By Ron Halbrook
Leroy. Garrett obviously designs his unity forums not only to explore concepts of unity but also to provide opportunity for cultivating fellowship across the lines. Because of the very atmosphere Garrett tries to generate at these forums, a speaker who did not share his basic concept of unity and fellowship across the lines would have to explicitly say so and would have to speak a distinctive message demonstrating the contrast.
Even then, many brethren question the expediency of appearing on such forums. Cecil Willis’ Sept. 1, 1974, letter to Garrett gives this evaluation,
“I am not optimistic at all that any good will come from the one-session type of discussions being held in the so-called `Unity Forums.’ There is not enough opportunity for probing of the positions taken. Furthermore, the open forums held afterward permit so many questions to be introduced that nothing is ever answered. I do not think 1 am going to participate in any more of .them. The short speech that one is permitted to make has less impact than one’s presence in such a meeting. I have seen nothing that even closely resembles the unity that is ‘of the Spirit’ resulting from any of the so-called ‘Unity Forums’ known to me.” (“There Will Be No Debate,” Imhoff Ave. (Port Arthur, TX) Messenger of Truth, Vol. 5, No. 9 (Sept., 1974), pp. 2, 3, 6, 7).
Apparently a good number of brethren share this evaluation. At the 9th Annual Unity Forum in Nashville, Tennessee, July, 1974, Garrett bemoaned the difficulty of getting men like James R. Cope and Homer Hailey to speak. The judgment of these experienced men should be weighed. On the other hand, little advantage can be reaped for the false unity movement by having the kind of speech delivered which David Edwin Harrell, Jr. delivered at the Reed Lectures for 1966. At the outset, Brother Harrell said, in part,
“. . . I believe in a literal and narrow interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God. My aim is the exact restoration of the ancient order of things …. the Bible should be, can be, and is literally understandable and . . . it should lead all men to the same conclusions.
“Any man who believes that he can find literal truth in the Scriptures must also believe that those who do not find the same truth are wrong. What follows is that such people are sinful. The next logical conclusion is that they will go to hell. The most onerous charge leveled against those who are members of the Churches of Christ is that they are bigots. It is frequently assumed that they believe that all who do not accept the truths which they find in the Bible will be lost. All members of the Churches of Christ do not have such an attitude, but I do. ” (Robert O. Fife, David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Ronald E. Osborn, Disciples and The Church Universal, pp. 34-35).
Harrell left no doubt as to specific applications, including “baptism for the remission of sins, the proper time for taking the Lord’s Supper, the biological qualifications of elders, distinctions between individual and congregational activities . . . .” Furthermore, since the theme of the speakers was supposed to center on the. “Church Universal,” he pointed out that actually he believed only the broup sharing the above “point of view . . . is the church universal.”
Certainly there are more favorable circumstances in which to declare the counsel of God than at the so-called unity forums. Yet if Garrett is willing to permit someone to declare such truths as Harrell presents above, in flat contradiction to recent heresy on fellowship, then we are willing to help him find speakers. A bushel basket full! And we (Steve Wolfgang and myself) told him so in Nashville. We shall see what we shall see about how many such speakers he really wants to appear. Certainly such speakers would appear like voices crying in the wilderness, but the more such voices the better.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 3, pp. 36-37
November 21, 1974