We now look at part 2 of Unity and Division by Eric Keefer.
In this sermon Keefer addresses dissatisfaction with Vision magazine and the claim that it is not preaching Armstrongism, the religion of COG-AIC, or preaching it in a very oblique manner.
Keefer insists that the dissenters are behaving irrationally and out of emotion.
And I guess I would like to begin, this afternoon, just summarizing where we’ve been, what has transpired, and what are the issues. I think that’s really the underlying thing that people continue to ask themselves. It simply doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense when you think about what has been presented as issues. What seems to be very erratic behavior on the part of many, including some prominent ministers, makes us stop and ask ourselves, “Well, what are the issues? What’s going on? Why are we seeing these kinds of responses?” Let’s rehearse for just a moment what has transpired.He discusses some of the events that have happened and insists that he finds the dissenters' complaints hard to understand and incomprehensible.
We know a number of weeks ago a prominent minister in the Church sent a letter to Mr. Hulme and the Board, and he himself made that letter public. In that letter, nothing new, he criticized Mr. Hulme about his leadership and understanding of government, and he characterized Vision as not preaching the gospel. I think those are two of the main issues that were a part of that letter. (p. 1.)
A third minister and pastor, which I think probably most of you already know by now—but if you don’t—Mr. Rodzai resigned recently. His letter was not made public in the same way that Mr. Andrews’ letter was, but the way things work, I did receive a copy of that letter through members who support Mr. Rodzai.Despite finding the dissenters' behavior incomprehensible he endeavors to explain that they are acting irrationally and that you can trust Hulme and you should stay loyal to him (and keep sending in those tithes to COG-AIC).
So I have seen that letter and I’ve read it probably a dozen times. It’s not as long a letter as Mr. Andrews’ letter, it’s a two page letter; and I’ve read it over, and over, and over trying to make sense of that letter. (p. 2.)
My response comes from the only sources I know to go to, and that is Mr. Andrews’ letter and Mr. Rodzai’s letter. There is a commonality. There is a very strong dislike that probably verges on hatred for the magazine Vision. (p. 2.)Keefer says he is very surprised at this unfolding schism. It has come completely put of the blue and as recently as November 1, 2013, he had not the slightest inkling that a crisis was about to erupt.
Discontentment grows with a common cause. Ministers who have a common dislike for Vision have found sympathetic ears with each other, and together they have helped one another grow more discontent. And I can tell you, I didn’t believe it a few weeks ago, but I can tell you now, ministers have been talking. Pastors have been talking. They’ve gotten together, they’ve discussed these things, and they have sort of—I don’t know what degree plans have been made—but they have gotten together and talked about these things privately. It’s happened. It happened, I believe, at the minister’s conference, although I wasn’t involved in those conversations so I didn’t see them, but I do believe that that has been the case. (p. 5.)Keefer accuses the dissenting ministers of conspiring together. (Perhaps he is subconsciously recalling what happened when UCG split from WCG.)
It’s abundantly clear that these ministers have collaborated. They use the same words, the same jargon in their letters, they use the same concepts, they quote the same scriptures, and they clearly support one another. (p. 6.)Keefer insists that Hulme is not trying to change church doctrines contrary to the assertion of some of the dissenting ministers that Hulme is planning to renounce British-Israelism. Keefer insists there will be no rejection of Armstrongism as occurred under the Tkaches.
He also implies that any doubt COG-AIC members may have regarding the trustworthiness of Hulme and Co. are implanted by Satan.
Now, many folks think to themselves: “There must be more to their discontentment. How could so many ministers be upset over what at least has been proposed as the problem?” There must be another shoe to drop, because it doesn’t seem to make sense that this is really their issue. There must be something more.Keefer insists that the dissenters are simply acting emotionally. There is no reason or substance behind their mass dissension, Keefer insists. Their complains have nothing else behind it and do not merit this mass dissension, he says.
And the result of that is many of us begin to have doubts about our leaders. It’s very easy to interject doubts in the mind of a human being. It’s very easy to say something, interject some doubt, and then you start to wonder, “Well, maybe there’s more to it. We’ve been through situations where somebody said there was more to it, we didn’t believe it, and there was! So maybe there is something to this sort of thing.”
“Maybe Mr. Hulme’s hiding something. Maybe he’s just like Mr. Tkach. What’s the rest of the story? What is it that these ministers know about Mr. Hulme that we don’t? Is he ready to change something?”
These are the sorts of questions that get thrown out that maybe even have gone through your mind because the seeds of doubt have been planted in your mind. That to me is incredible. Those are tactics that Satan the devil uses undeniably.
Now I am confident, brethren, that there is no more. There is no shoe that’s going to drop. There’s nothing that’s going to come out that we did not know about. I’ve talked to Mr. Hulme personally over the past couple of weeks. He’s not this monster. He does not have a hidden agenda. There are not things that these ministers know that nobody else knows. (p. 6.)
It is an issue of emotion. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to many of us. That’s why the issue doesn’t make sense, because it’s an emotional issue. It’s people being upset over decisions that have been made, and unless you are in that group of emotion it won’t make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to many of you that I’ve talked to. But you see, I’m confident there is nothing else hidden.He then emphasizes that Hulme has the authority to lead COG-AIC. He then cites Acts 15 and insists that James was the leader and he made the decision, that the church was run by one man rule.
If Mr. Andrews thought there was more, why didn’t he put it in his letter? He certainly didn’t hold back in that letter. He had to know it wasn’t going to be a good result when he delivered that letter. So if there’s more, why didn’t he deliver it in his letter?
If Mr. Rodzai thought there was more, why didn’t he put that in his letter? The fact is, there just isn’t any more. The facts are on the table.
