This is my sixth post examining arguments presented by ex-members of the United Church of God GCE to explain their criticisms of the Council of Elders. The previous posts can be found via the links below:
- ex-GCE members’ “letter of explanation” – The Facts
- What Really Happened in Latin America – The Facts – Part 1
- What Really Happened in Latin America – The Facts – Part 2
- What Really Happened in Latin America – The Facts – Part 3
- What Really Happened in Latin America – The Facts – Part 4
I have also posted a critical analysis of one of the UCG documents: Background to the Situation with Leon Walker and Latin America – The Facts
My plans have been to provide an in-depth critique of documents produced by both sides of the controversy that led to the UCG/COGWA split. However, this is a far more painful, slow process than I ever imagined.
This is the fifth of my posts examining the document What Really Happened in Latin America
As of the last post, I had reached the end of page seven of the above document. The document continues from where I left off in my last post with the assertion of the opinion that the removal of Saul Langarica was contrary to the accepted practices and procedures of UCG and “common decency”. This claim is a typical example of these authors’ heavy use of irrelevant opinions. I say irrelevant because neither “practices” nor “procedures” are anything like “rules” or “laws”. If a rule or law is violated there is a clear case of wrong-doing. However, if a procedure or practice is not followed then it introduces a question – “why?” It is necessary to know why a procedure or practice has not been followed to determine whether there has been wrong-doing.
Let me give an example: My work in a public mental health service sometimes involves visiting clients at their homes. My employer has a procedure regarding home visits, one aspect of which is that, for safety reasons, we are not to park in the driveway of clients. On occasions I have park in client’s driveways, contrary to this procedure. Why? The procedure exists because of the potential risk to my safety if my car could be blocked in by another vehicle parking behind it. However, I have clients who live on large properties with driveways in excess of 500m long. It is clearly safer for me to park in the driveway, close to the house (where there is too much open space to be blocked in, anyway), than to park on the street.
In the case of Saul Langarica’s removal there were exceptional circumstances potentially required a quick response to protect the membership. If it later turned out that the information that led to Saul Langarica’s termination was false, he could be reinstated. However, if the information was true and no action was taken, the consequences could have been irreversible.
The document continues with an allegation regarding why the procedures and practices were not followed – but it is important that the reader bears in mind that there is no factual basis to this allegation contained within the document – it is simply a paranoid assumption. The document itself reveals this, as we shall soon see…
The final paragraph of page 7 and the first paragraph on page 8 continue with a development of the allegation that the primary reason for Saul Langarica’s removal was to seize control of the assets of UCG Chile. Note the following statement on page 8 regarding Saul Langarica’s removal:
Our documents require a spiritual reason for such a removal. The reason in this case was physical, in order to gain control of assets.
As is common with these authors, documents are referred to without any quotation or referencing that would allow anyone to verify their claim. This doesn’t necessarily make the claim false, but it certainly makes me suspicious. It is this practice in particular that has made the process of examining these documents such a tedious process for me, personally. I certainly wouldn’t expect many people to devote the frankly absurd amount of time that I have to verifying claims made in this controversy – so how is anyone really to know what are facts? Now, I don’t know if they are referring here to the UCGIA documents or to Chilean documents. I haven’t been able to access any of the Chilean documents, so I will assume they are referring to the following part of the UCGIA constitution (emphasis by underlining is mine):
4.5 EXPULSION, TERMINATION OR SUSPENSION OF MEMBERSHIP
Membership in the General Conference may be suspended or terminated, or an elder may be expelled by the Council, based upon biblical standards and principles. An elder whose membership has been suspended or terminated, or who has been expelled, may exercise no rights under this article or the duly approved bylaws of the Corporation except as provided in 4.5.2 below.
4.5.1 Causes of Expulsion, Termination or Suspension
Any elder who fails to meet the scriptural qualifications of a minister based on biblical standards, shall be expelled from the General Conference. An elder who is expelled from the General Conference is immediately precluded from performing any ministerial duties in any congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association. An elder’s membership is terminated upon his death or upon his resignation from the ministry or resignation from the membership of the Church. An elder may, based on scriptural teaching, be suspended for misconduct.
22.214.171.124 Council of Elders Determination
A Council of Elders determination that a member of the General Conference is disqualified and must be removed from the General Conference or suspended, is always based on biblical and spiritual criteria, is within the sole discretion of the Council, and is conclusive except for such review as is provided for below.
