John Franklyn Norris

Pistol-packing pastor

The son of a drunken sharecropper and a devout mother, Frank Norris became one of the most controversial clerics of the 1920s, and the basis for much of today's unflattering caricature of fundamentalists. His flamboyant preaching converted thousands, but the Atlanta Constitution charged, "The Rev. J. Frank Norris … is one, good, sound, reason why there are 50,000,000 Americans who do not belong to any church at all."

At 15 he was shot by horse thieves, and his mother tutored him in the faith during the difficult recovery. After completing Southern Baptist Theological Seminary training in two years, he pastored a church of 13 members, which grew to 1,000 in three years. In 1909 he moved to the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. There he founded his own newspaper and pioneered radio preaching. Membership increased tenfold.

When Norris preached, he roamed the platform shouting and weeping, with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper the other. He brought monkeys into the pulpit to mock Darwinism, and he held a public funeral for "John Barleycorn" when Prohibition passed. In a sermon series against municipal corruption, he preached on "The Ten Biggest Devils in Fort Worth—Names Given." Enraged community leaders tried to run him out of town and his life was threatened. When his church was destroyed by a fire of undetermined origin, Norris was indicted for arson but eventually acquitted.

In his 1926 sermon series "Rum and Romanism," he attacked the Catholic mayor of Fort Worth, accusing him of misappropriating funds to Catholic causes. Norris received a threatening phone call from a friend of the mayor, who later showed up in his church office. Heated words were exchanged, Norris ...

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