"To Tape, or Not to Tape, That Is the Question"
James W. Adams
Lobit Baytown, Texas
The Bard of Avon, were he among us, would probably pardon the take-off of one of his classic statements employed in the title of this article. Brother Robert C. Welch, a beloved brother and close personal friend these past thirty years, has written an article entitled, "No Tapes, Please," which probably will be found elsewhere in this issue of Truth Magazine. My article is a response to his, but not necessarily a rejoinder. I am in complete agreement with most of what Brother Welch has to say, but I do wish to offer several observations which, in my judgment, are not in complete agreement with the point of view expressed in Brother Welch's article.
Implications of a "No Tape Recorders" Rule
Brother Welch says, "There is something questionable about a group discussing their differences on scriptural subjects but not wanting what is said made available to the public." Previous to making this statement, he had said, "There is something wrong with the attitude of the person who is afraid to have what he says placed on permanent record, especially if he is supposed to be teaching and defending the truth of God."
I reversed the order of these statements as originally written by Brother Welch, because I wish to consider them in that order. I do not believe the first is correct -- that "there is something questionable about a group discussing their differences on scriptural subjects but not wanting what is said made available to the public." There could be many quite valid reasons why such a group might desire to have a discussion of their differences on scriptural subjects without the proceedings being made public. Brother Welch's implied rule covering "group discussions of scriptural subjects" would make all private group discussions of scriptural subjects impossible. I have engaged in numerous group discussions (probably hundreds) in the almost forty years I have been preaching the gospel in which scriptural differences were considered, and it never occurred to me that, because I did not arrange for a verbatim account to be "made available to the public," I had done something "questionable," I suspect that the experience of Brother Welch is no different from mine in this regard.
The other statement, which was written first and quoted second by me, involves Brother Welch in passing a judgment on the motivation of those who arranged the "Preacher's Workshop" which has been conducted the past two years on the campus of Abilene Christian College. I have no desire to argue the wisdom or lack of it relative to the "no recorders" rule. I tend to agree with Brother Welch as to its being pointless since there are other means of recording what transpires in such a gathering. However, there are many good men who do not know the meaning of fear relative to an expression of their convictions and meeting all gainsayers head-on who refuse to allow their sermons to be recorded. Brother A. Hugh Clark, during the last years of his life, did not care to have his sermons recorded. He was extremely sensitive about the possibility of their being used to misrepresent and malign him.
Brother Clark was a man among men. I greatly loved and admired him. I do not believe he knew the meaning of fear when it came to the truth of God and the cause of Christ. He almost invariably applied the "no recorders" rule, but not because he "was afraid to have what he said placed on permanent record." Personally, it has never made a particle of difference to me whether I was being recorded. If someone is low and mean enough to misrepresent another and malign him, he would find some way to do it whether he had a recording of what he had said or not. However, I can appreciate the fact that many others may not be as thick-skinned as I in reference to such matters, and yet, who are quite as loyal as I to their convictions and quite as fearless in their defense. Except for a statement made by Reuel Lemmons who did not plan and arrange the "Preacher's Workshop," Brother Welch offer no proof of the motivation for the invocation of the "no tape recorders rule" on the part of those who did plan and arrange the affair. His assumptions, therefore, constitute an unwarranted and, I believe, an incorrect judgment of their motives.
What Were the Reasons for the "No Tape Recorders" Rule?
Brother J. D. Thomas, Head of the Bible Department of Abilene Christian College, explained the matter to me before the first "Preacher's Workshop," hence before I agreed to participate. He said there were men of exceedingly unorthodox views who were sensitive about their presentations being tape recorded, and that the meeting could not accomplish its objectives without such men appearing and presenting their points of view. Hence, in deference to their feelings and to induce them to appear and speak, it was considered advisable to ban tape recorders from the meeting. While one might not agree with the attitude of those sensitive to the tape recording of their speeches, yet to concede this much to them to get them to appear and feel perfectly free in the expression of their views seems to me to be a reasonable and not at all "questionable" concession on the part of those who arranged the workshop. To the contrary, it seems to me that the man holding unorthodox and unpublicized views ran the greater risk in not having an officially recorded version of what was said. Should he be misquoted relative to his unrehearsed answers to questions in the open forum which followed each session, he would have no way of proving what he did or did not say.
