On Saturday, November 18, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Executive Committee of Fifth Epochal Fellowship (FEF) as one of three representatives of Urantia Society of Greater New York. The meeting was open to all of the Societies, and over 100 Urantia Book readers came to gain a greater understanding of recent events involving Urantia Foundation and the former Urantia Brotherhood.
After a period of silent communion, President Dave Elders opened the meeting. he said that recent events should be viewed as an "opportunity for growth and self-government" for FEF without the controlling influence of Urantia Foundation. Several Executive Committee members then spoke to illustrate the severe problems the former Brotherhood had in working with Urantia Foundation.
FEF Vice President Marilyn Kulieke pointed out how difficult it has been for many years to implement resolutions made by Society representatives at the Triennial Delegate Assembly due to interference from Urantia Foundation. One example she gave was the ongoing four-year ordeal to publish a resource guide. She emphasized that, while Urantia Brotherhood's constitution made the General Council accountable to the Societies, in practice it had largely and inappropriately been accountable to the Foundation.
Harry McMullan, Chairman of the Domestic Extension Committee, has been one of the more outspoken critics of the previous Brotherhood/Foundation relationship. He said the Brotherhood had been "enablers" too long, that is it had allowed itself to be manipulated because of fear of retribution (removal of use of the trademarks) by the Foundation. He added that this is "not a disagreement between reasonable people." As the principle architect of the new Area Coordinator program, Harry also complained of the Foundation's recent strong criticism of the program even after each Trustee had individually expressed support for it earlier this year. (This support was given with the understanding that the area coordinators would not be promoters, but rather resources and networkers, as had always been the intent of the Brotherhood anyway).
Steve Dreier, Chairman of the Judicial Committee, said that the Foundation's argument that they are ending relations with the General Council, but that this should not affect the Societies, is like the President of the U.S. dissolving Congress and saying it doesn't affect the people. He also gave a bit of a historical perspective of the current situation by citing several examples of what he felt were controlling and interfering actions by Urantia Foundation. One example was a 1987 letter from the Foundation to the Brotherhood which said it would consider terminating the licensing agreement if the Brotherhood went ahead with a proposal to undertake market research to make data available to the Foundation to assist it in improving the dust jacket and the distribution and marketing of the Book. He also read an August 1987 letter from the Foundation expressing serious concerns about the Brotherhood selling secondary works (such as the Concordex and Paramony). And he told how the Executive Committee wanted to communicate to the Brotherhood membership some of the recent problems between it and the Foundation, but the Foundation said the membership was not entitled to know the details of the discussions which had been taking place between the two organizations.
Dave Elders spoke briefly again to say that FEF had decided not to pursue lawsuits against Urantia Foundation even though it had been advised that it would likely win. The principle reason was that FEF didn't want to use large amounts of contributed funds or energies in such non-spiritual ways.
Dave also announced that Bill Hales, who was present at the meeting, had just resigned his position as Trustee Emeritus of Urantia Foundation due to his inability to "support the recent decisions and actions of the trustees toward Urantia Brotherhood." Bill is a founding Trustee of Urantia Foundation, its first President, and has been involved with the fifth epochal revelation since Forum days.
Next, the three resigned Trustees spoke. For me, this was the most interesting part of the meeting. Frank Sagarino began with some comments. and was soon inundated with questions which he, Gloriann Harris and Helena Sprague tried to answer. It was pointed out that as former trustees, they could answer questions related only to the process, not to the content of Foundation business.
Frank began by saying that when he became a trustee, he couldn't understand why the Brotherhood wasn't getting things done. He now believes it was because of control and interference by the Foundation. He said that the Foundation President, Martin Meyers viewed the Foundation as a controller of the Brotherhood and occasionally even allowed the Brotherhood to go ahead with its plans on specific projects for long periods of time which he intended to veto, before actually vetoing them.
Frank said that, while Martin didn't intimidate the other trustees (although not all the ex-trustees agreed with this), he manipulated the process within the Foundation by controlling the agenda. Martin sought unanimous votes, and so would not bring anything to a vote unless he knew he could get unanimous support. Consequently, many items of business in which opinions diverged were never addressed. Both Helena and Frank emphasized that important Foundation business was not getting done. A typical agenda for a meeting of the trustees contained 40 items and some of the were repeatedly not being addressed.
Internal problems within the Foundation came to a head back in February, 1989, when, in response to the poor state of communications between Urantia Foundation and Urantia Brotherhood an ad hoc committee was requested by some of the trustees, and Hoite Caston, Frank and Gloriann were appointed. In establishing the committee, Martin agreed to resign as president if two or more members of the ad hoc committee thought he wasn't performing his functions properly. By March, the committee had developed a comprehensive program to improve the functioning of the Foundation. This program included both general and specific recommendations to assure a healthy working relationship with the Brotherhood over both the near and very long term. The committee felt that if Martin were to change his operating methods and carry the program out, it would have made the Foundation a stronger organization. In a meeting with the committee, Martin accepted the plan and agreed to try to communicate more appropriately and effectively with the Brotherhood.
