David Covington's Resignation Letter
to Joseph W. Tkach
David Covington stated that he mailed this letter to all the Christian groups he could think of, and it has circulated among many others, being in the public domain. The letter covers the exploitation members endured in Worldwide Church of God, the deceitful and abusive way the changes were made, and problems that were still remaining inside. David Covington mailed a copy of his 11-page resignation letter to the Exit & Support Network™ on May 11, 1996.
Also be sure and read: David Covington's Letter to Greg R. Albrecht
NOTICE: See Update on WCG at end and how they are now known as Grace Communion International.
Covington's Cover Letter:
May 11, 1996
I am pastor of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and contributing writer for its publication The Plain Truth. This past year I traveled to all six of our United States ministerial regional conferences as a workshop presenter on healing from spiritual abuse. The WCG has long been identified as a cult by such authors as Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, and it has a long history of inflicting spiritual wounds.
However, in the past couple of years, our group has been able to convince many outsiders, such as Hank Hanegraaff (Bible Answer Man), Ruth Tucker (Trinity University), and Christianity Today, of our repentance and move toward orthodoxy. I implore you to take a closer look at the underlying dynamics of the WCG. I feel this group is still very toxic and has fundamental changes it must make in order to be accepted into the Christian community as not being spiritually dangerous. My resignation letter is enclosed.
Standing up for Jesus, David Covington
David Covington, NCC
P.O. Box 70012
Nashville, Tennessee 37207
From "Religion" to Relationship Through JESUS (John 14:6)
Saturday, May 11, 1996
|Pastor General Joseph Tkach
Worldwide Church of God
300 West Green Street
Pasadena, California 91129
Dear Mr. Tkach:
Thank you for the opportunity to help present the 1995-96 Worldwide Church of God (WCG) ministerial regional conferences. I facilitated 24 groups on spiritual healing for over 600 ministers and their wives at sites in Oklahoma, California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Illinois. The feedback has been excellent, both from the workshops and my 100-page Living Grace--Fully sermon series on the healing of the gospel. Based on a post-workshop survey, 75% "strongly agreed" and 22% "agreed" that addressing incidents of spiritual abuse was effective in establishing a need for healing. I have heard their stories, well over 100 incidents of spiritual abuse, both past and present. I have counseled and prayed with some and cried with others. And, many ministers have conveyed to me that they feel trapped by the current system, but are afraid to speak up.
Since September 1994, I have corresponded at length with you and your father on a number of issues regarding manipulative tithing, legalism and our freedom in Christ. My 18-page paper outlined a plan for a "Ministry of Healing" (January 1995) toward becoming a healthy Christian church1 and served as a foundation for the present series of conferences. In August 1995, Greg Albrecht, editor of the Plain Truth, Norman Shoaf and I met in Pasadena to plan our conference sessions. As a listed contributing writer for the Plain Truth, I am featured on page 1 of the current May/June 1996 issue with the cover article, "The Healing Ministry of Jesus." The February issue contained my article, "Burdened by Debt," and I have two more articles scheduled for later this year, "Lazarus Unwound," with Roger Ludwig (Sept/Oct), and "Recovering from Spiritual Abuse," (Nov/Dec).
In my paper I suggested utilizing respected and qualified field ministers to facilitate workshops at the conferences. However, you chose me because of my masters degree in counseling and in-depth research on spiritual abuse. In fact, I was also chosen, along with Larry Omasta, to produce a spiritual abuse video for sale in the Plain Truth, and I have completed a sermon message on Romans 10:9, one of seven lectionaries to be distributed nationwide for speakers to give at this year's festival of tabernacles.
I write the preceding to demonstrate that I am not a disgruntled pastor, but, rather, a person favored by your administration and well acquainted with the significant problems of the WCG. I grew up in this fellowship; it has been my home for 25 years. I have been employed full-time in the ministry for five years. In this past year, I have had opportunities to interact with the vast majority of U.S., Canadian and Caribbean field ministry, and to have numerous private discussions with you, Mike Feazell, director Church Administration, and Greg Albrecht. These interactions have led me to a painful conclusion:
Your administration shows no willingness to address the core, most damaging cultic aspects of the WCG system. As a result, I must resign from the full- time ministry. I am encouraging WCG congregations to hold open forums to prayerfully consider local incorporation, local governance, and local maintenance of funds. Where that is not possible, I am encouraging members to leave and join healthy Christian churches where they can find help and healing.
This is not a decision I have reached lightly, nor is it one I desired. However, after 19 months of addressing these issues with your administration, it became apparent that I was actually enabling a sick system that does not desire genuine change for Jesus. After I returned from the Portland conference in March 1996, the Holy Spirit convicted me to confront openly your administration's on-going problems.
This is not against you. I love Mr. Albrecht, appreciate Mr. Feazell's efforts and validate what you have tried to accomplish. Yet, you have implemented these changes through our historically abusive dynamics. In your present position, I am convinced you aren't even capable of seeing, much less addressing, the genuine problems. I compare the 1996 WCG to a husband who used to beat his wife seven days a week and now has cut back to four. And, the wife is supposed to be satisfied with his progress! Worse, still, he's holding seminars on domestic violence! Your administration continues to be abusive, but you hold spiritual healing conferences. I can no longer accept this!
