Harsh Treatment at Florida College
Over the past few years various speakers at the annual lecture program at Florida College have aimed their barbs at some brethren who have challenged the spreading erroneous views touching fellowship with those who teach error and who have been critical of a general softening on moral and doctrinal issues. This has been done with increasing frequency. Some in attendance have not caught the significance of this but others have clearly understood the meaning. It was for that reason that I wrote brother Caldwell after the lectures in February 2000 and told him I would not be attending any more lecture programs there until there is a change in direction.
Their handling of things involving the use of Hill Roberts and Shane Scott in the matter of the days of creation was most disappointing. Some faculty members (thankfully not all) have repeated the line, “Does it really matter?” “Do we really have to decide?” Brethren (I was one) who signed a letter expressing concern about this have been branded as “creed makers,” “brotherhood bosses,” and “fools.”
But what takes the cake was the recent treatment of Donnie V. Rader during the annual lecture program in February 2001. I was not present for reasons already stated. But I have read the statements which were handed out after brother Rader spoke. In addition to the printed response, Bob Owen was allowed to read his statement to the audience. Buddy Payne, a college administrator, helped to hand out the responses of Bob Owen and Ed Harrell. These statements were prepared well in advance. Brother Harrell said that his response was “at the urging of a number of friends.” So, a number of people connected with the college had discussed this with him. According to one Bible faculty member brother Rader’s manuscript was discussed in Bible /faculty meetings from the time it was received. Yet, brother Rader was given all of ten minutes notice just before he spoke that a reply was to be read, and that it, along with others, would be handed out, and that he would not be allowed to respond.
Folks, do you remember what happened to Robert Bork about his nomination to the Supreme Court of this nation? A studied and calculated drive was mounted to discredit him and it worked. Well, Florida College “Borked” Donnie Rader in February 2001, and along with him, sought to discredit and silence those who stand where he does on the matters at hand.
Donnie Rader is able to answer for himself and has done so in posting the written responses from Bob Owen, Ed Harrell and Earl Kimbrough, along with his reply to each of them (available on the internet at truthmagazine.com). Documentation has been shown which proves that there was no misrepresentation of the views of these three men. I have also read the material referenced in brother Rader’s speech and attributed to these men and what he reported is the fair import of what they said.
Bob Owen made it clear that he would practice hit and run. He said he would not participate in an on-going fray and urged all to save their stamps and e-mails. He charged our brother with misrepresentation, imputing false motives to him and said his conduct was “Phariseeism in full bloom.” We leave it to the readers to see for yourselves what he said and decide. He accused Donnie Rader of lying. These statements from the former president of Florida College have great weight with a host of brethren because of the great confidence we have all had in brother Owen. These words constitute heavy artillery against a gospel preacher who made a speech which brother Owen himself commended. Those who know Bob Owen well, trust and respect him, but those who do not know Donnie Rader will tend to discount what Donnie said. Confidence in him as a man and a preacher will be shattered in the minds of those who do not fully investigate for themselves.
Ed Harrell’s response was even worse. He complains that his views on these matters are public record and that his writings have been distorted in “I think, extremist, publications.” This is not new language for Ed Harrell. He admits to being the author of a letter which was sent out to readers of Christianity Magazine which said, “Do not be misled by extremists who have their own cause to promote.” He also said, “We do not intend to ‘line up’ followers or create a party. We decry the transparent efforts of others to do precisely that” (Report, Nov., 1992). He accused brother Rader of “reckless charges.” That is not new either. In the above “Report” he said, “Christianity Magazine has been attacked . . . in a manner we consider reckless and irresponsible.” He charges that Brother Rader’s reference to his public writings are a part of “MaCarthyesque efforts to destroy the right of individual conscience and congregational autonomy” and with “clumsy efforts to creedalize the plea to restore New Testamant Christianity” which would reduce that plea to a “caricature of that grand message.” It is this sneering disdain for brother Rader and indirectly for all who stand where he does which has been heard in the sarcastic barbs (sometimes drawing audience applause) from the podium at the Florida College lectures the last few years.
The response from Earl Kimbrough was the worst of the three. He referred to “Brother Rader’s rattling” and said, “That’s come to be expected from the council of brotherhood correctness.” He challenged Rader’s motives. He worried about “unthinking brethren” who will “take what the great Sanhedrin says regardless of the facts in the matter.” Brother Rader is portrayed as part of those “who want to direct the brotherhood without sufficient Scriptural tools to effect the direction.” Then he classes brother Rader with the liars of Revelation 21:8.
I have been good friends with all three of these brethren who responded so bitterly to Donnie Rader. I was in school with Bob Owen. My first wife and I used to double-date with Bob and Janelle. Earl Kimbrough and I were roommates one year at Florida College. He wrote a very good column in Searching the Scriptures for several years. I have worked a number of times with Ed Harrell and our acquaintance has always been pleasant even when we disagreed. But brethren, I also know Donnie V. Rader. I worked with him at Manslick Road where he was the preacher for nine years. I have worked side by side with him in publishing Searching the Scriptures for several years. He is pure in heart, devoted to the Lord, a good student of God’s word, fair and reasonable in his practices. His convictions are deeply rooted in divine truth. He is not now, nor has he ever been a part of a “council of brotherhood correctness” nor a member of “the Great Sanhedrin.” These are figments of brother Kimbrough’s imagination. There is nothing brotherly about these serious charges. This is the kind of rhetoric we became accustomed to during the days of the institutional battle when the “yellow tag of quarantine” was imposed. To have these charges circulated by college administrators, and for the president to allow a verbal response with no opportunity to make any sort of defense is a shame and disgrace. The lack of basic civility in this whole affair is a great change from the past at Florida College.
While I do not expect to ever be invited to speak there again, should such an invitation be offered, it would be declined. One “Borking” is enough! “We have compassed this mountain long enough.” I know not what course others may take, but as for me, my face will be seen there no more. I will not encourage one more youth to attend and I will not help to pay the way for one more student. The school will go on without my help. But as it moves on, parents and grandparents need to consider which direction it is moving. The treatment of Donnie Rader is a clear indication of the disdain felt, not just for him, but for any who might stand where he does on these matters of such concern to all of us. A line has been drawn in the sand. A different mind set has been clearly established.
I close by an appeal to the inspired and inerrant word of God as the answer to every issue which confronts the Lord’s people. Unity is pleasant, desirable, commanded, but in order to have it we must all “walk by the same rule” and thereby “mind the same thing” (Phil. 3:16).
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Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 11 p8 June 7, 2001