Does Mr. Hulme have the authority, as the person that God has placed as the physical head of the Church, to set the direction of how we will preach the gospel? Ask yourself that. Does he? Our teaching has always been yes. Always! Fifteen years ago it was absolutely. There was no question in anybody’s mind.(pp. 6-7)
He then once again states that he is completely shocked that this schism is happening and insists even as late as Novmeber 1, 2013, he had no idea a schism was about to erupt. I find his nostalgic insistence that there was "peace" hard to take at face value. Silenced reported way back in late 2012 that problems were rumbling within COG-AIC.
Keefer also claims COG-AIC had "growth" for the last fifteen years. That is certainly total nonsense. I find it impossible to believe. Could he mean spiritual growth? A growth in membership within COG-AIC within the last fifteen years is impossible to believe.
Notably Keefer admits that most of the Phoenix congregation "are now aggressively against Mr. Hulme."
Now for fifteen years we’ve had peace and growth. Oh, that we could return to the months of October and September, and the summer. Oh, that we wouldn’t have to be going through what we are going through now. We had peace. And the sermons were focused on things we need to do to move forward to prepare ourselves for God’s Kingdom coming to this earth. Ministry and members submitted according to their role. That’s why we had peace. What has now changed is that some simply have refused to submit to decisions. It’s as plain and as simple as that. Ministers, pastors, have taken their refusal to support to the members that they serve. That’s unconscionable in my mind, causing doubt and leading members away from Mr. Hulme.I find it curious how he seems to focus on so much on the dissatisfaction with Vision as opposed to complains about authoritarian behavior. Now, to be fair, he addressed that issue more in part 1. But I find it curious how he seems so focused on complaints in regards to Vision.
Please consider something with me for a moment. At the 1st of November most of us—perhaps all of us—I’d certainly include myself in that—had no clue that there were any problems in the Church. I got a call from my sister who said, “Have you heard something going on? Because I’m getting—people here are telling me there are disagreements between this person and that person.” And I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just got off a Pastor’s Conference call, and to a man every single pastor reported peace and calm. So I think somebody’s blowing smoke. I don’t know what to make of that. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Every pastor said, “Everything’s fine, everything’s peaceful, everything’s calm.”
How is it in a span of less than a couple of months, brethren, entire congregations— or a majority of congregations—were very aware and completely on board with their pastor who had such strong disagreements with Mr. Hulme? How did that happen? Are you telling me in a period of two months those people, large numbers of people, had no problem, and then all of a sudden in that short period of time that now they’re on board against Mr. Hulme?
That didn’t happen, did it? It’s taken months—who knows—a year? I don’t know! But this has been going on for quite some time underground. This level of dissent does not occur over night. Let me be frank and speak plainly. Most of our Phoenix congregation, a congregation that I once pastored with people that we dearly love, are now aggressively against Mr. Hulme. How did that happen? How did that happen so quickly? When you didn’t even know there was an issue two months ago? Think about that! Let that dwell in your mind. How did that many people, members, all of a sudden become so angry at the Church leadership, when two months ago we didn’t even know there was an issue?
When I was pastor there, there was no indication of any kind of disagreement ever with Mr. Hulme, or with Vision. Now you might have said to yourself in the past, “I don’t like this article, or that article in Vision.” You might have even said, “I don’t even really like the magazine.” That’s fine! Disagreement and difference of opinion is a part of being human, isn’t it? We disagree on all kinds of things. That’s a part of being human. (pp. 12-13.)
He goes through the Winter 2014 issue of Vision and insist that it is preaching Armstrongism.
As we bring this to a conclusion, let’s look for a few moments at the latest issue of Vision Winter 2014, and let’s take a survey of the articles in there. Is there something to this; that Vision doesn’t preach the gospel; Vision doesn’t talk about God; Vision doesn’t talk about repentance?After going through a few articles he then insists that the dissenters' complains are baseless. You should instead submit to (what old WCG members would call) the Government of God. God did not appoint you as a leader of COG-AIC and therefore you should submit to what the leaders decided.
Now it takes months to plan an issue of Vision, so the current issue has been in production for quite some time, long before the current crisis started. And even if it was, what difference would it make? Isn’t this what individuals want anyway?
Brethren, you and I may not like the way Vision is written. Maybe this article, maybe that article, maybe the way the magazine is written, but I think it is simply untrue that Vision does not preach the gospel. Whether you would do it personally one way, or I would do it personally another way, makes absolutely no difference. We’ve not been placed in that position to decide, have we? We’ve been placed in the body where it pleased the Father, and those the Father has put in place make those kinds of decisions. It’s foolish to say that Vision doesn’t preach the gospel because it most assuredly does.Noticeably he does not discuss whether Vision proclamation of Armstrongism is effective and how to make it more effective at preaching and gaining converts.
Brethren, let’s stay the course. Please don’t get caught up in the negativity that has pulled so many under. It is not about substance. It’s about emotion, it’s about anger, it’s about resentment, it’s about bitterness. Don’t get pulled in to that.
So that seems to be the way Hulme and his collaborators have chosen to view this schism, as an incomprehensible revolt that has no legitimate reason to act against Hulme's interests. God has placed the members and ministers were they are and all must submit to the leaders because they are appointed by God. If you have complaints and they are not dealt with, then you must trust that God will resolve the problem for you.
After reading this I have absolutely no encouragement that Hulme and his collaborators know what they are doing or that they will be able to resolve this in a good manner. They have said, it is our way or no way, essentially. How can the grievances of the dissenters be satisfied if all they get is precisely nothing? That is no way to deal with problems of this nature.