Two Legs of Abusive System:
Hierarchy and Legalistic Rules
I shared with you at dinner in Atlanta (January 8, 1996) how I asked Ken Blue2, author of Healing Spiritual Abuse, what symptoms might indicate one was in a spiritually abusive group. His response: "The first thing you look for is a hierarchy. In the New Testament we are all brothers. There are no number ones, twos and threes. . . . The second thing I would look for is an emphasis on rules and regulations rather than on a relationship with Jesus" (Plain Truth interview, December 20, 1995).
The abusive organization has two major empowering dynamics, two legs which work interdependently: an authoritarian hierarchy and legalistic rules. In the many stories of spiritual abuse that have been related to me, both historic and on- going situations, the main problem has been one of your pyramidal-style government with its concomitant lack of true accountability. Without addressing these fundamental structural issues, the doctrinal changes of the past five years seem merely cosmetic.
Over a year ago (February 17, 1995), when I addressed with Greg Albrecht my perception that the changes were superficial in nature and that structural change was needed, I was told I ought to consider the incredible distance the WCG has come and what other Christians are calling a miracle. You yourself often refer to the changes in the WCG as having magnitude of historic proportions.
In their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen describe the way in which the spiritually abused person fails to compare his/her situation to "normal" and thus is appeased with occasional adjustments toward normal. "If a victim does compare their situation to normal, they would be able to see how many unhealthy adjustments they have made and how really abnormal and unhealthy the relationship has become" (p. 186). Janis Hutchinson lists "periodic accommodations" as a basic strategy and principle of cults to placate their members and/or society, when necessary (Out of the Cults and Into the Church, p. 128).
However, the dramatic extent of the WCG's doctrinal shift toward orthodoxy has indeed led some outsiders to believe genuine repentance was taking place in this group. You have often mentioned Hank Hanegraaff and Ruth Tucker in this vein, as well as, of course, the article in Christianity Today, "Road to Orthodoxy" (Oct. 2, 1995). These observers cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a member of this church. They miss the dynamics of this system which remain abusive.
I believe strongly the changes that have occurred thus far are what cybernetically-oriented family therapists would call "first-order change," "in which the family changes some behaviors but those behaviors are still governed by the same [dysfunctional] rules" (Family Therapy, Nichols & Schwartz, p. 94). Your assertion that the church is now here to serve the membership and not the other way around seems characteristic of past propaganda given the lack of "second-order change," that is basic change in the structure and functioning of the system (ibid, p. 594). The following are fundamental areas I believe the WCG must change to become a healthy Christian church (if that is even possible):
Nine Fundamental Problems
- Authoritarian hierarchy: Totalistic nature; "Pastor General" all-powerful.
- Lack of accountability: "Pastor General" legally accountable to none.
- Closed communication: Open and honest discussion still thwarted by structure.
- Manipulative tithing: Current heavy emphasis seems characteristic of past exploitation.
- Financial control: Congregations still send 100% of their donations to headquarters.
- Local congregations not a true priority: E.g. $250 million campus sale proceeds.
- Chaos and confusion: Jesus lost among ever-changing policies, programs and crisis.
- Lack of respect for members/ministry: Current administrative approach condescending.
- WCG organization most important, more than Jesus or people: Corporation 1st, church 2nd.
Theologically, the WCG still rejects the doctrine of eternal punishment, holds observances on the Jewish sabbath and festivals (unleavened bread, atonement, festival of tabernacles), and teaches as doctrine the debatable matter of post-mortem evangelization (or divine perseverance). It is true you have ostensibly accepted orthodox Christianity on core issues including the Trinity and salvation by grace. Yet, without accompanying sociological and structural changes in the aforementioned areas, I believe the spiritually abusive system continues, and doctrinal reversals on core issues are not only possible, but likely.
Almost all the doctrinal issues now being discussed were reviewed during the 1970's by WCG administration and suppressed when Herbert Armstrong put the church "back on the track." This is likely to occur again. Note the following curious excerpt from a recent WCG ministerial journal: "We ought to view all human knowledge, including our own doctrinal positions, as always subject to correction. Anything else is clearly not supported by the NT and flirts with the notion of infallibility" ("WCG & American Mainstream," Reviews You Can Use, May-June 1995, p. 19). It would appear you are already heading down this road, with continued double-speak regarding tithing and festivals.
1. Authoritarian hierarchy: Totalistic nature; "Pastor General" all-powerful.
Originally, Herbert Armstrong condemned the very approach that would later characterize his administration. In 1939, he wrote, ". . . There is NO BIBLE AUTHORITY for an . . . organization with authority over the local congregations!" (The Good News, Feb., p. 5). In spite of this, he would eventually develop an authoritarianism which cannot be disputed (Another Gospel, Ruth Tucker, p. 197). In an article "God Restored These 18 Truths [to HWA & the WCG]," the following is listed as first:
". . . government of God. When Christ comes, He will restore God's government to the whole earth. So you can be sure the one to come in the spirit and power of Elijah would restore God's government in His Church. When Mr. Armstrong came among the Oregon Conference . . . the church had . . . the law, the Sabbath and the tithing system. But they also had a government of men, with a biannual conference, voting just like they do in the world" (Worldwide News, 1986).