Is Such a Meeting, in Fact, "Questionable?"
A meeting attended by from 600 to 750 preachers from all parts of the nation representative of almost every conceivable point of view entertained by those having historical connection with the "Restoration Movement" could hardly be regarded as clandestine or secretive. Surely, men who openly and frankly expressed their convictions in such a meeting could not correctly be regarded as timorous - "afraid" for their views to be known. The meeting was open to all preachers; its subjects and speakers were widely publicized; no limitations were imposed which restrained any participant from an absolutely free expression of the convictions of his heart. Therefore, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination regard attendance and participation as "disconcerting" or "questionable" in any proper sense simply because tape recorders were not allowed. Suppose such a meeting had been conducted before the comparatively recent advent of tape recorders and those arranging it had not desired to hire stenographers and provide an official, printed version of the proceedings? No person with the ability to take shorthand was forbidden to do so at the "Preacher's Workshop." I believe Brother Welch is "disconcerted" without due cause and completely wrong in styling the meeting "questionable" without considerable qualification. As to tangible results relative to the resolving of issues and restoration of unity, there is ample room for "question," for such is purely speculative and debatable, but as to its essential character, I deny that it is either "questionable" or proper grounds for any brother's becoming "disconcerted" because of the attendance and participation of brethren of the "conservative" point of view.
Brother Welch is entitled to his opinion. If he does not care to attend or to participate in such a meeting, this is his right and that without censure from anyone. However, I do not believe it is right for him to judge motivation of which he has no certain knowledge, nor is it proper for him to place a question mark beside the "frankness and integrity" of brethren of proved soundness who attended and/or participated. There is too much of this monitoring of and setting standards for other people's judgment among conservatives. To publicly challenge the scripturalness of a practice is one thing, but publicly to challenge judgment is another. To what standard can we appeal to settle a dispute over someone's judgment?
I attended the "Preacher's Workshop" last year and had planned to attend this year but was hindered. I spoke last year delivering one of the major presentations. I believe I did right in so doing. My reasons were set forth in a recent article published both in Truth Magazine and The Preceptor. I have urged other conservative brethren to attend and participate. I believe my reasons for so doing are valid and I will gladly defend them wherever necessary. Why should I refuse an invitation to speak to 600 gospel preachers from all over the nation concerning what I believe to be God's Truth on the live issues of the day among brethren when I am left completely free except for reasonable rules governing decorum simply because tape recorders are not allowed? Why? Give me one reason that makes sense, just one! Could I possibly be right and refuse the opportunity thus to address a group that I could not possibly have access to under any other circumstances? I think not!
The Editor of the Firm Foundation
Brother Reuel lAmmons, editor of the Firm Foundation, and I are personal friends though in complete disagreement with one another on several vital matters. Brother Welch actually wrote his article as a reply to Lemmons giving those of us who have attended and participated in the "Preacher's Workshop" only backhand attention. I have not read Reuel's editorial, hence cannot speak relative to what he had to say about the "no tape recorders" rule. My information comes from the proverbial "horse's mouth" (with apologies to Brother Thomas for the comparison), not second-handed. If Lemmons left an impression other than that given me by Brother Thomas, I feel certain Lemmons is incorrect.
Many Ways of Discussing Scriptural Differences
Many have unnecessarily limited themselves in dealing with divergent views relative to the teaching of the Scriptures among the brethren. They tie themselves to the formal debate type of approach with recorded speeches and general publication. This is one way and a very effective one in my judgment. I am in favor of such debates when they are properly arranged, involve competent disputants on both sides, are a discussion of definitive propositions which pinpoint the issues, and are decorously conducted. However, I do not believe such debates exhaust the possibilities for discussion of differences either in individual or group situations. My position is simply stated: I do not propose to miss an opportunity to teach and stand for truth as long as I am not required to violate my conscience or, in my judgment to compromise the interests of the truth for which I stand. I do not believe that my attendance and participation in the "Preacher's Workshop" did either. I flatly deny that my action, or the action of other faithful brethren in this matter, is properly "questionable."
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 18, pp. 6-9