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Copyright © Jules Dervaes

February 10, 2011

A compilation of comments from discussions with Jules Dervaes

Twenty-five years ago, on February 10, 1986, Jules Dervaes wrote a letter to Joseph Tkach, Sr., whom Herbert W. Armstrong had designated as the next Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God before his death (January 16, 1986). The letter expressed a personal concern but also addressed the matter of a pervasive, underlying culture that had developed in the church—one whereby ministers were identifying themselves with the truth. Mr. Dervaes wrote his first letter with much trepidation but with firm conviction, stating, “I am responsible for what I know.”

A series of letters followed, written over the next nine months to the church authorities, including repeated requests for a personal response from or a meeting with Mr. Tkach. None was granted. In October 1986, Jules Dervaes’s membership in the church was revoked through his being disfellowshipped. This forced separation, both organizational and social, signaled an end to the private phase of his search for truth and began the next chapter—a public witness.

These letters and openly distributed “scrolls” were insightful and prescient analyses of harmful attitudes in the church’s leadership, laying out the likely consequences if those mind-sets were not corrected. The subsequent splintering of the church, beginning in 1989, proved Mr. Dervaes’s warnings accurate. The reluctant messenger had been vindicated, but it was a bitter “victory.”

Ten years later, in 1999, Mr. Dervaes reflected on the importance of researching history as the only way “to understand today [and] to know what direction to take for the future” (“History: Research or Rehash?”). Rather than ignore the unpleasant and painful events of the past, a complete and honest examination should be undertaken so that the lessons of that history can be uncovered and applied to the present. “Failure to do so will only mean that we will end up making the same mistakes, as our present circumstances clearly confirm” (Dervaes, The Hidden Years-About”).

Mr. Armstrong often spoke of the principle of “duality,” a method of interpretation that seeks to understand the original setting of a text or meaning of an event but then also applies the patterns discerned to current and future events or to a personal situation. This task requires an active, ongoing and in-depth engagement with the LIVING WORD.

It is a common observation that the Bible does NOT whitewash its accounts. The tales told are often sordid and unflattering in the extreme. They are stories of failure. They describe the human condition,
unedited. But, the Bible also chronicles the growth and character-building that can happen when one is confronted with one’s mistakes, however grievous, and given a chance to make restitution. King David is a classic example.

However, the human preference is to forget the losses of the past and move on to a new life—often in a new place. Seeking immediate relief, people grasp at momentary comfort and temporary pleasure, thereby shunning the opportunity to change. Rather than remembering what happened and taking responsibility for failure, escaping is chosen as better than facing (or being faced with) what has been ruined.

When the occasion arose to return to a destroyed Jerusalem, first under Zerubbabel and then with Ezra, a majority of the Babylonian captives chose to remain in their new land (Dervaes, 1983, “Yearning for the Kingdom”). Returning meant they would have to face their failures as they lived amidst the rubble in the ruined surroundings of Jerusalem and come up with the real answer why the Babylonians had been allowed to conquer their land.

Where is the spirit of remembering, of returning? There is a torture in going back to face failure. The natural direction is to keep moving away, to keep distance from what has been lost, because it is too painful. To overcome human nature, we need God’s help—to move towards true godly sorrow and repentance.

As Mr. Dervaes observed a few short months after the horrific events and loss of life on September 11, 2001:

What worries me is how easy it is for me to forget even the worst past tragedy and live so secludedly, so splendidly in the present’s magic moment. The quickness with which loss is dealt with today is eerie. […]

To mourn is a lost ‘art’ in the West. To grieve by wearing black is out of place, positively old-fashioned to the point of being considered morbid. In Victorian times the traditional mourning period for a widow ran for two and a half years. Today, a black veil is a relic. Why would we want to waste precious time remembering those “no longer with us”?

It’s all about establishing value. What we mourn is what we value outside ourselves. To ‘cry’ over an extended time will convey appraised worth. We can’t let life become another throwaway commodity. When there is loss, we need to take precious time and walk the path in tears.

In the church and in our personal lives, we need to recover the lost art of mourning and “remember Zion.”

In a report about the recent conference held by the United Church of God following a major split, a UCG leader described his rosy outlook in this way:

What a wonderful and energized conference we just held in Cincinnati! Several of you commented about our new beginning, energy and enthusiasm to preach the gospel, as well as to serve the churches. […]

We were heartened by the optimistic spirit of moving on. We have come through a serious separation, yet we are optimistic for a strong recovery.

The time to mourn has not passed. We need to open ourselves to a heart- and gut-felt sorrow over our failures and cultivate a longing for what has been lost. Only then will we know the “total emotional involvement” necessary to initiate changes. Only through restoring the ruins and never forgetting the lessons can we truly move forward.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1).

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