Feb 262014
 

The chain reaction of discontent that broke David Hulme’s COGIC continues as the Church of God, a Family Community (The Father’s Call) experiences its first split. COGs are splitting so fast and so often they can’t even get off the ground before ministers and members are heading for the exits.

Brian Orchard sent a letter, posted by Banned!, announcing that his new cult’s senior leadership is already leaving for other COG groups.

Stephen Elliot, Bob Rodzaj and Peter Nathan have left for LCG while Ted Budge has retreated back to UCG, the Hulme group’s original mothership. Steve Andrews, Cliff Veal, Marshall Stiver and Bill Hutchison remain with the new splinter, along with Orchard.

The whole Hulme-o-sphere is nothing but shattered at this point. What are these COG members to do amid all this chaos if their leaders can’t decide where they’re going to be collecting their tithe checks?

Dear Brethren,

Many are already aware that Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Elliott and Mr. & Mrs. Bob Rodzaj are joining the Nathans in moving to Living Church of God. Mr. and Mrs. Ted Budge have opted to return to the United Church of God. This is a difficult development and admittedly it disappoints my expectations. 

That acknowledged, a change of plans is an opportunity to seek God’s will rather than our own. We prayed and fasted as a group, and here we are. Let’s trust that God will reveal His purpose.

It is apparent that the ministry came away from our January conference with two different mind sets. We thought we were of the one mind as we agreed on a purpose and goals statement but it is now clear that we were processing different meanings to the words and statements released. I don’t believe any of this was intentional – we just did not recognize the different understandings that existed. I am trying with my limited abilities to provide a clear path forward and to reassure those of you who do not want to join other existing organizations. What we set out to do is not dead. But we clearly have much work to do to reconcile ourselves to God and to be unified in our understanding of His will.

Certainly, let’s not vilify anyone for the decisions they prayerfully come to. Please do not feel under pressure to make hasty decisions about your future or feel critical about others having interaction with other COG groups. Loyalty is to Christ, who is head of the Church, and no other. We are instructed to leave all to follow Him.

I do not plan to join any of the existing COG groups in the foreseeable future. The other remaining members of the interim advisory board (Steve Andrews, Cliff Veal, Marshall Stiver and Bill Hutchison) assure me they feel the same way. As such, we intend to continue with the support of our other fine elders. The ministers who are leaving us have decided not to attend the conference this coming Sunday. They felt their presence would not be helpful to us at this time and I respect their decision. Accordingly, we will focus on who we are and where we are going. We will review our goals and purposes as developed during the January conference and from there look at ways we can move forward with some organized effort in shepherding the flock and preaching the gospel.

Please don’t be over burdened by these challenges. God will care for us. In many respects, these outcomes may ultimately facilitate bridges between God’s scattered people. We need to be the people God wants us to be and let Him use us to implement His will.

Warm Regards,
Brian Orchard

Orchard is very wrong about that last part. There will be no bridges built between COG groups by means of a ministerial diaspora between groups. The COG will continue to be scattered and broken and the split of a brand new splinter only underscores how schisms are going to continually characterize Armstrongism’s legacy.

Jan 032014
 

We just received word from a source that COGIC ministers are leaving “in droves” and that they met in an “Acts 15-style” conference over the New Year. What started as mere whispers two years ago already has risen to a thunderous collapse over issues of ministerial abuse, ineffective media efforts, British Israelism and David Hulme’s authoritarianism.

Most of the issues outlined on the conference website pertain to governance within the church, indicating members and ministers alike have grown weary of abusive authoritarianism within the COG. Whether those fleeing Hulme’s tyranny will govern any better remains to be seen.

The new splinter group is reportedly called Church of God – A Family Community. Its Sabbath services will be webcast from Pasadena and include a Q&A. Hulme, however, will reportedly be speaking to the entirety of COGIC to address “evil” in the church.

Hulme said in a recent letter to members that “[COGIC’s] anticipated income has fallen in the current crisis” and then he begged for additional donations.

Conference

Those present at the conference were Bill Hutchison, Bob Rodzaj, Brian Orchard, Cliff Veal, Marshall Stiver, Peter Nathan, Stephen Elliott, Steve Andrews and Ted Budge. Hulme was apparently invited to the conference, but did not attend.

