In Response to Cherie Kropp’s Letter, August 1990
This report is in answer to the dozens of interested requests regarding the nature of Harry Brownlee’s answers to my letter to him about the issue of legalism surrounding appearance and use of spare time.
As we sat down that August evening, Harry said he would like to clear up something first, before we started talking. He said he had heard that I had taped his last visit (a lunch), and he wanted to know if that was true.
Cherie: “I certainly did not.”
Harry: “I didn’t think you would do a thing like that, Cherie, but I had to make sure. I would have been very disappointed if you had.”
Because he made a big issue out of it, we knew it really had him concerned. Later, my husband, Dave, quizzed him about his concern. He asked, “If what you said was true, why would it matter if Cherie HAD taped the conversation?”
Harry: “Well, you see the spirit does not come through tapes” (or notes either). Harry detests both of them, which seems peculiar to us, unless he had something to hide. His point of view is that the spirit is ONLY transmitted on a one-to-one basis. (Maybe like a germ is transmitted to people?) It doesn’t come through on tapes. He also said that things can be taken out of context if one doesn’t know what was said before and after the recording or notes are made. (We both disagreed silently. Truth can be recorded in tapes and notes.)
Thinking of my grandparents in particular, I mentioned how nice it would be for the old folks in rest homes to be able to hear convention sermons through tapes. No, he didn’t think it was a good idea to tape the conventions because things may be said that were not “right”.
We both felt later that we should have brought up the fact that other people would have heard the same things that were not “right”. Why don’t they just correct the problem–and get the “right” thing said in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better for the older people to hear something that wasn’t quite right (just like the rest of us) rather than to hear nothing at all?
Previously, Harry had stated to us that he knows we have read the SECRET SECT. My question was, “How can you reconcile preaching that the “Truth” is the ONLY RIGHT WAY to Heaven when it was founded by William Irvine around the turn of the century?”
Harry said the first preacher his parents heard preach the gospel was Irvine Weir. They had also heard William Irvine. As to whether there were others before William Irvine, he didn’t know for sure, because he had never looked into it. He, himself, was satisfied that this WAY was the TRUE WAY of Jesus. So, he didn’t see any sense in wasting any time checking into it.
However, in the next breath, he assured us that he was not claiming apostolic succession. But he IS SURE it is the TRUTH. When pressed, he would NOT admit or deny Irvine was the founder. (He was slick!) I could NOT pin him down that Irvine started this way. He took the attitude that it just didn’t concern him enough to be bothered by looking into it. He did NOT say others had NOT told him about the first days or anything. Just that he had not personally checked into them. I wish I had pursued this angle. Each time he spoke of the WAY or the TRUTH or JESUS WAY I made him define which way he was referring to: “Jesus as the Way or this fellowship of which you are a minister?” I didn’t let him pull any double talk stuff on me. I separated the two by calling them Irvine’s way and Jesus Way.
Since this time, he has come for another SHORT visit, at my request. Then, he said that he believed God could raise up a prophet like he did in the Old Testament days and mentioned Irvine as a prophet with a revelation. And he asked if I didn’t think God could raise up, etc.
I replied, “Yes, I think he COULD, but I don’t think William Irvine was such a prophet because he didn’t pass the prophet test–his prophecies never came true.”
Then I wanted information regarding WHO are the overseers.
Cherie: “Who is your overseer?”
Harry: “Well, I look to Taylor Wood.”
Cherie: “Who are the other United States overseers?”
After he hedged a bit, I had to hand pull them out of him.
Cherie: “Isn’t William Lewis one?”
Cherie: “And Garrett Hughes?”
Harry: “Yes, but poor old Garrett’s health is gone.”
Cherie: “Who will take his place?”
Harry: “Well, I believe that will be Leslie White.”
Cherie: “And Tharold Sylvester is one?”
Cherie: “And Murray Keene.”
Cherie: “Is that all?”
Harry: “Yes, as far as I know.”
Cherie: “So there are five total.”
Other questions asked:
Cherie: “What commends us to God?”
Harry: “Belief and growth.”
Cherie: “What is fruit?”
Cherie: “How does one grow?”
Harry: “With works.”
Cherie: “What are works?”
Cherie: “How does one get saved?”
