Thursday, 31 December 2009

UCG letter, harbinger of a difficult year ahead

The following letter has been sent to elders in the United Church of God. While it's very long, it is reproduced here in its entirety.

Dec. 28, 2009

Dear Fellow Elders,

We would ask that you take this letter as a personal message of deepest spiritual concern. It is vital that each of you take time to read the entirety of its contents.

When the United Church of God began in 1995, we were all very humbled but guardedly optimistic about the future. We had the privilege and opportunity to carry on the legacy of preaching the gospel to the world and strengthening members within the Body of Christ.

It has been challenging as we strive to move forward in a form of church governance that has not been “the norm” for the Church of God community as a whole. But it was the approach, based upon biblical principles, that the General Conference of Elders ratified in 1995. At that time we were prompted to focus on the foundation of our organizational relationships and decision-making processes. Our collective attention became focused on the biblical principle spelled out in Proverbs 11:14, that “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Most importantly, we made a collective decision that, rather than simply looking to a man, we would focus on Jesus Christ being the Head of the Church; and we were determined to sense the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit in us as our guide.

God has never left us or forsaken us even though at times we all have fallen short of His perfect guidance. As the Council of Elders of the United Church of God, we believe the Spirit of God is once again guiding and stirring us up to share certain basic words that must be said and understood by each of us. The time for decisive actions has come.

Over the past few months many accusations have been leveled against the leadership of the United Church of God. The Council, which is the senior governing body of the Church, has especially come under attack and been accused of lying, deceit, covering up and unethical behavior. While we are all only men, and have made our share of mistakes along the way, we reject such accusations as being without evidence, slanderous in some cases, and effectively harming the preaching of the gospel by diverting the focus of the duly elected board members of the Church. The time has come for straight talk from our hearts to yours, as brothers in Christ.

Rather than condemning and accusing what we see around us with our human perceptions, let’s consider where God places His focus. Ephesians 6:11-12 states that our real enemies are not one another but wicked or evil spirits in high places: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

We are wrestling with an angry evil spirit that never rests in his focused attempt to destroy and scatter members of the Body of Christ. He tried to deliver a death blow in the 1990s, and now he is subtly striving to slowly but surely squeeze the life energy out of those who remain true to the gospel. We all realize that Satan knows he has but a short time left. Make no mistake about it: He hates, loathes and despises what we are called to stand for and perform by God’s grace, and this spiritual adversary will do anything and use anyone to frustrate our mission of preaching the gospel and preparing a people.

Much of our current situation goes back to 2007 through 2008 when a new makeup of membership began to emerge on the Council of Elders. A number of people have voiced the opinion that these men, all ministers with multiple decades of long-term service to the Church, could not have obtained a seat on the Council unless there had been “bloc voting” for nominees or candidates for the Council. (“Bloc voting” here means the formation of a group of individuals to support, promote or lobby for certain candidates for the Council in an effort to influence the ballot.) The suspected vehicle used to engineer such alleged bloc voting was an “alternate forum” (i.e., a private discussion group) comprised of a very small minority of members within the General Conference. Although no evidence of bloc voting has ever been produced for any candidate on any side of the issues, the opinion was expressed, and is still held by some elders today, that these are illegitimate Council members.

The Council’s position regarding private discussion groups involving elders is that they are not forbidden and violate no bylaw, resolution or scriptural principle. The Council has no oversight responsibility over such groups. Since they are private, unless there is proof that there is ministerial misconduct on such sites, it is not the Council’s (or the Church’s) responsibility. The Council will only act on substantiated reports of unchristian behavior by elders, whatever the context.

The detailed report on the alternate forum was officially approved by the Council as not only a statement regarding private forums (of which one or more likely exist at any given time), but was also created as a statement of what kind of fellowship we will be in respecting the rights of others while expecting the highest spiritual standard of all who hold the office of elder. The Council report included a statement from the forum’s administrator telling participants that it was not to be used for bloc voting or discussion of candidates, and the Council has since then received unequivocal statements from participants that it was not used for bloc voting. While some may not accept these statements or the conclusions of the Council in its report or its spiritual and philosophical thrust, the fact is that no actual evidence to the contrary has been forthcoming from anyone else.

The resolution to rescind the move to Texas was also passed in 2008 and created strong feelings on both sides of the debate that arose.

As a result of these differences and others, we have allowed Satan, as well as ourselves and our human nature that so easily besets us, to divide us into rigid camps. We have trouble accepting that others can have strong opinions contrary to our own and still have the best interests of the Church at heart. Satan has created an atmosphere of distrust. There has been a pattern now for some time of members of the same body demonizing (and we don’t use that term lightly) one another.

This spiritual malady of cancerous proportions has now seeped into our general membership with individuals (both within the ministry and membership) who now feel they have some mission to cleanse the Church and who have fallen prey to a spirit that desires to “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries” (Jude 8). They openly feel they have a godly duty to send out mass-circulated letters to undermine the Council of Elders and overturn determinations of the General Conference of Elders as to whom they chose to place on the Council. Knowingly or unknowingly, “confidential” or seditious information is being spread like wildfire. Such individuals have assumed a mantle of judge and jury in matters in which they have neither the full facts, nor the total context, nor the collective benefit of wide counsel. Rather, they have chosen to reject the sound principle found in Proverbs 18:17: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.”

Can we learn to work together without vilifying one another? This is an ageless proposition that confronts every generation of the Church as to how we will relate with one another. The apostle Paul in Galatians 5:15 states, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” The New Century Version translates this verse as, “If you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other.”

Paul’s heartfelt concern and admonition is needed more than ever! The reputations of ministers who have served God and the Church faithfully for 30, 40 or 50 years are being undermined and destroyed—whisper by whisper, phone call by phone call, e-mail by e-mail, private meeting by private meeting by members and ministry. We seem free to “bite and devour one another” without talking to the parties involved, but based only on comments from others. Case in point: We have had ministers, called to be stewards of the gospel, who have posted messages on the Elder’s Forum, at one time or another that have lacked the basic Christian civility of knowing how to speak directly with grace or with full knowledge and context of matters on a forum designed to edify their fellow ministers.

Why do ministers who should know better sow discord? We have been granted the high calling of preparing and guiding others in spiritual preparation to be “kings and priests to our God” (Revelation 5:10). Why do some reject the clear admonition of Proverbs 6:16-19? “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him,” we read. Then seven activities are listed that God hates. Verse 19 states that two of these are “a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”

Due to this negative spiritual incursion into our fellowship, for more than two years we have been forced to focus our Church’s time, energy and resources inwardly, rather than focus outwardly to a dying world and the very real needs of God’s flock. When the Council states that it would like to see increased emphasis placed on preaching the gospel, an outward focus that has always been a driving force in the mission of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Council is accused of neglecting the local congregations, the youth in the Church or the responsibility of preparing the next generation of pastors.

While the Council strives to move forward with collective boldness and optimism, there has emerged a not-so-subtle negative spin or counter opinion on many actions of the Council. Allow us to speak plainly: This has been expressed in communications by some elders and members alike. Thus, the Church, notably in the United States, has not been allowed to move beyond the alternate forum, fears (not facts) about bloc voting, the rescind resolution and alleged ethical problems on the Council.

For example, the chairman of the Council has been unjustly and falsely accused of lying about the reasons for the replacement of the previous Council reporter and, then again, when a mistake made by the new Council reporter was not corrected before a particular report was distributed. Please understand, a Council reporter does not have a defined term of service. The replacement of our last reporter was based on financial savings and convenience as the new reporter is an employee at the home office (with long experience working with the Council as corporate secretary). Other supposed inappropriate reasons for doing so are simply not true.

