By A.A. Granke, Jr.
The West Hobbs Street church (which apparently is a liberal church) at Athens, Alabama recently received International notoriety when an Associated Press news release was printed under the above title in the Pacific Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for Armed Forces personnel in the Pacific, which is also read by U.S. civilians abroad and by local foreign nationals. According to the article, the West Hobbs Street evangelist was dismissed by the elders because his seventeen-year-old daughter, a high school majorette, publicly wore a bathing suit while competing in the Miss Spirit of America beauty pageant at Decatur, Alabama on July 4th, 1972. The girl, who won the contest and intends to enter competition for the Miss Alabama title, is quoted in a subsequent article as stating, “My father has always endorsed everything that I have done, and he endorsed this. If I had to do it over I would do the same thing.” She said she wanted the title, was proud she got it, and she had no intention of resigning. The minister expressed his belief his daughter had done nothing wrong, adding, “I think the only mistake she made is that she won the contest. A competition circulated throughout the membership of the church was signed by 56 per cent of the 371 members, requesting the elders reconsider the ministers dismissal or resign their oversight. The second article closes, “The next step was uncertain, although some members are talking about starting another church.”
There are several tragedies in this episode. It is unfortunate that early in her life this sister has hardened her heart against the will of the Lord, and will not repent. The scriptures clearly establish the nature of feminine attire. “In like manner, also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becomes women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Tim 2:9-10). Hear also Peter, as he discusses the womans adornment: “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet 3:3-4). Who considers a woman attired in a swimsuit to be modestly adorned and exhibiting the chaste meekness and quietness of spirit required of women professing godliness? In her violation of this precept, this sister has also erred by causing lust for her beauty (lust of the eye, 1 Jn. 2:16) in the hearts of her fellow travelers to eternity. Paul declared that “when ye sin so against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8: 12). While her example will not encourage non-Christians to turn to Christ, it has succeeded in tearing asunder the church of which she is a member.
The young woman is not solely responsible, however. Rather than endorse everything his daughter has done, the preacher should have brought her up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:41). How can he effectively “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2), and oppose sin in others when lie endorses it among his own family? How can he perform his appointed responsibilities in the care of the church of God when he knows not how to rule his own house and keep his children in subjection with all gravity? 1 Tim 3:4-5 applies not only to the bishops qualifications, but is one of the principles upon every Christian man manifests his maturity in the faith.
To the older women is given the responsibility of teaching them who are younger various aspects of Christian womanhood, among which is named sobriety and chastity (Tit 2:4-5). The youthful child of God may not have given herself to her error, had her mother carefully fulfilled this trust over the years.
Many grave responsibilities are laid upon elders shoulders in the Lords house. Could their attention to some of these matters have made them fail to notice it was their younger sister who was leading the band at Athens High School? While there is nothing necessarily wrong with being a majorette, the position usually implies short skirts and high steps; and investigation to be sure nothing harmful to her spiritual growth was being engaged in, would have been well in order. Perhaps her public clothing styles would have indicated the direction she was heading. When word circulated about the church that she was entering the beauty pageant, well-intending elders should have offered constructive guidance, rather than contribute to her error as one did in taking photographs of the event. He later realized his mistake and repented, but she who won the contest is now swallowed up with pride, and will not repent.
The church is to be blamed for its open rebellion against the elders, and therefore, against God by whom their authority was given. Its support of this error has placed it precariously on the brink of division. Are momentous matters such as this, in which it must be resolved what spiritual food the flock will be fed and by whom this feeding shall be administered, to be decided by a majority vote in which newborn babes in Christ and spiritual weaklings have as much power as seasoned Christians? Or are elders encouraged to exercise their authority and rule well (I Tim 5: 17)? Each bishop is responsible before God for “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1: 9). This is the manner in which the flock is to be protected, but it appears the flock has been lured into the den of a grievous wolf. Perhaps he has been tickling their itching ears, until now they will not heed their shepherds warning cries. Although many will probably not return, a few may be spared, but the wounds are deep and the scars will be slow healing.
Each of us needs to examine himself and resolve to do not what others approvingly sanction, but what God has approved. You or I may be the one who can prevent a beloved sister or brother from failing into worldliness, or awaken parents from their apathy, or encourage and support the preaching of sound doctrine, or stop the undermining of the elders authority, the engendering of strife within the church of Christ, and the exposure of our Lord and his house to public reproach. Perhaps we can prevent such an unhappy occurrence, elsewhere.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVII: 1, pp. 12-13
November 2, 1972