Feature Article

The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century;
Homer Hailey's Personal Journey of Faith

A Review

Steve Wallace


Ed Harrell's book on bro. Hailey, which was over ten years in the making, is now available to readers. When my copy came, I zeroed in on the chapter dealing with the current controversies over unity-in-diversity with error.

Ed has done a good job of writing, condensing his pages of footnotes and their connecting thoughts into an entertaining and informative narrative. Here is a brief review of the above-mentioned chapter. Since the chapter is clearly weighted in favor of those who have believed and taught unity-in-diversity with regards to error on marriage, divorce and remarriage., it seems fair to give answer to some of what bro. Harrell has written, since it so clearly advances his own teaching in this area.

9 or 10 pages into the chapter entitled "Arizona Retirement, Reluctant Notoriety," a section of the chapter begins with a brief background of some of bro. Hailey's views, moving to his views on marriage, divorce and remarriage. Ed is charitable in quoting brother Hailey in a 1988 statement: "I only recall preaching it (marriage, divorce and remarriage, sw) twice, in California and Alabama by request." (p. 339) Apparently, brother Hailey forgot other times where it is documented he preached on it. In light of the mountain of research Ed very evidently did for this book, it is a remarkable oversight on his part to have failed to document this. However, he is more accurate than some of bro. Hailey's opponents when he later writes: "Jerry Bassett published Rethinking Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, defending many of the same views supported by Hailey..." (p. 351, my emph, sw) He notes that J.T. Smith was bro. Hailey's most consistent critic early on (1976, 1982).

Brother Harrell starts his description of the general controversy over marriage, divorce and remarriage in the liberal camp, telling of the stir made by Jas. D. Bales' book, Not Under Bondage.. In the 2 and 1/2 pages he takes to record these events, brother Bales' pleas for unity-in-diversity and documentation of false views held by W.W. Otey, John T. Lewis, and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. occupy 75 % of the space. Towards the end Ed writes, "The Spiritual Sword continued to try to impose a church wide orthodoxy on the subject" (marriage, divorce and remarriage unity-in-diversity, sw). (p. 343)

As he introduces the section detailing the marriage, divorce and remarriage controversy among conservative brethren (pp. 343-347), once more the material which is more favorable to the toleration of error on the subject gets the lion's share of the space. In light of those whom he quotes (Mike Willis and Ron Halbrook receive a fair amount of representation as the chapter proceeds) it is clear Ed had access to the necessary materials. He fails to note that the application (adultery) of the clearly erroneous teaching of Homer Hailey and others led to an end of the period when many brethren were longsuffering with such men. Searching the Scriptures (a paper that ceased publication in the early 1990's) is described as "a consistent defender of the majority view on divorce and remarriage" (p. 346).

After detailing the flurry of opposition that gradually arose, it says on p. 350, "Hailey was angered and hurt by the personal attacks on him....He was disgusted by the tactics of his assailants, seeing them as men who had no purpose in life except to `get after guys.'" One can't help feeling sorry for Ed as he faithfully performs his stated task of showing these "steps" of bro. Hailey's "personal journey of faith." Rather than speaking of the untold harm done by the error that brother Hailey furthered, both by his own teaching and influence, and by those who preached the views they learned from brother Hailey (a good friend told me how he once believed the aliens are not under the law doctrine because he'd learned it from bro. Hailey at Florida College in the 1950's), his words lead one to have sympathy for bro. Hailey. In truth, bro. Hailey was not attacked. Brethren gave him ample time to change his views. Sooner or later stronger steps had to be taken if brethren were to be faithful to God (2 Cor. 13:1-2,10).

Ed gives ammunition to the forces of error when he tells of bro. Hailey's knowledge that "two of his chief critics, Ron Halbrook and Mike Willis, held different views on the subject of divorce and remarriage." (p. 352) This argument has been oft repeated by those practicing or defending unity-in-diversity on marriage, divorce and remarriage. Let us see how it holds up under examination. Brother Hailey has openly repudiated the principle that there is only one exception to the law forbidding divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:9). In fact, he asserts that it has no application at all to the largest part of humanity. By contrast, brothers Willis and Halbrook fully agree that there is only one exception to the law forbidding divorce and remarriage, as per Matt. 19:9. Almost all brethren who agree to that Bible principle have some degree of differences in how the principle applies to specific details of various cases, situations and scenarios. Ed believes brother Hailey teaches error on marriage, divorce and remarriage which opposes Matt. 19:9, but knows that Mike and Ron agree with the Bible's teaching in Matt. 19:9. He is too astute not to understand this point. It is distressing to see him leave the false impression that Mike and Ron have been exercising partiality and favoritism. Brother Hailey is said to have been "disappointed that so many had closed minds on the subject" of marriage, divorce and remarriage, that the "commitment to open-mindedness had vanished," and said, "all they've heard is tradition. Truth scares people." (p. 352)

Harrell's sociological approach to doctrinal matters (which, as a historian, is understandable, but hurtful in the discussion of the current issues) is clear when he writes, "By the 1980's much had changed in noninstitutional churches of Christ that rendered the group ripe for internal bickering and controversy." (p. 352)

As he moves along, other controversies of the last 20 years are brought forth. As one looks at bro. Harrell's portrayal of the various sides in conflicts it seems, at least to me, that he airs a lot more of the dirty laundry of those fighting for the truth than those who stood against it. Also, the key terms and arguments of the current controversy, such as "like the matter of carnal warfare" and "the term false teacher," appear, which, though facts of the history of the current controversy, help those who would follow bro. Harrell's lead (as taught in Christianity Magazine) with regards to the current issues.

Ed seems guilty of writing history before it is history when he later summarizes the controversy surrounding unity-in-diversity with regards to marriage, divorce and remarriage of the 1990's: "For all the sound and fury, no broad-based platform for division existed among non-institutional churches of Christ in the 1990's. No nexus of issues had emerged that clearly pointed to a divided mind in the movement. It seemed more likely, as in the case of the rebaptism controversy of the 1920's, that the debate over divorce and remarriage would rage for decades before either waning or, less likely, ending with the general acceptance of one position or the other." (p. 360)

Bro. Hailey's favorable view of Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and unfavorable view of Roy E. Cogdill are given. As the chapter closes, Ed sums up Hailey's stance: "He rejected the narrow propositional, creedal approach to restoration thinking that could be found in both institutional and noninstitutional churches of Christ..." (p. 368, my emph, sw) In light of Ed's other writings, it is hard to see here that he believes that churches have a creed that must be preached in every church if men are to be saved (Mk. 16:15; Matt. 28:20; Jno. 8:32; 1 Cor. 4:17; Col. 3:17; 1 Jno. 1:3). Rather, it seems he uses the term disparagingly, arguing as he implicitly does in his series in Christianity Magazine, for the institution (church) which came from the truth to be viewed as a source of authority (the Roman Catholic concept).

It is disappointing to see a historian of Ed's caliber show such a lack of objectivity and be so obviously biased against the truth as he is in the above reviewed chapter. All in all, in spite of Ed's other writings which influenced this reader's view of the above reviewed chapter, brother Harrell has authored a book that is worth reading.


e-mail this author at styvas@mindspring.com

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