The Council even gets criticized for conducting some meetings in “closed session,” a practice that is recommended by experts on nonprofit governance and which has been used by the Council since 1996 to discuss important issues of a private and confidential nature in a more candid manner. No law or bylaw bars this long-standing practice, but it is now being given a sinister spin.

These accusations against the leadership have taken on a life of their own and are spreading rapidly. Do we realize that this approach is destabilizing the ministry and beginning to destabilize the Church? We have a toxic atmosphere in the Church where innuendos (“it looks like...”) and whispers are creating an unrestrained chorus of misinformation put forth by minds and hearts lacking sound judgment. Some in the ministry appear to be getting together and “roasting” the Council based upon second- third- or fourth-hand hearsay or rumors. Some claim their “information” came from confidential executive session information that they feel they have the “right” to place in the public domain. Such “information” is biased, imputes evil motives and is often completely wrong and not designed to help or bring peace to the Church of God, but is spread by those who presume they are “in the know.” We constantly hear that information comes from a reliable source, but no one is willing to reveal that source. Is this because the source may have an agenda? Why are some willing to risk their all and the well-being of a Church dedicated to God’s service simply on anonymous accusations?

We would never have allowed this in our former association! We would never allow it in the congregations that we pastor. In what some of our members like to call the “real world” in which they work, such breaches of confidentiality, slander and lack of organizational cohesiveness would be dealt with immediately by appropriate disciplinary action for those responsible. Why should we be different and why should the unity once a hallmark of God’s people be different now?

Please consider these scriptures that focus on this topic.

Proverbs 26:20-21: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”

Proverbs 16:27: “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.”

What is the solution that has been suggested to the Council by more than one individual? For the Council to resign en masse and hold a new election for all Council seats! Such a solution is not even possible under our governing documents! The real solution is that, accompanied by much prayer and fasting, we all individually need to turn the mirror around and look at ourselves. As the book of James explains, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).

Allow the following statement to be clear and understood by each of you who read it. This letter is designed and designated for the specific purpose of being a direct intervention action by the Council of Elders for the spiritual well-being and organizational stability of the United Church of God. In 1995 the United Church of God established a system of governance that gave the Council of Elders the responsibility to provide direction, oversight and guidance within the Church. Allow us to be blunt and to the point. The present atmosphere among some in the ministry, and now increasingly filtering into our general membership, is spiritually damaging. Such conditions impede our ability to spiritually and organizationally function. The situation is neither worthy of the high calling by God the Father nor the devotion of His Son, our Savior.

In 1995 the United Church of God established a system of governance that gave the Council the responsibility to provide oversight and guidance within the Church. In 1995, as a duly constituted General Conference of Elders, we all approved the following:

1) The General Conference of Elders would have the ultimate authority in the sense that it can select new Council members, approve amendments and responsibly guard the doctrinal integrity of the Church.

2) The Council of Elders would have authority as a collective body to govern the Church.

3) The administration headed by a president would carry out the daily operations of the Church, based on the directives and guidelines of the Council.

Apparently many do not understand or have forgotten or chosen to ignore this constitutional reality, but this is the binding agreement of our organizational form of governance. The Council is the primary governing body of United, and we all must learn to work together. How can we expect to be kings and priests if we cannot deliberately decide to walk and work together? Shouldn’t we expect the ministry of the Church to set an example of how to work together? Do we expect God to bless an organization in which even the leaders cannot walk together?

Many have said, as has the Council in public and private deliberations, that what separates us is not doctrine, but philosophical and administrational perspectives. We all validate the oneness expressed by Paul in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Beyond this, we all agree on the scriptural revelations regarding the Ten Commandments, God’s plan as revealed through the Holy Days, the approach of the literal Kingdom of God and so much more.

What divides us are not matters of biblical information and truth, but spiritual application of some of the most basic of Christian principles. Jesus Christ implored those who would follow Him to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The reality is, even though we have been strong in the truth of what we know, we have been weak in those matters of “the spirit”—of who and what we are to be.

Yes, matters of “the spirit”—like going to your brother (Matthew 18:15-16), evaluating your own spiritual moorings before correcting another (Galatians 6:1-2), avoiding following people and saying “I am of” this man or that man (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), focusing on the positive (Philippians 4:8), leaving our worries with God in prayer and fasting (Philippians 4:6-8) and, yes, forgiveness! How can we effectively preach a message of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation of our fellow human beings to our Heavenly Father if we cannot be reconciled ourselves? Such talk is cheap and falls on shallow ground if we do not show proof of Christ living in us.

The Council of Elders is concerned for the preservation of the United Church of God.

This is not simply another letter to merely encourage us to consider “getting along.” This is not only a new day, but a new way of moving forward. There is a collective need and responsibility for every officer of the Church, every level of management, every employee and every minister to support the direction and resolutions of the Council and the General Conference of Elders. Some of those resolutions you may not personally agree with, but they will have been arrived at within the governance structure that we have all accepted. All should support them in a manner consistent with Christian principles and communication, while at the same time exercising our privilege as individuals to contribute to the ongoing discussion concerning the welfare of the Church. Those matters that have been formally reviewed over an extended period of time and approved by the Council (for example, the Council’s conclusion that no evidence has been presented that “bloc voting” for candidates via an “alternate” discussion group occurred) will not be revisited unless new and extraordinary circumstances dictate otherwise. We must move on from here with those who desire to move forward.

The Council will rely upon all employees, elders and members to act upon this basis of assurance and Christian goodwill.

With this resolve established, are we saying that Church leadership should simply be followed and never questioned? Absolutely not! There are a number of responsible communication and governance mechanisms in place to assure a wide level of input. But once a decision is made, we need to move forward and quit rehashing the same issues, objections or opinions of detractors over and over again.

We fully understand that every Council, past, present and future, will not be perfect. The members of this Council have been diligent and merciful, knowing we have men with strong feelings on opposite sides of issues such as relocation. In attending to Council responsibilities, we accept that actions on issues of the past three years may have not been as well considered as they might have been. But they have been mistakes of procedure, not of the heart. Beyond that we eagerly look forward to working with a duly appointed administration that works and serves at the pleasure of the Council on behalf of the General Conference of Elders.

As an organization, United has so much going for it. We are on the cusp of so many dynamic dynamicopportunities. Our ways and means of preaching the gospel via the Internet, commercial television and publishing are just now crystallizing in a way that will hopefully merit God’s blessing and be used toward His glory. We are seriously looking at remodeling our home office facility in a way that will facilitate the needs for an expanded effort by a growing Church. Always behind this are the faithful members, trained and dedicated pastors, elders who go above and beyond the call of duty, skilled and experienced employees carrying out important functions, and numerous volunteers serving in our Church youth and educational programs. Yes, good things are happening that should allow us to move forward with great confidence that the work God has given us to do will be done well.

We have laid out where we have been, where we are, what we expect and where we are headed. It is our eager hope that you will desire to be a part of a unified effort based on these shared heartfelt words. We realize this letter will be received by different individuals in different ways. One individual might describe these words as long overdue, while at the same time another might be challenged by its implications. Please know that we are all being challenged at this time to move forward in a godly manner. It is our deepest desire that you will continue to support the efforts of the Council as it guides the United Church of God toward fulfilling God’s purposes.

As we move forward, we are going to advance by not only focusing on the word “united,” but focusing on a key attribute of the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and whose Spirit brings us peace (John 14:27). Beyond that, “united” does not mean merely external conformity to rules, bylaws and policies. True unity comes from God’s Spirit working in us. It is your personal gift to God and to others that your life’s confession and its fruit by word of mouth and deed is “not my will, but Your will be done.”

