Since the UCG/COGWA split, and especially within the last month or so, there have been confused whispers among members. The source of their confusion is the reasons behind the split. Because there is so little understanding on both sides of the schism and abounding distortion and disinformation, members – especially the young adults – are confused as to why UCG and COGWA can’t “reconcile” among themselves, a message both sides had been drumming into their members.
In the minds of many members, this phantom reconciliation needs to happen among themselves instead of the senior leadership. The vagueness with which both cults have explained the terms of the 2010 schism have left the youth in both churches discussing the futile idea of reunification, not merely between UCG and COGWA, but all COG groups.
The very notion indicates a sad misunderstanding not only of the current inter-COG political landscape, but also Armstrongism’s history, and in fact, the history of religion in general.
Starting at a macro level, religion is trapped in an entropic bubble. It doesn’t combine and coalesce, it doesn’t unify and become stronger. It splits, becomes more disjointed, muddled and confused with the passage of time. Even Armstrongism itself was an ideological and organizational schism from the Church of God (Seventh Day) which itself split off from other, larger movements.
In the case of the Armstrongist, this obvious phenomenon doesn’t apply to the COGs, which they errantly believe is a pure, uninterrupted descendant of the church started in Acts. This is Exhibit K in how cults use disinformation to promote control and shield members from simple truths. But in the context of the shattered COG landscape, it leaves members blind as to the actual reasons behind the destruction of WCG and the continued disintegration of its children.
The real reason behind COG splits, simply put, is that senior ministerial leaders without marketable skills are compelled to start their own splinter groups when losing their jobs just to avoid the unemployment line. There’s some stuff in there about ego and power too, but it’s political spats leading to resignations and terminations that have precipitated nearly every COG schism of the past 20 years. In UCG and COGWA’s case, Dennis Luker’s ascent to power led to a radical change in how to spend money and guide its media strategy, and any dissenters were tossed out the door whether through actual firings or pressures to resign. UCG lost 75 percent of its paid, full-time ministry, men who don’t know how to make money doing anything other than sucking tithes from financially-struggling sheep. Picking out about 5,000 loyalists to follow them out the door wasn’t only a good career move that increased their power in a new church, it was a necessary life raft to keep them from drowning in the sea of the real world, where Armstrongite ministers haven’t had to live for decades.
Members have been told, mysteriously in the case of the UCG/COGWA split, that it’s all about doctrinal issues. This lie has been used many times before in other COG schisms, but never so transparently as it was on the COGWA side of the recent split. COGWA’s older, rapidly-aging membership terrified of change was told by departing ministers that UCG was preparing for a WCG-esque radical doctrinal transformation, one that hasn’t been forthcoming in the past three years. While there are strategies being formed to somehow appeal more broadly to the greater Christian population to keep from bleeding members and money to death, UCG can’t simply jettison the fundamental tenants of Armstrongism at this point, a move that would be organizational suicide. In reality, COGWA’s senior leadership should wish for their lie to actually be true, since the resulting exodus would fill their barren warchest. Yet, this lie has kept members bickering among each other about the reasons why UCG and COGWA, two nearly identical organizations in virtually every way, can’t get back together.
And for some, there are no logical reasons, which has led to the formation of a fledgling movement to rebuild the COG from its scattered remnant. The schism has wrecked families and destroyed friendships. But in this case, unlike many other COG splits, there has been a persistent glut of members on both sides who have chosen to continue intermingling, despite the newly-formed chasm between their churches. It’s from this continued unofficial unity between a certain percentage of UCG and COGWA members that its youth believes reuniting the broken church is possible.
We are here to inform our well-meaning counterparts still in the church that this will never, ever happen. There are a number of reasons why, and we will list the most important ones.
