Talking to members of the shiny new COGWA cult, one would think they've experienced a revolution, a spiritual awakening following their split from UCG. Members have claimed they've become more "liberal" than even the more "moderate" UCG is compared to COG cults.
They claim they aren't in it for the money, that COGWA is young, hip and in-tune with our digital social media culture. They claim to understand teens and young adults, and have even appointed some women to some very low-level positions of responsibility.
Is COGWA a 21st century rebirth of Herbert W. Armstrong's legacy, one bereft of the corruption and bitterness found in UCG and other cults?
A year after its formation, is COGWA on its way to becoming a respectable, sane and rational religious organization?
Recapping the crisis
Let's remember first what led to the UCG Current Crisis.
An anonymous blogger going by the handle "Abigail Cartwright" launched a blog entitled UCG Current Crisis leaking insider information surrounding a spat among UCG leadership that lead to the ouster of then-president Clyde Kilough. This was information being purposely suppressed by the ministry, even by those who disagreed with the official propaganda being distributed to the masses, out of fear of losing their jobs. The blog contended with issues regarding censorship, baseless rumors, and outright lies being perpetrated by ministers, elders and laymembers alike within the church.
Essentially, Abigail Cartwright’s revelations contributed to a massive schism within UCG. The posting of internal GCE and presidential emails and letters revealed the controversy surrounding the cancellation of plans to relocate the church’s home office to Denton, Texas and a disagreement between factions over whether to concentrate media projects on the internet or on cable television. The letters also revealed an increasing paranoia on the part of the newly-elected ‘"interim" UCG president Dennis Luker, who comes off as a vindictive, emotionally unbalanced and untrustworthy leader who fired ministers and staffers based on even the slightest rumor of disloyalty.
Luker, in response to growing unease from most of UCG’s ministry, fired all of the regional pastors and put Roy Holiday and Victor Kubik in charge of all the daily operations of the church.
Those who knew about the corruption and scandal (the reasons why their ministers were losing their jobs left and right) officially split on January 8, 2011 along with 75 percent of UCG’s ministry, taking thousands of members from their fold into a new organization, Church of God a Worldwide Association, essentially resurrecting WCG in name.
The reasons for the split
The aftermath of the schism quickly revealed the reasons why UCG pushed out so many dissenters and abolished their presence in Latin America, Africa and other third world countries. COGWA is now saddled with funding these poor congregations, had no media projects, and now there are no dissenters against Holiday, Luker and Kubik. By failing to fight for their church, the dissenters in COGWA essentially surrendered the future of UCG, most of whose members still have no concept of what the split was truly about: their tithe money, who gets to spend it and on what.
COGWA ministers have not been forthcoming with information to members, neither before nor after the split.
The motivation for these ministers to leave and form a new group is clear: because they lost their jobs, they no longer had a means of making money. These are men who have zero marketable job skills, especially at their average age, and since Dennis Luker fired them from the UCG payroll, they had no choice other than to forge a new means of funneling tithe and offering money into their pockets.
Most members who left did so based on an emotional response to the posts made on UCG Current Crisis, which were presented sans commentary or context from Abigail Cartwright. This was one of the few occasions when COG members got to think for themselves, however armed with only the partial facts, they made an ill-informed decision that played into the hands of a ministerial cabal bent on ensuring its future financial well-being amid a crisis threatening their wallets.
Who is Abigail Cartwright?
Few know who Abigail Cartwright actually was and is. We can however narrow it down based on what we know to be true.
1. UCG Current Crisis published internal UCG communications as the inside battles reached their most heated.
This means Abigail Cartwright was likely a UCG minister in a position to be receiving these emails and letters.
2. The blog was extraordinarily anti Dennis Luker and against the new UCG administration, and tended to share letters that painted them in the worst light possible, without any commentary or publishing of other information that may have provided context behind various allegations of corruption against Luker, Kubik and others.
