From an East Texas source regarding the current turmoil swirling around Church of God Big Sandy and Christian Educational Ministries/Born to Win.
Please note: Any information James Malm posts about this is from spurious sources.
The Vultures Are Circling
A recent comment to Banned By HWA expressed concern about the possible merge of Christian Educational Ministries (CEM) with Church of God Big Sandy (COGBS). The fate of CEM should indeed be of concern to CEM supporters at this time. Ronald Dart passed away over a year ago. Allie Dart has long been the number one, bulwark defender of Ron’s image and Ron’s works since his illness and death. But she is not in good health at this time.
For this reason, it is important to keep an eye on organizations and individuals that could potentially be key players in this rapidly-evolving situation.
Let’s be blunt. CEM is a cash cow. Granted, CEM’s social media presence is quite deficient – especially when compared to some of the other ACOGs. In spite of this, CEM has a healthy income through contributions and from sales. All of this is done mostly thru radio and snail mail. CEM has little overhead when it comes to paid employees. And, contrary to popular opinion, only 6% of CEM’s inventory requires a purchase. CEM gives away 94% of its products.
CEM’s biggest strength is the inventory of preaching and teaching created by Ron Dart. His DVD’s, CDs, booklets, books, and articles are considered by many to be the best messages in the ACOG movement. So it would be quite the coup for any ACOG that ends up merging with or partnering with CEM.
And let’s not play word games. There is no such thing as a merge or a partnership. Whether discussing business, education, politics, or religion, there is no such thing as a merge or a partnership. There can be claims that two organizations are merging or partnering. But a merge or a partnership always ends up being an acquisition where one dominates the other.
So no one should be fooled into believing that CEM will merge or partner with another group. Any such group will, in reality, be acquiring the works of Ron Dart.
Here are some of the possible corporate candidates for the acquisition of CEM.
Church of God Big Sandy. When David III was first hired by CEM, it was hard to imagine that his dad wasn’t salivating at the prospects of some kind of alliance that would keep both father and son on the ecclesiastical teat for many years. After all, COGBS is experiencing severe financial difficulties due to the recent loss of its major donor who had been financing the group since its inception. And COGBS’s membership is now only a fraction of what it was when they separated from United Church of God.
That was then. This is now. The possibility of a CEM/COGBS marriage probably died with the firing of David Havir III by CEM. COGBS pastor Dave Havir is notorious for being highly protective of his cubs. Anyone who dares criticize either of his adult boys has committed the unpardonable sin and can never be forgiven.
For years, a local business in Big Sandy had an arrangement where it would occasionally rent the COGBS building during the week for things like employee meetings and Thanksgiving dinners. After several years of this arrangement, David III was hired by that company. Things didn’t work out. He left the company. Soon after, Pastor Dave then kicked that company out of his building. They have not been allowed to rent it since.
You can be assured that Pastor Dave (who is known for his many, many sermons about how he is so “besmirched” with his “good name being trampled thru the mud”) is now enraged by the “unfair treatment” his son has received at the hands of CEM. So you probably won’t see any more cooperative efforts between CEM and COGBS.
Still, it can’t be completely ruled out as a possibility. After all these years, both United and Worldwide are still trying to figure out how Havir beat them so badly in the battle for members and money when he broke with each of them long ago. So maybe Papa Doc still has his mojo.
United Church of God. This is an interesting possibility. And the only reason it should be considered as a possibility within ACOG circles is because UCG elder John Garnant is on the CEM board. When John accepted a position on the CEM board, some were startled -- considering UCG does not allow its ministers to get involved with other church groups.
An example of this would be when Aaron Dean was disciplined for preaching at a non-UCG feast site. His punishment was that he was removed from the UCG speaking schedule for six months.
One possible explanation of John’s ability to be involved with CEM is that that the bosses in Cincinnati haven’t picked up on his wayward activities yet. Or it could be that UCG (considering CEM’s healthy cash position) is interested in maintaining any longshot chance they might have. CEM’s good income and low overhead make it mighty attractive to any group that has trouble making ends meet. UCG is just such an organization.
Church of God International. This might be the most viable and realistic possibility. After all, Ron left CGI to create CEM during the late Garner Ted’s scandal regarding the masseuse. CGI and CEM currently co-sponsor a Feast site in Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky, where 325 people attended in 2016. However, there are some corporate culture issues that would have to be dealt with for these two groups to join forces.
When Ron Dart first set up CEM, he made it very clear that his new ministry was not to be a church. And he made it clear that he wanted CEM’s corporate culture to be different than those of the ACOGs.
Dart knew that there was contention over the very term “Armstrongism” within the church of God movement where some think highly of Herbert Armstrong’s ministry while others are totally antagonistic toward it. Dart wanted to find a middle ground. And, in his attempts to create a balanced approach, he pointed out there were certain aspects of Herbert Armstrong’s (HWA) ministry that he wanted to avoid in the newly-created CEM. Here is what Dart was quoted as saying in the January 31, 2003 issue of “The Journal.” The title of the article was “Beware the Demons of Differentiation.”
