“You Either Love Him Or You Hate Him”. . .

Statue of J. Frank Norris on the campus of Arlington Baptist College

. . . this is the kind of sentiment that a character like J. Frank Norris draws. For those whose lives were changed for the better, it seems the man can do no wrong, and watch out if you try to accurately paint a picture of such a saint–the way the Bible portrays it’s saints–warts and all. With Norris, most of those folks have gone on to their reward, as has their hero. But there of course remains a faithful remnant.

The segment of the fundamentalist independent Baptist movement  that Norris spearheaded remains more or less the home of the majority of Norris’ faithful followers, but there are exceptions. There remain a few who are and have always been, members of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, who, in the light of the publication of David Stokes’ work of narrative non-fiction on the life and ministry of J. Frank Norris and especially his murder trial, Apparent Danger, are unhappy that Norris’ warts are portrayed as prominently as they are. Back in June, one such member wrote on “J. Frank Norris’ lasting influence.” To Melissa Easter, Norris has had a lasting influence on several generations of her family. Without challenging Stokes’ facts or his documentation thereof, Easter was compelled to remind her Fort Worth neighbors there was lasting spiritual fruit that was borne through the ministry of J. Frank Norris, her family among them. Concluding her defense, Easter writes:

I do not know everything. But what I do know and what I believe is that J. Frank Norris had a good heart and a passion for God. Otherwise my great-grandparents would not have named my grandfather after him. Otherwise my family would not have attended that church after moving from Oklahoma. Otherwise my grandfather would not have asked J. Frank Norris to officiate his marriage to my grandmother.

It is unfortunate that Norris was involved in such an incident as that of July 1926, but that event should not overshadow the fact that he helped lead many people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’m sure he asked the Lord for forgiveness, and, in my opinion, judgment was God’s alone to make.

Why is it that after so many years someone has seen fit to stir the pot once again? It is a futile matter; it brings up hurt to those who view J. Frank Norris in a positive light and potentially turns others away from the church.

Perhaps then we should all spend more time trying to bring people to the kingdom of heaven rather than shine light on an 84-year-old blemish.

Can you write a book that tells the whole truth about a man while there are still people alive who don’t want the whole truth to get out and complicate their fond memories? Not without criticism. But I believe it’s safe to say that David Stokes was aware of this fact and was thoroughly prepared to deal with it. Evangelism notwithstanding.

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2 responses

  1. So my father was living in 1928 and attended FBC in Fort Worth, Norris was a my fathers church several times. I attended and finished school at Arlington in 1966. George Norris, J.F. son was my pastor in seminary. So I would say I know a little about the Norris.s What I know, the Fundamentalist of that day were in a time where the manner of evangelism was different. I know George Norris was the best professor I could have every had and a wonderful pastor.

    1. That’s exactly why I say that J. Frank Norris is the kind of man many either love or hate. Few can be indifferent, unless they are ignorant about the events in his life and ministry. The author of Apparent Danger has in several interviews recognized that Norris was incredibly gifted as a Christian minister.

      Although there is an element of the cautionary tale in the book centering around Norris’ public controversies, in no way are we to deny that he, as a pastor, did some things right in his private interactions with church members and common believers. But to affirm his skills and successes in personal ministry is not a reason to justify the divisive and hurtful things he did in his public efforts to position himself to a place of prominence in the multi-faceted national fundamentalist movement. Neither is the fact that the ordinary people to whom he ministered love him a reason to discourage others from discussing and considering his controversies which are a matter of public record. This is an unreasonable expectation, and this is the kind of appeal Melissa Easter makes in her Star-Telegram article.

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