Harry: “By repenting and accepting salvation by grace through faith.”
Cherie: “We agree wholeheartedly on this, but Harry, you preach a different gospel than most other workers do.”
Harry: laughed “But it’s true–I’m not one whit more saved today than I was the first day I stood to my feet and professed.” I remember when it came so very clear to me–Willie Jamieson showed it to me.”
Cherie: “What does it mean SPECIFICALLY when it speaks of giving to others in the Bible.”
Harry: “It means to give to others spiritually. There are enough government agencies and others to help everyone naturally.”
I was trying to see where LOVE fit in his scheme of things. I finally had to ask him, “What about LOVE? Isn’t that the most important thing of all?” He had never mentioned it until I asked about it. I asked many other questions but cannot remember them all. I never did point out my viewpoints on these matters, I just asked for his.
Cherie: “You stated in gospel meeting that there are only differences in tradition – not in doctrine. Is salvation by grace doctrine?”
Cherie: “I know for a fact that there were workers at Texarkana convention two years ago where you preached who did NOT agree with you. There was some grumbling about it, and remarks like, “That’s HIS opinion.” That shows that there are differences in what is considered to be doctrine in the “Truth”.”
I can’t remember exactly what he said. Usually, he tried to get off the hook with something to the effect that he couldn’t help that, or do anything about it. Perhaps he is doing all he can to preach correctly and realizes he CANNOT do anything else. He is practically 80 years old and has no pension plan or any provision for his old age except in this way. He HAS to fit in with what those over him want him to do or preach. He’s locked in.
Cherie: You do SOME things differently. You are trying to preach correctly–salvation as a gift through faith. But you won’t put a hand to the plow to help in other areas of discrepancies. You just say “I can’t do anything about that.” I don’t believe there is: “nothing you can do about these things.” I think your hands are tied–but I do believe there ARE SOME THINGS you can do.”
Harry: “Like what?”
Cherie: “You could tell others how wrong it is to be judgmental. Impress them with the difference in tradition and doctrine. Most people have no idea there is any difference. Everything is doctrine to them. They have doctrine all mixed up with “commandments of men”. Encourage everyone to respect each other’s decisions on how they live outwardly, and what they choose to do or not do. Show them that there is NO ONE WAY to do things that is always right for everyone and that it is WRONG TO JUDGE others.”
Harry: shakes his head, like NO, he couldn’t do that, or that I was WAY off track.
Cherie: “The friends here judged us by the appearance of my daughter and I the first day we walked into our first meeting in this city and state, and they refused to have anything to do with us…all based solely on our appearance. They certainly never knew us to base it on anything else! We have been invited over to four different homes for dinner in the 2 and 1/2 years we have lived in this city; two of them because they wanted to see some company who was visiting us, and another time because everyone in the meeting was invited. That’s LOVE?! NO! That’s judging! They feel: You don’t follow our rules on appearance, so we’re not going to play with YOU!”
I proceeded to tell him about some out-of-town visitors who came to meeting with us. Before meeting, I nearly told her not to expect to meet anyone after meeting. No one even spoke to me the first time we came except for two workers. Well, to my astonishment, practically the entire meeting went up to them, shook their hands and introduced themselves. I had to knock people down to get people to even speak to me. I would target the folks I intended to meet each time I went to gospel meeting so I could get to know different people in the field. The only difference between this other couple and us is that the other woman and her daughter wear their hair pulled slick back in a bun and not one dab of makeup. I wear very light makeup with my hair trimmed with bangs and my 11-year-old daughter wears her hair down!
Cherie: “Harry, you don’t know how laid back these folks are in Oklahoma! My daughter and I had been here over a year before we found out that they consider it a sin to ROLL your hair! Here we had our permanents, and hot rollers and curling irons, and probably mentioned them freely, offending people right and left, without knowing it. Then I find out it’s a SIN to even ROLL your hair with a curler!! I can’t tell you when I’ve been more shocked!”
Harry: “Name one person who believes that.”
