An Open Letter to Sam Dawson
Belen, New Mexico
Dear Brother Dawson:
A few months ago, the church at Belen, NM received, as have many churches across the country, your booklet entitled "Fellowship on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. " We are concerned with the manner in which you have described the Lord's work in this area. So often within the pages of this booklet, the name of the Belen church is mentioned erroneously and unfairly, not to mention sarcastically, in regards to brother Homer Hailey's visit to Belen in March 1988. For example:
Why must we now split because of a private study of less than twenty people in Belen, New Mexico, of all places? The last denominational split among us began in Abilene, a small, windblown town in West Texas. If this one starts in Belen, one wonders where the next one will start. Could it be Cut Bank, Montana? (24)
As stated in your booklet, you listed several preachers who are not qualified to take such hard stands on the marriage, divorce and remarriage issue and then to insist that others stand with them, etc. (Section III: "These Men Are Not Qualified To Incite A Split" - pp. 9-23). Brother Dawson, we must all, including yourself and the over 100 people who assisted you in this publication, be careful in placing ourselves in a judgmental role over others in a local congregation by failing to take into account all the pertinent facts and information. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matt. 7:1-2).
Brother Dawson, you, were not present at Belen during the times that brother Hailey was here, nor did you contact any of us, prior to the publishing of this booklet, concerning our involvement with brother Hailey. Taking things you have heard and read from "one side" and then printing those "things" of your own selection leaves you far from being qualified in the happenings and events surrounding brother Hailey's last visit to Belen. Yes, his "last visit" was on March 22, 1988, in which he presented extensively his long-held views on marriage, divorce and remarriage. What you neglected to print was the fact that brother Hailey had been in Belen several months before (October 1987) and taught his views privately to a couple in their home. Brother Hailey wrote a letter to Christianity Magazine which was published in November 1988. You make reference and quote briefly from this letter in your booklet, but you did not include the following as stated by brother Hailey:
During the week of October 5-9, 1987, a group from over the country met in Belen to assist in getting the congregation started there. During the week I met with a couple who had left the "liberal" congregation and were meeting with the new group. In the course of the conversation or visit, they asked me my view on the condition of divorced and remarried individuals, which I explained. They were in that condition, having been baptized after their marriage (as I understood them). They joined the new group.
As a result of this conversation, this couple placed their membership with us, a newly-started congregation, of only three months. None of us was aware that Brother Hailey had instructed these two people that they could remain in their present marriage relationship, which we discovered some five months later to be an "adulterous" one according to the clear teaching of Christ (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-9). Brother Hailey never told us of his views at that time and never asked us our position. Again, in the same letter to Christianity Magazine, brother Hailey said the following words which you did not print in your booklet:
Following the meeting (October 1987) a preacher held a meeting (March 1988) for the church, preached on the subject, which brought up the question in the congregation: "What of this couple and a recently converted woman?" (as I recall being told).
This "recently converted woman" made an observation to brother Harry Osborne, who was conducting the gospel meeting and had spoken one evening on "The Family," with a requested brief presentation on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. She said that she was in a marriage which did not comply with Christ's teaching since her husband had been married twice before and was divorced for a cause other than fornication. The woman expressed her intent to put away the husband if it was necessary that she might be right with God. This conclusion was reached upon her understanding of the Scriptures involved, especially Matthew 19:9, not by further teaching of brother Osborne. The next day, the couple with whom brother Hailey had spoken "privately" in October 1987 told the young woman that her husband's situation did not matter since it all happened before she was baptized. The couple cited brother Hailey as teaching the same thing.
Our question was then and is now: "Did her baptism into Christ wash away her adultery with this man?" Some brethren today say, "yes." Another question we have had is, "Did her own baptism wash away her husband's adultery?" He was never interested in studying or obeying the gospel. When brethren answer the first question in the affirmative, they must provide an answer to the second question. How can one person, who is baptized for the remission of his own sins, be baptized in order that another's sins (her husband's in this case) be remitted? Book, chapter, and verse, please. Can we honestly say, according to the Scriptures, that God approves of such and that this particular marriage relationship can exist between two people: one "out" of adultery and the other "in" adultery? Again, book, chapter, and verse, please. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11).
Isn't Matthew 19:9 clear and simple enough for the average man? It was at first in this young woman's mind, by her own reading of God's word. Unfortunately, some of our "intellectual" brethren have confused simple teaching and now want to direct the blame of this present controversy and division on those whose desire is to preserve the simplicity of God's teaching on the subject. Remember when the apostle Paul stood in the midst of the philosophers at Athens and addressed them? "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious. . . "'(Acts 17:21-22). Some brethren today are no different. It is perceived that they too are very religious, but they have spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing not found in God's Word, something for which they cannot give book, chapter, and verse.
