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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

CGI’s Double Standard

For those who may be unfamiliar with the history of my association with the Church of God International, a little background is in order. When I was disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God in 1985 (for dating a woman outside of the church), I began attending a congregation of GGI in Huntsville, Alabama. In fact, the lady whom I had been dating started attending with me, and we were married by the CGI minister of that congregation in March of 1986. Later, that same year, when we moved to Ohio, we attended Pastor Bill Watson’s congregation in Bath, Ohio (now in Medina, Ohio).

During that entire period, we were very happy with the messaging of the church. For me, coming out of the oppressive atmosphere of the old Worldwide Church, CGI felt like a breath of fresh air and freedom. We were especially impressed with the depth of spiritual understanding and compassion inherent in the messaging of Ron Dart (I never was that enamored with GTA’s messaging – a little shallow and too much showboating for my taste). We were also satisfied with the messaging of Pastor Watson and were friendly with him and his wife. Indeed, by then, Watson and my father were already very good friends, and all of the conversations and messaging which I was a party to were centered on spiritual topics. In other words, I don’t recall any political preoccupation or messaging during this entire period.

We remained in Ohio a little over a year, and then returned to Alabama to live. When we moved back, we began attending with a local congregation of the Seventh Day Baptist Church and attended there for a number of years. There was no falling out with CGI or alienation from anyone in the church which provoked this change. We simply liked the people in that congregation, the feel of the presence of the Holy Spirit working among them, the simplicity of their doctrinal statement, and the convenience that its proximity to our home provided in attending there on a weekly basis. Over time, I was invited to speak to the congregation and was eventually given a license to preach by them. Some years later, when we moved to a different part of the state, we began attending with an independent congregation of the Church of God Seventh Day (I was also invited to speak to them on occasion).

About fourteen years ago now, we moved to Northwestern Arkansas and began attending a local congregation of CGI once again. We quickly developed a warm friendship and attachment to the members of the congregation, and it wasn’t long till I was once again invited to speak to that congregation (and another congregation about an hour away) on a fairly regular basis. During this period, I also began contributing articles to that organization’s quarterly church newspaper, The International News (once again, on a fairly regular basis). As I have stated on previous occasions, I NEVER delivered a sermon or offered an article to their newspaper that contradicted that organization’s statement of beliefs – NOT ONCE!

Needless to say, over the many years that had passed since leaving the Worldwide Church and attending with different groups, my own religious views had evolved in a number of areas, and I was no longer in harmony with all of the beliefs espoused by CGI (this was no secret within the ministry of that church). And, while I felt compelled to NOT share my views with their members from any of their platforms, I did not feel constrained from sharing my opinions and views on OTHER forums. This was especially true of any situation that might arise where I thought I could make a significant and positive contribution to the ongoing discussions about Herbert Armstrong’s teachings among the various descendants of the by then defunct Worldwide Church of God.

Just such an opportunity arose from some private correspondence I was then enjoying with the editor of The Journal: News of the Churches of God, Dixon Cartwright. Dixon encouraged me to write an article discussing my views of human sexuality – particularly as they related to the subject of the morality of homosexuality. Moreover, after writing the article, Dixon graciously offered to publish it in his newspaper. Not unexpectedly, this led to an animated discussion on that forum and a number of comments and follow-up articles.

I must say, however, that I was a little surprised by the intensity of the reaction within some CGI circles to the articles. While I certainly never expected that organization to embrace or endorse my views, I did not expect the blowback that I received from Pastor Bill Watson and his allies. Now, in the articles that Bill had been contributing to the church newspaper over the last several years, I had noticed a growing preoccupation with politics and the ongoing culture wars that were raging in the society around us. Nevertheless, I must say that I was a little shocked by the ferocity of his reaction to my articles. In short order, a number of articles and sermons were forthcoming from him that I felt were highly insensitive, judgmental, and dismissive towards homosexuals. Indeed, his attack was so high profile that it became apparent that I would never be asked to speak to CGI congregations or contribute to their newspaper again. As I had been on a hiatus from speaking at the time (due to health issues), and I had never had any burning desire to speak, that did not bother me as much as his attacks did. 