Nine ministers and their wives gathered together in conference December 30, 2013 through January 3, 2014. The retreat focused on: the need for a proper understanding of the governance established by our Creator and our Father through the family relationship, and the need for reconciliation between the ministry and the members or flock that our Father has called.

These matters were considered prayerfully, and the following pages are the result. We conclude with a plan of action for those that are interested in a new way forward. These results will also be communicated with David Hulme, who was invited but made a choice not to participate in this conference.

Here’s a letter to David Hulme from Orchard and Budge:

Dear David,

This letter is being presented to you in all sincerity.

Following our meeting on Tuesday, December 24th, you suggested some additional time for each of us to see what God would have us do in order to move forward. Since you had not initially accepted two vital issues we presented to you to begin the process of reconciliation—the marriage/family model of God’s government and a ministerial conference—we felt it necessary to explore both aspects to ascertain if God’s will was with either or both.

To this end, an Acts 15-style conference was convened for pastors who embraced these components and wanted to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). You indicated that a different spirit was the motivation for those not in agreement with you and we wanted to know if that was the case.

The conference, held over four days, was inspiring and humbling. All present felt that God’s Spirit inspired an amazing oneness and unity. It truly was an Acts 15 experience. Our initial doubts were quickly allayed as we witnessed the positive lead of God’s Spirit. It provided a real learning experience for all of us.

We regret that you were not able to attend and be part of the process—though we did make the request for you to attend. So, in the continuation of the spirit of reconciliation, we present this report to you for your earnest consideration. We believe it represents a way forward that is godly and will receive God’s blessing.

As you know, we requested a follow-up session to our December 24th meeting for this coming Sunday, January 5th. Our request still stands for such a meeting to explore reconciliation as well as to review the results of the conference.

We implore you to let us join together in caring for God’s people and preparing the way ahead of Christ’s return. No doubt you will agree that the members of God’s family deserve no less than our best efforts toward reconciliation and seeking the Father’s will.

Sincerely,
Brian Orchard
Ted Budge

Some commenters have insisted that Orchard would not leave COGIC because he is Hulme’s brother-in-law. But COG schisms have always broken up families, reaching back to the very first ones. Speculation wouldn’t stretch too far to expect that Andrews and Orchard may find themselves atop a new splinter group, though we will see how things unfold.

Issues

There is a comprehensive explanation of the issues in COGIC outlining each in turn. It turns out they’re exactly the same issues that have been reported to us in the recent past. In summary, they are as follows:

1. Governance: They aren’t griping about one-man rule or the structure of COG government so much as how it’s been executed and managed. COGIC ministers have been abusive toward members and engaged in “unethical” behavior. There are also fears that Hulme has “withdrawn into an autocratic style of governance.” COGIC appears to be in the grip of an authoritarian egomaniac and accountability among ministers does not seem to exist.

2. Gospel: COGIC has long been criticized as being too “intellectual” or presenting things in an overly cerebral way, a message crafted in Hulme’s personal style — a stark contrast to Herbert W. Armstrong’s more straightforward, populist style of communication rooted in his advertising career. The lack of growth within COGIC and its ineffective delivery of its core message has come under assault by Hulme’s own ministers and has likely made the church even more unappealing than COG groups already are.

3. British Israelism: The dissenters decry Hulme’s apparent rejection of this doctrine. Nathan and Orchard reportedly confronted Hulme on the subject. Nathan’s “resignation” was spun in the eyes of members as being about unilateral changes to church doctrine and issues of government, but “in reality the real issue is what Mr Hulme believes about the  Church’s teaching on the United States and Britain in Prophecy.” The dissenting ministers add: “A pivotal doctrine like the United States and Britain in Prophecy, which is so much a part of the content of the Church’s message, cannot be easily diminished.”

Response

Hulme sent a response on November 20, 2013 directed at his followers explaining away these issues as an “attempt to overturn members’ faith and confidence in the leadership” a tactic he said “is not new.” He said the dissenting ministers have “strayed in their actions and attitudes” and that “in such situations the Church must act decisively to protect the members” — also known as firing all dissenters.

Notice how Hulme doesn’t want what he did when leaving UCG done to him. Hulme said it was “ironic” that a personal letter to him from Andrews somehow found its way “far and wide.”