However, while at least ten of these 18 "truths" have been comprehensively dealt with in WCG literature as heretical, your current administration has not addressed the "government of God" with the same zeal. When I confronted Greg Albrecht about this problem (February 17, 1995), he stated that you would not have been able to accomplish what you have without your [power] structure. At the conference in Portland, Oregon, at the end of March 1996, he reiterated that point saying he and Mike Feazell had just discussed this matter. He said, "We are using the `old factory,' to build the new one." I do not believe the end justifies the means, and neither would Arterburn or Felton. Their book, Toxic Faith, lists ten characteristics of a toxic church, number two of which is authoritarianism. They write:
"Often a strong leader mistakes the position of leadership for a position free from accountability. The leader will set up a toxic faith system that allows for free rein. . . . There may be a board of directors, . . . but when the authoritarian ruler picks them, he . . . picks people who are easily manipulated and easily fooled. What appears to be a board of accountability is a rubber- stamp group that merely gives credibility to the leader's moves. . . . Then when a practice is called into question such as an extremely high salary, the persecuting dictator justifies it by saying the board made the decision or approved it" (p. 169).
Recently, this was demonstrated at a conference when one minister asked if the salaries of WCG "top executives" could be disclosed. The response: "Would depend on the board's decision . . . What's to be gained? Is there a down side? Would certain areas of the country be not able to properly judge?" ("Q & A," Bernie Schnippert, Harrisburg, March 10, 1996; Pastor Gilbert's notes circulated on e-mail.)
In other words, the basic legal and financial structure of the church remains unchanged. Herbert Armstrong, "a corporate sole," was in total control and legally empowered to make the final decision on everything, despite any degree of opposition. That system was passed on to your father and then to you. The most blatant example of recent date appeared last Summer in a church publication:
"'And if that should ever happen [the pastor general should die and be succeeded by another], if you want to get into God's kingdom, you will follow that pastor general. . . . And your eternity depends on that. Everyone of you. Don't forget it. . . .' One teaching they have forgotten to preserve [those who have left], though, is this final admonition of Mr. Armstrong: 'You will follow that pastor general. . . .'" ("Recalling the final sermon of Herbert W. Armstrong," Worldwide News (WWN), Clayton Steep, p. 4, July 4, 1995).
Also, last Summer, and not coincidentally, approximately 140 ministers left this fellowship. I do not believe doctrinal differences were their only motivation. It was also the fact that your administration was unwilling to discuss these issues in open forum. Your decisions had to be accepted. Such is the case in a military- style, top-down structure of authoritarian hierarchy, a system that fosters arrogance.
The following is needed: Dismantle the totalistic hierarchy and establish a recognized structure with a system of checks and balances, perhaps an elected board that could remove the "pastor general" given certain grounds such as mismanagement, abuse, spiritual or moral problem, etc.
2. Lack of accountability: "Pastor General" legally accountable to none.
Your administration is establishing a system whereby field ministers will be held accountable through regional pastors and performance reviews. You have even invited H. B. London of Focus on the Family to speak at our ministerial field conferences on this issue. But, as yet, you have failed to communicate the message that you are accountable. Toxic Faith characteristic #9 is lack of objective accountability:
"Lack of accountability is a clear sign of lack of faith in God and the presence of a faith in self built on self-assertion and ego. When toxic faith comes under scrutiny, the religious leader reacts predictably: `I am accountable only to God. . . .' When a religious addict makes this assertion, people should clear out of that ministry if change is not implemented immediately" (p. 183- 184).
I have not heard you make the statement "I am accountable only to God," nor do I believe you would do so. But, in actuality, to whom are you legally accountable? It would seem no one. A publication critical of the WCG recently published an alleged, smuggled copy of WCG by-laws (Ambassador Report #58, April 1995) which, in essence, list the pastor general as the sole-owner of the organization. Of course, this is impossible to verify since the by-laws are not available to the ministry or membership.
If this copy is accurate, not only are your decisions final, but the assets of the church belong exclusively to you. That amount of total power results in abuse. Perhaps it could be a benevolent dictatorship if everyone agreed, but you have made numerous, significant and controversial decisions, doctrinal, administrative and financial, without meaningful discussion or consensus of any kind. I realize that would not have been easy, but the gospel demands it. The New Testament contains a lot of emphasis on the importance of leadership, but never without accountability. Otherwise it becomes abusive.
Of course, without accountability no such consensus is necessary. Not only can 140 ministers leave the fellowship in disagreement without repercussions to you, but tens of thousands of members as well. You stated the following in March 1996:
"We've been split in half . . . 30-35,000 attending splinter groups . . . another 30,000 going no where . . . . When you look over the long haul, you will find that 1/2 that have ever attended with us have left. . . . That's a very poor ratio for a church. . . . Over 100 splinter groups . . . that alone should have told us that something was wrong [italics mine]" (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 9, 1996; Pastor Gilbert's notes circulated on e-mail.)
It should indeed have told us something was wrong. But, it goes much deeper than doctrine. The structure and dynamics were, and continue to be, abusive. During dinner in Portland, Oregon (May 23, 1996), with you, Mike Feazell, Greg Albrecht, and Janis Hutchinson, I was surprised to hear Ruth Tucker make the statement that you (the leadership) had completely changed the whole course of the church on its membership. To my best recollection, Greg Albrecht replied "we can't say that because there might be a lawyer present." Dr. Tucker replied, "but, that is what you've done, isn't it?" As I wrote your father in December 1994, "no one can ever obligate, demand or require us into . . . walking according to the Spirit. . . . The Spirit does not work in that way. . . . You simply cannot arm-twist people into agreement. . . ."
