By David McKee
When asked about pornography on the internet, and the sin involved in it’s posting and viewing, I have no difficulty stating with boldness what God’s word has to say in condemning the subject. However, when I am asked about viewing pornography on the internet as a form of art, I caution that one must use their own judgment in such matters, but that such viewing is permissible, so long as one uses a discerning eye. Anticipating that some of my brethren would object to this reasoning, as it would still involve the viewing of pornography, I add the disclaimer: “But I’m still studying it.”
By placing the subject in the realm of judgment and claiming that I am still studying it, I have absolved myself of any guilt or condemnation that might arise from arguing the rightfulness of pornography under certain conditions. I have also absolved myself of any responsibility some might wish to pin on me when someone is convinced to believe as I do as a result of my persuasive reasoning. Also in my arsenal of disarming statements is, “I don’t have all the answers.”
I make it a point not to express from the pulpit my belief about the conditional-rightfulness of pornography, and I would never consider myself as pressing this belief on others. I may argue it strongly in more intimate settings and even pass out literature that argues the conditional-rightfulness of pornography, but when finding my arguments being met with resistance, I disarm my detractors by stating that it is a matter of judgment, and, “I’m still studying it.”
I would hope that all recognize the facetious approach used in the first few paragraphs. I would also hope that any thinking me serious would have been appalled. To claim, “I’m still studying it,” does not justify the wrong committed or remove the responsibility of my actions. Yet, why is it when a man uses such defenses when persuading others about the rights of one who has been put away to remarry, it seems reasonable and excusable? How is a man able to make the same arguments in favor of a position for ten to twenty years but still avoid scrutiny because he claims to still be studying the subject?
On July 27th and 28th, 2000, brother Ron Halbrook sat among the brethren here in Athens, GA, and strongly argued the conditional rights of one who has been put away to remarry while their initial mate is still living. He handed out material that placed said actions in the realm of judgment, or, as the heading on the material stated it: “Judgements: Fine tuning some points of application.” Couched in the list of twenty-one points were points fifteen and sixteen, which asked:
“When a man leaves faithful wife over her protest to marry another, does his adultery give her the ground to appeal to God to dissolve her marriage bond?
If so, may she marry again, or does she remain bound to him?” See: Ron Halbrook's Hand-Out Study Papers at Athens, Georgia
In point fifteen above, the adultery brother Halbrook was referring to occurred after the man had left (divorced) his wife. If it was before a divorce had occurred, then of course the wife could appeal to God to dissolve her marriage bond, and that she would do when she put him away for his adultery. But having been put away by a spouse who afterwards commits adultery, brother Halbrook asks in point sixteen, “May she marry again, or does she remain bound to him?”
Jesus answered such questions plainly enough in His teaching. The woman above, having been put away, is in no position to marry again while her former spouse lives because she is bound to him. The man’s subsequent adultery does not afford her the right to appeal to God to dissolve her marriage bond. But brother Halbrook raised these questions in our midst as if they were in the realm of the unknown and therefore, judgment must be used as one sees fit. He wanted us to believe that Scripture did not answer such questions plainly enough, so that if someone concluded that the woman did have the right to remarry, such a person should not be condemned for that belief, as they are simply using their own judgment in the matter.
But brother Halbrook not only raised the questions, he answered them by stating that she could marry again, if she met the right conditions, namely, having protested the divorce, attempted to remain true to her marriage vows, etc. We’ve commented before that these conditions are nowhere found in Scripture. Brother Halbrook attempted to persuade us to believe that if she met these conditions then she could set aside the action of divorce (apoluo) that was previously taken against her.
Concerning the man’s actions, brother Halbrook concluded, “In an unscriptural, ungodly, rebellious sense, that man has a divorce paper. But I don’t see it as changing anything in divine law.” (An excerpt of Ron Halbrook’s MDR discussion at Athens, Georgia; Play Clip!) As brother Halbrook sees it, nothing has changed in divine law, so the woman retains the right to put away even though that action has already been taken against her. Where our Lord would refer to her as one who is put away, brother Halbrook refuses to admit that such is her status.
This article is not an attempt to rehash old news and old arguments. But amazingly, as a result of brother Halbrook’s efforts to lay low on the subject, and having done so long enough, his defenders are reemerging with the claim, “He never taught that.” For one who sat among a group of brethren to hear this man passionately argue the rights of a put away person to later put away, I do find this to be an amazing claim. Of course, brother Halbrook would not use the language I have used, as he would not recognize her as a put away person. The man simply took some "unscriptural, ungodly, rebellious" action against her and obtained a divorce paper, but that does nothing to change divine law (according to brother Halbrook).
Some in that gathering took brother Halbrook to heart when he said, “I’m still studying it.” They encouraged him to stop presenting it as a viable option if he still had uncertainties about it, or, as he put it, “I don’t have all the answers.” We were naïve and hopeful, but as I drove brother Halbrook to the airport, it was clear he had no intention of dropping his line of reasoning as he warned me not to be divisive over the issue.
What followed was an effort to have the subject considered and studied in a publication that, at the time, was respected by many brethren; a publication that claimed to have an open door policy. So began the long list of disappoints as Truth Magazine made clear its doors would remain closed to this subject, and claims of misrepresentation ensued.
Would brother Halbrook, or any of those now defending him, have excused brother Hailey’s efforts if he had claimed, “I still studying it.” He was not preaching it from the pulpit or “pressing it” upon others. It was the explanation he offered when asked. But brother Halbrook could see first hand the harm that would come from a man of brother Hailey’s influence arguing (when asked) that alien sinners were not amenable to the law of Christ. Recognizing the potential harm that could result in numerous congregations as brother Hailey traveled about offering his answer when asked, would brother Halbrook have been put off if brother Hailey informed him that he “was still studying it”? And when a man presents the same answers when asked year after year, is he to be believed when he claims, “I still studying it”?
It is sadly ironic that in the material that brother Halbrook distributed, there was a section entitled, “Division Inevitable.” Point #4 under that heading reads: “Won’t tolerate open study & discussion of issues (Acts 17:11; I Pet 3:15; II Tim 4:2-4; I Jn 2:19).” One would think that if the position brother Halbrook (and others) argues is indeed truth, then it would be boldly declared as such. Instead, his defenders claim, “He doesn’t press it; He doesn’t preach it from the pulpit, etc.,” while brother Halbrook himself repeats his time-worn motto, “I’m still studying it.” Perhaps brethren should try that with pornography and see how far it gets them.