In response to the grumblings about his apparent departure from British Israelism, Hulme said:

Another concern relates to the study project I have launched into the matter of the prophetic identity of Israel. For many years the Church had a book on the subject of the United States and Britain in prophecy. At our inception 15 years ago, we understood that giving the witness of God’s coming kingdom to these nations fell within the commission to preach the gospel “in all the world” (Matthew 24:14). While we have been reviewing this subject for some time, after the ministerial conference I set up a study team made up of seven ministerial members. They are tasked with producing a collective paper on how this material should be addressed to the world of the 21st century; that paper will then be shared with the whole ministry for their input. We live in a very different age than the one in which the material was originally written. The group is paying careful attention to the biblical evidence and historical information in order to make the material as clear as possible. A momentous development took place in the histories of the United States and Britain around the year 1800. Their remarkable place in the world today, in what we sense are the closing years of human civilization, makes their identity a significant subject. That we are looking into how to best address this material should not give cause for concern. Prejudging the process and its outcome is not helpful.

Hulme admits his musings on the matter of British Israelism might lead to changes, but his wording doesn’t seem to reject the doctrine’s core. But COG schisms are caused by grumblings about changes more often than actual changes, the WCG collapse making many members and ministers very gun shy about doctrinal shifts. This happened with the UCG/COGWA split as well where rumors about coming changes to UCG’s teachings were spread by dissenting ministers. We discovered only later that the worst UCG did was convene a “doctrinal committee” whose findings would take years to publish, and whose very existence seems to have fallen off the map and possibly discontinued after Dennis Luker’s death.

In a December 18, 2013 letter to COGIC members, Hulme more staunchly defended British Israelism, seemingly backtracking even more in the face of criticism:

At that time, the physical descendants of the ancient Israelite tribes, which we believe to be found primarily in northwestern Europe, Britain, the United States and the state of Israel, will also come under their greatest test (see Jeremiah 30:7). These peoples, especially the British and Americans, have played a significant role in world affairs in the past two centuries. This we believe to be the result of promises made long ago to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But the issue isn’t so much about whether Hulme is trying to change church teachings on British Israelism. The letters seem to indicate anger that Hulme’s personal beliefs have drifted away from British Israelism and ministers would rather jump ship than be lead by someone known to have doubts. Reading the flowery double-speak from both sides, it’s difficult to determine whether Hulme has ever intended to reject British Israelism as a church doctrine, or whether this was simply a third-hand rumor that exploded.

But it’s a hot-button issue anyway as outlined by dissenting ministers. Notice also that Hulme’s most specific responses to the controversies swirling in COGIC are about British Israelism. Issues of his own authoritarianism and allegations of unethical ministerial behavior by his loyal lieutenants aren’t directly tackled and instead dismissed as “false allegations.” He seems to more fear a backlash from members and ministers over the perception that British Israelism is being tossed overboard — since it unravels church theology entirely — rather than worry about what members think about his tyranny and misconduct on the part of ministers. It’s probably because the latter two problems are systemic within the COG and often tolerated while British Israelism is the binding force of Armstrongist doctrine. The priorities here seem clear.

Here is the transcript of a Hulme sermon given right after Andrews was disfellowshipped. In it, Hulme has this to say about the notion of transparency:

In addition to that, we live in an age where we have developed “a shareholder view”—the right to know about and be involved in every detail. There is a request for transparency. I suppose none of us would really like our errors to be spoken of from the pulpit. But sometimes, silence is easily interpreted as an admission of wrongdoing. We could spend a lot of time answering each and every question, each and every evolving accusation. It changes daily. What is essential, however, is to see this for what it really is. I believe it is an attack by the adversary on God’s people, on the leadership and on the staff.

Hulme also claims the dissent is primarily confined to the U.S. and that congregations and ministers in the U.K. are “stable and supportive.”

