A Response by Ed Harrell

By Ed Harrell

Mike, I received your letter of March 19 with a copy of the article that was published in the Guardian of Truth on April 19 while I was in Europe. Since I returned only a few days ago, this is my first opportunity to offer comments.

As you know, your letter did not indicate that you intended to include the material that was published under the heading “Ed Harrell on Divorce and Remarriage. ” For that piece of irresponsible and libelous journalism, I am asking for a retraction and apology.

Having served for many years as the editor of a magazine, I assume that you feel some obligation to obey copyright laws. Could it possibly be that you are so naive that you do not know that you have no right to publish copyrighted material in your magazine without the consent of the author? Of course, I would be happy to give permission for any proper use – but not for the distorted use you made of this historical passage. Or do you think that you have no obligation to know and obey the laws that control the publication of other people’s material? These laws are intended primarily to protect authors from robbery, but they also guard against malicious efforts to distort. Your use of my material is a good example of why such laws exist.

Your publication of a portion of a historical narrative describing the views of early disciples about marriage under the title “Ed Harrell on Divorce and Remarriage” is, I think, legal libel. You know that this passage has nothing to do with my views on divorce and remarriage. It is not only absurd to imply that a historian’s descriptive narrative is his view, it is a clear and malicious effort to deceive. This deception is confirmed by the fact that I have repeatedly stated my convictions on this subject, including many times in recent months. You knew the article you ran did not state my views on divorce and remarriage and the intent could only have been deception.

You have a right, Mike, to say that my convictions on divorce and remarriage are inconsistent with my view of fellowship. Or, if you have some evidence, that I have spoken inconsistently on that subject. Certainly, you have the right and responsibility to say I am wrong. You do not have a right to lie about my beliefs – either legally or morally.

With regard to the major assertions in your article, I offer these brief comments.

1. I have written sixteen articles in Christianity magazine outlining my understanding of the scriptural and historical nature of fellowship within restoration movements. Anyone interested in my views on that subject should read those articles, not Mike Willis’ selective critique of them. In those articles, I have tried to show how the restoration plea has survived in the real world where brethren disagree about biblical interpretations on many important subjects – including pacifism, the covering, and marriage and divorce, to name a few. Brother Willis argues that brethren can not disagree about any matter of consequence/” faith” (not yet giving us his completed list of those matters that are of consequence). I also believe our disagreements are limited by New Testament guidelines. My guidelines are outlined in my extensive series of articles.

2. In practice, I suspect that the circle of fellowship that I draw is not far different from brother Willis’. Mike’s assertion on page 22 that I endorse any position of divorce and remarriage is flagrantly false. I pointed out in my article that there are many different views on those subjects and that all Christians are left to decide which of those views they will tolerate. I am reasonably certain that all of the staff writers on the Guardian of Truth do not agree about divorce and remarriage. Mike must either tell us what is the acceptable teaching on that subject or outline a principle upon which he tolerates diversity. He has done neither. The latter principle is what I have tried to examine in my series of articles.

3. With regard to your comments about my historical arguments, Mike, I am unclear as to what you are asking. Do you think we should change what happened in the past? Do you think it would be best to ignore what has happened in the past? Do you think we should pay no attention to the practice and arguments of generations past?

Your disenchantment with historical insight rings hollow, of course, since for years you have implored me to update my tract on “,The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination.” As you know, you have frequently told me what a marvelous contribution it was to our understanding of the institutional division – despite, I now take it, of its “neoorthodox” sociological slant. (Such innuendo, by the way, is sheer McCarthyism – an effort to attach a prejudicial name to something you don’t like.) I can only assume that you are now withdrawing your offer to publish the updated tract. It strikes me, Mike, that historical insight is convincing to you in direct proportion to whether it supports or contradicts your prejudices.

4. I understand the historical prejudice of brother Willis. His argument flies into the face of the practice of brethren in both the remote and the recent past. He is presenting us with a new truth. Since he has not acted consistently with this view in the past, I assume that he has only recently arrived at it. It was hardly a startling new revelation when I and some other brethren admitted in recent months that we regarded Homer Hailey as a faithful brother. Hailey had been Vice-President and Head of the Bible Department at Florida College for many years and had been held in the highest esteem (unless there is some colossal hypocrisy abroad) by many of those who have recently argued that he is not fit to be used. Many of his present critics have long served on official boards at the institution where Hailey was the head of the Bible department.

5. The intent of my article about brother Hailey should not be misunderstood. I clearly stated that I did not endorse Hailey’s view on divorce and remarriage, a position I believe is wrong. I simply pointed out that the argument on fellowship that was introduced during the attack on Hailey’s view was new and that it called in question the behavior of all of us who had cordially fellowshipped Homer Hailey for many years, as well as others with whom we disagreed. What disturbed me particularly was the fact that many who espoused this new idea on fellowship equated all disagreement with the institutional division of the 1950s. Such simplistic notions, I believe, reveal a troubling misunderstanding of the institutional division. Brother Willis’ arguments reflect a profound ignorance of the real basis of the institutional division. His notion of fellowship undermines the whole concept of restoring New Testament Christianity. It was that concern, not a personal interest in Homer Hailey, that moved me to write on this subject.

There is nothing wrong with new ideas. If brother Willis and others have discovered a principle of fellowship that proves that all of us erred when we associated with one another in spite of differences of conscience, then I am willing to listen. If it requires every congregation in Alabama to divide on the covering issue (a question which implicates the faith and conscience of thousands of Christians), then let us get about the business of cutting apart the congregations. But I am not prepared to accept this new concept of fellowship until brother Willis tells us the basis upon which he is making his decisions about which teachings on divorce and remarriage are acceptable and which are not, and why other matters of faith are irrelevant. My long series of articles in Christianity outlines the biblical principles that have long controlled my relations with other brethren.

6. With regard to a discussion, I am always open to “fair” and “brotherly” discussion. I can not say that I am surprised that Mike does not like the policies of Christianity magazine. My own estimate – though I do not control the magazine’s policy – is that it is doing a good job of meeting its intended purpose. It could be turned into another Guardian of Truth, but I don’t really think we need another paper doing what the Guardian does quite well.

Mike, I have written sixteen articles outlining my views. I have no intention, nor do I have the time, to enter an extended written rehearsal of those views. As you know, I have a full-time career and it taxes me to fulfill my writing commitments to Christianity magazine.

I would, however, be happy to publicly answer any objections you have to my views – if I were convinced that you are capable of “fair” and “brotherly” discussion. I shall await your explanation of your unlawful and devious representation of my views. If I am convinced that you are capable of an honorable discussion, I would be happy to meet you in some public place one afternoon at next year’s Florida lectures (or at some earlier date if feasible), listen to your objections, give a public answer and respond to any questions.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 15, pp. 455-456
August 2, 1990