The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972 Page: 272
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
early in his life. J. Frank Norris was shot and wounded at the age
of fifteen. During his years in college he led a student uprising which
contributed to the resignation of the president of the institution. In
the midst of his ministry he was indicted and tried for arson, for
perjury, and for murder. Nourished in the free-church tradition of
Southern Baptists, the independent Norris later fought the "de-
nominational machine" indefatigably both before and after his ex-
pulsions from a local pastors' conference, the county association of
which his church was a member, and the Baptist General Convention
of Texas. The churches Norris served suffered major splits, one of
them losing 6oo members in a single year. Beset by enemies without
and, it would appear, psychological problems within, the hard-working
pastor-evangelist, publisher-editor, radio preacher, world traveler, and
perennial politician became the leader simultaneously of two huge
congregations, 1,2oo miles apart, as well as the head of a seminary
and the founder of his own Fellowship of churches. A self-appointed
foe of alleged social evils, theological liberalism, Roman Catholicism,
and political communism, Norris toured the nation and the world,
leaving in his wake, in addition to converts by the thousands, a record
of acrimony, strife, and division. Ironically, his public ministry began
in a place called Mount Calm, Texas. That was the closest J. Frank
Norris ever came to serenity.
At the conclusion of his tumultuous career, Norris' friends hailed
him as a great preacher of unmatched courage, an incisive modern
prophet, and a reformer of his own denominational family. His op-
ponents no doubt agreed with Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta
Constitution, who declared on one occasion that "The Rev. J. Frank
Norris, and others like him, is one good, sound reason why there
are 50,ooo,ooo Americans who do not belong to any church at all."*
A review of Norris' ministry and the violent controversies it pre-
cipitated will indicate why men held such opposite interpretations.
Few people could appraise Norris neutrally. He was loved or hated,
with passion. This article will review highlights of Norris' life and
ministerial characteristics, and then focus primary attention on his
role as a man of controversy-in local church, in denominations, and
in wider areas.
John Franklyn Norris was born September 18, 1877, at Dadeville,
Alabama, seventy-five miles southeast of Birmingham, the son of James
sAtlanta Constitution, May 8, 1947.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972, periodical, 1972; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/m1/284/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.