Cherie: I gave a “name.” Someone saw her in rollers and she was so ashamed even though she knows in her mind that there cannot be anything wrong with them. Having naturally curly hair, she has to do something to be able to get her hair straight enough to look halfway decent. Yet, she feels guilty for doing this absolutely innocent, harmless thing because that’s what she has been taught. Oh, and let me tell you what else! It’s okay to roll your hair in rags–make rag curls, or use hose to make rag curled hair, because rags or hose were not specifically made to roll your hair on, like a curler!
Harry and his younger companion were laughing hard at this.
Cherie: “Rich! You don’t know what you’ve missed, not growing up in this! You just don’t know how tangled up this mess is! It’s like living in the Dark Ages here in Oklahoma compared to Texas!”
Cherie: “And the elders’ wives were told not to wear colored hose! And, another example: “Name” doesn’t believe in trimming her hair! Her hair is so long it actually drags the floor when it’s down. My daughter has seen it down. The weight of it causes her head to hurt, she gets headaches from the pins digging in her head which are necessary to put it up, and the first thing she does when she comes in after work is to take it down. She does this because she WANTS TO? NO! Because she thinks she is SUPPOSED to in order to be SAVED! Think of the HORRIBLE time she has in washing it–the amount of time it takes to dry! That is ridiculous! This is what she understands the workers want and she thinks it is required for her salvation!”
Since this conversation, Harry has given the first girl (I mentioned as an example) three compliments about liking her hair!! I clued her in on what he was trying to say.
Harry didn’t agree that we were excluded because of our appearance AT ALL! But he couldn’t tell me what it was.
Once when I complained about so many of the professing women looking dowdy, Harry said that the women looked like that because they were LAZY! When I protested and said they didn’t look that way because they WANTED to but because they thought that is the way the workers WANTED THEM TO LOOK!
I told him the workers should let them know they DON’T have to look that way. He shook his head indicating that wasn’t his job or he couldn’t do that. I told him they would NOT change unless they were told differently. And he still holds to his belief that they look like that because they want to and that telling them wouldn’t change them! Not ALL of them, I said, but it would definitely set a lot of women folk free.
I wanted to get everything out in the open and see what he would do with us. I told him we were tired of living two lives in order to avoid rejection by the friends. We wanted to live by our OWN CONVICTIONS and not cover up what we saw NO HARM in. We want to truly let the Spirit guide us, not other people’s opinions. I told him we saw nothing wrong in owning a television, or in seeing movies. Since Dave’s employer is Anheuser Busch, drinking a beer was like drinking CocaCola to us. That my daughter was at a dance that very moment and that I would much rather she be at a supervised activity when she is older than in a car necking simply because there are no recreational activities deemed suitable by the workers for dating kids to enjoy!
I told him I had been going to a Bible Study group with some other ladies for four years and would work my life around those studies until I completed them. (I have one more year) That I had learned more in them than in ALL the meetings I had ever sat through all put together. I told him I saw NOTHING wrong in short hair, make-up, jewelry or women wearing pants. I said that I didn’t believe this WAY was the ONLY WAY to salvation. I told him that people can’t be honest about their convictions in this WAY. You have to CONFORM to the workers’ convictions or your part will be taken away. This way hampers my spirit.
Cherie: “Harry, if I went to meeting like I believe a professing woman should be able to do, and believing others outside of this way are saved—those in other churches, you would ask me NOT to take part.”
Harry: “How do you think you should be able to look?”
Cherie: “No different than any other respectable woman in the world around us. I think a professing woman should be able to have short hair, wear jewelry and makeup.”
Harry: “Cherie, if you came to meeting like that and had bread, I would NOT take your part away.”
Now THAT was the most surprising thing about the whole evening! I wonder how many other workers would have said that?! Very few I imagine! Or did he think or hope that I would not take him up on the challenge? But you cannot live by your own convictions. You have to conform to the workers’ interpretation of certain scriptures regardless of how you understand them.
Harry firmly said that people should live by their own convictions! Would the other workers allow a woman to take part in meetings, or be baptized if she wore short hair, makeup and jewelry? Why would Harry Brownlee tell me I could? This must not be doctrine if it is not the same everywhere!
Cherie: “It would cause YOU all sorts of problems if I took you up on your offer. And I’m NOT the trouble maker type. I abhor strife! Some people would get all upset and go to you, as well as your overseer. It would make far-reaching WAVES and cause lots of confusion. It would cause you a lot of grief. Thanks, but I’m going to pass.”
