard look at the parliamentary procedures actually used by the groups like the Episcopal Church; procedures which do indeed involve representative bodies of lay members at all levels. The Worldwide Church of God is out on a limb when it claims "episcopacy" as some kind of precedent for leadership by a clique or self appointed oligarchy. It is no such thing.
Joe has been single-minded in his efforts to inveigle his way into the evangelical mainstream. But despite cuddling up to evangelical leaders, his leadership style arguably has more in common with Louis Farrakhan than Billy Graham.
They used to say in Pasadena that the only thing that would topple Herbert Armstrong from his throne would be the Second Coming.
Apparently some things don't change.