So we see that an elder may be removed based on biblical and spiritual criteria. This is not quite the same as saying “Our documents require a spiritual reason for such a removal.” When I read their statement what came to mind, out of the context of the actual constitution, was that the reason for removal would have to be a major deviation in the individual’s spiritual direction. However, “biblical and spiritual criteria” brings to mind for me I Timothy 3 as a starting point, plus all of the characteristics of good Christian conduct.
So why was Saul Langarica removed? An explanation by Mario Seiglie can be found in the post on the Realtime United blog Update from Mario Seiglie in Mexico City:
Unfortunately, things escalated in Chile when I [Mario Seiglie] was barred from a meeting at our Church building by the local ministry [including Saul Langarica]. One of the reasons they did not want me present was that, in the meeting they did not allow me to attend, they read Mr. Walker’s letter saying he was not going to accept his removal as Regional Director and that he would continue in his capacity as Regional Director over the Latin ministry whether he would be a part of UCGIA or not. Those are his statements, not mine. This is a complete disregard of the orders from his superiors and a call to separate from the organization. He claims he has much support from members and ministers around the world, but no evidence has been forthcoming. Most of the local ministry in Chile supported him and then proceeded to form, along with other Latin ministers, their own organization called the “United Church of God of Latin America,” and now have their own Web site.
It was after these subsequent events that the President and interim Regional Director of the Latin areas, Dennis Luker, finally decided to remove the local pastor, Saul Langarica, from his responsibilities. This is according to the Chilean Constitution and Statutes of the United Church of God–Chile where the Regional Director of UCGIA has the authority to do so. Also some of the decisions the former pastor had made regarding the suspensions of certain members in the Santiago congregation were halted pending the review of each of the cases by the new pastor, Jaime Gallardo Casas.
If you doubt this explanation, please also read the following, which was posted on the “Abigail Cartwright” UCG Current Crisis Blog under the Letters from members section (under “This letter was sent by a concerned member from Latin America”):
Last night there was a chaos outside our hall. Mr. Seiglie came with the Royal family and the ones who sympathize with them, about 20. They shout and threatened to enter the building, but Mr. Langarica and Mr. Roybal didn´t allowed them. They were even physical. I saw some of them pushing Mr. Roybal asking him what he was doing there, while Mario Seiglie shouted that he had been sent with credentials from the Council.
At this point, we are still stuck on this one little paragraph of the document What Really Happened in Latin America:
Our documents require a spiritual reason for such a removal. The reason in this case was physical, in order to gain control of assets.
We have addressed the claim that “our documents” required a spiritual reason for Saul Langarica to be removed. The above report by Mario Seiglie also goes some way to addressing the allegation that the reason was “physical” and was to gain control of the assets. It should also be noted what the same document said earlier about Saul Langarica’s removal:
Mr. Langarica was not spoken to about this and no one explained why he was being removed (this is contrary to the approved policy of UCG). He received an attachment to an e-mail informing him of his removal, but still without any explanation as to cause. It was reported on Wednesday that Mr. Langarica was planning a meeting to change the legal documents to prevent Mr. Seiglie from gaining control of the assets, but this charge was not true.
No other evidence is presented to explain why the authors would believe the reason was to gain control of the assets. Thus, the allegation remains speculation. Gaining control of the assets probably was a desired outcome – to protect the members of UCG from their assets being controlled by another group. But that is not the same as it being the sole reason for Saul Langarica’s removal, as has been alleged by the authors.
It is worth considering, in relation to this allegation, whether these assets were of any value to UCGIA. This is not something I can answer with facts. However, the impression I have gained from both sides over the course of this controversy is that Latin America was heavily subsidised and, consequently, represented a liability in accounting terms. If so UCGIA would have stood to gain the most by letting Latin America quietly separate itself into an independent organisation. Thus, the claim by COE members that actions were taken to protect assets that were paid for by UCG member tithes from being seized by an organisation that was no longer a part of UCG is both plausible and justifiable to me.
Even the very next paragraph of the document seems to support this, as it includes the following statements:
Nearly all of the countries in Latin America are unable to be financially self-sufficient, and they depend heavily on these subsidies (which amount to approximately $700,000 annually). These subsidies, which pay for hall rentals, church expenses, member assistance and ministerial salaries, were cut off with no warning to the ministers or members.