“I don’t know how much of a role old habits played in HWA’s evangelistic efforts, but I do know he looked for differentiation, and he did so adversarially, as an ad man naturally would. What he wanted were wedge issues: issues that could be used to drive a wedge between a person and his old church so the person could be attracted to the WCG. And he wanted exclusive use of the product. He didn’t want you coming to church with him this week and going somewhere else next week. The wedge issues are familiar: born again, heaven... Sabbath and Sunday, pagan holidays, immortal soul, etc. But, in typical ad man style, Mr. Armstrong advanced these with hyperbole and often took them too far in the attempt to differentiate. Other products (read denominations or churches) were demonized to complete the sale. The long and the short of the by-products of this approach was a church that was long on hostility and short on tolerance.”
Dart went on to say:
“Change is coming slowly, but it is sharply hindered by the need for organizational identity. One wonders how this dynamic played into the Tkach revolution in the WCG. Like the old ad man, Joseph Tkach and associates couldn’t see any middle ground. It was either Armstrongism or mainstreamism. They knew the former was wrong, so the other must be right.”
Dart also said:
“It is the tolerance we at Christian Educational Ministries have learned over many years…that makes the CEM Feast of Tabernacles and its Internet forum possible. It doesn’t require any compromise with right and wrong, merely a humility that comes from being wrong too many times and a willingness to grant others the right to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons.”
So here we have Dart making it crystal clear that Armstrongism was definitely not going to a part of his new ministry. Yet, in CGI there are a number of ministers in that organization who are vehemently opposed to criticisms of Herbert Armstrong. This is not just characteristic of some CGI ministers in the US, but also characteristic of some in Canada and Jamaica. Instead of rejecting Armstrongism as Dart does, they embrace what some of them call “reformed Armstrongism.” So we have two different aspects of two different cultures that could prove to be irreconcilable.
Another problem is in the area of church government. When the idea of a joint CGI/CEM feast site was first floated, some CEM supporters were upset at the very thought. One CEM supporter produced an email where he pointed out that most churches which support CEM are congregational where the brethren select their own elders and deacons. CGI’s churches have pastors who appointed by and answer to the corporate office -- not to the local brethren. As far as the writer of the email was concerned, “This church governance issue is a deal-breaker because CGI is in no way democratic. And I am not alone on this.”
We also have a major difference that revolves around how the opening night services are conducted at CGI feast sites vs. what has traditionally been done at the CEM feast sites when Dart was still alive.
Over the years, CEM’s opening night church service would include a message about the birth of Christ. This goes back to the old teaching in the Worldwide Church of God that Jesus was probably born in the Autumn – perhaps even on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. In CEM’s opening night services, there would be songs such as Handel’s “Joy to the World the Lord Has Come” which some in CGI label “a Christmas carol.”
During the planning stages for the 2016 Land Between the Lakes feast site, the CEM supporters wanted the opening night services to include these birth of Christ messages and songs that CEM had been doing for years. In the end, this had to be rejected because there was no doubt that most CGI members would be offended.
Further, there is the problem of competing definitions regarding the question, “Who is and who is not a Christian?” For years, CEM has stated that many Sunday-keepers could very well be Christians who will be in the First Resurrection. This goes against what many CGI ministers believe. For example, a recent CGI “Armor of God” program hosted by Bill Watson and Wayne Hendrix entitled “Can a Christian Be Unconverted?” stated (at the 5:18 mark), “There’s what? One and a half to two billion Christians on planet Earth. Most of them – the overwhelming majority of that number – are nominal…Christians.”
Ron Dart would adamantly oppose that statement Accepting the possibility of the conversion of non-ACOG Christians was fundamental to Dart. Conversely, denying the possibility of the conversion of non-AOG Christians seems to be fundamental to CGI’s Armor of God presenters.
Finally, we come to perhaps the most important reason why there should be no merger between CGI and CEM: This idea goes against the wishes of CEM’s founders, Ron and Allie Dart. From the beginning, they have always wanted CEM to be a stand-alone ministry that will not be in any way absorbed or led by another organization. Allie is still adamant about it.
At the 2016 Land Between the Lakes feast site, it was mentioned to the congregation that, a few years prior, Ron had been approached about a the possibility of a joint CGI/CEM feast. The speaker recounted that Ron replied, “It’s time.” This story is no doubt accurate. But Dart’s statement (“It’s time.”) should only be applied in the context of feast cooperation. It should not be extended to include any sort of merger or combining or affiliation or unification or alliance or whatever spin/label is put on such possible future action.
When Dart set up CEM, he clearly articulated that he wanted CEM and its culture to be distinct from the ACOGs. He knew it was vital to CEM’s survival that it be kept corporately separate from the other ACOGs.
