Wednesday, February 15, 2012

W. W. Otey and G. H. P. Showalter

            William Wesley Otey had met and liked George Henry Pryor Showalter in Virginia around 1895, if not earlier. G. H. P. preached at the funeral of Otey’s infant son, Showalter Guy Otey, in 1896. Another of Josiah’s sons, Edward Thomas Showalter, wrote a notice about the baby’s death for the Octographic Review in January 1897; he, too, was a preacher, although never a controversialist like his father, or like Otey. Soon thereafter G. H. P. Showalter moved to Texas, where he served as president of Lockney Christian College from 1897 to 1902, and again from 1904 to 1906, the year when he moved to Austin, became president of Sabinal Christian College from 1907 to 1917, and bought the Firm Foundation, which he ran until his death in 1954, publishing both a weekly periodical and numerous books. He also earned a B.A. degree from the University of Texas in 1913. It is hardly surprising that he differed over the value of colleges with W. W. Otey, who never attended one.

Edward Thomas Showalter, c. 1965

            In 1912 Otey fell out with Daniel Sommer, in the course of a debate over evangelistic oversight. Sommer argued that when local elders could not resolve a congregation’s problems, evangelists had the authority to intervene. He attributed to Otey the position that “if they can’t settle their troubles, let them die, while the preacher goes and builds up new churches” (p. 244). As a result, Otey resigned from the Octographic Review and from then on wrote mostly for the Firm Foundation. G. H. P. Showalter had always found the Review’s positions too extreme, and welcomed the new contributor.

Cover of Simplified Bible Lessons (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1944),
G. H. P. Showalter and W. M. Davis

Advertisement for M. V. Showalter, Divine Biography, from the dust jacket of G. H. P. Showalter, ed., Harding College Lectures (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1952). Milton Vaden Showalter, another of Josiah’s sons, attended Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating in 1901. He moved to Texas and taught at Lockney Christian College, where his brother G. H. P. was president. Subsequently he was on the faculty of Abilene Christian College from 1920 to 1933.

            The relationship between Otey and G. H. P. Showalter frayed in 1950, however, over another dispute. In the post-war era, churches had organized missions to foreign nations, and Otey criticized the practice, on much the same grounds as he had attacked supporting colleges, missionary societies, and orphanages: “First, is the method or plan unscriptural? Second, is all the work being done work that belongs to the church as it works?” (p. 431.) I am not qualified to determine what is scriptural, but even I can see that the answer to the second question was negative – a mission in Japan was sponsoring sewing schools, English classes, health centers, social services, commercial classes, and a college. G. H. P. Showalter was supporting these sponsorship projects, however, and he began to close the pages of the Firm Foundation to Otey. Otey made his case in a book, Living Issues, which he published in 1951 with a dedication to Josiah Thomas Showalter. But the personal contacts between G. H. P. Showalter and W. W. Otey came to an end in 1951.

George Henry Pryor Showalter in 1950

            Both were nearing the ends of their lives. G. H. P. Showalter died in 1954, age 84, and Otey wrote a warm tribute on his death, titled “A Great Servant Called Home,” and published in the Firm Foundation. In July 1956, “Minnie” (Showalter) Otey passed away, after several years of failing health. On 1 November 1961, William Wesley Otey himself died, at the age of 94. With his death, one of the last veterans of the great years of the Church of Christ in Snowville passed away.


Faithful readers: 
I will be traveling for most of the next two weeks, and will not publish another post until March 7.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

W. W. Otey and the Showalter Family

            William Wesley Otey’s mother was a first cousin of Josiah Thomas Showalter. Her name was Sarah Ann Showalter (1832-1929). She was the daughter of Isaac Daniel Showalter (28 July 1806-7 January 1837). He was apparently known as Daniel, and probably because of his brief life, he is sometimes omitted from Showalter family trees. He was, however, one of the more than ten children of Henry Garver Showalter (1766-1841) and Magdalena Halderman (c. 1765-c. 1818). Henry Garver Showalter was born in Pennyslvania and moved to southwestern Virginia, settling for a time in the Roanoke Valley before moving a bit farther west. Another of his children was David Halderman Showalter (31 December 1801-12 April 1877), father of Josiah Thomas Showalter.
            Daniel Showalter married in 1826 Sarah Ann Griffith (1810-c. 1866). In the eleven years before his death, they produced five daughters and one son. One of the daughters was Sarah Ann; the only son was Henry B. Showalter, born in 1831, who also plays a significant part in this story. On 7 December 1853 Sarah Ann Showalter married Joshua Otey (1829-1918), who was born close to Snowville, Virginia. Joshua found it difficult to earn a living; he worked for a time as a painter, tried carpentry, ran a sawmill and a grist mill, and fell back on farming, all without much success. He inherited a small parcel of land from his father, but sold it in 1858 and never again owned any land. His son, W. W. Otey, said that he was “the most optimistic, hardest working, poorest manager that I have ever seen” (pp. 18-19).