While the “cutting off” of subsidies described here sounds bad, it is worth bearing in mind that at this point there was news reaching the COE that a new organisation had been formed (see the Realtime United post by Mario Seiglie linked above). These steps were taken to ensure that UCG money went to UCG members. This is explained by Aaron Dean in a Q&A that was previously available online. I can’t currently find a link to it but will reference it later if I can locate it.
The document continues:
The Constitution of the United Church of God states that any congregation pastored by a recognized (credentialed) elder of the UCG is an official congregation of the UCG (Article 126.96.36.199). Since the credentials of the remaining ministers were not revoked (only those of Mr. Langarica and Mr. Roybal), their congregations were official congregations of the UCG and they were still elders in good standing of the UCG. Mr. Seiglie ignored this fact and set up alternative services throughout Latin America and established alternative Feast sites. With credentialed ministers of the UCG and legitimate UCG congregations already in existence, it was actually Mr. Seiglie and the administration that were violating the Rules of Association. Even though this was pointed out on numerous occasions to those on the Council and in the administration, nothing was done about this problem for almost six months.
Let’s have a look at that article:
188.8.131.52 The Local Congregation
An assembly of members, wherever located, pastored by a minister recognized by the United Church of God, an International Association (UCG), and governed by the UCG’s published rules of association, shall constitute a local congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association. Each local congregation is guided and shepherded by a pastor, assisted by elders, deacons and deaconesses. A congregation may establish one or more local advisory councils to assist the ministry in serving the needs of the local congregation, the Church as a whole and, as they have the opportunity, their local community. The local congregation also works in conjunction with the Council of Elders, the home office and the national councils to administer the established policies and procedures of the UCG.
By my reading, there is nothing in this article that prohibits establishing additional local congregations. I believe what the authors may be thinking of is the following, from the Rules of Association:
Rule 3-110 Administration
Each National Council shall maintain its own legal and administrative structure and direct its own affairs in accordance with its legal documents, these Rules of Association, the Constitution of the UCGIA and other applicable law. Each National Council will be, in its own country, the official representative of the UCGIA. In turn the UCGIA shall have, or be represented by, only one duly constituted National Council or equivalent body in each country, area of incorporation or geographical responsibility.
Thus, the claim that the rules of association were being violated by the COE by setting up congregations (under the direction of a Regional Director appointed by the COE) is simply untrue. Besides that, what possible reason would the COE have for violating their own Rules of Association in this manner?
The next part of the document addresses the publication by members of the COE of the document Background to the Situation with Leon Walker and Latin America. The authors describe a private appeal to the COE being signed by 166 elders urging efforts at reconciliation with Leon Walker and the Latin American ministry be made. The document states COE members responded with a letter to the membership questioning the motives of these elders and suggesting it was an attempt to undermine church governance.
I have already commented on the first COE document to members here in my post Background to the Situation with Leon Walker and Latin America – The Facts. In part I agree with the authors of What Really Happened in Latin America – the language of the document was in many places inappropriately accusatory. Mind you, the more I have examined the document What Really Happened in Latin America in detail, the more I am inclined to agree with the accusatory tone taken by the COE members. Nevertheless, it remains unfortunate that the document could not be written in a more impartial manner. The authors of What Really Happened in Latin America state:
It is difficult to state strongly enough how uncharitable, unchristian, unusual and improper this action was.
It is very clear that far more effort was being put into attempting to publicly discredit and humiliate Mr. Walker than in trying to effect any kind of reconciliation. The atmosphere created by these documents further alienated not only the Latin ministry, but many other ministers and members.
While I agree that name-calling is inappropriate, I note it is occurring here, too (though to a lesser degree). I would also disagree with the assertion that more effort was “clearly” being put into discrediting and humiliating Leon Walker than into reconciliation efforts. To me it wasn’t, and still isn’t, clear at all where the most effort was being expended. But I won’t base by conclusion on baseless assertions by authors who have repeatedly proven themselves selective with facts.
At this point, as you may be able to tell, I am getting tired of and frustrated with this document. So once again I will break here, still without having concluded my analysis of this one document. Hopefully my next post on this document can, finally, be the last..
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