The other rationalization I have often heard is that patience is necessary. "It is going to take time to dismantle the legal structure, to sell the campus, etc." If you are not willing to make yourselves accountable at a time when you need members' financial support, what will be your incentive when you have the 250 million dollars of campus sale proceeds? Certainly, there is a time for patience, but are we supposed to believe the WCG leadership just isn't ready to exercise faith in Jesus?!
The following is needed: Publish the by-laws of the WCG and make necessary changes to institute legal accountability. Explain your qualifications to be the "general of pastors." Disfellowshipment should undergo major review and policies should be instituted to include consensus on such matters to avoid the abuses of the past year.
3. Closed communication: Open and honest discussion still thwarted by structure.
"Communication in a toxic faith system isn't a two-way interaction. Information is valid only if it comes from the top of the organization and is passed down to the bottom. . . . In many toxic organizations someone is there to close off the communication for the leader. The job is to placate those who disagree and satisfy those who want a direct voice into the leader. The person running interference knows that his or her job is to never tell the leader anything other than what is desired to be heard" (Toxic Faith, pp. 181-182).
I wrote you the following in November 1995 regarding the new policy of mandated employee tithing:
"Please do not make this seeming step toward a return to the authority and control that has characterized our past. I know it will take a little longer to get results by encouraging members and employees to give rather than requiring them. But, I believe, as you wrote, that as we look to Christ in faith that he will provide and guide. At the very least, I plead with you not to print the portion on employees being required to tithe in the Worldwide News. . . . If you print this material regarding Christian stewardship being "far more demanding" and that a member's tithing record will be checked if the church considers hiring them, then I strongly believe we turn and make a step back down the road toward legalism. A membership that has in large part been religiously addicted will respond with guilt and legalistic performance to these statements. The joy they have received in giving the last few months will begin to ebb away."
You did not respond. Mike Feazell wrote me a note simply stating, "We will talk about it in Tulsa." Of course, that was several weeks later after it had already been printed in the Worldwide News. This example is by no means an isolated exception; it is characteristic of your closed communication style.
One minister recently shared with me a memo he had sent anonymously via his regional pastor in August 1994. He wrote, "Are we willing to empower our local churches by allocating substantial budgets to administrate locally and accomplish the goals of evangelizing, building facilities and hiring and building a team of skilled professionals?" These issues are not being addressed in an open forum. Communication is still far too closed. Dissent is not tolerated, but is labeled as division and used to disfellowship those who disagree. Ken Blue writes, "Healthy groups thrive on the free flow of communication. . . . The inability to tolerate freedom of expression, honest questions and straight talk is a hallmark of an abusive system" (Healing Spiritual Abuse, pp. 74-75).
The following is needed: Current regional Q & A sessions are highly controlled. Provide forums for open discussion without recrimination. Encourage written forums for ideas not controlled by headquarters' editorial power. (The Good News Grapevine is a step in the right direction, but Ron Lohr has stated he checks with WCG administration on the admissibility of some items.) [ESN Update: The "Good News Grapevine" is no longer around.]
4. Manipulative tithing: Current heavy emphasis seems characteristic of past exploitation.
"Toxic Rule #9. Avarice. Nothing is more important than giving money to the organization. Giving is an important part of anyone's faith. . . . [But] toxic faith organizations do not keep giving in perspective; they do not view it as an act of worship. It is a means of funding for them. Religious addicts believe that nothing is more essential than the organization's continuation, [italics mine] which is funded by the gifts of the followers. . . . When ministries meet our needs, we must support them. But we must do that out of love and worship of God, not the manipulation of people" (Toxic Faith, pp. 256-258).
I sent you the preceding quote in November 1995. However, in March of this year there appeared numerous messages in church literature on the importance of tithing to the organization, with 10% plus emphasized. There were requests in your circulated video tapes, and the ministry were encouraged of their responsibility to preach about tithing "on a regular basis." This seems to contradict your strong stance on old covenant stipulations being obsolete unless reiterated in the New Testament. More striking, it seems very suspect when numerous cuts are being made in services to local congregations and ministerial benefits at the same time you receive a raise in pay that is not widely publicized.
"We have also seen diminished giving on the part of those who remain with us. Please understand I am not scolding you if you have seen the need to redirect some of your finances. The fact that the old cov. three-tithe system is not the same as the new cov. system does not mean there is no new cov. responsibility. Quite the contrary" (Joseph Tkach, Feb. 26, 1996 Co-worker Letter)."
"God's old covenant people had to give at least 10 percent . . . plus give offerings on other occasions. In contrast, the new covenant does not [italics mine] specify a certain percentage. However, the underlying principle is still valid. Here are three reasons: 1) God blesses those who give. 2) God commands his people to give. 3) The church needs money. . . . The new covenant makes astonishing demands [italics mine] on us. . . . I do not want to belabor the point, but I want to make it clear. The church does have financial needs. Members do have financial responsibilities toward the church. And God does bless the cheerful giver" (Worldwide News, "The High Cost of Following Christ," Joseph Tkach, March 12, 1996).