With these stated goals in mind, we are encouraging the entire ministry to devote time during the month of January specifically for prayer and fasting in seeking God’s guidance and perfect will toward us as individuals and as a collective body of believers.

Dear friends and fellow servants of the Living God, we need to work together with a common purpose—not divided by our differences, but strengthened by our commitment to the far greater things that unite us.

In deep respect,
Council of Elders

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

AW on holiday

From today AW will be taking a much needed two week break from postings. You'll still be able to access the blog, but there will be no new content during this time, including comments. I will still be updating over on Otagosh, which has a broader focus, so feel free to check it out if you have withdrawal symptoms. Sometime over the next day or so there will be a review of a book I highly recommend - especially to (nudge, wink) Leonardo and the hard-core atheists among us.

When AW returns there'll be a special "year in review" feature, and I'll spell out my intentions on whether to continue with AW, and if so, what changes can be expected. What does that mean? Right at this very moment, I don't know myself, but a couple off weeks away from the salt mines will hopefully lend some clarity on that issue.

See you in 2010!

Monday, 21 December 2009

What if...

"COGers, Armstrongists, WCGracies, Papists, Defectives, Sinners and Loons.

What if..."

Guest commentary by Dennis Diehl

The purpose of most religion is to make us "better" than we currently are. The Biblical premise is that all human beings are fatally flawed, not good enough and in need of vast improvements and control of their "human nature." Without this ongoing overcoming of the evil self, growing towards a better kind of person and change, one runs the risk of being so not good enough that they will spend eternity, for their inability to change over a rather short lifetime, in a punishing hell. Scripture goes out of its way to remind us all that our fundamental human qualities are deceit, wickedness, jealousy, anger, lust and greed. I find that personally to be one of the most unhelpful and controlling lies ever foisted upon human beings by religion. Of course that is how we can act, but that is not who we are by any real means when given the freedom to be authentic and feel safe in being so.

We are called "worms" and less than nothing in this great book of encouragement. Even the early leaders, prophets and apostle-types knew that they had to degrade themselves as less than human in order to show they understood they were not worth anything as an unregenerate human being. Only when one realized they were a piece of poop, could they lead the people who were really poopy people. If you could not utter the words, "I am not worthy," you would never be a Bible CEO. The Apostle Paul noted that he was "the least of the Apostles" and that "the things that I don't want to do, I do and the things I should, I don't." He made his problems everyone's. He concluded he was simply a wretched human being, and so should everyone else. He reminded others that they were blind, miserable, poor and naked of heart and spirit. He even said he had to beat himself into submission, lest after preaching to others, he should flub up himself and be a castaway. Seems he didn't have the confidence "in the blood," to make up the differences in what he was and what he felt he needed to be.

Jesus is also said to have said that humans are to become "perfect, even (in the same way) as your Father in heaven is perfect. The word means "complete" not "perfect.' There is a huge difference. What if are complete already? What if we were born right the first time?

How did we get this way? Well, of course it was due to the "fall" where Adam and Eve, our really true and actual first human parents, created by God out of mud and ribs, flubbed up and ate the forbidden fruit. We can only take comfort in that the story finds it's origins in Sumerian Mythology.

We have all been blamed for this event and must spend our lives coming under a blood sacrifice of a more perfect human/god being and then continuing the struggle to be "better" until we die. It's then we find out if we understood being bad enough to be good enough to live forever. Redemption of humans by blood sacrifice and execution have always been the preferred solution to the depravity of man. Membership in the club usually cost ten or more percent of your material income and membership in the one true of many churches. I am not being disrespectful to the life and teachings of Jesus, but few understand how that has been woven into a tale that Jesus himself would have cringed at.

Have you ever considered the fact that you and I may have been born right the first time? What if the most simple and spiritual goal a human being has is to become your own genuine, authentic self? What if our purpose in life is neither to jump through the hoops set out by others, who think they know, nor to struggle and strive to improve yourself dramatically over what you are? People don't change much over a lifetime no matter what their religious affiliations, and while it's an improvement to stop killing one's self with sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine along with other assorted body killing habits, it's ok to just be yourself.
Is it easy to be yourself? No, not in our culture and certainly not in many others where not being a mere cog in the tribal wheel can get you killed in really bad ways. One of life's simple truths that most humans have long since forgotten, or never knew, is that all of us are one and the same and all smaller parts of the one single thing. I don't pretend to know what that is, but let's just say we are all one in the same conscious awareness stuck in a limited five sensed carbon based wet suit for now. As Mike Adams said in a recent article on the discovery of DNA variability, holographic blueprints and the symphony of life... "We are, in fact, an expression of the very phenomena we are attempting to understand, and if we read the poetry of DNA correctly, we will realize that life itself is not about the accumulation of wealth, or stuff, or power over others, but rather the discovery of self. And "self" does not exist in isolation. We are, in every way imaginable, intertwined. We are all made of the same stuff, wrought from the same patterns of nature, and in fact, formulated from the same musical notes played out in five billion unique but compatible tunes. With this discovery, Western science has concluded we are all more different from each other than previously thought, but I believe it is evidence that we are all just unique verses of the same universal poem."
That's a far cry from humans being merely wretched, miserable, poor blind and naked worms that need major rehab at the hands of prophets, priests and pastors who are just as, if not more, flawed than the congregation or the nation. Saying we are born right the first time and not in need of being born again or reborn goes against the meme, which is the mind virus we all got taught as kids. Our parents had it taught to them and their parents before that. It is the idea that we are all flawed at birth by a non-event in the lives of our first not-literally-so parents Adam and Eve. It's the idea that even if you are a pretty ok person, you are filled with vanity, jealousy, lust and greed that, unless paid for by a perfect blood sacrifice, demands you spend eternity in hell burning forever, cut off from God, or permanently dead. It's also not true and is not what a genuine human being, in reality needs to become the monkey on their back over.

What liberation it is to simply recognize that we are all one and the same smaller parts of the one big thing. It is every bit as difficult to live an authentic life as it is to live a life of false compliance to the will of others. It is easy or not easy depending on the need to please everyone or appear to agree when you don't, to be true to your self - and by self, I do not mean ego. I mean true to the conscious awareness that abides in the container we all too often mistake for the self. You are not your body. That is merely transportation and a container for a short time. You are not your brain. That is a receiver of information and memories that may, in fact, arise from outside of a bigger you and I than we can imagine. You are not your mind, which is that thinking brain that spins in the angry past or projects itself into the anxiety filled future when it has nothing better to do in the present.

How much misery and struggle to be all that one can never really be religion has heaped upon the faithful. Not many will leave the warmth and comfort of the boxes they were born in by happenstance and explore ideas that are not acceptable to the tribe or the church. But some will. They might be labeled "heretics" or perhaps more benevolently, "ahead of their times." In the past, those ahead of their times tended to be burned at the stake. Leaving the box of religious dogma is difficult and often one leaves it alone and on their own. Those in the last box don't often follow. You can be your authentic self as it comes to you and risk a lot but gain a lot, or you can put on your mask and be more comfortable by scarfing down antidepressants the rest of your life. That seems to be the road to the fact that being oneself is the most simple spiritual truth there is for a genuine human being.

Don't label yourself as belonging to this or that group. Don't label others for belonging or believing or thinking or even not thinking. We are who we are. NOT ONE PERSON I EVER KNEW WHO TAKES THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE ON AW HAS UTTERED THE WORDS, "THANK YOU, I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT AND I AM NO LONGER GOING TO BELIEVE WHAT I BELIEVE NOW OR BE WHO I NOW AM."
The joy and the challenge is in the journey not the ultimate find. Be yourself and consider that you might just have been born right the first time.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Santa brings Ronnie a special present

Santa has been making a list and checking it twice. Has Ronnie been a good Witness? Well, of course! So Santa has a bright, shiny new present for the lucky lad. The news is beginning to circulate as the Xmas bells chime: Ronnie is the Elijah to come.

