Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1962
NUMBER 4, PAGE 1,11-14a

Voices In The Wilderness --- (No. 2)

James R. Cope

Chapter III. Benevolence Societies — A Backward Look: 1884-1962

Just how far back have churches identified with the "Restoration Movement" made contributions to societies dealing in the care of needy persons, particularly widows and orphans? This question should not be difficult to answer; yet we are wholly dependent upon secular history for that answer, since the New Testament is completely silent concerning these institutions. The apostolic Word mentions none of them and is silent regarding church support of them in exactly the same way it is silent regarding sprinkling, infant baptism, instrumental music in worship and missionary societies in evangelism.

"Gospel Defender" Editor Speaks

Apparently some people, even those in responsible places, think churches of Christ have always supported these institutions. Here, for example, is part of an editorial appearing in the Gospel Defender, August, 1960, p. 2:

"Orphan homes have been an established and accepted means of practicing pure religion for many years before the Missionary Society was organized. The brethren who stood so firmly against the Missionary Society digression accepted without hesitation the scriptural principles of establishing such homes. They saw no parallel, dragon of terror, that the modern advocates of Anti-ism shout so loudly about. Were these great men so stupid that they could not see what the modern advocates of Anti-ism of the last ten years say is so plain? Or is it possible that these modern advocates have departed from an established and accepted principle?"

Then follows four quotations from the Gospel Advocate. The first two written in 1912, another in 1913, and the last in 1928. Three of these quotations had to do with Tennessee Orphan Home and the other with Belle Haven Orphans' Home, Luling, Texas. Three of the statements reflect congregational donations to these two orphanages. Then the Defender editor concludes:

"It is evident from the foregoing that the Gospel Advocate and its writers stand today on the same ground and for the same spiritual principles as they did years ago when they so courageously fought against the departures from the truth by those who espoused the Missionary Society digression. Indeed, who has departed?"

Obviously, there are certain points made by this brother which he expects his readers to accept without question. What are some of these? Notice, please, the following: We are expected to believe (1) that orphan homes were established and an accepted means of practicing pure religion; many years before the missionary society was organized in 1849; (2) that brethren who rejected the missionary society accepted orphan homes "many years" Jbefore the missionary society was established; (3) that older brethren saw no parallel between orphan homes and missionary societies; (4) that "Anti-ism" was born within the last ten years; (5) that opponents of church donations to orphan homes have departed from the faith. We shall have occasion to consider these points shortly.

"'Always' — All My Life Churches Have Done It!"

Brethren frequently accept a practice because others before them have engaged in the practice and, without measuring the practice by the Scriptures, they measure it by what they have seen others do. Recently a brother said to me, "Churches have 'always' supported orphan homes. All my life the church where I grew up has donated to one. I can't remember when that congregation wasn't sending money to it!" I did not doubt that this man had stated the facts regarding the practice of the church where he "grew up." I did not question his word when he said that church had thus acted "all my life." The man was not sixty years old, yet he assumed that what he had always seen, churches of the Lord have always done! In this conclusion he was mistaken. Churches have not "always" supported these institutions. Both inspired and uninspired church history denies that this conclusion is warranted. To many it is surprising to learn how short-lived is both the benevolence societies among us and the time churches have supported them.

The Record Speaks

What, then, are the facts regarding the benevolence institutions and their support by churches?

At the risk of being tedious I present here a number of quotations which speak for themselves. I trust that the reader will read each of these statements keeping his mind upon two particular points — (1) the peculiar type of institution being discussed and (2) the date identified with its beginning. The first general division of quotations and observations cover the institutions established and supported by Disciples of Christ after the establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849 and before the separate listings of "Disciples of Christ" and "Churches of Christ" in the U. S. Census of 1906.

Benevolence Societies Among "The Disciples"

In his The Disciples in Kentucky, pp. 303-307, A. W. Fortune declares:

"One of the finest institutions supported by the Christian churches of Kentucky is the Christian Church Widows' and Orphans' Home. This home is in Louisville, and was established by the Christian churches of that city This Louisville home for widows and orphans was the first to be planned by the Disciples and the first to be put in operation. The first home in Louisville was put in operation six years before the home in St. Louis was opened, which was the first of those maintained by the National Benevolent Association...