Moreover, although I initially continued to fellowship with the CGI congregation that I had now been attending with for several years, over time, I eventually felt compelled to begin challenging some of Bill’s extreme language and messaging (and my continued attendance with that congregation soon became too uncomfortable to sustain). To make a long story shorter, Bill’s political, headline/current events, and culture war messaging only intensified over the years that followed. In fact, when Donald Trump came on the scene, his transition to right-wing extremist and conspiracy theorist was complete. From that time forward, a significant part of his messaging has been devoted to attacking socialism, liberalism, Marxism, homosexual and transgender folks, abortion, globalism, and public health measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indeed, his messaging relative to Covid-19 became so far out of the mainstream and offensive that CGI leadership finally moved to forbid him and his allies from using their platforms to espouse their views on the topic. Bill and his allies immediately screamed censorship and began a not-so-subtle campaign to remove the muzzle which they believed that CGI leadership had imposed on their messaging. In fact, since deleting three especially egregious messages on Covid public health measures (one by Bill and two by Adrian Davis of Canada), Bill and his allies have tried every trick in the book to get around leadership’s attempts to neutralize the church’s messaging on the subject. In fact, they have even resorted to carrying their messaging to other platforms to get around CGI’s restrictions!

From my perspective, however, the most troubling aspect of CGI’s reaction to the offensive messaging of Bill and his allies has been their timid tolerance of their defiance. The Church of God International has continued to post sermons by Bill and his minions whose references to public health measures are barely veiled, and which overtly challenge leadership’s right to silence them on this or any other topic they choose to discourse upon! In other words, they have allowed Bill and his allies to continue to espouse their Covid messaging and publicly challenge any attempt by the church’s leadership to rein them in!

Am I wrong to suggest that there appears to be a little bit of a double standard being employed here? A few years back, I went to a platform outside of that church to share some views that were not consistent with that organization’s views on human sexuality and was immediately silenced. Bill and company openly espouse their views on a host of secular issues ON CHURCH PLATFORMS, and publicly defy any attempt by leadership to silence them. Yeah, it sure looks like a double standard from where I’m sitting.

Admittedly, I had diverged from a long-held doctrinal position of the church relative to human sexuality, but haven’t Pastor Watson and Pastor Davis also diverged from the church’s messaging about salvation through Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom? Isn’t the nature of the church’s messaging directly related to their mission statement and core doctrines? After all, CGI’s mission statement includes this language: “Our mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world (Matthew 28:19).” And, from their Statement of Beliefs, doctrinal position number 35 opens with the following sentence: “The Church has a mandate to continue with the witness and message of Jesus Christ initiated through His life, teachings, and sacrifice for every person and all nations.” So, I ask again: Hasn’t the messaging of Bill and company constituted a serious departure from the church’s own mission statement and doctrinal positions? In fact, one could argue that the messaging of these individuals is a more fundamental and flagrant departure from the church’s teachings than a discussion about whether or not certain sexual behaviors should be regarded as sinful!

The leadership of the Church of God International has claimed that they are NOT beholden to Herbert Armstrong for their doctrinal positions and messaging. They have repeatedly stressed how that they are DIFFERENT from the old Worldwide Church of God. Which brings a few questions to mind: If they are truly different, why would they continue to permit Bill and company to follow in the tradition of the headline theology of the parent movement? Why would they allow Bill and company to engage in their highly speculative interpretations of how current events and political developments relate to Bible prophecy? Why would they continue to allow these folks to challenge public health policy as anti-democratic, fearful, and faithless?

What do you think? Aren’t Christian leaders supposed to be preaching a message centered on salvation through Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t the church leave arguments about Capitalism, Socialism, Marxism, Nationalism, Immigration, Globalism, and public health measures to the politicians? 

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