Henry B. and Elizabeth (Turpin) Showalter

            Sarah Ann’s brother, Henry B. Showalter, came to Joshua Otey’s rescue. In 1884, he arranged for the struggling Otey family to move onto his prosperous farm in Floyd County, Virginia. He needed  some extra hands, and Otey had seven sons, including William Wesley (born 14 March 1867). Soon after his arrival at his new home, on 29 December 1884, W. W. Otey met his cousin Amanda Elizabeth “Minnie” Showalter and it was love at first sight. They were married on Christmas Eve 1885, and made a home for themselves on a tract of uncleared land her father gave them. The following year, Otey declared his wish to be baptized in the Church of Christ, and Henry sent for his cousin, Josiah Thomas Showalter, at that time the best known of the active preachers in the area. Josiah not only baptized Otey, but also instructed him in leading worship and preaching. Soon Otey had revived the congregation of the disused church in the community of Showalter, Virginia, and begun his life’s work.

Josiah Thomas Showalter, c. 1906

            Josiah Thomas Showalter and his cousin Henry had been in close contact long before Otey’s baptism. Josiah, his brother William, and their cousin Henry all enlisted together in the Confederate army. They joined the Floyd County Company, which became Company A of the 54th Virginia Infantry. Their company was in fierce battles at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September and November 1863; at numerous battles in Georgia trying vainly to stop Sherman’s advance, including at Atlanta in July 1864; and the company remained in service until April 1865, surrendering in North Carolina at the war’s end. Henry and William were front line soldiers; Josiah’s job was to carry ammunition to the front lines. Henry reported that the fighting never became too rough for Josiah to supply adequate ammunition. He also wrote to his wife, on 12 November 1863, between the battles of Chicamauga and Chattanooga:
Josiah Showalter has been here to see me today... He is very religious. He has prayer meetings at his quarters frequently. He told me today he thought he ought to preach and wanted to know what I thought of it. I told him if that was his feelings that I could not see anything against it and that I thought it might do a great deal of good. He appears to be perfectly resigned to his fate. Let him be where he may be, as much so as any man I ever saw reads his Bible and studies it whenever he has a chance. He has written to [Chester] Bullard to see the church asking if they think he ought to preach or not but has received no answer yet. He is the most changed man you almost ever saw for five or six months past and I hope he will hold on to the good way in which he has started. (p.8.)
By 1870, Josiah was an elder of the Cypress Grove Church of Christ, in Snowville, and strongly advocated a pacifist resolution, which the elders passed in 1871, recommending to members of their church “that they declare their determination, that under no circumstance will they bear arms, or engage in these wars” (p. 70).
            As I have said in previous posts, Josiah took a very conservative stand on all the issues facing the church, and W. W. Otey seemed to be in complete accord with him. Both fulminated against the introduction of organs into the churches, and both opposed the creation of missionary societies to do the work of the church. Josiah wrote regular articles under the heading “Jottings from Virginia” for a periodical called American Christian Review (which later merged with the rival Octographic Review and took its name), the leading organ of the “anti” wing of the church. In 1889, Otey also began to write for it, and formed close ties with its editor, Daniel Sommer. Josiah, meanwhile, was campaigning against Bible colleges and the use of the name “Christian Church”.
            When a person is convinced that he is speaking God’s truth, it is probably inevitable that conflicts will arise with others who hold the same conviction. It was not long before Josiah and W. W. Otey clashed. In 1894, Josiah wrote in the Octographic Review that “Prof. C. D. M. Showalter had purchased an interest in Milligan College,” and he urged readers “to send their children there for a classical education, suggesting also that there their morals would be ‘looked after’.” (p. 121.) Otey wrote a scathing reply: “That colleges have been a source from which evil has sprung among the disciples is a statement that cannot be successfully denied. ... I believe Milligan College in Tennessee to be in all probability the most dangerous among the disciples.” (p. 121.) Showalter responded in kind. Cecil Willis, the author of Otey, is naturally partial to his subject, whom he knew as a friend in his old age and who probably related this incident to him from his own perspective. Willis does not quote enough of the debate to enable one to judge it impartially. Apparently Otey disapproved of Milligan’s president, Josephus Hopwood, because he supported the missionary societies. And the polemicist betrayed something Josiah Showalter had told him in confidence, namely, that Hopwood had called Josiah Showalter “an extremist”.

