Ground Zero — Chapter 5 – The Crisis Deepens – A Dark Time of Hard Decisions

The Genesis of the United Church of God
A Personal View from Ground Zero

See previous chapters

As we advance toward what led to the rise of the United Church of God, I will occasionally provide back stories of the deliberate dismantling of long-established teachings and policies of the prior fellowship. These will offer important context looking back some nearly three decades ago and the relevance for today.

Here I continue to provide a postscript detailing what followed my resignation on March 3, 1995.  What were some of our reactions and feelings that followed in the immediate days and weeks?  What did Bev, I and others experience?  Then in the next chapters, I plan to return to the developments leading to the biggest split in the history of the Worldwide Church of God as witnessed from my firsthand perspective at the Ground Zero of events.

The Nature of God controversy 

Here is a critical sequence. The ministry had been prepped for dramatic change during  conferences held in 1993 and 1994.  Kyriakos J. Stavrinides, a church theologian and classics professor previously teaching at Ambassador College, played a pivotal role.  I first became acquainted with him when I was a student at Ambassador College in Bricket Wood, England.    

A person of Greek descent, his cognitive and cultural roots were embedded in Orthodox theological thought.  During these ministerial seminars, he made presentations lasting several days – some even all day long – about the Nature of God, together with a series of illustrations and charts.  

As many could attest, “Dr. Stav,” as he was informally known, was very forceful and dogmatic in his presentations.  The upshot?  Ministers were being indoctrinated for the very first time about concepts opposing the bedrock of biblical understanding. These included new introductions about the non-biblical Trinity, heaven and many other protestant doctrines taught by mainstream Christianity.  

While Dr. Stav initially stopped short of actually stating that church doctrine would now require us to “believe” in the Trinity, he did shove ministers half-way there. He described God as a hypostasis, a definition introducing God as an “underlying reality or substance.”  God was not a “person.”   

He drew blackboard depictions of thought above a line defining what was stated in the Bible and what was below the line, which was not explicitly biblically stated. The Trinity obviously fit here in the latter category. For many, Dr. Stav was intimidating in his teaching. We all knew that he could not be so relentlessly forthright without the backing of the church’s highest leadership. While he fielded questions, he brusquely told the ministry that he knew all the scriptural arguments and that there was nothing he couldn’t answer, so beware!  If the comment was meant to be humorous, it certainly fell short. 

I would like to acknowledge one person who openly posed many questions to Dr. Stav during this time: my wife Bev. This of course long predated my resignation from Church Administration. As many could recall, Bev would ask question after question. These repeated lines of questioning once resulted in Joe Jr. writing to her directly, alleging that her problem was that she was indulging in the logical fallacy of “arguing from silence” (argumentum ex silentio), where a conclusion is based on “silence,” that is, lack of evidence. Of course, “arguing from silence” apparently was perfectly all right if once needed such a tool to fit one’s purported thesis for dramatic doctrinal change like the Trinity. This sort of illogical doublespeak was served up daily. 

When the Church began hearing about God somehow being a “hypostasis,” many were uneasy and troubled.  When we pray, we often imagine God with human-like features as described in the Bible. After all, we are created in his image.  Now, according to the “hypostasis” quasi-teaching, God is some kind of shapeless ethereal “blob.” This disturbed minister and member alike. But, no worries, there was, according to the ever-shifting doctrinal fuzziness, a quick fix.  There was a “spiritual workaround.” To make things more doctrinally palpable, if one really “needed” to have a person to be prayed to, then “go for it!”  It was a hopeless muddle. 

What made things worse was the fact that Joe Jr. and Mike and never really wanted the hypostasis concept as the final teaching on the Nature of God.  A “hypostasis” proposition represented old, outdated theology and wouldn’t really fly in the mainstream world. But it served as a stepping stone to the Trinity doctrine where three persons “appear” in one where God does ironically somehow appear as a “person.” In the official WCG Statement of Beliefs brochure in 1994, God was described as a hypostasis.  After all this, it was no surprise that in the next year’s revision it was blatantly stated that God was a Trinity.  

Drawing fire 

Earlier, pre-resignation, after one of the MRT meetings, Joe Jr. was exasperated with me. I wasn’t playing ball with the proposed changes. Joe. Jr. snapped at me: “Vic, we need your help to help the Church cross the river.  We’re halfway there and you’re not helping.”  I sure wasn’t. An unnecessary and manmade spiritual crisis was on the rise. 