When brother Hailey's name and influence were used in opposition to the teaching of the truth in this local congregation on this subject, we began immediately to study it through (as you suggest churches do in your booklet) and to get with brother Hailey. We thought initially that this couple was misrepresenting him. Some of us knew and respected him long before this couple ever met and talked with him. We were not aware that for 45 years he had held and on some occasions taught a view different from the teaching of Christ on divorce and remarriage, the so-called "mainstream position" to which you refer on page 6. But, we felt out of concern for this new work in this community and out of fairness to brother Hailey that we must go to him and study this matter further. Whatever his position, we were willing to hear it so that we could thoroughly search the Scriptures, "whether these things were so " (Acts 17:11).
If people could read in your booklet all of brother Hailey's letter that was published in Christianity Magazine, even though we see a few inaccuracies, we believe that most people could see and understand that we in the church at Belen were faced with a serious problem through no fault of our own. By the time we learned about this situation several months later, the problem was in our lap and brother Hailey was back in Arizona. We were left to sort out and clean up a problem by what brother Hailey taught without our knowledge.
You, and others, are not aware of all the studying on this matter and the prayers that took place within this congregation before Homer Hailey ever came back on March 22, 1988. You stated in your booklet the following:
However, in 1988, a small number of men met concerning a small church in Belen, New Mexico and made decisions that again threaten to affect every church of Christ in America. It is a fact that a great controversy confronts churches of Christ, this time, on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. . . This booklet does not attempt to deal with those important issues, but rather with how a local congregation should conduct itself in the midst of controversy. Its main thrust is that each local church should study the issues for itself determine its own conduct on these matters, and not allow any outside preacher, paper, college, or coalition of congregations to determine its action. This is not to say that a preacher, paper, or college might not aid in the procedure of determining what that local group of Christians conceives to please God, but that they should not interfere with that church's study, deliberations, and determination of its own action (4).
Brother Dawson, brother Hailey's March 22, 1988 visit was at his own will to express his views extensively. Initially, six of us from this congregation requested to go to his home in Tucson to hear his views and discuss them with him. However, brother Hailey was generous in giving of his time and offered to come to us in order that he save us the airfares. (This can be found in his letter to Christianity Magazine - November 1988, but again, you did not print this.) Obviously, we were trying to handle this problem among ourselves and brother Hailey. After all, he was very much involved too. It was his private teaching in October of 1987 that created the problem and consequently brought about such a meeting. Because of our utmost love and respect for him, it was never our intention to hurt brother Hailey. We were interested in studying this matter further, as anyone would be, and discover just "what" he was presenting to people in these "private, " and we might add dangerous, sessions. We believe that brother Hailey had no intention of hurting us. But, it happened. He was hurt and we were hurt. Is your book an attempt to hurt us further? We have learned and grown from all of this. James tells us, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (Jas. 1:2-3). The apostle Paul stated, "We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Rom. 5:34).
If someone comes in teaching his views "privately" to one of our members that instrumental music in worship or the church support of human institutions or that the missionary society is approved by God, what are we to do? Allow it and sweep it under the carpet? Like the Bereans of old, we felt the need "to search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:1). And, if these things were not so, "note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17-18).
Again, much has been said during the past four years concerning our video taping of brother Hailey in this March 1988 meeting. You mention, "The young men in the church in Belen asked Hailey if they could video tape the session " (p. 7). Not true! When brother Hailey walked in, the video camera was in the process of being set up within the small room. If he had requested he not be recorded, we would have complied with his wishes. Besides the video camera, there were at least two cassette recorders in the room. The husband of the "couple" that brother Hailey had spoken to several months earlier had one of them. But, we ask, "Over the past 25 years or so, when has brother Hailey not been recorded?" For all of these years, brethren have been recording (reel-to-reel, cassette and video) almost every word that comes from him. Remember his wonderful series of lessons on the book of Revelation and others? Many churches presently contain these lessons on tape in their libraries and have circulated them among the brotherhood. We recorded all of his morning lessons from the Gospel of John when he was here on his first visit in October 1987. Brother Hailey was fully aware of his being recorded that day on March 22, 1988. At one point during a five minute break prior to the "question and answer" period, he said there was something he had left out of his presentation and he would wait until we got our recorders turned on so that this could be included.
Criticism has come forth from the distribution of the video tape. Brother Hailey, in his letter to Christianity Magazine, November 1988 said:
The brethren were not satisfied with the two presentations, but invited brother Ron Halbrook to come and refute my presentation of my position. The video that was made of this meeting has been given wide circulation so that what was to have been a private study has become a brotherhood issue, which is regrettable.