This means Abigail Cartwright likely was among the ministers siding against Luker, and perhaps one of those who was fired or forced to resign.
3. The blog's leaks of internal letters and members slowed to a crawl after the official split in January, and now the only leaks being published are inter-cult communications between COGWA and UCG, and assorted member letters from those disaffected by the split.
This means Abigail Cartwright joined COGWA and because they have access to various ministerial emails, they are likely a current COGWA employee.
We have a lot of guesses. Perhaps the most obvious candidate is Jim Franks (pictured) since he was one of the primary orchestrators of both the WCG and UCG splits, and the expertise with which this was conducted demonstrates experience leading an insurrection and foundation of a new organization.
Another would be Clyde Kilough, whose ouster as UCG's president in favor of Luker would have given him a lot of motivation.
Joel Meeker is another prime candidate, since Abigail Cartwright seems to like to post a number of Meeker letters, clarifications and rebuttals.
Regardless of which COGWA minister was behind the Abigail Cartwright blog, its effectiveness is not in question. The history of the split is replete with stories about UCG members happening across the site, which started circulating a few months before the split, due likely to a concerted whispering campaign from the dissident ministers.Good old boys<.strong>
For six months before the actual split at 2011's dawn, those ministers who would form COGWA plotted the formation of a new organization where their rule would be absolute and they could be free of the constraints placed upon them by Luker's reign over UCG.
Their delusional goal was to create a "new and improved" 21st century church that would be more profitable and outwardly sane compared to UCG and other cults.
Instead, COGWA members have been saddled with the some of the same conniving, political backstabbers who presided over the formation of UCG in 1995.
COGWA Board of Directors
COGWA Media Head
Editor of COGWA's One Accord newsletter
COGWA Ministerial Services
COGWA Doctrine Committee
Morals and Ethics Assessment Committee
There is no new leadership blood in COGWA. Mike Hanisko, a younger pastor compared to the aging titans who are currently running the show, did not keep the interim reigns of COGWA for very long before it was handed over to Jim Franks, who had since the beginning looked to take command.
All of these men trained under Herbert W. Armstrong and they continue to keep his legacy alive. Despite their pious pronouncements of being some of the most righteous men to ever walk the face of the Earth, they are simply clever con-men who managed to keep their jobs in a flagging economy where they were no longer welcomed in their organization.
Re-branding a failed product
One of the initial points of contention that led to the split was the migration of UCG's headquarters to Denton, Texas, which Kubik, Luker and others squashed in the name of saving money for themselves.
Since the split, COGWA announced they were moving to Dallas, Texas instead, because UCG refused, out of spite, to sell the vacant Denton property Kilough had acquired a few years previous.
Despite this setback, COGWA's ministerial mafia has managed to re-brand COGWA as a "new" kind of COG that's more caring, progressive, compassionate and transparent than UCG.
They've done an excellent job of transitioning their members by erasing the memory that they were once integral members of the UCG machine and have convinced them to entirely disdain and disown something they spent 15 years building with their tithe money.
The COGWA website was launched in record time, showing they had been planning this transition for long before the split was officially announced.
Don't forget also that many COGWA members left because they felt that "doctrinal changes" were on the way in UCG (this hasn't happened) and they wanted to cling to their fundamentalist, conservative beliefs. This is not a conducive culture for progressive changes within the cult.
While COGWA has some financial challenges ahead of it after taking on the debt of dependent third-world congregations, it has managed to get on its feet far faster than UCG had in the beginning.
Whether it can withstand the harsh light of day once the dust settles and members have some time to reflect upon who their leaders actually are, and the fact that none of them will be giving up power (only shuffling responsibilities among themselves), remains to be seen.
Another split is coming from within COGWA. Whether it will be a migration back to UCG or an entirely new splinter church, any number of simmering issues could lead to another blow-up in three years or less.
In the meantime, don't fall for the COG's latest rebirth. This is run by the same crew from the last 20 years, and these leopards have not and cannot change their spots.