I knew we were treading through water, but I felt more like we were drowning rather than reaching the other side.  I was never in a meeting where any plan for sweeping doctrinal change was openly discussed or evaluated. No one openly gave assignments about who does what to throw cherished beliefs under the bus. That would have resulted in open conflict that would have engulfed the then-present administration. Instead, it was more subtle, especially at the beginning.  The sweeping changes were fomented and tightly controlled by a few, who only doled out pieces of the plan for change as it unfolded. Mr. Tkach Sr. commented to us that what we were doing was tantamount boiling a frog in hot water by putting the frog into room temperature water and slowly turning up the heat little by little until the frog got comfortable and then proceeded to be boiled.  However, if we threw the frog into boiling water, it would jump out.  He illustrated what is normally shown to be a devious action to one now that revealed their strategy!   

So here we’ve come to the end of the story of what these changes represented.  The so-called “new teaching” really consisted of theological principles that evolved over the centuries, long-distanced from the early days of the first century and the inspired teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. The “new teachings” were heavily borrowed from what previously had become nonbiblical mainstream tenets, which were often transitioned from paganism and metaphysics.  Obvious biblical statements about the day of worship, heaven, hell, the Holy Spirit and much more were redefined and recast.  Some of the teaching is seminary level; other is imagination and speculation.   

Meanwhile in 1995, the time of the biblical Passover was drawing nigh.  Bev and I wondered, where would we be keeping it?  In the future, where would we even go to Church?  Ironically, apart from the “new teachings,” a “new exodus” was indeed beginning to manifest itself at this time of year.  There was no pathway defined out this confusion, except to continue to hold fast to biblical teachings and trust God. The coming chapters will tell more of this story. 

I conclude this installment with one personally painful incident. In the weeks following, many more ministers elected to follow biblical truths and eschew the “new teachings.” Some were fired from employment, some forced to “retire,” many who outright resigned. Efforts at a “peaceful” transition were spurned. Most were “disfellowshipped,” heightening tensions and turmoil even further. Then, unexpectedly, a list of disfellowshipped ministers (that included me) was distributed and directed to be read in all churches around the world. Whether this was a futile effort at damage control I know not. But what I do know was that my son Michael was sitting in service in Minneapolis when he heard his Dad’s name read and marked.  Shocked and disillusioned, he left before the final song. He was not to return to Church for quite some time. The spiritual damage was literally ripping people’s lives apart, including friends and families. It was an unforeseen tragedy of a high order.  

To conclude this chapter, here is the casualty list of disfellowshipped ministers in 1995 as reported in the In Transition newspaper: 