"We are now reaching a point where more decline in income will result in [harmful] cuts. . . . It is no secret that neglect of financial support of the church is often symptomatic of a general neglect of living in Christ [italics mine]. . . . Using the biblical principle, a tithe really ought to be considered a general minimum standard, with each person deciding before Christ in his or her own heart whether they can give more, or have to give less" (ibid, Mike Feazell, Mar. 12, 1996).
"What are a Christian's responsibilities in helping spread the gospel? . . . Our contributions are not by themselves an infallible index to what we treasure in this life, but giving is not a minor matter unrelated to our spiritual lives either" (ibid, Neil Earle, March 12, 1996).
These preceding quotes all appeared about the same time your raise was mentioned by Bernie Schnippert to the ministers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He said, "Until about 2 months ago, Joe wasn't the highest paid person in the church. . . . [We] set his [new and higher] salary in his absence. . . ." ("Q & A session," Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 10, 1996; Pastor Gilbert's notes circulated on e-mail.) This approach also seems inconsistent with other statements you have made: "If [God] commands something only for Israelites, then we have absolutely no authority to command it. . . . To teach a command with divine authority, it makes a great deal of difference whether the NT commands it, or whether the only commands for it are found in a covenant . . . declared obsolete" (WWN, Feb. 1996).
The following is needed: A much fuller and more detailed financial disclosure should be made available, and, given WCG's egregious past abuses in this area, you should avoid appeals for money and rely upon free-will offerings and pledges.
5. Financial control: Congregations still send 100% of their donations to headquarters.
Ruth Tucker outlines the heavy financial demands of the pre-1995 WCG with its three tithes, seven offerings and additional pleas for money (Another Gospel, pp. 201-202.) However, some believe the WCG now approximates normality in this area. Not true! The congregations still send 100% of their money to you. They are still told 10% tithing is a minimum. They are still supposed to give additional offerings on seven festivals each year. They are still highly encouraged to save for travel and accommodations at an eight day festival of tabernacles each year. And, the congregations are still expected to do fundraising for local activities. But, even then, many of the expenses of running a local church are taken from this fund which is raised through the hard work of the membership.
Current regional pastor Craig Bacheller told Mike Feazell and me at dinner, in January 1995, he had determined his congregation received 19 cents back in services for every $1 sent to Pasadena. Where does the rest go? While there are annual budget reports in the Worldwide News, they do not reveal very much. Most are really unaware of how the vast amount of money that does not return to local areas is actually spent. To my knowledge, it has only been recently disclosed that up-keep for the Pasadena property is 8 million dollars annually (Worldwide News, March 12, 1994, p. 1). This fact was not disclosed until the decision to sell the property was announced. In the previous five years that there was no university on the grounds and only a small number of employees, this fact was virtually unknown.
The explanation is given that our church has already tried collecting money locally, but some ministers stole a portion of it. So, your administration will continue to collect it centrally and you will decide if, and when, you will return 75% to us (Bernie Schnippert, Harrisburg, March 10, 1996), or 65% (Joseph Tkach Video, May 4, 1996), or some other yet to be decided lower percentage. The problem is that the members do not compare their situation to the thousands of other Christian churches where 100% is collected locally and a small percentage is then sent by the congregation to a governing body.
"Toxic rule #1: Control. The leader must be in control at all times. . . . In the entire system people fight for control while contributing complete control to the leader. . . . Until the leader relinquishes control, the ministry continues to teach through example the philosophy, "I must take things into my own hands" (Toxic Faith, pp. 243-245).
The following is needed: Each congregation should locally incorporate, collect their funds and develop recognized by-laws and local governance. Those fellowships who decide the benefits of affiliating with WCG are mutually beneficial should work with you on an appropriate percentage (5-15% is customary; definitely not your taking 100% and then deciding how much to return).
6. Local congregations not a true priority: E.g. $250 million campus sale proceeds.
You wrote in the March 12, 1996 Worldwide News, "Friends, we are a church, and we sincerely want headquarters to serve the spiritual needs of our members rather than thinking that the members exist to serve us." Yes, it sounds good. But, the congregations still receive few services (and fewer all the time). They still rent halls. In fact, you have cut off funds for Wednesday night bible studies. Some pastors are stretched between two (and many with three, four and even five) churches. The idea is already being bantered about that our ministry will go to a part-time basis ("Q & A session," Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 10, 1996; Pastor Gilbert's notes circulated on e-mail). Our congregations are not even allotted funds for the most basic necessities for a church community presence, such as yellow pages listing, a business telephone line or a post office box. Financially, your statement that you exist to serve the membership seems ludicrous! Quite the contrary.
It seems to me that the true priority continues to be a corporate presence. You continue to spend about $6 million annually to subsidize Ambassador University and $8 million to keep the campus in salable condition. The ratio of headquarters personnel to full-time ministry is still appalling: more than 300 employees and fewer than 250 full-time ministers in the United States. I was flabbergasted when Greg Albrecht mentioned to me in Portland (March 23, 1996) that his budget for the Plain Truth had just been cut from $16 million to $4 million. I had assumed it had been cut much lower several years ago. Many of our members were amazed to discover the concert series was costing $2 million per year. It seems you only disclose how much something costs as a justification in the event you choose to cut it.
