Mike Willis: A Pattern of Misrepresentation
By Jeff Belknap
Recently brother Mike Willis (via the GOT Foundation) published a book entitled Bible Causes of Divorce and the Role of Government in Divorce. This book is based upon a discussion between he and brother Ed Bragwell Sr. regarding brother Willis’ denials that fornication is the only approved cause for divorce and that God has given governments the role of defining when marriage and divorce takes place. I encourage the readers of this article to read the book in its entirety.
Within this book, Mike clearly misrepresents three men (of which I am one), failing to cite any basis for his charge. Moreover, it is documented (see evidence below) that Mike had been exposed to and provided with documentation that his charge was not true. On page 65, Mike states:
“He (Ed Bragwell Sr., jhb) dismisses with a wave of his hand the arguments made by brethren Jeff Belknap, Don Martin, and Pat Donahue who argue that the innocent party in a divorce for the cause of fornication does not have a right to remarriage unless he ‘puts away’ (which they define as ‘initiate the civil divorce’) the guilty party. He may choose to ignore the implications of his position, but others will not. To those brethren brother Bragwell becomes a ‘mental divorce’ advocate unless he insists that the innocent party initiate and receive the civil judgment.” (emp. jhb).
You would think that after several years’ worth of writings online, the chief editor of “Truth” magazine would be able to find at least one quote to back-up his claims that I “define” the authorized putting away of the guilty party as to “initiate the civil divorce.” His obvious neglect to offer any evidence to prove that I “argue” the point he charges me with is apparent. In fact, any who are interested in truth can verify that my website is replete with repudiations of this oft-repeated false charge.
It is disheartening that accusations can be thrown about so frivolously by brethren in the conspicuous absence of proof. It leaves the one so charged with the task of proving the assertions to be untrue (cf. I Thessalonians 5:21). Even in the “evil” American judicial system, one is considered innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is upon those bringing the charges. Yet sadly among some brethren (brethren!), hurling charges with no basis in truth has become commonplace.
Additionally, in a recent issue of Truth Magazine [Volume XLIX, Number 18 (September 15, 2005)], brother Willis has once again misled his readers with misrepresentations regarding the doctrine that has divided brethren regarding the present controversy over “mental divorce.” Mike wrote:
“Let’s make some application. Some brethren and churches want to make indifferent what Jesus taught about divorce in Matthew 19:9, being tolerant of those doctrines taught by the late brother Homer Hailey, Olan Hicks, Glen Lovelady, and Jerry Bassett. Others want to make every aspect of the divorce decree a matter of the ‘doctrine of Christ.’ Here are some matters of personal judgment which are being made tests of salvation and fellowship:
• if one believes that one can remarry even though the legal papers do not say ‘for fornication’
• if he believes that the innocent party can remarry even though he does not initiate the legal papers in a divorce,
• if he believes that the innocent party can remarry so long as he counter sues
• if he believes that the innocent party has the right to remarriage in a divorce where the person counter sued but the judge awards the divorce to the guilty party; etc.
The brother who believes these things is often stigmatized with the charge of ‘mental divorce,’ a term stemming from the old ‘waiting game’ idea but which has become a catch-all phrase for all sorts of differences in judgments and opinions. Those judged guilty of ‘mental divorce’ are treated as violating the ‘doctrine of Christ’ (2 John 9-11). That some brethren have become factional about ‘mental divorce’ is evident from how they treat the issue. So long as one is right on ‘mental divorce,’ he is accepted into fellowship even if he also accepts into fellowship those who have taught what brother Hailey, Olan Hicks, Glen Lovelady, and Jerry Bassett teach on divorce and remarriage. (Go figure out that one!) I cite these examples to show that we have not mastered the plea: ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things love.’ I would like to examine the thesis of this maxim in the next several issues.” Mike Wills, In Essentials Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things Love; Truth Magazine [Volume XLIX, Number 18 (September 15, 2005)
First of all, I would like to point out that brother Willis cites no specific documentation of brethren who have been involved in the present “mental divorce” controversy who are making tests of fellowship out of the bulleted points written by brother Willis above. Considering the amount of time I have spent in reading, documenting and exposing erroneous MDR assertions in the past several years, you would think that I would have run across at least one who is pressing such ideas (making “arguments,” as Mike called it) and yet I know of absolutely none.