"On March 28, 1872, a charter was obtained from the legislature of Kentucky for the establishment of the Christian Church Widows' and Orphans' Home in Louisville... The business depression of 1873 and the years following greatly delayed the enterprise... A constitution was adopted January 14, were adopted at a meeting, Jan. 27, 1879, and plans were formulated to raise the necessary funds to put the home in operation. For some reason the plan failed and the project was dormant again for about four years...At a meeting, January 2, 1883, a board of control was organized by the members of this church (Floyd and Chestnut Street Christian Church) to establish a widows' and orphans home in Louisville, which should be under the auspices of the Christian Brotherhood of Kentucky The first children to be received into the home were Myrtle and Alice Montgomery of Shaker-town. The application for these children was approved May 21, 1884."

In Garrison's Religion Follows The Frontier, P. 254, We Read As Follows:

"With the organization of the Board of Ministerial Relief and the National Benevolent Association, in the 'nineties,' the Disciples registered their discovery of certain social responsibilities, for superannuated ministers and for the orphans, the aged and the sick, which had hitherto escaped their attention."

Errett Gates, Author Of The Story Of The Churches — The Disciples Of Christ, P. 274, Declares:

"The National Benevolent Association was organized in 1886, and did work principally in St Louis, Missouri; it did not become national in its activities until about 1901 when it appointed a general secretary to urge its cause on behalf of the orphaned young and the aged upon the entire denomination. Since then it has rapidly consolidated the local state benevolent enterprises of the Disciples under its auspices and has increased its income...."

In The Story of a Century, published in 1909, pp. 166, 167, J. H. Garrison, longtime editor of The Christian-Evangelist which came to be the mouthpiece of the "liberal wing" of the Disciples, ties together in one package schools, missionary societies and benevolence societies related to churches, and says:

"These organizations have come into existence one by one as the need for them has been felt, and they have grown and prospered just to the extent that they have ministered to the welfare of the cause It scarcely needs to be said that none of these organizations possesses, or claims, any authority over the churches. On the contrary they are the instruments of the churches for carrying out their desires and purposes in respect to education, missionary work, and benevolence. They are voluntary co-operations seeking to express that unity of faith and purpose which we have, and to more effectively accomplish, by united effort, our common ends and aims."

Throughout the period that the Disciples of Christ were getting their various social welfare institutions under way churches were dividing over missionary societies and instrumental music. We have been unable to find any indication that the anti-missionary society churches ever donated funds to any of the benevolences established and promoted by those who favored the former innovations. It would seem that if there was a clear line of distinction between benevolence and missionary societies that somewhere there would be an indication of rather widespread church support of the existing benevolence institutions or an effort made to start some by the anti-missionary society brethren back in the 1880's or early 1890's when so many churches were dividing over the preaching societies.

Benevolence Societies Among Churches Of Christ

In 1939 the oldest benevolence society (orphan home) now supported by churches opposing missionary societies was established. This was the Tennessee Orphan Home, headquartered at first in Columbia and later moved to Spring Hill.

The following information was given by J. C. McQuiddy in the Gospel Advocate, Sept. 15, 1910, pp. 1036, 1037, under the title "Tennessee Orphan Home":

"This home, located at Columbia, Tenn., was formally opened on Monday, Sept. 5, 1910....

"This beautiful four-story brick building did not have an existence even in thought eighteen months ago. The idea of such an institution had not entered into the heart of man until very recently....

"There were two addresses made, one by Dr. Dinwiddie, preacher for the Methodist Church In Columbia, and the other by R. H. Boll, our associate and front page editor....

"While members of the church of Christ conceived and originated the plans of the home and have given more largely to its support than any other people, still other religious bodies of the county itself have taken a deep interest in the work. It is a poor religion that cannot unite with any one in feeding and clothing the poor.... Doing the will of the Lord is neither commending nor condemning the errors of others. May God help us all to rise superior to religious prejudice and bigotry and `not to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified',

"The Home is to be controlled by directors who are loyal and true to the Word of God. Only men who have proved their love for the truth will be selected to the sacred trust of looking after the interest of the institution."