Many of our members believe when the campus is sold you will begin to reverse this trend and services will begin to come to local areas first. I do not believe this will be the case. I implored Mike Feazell in Atlanta (January 7, 1996) to consider moving the headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, or any other site East of the Mississippi. I explained how nearly 80% of our members and churches live on this side of the country. I told him how this would send a visible message to the membership that the corporate body was available and poised to serve. He was firm he was going to stay in California. In fact, 2/3 of the sites mentioned in the Worldwide News for possible relocation are near the West coast.
Additionally, it does not appear congregations will benefit from the $250 million you expect to receive from the sale of the campus. I have heard your Q & A session several times and recall your response about how it will be spent as including the following: 1) an endowment for the corporate headquarters, 2) a ministerial retirement program, and 3) an endowment for Ambassador University. On one occasion you mentioned lastly that some might be used to help congregations toward a building fund. But, given your administration's record, I doubt there will be adequate disclosure of how it is actually spent.
I believe the very first priority should be the congregations, not a last, if there is anything left over, priority. At the very least, I believe a decision of this magnitude should have meaningful input from the membership and ministry. Rather, it seems to me you are already discovering new ways to spend the money. Recently, there has been much focus on a daily radio program you would do starting in November (Harrisburg, Penn., March 9, 1996; Minister Gilbert's notes circulated on e-mail).
The membership got very excited when the Worldwide News had cover stories on the building program and how all the congregations would be receiving one. There were even pictures of what they would look like. But, once again, it was not to be, and in hind sight, seems characteristic of past propaganda. At one of this year's ministerial conferences the question was brought up regarding buildings. I recall you replied the WCG was always getting into things when other churches were getting out. You said, "Other churches now know buildings are a bad idea, and it's only now that we [WCG] want buildings." To me, this seemed like another dishonest political maneuver to substantiate our current system.
The following is needed: The vast proceeds from the sale of the campus should go to local congregations that have been short-changed for 30 years, not only spiritually and doctrinally, but in terms of service. Prove to the members you exist to serve them, or get out of the way!
7. Chaos and confusion: Jesus lost among ever-changing policies, programs and crisis.
"Another tactic to keep people out of touch with the present is to foment confusion, punctuated by crisis. Policies may be handed down and programs launched that seem to fit no coherent pattern. . . . The resulting turmoil keeps people from finding out what is really going on. This serves to cover up the fact that almost no productive activity may be occurring and that the little that does happen requires an inordinate amount of effort. Because no one (except those at the top) knows what is [really] happening, gossip is rampant. Crisis is sometimes used to further muddy the water. . . . This keeps followers looking outward so that they will have no energy or will to examine their own painful emotions and broken relationships" (Healing Spiritual Abuse, p. 114).
I pleaded for spiritual rest for our ministry to my regional pastor, John Comino (November 28, 1995):
"The pile can only be stacked so high for us to truly minister to our congregations. . . . I don't know how many pastors I have heard say the last couple of years they don't have time to visit the brethren any more because of all the paper work, new programs, new policies, etc. We really need rest. . . . Christianity is about peace. Otherwise we continue to model the performance treadmill of the past. And, it creates confusion. . . . I know the ministry is expected to work hard to make it through this transition, but the kind of rest I am talking about is not physical."
I traveled to a planning/idea conference in Big Sandy, Texas (Nov. 21- 22, 1995), for the newly instituted Family Ministry department only to find out upon arrival that the program had been canceled. Ron Kelly was promptly given yet another new job, ministerial development, where he started a program for tuition reimbursement. This new program seemed to last little more than a month; it joined a WCG grave yard littered with such short-lived policies. The roller coaster goes up and down, and people's lives are thrown from side to side. It has been my experience with the historic culture of the WCG that the message of salvation through Jesus gets lost in an overflow of programs, policies and crisis. I feel strongly this structural dynamic in the WCG remains unchanged. It is systemic.
The following is needed: Stop the distractions and rest in Jesus!
8. Lack of respect for members and ministry:
Current administrative approach condescending. "[One] reason for secrecy in a church is that the leadership has a condescending, negative view of the laity. This results in conspiracies on the leadership level. They tell themselves, 'People are not mature enough to handle the truth.' This is patronizing, at best" (Subtle Power, p. 78).
At the conference in Palm Springs (December 17, 1995), you responded to a pastor's question in the Q & A with the following: "I don't want to make this person look stupid, but . . ." and then proceeded to belittle their question, exegetical abilities and theology. The person told me he was devastated and felt humiliated. After dinner in Portland, Oregon (March 23, 1996), you, Mike Feazell, Greg Albrecht, Don Mears and I were out in the hall talking. You mimicked two current, long-time, much-respected church leaders making fun of their mannerisms and the way they responded in doctrinal meetings.
These incidents are not isolated. I have talked to many ministers who don't feel loved or respected by your administration. There's a feeling of being patronized and condescended to. They are glad you say you love Jesus, but want to know you love them. One commented to me, "Perhaps you will find a door to minister to our hurting/angry administrators as well." Mike Feazell asked me to give a workshop on helping our pastors sensitively minister healing to our members, but twice I have offered to facilitate this workshop for you and senior administrators (Jan. 9 & Mar. 14, 1996), and you have not responded.