Documents

Crisis and Conference Memos
An Explanation of the Primary Issues in the COGaic
David Hulme Sermon Addressing Issues
Conference Invite Letter
Current Crisis Memo
Eric Keefer on the COGIC Crisis
Conference Communique – January 3, 2014
Post-conference Letter to David Hulme from the Dissenters
Preaching “The Gospel”: A comparison of style and substance between the WCG and COG aic

Letters to Members
David Hulme Member Letter – November 20, 2013
David Hulme Member Letter – December 18, 2013

Letters of Resignation and Concern
Steven Andrews Letter of Concern to David Hulme – December 13, 2013
Stephen Elliot Letter to David Hulme – December 28, 2013
Bill Hendricks Resignation Letter
Bob Rodzaj Resignation Letter
Ray Perez Resignation Letter

Doctrinal Matters
Brian Orchard Bible Study on Government
“The Mission of the Elect”
Spiritual Awakening and Governance
Letter: “The Blessing of the Little Children”
“The Model for Church Government is the Family”
Unity and Division – Notes
Unity and Division – Eric Keefer Sermon Transcript

Kudos to the brave souls who have kept us in the loop on this. What happens going forward should be interesting to watch. How damaging will this be to COGIC? Hulme loudly indicates that money is already a problem, so how many members are left under his wing? Can Hulme’s group survive this massive blow? If a new splinter is to form in the aftermath, how big will it be and how differently will it operate? Uncertainty, as always, swirls around COG schisms, though we hope the information presented here sheds more light on this split than many previous ones, something ironic considering that COGIC had often been compared to PCG in its lack of transparency. The dissenting ministers seem to have a different attitude entirely, at least for now, so hopefully more and more can be learned as they air their grievances.

Excommunication

This came off Facebook from a COGIC member, just sent to us:

The word is, Mr. Brian Orchard, Mr. Stephen Elliot & Mr. Marshall Stiver have all been fired and DF’d this afternoon for causing division. So Happy they were able to spend the week together to reconcile amongst themselves, to talk, to pray, to learn, to share. Our shepherds need our love, support and strength to continue to call on our Father to reveal His Will for us all. We know they have cared for us in the past and will continue to feed and care for us in the future.

If true, Orchard, Elliot and Stiver are out, putting speculations as to their fate to rest. Hulme is terminating ministers left and right, seemingly content to blow more holes in his sinking ship.

Update: Rodzaj received an email from John Anderson disfellowshipping him too. We expect all fired ministers to shortly be removed from COGIC entirely.

Update: It has been confirmed that all ministers in attendance at the conference have been disfellowshipped by David Hulme.

The following is a letter from Eric Keefer to COGIC members about Hulme tossing dissenting ministers out of the church:

Greetings brethren,

I’m writing this update from an airplane, where my wife and I are on our way to Oakland, California for the Sabbath. This week has ended in a very sad and discouraging turn of events. The ministers who had previously resigned from the Church joined with 3 other ministers and have begun another organization. The action left Mr. Hulme with no other option than to terminate these ministers’ employment with the Church and to disfellowship them for causing division. Mr. Brian Orchard, Mr. Marshall Stiver, and Mr. Stephen Elliott are no longer ministers of the Church. I spoke with Mr. Hulme several times today. While very disappointed, he is calm and his leadership remains strong yet loving. He shared with me his disappointment over this situation, and stated that these men, by their actions, left him no other option. It is simply hard to understand why these men would take such action.

As a result, Mr. Hulme has asked me to pastor the Oakland, Stockton, Red Bluff, and Carson City congregations, in addition to the Northwest congregations. Since a large number of members in the Oakland congregation will be greatly affected by these events, it seemed best to be there this Sabbath.

While these events are unsettling and painful, we must remember that this is God’s Church with the living Christ at the helm. Mr. Hulme has clearly been placed as our physical leader under Jesus Christ and he continues to perform this role in an honorable and loving way. While many have criticized and labeled him in various unkind ways, he has never responded in like manner and continues to do the job that God has called him to do. Despite allegations to the contrary, we are blessed to have a faithful, loving, and caring man as our physical head.

We must turn our attention to our calling, brethren. We must put this behind us and get back to work on preparing for God’s soon coming Kingdom. We grieve for those who have departed or will depart, and we are thankful that God is merciful. However, we must always be mindful that Satan, our enemy, goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour. He often stalks his prey through attitudes. Please remain alert.

If any of you have questions or concerns that you would like to discuss, please call.

With love and respect,

Eric Keefer