In the Christian Chronicle, December 2, 1960, p, 13, we read:

"The Tennessee Orphan Home was established in 1909 with three Scotten children, who were left homeless by the death of their father. Their father was a member of West Seventh Street Church of Christ, Columbia, Tennessee."

On page one the same publication says:

"Other of our older homes are Tipton in Tipton, Okla., founded in 1922; Potter Orphan Home in Bowling Green, Ky., 1915; Boles Home at Quinlan, Tex., 1926; Sunny Glenn Home at San Benito, Tex., 1936; and Southern Christian Home at Morrilton, Ark., 1926."

The same article declares:

"Fifteen hundred children are being cared for through the facilities of Children's Homes in the United States operated by members of the churches of Christ.

"These 1500 children are housed in 27 locations throughout 12 states — mostly in the South and Southwest. Total property owned by these homes nears the $10 million mark."

The article continues with information about the number of homes in these twelve states. Texas leads with eight; then comes Oklahoma and Tennessee with three each; then California, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Kentucky have two each; and one each is found in Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, and Arizona.

In the thirty-year period following 1909 when Tennessee Orphan Home was founded five other benevolence societies identified by the Christian Chronicle as "homes" came into being. (We are under the impression that Ontario Children's Home, Ontario, California should be added to this list since it was chartered in 1929.)

In the twenty-year period following 1939, twenty-one other benevolence societies were established. (The Potter Messenger, Nov. 1961, says that there are now twenty-eight orphan homes.) So far as we have been able to ascertain only one of these, Christian Home at Lawrenceburg, Tenn., which was completely endowed by its founder, draws no support from churches. Reflective of the "home fever" spread we find only one other home yet in operation which was founded within the decade following the first one, five in the second decade from 1909, and all the rest in the last thirty years, most of which have been started since the end of World War II. The fire was slow to start. It is now a conflagration.

Conclusions From The Record

In view of the foregoing statistics it would appear that any effort to argue church support of orphan homes on the basis of churches having supported them "always" or even since before the missionary society was founded is completely without factual evidence. We are face to face with the fact that churches rejecting missionary societies did not build and maintain orphan homes or other benevolence societies separate and apart from themselves prior to the founding of the missionary society in 1849. Furthermore, those churches which supported missionary societies and used instrumental music were of that school of thought which produced and promoted the first benevolence societies into the treasuries of these churches! Again, for twenty-five years following the opening of the first orphan home by anybody connected with the Restoration Movement (1884-1909) and thirty-seven years from its chartering (1872-1909) there were hundreds of churches which never subscribed to missionary societies; yet to date (so far as we have seen) no one has presented any evidence that any one of these churches donated its funds to such institutions, much less that such was a general practice among the churches. In addition, it should be remembered that the oldest home now supported by churches rejecting missionary societies is barely fifty years old!

I do not claim that my research in the area of church support of benevolence institutions is exhaustive. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that it is thorough enough to draw some conclusions of a general nature — conclusions based on fact, not on tradition, as follows:

(1) Churches of Christ have not "always" supported benevolence societies — "homes" for the fatherless and widows — apart from the churches themselves.

(2) These societies were not established, much less looked upon and supported as "benevolence homes," "many years prior to" the establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849. Even among Disciples of Christ the first began operation in 1884,

(3) The foregoing being true, those who represent the record otherwise misrepresent the facts. They mislead people when they suggest that pioneers who rejected missionary societies encouraged churches to contribute to orphan "homes."

"Latter Day" Claims

We are now ready to consider another matter which is frequently produced in an effort to convince people that churches were building and maintaining benevolence homes in the early days of the "Restoration Movement." This, if established, would prove nothing regarding the scriptural authority for the practice. At best it would show that some brethren and churches engaged in it, not that is was a universal or even a general practice. At the same time, even from the evidence presented to "make out the case," it is seen that the use of the term "home" to describe the institution in question, was accommodative, not official. But now to the case in point — the Kentucky Female Orphan School, officially opened on October 3, 1849.

