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(–Based on the work of Byron Marshall of Minneapolis–)
There is an unusual case of doctrinal interpretation regarding the marriage of a member of the Van Buren Church of Christ to her stepson.
Miss Eliza Cotton originally married Thomas Mitchell, who subsequently passed away.
The widow Eliza then married Robert Downs, “a wealthy farmer of Spencer County,” and bore him two children.
But Eliza was then widowed again when “Downs met with a sad misfortune by falling from a wagon and the wheels running over him, from which he died.” It is at this point in 1872 that the story takes a sharp turn and became an issue for the Van Buren congregation:
“[Robert’s] son John fell in love with Eliza and married her, his father’s wife … Under the Jewish ritual, this was a severe punishment, but in this case the church had no jurisdiction over the Downs. The following Scripture was cited –‘It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much [as] named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife’ (1 Corinthians 5:1).
“There was much parleying and disputation over the matter. Green [Milton] argued that Mrs. Downs was her former husband’s widow and not his wife, and some contented it was a man who was alluded to in the scripture and not the woman who married her stepson. Berry Bedford said what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander and Sister Downs (? [sic]) was thrown overboard.”
This did not quite end the matter. The Cotton family “took offense and of course had influence over others. Exclusions performed by a vote of the church and those who did not vote were admonished to hold their peace forever.”
The case is thus interesting for at least two reasons: 1)it shows the church did concern itself with matters of marriage; and 2) in this case the outcome was exclusion and was voted by the congregation, overriding Elder Green Milton’s scriptural interpretation.
Not all quarrels brought to the congregation to resolve involved doctrinal disputes. In 1890 the long-standing feud between Green Milton and W. C. Ash, the husband of his cousin Sally, boiled over once again when Ash began to build a fence on the line between his and Green’s property.
It is a long story but the details are important to understanding how the feud was brought before the Van Buren congregation for resolution:
“W. C. Ash and Green got into a wrangling disputation over a line fence. Both were obstinate. Ash was determined to put his on the line, and employing help, commenced building his fence on the hill between him and Milton.
“Green went up there and in order to annoy Ash seized a handspike, run it under a panel [of the fence] and throw it down, yelling in a tantalizing and aggravating tone ‘Whop [sic], here she goes boys.’ Ash informed him that hell was full and running over with all such damn Christians as him; but Green would wait until Ash and his hands rebuilt the fence and again repeated the trick.”
W. C. Ash had become estranged from the Van Buren Church but he had a brother George who was still an active member. George also had a reputation for using firearms in disputes:
“When Mr. Ash went home to dinner, he informed George his brother of Green’s procedure. George said he would go up there with him after noon and see that the fence was not molested again. George shouldered his double barrel shot gun, the one he shot Dr. L. J. George’s cow with and the one he throwed [sic] down on old Blackwell in Kansas and went up to build the fence. Fortunately Green didn’t come to repeat his fence throwing process.”
What Green did do was to bring a charge before the church against George Ash “for carrying a gun to shoot him.” Ash then lodged two “serious” counter-charges “against Mr. Milton for getting drunk and the other for acting the hypocrite.”
Ash’s charges alluded to a previous incident when the congregation had sent Green as an Elder to admonish a man named Dadisman for being neglectful of in his responsibility as a Christian and member of the church.
When Green found Dadisman, the man was drinking with a friend and the two plied Green with whiskey until he became intoxicated.
The hypocrisy charge stemmed from Green, in Ash’s words: “that was on Thursday and on Sunday he came to this meeting and led the song in a clear shrill voice, read and prayed, and waited on the [Lord’s] table – exhibiting his brazen unparalleled hypocrisy.”
Green attempted to invoke immunity, claiming that “I am an elder and a railing accusation against an elder is forbidden.”
The other church leaders rejected this plea and the “trial” was set to begin.
Green then thought better of the whole affair and withdrew his own charges in the hope that Ash would follow suit. But Ash pursued his case. At this point “Green … reluctantly acknowledged his wrong and coolly gave Bro. Ash his hand.”
There is no record of what Green thought of the insult to his singing voice.