Unregistered Churches Gather to Denounce Government

'Unregistered churches' activists gathered recently to denounce the government. But it was women in pants who really got their goat

GREENWOOD, Ind. -- The 20th annual Unregistered Baptist Fellowship, an antigovernment gathering held each October near Indianapolis, Ind., draws some of the country's most radical religious "Patriots." But this year, discussion of classic villains like tax collectors and federal agents took a back seat to a much more pressing issue — ladies in pants.

Unregistered Baptists believe the government has no place anywhere near a church, and many of them routinely break the law to prove their faith. In 2001, following a three-month standoff, federal agents raided the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, host of the conference, and seized the church building as compensation for 17 years of unpaid withholding taxes.

It was all part of "Satan's master plan to destroy the Lord's church," Pastor Emeritus Gregory J. Dixon says.

The scheduled highlight of this year's conference, held in a reception hall adjacent to a family restaurant, was to be a speech by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, deposed for refusing a federal court order to remove his two-ton Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court rotunda.

The appearance was hyped all week by the presence of Moore's exiled monument on a flatbed truck in the parking lot. But it was the Rev. W.N. Otwell, speaking before Moore despite recent heart surgery, who really stole the show.

Otwell, an ardent segregationist and militia supporter who heads God Said Ministries in Mount Enterprise, Texas, began his opening-night remarks by berating the women in the audience, one of them dressed as Betsy Ross, for not living a true Christian life.

Being saved doesn't make you a Christian, he told them in a voice as powerful and angry as his battered body could muster. Women were to take care of the home, raise children, and be completely subservient to their husbands, Otwell lectured.

"My wife doesn't need a head," he shouted. "I'm the head!"

His audience was with him. "Good preaching!" a man yelled as Otwell outlined a holy dress code he claims is based on Scripture. The Bible, which predates pants by several years, says a "woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man" (Deuteronomy 22:5).

Which means, Otwell explained, that the Lord doesn't want women to cut or dye their hair, and never wants to see a woman in pants. Otwell described pants-wearing women as "dyke-ish" and "cross-dressers."

After holding forth for a full hour, Otwell ordered anyone who felt they'd sinned to come forward to the stage and pray in front of the Plexiglas pulpit. The first one up was Bonnie Kukla, a middle-aged gospel singer with flaming orange hair who sank to her knees in front of Otwell as the congregation prayed.

The two women in the audience wearing pants stayed seated.

While outside in the parking lot the Ten Commandments monument generated about as much interest as a bowl of cold oatmeal, discussion of Otwell's edict against pants reverberated inside the reception hall. The day after Otwell's anti-pants sermon, Ken Barber, an ex-con who claims to have been electrocuted, showed full support for Otwell's viewpoint.

"The Bible says women are supposed to celebrate their womanliness," he explained to a colleague before taking the stage to sing original gospel tunes and discuss his prison ministry. Barber made a point of publicly declaring that his daughters had never worn pants a day in their lives, then searched the faces in the crowd for Otwell's scowling approval.

One dissenting voice, evangelist Don Boys, later took the stage to criticize Otwell's "haughtiness" and self-righteous proselytizing, and to make a plea for moderation. Boys argued there were more important issues to be discussed than pants — like, say, gluttony, which appeared to be a more common sin among this crowd.

But Otwell was having none of it, and erupted from his seat in outrage. "I maintain my position," he told the crowd angrily. For a brief moment, it seemed that Boys and Otwell would settle the matter with a preach-off, but Boys quickly took his seat, turned his back on Otwell, and effectively skirted the issue.

Boys' crusade against obesity didn't catch on, and conference-goers seemed quite comfortable adding women in pants to a list of unholies that includes the federal government, abortion providers, the American Civil Liberties Union, communists, "sodomites," baby snipers, smokers, trick-or-treaters, Mennonites, hip-hop, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, policewomen, John Kerry, R-rated movies, the Internal Revenue Service, Mormons and Satan.

So much sin, so little time. Perhaps they'll get to gluttons next year.