Kentucky Female Orphan School: 1849

The current editor of the Gospel Advocate apparently feels that he has an unusually strong case in the Kentucky Female Orphan School's being called "that home of female orphans" by Alexander Campbell in 1858, since twice within recent years he has called attention to this statement by Campbell in his paper. In the October 13, 1960, issue of the Advocate he writes of "Alexander Campbell and the Kentucky Female Orphan School," mentions that John T. Johnson, a pioneer preacher, called upon churches in the heart of Kentucky to support it and then gives a quotation from Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger of 1856 after he had visited the School at Midway. The Advocate editor says:

"It is worthy of note that Campbell spoke of the Orphan School as 'that home of female orphans.' It was intended that the school, or home, should exist for the purpose of 'clothing, feeding, and educating orphan girls' (History of Kentucky Female Orphan Home [sic], page 29.)"


The following points are also "worthy of note" in connection with Kentucky Female Orphan School and Alexander Campbell:

(1) Without exception, so far as I am able to ascertain, the Kentucky Female Orphan School has never been identified by Disciples of Christ or their official spokesmen in any of their official "church publications" as anything other than a "school." Though these publications list the Disciples' benevolences (homes, hospitals, etc.) they do not place the Midway school in this category.

(2) None of the historians who have written from the viewpoint of those opposing missionary societies, so far as I have ascertained, have indicated the institution at Midway was designated as anything except a school.

(3) On the very page of Giovannoli's Kentucky Female Orphan School from which the Advocate editor cites the "three-fold purpose" of the School, is found the following:

"What was in the mind of Pinkerton from the beginning of his 'mediations' on the subject, and that which Parrish and Johnson and their colleagues approved, was not an 'orphanage' or 'orphan asylum,' but a school for orphan girls equal in dignity and in its prescribed courses of study to 'any seminary of learning or academy within the State'."

(4) In July, 1922, the question of changing the name of the Kentucky Female Orphan School was before its Board of Directors. In his Kentucky Female Orphan School, p. 79, Giovannoli makes the following observations:

"The word 'orphan' was the source of the most emphatic objections. Many of the graduates of the School, according to reports, had found that the social stigma which, to a measurable degree, attached to some of the old-time 'orphan homes,' followed them after they left 'K.F.O.S.' Others complained that their diplomas from the Kentucky Female Orphan School, when submitted with their applications for positions as teachers, had more often than otherwise been an embarrassment, rather than an aid to them and they were frequently compelled, even in their own State, to resort to extraordinary means to prove their fitness for teaching,

"Arguments to the contrary were appealing The most forceful opposition to the proposed change of name, perhaps, was based upon the theory that the principal appeal for the financial support which had come to the school from the beginning....had been the fact — fundamental with the founders — that the school was established primarily to educate worthy orphan girls and prepare them for useful lives, and that the elimination of the word 'orphan' would in all probability destroy, in an Important and material sense, the most valuable asset in the hands of those who were seeking to extend the field of the School's operations."

Notice, please, that the persons charged with financing the school recognized the "money-getting charm" of the term "orphan," for it was considered "in an important and material sense the most valuable asset" the fundraisers possessed! They knew that some things could be done "in the name of an orphan child" that cannot be done "in the name of the Lord"!

(5) Later the name of the Kentucky Female Orphan School was changed and today is a thriving institution of learning called "Midway Junior College and Pinkerton High School."

(6) This institution from its beginning till the present has awarded diplomas to those pupils completing its prescribed course of study. Schools, not "homes" award diplomas and degrees.

(7) The same Campbell-commended L. L. Pinkerton who founded this school supported by churches served as the Chairman of the Convention which gave birth to the American Christian Missionary Society which preaching society was supported from its beginning by many of the churches which contributed to the Kentucky Female Orphan School. Pinkerton opened the Missionary Society convention barely two weeks after opening his church-supported school at Midway.

(8) The same Campbell-commended L. L. Pinkerton is credited with introducing instrumental music into church worship. This occurred at the Midway Church in 1859.

(9) The same Campbell-commended Dr. Pinkerton dented the verbal inspiration of the Bible in 1869.

(10) At the time Alexander Campbell referred to Kentucky Female Orphan School as "that home of female orphans" and commended its proprietor in such glowing terms, Campbell himself was serving as president of the American Christian Missionary Society and also Bethany College, both of which were begging and receiving contributions from churches. This was in 1856 — seven years after the Missionary Society was established and sixteen years after Campbell had founded Bethany. The current Advocate editor believes it is scriptural for churches to support schools operated by Christians just as Alexander Campbell did in 1856.