Seizure of Indianapolis Baptist Temple Ends Standoff, But ‘Unregistered’ Church Movement Continues
The seizure of Indianapolis Baptist Temple ends a standoff, but the 'unregistered churches' movement is still in business
The ideology and structure of today's unregistered churches movement can be traced to a remarkable conflict in the early 1980s between the state of Nebraska and the Faith Baptist Church (FBC) in Louisville.
FBC, headed by Rev. Everett Sileven, opened an uncertified school in its basement for 17 students in August 1977. Nebraska law then required even private school teachers to be certified by the state, and a judge issued an injunction to close the school.
Maintaining that "this school represents our right to exercise our religion," and that "the state is in violation of God's law," Sileven, who as a high school student opposed the senior prom because dancing supposedly inspires lustful thoughts, began a long legal battle.
While the church appealed the injunction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (which in 1981 refused to hear the case), a local judge ordered the Nebraska church's doors padlocked shut and opened only Sundays and Wednesday evenings for prayer services. Twice the locks were removed, twice Sileven began classes again, and twice he was jailed for contempt of court.
The second time he surrendered only after locking himself and his congregation in the church and conducting a several-day standoff with authorities.
With Sileven in jail in October 1982, 85 supporters from around the nation arrived for prayer services and refused to leave. Among them was the national secretary of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority — Gregory J. Dixon, Sr. Along with many others, Dixon was arrested the next day when the sheriff raided the church.
A few days later, 450 pastors from around the country occupied the church, and the padlocking order was rescinded for fear of violence. When Sileven was released from jail, Dixon walked with him down the courthouse steps.
The case dragged on. Classes began again, school parents were jailed for contempt of court and, in November 1983, a warrant was issued for Sileven's arrest. He fled the state, giving speeches nationwide, but returned dramatically, in a helicopter, to hole up in the church for another standoff with the sheriff.
Back in court, he was again found in contempt. This time, he got an eight-month sentence.
But Sileven eventually won. In 1984, a governor's panel decided that the Nebraska statute was probably unconstitutional, and the legislature exempted church schools from the certification requirements.
Sileven's eight-month sentence was overturned on appeal, and a panel of federal judges ruled that the sheriff had acted unconstitutionally by arresting dozens of people in the October 1982 raid on the church.
The White Race, Enslaved
For unregistered churches, the Sileven affair was seminal. Fundamentalists had come together to fight what they saw as an overreaching government, and they had won. At the same time, Dixon's place in the Moral Majority was less and less secure.
According to Edgar Towne, professor emeritus at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, the Moral Majority at the time was trying to "slough off the militants like Greg Dixon," who were hurting the group's mainstream appeal.
Dixon quit the Moral Majority in 1983, and for several months directed the Coalition for Religious Freedom (CRF) and its protests against the prosecution of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church for tax fraud.
But soon Dixon left CRF and threw himself into his new organization, the American Coalition of Unregistered Churches (ACUC). IBT quit paying taxes in 1984, the same year Sileven won his Nebraska battle. In 1985, under the aegis of Dixon, the ACUC held its first national conference in Indianapolis.
(The ACUC now exists only as a Dixon Web site. In 1994, the Unregistered Baptist Fellowship was created as a successor organization and took over ACUC's conferences, which have stayed in Indianapolis, and became the main organization for unregistered churches.)
During the mid-1980s, as the radical right spread through the Midwest, Dixon's position hardened. He held a "Court of Divine Justice" which, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post, prayed for the death of public officials on a "prayer hit list."
He began to read the infamous anti-Semitic publication The Spotlight; saying in a 1990 letter to the editor that he considered it "an excellent publication."
"The Welfare State has enslaved the white race for generations to come," Dixon wrote in a 1993 issue of his newsletter, The Trumpet.
"[We should] repeal all Civil Rights Laws. ... If it were not for the white man, the black man would have starved to death long ago. He would also have gone to Hell long ago. ... In spite of the wickedness of slavery as an institution, more blacks will probably be in heaven because of slavery than [because of] mission activity."