Harry said he HATES rules and emphatically wished all of them could be abolished. He said they make Pharisees out of people. I heartily agreed and said, “Let’s do it!! Let’s do it!!”
He laughed. It is obvious that a lot of what he considers doctrine is what I consider rules and traditions of men.
Cherie: “Do you think Paul’s writings are applications of Jesus’ teachings, and therefore, may not always be applicable to everyone in all generations? Or is every instruction of Paul’s just as applicable today as it was 1900 years ago?”
Harry: “Paul’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit and as such are every bit as inspired as Jesus’ words; we are to give Paul’s words the same importance as Jesus’. All scripture applies to us.”
Cherie: “If you think all scripture applies to US in this hour and time, then why didn’t you give me a holy kiss when you walked in?”
Harry: “Well, we do kiss you in our hearts when we walk in. We are very grateful for each and every home that is open to us.”
Cherie: “Why aren’t you taking Paul’s coat to Troas? (II Tim. 4:13)
Harry: “Well, we do take the coats of others to various places when they ask us to.”
Cherie: “Do you take wine when you have a stomach ache?”
Harry: “I certainly would have no objection to anyone doing that.”
Cherie: “My point is that you do NOT literally do EVERYTHING that can be done which is instructed in the Bible. Why are some things performed LITERALLY and others taken SPIRITUALLY? Don’t you have to consider to whom the scripture was written? And the cultural conditions prevailing there? How do you accurately differentiate what scripture is to be taken literally and which spiritually?”
I pointed out that in I Tim. 2:8-12 in consecutive verses, verse 8 isn’t taken literally (men praying, lifting up holy hands); verse 9 is taken literally (women not wearing jewelry), and verses 11-12 are taken to mean the exact opposite from what they say (women DO TEACH). There is absolutely NO CONSISTENCY in interpretation here. WHY? How can you insist your interpretation is the ONLY CORRECT one in these issues?
RE: LONG HAIR. To look up a point we were discussing in I Cor. 11 (the long hair chapter), Harry got a different Bible version….I think it was the American Standard or Amplified. I pointed out that you don’t need other versions–you need to go to the Greek to get a true understanding of the meaning of the word when it was first written, not to a translation of a translation. He ran his fingers through his hair…the body language sign of exasperation.
RE: I Cor. 11:16. “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Harry claims this verse simply means the friends have no custom of being contentious.
I maintain that being contentious cannot be classified as a custom. It’s an attitude; and this verse could not be referring to the act of being contentious because the word the verse begins with: “but” sums up all the discussion that went before this verse. It means after considering all the previous points, if anyone disagrees, we have no such custom of _______. My point was that everything under discussion pertained to custom, and was NOT DOCTRINE, and certainly not to being contentious. His Bible version left out the word “but” altogether.
Harry thinks it means we have no custom of being contentious…PERIOD, paragraph, end of book!! He refused to consider the very nature of the word “but”. It is similar to “therefore,” which sums up the previous dialogue.
When I backed him into a corner on another issue pertaining to women, he said, “Well, we’re not going to be able to agree on this, so we’ll have to go onto something else.” However, I ignored this request. He had promised to answer ANY QUESTIONS I HAD. Each time he would say, “This is the way I see it” Or, “I can’t do anything about that”
Harry said he believes women would look the same as they do now if they were NOT PROFESSING. I said, “I can’t agree with you at all. Why don’t all the newcomers already have buns on their heads?” He said he meant that women who are sloppy in their grooming would still have the unkept look, which may be true.
Cherie: “We let Krista [our daughter, age 11] get her ears pierced because I believe with certainty that it would result in her having a bitter spirit against Jesus (in particular this way) if we hadn’t. I could not give her one good reason why she couldn’t. I read all the verses to her and she didn’t buy them. I couldn’t buy them either. (They didn’t say Thou shalt not pierce thy ears.) She was the only girl in her class who didn’t have her ears pierced, and it meant a great deal to her to have it done NOW!”
Harry: shaking his head–“I sure wouldn’t have done it if it had been my child, but you are the parent, and you must do what you think best, etc. for your child, and you know your child best”
Cherie: “I consider guarding her spirit against bitterness much more important than two holes in her ears. I’ve had to deal with the bitterness of not being able to do what others could do without being given a good reason. Bitterness is a hard thing to overcome. What REASONS would you have given her?”
