Re: A Statement Reported in Truth Magazine and Attributed to Brother Doyle Banta
Ron Halbrook - Nashville, Tennessee
Steve Wolfgang - Franklin, Tennessee
(That He Wished An Airplane Would Fail On Willis' House)
We do not wish to intervene where we have no business or interest, but we do want to report and comment where we think appropriate. This report is based on our own inquiries; we made them because of (1) our personal interest in the matter, as we know the people involved personally; (2) our at-that-time pending addition to the Truth Magazine staff, and thus our desire to know exactly what was involved in this reported incident, to the best of our ability; and (3) our desire to help Brother Willie gather all pertinent facts, which help he requested when it first came to his :attention that a mistake might have been made. We did then and do now appreciate the fact that brethren Cecil Willis and Earl Robertson were making efforts to correct any mistake made.
Obviously Brother Doyle Banta's own explanation would be of prime importance, but so would the testimony of anyone who claimed to have heard Brother Banta make the statement. So we attempted to examine both sides of this coin. Without planning it, we almost immediately had an opportunity to hear the explanations of the two brethren in Christ who (supposedly) originated the story--one of whom was supposed to be an ear-witness. This contact was made July 5, 1974. The latter brother denied having any knowledge of Brother Banta's having made anything like the airplane statement attributed to him. But his cohort claimed to have personal knowledge that his brother had told others the story and had claimed to be in Brother Banta's presence when the airplane statement was made. (He explained his brother's reluctance to own up to the story as a reluctance to "get involved.") In fact, this cohort was so sure of the matter that he said (or words to this effect), "Brother Banta has not written a public denial, has he? And he won't write one either. Tell Cecil, whatever he does, not to retract the report!" (The last sentence is almost if not altogether verbatim; it was spoken with great emphasis.) In view of the possibility that one of the two brethren was confused, each was double checked on the same day. Neither changed or altered his story.
A letter to Brother Doyle Banta dated July 8 requested that he confirm, deny, or clarify the report of the airplane statement. By phone on July 21, he denied that he said it seriously if he said it at all. Furthermore, he could not remember having said anything like that even jokingly. Brother Banta said he would not write a public denial, because his friends would know the story was not true anyway and someone who would believe the story did not much matter to him. He added that the more substantive issues in the grace-unity controversy were not going to be solved either-referring specifically to "squabbling" (his word) over such issues as 2 Jn. 9 (which he indicated is ambiguous). It was also suggested that Brother Banta might contact Brother Willis and give him the benefit of a personal denial, in keeping with Matt. 18, in view of Banta's obvious conviction that Willis had done him wrong in publishing the report. Brother Banta indicated he would not take the suggestion.
On July 31, a letter was sent to the brother who reputedly heard the airplane statement from Banta's own lips, to see if he could offer any clue as to how the story got started. A xerox copy of the letter was sent to the brother on Oct. 4, 1974, in the absence of any reply. No reply or acknowledgment from him ever came.
Several weeks later, the effort to get to the bottom of the matter was taken another step. The brother who claimed to have personal knowledge of the reputed earwitness repeating the Banta story, was spoken to again. In the phone conversation, he was again most adamant in confirming the story as having come from said source. The monotonous round was completed several weeks later when said source again adamantly denied the whole thing by phone:
Our Own Conclusions and Comments
We are glad to offer Cecil Willis any help we can in clarifying the matter at hand, and that is the reason for this written report to him (dated Mar. 7, 1975). It is to be used publicly or privately, in whole or in part, as he sees fit.
Any number of courses might seem better by hindsight, but we are convinced that Brother Willis acted upon what appeared to be a reliable source and we appreciate now his continuing effort to make any needed correction. If Brother Willis made a mistake, though inadvertently, we hope he will be man enough to make appropriate apologies for his part in the matter. Furthermore, we believe he is man enough to do just that if the facts gathered merit it. And further than that, we hope all others who contributed to the error, however inadvertently, will be men enough to make appropriate apologies and corrections. Regrettable as our mistakes may be, we grow by facing up to them and correcting them so far as we can. When we see a mistake has been made and refuse to own up to it, we not only show our smallness, we make ourselves smaller still. Who was that wise man who said, "Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them"?
One thing is certain: Mistakes have been made. It seems obvious some of the rnistakers intend neither confession nor correction, but rather continued coverup. An honest and honorable effort has been made to aid WHOEVER may have made the mistakes in this matter to clear them up; we know nothing more to do. We believe honest mistakes will be followed by honest effort at correction. But here is the saddest part of it all: What may have started out as honest mistakes on the part of someone has turned into dishonest mistakes. This is evident by the irreconcilable testimony given by some, and subsequently by their absolute refusal to take full responsibility for their actions and speech.
Finally, under the circumstances, we find it difficult to attribute the airplane statement to Brother Banta in view of his private denial. At the same time, we find his reluctance to supply Brother Willis with a public denial absolutely mystifying! Surely Brother Banta realizes that many of his friends and brethren have not had a chance to hear his private explanation of the public report and therefore would appreciate the benefit of some statement on his part. The debonair, detached, aloof attitude of some brethren these days is a little hard to take. Paul did not mind repeating publicly testimony he considered well founded (1 Cor. 1, 16) nor replying publicly to that which was not (2 Thess. 2). The wisdom of Brother Banta following the same course in the present matter may be seen from the comment of one of his friends, "I do not know whether Brother Banta made the reported statement about the airplane or not, but I could easily picture him doing so in a joking or off-the-cuff way" (or words to that effect).
P. S. Brother Edward Fudge has attempted to cast doubt on the veracity of the reference to himself that appeared in the same article that mentioned Brother Banta: Therefore, we should re-affirm here that there is no question of doubt, on that matter. Both of us were eye and ear witnesses to his agitated condition and to his statement that he wanted a stop put to "this spreading of damn lies." Since Ed is telling some inquirers that he was not even upset during the reported conversation, we should point out that that explanation only makes things worse. Is he sure he wants brethren to think he calmly and coolly uttered such language, rather than under the heat of anger? We repeat, therefore, that if there may be a question of error in the Banta incident, there is no question regarding the Fudge incident.
In view of the response of some, "even if you prove a man is a horse thief, you do not disprove his teachings," we should point out the incident was never reported to prove a doctrine right or wrong. Neither was it repeated as a means of personal vindictiveness. The point was, and still is: The debonaire, detached, aloof attitude mentioned above is matched only by the equally self-righteous attitude of super-piety. The sugary-sweet, super-piety just is not there. Is it not the pattern of false teachers to talk of love and good-will, but "to let their teeth show" when pinned down? (Statement written March 17, 1975.)
Truth Magazine XIX: 21, pp. 332-334