Since brother Osborne's teaching was brief on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage, it was suggested we have brother Ron Halbrook come and present his views. (Incidentally, none of the troublesome element, the "couple," attended this meeting. Their minds were already closed after hearing brother Hailey's presentation. They heard what they wanted to hear. The "couple" reverted into "liberalism" once again.) Brother Halbrook agreed to the task and before coming to Belen called brother Hailey to express his deep regret for the necessity of differing with him. We sent Ron a copy of the video tape of brother Hailey's presentation from Belen, but under certain conditions, which were accepted and carefully observed by Ron. It was not to be copied or any quote from brother Hailey published until the church at Belen had written brother Hailey and supplied him a copy of the two presentations (his and Ron's). We did this, but brother Hailey never responded. After several months of waiting on brother Hailey's response and receiving calls from a few churches and elders concerning his views, afew copies of the tape became available to those who requested them in order to give them an opportunity to hear both sides of a discussion which had been helpful in our studies and that could be helpful to others. And in view of the damage done by both the private and public teaching of brother Hailey, we realize that we could not "cover up" what was taught. Hopefully, these few recipients of the video tape could become better prepared to avoid the problems we had to endure. Maybe you and others are not aware that brother Hailey had already been recorded by a couple of churches, in public assemblies, on cassette tape prior to his coming to Belen, in sermons which expressed his views briefly but clearly and forcefully. Even those tapes were already circulating among brethren. Now, if brethren could circulate tapes in the past of his lessons from the book of Revelation, the Gospel of John, his views on Divorce and Reinarriage, etc. done in both public and private settings, why couldn't this presentation of this teaching be circulated among brethren if he regarded his teaching as the "truth"?
As time went on, more and more brethren (many of whom already knew of brother Hailey's position for years) heard that he had come out on his views, the demand for the video tape quite naturally increased. (Whether recorded on video or cassette, or not recorded at all, people would have been interested in hearing this very extensive presentation of brother Hailey's teaching on such a vital subject. Also the tapes provide an accurate record of what was actually said by both speakers, thus discouraging rumors and erroneous reports of what was taught.) Although we, the church at Belen, were not involved in the wider circulation of the video tape, we firmly believe that brother Hailey's position needed to be refuted. It was sincerely felt by many brethren that by making the tape available, attempts could be made by some of brother Hailey's closest friends to study this controversial issue in an effort to lead him and others away from such teaching. Again, brother Hailey stated in his letter to Christianity Magazine:
I make no apology for my position; I believe it to be correct. I have no intention of becoming the focal point in a brotherhood discussion of the subject. But neither do 1 intend to be put in a position where I cannot express my views on this or any other subject in which the truth of God is involved . . . Others may feel differently about their mission, but I do not intend to contribute to any division in the church over this issue.
It was felt that if brother Hailey believed his position to be true and correct, it would make no difference if others viewed or listened to this presentation. From the preceding statement by brother Hailey, it should be concluded that he had nothing to hide.
Unfortunately, over the past four yars, brethren have taken what they have heard and read from the "one side" and drawn false conclusions. Brother Dawson, you have, without a doubt, done the same thing, as is clearly seen in your one-sided and misguided booklet. But, what has that done and what does it continue to do? It diverts one's attention away from the real issues concerning brother Hailey's and others' position on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
After suffering through the events at Belen because of brother Hailey's position, we can better understand now why other brethren have sounded warnings about the dangers which result from such positions and theories. You will never know the many attempts made by these same brethren outside of the church at Belen to study with him before the video tape became so widely available. These are the men who truly love brother Hailey and are concerned about his soul. If they did not love him and the Lord's cause, they would have never bothered. These are the men who have encouraged us to follow in the same manner - to stand for the truth and not be ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16).
The facts prove that we, the church at Belen, did as you say local congregations ought to do: study for themselves! You said that a "preacher, paper or college" might aid, as long as they are not allowed to determine the actions of a local church, in the procedure of determining what a local group of Christians conceives to please God (p. 4). Brethren Hailey, Halbrook and Osborne presented both sides of the issue. None of them forced upon us his teaching, but came here as a gentleman, with sincerity and a calm spirit. Following their visits and further study and prayers, we made a decision that we believed to be correct in God's sight. Nowhere do we see in your booklet any evidence of your attempt to clearly and openly study the issue as you have so instructed all the churches throughout the country. The key passages which must be examined are not examined at all in your booklet. You have offered no scriptural help to resolve vital and practical issues, but have only criticized sincere brethren.
We are concerned and disappointed with the overall tone of your booklet. You have indicated your disapproval of our handling of this controversial issue and even of those churches in years gone by who faced the missionary society, instrumental music and institutional issues. In each of those cases, someone brought in a view and position foreign to God's teaching. The same occurred at Belen. Are you not grateful that there were men and brethren ahead of us that took a stand for the truth and opposed the error involved in each of those issues? None of them, and none of us today, want division. But, when brethren choose their own way and thinking over that of God's, a line of fellowship must be drawn. Does it upset you that this was done in times past? Your booklet leaves that impression. When you create the impression that the church at Belen and other brethren who defend the truth in the face of error are divisive and troublemakers, please be reminded that King Ahab made the same charge against Elijah. The prophet of God said the real source of trouble is departure from the truth (1 Kgs. 18:17-18). Those promoting and defending error always charge those upholding the truth with causing division. Your booklet is a classic example.
Our prayer is that God will continue to grant us the wisdom to understand his will, the proper attitudes to discuss it, and the courage to obey it. Our prayer is that you will do the same.
Sincerely in Him,
Tim Stevens, evangelist for the Church in Belen, New Mexico
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 19, pp. 592-595