Now we get into the question, “Can CEM continue as an independent, stand-alone ministry without being taken over by another ACOG? The chances of this approach succeeding will probably depend on which individual ends up at the helm of CEM. In the past, there have been numerous candidates who were considered to take the reins of CEM. Dave III was not the first attempt. In fact, he was selected only after discussions and interviews had failed with several other men. Here are a few:
Richard Crow. Richard would probably not be a good fit because he currently works as a high-priced lawyer. CEM could never match his current pay. Taking over CEM would require him to abandon his lifestyle back at his nice subdivision in Houston. It would not be pleasant for his family to relocate to rural East Texas which is not known as an urbane social mecca for the arts. Further, Richard is not considered to be one of the better speakers in the ACOG movement. And perhaps most importantly, Richard’s father, George, is on the board of directors of CGI. This might be viewed as a conflict of interest by those who wish to keep CEM truly independent.
Mardy Cobb. On one hand, part of the CEM office staff has been actively promoting Mardy to the CEM board because he is a good speaker and writer. On the other hand, Allie does not want him in that position because she isn’t convinced that Mardy would be enthusiastic about promoting Ron’s works. She is fearful that any new head of CEM might make modifications (even minor ones) to Ron’s teachings similar to (but not as far-reaching as) what was done by Joe Tkach when he ascended to the leadership of WCG. Also, Mardy has his own ministry which he would be loath to abandon.
Wesley White. Wesley and Allie have had lengthy discussions on at least three occasions about his coming on board CEM, but each time one of them had a change of heart and pulled back. One of the sticking points is Wesley’s being non-political while Allie has stated that, since Ron was a Republican, she wants this new person to be a Republican also. Wesley and Allie still maintain a personal friendship, but he refuses to get involved in CEM at this time. He has refused recent requests to preach at their Sabbath services. Wesley publicly wears his independence from all church organizations to the point where it sounds to some like a badge of vanity. And like Mardy, Wesley has his own ministry, Dynamic Christian Ministries, which features a weekly internet Facebook/Youtube show. He shows no eagerness to give it up in order to take on what he calls “the drama of CEM.
Brent Kern. Brent has a long history with CEM. He was one of the few featured speakers at the mega CEM feast sites of years past. During those glory years, CEM’s feast preaching was usually limited to Ron, Larry Watkins, John Reedy, and Brent. Brent is considered to be a dynamic speaker and is a good vocalist who enjoys entertaining the congregation. But he seems to have moved too far into Methodism to be an acceptable candidate. His wife is of the Methodist faith and, over the past several years, Brent has spent more time worshipping in Methodist churches than he has with any of the ACOGs. It would be an understatement to say he is not known as a doctrinal purist when it comes to traditional ACOG beliefs.
Larry Watkins. Larry is considered to have a pretty good chance to take over CEM after Allie is out of the picture. After all, Larry was with Ron since CEM’s inception and departed only after Ron found out that, during the early days of Ron’s incapacitation when it was thought Ron only had days to live, Larry had been negotiating to “cooperate with” other ACOGs. Larry was then terminated from CEM, so there is some bad blood in this relationship. Larry is not considered a good speaker, but he has the support of some CEM board members. Allie recently asked the CEM board to promise in writing that they would not bring Larry on board after she is gone. The board adamantly refused to put this pledge in writing although Allie was given somewhat of a verbal commitment. Needless to say, Allie has no faith in any verbal promise from a board she has long ago lost confidence in. The bottom line is that, if you are a gambler, put your money on Larry if the hiring for this position can be put off until Allie is gone.
Unless… Yes, there is an “unless.” Larry is getting up there in years and friends notice he is getting feebler these days. In that case, in it conceivable that CEM could be headed up by Larry’s close friend, John Reedy. John is a successful Tyler businessman who, like Larry, was heavily involved in CEM from the beginning. It is rumored that John is considering retirement from that business. So we may see John take over CEM using Larry part time. John’s assuming the helm of CEM would create a closer relationship between CEM and CGI because of the fact that John is on the board of directors of CGI. If CEM were managed by Watkins and/or Reedy, it would indeed be a defacto acquisition of CEM by CGI because Watkins and Reedy would both take their direction from CGI. There is no way that either of these men would operate independently of CGI.
Finally, it is good to be reminded that, just because an idea may look good on paper, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a truly viable plan. The ACOG groups, while doctrinally similar, have evolved into some very different corporate cultures. CEM’s leadership and any potential partner’s leadership would be wise to fully examine and comprehend these differences so they don’t make a serious mistake in this matter.
It is unfortunate that issues like this are decided behind closed doors by our “betters” who feel no need to consult with the lay people. It is sad because we are the ones who tithe and pay the bills for these organizations. We pay the salaries of these leaders.
Too many times, the brethren are told of these decisions only after it is fate accompli. At that point, the only decision we have is whether to stay or go. In other words, voting with our feet. And this is why their numbers continue to dwindle.
All of this bears watching. It will not be dull.