The Making of Wisdom Hunter - Part VI (By Randall Arthur)
I braced myself as I took the call from the President of the mission agency.
"I’ve spent the afternoon and evening reading your book," he declared. His voice was tense. "I have finished three-quarters of it. I will finish the rest of it tomorrow. But I want your letter of resignation on my desk when I arrive in my office tomorrow morning." His breathing was quick and heavy. "Do you understand?"
I had known, since the completion of the Wisdom Hunter manuscript, that if the book ever went to press I would be fired. And now it was actually happening. I had served with the agency for seventeen years. I thought I was emotionally and mentally prepared to be castigated. But it was still a tumultuous hit.
"Yes...I understand," I replied.
"And by the way,” he fumed, “I'm going to compose a letter and have it sent to every church around the country that supports our one-thousand missionaries. I'm going to tell them that you are no longer one of us." If I remember correctly there were approximately five thousand churches at the time that contributed to the monthly support of our agency's missionaries. "And," he continued, "I'm going to tell them that the book is a disgrace to all that we stand for and believe in."
I simply nodded in silence.
"To make this official," he concluded, "I want you to make an appearance next week at our board meeting. I want you to explain yourself to the board of directors. I want to find out what has happened to you." An appointment was marked on the calendar.
I hung up and tried to breathe.
As instructed, I faxed my letter of resignation.
A few days later I honored the appointment requested by the President. Without anyone to support me or advocate for me I drove the two hours to the mission headquarters and sat at the end of a huge table surrounded by seven men in suits and ties.
As the meeting commenced, the President said, "Randy, do you honestly believe what you have written in this book?"
I tried to keep my composure. "Of course I do."
"So you no longer believe it's a sin to put alcohol to your lips, for example?"
"No, I can’t find anywhere in the Scriptures where God teaches total abstinence from alcohol. But he does forbid drunkenness."
"And you now drink?"
"I've tasted wine. But I've never acquired a taste for it. No, it's not part of my life."
All the men shook their heads in disappointment that I would admit I had even tasted wine.
Each man then took his turn and sternly asked an array of questions. Tired of playing politics, I answered the questions thoroughly and honestly. When the questions came back around to the President, he said, "Randy, in light of all your answers today, I can absolutely say that you've lost all your Christian standards. You haven't changed Europe. Europe has changed you."
"No, I haven't lost all my Christian standards," I stated, trying to stand my ground. "I'm just turning my back on manmade standards that are wrongly taught in the name of God."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, I believe and hold to the standards that Jesus taught - humility, honesty, generosity, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, self-control...."
"No, that's not good enough," they interrupted. "It's obvious that you've become weak. And that you are no longer fit to serve with our organization."
The decision was made there on the spot by the board of directors; I was officially no longer part of the group. One letter from the President would be sent to all my supporting churches explaining what had happened. Another letter would be sent to all five-thousand churches affiliated with the agency, disclaiming any association with the book.
Inside the United States, all of my constituents, supporters, and friends were part of this denomination. As I left the office, now an official outcast, my wife and I were all alone. Or at least it felt that way.
I now had to write a letter to all my supporting churches. I wanted to ask each of my supporting pastors to get a copy of Wisdom Hunter and read it for himself. Throughout the eighties and early nineties it was customary for the churches in our denomination to support missionaries with $25 to $35 a month. Consequently, Sherri and I - after serious fundraising early in our career - had ended up with 72 supporting churches scattered throughout a fifteen state area.
I now composed a letter to send to those 72 pastors and congregations. In the letter, I revealed that I had written a book, that it had been published, and that it was proving to be controversial because of its theme. I apologized that I had not told them earlier about the book. I then informed them that the President of our mission board had recently read the book and immediately demanded our resignation. I then implored each of the pastors to get a copy of the book, read it for themselves, and decide on their own if they could continue to partner with us. In closing I also notified them that if they were offended by the book and wanted me to return the support they had given over the seven months we had been back in the States that I would promptly reimburse them.
The letter was mailed.
As far as I know, most of the pastors did acquire a copy of the book and did read it. Two or three weeks passed, then letters and phone calls started pouring in. Most of them were angry.
“People will die and go to hell because of this book,” one pastor barked. “And their blood will be on your hands.”
“This book will cause people to outright abandon the church,” scowled another. “I’m absolutely shocked that a Christian publishing house would print this trash.”
One day I went to the mailbox. I found a large brown envelope. Handwritten across the top was the return address of one of the high profile pastors in our denomination. He pastored a church of thousands, and was one of our supporting pastors. Slowly I opened the envelope. I removed a stack of paper. I was holding a stapled fourteen-page letter, typed, single-spaced. The pastor took fourteen pages to vent his judgement and condemnation.
That night I laid on the carpet in the living room in the dark and wept. “Oh, God...was I wrong in all that I said in the book? Please, I need your reassurance. If all the things I’ve said are valid, please help me...I need a little encouragement right now.”
I don’t know how I expected God to reassure me, but the next day when I went to the mailbox I found another large envelope. This one was white. The return address was from a pastor in Arizona, from a pastor I did not know. As I removed the contents and examined it, I was suddenly transfixed. I was holding in my hands another stapled fourteen-page letter, typed and single-spaced. Never before, and never since, have I received a fourteen page letter, typed and single-spaced. But I had just received two such letters back to back.
The first one had thrown me into an emotional and spiritual tailspin. As I read the second one, I was moved to tears. The pastor explained that years ago he had been involved in an accident that had left him partially paralyzed. He had blamed God and had been angry with Him for many years. It wasn’t until he read Wisdom Hunter that his old perception of God was challenged and that he started to find spiritual healing. He took fourteen pages to simply thank me. I knew unequivocally that God had just reassured me. I thanked Him over and over.
When all the dust settled over the following few months, we lost 63 of our 72 supporters. The Questar staff was stunned. They absolutely couldn’t believe it. They had no idea that such extreme legalistic groups of Christianity still existed in the country. They had felt all along that the legalistic characters of Wisdom Hunter were embellished just for the sake of making a point, and for telling an intriguing story. The reality of the matter sunk in for them a few days later, though, when the President of our now ex-mission board called the President of Questar.
“We just want you to know that we are planning to file a lawsuit against Randy, and maybe against you as well," the president of the mission board snarled.
To be continued..