C. D. M. Showalter holding the blogger, 1936

            Willis was misinformed about some of the facts, however. He begins the story saying that “it was incorrectly reported to Josiah that his son had purchased a part of Milligan College” (p. 120). As I have documented in earlier posts, C. D. M. Showalter had in fact bought the college, and was co-owner with his father-in-law, James Lewis English. The purchase was, however, intended to help the college through a financial crisis; President Hopwood retained control of the academic operation of the school, and the deed provided that the trustees could repurchase the college, and they did so a year later. Willis reiterates his error: “Otey’s criticism must have been especially stinging, since Showalter believed his son now owned part of the school. Actually J. T. Showalter had been misinformed. His son did not own part of Milligan College.” (p. 121.) If Josiah was stung, it may have been because he had several children, plus a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law, who were enrolled in, or graduates of, or teaching at, Milligan; but it was more probably because a kinsman he regarded as a friend and disciple had attacked him publicly and revealed a secret in doing so.
            Otey and Josiah Showalter continued to be friends after this quarrel, but the tension continued to simmer. In 1910, a new squabble erupted when G. H. P. Showalter (another of Josiah’s sons and another Milligan graduate) published a defense of schools. Otey responded, and Josiah chimed in with the argument that Otey was inconsistent, because he had sent two of his own daughters to Lynchburg College, where Josephus Hopwood had gone after leaving Milligan. Willis interjects the misleading note that “Showalter’s son, C. D. M., had married the daughter of the owner of Milligan College, James L. English” (p. 220), to explain why Josiah was still bothered by the conflict. He concedes that both Otey and the Showalters (Josiah and G. H. P.) were finding “petty faults” with each other, and acknowledges that Josiah continued to praise and admire Otey. As in the earlier incident, not enough of the evidence is cited to permit a fair evaluation; was it inaccurate to assume that Otey’s epithet “most dangerous” applied to Hopwood as well as to the college? I can’t say, but the debate sounds to me more like political candidates than a trio of churchmen.

From G. H. P. Showalter, Travel Talks (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1938), p. 18

            There is no doubt that Josiah Showalter was a cantankerous man. He was dropped from the contributorial staff of the Octographic Review in 1901, apparently because he disagreed with the editor, Daniel Sommer, over pacifism. Afterwards, Josiah published mainly in the Firm Foundation, a periodical based in Austin, Texas, which his son G. H. P. Showalter bought around 1907 and ran for 47 years. Josiah was an old man by this time, however; he died in 1915. Most of his work and most of his battles were behind him. Two of his sons became preachers, however, and one worked closely with W. W. Otey, as I will explain in the next post.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Life of William Wesley Otey

            W. W. Otey, Contender for the Faith: A History of Controversies in the Church of Christ from 1860-1960 (Akron, Ohio, 1964), published by the author, Cecil Willis, is a very different sort of book from the one I talked about in my two previous blog posts. Otey, as I will abbreviate the title, is a biography, not a memoir. Moreover, it focusses on a limited aspect of its subject, as the subtitle suggests. William Wesley Otey was a redoubtable debater; the author writes near the end, “It was extremely difficult for Otey to stay out of a fight.” (p. 350) He debated Mormons, Primitive Baptists, Dunkards and the progressives and digressives of his own church. He argued forcefully, always from the conservative side, in the controversies over instruments, societies, colleges, co-operation among congregations, evangelistic oversight, premillennialism, and church unity.