Yet in Mike’s paragraph following his straw man bullet points, he implies that those who advocate severing fellowship over those points are the same brethren who are active in the exposure of post-divorce “putting away” and marriage to another while one’s bound mate lives (i.e. “mental divorce”). Honestly, is that honest? If he believes that those active in exposing the mental divorce doctrine are in error, why not deal with what we actually teach, instead of some obscure, non-issue “arguments” that nobody involved in the present controversy is making?
Additionally, can Mike cite proof of even one instance in which “The brother who believes these things (his bullet point ideas, jhb) is often stigmatized with the charge of ‘mental divorce?’” I know and affirm that I have never accused anyone who espouses those listed beliefs with the charge of “mental divorce” because I have never believed it. Moreover, I am unaware of anyone who is involved in the present controversy who has done so, either.
The misrepresentations of brother Willis encourage his readers to dismiss the true issue of controversy without even knowing what it really is. As is evidenced by the entirety of the mental divorce website and the Gwin/Reeves and Smith/Haile debates (as well as J.T. Smith’s debate offer to Harry Osborne and my debate propositions which have not been accepted), the issue of controversy is not and has never been even close to brother Willis’ portrayal of it (“if one believes that one can remarry even though the legal papers do not say ‘for fornication,’ if he believes that the innocent party can remarry even though he does not initiate the legal papers in a divorce, if he believes that the innocent party can remarry so long as he counter sues, if he believes that the innocent party has the right to remarriage in a divorce where the person counter sued but the judge awards the divorce to the guilty party”).
The evidence shows that in the present controversy, the issue is simply this: When a divorce has taken place for a cause other than fornication, does the spouse who was unwilling to be unlawfully divorced have Bible authority to employ a post-divorce “putting away” for his/her mate’s post-divorce fornication and remarry another while his/her bound partner lives? I (and many others) have spent a lot of time and ink denying that there is Bible authority for such. Contrariwise, brother Willis and his associates argue for this divorced person’s continued “right” to “put away” for post-divorce fornication, as well as their “right” of remarriage to another (cf. Romans 16:17-18; I Timothy 6:3-5).
Mike’s diversionary tactics indicate that while he is secure in his ability to tear down his straw man arguments, he is insecure about his teaching regarding the true issue of controversy.
Moreover, brother Willis claims that those who expose the mental divorce doctrine are keeping fellowship with other MDR errorists such as those “who have taught what brother Hailey, Olan Hicks, Glen Lovelady, and Jerry Bassett teach on divorce and remarriage.” I know of no one who is presently exposing the current MDR errors who fellowships those who advocate immorality (save brother Connie Adams, who has exposed the multi-causes for divorce doctrine and the mental divorce doctrine as leading to adultery, yet fellowships their chief proponents – See Proverbs 28:4). Cf. Audio on Multi-Causes for Divorce; Audio on Mental Divorce
However, if Mike knows of someone who I am keeping company with who is teaching false doctrine, I invite him to point out who it is and provide documentation of their false teaching. If it is true that I have inadvertently kept company with those who are in error, I promise to correct the problem, for I do not want to disobey Ephesians 5:6-8, 11, 13 and II John 9-11.
One of the very first documents I posted to the MentalDivorce.com website sets the record straight that I neither believe nor teach what brother Willis charges me with in his book. Following is an excerpt from this document (My Personal Convictions):
“…So that you may know where I really stand on this issue, I offer my personal convictions.
1. It does not matter who initiates the civil proceedings! (Scripture does not say ‘whoever initiates divorce against his wife…,’ or ‘whoever files for divorce…,’ but ‘whoever divorces his wife…’). Those who accuse me (and others who have spoken out against this doctrine) of believing in ‘the race to the courthouse’ confuse the ‘filing’ with the final putting away. However, one may file, have a change of heart and never go through with their initial intention. In any lawsuit, the civil authorities finalize their decision after weighing the case. It is only at this point, that one becomes put away or divorced.
2. The innocent party may counter sue (if not, why not?). The law has given her this right in many states, and since filing is not equivalent to obtaining a divorce, the innocent mate (as one not yet put away), would have the right to petition the civil authorities in the matter. Again, the civil authorities make the decision after hearing both petitioners.
