Billie Sol Estes

Hance H. Graves
Cleveland, Ohio

Did the name above attract your attention? It did in Cleveland, Ohio on January 10, 1963. Many people, especially members of the Lord's church, were surprised when news reports on radio and TV said "Billie Sol Estes, convicted swindler" would be speaking at the Addison Road church of Christ concerning mission work in Nigeria.

Mr. Estes, of all people, chose to paraphrase the words of Solomon ("these material things in life are only vanity") and the words of James ("That our life is but a vapor"), trying to persuade his audience to employ so-called "church cooperation" in spreading the gospel. Everyone was encouraged to pool their money toward this cause.

We have no way of knowing the damage this incident has caused the church. The Addison Road preacher, J. S. Winston, took the liberty to speak for the church universal in saying that "The church holds no ill-will toward Mr. Estes. Regardless of what he has done to the government, he has done a lot for the church and is a dedicated servant of the Lord." Is this anything short of Catholicism's doctrine that the end justifies the means? Now if this man has not brought reproach on the church, I cannot think of much else he could do that would.

According to the news reports he was an elder in his home congregation, but an elder is to be "of good report" within and without (1 Tim. 3:7). 1 Peter 4:15 reads, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as an evil doer or as a busybody in other men's matters." Mr. Estes, according to reports and the law enforcement agencies of our country, has violated part, if not all of the things mentioned in this verse. Brother Winston made it sound as if he was an outstanding member of the Lord's body. To hear such vindication from a gospel preacher is quite odd, and especially to hear such defended before motion picture cameras, TV cameras and news reporters.

The TV stations had a special news summary concerning his speaking engagement in Cleveland. The news reporters summed up by saying, "Church man or Swindler?", leaving it for the TV viewers to judge.

The first I heard about Mr. Estes coming to Cleveland was from a Baptist friend of mine. Another brother said a Catholic broke the news to him. Others stated that neighbors called them about the news-making event. It is distressing to hear brethren make the church appear to be a place for underworld refugees, and to have outsiders also to level such a charge. These Cleveland brethren made a hero out of Mr. Estes.

In the Berea, Ohio newspaper, Mr. Estes was quoted as saying, "My God has justified me and that's all that counts." Let us hope and pray that He has.

Truth Magazine VII: 8, pp. 5a
May 1963