The cover of W. W. Otey, Contender for the Faith, by Cecil Willis

            Perhaps I am less informed than I ought to be, but I had no idea what most of these controversies were about. And the biographer does not offer much explanation; Willis was writing for initiates, who were aware of these matters beforehand. In a nutshell, as I understand it, all these controversies within the Church of Christ concerned the mission to recreate the church as Christ had founded it – that is, nothing would be allowed in the church for which there was no precedent in Scripture. According to Otey and other “Anti” evangelists, nothing in Scripture authorizes musical instruments in church, or any delegation of the individual congregation’s authority to a society of any sort. Add to the book’s narrow focus the fact that “Otey was dead serious most of the time” (p. 280), and except for historians of religion, Otey is not much fun to read.
            The accounts of this argumentative culture are nevertheless sometimes entertaining, and remind me a great deal of the Presidential debates of recent years. According to the biographer, 1908 was the most significant year in Otey’s life, because it was the date of the “famous Otey-Briney debate” (pp. 194-212). John Benton Briney was a “digressive” preacher in the Church of Christ, reputed to be a formidable debater, and his party issued the challenge. The two men agreed to argue two propositions: “The use of such organizations as the Illinois Christian Missionary Society, the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, etc., is authorized in the New Testament Scriptures and acceptable to God,” and “The use of instrumental music in connection with the songs sung by the church on the Lord’s day, when assembled for edification and communion, is opposed to New Testament teaching and sinful.” Otey took the negative on the first and the affirmative on the second.
            Shortly before the scheduled meeting, however, Briney demanded a change of venue, which Otey arranged with some difficulty, for a site in Louisville. Otey then tried to arrange a planning meeting with Briney, who declined to come to a hotel and refused to allow Otey to bring his team to Briney’s home. Otey bargained to bring at least a stenographer, but Briney would permit only Otey’s words to be recorded. Then Briney refused to argue an affirmative version of his position on instrumental music. When the event finally occurred, it was generally agreed that Otey won, and the printed account of the debate sold out quickly.
            Not long afterward, another opponent, R. O. Rogers, resorted to personal attacks, calling Otey “a sort of ecclesiastical tramp” who deserted his wife and children for eight months a year, leaving them “to shift for themselves on a fourteen-acre tract of the most sterile land that lay beneath ‘the shining canopy of God’s blue heaven.’” He charged that Otey had his own “Ladies Aid Society” in the form of his wife and daughters, and that while the family fed “on the husks that the swine did eat,” the preacher was feasting on “floating islands and two story pies” (p. 217). This debate concerned instrumental music again, and somewhere amidst the invective Brother Rogers invoked 1 Corinthians 14 in support of it; but observers considered it an easy win for Otey, despite the effort to Swift-Boat him.
            I confess to a certain sympathy for Rogers in my feelings about this biography. Otey’s family are virtually invisible. In the opening pages, the author quotes a moving passage Otey wrote in 1956 as an obituary tribute to his wife. It describes their first meeting: “Our eyes met and held as if by magic for a moment,” and ends “I loved her more than seventy years.” (p. 35). They had nine children, of whom seven were still living in 1956, along with fourteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren (p. 358). There is almost no mention of them, though. We learn that his two eldest daughters attended Lynchburg College, a fact which some critics found inconsistent with Otey’s views on colleges and the Church of Christ (p. 220); and that his son Ray wanted to go to Abilene Christian College in 1929, but Otey moved to Rocky, Oklahoma – and Ray went instead to an osteopathy college in Missouri (pp. 255-56).

W. W. Otey, his wife Minnie, and their children, in 1920
Front: Joe, W. W., Minnie, D. S.
Back: Ray, Ola, Bentley, Willie, Verna, Lucille
            As related by Willis, Otey’s life was almost entirely made up of preaching, debating, leading church meetings, submitting articles to church periodicals, and writing books. He began his career in western Floyd County, Virginia, in the corner formed by the borders with Pulaski and Carroll Counties; the post office was called Showalter, Virginia, and it no longer exists, alas. Otey was baptized there in 1886 and began to preach in the late 1880s. Except for a few months in Ohio, he remained in western Virginia until 1904, when he moved to Indiana. After seven years there, he moved to Kansas in 1911, then to Oklahoma in 1929, to Texas in 1934, and back to Kansas in 1939, residing in Belle Plaine until his wife’s death, after which he moved to Winfield, near his daughter’s home. He died there on 1 November 1961, at the age of 94, justly honored for his lifetime of service to his church.

 Brother and Sister Otey, 1950

            I have omitted something up to this point, which will explain why I read this book and thought it was worth talking about in this blog. W. W. Otey’s mother was named Sarah Ann Showalter. The wife he loved for seventy years was Amanda Elizabeth “Minnie” Showalter. He was baptized by Josiah Thomas Showalter. George Henry Pryor Showalter’s periodical Firm Foundation published 192 of Otey’s articles between 1928 and 1954. Even though Cecil Willis devotes very little space to Otey’s family, he says a good deal about the connections with the Showalters and about the complicated relationships between Otey and his Showalter kin. The next two posts will explore those topics.