However, soon thereafter, contrary to the principles in the program he had just agreed to, Martin told the ad hoc committee the "we cannot trust the Brotherhood," and Frank said this was the final straw, the point at which he decided to resign his position a trustee. After two and a half years as a trustee, Frank felt he could no longer accept the interference and deception and the compromising of himself and his principles. Frank intended to make his resignation official only after the CUBS litigation, which he supported, was settled. Until that time, Martin asked that he not say anything about his decision. Frank now believes he made the right decision to resign.
Meanwhile, after some discussion among members of both the ac hoc committee and the Foundation, it was felt that removal of Martin from the position of Foundation President (which takes three votes; removal of a trustee takes four votes) would not have solved the internal problems of the Foundation as Martin would have still remained a trustee. Frank said one just had to experience working with Martin first-hand to understand his ability to manipulate Foundation operations.
Shortly thereafter, on April 29, 1989, Martin was unanimously re-elected President. Based on discussions I have had with many people since the November meeting, I have come to the following conclusions about this vote:
Frank voted for Martin primarily because he had already announced his intention to resign (on April 24), and he was concerned that a negative vote would give the wrong impression that the trustees were divided over the issue of the CUBS lawsuit. I believe he now thinks his vote was a mistake because of the unforeseen implications of that unanimous vote in light of subsequent events.
Helena voted for Martin under the mistaken impression (since she was not present at the ad hoc committee meetings) that he still intended to abide by the principles outlined in the ad hoc committee's report.
Gloriann voted for Martin because she had not given up hope that Martin would modify his management style with the help of the ad hoc committee's reorganization plan. But within a few weeks she also came to the conclusion that this wasn't going to happen, and on May 15, she announced her intention to resign once the CUBS lawsuit was settled.
Helena, who became a trustee in April 1985, also shared some other experiences. At her first Foundation meeting, she said she disagreed with Martin on some issues, and from then on she was "bracketed". At that first meeting, Martin named four people (all Urantia Book readers and personal friends of Helena's) whom she was not supposed to talk to anymore. Helena felt free to talk to them anyway, and this was part of Martin's case against her that "she could not be trusted." Helena said she had not resigned earlier because she wanted to wait until the CUBS lawsuit was settled. Like Frank, she supported the lawsuit and did not want to give the impression that the trustees were divided over this issue. Like Frank, she resigned in part because she could no longer accept the interference, deception and compromising of herself.
Gloriann emphasized that the three resignations were three individual decisions, not a single political decision. She also said that she had no knowledge of illegalities or fraud by any current or former trustee.
After the former trustees spoke, a few former Brotherhood presidents made brief comments. In particular, past president Paul Snider reiterated that we need to choose the spiritual perspective when viewing the current situation. We should not stand aside and let the spiritual nature be sucked out of the movement. He felt that now we can get on with the real work and mission of the organization.
During the latter half of the meeting, the following additional comments and information were given:
With 80% of new readers being introduced to the Book through personal contacts, we should not be concerned about new readers being unaware of FEF. Besides, FEF is not in competition with the Foundation's new Urantia Brotherhood Association (UBA); we should in fact welcome membership in both organizations (although the Foundation apparently strongly opposes this).
Despite the general feeling among the Executive Committee members and most meeting attendees that the committee had made the right decisions in response to Foundation actions, several Society representatives expressed their continued sadness and/or frustration regarding the separation of the two organizations The long term hope of many Urantia Book readers is that the relationship between the Foundation and FEF can be renewed at the level it was before. Unfortunately, one current trustee had very recently expressed his opinion to one of the meeting attendees that this is very unlikely, and implied that the Foundation would be unwilling to establish communications with any organization it does not control.
But on a note of optimism, Meredith Sprunger pointed out that the history of religious movements on this planet is that they generally start with unity under a strong leader, split up (which may be the Spirit's way of instilling dynamism through diversity), and finally reunify.
For me, the meeting last November resolved most of my confusion regarding many issues. The central issue motivating FEF actions is one of control - FEF (correctly, I believe) should be an independently run organization representing its membership according to its constitution, willing to work with but not be controlled by the Foundation. And it is important to understand that this independence should by no means conflict with FEF's ongoing responsibility to support the legal mandates and ideals specifically shared with Urantia Foundation as outlined in its Declaration of Trust.
A separate but obviously related issue, I believe, is the internal management problems in Urantia Foundation. I have no idea how these problems will or should be resolved within the Foundation, but however things turn out, we should continue to pray for and support all individuals involved and strive to act wisely and lovingly, even mercifully, in response to those who disagree with or hurt us.
Finally, I believe the events of this past year will, over the long run, allow the former Brotherhood to become more open, more spiritually motivated, and more effective. As I talk to more people and my understanding of recent events has progressed, I have become increasingly optimistic that, despite the daunting challenges facing us, the future of the dissemination of the fifth epochal revelation is brighter than ever.
A Service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship