To those not already familiar with the Brown vs. Gipson, et. al. lawsuit at Sixth and Izard, a brief introduction is in order. Joe Brown, at that time a deacon filed suit against the elders of Sixth and Izard on two counts, both related to the Arkansas laws for non-profit corporations: (1) method of selection and frequency of selection of the board of directors tin this case, the elders) and (2) right of access of stockholders (members) to financial records of the corporation (congregation). Joe was represented by Bob Scott, a member of the congregation who is an attorney. He had attempted for several years prior to the filing to get voluntary financial disclosure from the elders, but to no avail. Believing that the right-to-know was both a legal and scriptural mandate, he felt compelled to file the lawsuit. When the elders decided to fire him as deacon because of the filing of the lawsuit, I resigned as deacon in protest of their action. Since that time, a former elder of the congregation, Dr. Tip Nelms, has joined in the lawsuit, and Bob Scott has also become a litigant. The case was decided in favor of the litigants at the lower court, and appealed by the elders to the Arkansas Supreme Court, whose justices remanded it to the lower court to determine if the issues were constitutional or not, as claimed by the elders. It was suggested to the court by litigants that a properly conducted congregational poll, after full and open discussion of the issues involved, which had been phrased and formatted by mutual consent, would be accepted by litigants as settlement of the lawsuit.
The main problem in the effort to determine the will of the congregation, properly informed, has been to get a fair and open forum in which to present the ideas, issues, and doctrines involved, in order that they might make decisions based on knowledge, instead of supposition, innuendo, and slander. As stated before, the poll would have been acceptable to litigants if it had been handled in a mutually agreeable manner, format, and wording. What actually occurred was a unilateral statement of issues and a unilateral poll in which nothing was left to chance by the elders, not at all uncommon a practice for those who think they answer only to GOD, and whatever they choose to do has already been approved by Him. In consequence, the lawsuit, which could have been settled by mutuality, is still alive, and the judge has been requested to proceed with his decision in the case. (Since the original draft of this paper, the master in chancery appointed by the judge has rendered a decision, again in favor of the litigants. They are waiting to see if further appeals will be made by the elders concerning this decision.)
I said nothing was left to chance. On the evening of August 24th, John Gipson devoted a full sermon to the position he holds with reference to elders. Again on the morning of August 31st, a full sermon was delivered on the same subject. On the morning of September 14th, prior to conducting the poll, he delivered a sermon which even the children understood to imply damnation for those who did not vote with the elders. Most of the members of the congregation had been contacted on Saturday the 13th by batteries of telephoners, asking them to vote with the elders. As they had announced that they would, the elders "generously" allowed the litigants 15 total minutes in which to state their convictions on the issues involved. Prior to their 15 minutes, two members (one a University dean PhD, the other a Professor of Surgery M.D.) of the congregation were denied the opportunity to speak on the issues. The 15 minutes were used to play an audio tape of a lecture by John Gipson on August 9th, 1978 at Harding University, selectively edited because of the time limit specified. The talk of 1978 placed John Gipson in diametrical opposition to John Gipson of 1986, but the congregation had already been thoroughly brainwashed, and so apparently did not recognize John in opposition to himself. After the 15 minutes allotted to litigants, John again had 15 more minutes to state his position. First, he quibbled about hearing hiself in "bits and pieces" (hardly a valid complaint, since he was involved in limiting the talk to 15 minutes). Then he accused Bob Scott of endeavoring to '"impose his will on the elders and the church" (notice the bland assumption that the elders and the church are one and the same) and given responsibility "for those they have led astray (obviously, anyone who agrees with them)," a demeaning characterization for those who examine the scriptures for themselves, and increasingly are rejecting the false premises upon which our denomination has based its gradual drift away from the wishes and intent of our Lord. The results of the "poll" which followed John's talk were distressingly predictable. Since that date, a youth minister and two more deacons have resigned in protest, although the youth minister did not also resign as deacon, possibly because his whole family is employed by the elders in their day-school operation.
As the litigants have since pointed out, all the efforts at intimidation (including cameras trained on the congregation during the "poll") will undoubtedly come back to haunt the elders in the future, as will the financial disclosure ordered by the court, since the church as a non-profit corporation must comply with state laws relating to such corporations, laws which they have never obeyed since incorporation. Litigants anticipate several months yet before all the moves and counter-moves will be exhausted in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, anyone desiring to assist the litigants in their quest for freedom for all under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (for, though the elders have used the congregational treasury, it has been denied to litigants) should make out their check to "Circle Class-Sixth and Izard Church of Christ" and send it to Bob Scott, 9016 Leatrice Drive, Little Rock, Arkansas 72207.
I not only anticipate strong repercussions in the brotherhood from this lawsuit, but fervently hope so, for I believe the real issue involved is nothing less than the freedom granted to us by our Lord, and that the creeping ruin involved in the "authority" syndrome is the great heresy referred to by Paul, which culminated in the papal system, with all its pretensions, and may yet repeat itself, for "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it:' This "authority" syndrome expresses itself in the seeming unconcern by many elders for brotherly love, fairness, honesty, rationality, and actual participation by the congregation in any process, whether or not in question. Increasingly, they see themselves as appointed personally and guided directly by the Holy Spirit in whatever decision they claim to make unanimously (normally a lie) in their closed meetings, and that to disagree or disobey is to rebel against GOD (still as potent a control device as it has been for centuries in the Romish church). Such dictatorial system can only cause great damage to assemblies which are supposed to be based on mutual respect and love among redeemed individuals whose association is voluntary and for mutual benefit. Voluntary implies a choice, and normally the only choice in such a system is whether to stay or leave, accept or reject. And if your choice is to leave, what have you achieved? Another division in a Christianity which already has no bones unbroken, or a transfer to another captive congregation with the same problems? Dodging or evading a problem does not solve it, not does facing it invariably produce a solution, but at least there is a chance. We have chosen to stay, and to attempt in love (this is the hardest part) to return our assembly (and, hopefully others by our example and influence) to the non-authoritarian power of the first century, when Christianity spread like wildfire even amidst persecution, because disciples who had freedom in Christ wanted everyone to know about it and share in it, without the shackles of every other religious system, for only the Truth ("I am the Way, the Truth, the Life,....") can set men free, for which we fervently pray. Amen!