UCG was founded just weeks after the famous doctrinal changes of WCG, which occurred in the mid-nineties. UCG was founded by former WCG pastors, who claimed to be shocked at the doctrinal changes following the so-called “Christmas Eve sermon”.
However, I’m skeptical of their claim of surprise, as the doctrinal changes in WCG (later renamed “Grace Communion International” or “GCI”) had apparently occurred within the organization over the course of years, with the major announcement having occurred after the changes were well underway.
To know how this can happen, it helps to understand the concept of scrambling.
Popular thinking goes that when a cult wants to make a significant doctrinal change, they need only announce the change, and it’s expected of the faithful laity to comply. In reality, it’s not that simple, especially when the sought-after change is so drastic that resistance on the part of the congregation is to be expected. That’s where scrambling might be more effective.
Scrambling is the act of introducing a change in a group’s doctrine by inducing confusion to the doctrine in question. Often, this involves intentional vagueness with the doctrine, and perhaps even encouraging tolerance of alternative interpretations. Eventually, the leadership decides to issue a clarification on the matter (that they themselves confused), and the congregation largely accepts it, out of relief that the confusion has been resolved.
As has been pointed out by many who have left WCG in the early nineties, the doctrinal changes weren’t an immediate occurrence that happened in 1995. By that point, many of Herbert Armstrong’s teachings were already changed or discarded. The scrambling process had already been underway for years; the Christmas Eve sermon was merely the point of “clarification”.
One thing to know about cults that engage in scrambling is that they’re in it for the long haul. Scrambling can be a long, long process, especially if the change is dramatic. When Joseph Tkach delivered his Christmas Eve sermon, he overestimated just how well his audience would receive his message. Much of the WCG membership would depart the organization, while those remaining largely withheld tithes.
Considering the years-long process of scrambling, one should be skeptical of the UCG’s founding pastors’ claims of surprise at the doctrinal changes that took place at WCG, especially as UCG has been shaped by those who had previously worked closely with Joseph Tkach, including David Hulme, Victor Kubik, Dennis Luker, and Robin Webber. If those names sound familiar to UCG attendees, it’s because the first three have been UCG presidents (and one currently is).
In light of this, one who is currently in UCG should definitely be paying attention to whether the organization is becoming more wishy-washy in foundational doctrines. This may be tricky, as the changes may have been occurring over the course of years, or perhaps even over a decade. This is especially true as relates to teachings regarding covenants, lawkeeping, and grace.
Any gradual shifts, when questioned, would likely be written off as having occurred as a result of continually making new discoveries about the Scriptures. But be warned that if you were to go about questioning possible changes, your hypothetical dossier could end up being updated with you being indicated as problematic, which could come with it a subtle discouragement in your participation, as you’d be identified as a possible source of divisiveness. As I’ve observed in the past, the leadership of UCG views it as incumbent on themselves to tend to “fanaticism” as it develops, though the writer was vague on what that meant.
One might think that UCG would be more enthusiastic about bringing more young people into Biblical Christianity, but if their goal were to silently quash the few Biblical Christians that remain, their relative lack of outreach would be easy to comprehend.