Harry: “I would have told her she could do whatever she wanted when she grew up, but while she was in MY HOUSE, etc.” (which isn’t a scriptural REASON!)
Cherie: “That would be robbing her of something that means something to her NOW! It’s NOW that she is the only man out. Now that her spirit will be hardened against Jesus. At 18, she can choose to pierce THEN, but that will not help how she feels NOW. You can’t replace this time in her life at age 18.”
Cherie: “From I Cor. 11, what are women to have long hair for?”
Harry: “It is a token of submission.”
Cherie: “So, it is a symbol of something else?”
Harry: “Yes, you might say so.”
Cherie: “Submission to whom?”
Harry: “To her husband; and another reason, it is a glory to the woman.”
Cherie: “Define glory, please.”
Harry: “Glory is beauty; like your child is your glory or pride and joy.”
Cherie: “Glory to whom? God or the woman?”
Harry: “To the woman.”
Cherie: “If it is a symbol of submission, then in those days long hair had the same meaning for a woman as this wedding band does on my finger today. The wedding band has taken the place of the long hair in our culture, as a symbol of marriage.”
Harry didn’t agree with that at all. He feels the ring does not replace the need to have long hair.
Since this visit was supposed to answer the questions I had asked him in a former letter and since he had never acknowledged receipt of the letter, I asked him point-blank if he received my letter. He had. Even though we asked that he not bring a companion when he came to visit us, he brought one anyway. We didn’t mention that. The companion hardly said two words the whole visit. It is just his first or second year in the work, and he wasn’t raised in the 2×2 way.
When Harry came to Oklahoma, he told all the friends that they would come for 2-day visits, so they could really get to know everyone, etc. We were expecting him to stay for 2-3 days since he had only allowed us short lunches before that. They had supper, spent one evening when we had 2 hours solid conversation; then the next morning Saturday, we had 2 hours more solid discussion. They stayed until 11 AM when they just HAD to leave! I never received my requested verse by verse discussion of I Cor. 11, nor did he reply to anything in my letter unless I specifically asked the question. It was like I had not written the letter. I really think that if I had brought up every detail in my letter, that he would have said he hadn’t looked into that, because he was satisfied with the way they saw it was the RIGHT WAY.
Because I wrote about some words that have other meanings than what is stated in the King James version, he talks as if I think the Bible was translated wrong, which is preposterous to him. He verbally scorned those who claim that the Bible was translated erroneously in the last gospel meeting I attended.
The tone of the conversation was always good-natured, peaceful, respectful, and we agreed to disagree. Harry said, “If there is a gulf made between us, it will not be because I have pushed you away, Cherie, but because you have chosen to do so.” The funny thing was Harry addressed all his remarks and replies to Dave, and hardly ever even LOOKED at me, even though I was doing all the questioning! It was like he was trying to convince Dave.
When he left, I told him that I wasn’t at all sure this way was for me. It hampered my spirit, and I just wasn’t certain that it would contribute to spiritual growth for me.
Epilogue: When Harry’s responses above were shown to an ex-worker, he replied, “It is obvious that Harry doesn’t believe that Cherie is saved. When I was a young worker, I was taught very early how to NOT ANSWER QUESTIONS. I was taught that the unbeliever has no right to receive the answers to everything. The text that was used was in regard to the Queen of Sheba I Kings 10:7, “But I did not believe these things until I came and saw them with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me.” And also the verses regarding not “casting pearls before swine.”
What makes this all so interesting is that Harry had promised to answer ALL my questions and he even said he welcomed questions. Moreover, a quick glance at that verse in I Kings 10 shows how perverted the workers’ use of that verse is. It has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with instructions about whether to answer questions or not. And the verse about casting our pearls before swine is in regard to people who have ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST and even hatred towards Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with honest inquiry from someone wanting to understand scripture and serve God.
The fact that young workers are actually trained to NOT ANSWER questions shows a complete disregard for their role as shepherds of the flock and teachers of the scripture.
LINK to previous letter by Cherie Kropp to Harry Brownlee