3. I do not believe that in a scriptural divorce, ‘the cause’ has to be written (stipulated) on the court documents! The question is, was fornication the factor that motivated the innocent party to go to the civil authorities for the divorce? God knows (cf. II Cor. 8:12)!
4. The issue of controversy is simply this: When a civil proceeding is over and a divorce is finalized, may a put away (divorced; repudiated) person someday later ‘divorce’ their ex-spouse, if and when the person who secured the civil divorce commits fornication? Does the remaining presence of the spiritual bond after an unscriptural civil divorce extend the innocent (already) put away person’s right to take some kind of action (procedure) which would allow them to ‘scripturally’ remarry?…”
From: Don Martin
To: Jeff Belknap
Sent: Friday, August 04, 2006
Subject: Don Martin with my experience with Mike Willis
… I, too, have been misrepresented by Mike Willis. His statement and charge that I teach the following is patently false:
“...who argue that the innocent party in a divorce for the cause of fornication does not have a right to remarriage unless he ‘puts away’ (which they define as ‘initiate the civil divorce’) the guilty party.”
I contacted Mike upon learning that Mike had by name mentioned me and also misrepresented my teaching in, “Editor’s Reply, Bible Causes of Divorce and the Role of Government in Divorce, A Discussion Between Ed Bragwell, Sr. and Mike Willis.” I used almost the precise same wording as you did in your below:
“I challenge him (‘you,’ dm) to find one quote which proves his (‘your,’ dm) claim that I ‘define’ the authorized putting away of the guilty party as to ‘initiate the civil divorce.’”
At first, Mike seemed willing to discuss the misrepresentation. In fact, after having apparently spent much time going over the voluminous teaching on what constitutes marriage and the converse, divorce that I have had published, Mike returned and admitted that he had misrepresented me. Mike stated:
“I have gone over your material and suggest making the following addendum to the book, with an asterisk beside your name to call attention to the addendum.
I hope this clarifies what you believe. I wish that you would make the same effort to clarify what I believe about the Bible authorizing one to leave a marriage if he cannot live as a Christian in it....”
I mentioned to Mike that I have always represented his teaching on multiple causes for putting away with accuracy. Mike did not attempt to offer not one case where I had misrepresented him. Had I in fact misrepresented Mike, I would have corrected it in whatever medium it appeared.
Mike Willis then proposed an addendum to his book. I read his proposed addendum and rather than simply say that he had misrepresented me, he went on and on, again, assigning to me teaching that was not representative or characteristic of what I have, in writing, stated.
When I contacted Mike about his addendum and pointed out that while he had admitted his misrepresentation, he then proceeded to further misrepresent, he returned with much sarcasm, in my judgment, and stated that he had not really been serious about correcting his liable.
I have, thus, found Mike Willis to be dishonorable. However, I did offer to further discuss the matter with Mike in the format of a written exchange that would be published in full to www.bibletruths.net, but Mike in no uncertain terms said he was not interested. This was about my third attempt to engage Mike in a written discussion on both biblical divorce and marriage to another and the privately supported missionary society issue.
…After finishing a discussion on whether or not there are some cases (other than fornication) as a result of which a person might get a divorce, you would then want to debate whether or not the innocent party must initiate the civil proceedings to have the right to remarriage, whether or not the civil proceedings say “for fornication” for one to have the right of remarriage, and similar judgments. I am not interested in going down such a path with you.
…The issue that many have with Ron and others is not “whether or not the innocent party must initiate the civil proceedings to have the right to remarriage,” or “whether or not the civil proceedings say ‘for fornication’ for one to have the right of remarriage.” The issue has to do with whether or not it matters who actually gets (secures) the divorce. And doesn’t Jesus make it very clear in a passage like Luke 16:18 that it matters who gets the divorce?, else why would it be adultery to marry a woman whose husband has divorced her unscripturally and remarried?…
Also, click on the following links to view the exposure of further examples of misrepresentation by Mike Willis:
· Concerning The ‘Mental Divorce’ Open Forum (by Greg Gwin)
· Since When Has Misrepresentation Been A Right? (Gene Frost)