I agree with your doctrinal changes, but absolutely disagree with the method by which you have imposed them upon the fellowship, instituting one change at a time. I believe this has bred suspicion and facilitated further denial in our membership. Many feel it has been abusive and tormenting! One person described feeling like they had been spiritually raped in the past year. A WCG pastor compared your approach to bobbing a dog's tail, one painful inch at a time. Cruel! Jesus respects us and our ability to make choices and does not violate our autonomy as you have repeatedly done.
There has been a similar disrespectful approach to those who have left. "If the whistle-blowers reveal the group's problems to the outside world, the group will mobilize to discredit them. Sometimes trumped-up countercharges are aired, but most often the troublemakers' mental and emotional state is brought into question" (Healing Spiritual Abuse, p. 75). One member wrote to me: "So the smear campaign has begun in earnest. . . . When the war they have now begun is complete, my reputation will be mud." I have recently seen this dynamic myself. One African American pastor who left our fellowship over some of the same issues I am delineating also received this kind of treatment. I was sitting at your dining room table in your house on July 24, 1995, with Craig Bacheller, Don Mears and yourself. A leading church administration supervisor who was present said this minister, who had left our fellowship, just "wanted to be white," was in it for the money, and possessed mental problems.
The following is needed: Openness and honesty on the part of the administration with a much higher level of expression of love and respect for the members and ministry.
9. WCG organization most important, more than Jesus or people: Corporation 1st, church 2nd.
I believe this is a point and a half. It would appear, given the eight preceding points, that following Jesus' will by faith and serving the membership for his sake are important only when they do not impact the organization's continuity and prestige. I know you say that you have lost members and income by the changes you have made. However, your power and prestige have not been abated. In fact, you have now had opportunity to speak before hundreds of denominational leaders, be interviewed on radio with James Kennedy3 and Hank Hanegraaff,4 obtain several book contracts, and that in addition to your planned radio program (and aforementioned pay increase). You did not possess any where near this kind of prominence before. And, frankly, you achieved it by force! The Spirit does not work in this way.
In short, I have been asking your administration for 21 months to act in faith and allow Jesus to have control instead of working it out yourselves via abusive dynamics. Greg Albrecht, in a conversation with Norman Shoaf and myself (February 17, 1995), rationalized saying that you had to consider the livelihood of hundreds of employees. I responded that, in the past, your administration was in no way reluctant to tell members to have faith and pay their three tithes and seven offerings. He replied that maybe I was just further down the "grace road" than he was. What I do know by overwhelming evidence is that the WCG places its own continuance above Jesus' will or the members' welfare.
The following is needed: Organizational surrendering of the will, not cosmetic doctrinal change.
Life has enough of its own trials without one's church being a source of abuse as well! Yet, you say it's going to take five or ten years to reach the place we want to be. One member in my congregation suggested this is somewhat akin to the plight of the African American during the civil rights period. He said, "The black man learned that when the Northerner said `not yet' and the Southerner said, 'no,' they both meant exactly the same thing." The truth of the gospel, we are all one in Jesus, ought not be delayed. When it is, it is denied! As one minister wrote, "the ground is level at the base of the cross." My second series of sermons has been distributed to over 150 ministers. Sermon #18, "Because I'm the Pastor," addresses this issue. This material is espoused but not put into action!
There are many healthy Christian churches where our members could find the healing they need, with pastors who would love to serve them. "What could have been a place to find shelter from the storms of life becomes a place where the religious addict `sets up camp' to stay out of life. . . . Sacrifice for the church completed in the name of God sacrifices the family" (Toxic Faith, p. 137). Yet, you encourage us to strive on, our members and pastors driving long distances, our ministers physically and emotionally exhausting themselves, serving two, three, or four congregations, and to what end? "This level of service often becomes overwhelming. People become so drained they can't think clearly. Their emotions become distorted. Deep depression, extreme anxiety, and a general numbness are common in overwhelmed religious addicts" (ibid, pp. 177-178).
I realize those who read this letter will not agree with everything I write. However, I want them to know it is all right to dissent, to ask questions and expect change. And, I want them to know it's O.K. to disaffiliate from, or leave, an organization that continues to exhibit so many toxic tendencies and either become, or find, a healthy church where they can worship and find healing. We have been bought with a price. We ought live accordingly. Galatians 5:1 states, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not therefore be enslaved again with a yoke of bondage."
I hope and pray many members will find freedom, love, joy and peace in healthy Christian churches outside this organization. I pray that those who stay will expect the aforementioned to be addressed in their local fellowships. I pray they will not give up their health and/or families, burning themselves out, for your personal prestige and prominence. The members are worth more! And, Jesus is worthy of it.
I hope and pray many WCG ministers will stand up for their congregations, that they will realize they answer to Jesus first, and he loves and respects them. For Cathy, Melissa, Linda and the thousands like them, it's time to stop bailing, time to stop paddling; it is time to stand and rock the boat! The members are the most important thing to Jesus; they must be to us, too! To my fellow ministers whom I love and appreciate, I say, this is our church, too. I pray they will take a stand for Jesus' sake!
I hope and pray the greater Christian community and cult-watching groups will look closer, underneath the wool of the WCG, at the facts. They reveal a danger to the flock! The current Plain Truth has my cover article, "Healing Ministry of Jesus." I believe it is an apt metaphor for the 1996 WCG. The cover illustration of Jesus healing a young woman is remarkable, the professionalism excellent, but it is a spiritual facade. The article omits the final two words so the conclusion is left an incomplete sentence. A special insert points out the error. It looks great on first examination, but look closer, and you will see they left out two words. In fact, they left out "Jesus Christ," and I believe that is exactly what you are presently doing, leaving out Jesus Christ by your approach!