List of ministers fired and retired from Worldwide Church of God 

Adair, Colin--Regional Director, Caribbean 
Anderson, John 
Antion, Gary 
Apartian, Dibar--Pasadena (P.M.), Calif. 
Bald, John--Corpus Christi, Texas 
Beam, Rick 
Berg, Wilbur--Blackfoot, Idaho 
Beyersdorfer, Karl--Joplin, Mo. 
Billingsley, Alton--Stockton, Calif. 
Bosserman, Tony--Sacramento (North), Calif. 
Bradford, Bill 
Bryce, Charles--Charleston, S.C. 
Buchanan, Steve--Tucson, Ariz. 
Budge, Ted1 
Burson, David--Kansas City (East P.M.), Mo. 
Butler, Bill 
Cafourek, John--Olympia, Wash. 
Carey, Todd--Indianapolis (South), Ind. 
Chapman, Jim--Chico, Calif. 
Cisneros, Herbert--El Salvador 
Clark, Tom--Big Sandy (A.M.), Texas 
Crow, Richard--Dayton, Ohio 
D'Alessandro, Randy--Marietta, Ohio 
Damour, Tom--Champaign, Ill. 
Davis, Howard--Portland, Ore. 
Delap, George--Scotland 
Demarest, Roy--Port Orange, Fla. 
Dick, Bob--Seattle, Wash. 
Dove, Roy--Durango, Colo. 
Duncan, Richard--Salem, Ore. 
Dunlap, Rich0ard--Lawton, Okla. 
Dunlap, Wayne--Eureka, Calif. 
Elliott, John--Cincinnati (Central), Ohio 
Elliott, Rob--Big Sandy (P.M.), Texas 
Engelbart, Ozzie 
Evans, Dave 
Fenchel, Matt--Germany 
Foster, Roger--Phoenix (North), Ariz. 
Franks, Jim--Houston (North), Texas 
Giese, Ken--Big Sandy (P.M.), Texas 
Gore, Bruce--San Diego, Calif. 
Greer, Lambert--Louisville, Ky. 
Greider, Larry--Belleville, Ill. 
Gully, Mark--Waco, Texas 
Hall, Dan 
Hampton, Arnold--Baltimore, Md. 
Hanisko, Mike--Sarasota, Fla. 
Hargrove, Vernon--Hammond, Ind. 
Havir, Dave--Big Sandy (A.M.), Texas 
Hogberg, Gene--Pasadena (P.M.), Calif. 
Holladay, Roy--Fort Myers, Fla. 
Hooser, Don--Dallas (South), Texas 
Horchak, Doug--Fort Collins, Colo. 
Hornor, Noel--Portland (West), Ore. 
Hulme, David--Pasadena (P.M.), Calif. 
Jacobs, Bill--National YOU Coordinator 
Jahns, Bill--Salt Lake City, Utah 
Johnson, Doug 
Johnson, Greg--Cleveland (West), Ohio 
Jones, Bob--Jacksonville, Fla. 
Kaplan, Mark D. 
Kilough, Clyde--Akron, Ohio 
Knapp, Mitch--St. Paul, Minn. 
Kobernat, Randy--Tallahassee, Fla. 
Kubik, Vic--Church Administration 
Langarica, Saul--Guatemala 
Laughlin, Ron 
League, Bob 
LeBlanc, Steve--Modesto, Calif. 
Lochner, Otto--Columbia, S.C. 
Luecke, Paul--Bismarck, N.D. 
Luker, Dennis--Garden Grove, Calif. 
Marshall, Graemme 
Martin, Ken--Macon, Ga. 
Masterson, Mark 
McCrady III, Frank 
McNair, Burk--San Antonio (West), Texas 
McNeely, Darris--Indianapolis (South), Ind. 
Mickelson, Mark--Lubbock, Texas 
Millich, Rand--Hattiesburg, Miss. 
Mills, David--Charleston, W.Va. 
Moody, Steve--San Antonio (East), Texas 
Myers, Dave--Houston (Southwest), Texas 
Myers, Norm--Kenosha, Wis. 
Myers, Steve--New Orleans, La. 
Neff, Larry 
Noel, Eugene--Columbus (East), Ohio 
Nutzman, Steve 
Orchard, Brian--Pasadena (AM), Calif. 
Parks, Cliff--San Antonio (West), Texas 
Peoples, Bob--Abilene, Texas 
Petty, Gary--Janesville, Wis. 
Pinelli, Richard--Indianapolis (North), Ind. 
Rand, Dick--Midland, Texas 
Register, David--Boston, Mass. 
Reyes, Camilo--Albany, Ore. 
Rhodes, Harold--Pensacola, Fla. 
Rhodes, Melvin--Lansing, Mich. 
Rodzaj, Robert--Cleveland (East), Ohio 
Roybal, Larry--Mexico City 
Schreiber, Randy--Reno, Nev. 
Schurter, Dale 
Seelig, Gerald 
Segall, Stuart--Sedro-Woolley, Wash. 
Seigle, Mario--Chile 
Servidio, Jim--Minneapolis (North), Minn. 
Sexton, Rex--Soldotna, Alaska 
Shafer, Steve--Flint, Mich. 
Sheppherd, Steve--Elkhart, Ind. 
Sidars, Steve 
Smith, Carlton--Visalia, Calif. 
Smith, Gary--Chillicothe, Ohio 
Smith, Harold--Pasco, Wash. 
Smith, Ron--West Palm Beach, Fla. 
Stiver, Randy--Roseburg, Ore. 
Swenson, Guy--Church administration 
Taylor, Brit 
Teitgen, Herb--Sioux Falls, S.D. 
Thompson, Dick--Buford, Ga. 
Treybig, David--Spokane, Wash. 
Treybig, Ken 
Tuck, Jim--Phoenix (East), Ariz. 
Turk, Tom--Denver (South), Colo. 
Veal, Cliff--St. Cloud, Minn. 
Walden, Keith--Austin, Texas 
Walker, Larry--El Paso, Texas 
Walker, Leon--Regional Director, Spanish 
Wallen, Ron--Jackson, Miss. 
Waterhouse, Don--Tampa, Fla. 
Waterhouse, Gerald--Port St. Lucie, Fla. 
Webber, Robin--Garden Grove, Calif. 
Weinland, Ron--Toledo, Ohio 
Welch, Mark 
Welty, Lyle--Cleveland (East), Ohio 
West, Roger--Cape Girardeau, Mo. 
Weston, Gerald--Kansas City (East P.M.), Mo. 
Williams, Earl--Atlanta (East), Ga. 
White, Glen--Clarkston, Wash. 
Williams, Jack--Bend, Ore. 
Winnail, Doug--Ambassador University 
Wooten, Ray--Birmingham, Ala. 
Zehrung, Warren--Little Rock, Ark. 
Zimmerman, Chuck--Phoenix (West), Ariz. 

Posted in Ground Zero.