Well, wouldn't you know it. Silly me for not realizing it straight off.

So far there are no links to "official" Weinland pronouncements, but I daresay they'll follow.

Ron, if you're out there, congratulations! And while you're basking in the glow of your new prophetic status, you might like to consider your candidacy for several other biblical honors. You could be Melchizedek or even the Logos. I mean, why should that Jesus guy hog all the limelight?

Postscript. Details on Mike's blog, and an audio link - for the masochists among us - to the relevant sermon. Exactly what Ronnie is claiming is a bit hazy. On the one hand it seems he's not going to grab the goodies, but after beating around the bush long enough to keep the sheep dizzy he states: “I am the final fulfillment of the Elijah-to-come”.

Sure Ron.

A view from the pews

A powerful piece of writing on the changes that hit WCG in the early nineties appears on Purple Hymnal's blog. If you've wandered here from some other background, and wondered what all this fuss and discombobulation about a church is about, then read this. It's the view from the grass roots, and it explains an awful lot.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Missive From Meeker

Joel Meeker racks petulance up to a new level. Remember Meeker, the guy who laid into Aaron Dean in 2008, then offered a sullen apology? Here's the kind of thing that presses Meeker's righteous indignation button.

Subject: EF: Alternative Forum findings

From Joel Meeker, Milford OH

Following the Council’s communiqué, in the ministerial newsletter, concerning its retreat discussions and its finding that there was nothing wrong with the alternative internet forum, I thought it might be useful to give a description of what it was, so that we can clearly understand what was and is being discussed. Some don’t read longer posts, so the most salient points have been bolded so you can skim and find them quickly.

The Rules of the Elders Forum state “The PURPOSE of Elders Forum will be to use a vehicle by which we can communicate in a professional manner on issues facing the General Conference of Elders and Church.” I believe these ethical concerns about the alternative forum are grave issues facing the GCE now. I shall do my best to respect the EF rules while attempting to deal with a sensitive and somewhat emotionally charged issue.

The Council communiqué last Thursday defended the rescission resolution by referring to a “legal opinion that to have concerns and not to do so would be unethical.” According to that legal opinion, we are bound to speak up and try to change things if we have ethical concerns. We have such issues before us now.

After conducting a personal investigation, outside of any work done on or for the Council, and without using any information that came from executive sessions of the Council, I was eventually able to get input from several men who were on the alternative forum and decided to leave it, or were dropped from it. I will do my best to present the findings as dispassionately as possible, not to undermine anyone’s reputation as the EF rules and Christianity forbid, and will limit my personal opinion to the last paragraphs of this post.

These alternative forums have existed for several years, until the latest one was closed shortly before the ballot last May, when elders started asking pointed questions about it. One could ask why, if there was nothing wrong with this forum, it would be shut down once its existence became more widely known and questions were being asked about it. It would have had time to affect the balloting of the elders participating.

Elders entered the forum circle only by invitation, that is, the gatekeeper contacted individual elders who might fit the profile being sought. The elders apparently had to be vetted by an authority of the forum who then decided if the prospective participant’s outlook fit. This was not just a group of old friends talking things over. Men were solicited who hardly knew the gatekeeper. Before being admitted, elders had to give their word that they would never divulge the names of the elders on the forum or the comments that were made – including if they chose to leave the forum later on. Apparently, elders who didn’t display the desired attitude in their comments could be and sometimes were dropped.

According to the information given to me, the forum was mostly a platform for criticizing our administration, and members of previous Councils who supported the administration in a traditional, conservative view of how the Church should operate and who were in favor of the relocation. One elder who left the forum when he discovered what it was like described it as “very offensive.” Since the following information was discussed openly at the Council retreat, since the Council found that there was nothing wrong with the alternative forum, and since permission was given to share non-executive-session information, there’s no reason we shouldn’t all know that Paul Kieffer set up the forum and was the gatekeeper. At least one other presently-serving Council member was also part of it.

The Council communiqué reads in part: “It [the Council] acknowledges that forums have existed in the past, but there was little merit to the descriptions given as to size or negative intent…. The Council is sufficiently convinced that there was no block voting or attempt to bloc vote” (emphasis mine).

Since these conclusions are very much at odds with what I learned from several former participants, it would be helpful to know how the Council reached these conclusions:

· Did the Council read all, or some, or any, of the posts from the alternative forum/s?

· How many former participants were interviewed?

· On whose testimony did the Council base its findings?

· Is the Council “sufficiently convinced” there was no negative intent based solely on the statements of the man or men on the Council itself who set up the forum and/or participated in it?

· If so, should that be considered unbiased testimony?

· Should the Council recuse itself from this matter to avoid what appears to be an obvious and serious conflict of interest?

· Should the GCE set up its own independent committee of inquiry?

I suppose depending on our personal outlooks, some might not be shocked by such a situation and such conduct in the ministry. It is very sad to me that fellow elders have defended, even on this forum, such behavior, which I find completely unethical and unacceptable. If this is considered acceptable ethical behavior by some elders in United, I can only wonder how much common ground we will be able to find in matters of ethics and moral principles. We must be in agreement on those principles if we are to trust one another and to work together.

Nice guy!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Waddle Factor

Despite Paul Kieffer having fallen on his sword, word is that the hounds are still baying. How did it all happen? AW has received copies of tedious and lengthy missives sent to the COE by Houston South UCG members Brian and Rhonda Waddle, who seem to have precipitated this situation by "much importunity." There is also a somewhat testy reply by Scott Ashley (and hey, I think he showed admirable restraint!) If you're a UCG member, and not yet sufficiently depressed, ask your pastor to email you copies - he almost certainly has them.

Frankly, viewed from an outsider perspective, the whole thing has been a circus; giving the lie to the "united" descriptor in UCG's name. Would the Waddle's complaints have been treated differently without behind-the-scenes barracking from leading ministers who are out of step with the new COE?

Holladay on the Kieffer resignation

December 14, 2009
Dear fellow elders,
On Wednesday, December 9th Paul Kieffer voluntarily resigned from his position on the Council of Elders. Paul’s statement concerning his resignation is copied for your information below. Paul’s sincere desire is to do what is best for the United Church of God. I know that both he and Monica will appreciate your prayers.
“Since my election to the Council of Elders in May 2008, various allegations people have made about me have made me a lightning rod among some in the ministry and membership. Due to the concern this has caused for some, I have decided it is best for me to voluntarily resign from the Council of Elders in the hope that this will lay these issues to rest. It is my sincere hope that this will lead to greater unity in the Church, help all of us focus on our mission of preaching the gospel and preparing a people, and move forward together.” Paul Kieffer
Paul was one of the three international council members. David Baker was the runner-up of the International candidates in the 2009 balloting. David Baker has accepted the responsibility of replacing Paul on the Council. We welcome David to the Council of Elders and will look forward to working closely with him in the future. David and Dorrie will likewise solicit your prayers for these additional duties.
In Christ's service,
Roy Holladay
On Behalf of the Council of Elders

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Like sands through the hourglass...

... so are the days of our lives. Or so the voice-over goes on the soppy soap. A significant episode in the even longer-running COG series seems to have been just been played out with the reported resignation of Paul Kieffer from the United Church of God Council just two days ago. Mr Kieffer stepped down, AW has been informed, as a result of events that allegedly occurred many years previously in WCG.