You continue to engineer us videos and materials to design a Christian church out of a destructive system. We pastors follow the instructions carefully and paint by numbers the fireplace on the wall, according to your specifications. Then, our members all gather around this facade and rub their hands waiting to get warm. We wait but grow weary. Many ministers are on the verge of emotional breakdown, and you are financially cutting them off! Our structure shuts out and stifles Jesus. It must change! I beseech members not to wait on you, but follow the Spirit. He is the One waiting!
Standing up for Jesus,
NATIONAL CERTIFIED COUNSELOR; M.S. 1995 (COMMUNITY AGENCY COUNSELING) UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
25 YEARS IN WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD; 5 YEARS IN FULL-TIME MINISTRY; 1995-96 WCG CONFERENCE PRESENTER
PASTOR, ROANOKE & LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA; CONTRIBUTING WRITER, PLAIN TRUTH
"IF I COULD HAVE THE WORLD AND ALL IT OWNS, A 1000 KINGDOMS, A 1000 THRONES; IF ALL THE WORLD WERE MINE TO HOLD, WITH WEALTH MY ONLY GOAL; I'D SPEND MY GOLD ON SELFISH THINGS WITHOUT THE LOVE YOUR LIFE BRINGS; JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE IS ALL I'D NEED TILL LIFE WAS TORN FROM ME. I'D RATHER BE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HANDS, THOUGH RICH OR POOR I MAY BE; FAITH CAN SEE RIGHT THROUGH THE CIRCUMSTANCE; SEES THE FOREST IN SPITE OF THE TREES. YOUR GRACE PROVIDES FOR ME... IF I TRUST THE ONE WHO DIED FOR ME, WHO SHED HIS BLOOD TO SET ME FREE, IF I LIVE MY LIFE TO TRUST IN YOU, YOUR GRACE WILL SEE ME THROUGH." — ALISON KRAUSS, IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
David Covington stated:
"In February 1995 I was sharing my concern for the members and the truth of the gospel with one of the three current leading WCG administrators. He told me that I needed to understand how much 'Armstrong worship' they had to deal with among the membership. I responded that they in the leadership facilitated this approach by continuing to use Armstrong to control people, long after his death. Privately, one of the other three told me he had come at one point to view the church founder as a 'charlatan.' Yet, nonetheless, these private views seem to be put aside. The July 4, 1995 Worldwide News again hearkened back to his false teaching. 'Recalling the Final Sermon of Herbert W. Armstrong.' It stated, 'And if that should ever happen [the pastor general die and be succeeded by another], you will follow [him]...and your eternity depends on that. Everyone of you. Don't forget it...' This was a few short months before the installation of the current pastor general and several months after the 'changes regarding salvation.' The January 1997 Worldwide News demonstrated the ongoing use of Armstrong to control members keeping them on a sinking ship." (Taken from David Covington's Ministry of Healing website, 1995; no longer online)
NOTE: The last Exit & Support Network™ heard from David Covington was the following email:
Subject: Re: Ministry of Healing website
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999 19:19:38 EDT
Thanks for your kind note. I do not plan regular updates, but have been contemplating a short addition or two since receiving your note. I do spend most of my time in Fiji now and don't have much time for the WCG stuff anymore (if you have seen the Truman Show movie, you will understand better).
Best wishes and thanks again for the note.
In April 2000, Covington's email address was no longer valid and as of August 2000 David Covington's Ministry of Healing website is no longer up. In light of what happened in the ensuing months after this letter was sent, Covington sadly appears to have been used only as a pawn by the WCG to further their agenda (read ESN's Open Response to Worldwide Church of God Regarding David Covington for more on this) and then was discredited and cast aside.
NOTE: Excerpts from David Covington's resignation letter to Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. were printed in Ambassador Report #62, July 1996.
Has WCG (GCI) whitewashed Herbert W. Armstrong? (for quotes from WCG HQ about HWA)
Letter Exposing Outright Lies, Abuses and Sociopathic Behavior (Reveals the truth about what was really going on at the time of the changes.)
Update on WCG:
In November 2004 the the Worldwide Church of God moved its headquarters from Pasadena to Glendora, California. In April 2009, they changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.) Today they have gone on to embrace New Age Teachers and philosophies. Read: Grace Communion International - New Age and Ecumenical Connections and Letter to Worldwide Church of God, Philippines (On Apostasy--A Radical Proposal) (this letter reached close to 350 WCG ministers, including those at Headquarters).
Footnotes by ESN:
1 The word "healthy" as in "healthy churches, "healthy Christian," "healthy groups," etc. is frequently used in the church growth movement today (Rick Warren) and the emergent church. Also see: Discernment & Research.
2 While this may be a good book on spiritual abuse, unfortunately, Ken Blue, along with countless others, has been influenced by John Wimber and the Third Wave Movement. For more info, read: John Wimber and the Vineyard.
3 On 4-30-96 and 5-1-96 Joseph Tkach, Jr. was interviewed on D. James Kennedy's Christian radio program "Truths that Transform."