Gone With The Wind: Frank Dunkle's Open Letter

Wars over keeping control over loyal tithe-slaves, such as in the current crisis, stirred-up and driven by the overseer, tithe-farming ministry class, often wind up tearing the congregations apart. 

Frank Dunkle, UCG member in Columbus, OH, writes an open letter to UCG pastors resigning, from a very rarely heard perspective about the current crisis.  The letter is from the congregational perspective of an average,  lay member of UCG, simply caught in the crossfire.

Dunkle takes issue with the ministry forcing the members to make an extremely difficult and painful choice—all because the ministers have become offended. He responds by saying the stance the ministry has taken, into forcing the members to choose, in turn offends him as a member.

He says such issues involving Leon Walker, ministerial re-assignments, and the Sabbath could and should be looked at in another way.

Dunkle raises and answers the question of whether or not the government of UCG is broken, or fundamentally flawed when it was formed 15 years ago in Indianapolis, and what the church must do to “move forward”:

An Open Letter to Pastors Leaving UCG

Dear Mr. Pastor (generic for any and all of the many
                    pastors I’ve known over the years)

As many of you have thought it fitting to distribute open letters to the administration of the United Church of God about various errors you believe committed by church leadership, and explaining the reasons for your resignation, I hope you will understand that for similar reasons I am writing this letter to you--all of you--about your conduct. I am a lay member of UCG, not an elder and no one of any special standing or reputation.  However, I believe that my views and feelings represent those of many church members that have not been heard during this crisis.  While some of them may disagree with this letter, I believe that it represents the views of a great many of us.  As a large number of us have been members of the church longer than you have been pastors, please give our views some of your attention now.  After all, properly caring for church members is why you were called by God into the ministry and hired by the church as a pastor.

From the perspective of us members, it seems that many of you Elders are upset at each other over what you think other Elders have said or done, and now you are having trouble doing your jobs because of it.  Some of you are angry about the way certain men have treated various other men.  I have not read or heard any resigning pastor say that he himself was mistreated or forced to do something immoral.  Rather, many keep saying what sounds to me like, “someone else was done wrong, so I must resign!”  In doing this, you are forcing the members of your congregation to make an extremely difficult and painful choice—all because you have become offended.  Well, the stance you are taking offends me somewhat, but that does not justify me leaving my congregation or inflicting wrong upon any other person.  More than once over the years, we members have watched our pastors occasionally make mistakes, such as: giving advice to members of our congregations that turned out to be bad; instructing members to refrain from attending services because of a sin that it tuned out they actually didn’t commit; affording preferential treatment to some members over others; and so on.  Collectively you pastors always acknowledged that you sometimes made mistakes, and you taught us members to wait and to trust that God would correct such errors.   This was the correct thing to teach; we believed you and bore with your errors, (which have fortunately been rare).  Isn’t that exactly what you should be doing now?

We, as members of the church have been taught for years that we should not base our commitment to be a part of God’s church upon the actions of other people.  You ministers reminded us that the church consists of human beings who are in the process of being converted but who are certainly not perfect yet.  Should not that same standard apply to Elders and even to leaders of the church?  In particular, many have raised an outcry over Mr. Leon Walker being removed from his position over the Latin American region.  Yet, clearly the government structure of UCG gives the Council of Elders full discretion over whom to put in such job assignments.    The Council may or may not have been mistaken about misconduct by him, but still, the Council genuinely possessed the authority to reassign him at will--even if for no other reason than that they believed it was time for a change.  Why then did so many of you pastors take offense at this, when throughout your careers, you have been similarly re-assigned many times to different congregations—often causing considerable heart-ache among your congregations?  We often didn’t like the way such things were done, but you told us that it needed to be done and that we should accept and welcome ministerial reassignments.  Shouldn’t you accept the same advice you have given to us many times?