The complication in the plot was the politicking around more current concerns. Kieffer was associated with the unofficial elders' forum, an initiative that failed to endear him to many traditionalists. All is far from sweetness and light, it seems, on the factionalized COE.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Basil, hardwood flooring and a loyal evangelist

More kudos for The Wolverton Bible. Will Pfeifer decides it's a step ahead of Robert Crumb's Genesis. Long after Herb's "Work" has disappeared from the collective memory as one of Christendom's stranger experiments, it's likely ol' Basil's artwork will still be admired and imitated.

Fancy your own personal slice of the Armstrong Empire, now it has disintegrated into smaller, more manageable chunks? Be in quick before Gerry flies in from Edmond to buy up the lot!

Grand Mediterranean apartment homes renovated in 2007. All units feature stainless steel appliances, washer/dryer hookups, central air conditioning and heating, hardwood flooring, wood burning fireplaces and ample basement storage. South Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena is one of the premier streets in southern California.

And finally, memories of the Empire in its heyday - dinner with the High and Herbal One. You'll need to log into Facebook to see the source.

It was all gold and crystal, expensive wine, [chandeliers], fantastic food, including a desert that was covered in brandy and set fire (Bombe Alaska or some such...) One of the fellows mentioned how all the new students were so smart compared to many of us. HWA got quite worked up, and said that brains and talents weren't what were important. To quote him (could never forget these words), "Take Raymond McNair for example. What talents does he have?" Needless to say there was dead silence. How do you reply to that? [You're] on a loser either answer. He went on, "None, but he is loyal" and went on to stress the importance of loyalty. I'll refrain from further comment :) And apologies to any McNairs who may find this offensive. But that is what the man said.

Thanks to Bill and Gary, who forwarded these items to AW.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Purple Endures (and a Xmas Message)

Within hours of Corky's announcement that he'll close his ex-Christadelphian blog, Aggie has revealed that her Purple Hymnal blog, currently on ice, is gearing up for the Second Coming. No, not that second coming, but a retooled version on the Internet with a broader appeal. In an email she writes:

I want things to be different now. I want the blog to get as much attention and be as widespread as I can possibly get it. In my opinion, the time is no longer right for the ex-Church of God Internet to remain insular and navel-gazing and interested only in the civil war between non-believers (myself among them) and those who have chosen other religions.

As Aggie says, stay tuned.

Dennis has submitted the following piece for your seasonal consideration.

Digging Deeper: Processing the WCG Ministerial Experience

Whether uniquely so or not, I am the only, by name, career, former pastor I know that has written on AW. That always surprised me, but then again perhaps not. Ministers in and of WCG are symbols to many people of what went wrong or of the abuses they experienced growing up or participating in a local congregation. Don't misunderstand. I knew many insensitive, hard ass, "I'm in charge" and goofy ill-read ministers who were allowed to simply be moved around to inflict themselves on others year after year. I never understood how some, so abusive, with such terrible reputation for a lack of empathy, understanding and even common sense could just keep going and going and going.... But they did.

Most of those types have now migrated to being in charge of or at least a part of whatever slpinter, sliver, shit or splism that appealed to them. (Had to throw that in. I said that once in a Bible study and it was hilarious. I ended by saying, "well we do have some shits in the church.")

For me personally, what was that all about? Was it just a part of life's training for other things? Do I really think "God" uncalled me or recalled me to be a massage therapist? Can I do better or more before the end? (Of me, not civilization, which I expect will be around a long long time after I am gone.) Was it just really poor choices sincerely made when I was too young to see or know there was more to theology than men who said they understood it?

Sometimes I get snarky. That is the anger turned sideways. Sometimes I get reflective. That is what I perceive as what's left of my soul wanting to know as I always have wanted to know as a kid. Sometimes I "give up," whatever that means and want to be left alone. And then I realize I have few enough good friends and meaningful relationships as it is and I better be careful not to loose them as well.

I have been asked to "debate" one of my former teachers at AC who is well known to most, on the validity of the Bible, errancy issues, "who wrote what" and who really didn't, and perhaps the disharmony of the Gospels and "Just Who Do You Mean...Paul?" I don't know if I want to as I don't need anyone to believe me or have as burning a desire to convince as he might have. I certainly would be walking into a bee's nest. Maybe it would just be good for me to calmly explain what's in my soul and what I have learned after ten years of real study outside of the WCG mindset. I don't know.

It's been a disappointing and painful summer. Life doesn't seem to go as one would hope or expect, though I realize expecting life to go anyway is rather lame. Life does what it does. I'm alone in life and it is a challenge. A time to learn perhaps...

The WCG ministerial experience has both helped me and hurt me. It has helped me to dig deeper. It has hurt me in that I trust few and have a difficult time listening to any man tell me how it all is. I'll do my own homework thanks.

So now comes Christmas and while , to me, it's origins are so obvious, we will have to endure weeks of the accepted meaning, even though it really doesn't mean that. I always marvel at WCGracie's Christmas shtick. It ranks right up there with their mistaken focus on the Trinitarian nature of all things included. The God of the OT was a Pantheon long before he was a Trinity and perhaps a she long before he was a he. Long story, and one few examine as the Bible itself evolves its Canaanite God ("El") into YHVH and on into Jesus. I was doomed as a WCG pastor no matter how long it would have taken. I probably would have been doomed as a Presbyterian Pastor, which I almost became as well because "facts is facts." Actually Faith is actually what we have until the facts clarify themselves.

So the processing goes on. Some days are diamonds and some days are stones. I both marvel and am repulsed by the "Big Guns" of the splinters and their narcissism unleashed . I am also amazed at what kind of people are left to still put up with the one man shows that suck them both financially and soulfully dry. I guess it's their choice.

I wish you all a good season however it strikes you and whatever your evolving traditions have become. I'll leave you with what seems to encourage me.

"Right now, and in every moment, you are either closing or opening. You are either stressfully waiting for something — more money, security, affection — or you are living from your deep heart, opening as the entire moment, and giving what you most deeply desire to give, without waiting.

"If you are waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back, then you suffer. Every moment is the most important moment of your life. No future time is better than now to let down your guard and love.

"Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. Your every act can open hearts and minds.

"Opening from heart to all, you live as a gift to all. In every moment, you are either opening or closing. Right now, you are choosing to open and give fully or you are waiting. How does your choice feel? . . .

"Your heart always knows the truth of openness. In every moment of your life, your heart tacitly compares the closed suffering that you are doing, to the bliss of your true openness. 'This moment can be deeper.' 'Our love can be more full.' 'My life can be more fulfilling.' Your heart knows the truth of openness and suffers the tense lie of your closure.

"Chronic dissatisfaction is how you sense that you are living this lie. No matter how much pleasure or pain comes your way, dissatisfaction means you are resisting the openness of the moment, the openness who you are, the truth. When you are not open to emotions, people, and situations, then you are denying your most basic nature, the openness who you are.

"Practice being openness by opening to feel. Just as you are, even though you may have habits of closure, you can always practice opening to feel. Open to feel whatever you are feeling now. Open to feel your breath moving in and out, feel the posture of your body, feel the space and motion in your room around you, feel the emotional tone of the people nearest to you. Open and feel, Open as feeling. Open to feel everything, and feel as openness itself."

Warm regards to all
Dennis Diehl

Friday, 4 December 2009

One of the world's foremost authorities

"Dr. Bob Thiel is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the events likely to occur in the months leading up to and after December 21, 2012. Dr. Thiel’s exhaustive research of nearly a dozen ancient culture’s prophecies— including the Mayan, Hindu, I Ching, Buddhist and Islamic plans – reveals the chilling timeline of events surrounding 2012."

