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God's Rascal

God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism

Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    God's Rascal
    Book Description:

    Colorful and outrageous, influential yet despicable, J. Frank Norris was a preacher, newspaper publisher, political activist, and all-around subject of controversy. One of the most despised men in traditional Southern Baptist circles, he was also the man most responsible for bringing hard-edged fundamentalism to the South. Barry Hankins traces Norris, the "Texas Cyclone," from his boyhood in small-town Texas to his death in 1952. Despite scandals, Norris was a man of considerable public influence who traveled the owrkd, corresponded with congressmen, and attended president's Hoover's inaguration at Hoover's invitation. Through his preaching career he battled anyone and everyone he saw as part of the leftist conspiracy to foist liberalism and immorality on America. This account reveals a remarkable man who helped shape the current American religious landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4989-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    J. Frank Norris was one of the most controversial figures in the history of Christianity in America. Loved by most fundamentalists and very nearly hated by mainline Southern Baptists, he was hardly ever ignored. Such controversial individuals and movements are always difficult to interpret. With regard to Norris, this difficulty has been compounded by recent developments in the Southern Baptist Convention. As the conservative wing of the SBC has come to dominate the denomination, Norris has become even more important. He was in a very real sense the SBC’s first fundamentalist, yet Norris was so extreme in many of his...

  5. 1 The Making of a Populist Preacher
    (pp. 7-18)

    J. Frank Norris’s career as a Baptist and fundamentalist preacher, newspaper publisher, political activist, and general controversialist spanned roughly the first half of the twentieth century. During this period he pastored simultaneously two of the largest churches in America, traveled the world, corresponded with congressmen, and attended a presidential inauguration at the invitation of a newly elected chief executive. He once shot and killed a man in his own church office and was subsequently tried for murder. On other occasions he was indicted and tried for arson and perjury in connection with the burning of his own church. Everywhere he...

  6. 2 From Populism to Southern Fundamentalism
    (pp. 19-44)

    The development of Norris’s populism prepared him well for the coming of fundamentalism after World War I. Having pitted himself first against the leaders of First Baptist, then against the political fathers of Fort Worth, Norris was ready by 1920 to go head to head with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Just as Nathan Hatch has counted fundamentalism as part of the recurring populist impulse in American Christianity, so fundamentalism became for Norris a vehicle for the acceleration of populist tendencies he had developed during his first few years in Fort Worth.¹ Norris’s move...

  7. 3 American Nativist
    (pp. 45-73)

    Events from the preceding chapter show the extent to which Norris could be ruthless in dealing with his theological adversaries. Likewise, in his political life, he spared no enemy his wrath, especially when he perceived his enemies as subversive of America. In the twenties, he counted as subversives Catholics and immigrants especially. The result was an extreme form of American nativism that has been a recurring theme in American cultural history. This was especially evident in his effort to help defeat Al Smith for the presidency in 1928, but the starting place for this story is prohibition.

    This issue was...

  8. 4 Dispensational Prophet
    (pp. 74-89)

    While Norris’s nativism was driven for the most part by forces other than his fundamentalist theology, he did employ theology in his commentary on many public issues especially in the realm of international affairs. More than any other fundamentalist belief, dispensational premillennialism seems to have affected Norris’s views in this and other areas. Whereas fundamentalists like Norris employed the inductive method and literal brand of scriptural exegesis to reject the evolutionary view of the earth’s origins, they seem to have abandoned that approach to the Bible to arrive at their preferred theory concerning the other end of the historical spectrum....

  9. 5 Motor City Man
    (pp. 90-117)

    By the end of the 1920s, Norris was a well-known fundamentalist figure across the South and in the North as he continued in the roles of populist preacher and dispensational prophet. It was at this time that he also exhibited the worst strands of his nativism in the anti-Smith campaign of 1928. He was already moving toward national prominence within fundamentalism when in the thirties he would broaden his influence even further by adding a northern base to his operations. In the depression-ridden thirties, this move would have financial as well as political and religious implications for Norris’s career. In...

  10. 6 Sphinx
    (pp. 118-137)

    While Norris’s enemies often charged that he had no character, few have doubted that he was one. His need to be in the public eye and his desire to control all facets of his own empire often led him to engage in some of the most outlandish acts imaginable for a fundamentalist pastor. One need think only of some of the events already covered to understand how much this was so. After all, how many pastors in American history have been tried for perjury and arson while leading a movement that thrived during these highly publicized trials? Norris had an...

  11. 7 Anticommunist
    (pp. 138-160)

    As Norris progressed through his career he latched on to a variety of political and religious issues. Although he always seemed to be battling on several fronts, there was usually one dominant issue during a given period. He would often tackle such an issue for several weeks, then drop it and go on to another. At other times, he would take on a major theme for a much longer period and attempt to connect it to other disputes. This was the case with anticommunism. As has already been seen, this was an underlying motif as he sparred with the New...

  12. 8 The Race Card
    (pp. 161-170)

    In the summer of 1995, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Atlanta approved a resolution recognizing the responsibility the denomination bore for its past complicity in racism. In addition to acknowledging “the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the resolution cited the failure on the part of many Southern Baptists to support civil rights initiatives as well as their outright opposition to such measures. While the authors attempted to steer clear of the touchy issue of whether one generation can repent for the sins of its forefathers, in perhaps the most...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-176)

    If anything emerges from a study of J. Frank Norris, it is that he was an extremely complex individual. A bundle of contradictory forces, he was fundamentalist yet Baptist, populist yet elitist, southern yet northern, and Democrat yet Republican. When he was on the attack on any issue, he was usually crude and vicious. When he was explicating Scripture or teaching, he could be calm and rational. At times he was positively eloquent and profound while at other times sinister or silly. As it was with his public preaching and teaching, so it was with his life as a whole....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 177-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-220)