I understand that many who are leaving believe that the leadership of UCG is enacting a secret plan to change the teaching of how and when to keep the Sabbath.  Have you personally been told to teach something different about the Sabbath than before?  I haven’t heard one single Elder say that the Council or administration of UCG directed him to change the way he taught the members of his congregation to keep the Sabbath.  The booklets and articles that the church publishes on the subject of the Sabbath are still the same as before.  Isn’t it true that the only way a church doctrine can be changed in UCG is if three-quarters of all the Elders in the church vote to approve such a change?         If that is the case, true teachings will be safeguarded considerably more by you remaining a part of UCG--teaching the truth to us members, and casting your ballots correctly at the General Conference of Elders--than they will by you leaving.  I don’t know how the question was resolved about that family that runs a business in South America, but I trust that you wouldn’t teach me that I should operate a business on the Sabbath.  If and when you receive a directive from the Home Office instructing you to do so, please let us members of your congregation know so that we can join you in resisting heresy.  But please don’t raise alarm over mere suspicions and fears.  I may or may not agree with the decisions that other people make about how they keep the Sabbath—face it, we’ve had disagreements about things like whether or not to eat in restaurants or to watch the TV news on the Sabbath, for as long as I can remember—but you always taught us that such differences of opinion are not good reasons for leaving our congregation.   Shouldn’t you follow that same advice now concerning membership of this organization?

I have heard that some pastors have concluded that the government structure of UCG is broken and can’t be fixed. I wonder, when did it become broken—was it when the Council of Elders and Mr. Kilough disagreed on how much money to spend on a television program?  Was it when the Council of Elders removed Mr. Kilough from the office of president—or perhaps when it   previously removed Mr. Holiday from that position, or maybe when he replaced Mr. McCullough?   Why did you not feel the need to leave UCG at any of those earlier times?  Was the government broken already when you met in Indianapolis fifteen years ago to form it?

Certainly, you ministers (remember, we members had no say in the matter) established a form of church government that is somewhat inefficient and can be slow to enact new policies.  I am fairly certain that you formed, and we all accepted, this type of government purposely because it makes it impossible for one or a few ministers to ever force upon UCG the kind of doctrinal heresies that were enacted in WCG.  If you leave and form some new church organization, are you sure you will have the same safeguards from your new employer?  You are asking members like me to join you in leaving UCG, but I am not at all sure that you are going to form a structure that will protect me from the type of false teaching that came in WCG.  The fact that you are leaving an organization that makes it nearly impossible to introduce doctrinal change to go to a new one that is a blank slate makes me suspicious of both it and of you.  I’ve trusted you for years, but the experience I had fifteen to twenty years ago prevents me from giving any minister that kind of blind trust again.  Wouldn’t you feel the same if you were in my position?

I’ve also heard it said that we can’t move forward with the organization and/or the leadership UCG now has.  Different people seem to disagree on what “moving forward” really means.  As a member of the church, I’ve seen UCG move forward in accomplishing several things that seem quite positive.  The Good News magazine, World News & Prophecy, and dozens of booklets preach the gospel through the print medium, free of charge to whomever requests them.  Different websites make the same material—and much more—available to literally billions of people around the world.  The weekly Beyond Today television program now airs across the U.S., preaching the gospel in yet another medium, reaching different audiences.  To meet the responsibility of educating and developing members of the Church, UCG has maintained and provided pastors for congregations across the U.S. and the world. Young men (well, younger men) have been hired and trained as pastors; youth camps and family weekends serve our children; ABC provides advanced academic training in God’s Word.  I should admit that as an Ambassador College, graduate, I was not convinced at first that ABC would work, but I later had to admit that it has done very well.  So what is it that the church needs to “move forward” in doing, that UCG cannot do?  The only item in that area that seems to be a sticking point is building a campus in Texas.

Rather than write yet another argument about whether or not moving to Texas was a good idea, let me just share with you the attitude of many church members.  We stopped caring so much about the logistics concerning buildings and moving long ago, and became alarmed that many of you could not seem to stop arguing about it.  How many times over the years has our congregation had to meet for weekly Sabbath services in a hall that many of us hated?  And then, when you put in considerable hard work to find a new hall for us to meet in, some of us griped and complained about the new one.  Didn’t you tell some of us privately—and sometimes say from the lectern—that no meeting hall would be perfect? that we should stop murmuring and instead focus on serving the church?  The whole moving the Home Office debacle seems to us common church members to be little more than the same thing on a larger scale.  As such, we advise you, our pastors to quit the murmuring and to accept what we have now for what any building or campus will be:  a necessarily temporary facility that we should make the best of while we have it.  You taught us that the energy we could spend grumbling would be much better employed in active service to our fellow Christians.  Should you not have accepted this advice yourselves years ago?