The geniuses at Whispers Radio have ordained Bob Thiel, Th.D (Kochi, India) as a world authority. Uh... Now how come the spiritual giants at LCG HQ in Charlotte haven't realized this yet?

Whispers is the Ohio Valley’s only source for paranormal talk radio... Jordan and Nick bring the best guests in the paranormal world to WKKX... Topics range from ghosts to cryptozoology to UFOs, as well as others that fall into the general paranormal realm.

Wow, talk about credibility; Bob, you've set a whole new benchmark!

Anyway, here's the show. Bob brings his outstanding expertise to bear in the second half of the program (around 47 minutes), after the lady talking about auras, harmonics and indigo children ("Am I too way out for ya, ha ha.") I guess she's a foremost authority too, huh?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Journal in post

The latest issue of The Journal is now out. You can, as usual, download the front and back pages without charge. There's a nice story about a young feast-goer's act of heroism, an interview with Ray Wooten of United Christian Ministries, and the usual mixed bag of contributions. Lenny Cacchio wants us to quit trying to beat any swords into plowshares - it's hopeless, so sit down on your fat half-acre and wait for the LORD (presumably he doesn't want you to hold your breath.) Ewin Barnett doesn't think government assistance is okay...

Something is wrong because, in almost 40 years of attending church, I have never once heard any discussion of the free-market economic principles that are plainly visible in the teachings of Jesus, such as the parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) or even in Proverbs 31.

I don’t know the whole answer to this problem, but I do know enough of sound economics (not the Keynesian counterfeit) to offer my help.

Well, hey, thanks for that generous offer Ewin, but I think I'll pass on that one. On the other hand Wesley White makes some thoughtful comments about the fractious hyper-independent fellowships.

Scattered individuals and small local churches need to develop more relationships with others so they can move away from being hug-me churches in protective bubbles.

Makes sense to me, but I can't see much chance of reversing the process, given the horrendous hierarchic abuse that sent us all zinging away in the series of Big Bangs that shattered the Armstrong Empire beyond recovery.

If you are interested (fascinated, appalled, whatever...) by the continuing journey of COGdom in a post-WCG world, The Journal remains essential reading. Subscription details are here.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Borg Alert! New Cube Over Edmond

Oh joy, another COGlet...

LCG and UCG can relax - at least for the moment - this time it's Gerry Flurry, imperious leader of the Philadelphia Church of God, and Robert Ardis, one of PCG's more colorful defectors, who are facing a Borg challenge. Frank Borg, to be specific. Exactly why the new splinter - Faithful Church of God in Laodicea - split off from the collective is hard to say, but it seems to be a fairly recent peeling away, perhaps just a few weeks prior to this year's Feast of Tabernacles. The new sect's two booklets (both by Frank) are dated 2009, and the website still seems to be a work in progress.

There are some who might say that Borg is an apt moniker for sects like PCG and Ardis' CGF, and the image of Gerry as "Borg Queen" does have a certain undeniable attraction. Here's Borg's take on the latest COG hemorrhage:

By 1997, it began to transpire that Mr. Flurry’s focus and commission had changed to again deliver the gospel message to the World – a commission that had already been completed by Mr. Armstrong (Matt. 24:14). Around this time God raised up another man, Mr. Robert Ardis, as leader of the Church of God’s Faithful (CGF) to head His Laodicean Work. God used Mr. Ardis to reveal a number of Truths including the deepening in understanding of the meaning of God’s Holy Days, and other vital teachings such as the fact that the Day of the Lord and the Day of the Lord’s Wrath are two separate events. To date, no other group has accepted these Biblical Truths. It became evident that, with Mr. Ardis as leader, the Laodicean candlestick was ignited and blessed with deeper understanding in a number of Biblical areas. However, Mr. Ardis also preached that the Day of the Lord came ‘as a thief in the night’ in October 1997. As time passed, the Laodicean characteristics outlined in Rev. 3:14-22 became increasingly evident in Mr. Ardis’ CGF, including a Laodicean attitude towards the Work of God (vs. 15). Among other things, by mid-August 2009, it became clear that the ‘Day of the Lord’ had not in fact occurred but was erroneously being preached. Biblical evidence proved that this momentous event is now about to occur and that an urgent warning message must go out to God’s people (Joel 1:15; 2:1). This vital information was immediately delivered to Mr. Ardis but was blatantly rejected (Hos. 4:6).

God seems to keep choosing the wrong blokes, regardless of whether their candlesticks are ignited. Maybe he should hire a consultancy firm.

Perhaps it's too much to hope that this group will be more of a thorn in the flesh to Gerry than most other Flurridian split-offs, but it does boast a mailing address in Edmond, OK., right on "that prophet"'s doorstep. Nasty!

Resistance, it seems, may not be futile after all.

Are We All Excited Yet?

Well, you backsliders all should be! The UCG has launched new online Bible study lessons to unlock the mystery to life's crucial questions. This is no mere rumor brethren, I've read the press release!

The United Church of God has a mission, which is to announce to the world the teachings of Jesus Christ. Further, the Church desires to prepare those that receive the gospel for the Kingdom of God. Understanding that many people have difficulty comprehending the true meaning of God’s Word; the Church has gone to great efforts to create bible study lessons that are designed to alleviate any misunderstandings.

The altruism of the Churches of God continually amazes me, and here, as you can see, is a sterling example.

... many people are confused by biblical scripture. Because the United Church of God wants so desperately to assist others with their journey and exploration of the Bible, they not only offer online bible study lessons, but they are provided free of charge.

Yes, you're probably all choked up, just as I am, at the selfless generosity of the lads in Milford. Imagine all those hours poring over volumes in the Hermeneia commentary series, consulting scholars in the leading universities...

What's that you say? They did no such thing? What do you mean, "they winged it."? Pardon me, please explain what you mean by "not new"? The press release says NEW. Hang on, let's check the PDF of lesson 1, after all they'd hardly put out a November 2009 press release to promote something with a copyright date of 1997 now would they!


Well, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, even if it is a very stale pudding indeed, so you can check out the value of these fine "new" lessons for yourself (if haven't already, long ago) by clicking over to Who knows, you might learn something profound and life changing, unlocking those crucial questions the PR refers to. On the other hand, maybe it's the usual manipulative drivel. That'd certainly be my opinion, having had a look at some of these not-so-new "new" lessons years ago. But top marks to Team Milford for putting PR lipstick on a very old porker without batting an eyelid.

There is something new in the wind though. Brace yourself for wonderful really-new study guides from UCG. These are apparently new, so new that so far you can only access a sample lesson, and the details are over on Mike Bennett's blog. In fact Mike seems to be one of the shakers and movers on this project. I'm not sure what Mike's qualifications are for such a demanding task, but maybe he has the complete set of Hermeneia volumes...

Our team of dedicated writers has already written 45 lessons on everything from the armor of God to dealing with unemployment, and we are eagerly waiting to get them up on the Web!

Well, no, maybe not.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Stop it Bob, you'll go blind!

Prognostication takes another turn into the land of the crazy with the stunningly brain-dead nonsense COGaholics are spouting forth about the EU leadership.

Do none of these self-declared experts remember the fiasco about Franz Joseph Strauss?

Simple answer: yes, but they're humming loudly to themselves and pretending they don't.

So along comes Herman Van Rompuy, and the screaming doom-casters, having learned nothing, are at it again.

Bob Thiel, Th.D (Kochi, India) has this to say on his blog.

Herman Van Rompuy has pledged to raise taxes. And since he is not the final King of the North, if Daniel 11:20 has a final fulfillment and he dies early, the following may apply to him:

There shall arise in his place one who imposes taxes on the glorious kingdom; but within a few days he shall be destroyed, but not in anger or in battle (Daniel 11:20).