First, it’s not really up to you. The kids may like to play together, but your parents hate each other. The feud is between ministers and senior cult leaders, not everyday, tithe-paying butts in seats. There have been recent calls to hold a reunified Winter Family Weekend in 2013 to start the process of healing. But no matter how many joint Bible studies and cross-church activities you try to hold among yourselves, it’s not going to heal the fissures between your leaders.
Secondly, you do have some power in this situation, but you refuse to use it. If you want your leaders to listen, withhold your tithes. But the very idea of doing this is so vile and unheard of to the average COG member, this will never happen. They seem to forget that church members have withheld tithes many times in COG history, the WCG split and recent UCG/COGWA schism being predominant examples. There’s confusion among youth who don’t understand the difference between withholding a tithe until a later date and not tithing at all. They’ve been brainwashed into believing that not forwarding a monthly tithe check to the Home Office is a horrific sin against God. Such is the resounding success of the COG’s systemic, cultural and institutional indoctrination. But the reality is, the members do have the power. The moment they withhold their money, these men would suddenly be all ears and scramble to find a solution. If you want reunification, you have to be willing to take an action on your own. But we’re confident that because this would work, you would never, ever try it.
Thirdly, just because some people on both sides, primarily youth, still like to play basketball and drink together, it doesn’t mean the older members are going to follow your ecumenical movement. Years and years of schisms have made them jaded to the idea of getting back together with the mother church. Many older members believe the end-time is now, that the work was already done under Herbert W. Armstrong and all that’s left to do is wait for the end. The youth in both churches might pray for the Kingdom of God, but there’s not an overwhelming sense of apocalyptic urgency as exists among the first and second generations. And honestly, the smaller the church gets, the more special they seem. Most of these older members who have rushed for the exits in a schism have done so because they believe they’re clinging to the truth. Therefore, those left behind in their former affiliation don’t have the same truth. So getting back together is a worthless gesture for the bitter, older COG veterans.
Fourthly, in the case of a huge COG-wide reunification, which would essentially be the reformation of WCG, it’s simply not organizationally feasible. There are too many roosters in the hen house. Every man currently leading a COG group isn’t going to take a demotion and a paycut just to work with a sworn rival. Meredith isn’t going to work with Thiel, who isn’t going to work with Pack, who isn’t going to work with Luker, who won’t work with Flurry, who won’t with anyone. These men spend so much time bashing each other and fellow COG splinters, there is no conceivable way they’re ever going to preside over a reunified COG. They believe themselves to be ordained prophets, and the petty political disagreements that led to their ousters have festered into true animosity over the decades. Your reunified COG would have to jettison nearly every existing cult leader and rebuild the ministry from the ground up. And that is just never going to happen, because again, that would take initiative on the parts of members, who have been brainwashed into believing everything is in the hands of God, even the monumental failure the COG has become. So they’ll never do anything even remotely useful to achieve their goals.
Fifthly, there just aren’t enough of you to make this work. The COG is aging fast and your leaders seem to have the longevity of Fidel Castro. Young adults and teens have always fallen away and seem to be doing so at greater rates these days. It’s led to a desperate scramble by COG groups to somehow appeal to the youth. They bend over backwards to hold Winter Family Weekends and Families for God weekends and as many dances and proms and basketball games and teen and young adult Bible studies and everything possible to keep you engaged, in the church and without time for much else. But regardless of how many Vertical Thought issues they might print, the youth bloc just isn’t strong enough to enact this change and is shrinking all the time. And if the younger COG generation has to wait around for the previous generations and current leadership to die off before take the reigns, you will find yourself presiding over a unified COG roughly the size of UCG’s current membership if not smaller. This might be called a Pyrrhic victory.
Anyway, we’re sure none of this will breach the defenses the average COG member has build around their brains, especially the youthful idealist. But we thought it merited some form of comment. We recognize what you’re trying to do. But it’s telling of the overall lack of recognition of the COG’s real problems, which will take more than prayer, goodwill and joint sporting events to fix. It would take a vast purge of the poisons that have driven people from the church in the first place.