Surely I have not addressed all of the issues.  Perhaps I’ve missed entirely whatever particular offense has driven you to the point of resignation.  Hopefully, though, you see my primary point.  You as the Elders of the church have problems that you need to deal with in a way that does not tear apart the church to which we members have devoted ourselves these many years.  Please note that by addressing this to the pastors who are resigning, I am not at all excusing those who remain of any fault.  They may have committed some wrongs—but they are not doing harm to me and my fellow members by disrupting what has become our spiritual home.  If and where they have been in error, you have all the more moral duty to remain with us members and be sure that you are an Elder who isnot doing wrong.  I say this partly because, if a similar problem existed in our local congregation, you would give us the same advice.  You know this is true, because you have done so before; if you continue to serve as a pastor, you’ll surely have occasion to do so again.

So then, you, Mr. Pastor, should you not—will you not—please, please accept and follow the same teaching you have given to us church members over the years?  You always taught us not to take offense and leave the church because of the sins of others—even when the others were ordained Elders.  This is not to imply that I believe that the leaders of UCG have sinned—just that even if they have, it does NOT justify your current actions.  You taught us that God called us to His church and that we should look to Him, and not let any man push us away from Him and the church that He established.  I believed what you told me then, and I still believe it is true today.  Should you not believe your own teaching and follow it—for the sake of us, lowly church members?

Frank Dunkle, Columbus, Ohio

Neil McIver, pastor of the Big Sandy Church of God (largest congregational split-off from UCG, 1998) responds to Dunkle's open letter. McIver sees the real UCG crisis as a question of deciding who is going to have the power:

It was a great letter to the "elders". The biggest problem with those that left United do not know one of the real problems was who was going to be in POWER. Those that worked over the past 8 to 12 months to pull this off are those that lost their power in United over the past year. They do not care who gets hurt in all this as long as they have their power back and their county club life. I think God is allowing all this to TEST the "elders" to see who are wolfs and who are true servants of the members. Mr Luker and those on the COEs have shown they are true servants. Most of those "elders" that left have shown that they are not true servants...they want the members that they took with them to serve them. There are many members in United that serve their areas better than the "elders" that left. Seek to serve the Body of Christ and let those that left serve their lust for power.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Dunkle:

I think you're beginning to see the light.

Douglas Becker said...

Questions of these sorts should have been asked when Herbert Armstrong left the Church of God Seventh Day.

UCG is yet another heretical sect teaching preposterous things such as the wildly erroneous speculations in World News & Prophecy and the often horrible "stuff" in The Good News. Who could forget the constant harping of the murders in the Columbine school for nearly a year. Members like Mr. Dunkle have been too immersed in the Armstrongist community to perceive the evils promoted publicly. All the United members would be better off just leaving and terminating the distorted perceptions of a sick dysfunctional environment.

It can't be fixed. It was flawed from the beginning, all the way back to the 1930s. If you believe that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, then Herbert Armstrong was the Warlock who started all this.

Is the UCG all that much different from a group which leaves the main body of Scientology so they can keep the Sabbath? Just because you're used to it, doesn't mean that it has a shred of truth to it.

And before you object in any way, just remember that the burden of proof is with the members of the UCG: Let them prove that British Israelism is valid and that the prophecies based upon them have ever come to pass. For that matter, go ahead and prove that the Feasts and Holydays stand or fall together as Herbert Armstrong claimed. Where's the proof?

Roger said...

I notice Dunkle's wife's name contains "Ward"; is that connected to past church royalty, thus mitigating his claims of being "just a lay member"?

Roger said...

I noticed that the word "Ward" is in Dunkle's wife's name. Does that connect him to past church royalty? Does that mitigate his position as "just a lay member" if that connection is there?

Anonymous said...

Hello Just a note... I am not the Pastor of the Big Sandy Church of God. I serve as the youth pastor for Mr Havir who is the Pastor of our Big Sandy group. Thanks, Neil McIver

Richard said...

My UCG Pastor would agree with Mr. McIver.

During a Q&A session last Sabbath, he said a "power shift occurred" on the Council of Elders at the 2008 GCE. That conference ended with the recission of the "so-called vote to move to Texas" (my pastor's words) -- and he indicated that set the present chain of events in motion.