You're wading way out into the quicksand there Bob.

... I believe that while Herman Van Rompuy is not likely to be the one that is the final King of the North, he may help set the stage for that leader to rise up. And if he fulfills his comments about raising taxes, he certainly could be considered as a person who fulfills Daniel 11:20.

The hilarious thing is that Bob is posturing as the cautious commentator vis-à-vis the truckload of manure that the Flurry sect is spouting on this issue. He doesn't seem to have succeeded!

Let's be honest. Franz Joseph Strauss had zero prophetic significance. That's obvious in hindsight, but it was also obvious at the time to anybody who bothered to look into the genre of biblical writing.

Herman Van Rompuy has zero prophetic significance. You don't need to wait to find that out, it's completely obvious right now.

Daniel 11:20 has nothing to do with Herman Van Rompuy. Does Bob (or Gerry) not possess a decent commentary to refer to? (Possibly not, as they'd consider such a thing "worldly.")

Herbert Armstrong and his "hanger-onners" had zero prophetic insight.

Gerry Flurry's prophetic insight scores in negative numbers. Zero flatters him.

Bob Thiel has zero prophetic insight.

This is where all the nonsense about "watch world news" falls apart. The Bible can't be aligned with the newspaper headlines of today (or Time cover articles), any more than it could in the 1930s or 1970s. The whole enterprise is doomed to failure, although a convincing performance may line the pockets of those who claim otherwise.

It may cause folk to feel special if they delude themselves about having an inside-track on world events, but sooner or later they - and often their loved ones - are going to have to pay.

Across on Mike Bennett's blog is one of those gratuitous postings on the perils of taking the Lord's name in vain.
It's called "Signs of perilous times: blasphemers." Here's the irony: the very same people who are horrified by gosh or darn seem deliriously happy when someone climbs up into the pulpit and talks utter rubbish in God's name, claiming - on God's authority - to identify prophetic significance where there is absolutely none. Again, think of all that inane speculation about Strauss and Otto von Habsburg.

Now that really is taking God's name in vain.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Mormon dissent and the Tkach sect

It is remarkable just how much prominence the WCG/GCI transformation has in dissident Mormon circles. Particularly among LDS with evangelical leanings, the changes under Tkach have been inspirational. Here's a recent example. Joe himself has been hauled out as exhibit A in Utah by his evangelical buddies, and the Called to be Free video - a hagiography of Joe & Co. - was produced by a post-Mormon group. The parallels between the two movements (LDS and old WCG) included the God Family and Lost Tribes teachings. If you run across a former LDS who thinks the WCG story is the best thing since sliced bread, do set them straight.

But all that glitters is not gold, and the WCG paradigm is probably not the one to emulate.

(The Called to be Free video is available to view in full online.)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Afflictions of the Righteous

Poor Mister Weinland. Such trials and tribulations! His poor, dear sainted wife Laura - such a cross (er, um, stake) to bear, what with those nasty IRS people sniffing around. Swiss bank accounts you say? This just proves that God's chosen servant is being provident! And now the Prophet/Apostle's daughter, the lovely Audra Little, is caught up in the agony (also here). I'm feeling teary-eyed at the very thought of this terrible injustice. But be thou comforted Audra, many are the afflictions of the righteous. And fear not brethren, they'll never convict Mister Weinland because the Great Tribulation begins in 2008 and...

Oh, wait... hmm.

But never mind, here at AW we're happy to express our unqualified support for the holy martyrs (Ron, Laura and Audra) - tastefully conveying our best wishes via this image of an IRS pencil sharpener. Hopefully Ron will, um, get the point.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The disappearing ThD

Bob Thiel seems to have expunged mention of any Th.D from his bio page. No explanation given, but I guess it amounts to a concession to his critics. Here then are the three versions of his qualifications that Bob has promoted this year.

Version 1: ...I have studied graduate level Early Church History from Fuller Theological Seminary and other schools. A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree was earned from the Union Institute and University where I studied various biological sciences and research methodologies. I also have other degrees/training, and have studied theology, both formally and informally.

Version 2: ...I have studied graduate level Early Church History from Fuller Theological Seminary and other schools in and out of the USA like T of CU, where a Th.D. in Early Christianity was earned). A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree was earned from the Union Institute and University where I studied various biological sciences and research methodologies. I also have other degrees/training, and have studied theology, both formally and informally.

Version 3: ...I have studied graduate level Early Church History from Fuller Theological Seminary and other schools in and out of the USA). A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree was earned from the Union Institute and University where I studied various biological sciences and research methodologies. I also have other degrees/training, and have studied theology, both formally and informally.

Now you see it, now you don't. It remains to be seen whether Bob has done irreparable damage to his credibility by fudging on this issue.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Flying in to Cincinnati

What's happening in Cincinnati this weekend? Word - as yet unconfirmed - is that a gaggle of elders is flying in to roost at Home Office, and they're not happy chappies. Rumors are flying too. To put it diplomatically, we've heard that a matter of discipline may be involved.

So far all we have are questions, but it seems indisputable that UCG has indeed been blessed with "interesting times."

A new COG to check out - sort of

This is just too good to be true...

There's a spoof site called Best Church of God, motto: "We read the Bible so you don't have to," and drawing inspiration from Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the Lord with all your heart, in your own intelligence rely not.) No, it's not an Armstrong splinter, but it's definitely good enough to be given honorary status! It's Landover Baptist with a biblically sanctioned name.

But here's the rub. One of the BCOG pages features those ubiquitous Google ads, and guess which organizations feature prominently?

Yes, proudly peddling their "literature" at Best Church of God are UCG and the Pack cult. Very ecumenical.

It somehow seems appropriate!

Friday, 13 November 2009

An Evolving Creation

With the recent exchange of rants about evolution and creationism, the following link is offered with some trepidation. This article appears in the latest issue of Lutheran Partners, an ELCA magazine for ministers and lay leaders. It presents a position close to GCI's - though perhaps argued with more cogency than Rex Morgan was able to. Not surprisingly, it has quite a different angle to that offered by "Leonardo."

While the tone of this article may read a little strangely to those in the Church of God tradition (we're hardly the author's primary audience), there are some important points made that are relevant to anyone wanting to avoid parking their brain in order to protect their faith. It won't satisfy the fundamentalists (it'd never make the cut in The Good News), nor those who have a thorough-going secular view, but if you are someone who finds truth a more subtle, contrary reality, then you might find it a welcome alternative to rigidities on both extremes.

Bad Coffee?

Who is this forlorn looking individual? Is the pained expression the result of a really bad cup of joe? Of course, if he was a Kiwi, he'd probably be lamenting the lack of sausage rolls on the table, but he's definitely American.

Clue 1: this fellow's name appeared frequently as a correspondent on AW - both the old version and the current blog. A voice of reason and moderation here that earned much respect.

Clue 2: he seems to have now channeled his energies into politics - this photo was taken in the election year of 2008.

Unrelated observation: it's interesting to note the political choices people make when they leave a marginal religious culture like WCG (and its clones.) Often it's to a similarly non-mainstream group. One of the original collaborators with John Trechak on Ambassador Report took on a leading role with the Libertarian Party, as I recollect it. But no, we're not talking about the Libertarians in association with the gentleman above.

Who will be the first non-anonymous reader to identify our man of mystery?

Postscript: Mike of Flavor Aid fame took it out at the first reply, even providing a link which includes a far more flattering photo. The source for this photograph is here.

Scott has that unwanted feeling...

A cry for help has surfaced on The Philadelphia 10 website. A distraught reader enquires:

How Do I Cancel My Subscriptions And Stop Getting Free Literature From Church Websites & Have My Info Removed?

Egad! Free literature from churches? Which churches could the correspondent possibly be referring to?

I want to cancel my subscriptions from getting free literature from those church websites that you can request free literature from, I have enough free books and magazine from them, I just got 2 magazines today from Good News,
I want all of my information to be removed from the following sites
The United Church Of God
The Philadelphia Church Of God
and all other sites, does anyone know how do I do that??

Quick as a flash, Scott Ashley, GN editor and COE member, shot off this helpful response.

I work for the United Church of God. All you need to do is write to and request that your name and e-mail address(es) be removed from all lists. Be sure to include all e-mail addresses you might have used and the mailing address to which the publications were sent. They should stop immediately, with the exception of anything that might already be in the mail.

Good work Scott. Honestly, if folk put their names on a list, they've got to expect to get what they sent for. And honestly, I used to get more upset about all those stupid Reader's Digest promotions than anything one of the COGs sent out.

But wait, what's wrong with that plea to Philadelphia 10? Oh no, please don't draw it to Bob Thiel's attention, the complainant only mentions UCG and PCG, not... oh ghastly, where's the LCG?! Quick, someone send out a copy of Tomorrow's World!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

2012 - 1936

As the hype hits around 2012 the movie, Wired magazine reminds us of its apocalyptic predecessors, including a certain someone who had the year 1936 tagged.

1936: The Second Coming

America’s heartland is literally covered in dust as Hitler begins exterminating Europe’s Jewish population amid a worldwide depression. Not surprisingly, evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong finds a ready audience for his message that Jesus will start the world over from scratch in 1936. (When that doesn’t happen, Armstrong revises his apocalypse deadline to 1975.)

(Thanks to "DP" for the tip-off)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A response to WCG/GCI's position on Creation and Evolution

This is an edited version of three responses by "Leonardo," one of AW's most prolific commentators, a former member who now espouses an atheistic worldview, to an article by Rex Morgan in the New Zealand WCG magazine Inside Life. You can read the full, somewhat more disputatious text in the comments to the previous post. Replies are invited, but they need to be courteous and address the issues - either raised by Leo or in the article he reviews - rather than vacuous polemic.

I just carefully read through Rex Morgan’s article “Creation, Evolution or both?” – and while I applaud it in general, in terms of it being written by a GCI minister, still, there are many areas where the author’s knowledge is seriously lacking.

The general theme of the article attempts to produce a seamless integration of the mystical worldview of faith-based Christianity with the empirical fact-based methods of science. This is nothing new – fundamentalist creationist writers of every stripe and color try to do this all the time.

Morgan writes:
“Christians and scientists haven't always been in conflict. In fact the Christian faith was instrumental in the early development of scientific observation from the 1200s onward, particularly in mediaeval Europe. People like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Bacon, Pasteur and many other leading early scientists were men of deep Christian faith and conviction. Galileo believed that he was revealing the laws of God in his work.”

Well, not quite. This is a complex subject that cannot be candy-coated so easily. Let me just say that it involves considerably more cultural factors than most are willing to consider. In reality, the many experimental procedures summarized under the umbrella term “scientific method” represented an extremely foundational and serious DEPARTURE from supernatural revelation as a means of gaining accurate knowledge of the natural world, which Christian faith had promoted up until that time, and still promotes to this day.

And the clear effects such supernatural methods had upon the societies it influenced when it had both widespread and powerful influence are a matter of history. Historians call it the Dark Ages for a reason, as it represented extremely serious declines in human well-being and progress in general.

The fact that many of the early forerunners of what eventually became known as modern science had theological beliefs doesn’t necessarily lead to the foregone conclusion that such beliefs actually inspired their research methodology. In some cases it no doubt did, but on the whole this is a myth heavily promoted by Christianity.
Christianity and Islam both claim credit for practical real-world advances that benefit man’s life (in other words, the fruits of science) that they could have NEVER originated themselves within the stifling context of their supernatural ideologies. The Medieval Dark Ages, the period in which both Christianity and Islam grew and spread rapidly, and thus enjoyed significant cultural impact within, represented a time period of major cultural and academic decline, especially in Christian Europe.

Christianity and Islam, far from inspiring methods like science, often did all they could to suppress them, with few notable exceptions. St. Augustine was asked the question: “What was God doing before He created the world?” he answered, “Preparing hell for those who asked unnecessary questions!”

Augustine further wrote: “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity…It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing, and which man should not wish to learn.”

And yet Christianity wants to champion Augustine's writings ALONG SIDE the highly successful enterprise of science, and actually claim that the former actually inspired, promoted and served as a philosophical foundation leading to the latter?! This is not warranted by the actual historical record.

Morgan further writes:
“Darwin himself presented his theory of evolution as a concept compatible with belief in God.”

Well again, sort of, at least at first, simply because he did not want to cause a public stir in general by directly confronting the religious sentiments of the time, nor offend the feelings of his dear and devout Christian wife specifically, because they shared a wonderfully close and intimate relationship together. The historical record is indisputable on this.

Darwin’s book (Origins) published in November of 1859 did not broach the subject of evolution as it pertained to human beings. This is perfectly true. Darwin was bright enough to fully realize the devastating body-blow his theory, if true, was going to deal to popular supernatural religious beliefs pertaining to the origins question.

However, by his 1871 book “The Descent of Man” Darwin WAS applying evolutionary thinking to man’s origins. So Morgan is not informing his readers of the ENTIRE historical story.

Morgan further states:
“In the frontispiece to the first edition of The Origin of Species, he included a quote from the Anglican clergyman and philosopher William Whewell proclaiming that God doesn’t act by constant miracles but ‘by the establishment of general laws’. This was followed by a quote from Sir Francis Bacon stating that true understanding must be sought both ‘in the book of God’s word and in the book of God’s works’, referring to scripture and nature. The Origin of Species itself contains several references to the Creator, and the final sentence states ‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…’ ”

Morgan continues:
“In the sermon at Darwin’s funeral, in Westminster Abbey, the Reverend Frederick Farrar said that Darwin’s theory posed no threat to belief in God, and that Darwin had enabled people to read “many hitherto undeciphered lines in God’s great epic of the universe.’ ’’

Again, technically true, however, Morgan fails to inform his readers about “the rest of the story”: the fact that a great stir arose among the clergy upon Darwin’s death over whether his body be interred at Westminster Abbey.

Morgan mentions the Clergy Letter Project. I know Dr. Michael Zimmerman, the man who started this project. But what the letter actually says - even though to date Zimmerman has accumulated over 12,000 clergymen signatures - is not what the vast majority of Christians believe (and most certainly not the COG ministry):

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”

We’ve barely begun to analyze just the first few paragraphs of Morgan’s article and we observe that, while not totally false, it is nonetheless extremely incomplete in it’s initial assertions, ignoring many other facts that give the overall account an entirely different meaning.

Anybody can do this with an article if they are highly-selective in the facts they are willing to use. But the ENTIRE ARRAY of facts we have access to presents a very different, a more accurate, and a considerably more interesting story.

The bottom line is this: one can no more synthesize supernatural faith and empirical reason together any more than one can permanently bring oil and water together. The two represent diametrically opposite methods of knowledge acquisition.

One is mystical — the other is rational. One is based upon subjective feelings, pre-scientific ancient tradition and dogmatic rigidity — the other on tangible facts, empirical evidence, rigorous rationality and always willing to refine itself based upon further information. One has an extremely violent historical track record — the other has greatly alleviated the pain of the human condition. One is oriented toward death in this world — the other toward the promotion of life. Each is as alien to the other as war is to peace.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, could say lofty things like: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth….” — but the everyday reality of this conceptual integration is another thing entirely.