Dr. Robert Sumner passed away in December 2016. The Biblical Evangelist newspaper is no longer being published and the ministry of Biblical Evangelism has ceased operation.

The remaining inventory of his books and gospel tracts was transferred to The Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles and may be ordered here.


Review of Apparent Danger - Part 2
Dr. Robert L. Sumner, Editor

THE TRIAL ITSELF!

To start with, the barrister the enemies of Norris and the prosecution wanted, Judge James R. Hamilton, was the one who presided. Count that very start a defeat, humanly speaking, for Norris.

Stokes again shows his uncanny post-knowledge ability by telling us the judge was “wearing a stiff white collar and little black tie” and that Norris “… glared at the prosecutor, while barely chewing a very small piece of gum.”

Perhaps one of the newspapers revealed such tidbits about the judge’s clothing, but the “quotation marks” Stokes said he used to credit the quotes of others are lacking. And it is a touch of the miraculous, is it not, that whoever first wrote those lines could tell it was “a very small piece of gum” Norris was chewing! [Do you suppose Norris took it out of his mouth and held it up in his fingers for all to see?]

After the shooting and prior to the trial, Stokes muddies the water by quoting a sociology professor from Canyon (TX), Joseph L. Duflot, “questioning Norris’s mental state.” On the faculty at the West Texas State Teachers College, he wrote in a letter to Meacham: “It occurs to me … that we have a description of a person having all the symptoms of a paranoiac.”

The sociologist went on to explain, “The criminologist defines paranoia as a chronic, systematized, delusional insanity. The delusions are self-centered and revolve about ideas of personal persecution and personal grandeur. A paranoiac always regards himself as the object of conspiracies and at the same time the idol of a group of followers.”

While Duflot told Meacham he wanted his communication to be “a personal matter” and didn’t want to be associated with publicity, Stokes gave it a featured place in his tome.

Did Duflot personally know Norris? No! Did he ever interview him? No! Did he ever professionally examine him? No! He based his conclusions, by his own admission, on “the newspaper accounts” he had read. Including it here was not very professional of Stokes, was it? But, dare we suggest, perhaps prompted by at least a tint of bias?

Stokes repeatedly lamented the defense frequently calling into question the character of poor Mr. Chipps while his widow was sitting in the courtroom. Wouldn’t any defense attorney do the same? And wasn’t it a legitimate line of questioning? Hey, the guy was on trial for his life (the prosecution was demanding the death penalty); what were his lawyers supposed to do, recite poetry? We didn’t – and still don’t – understand what Stokes’ problem with it was and he certainly never made it clear.

A tire shop was immediately below Norris’ office, the Moore Rubber Company. Stokes seemed obsessed with the claim of a tire shop employee, H. H. Rains – repeating it a number of times – that Norris said after the shooting, “I have killed me a man” (even though no one else heard it).

And anyone who knew Norris would have known it was not an expression the polished, educated, oratorical preacher would have ever used. It would appear everyone discarded Rains but Stokes. [Norris completed the three-year course at Southern Seminary for his Masters degree in two years – and was valedictorian of his class! He had been salutatorian at Baylor, where he graduated cum laude, losing the top spot by a fraction of a point. Yet Stokes wants us to think he said, “I have killed me a man!”]

One of the stories about the trial Stokes told was about a 14-year-old boy, Carl Glaze, who claimed to have been an eyewitness to the shooting. Stokes offers a cock-and-bull story about how “friends and employees of the First Baptist Church” captured the youth and locked him “in the home of Mrs. Bessie Williams.” Bessie was “a Methodist evangelist” and also, he tells us, “head of the Women’s Ku Klux Klan organization.”

Stokes mentions the matter three different times and complains, “Yet there were no charges of witness tampering,” which he blamed on “a pattern of laxness and the willingness to tread with tenderness unusual for those prosecuting a murder case.” He suggested authorities might be “at least a little bit fearful of J. Frank Norris.” Can you imagine that? We are talking here about the legal authorities in Texas – back in its wild, wooly, untamed days – being afraid of a lone Baptist preacher! Stokes, indeed, has a vivid imagination.

Perhaps the truth was that the authorities investigated Glaze and dismissed the youth’s claim as false; or at least unreliable and unbelievable. That is the obvious, logical answer. You can skip all that conspiracy stuff.

Norris’ main argument at the trial, of course, was that he acted in self-defense, not knowing the fact that the man that said he was coming to the church to kill him was unarmed. He testified in court – and prior, in interviews – that Chipps made a move as if going for a gun – in the court lingo of the day, “the hip pocket move” – and only then did he whip out the gun in his open desk drawer and fire. Wall says it was “the janitor’s gun,” but he doesn’t document it.

What did the judgmental Stokes, who could read Norris’ mind decades later, have to say? He wrote: “… though there is no way to know for sure, or completely prove, it is very like that J. Frank Norris determined to insert this language into his case in a deliberate way, during this interview and ever after” (emphasis added). In short, he lied. He made it up out of whole cloth. He perjured himself. This is a case of Stokes being hypocritically judgmental to the nth degree!

But speaking of “unarmed,” some witnesses claim he did pull a gun and that the gun was found on the floor next to the body, and also that the police confiscated it. If so, what happened to it remains a mystery. Kindly note that we have not been able to document this and so evaluate it on that basis. Dr. Richie did confirm that witnesses so claimed, but no eyewitnesses were called at the trial to testify to that fact.

By the way, the only other person present at the shooting, L. J. Nutt, a banker, also testified as witnessing the “hip pocket move.” But perhaps he was a paranoid liar too, in Stokes’ judgment. Strangely, although he is mentioned prominently throughout the book (14 times in the Index; one of the most referenced), Stokes does not even mention Nutt in his “Cast of Characters” in the front. And he was the only eyewitness to the shooting! I have no explanation.

Ritchie doesn’t feel Stokes gave Norris a fair shake about the testimony of a key trial witness, Mrs. Frances Greer. Here is part of what she told Pastor Ritchie and what he wrote down as she gave it:

“Sixty-five years ago, on Saturday afternoon, July 17, 1926, I was working as a telephone operator in the Westbrook Hotel in downtown Fort Worth where D. E. Chipps lived. He was a wealthy lumberman and close friend to Roman Catholic mayor H. C. Meacham and other city officials whom Norris attacked and exposed. Mr. Chipps was a heavy drinker, rude, gruff and used foul language.

“Chipps asked me to call Dr. Norris for him. I broke a rule and listened in on their conversation. Chipps spoke gruffly and angrily to Norris and said, ‘I am going to kill you if you don’t take back what you have said about my friends.’  Norris replied that what he said was true and he would not change his accusations. After hanging up, Chipps said to the room clerk, ‘I am going over to the church and kill Frank Norris _____ that ___ _____ _____ preacher.’”

The above is quoted in Ritchie’s biography of Norris, The Life and Legend of J. Frank Norris. Note that the “I am going to kill you” is missing from Stokes’ versions. [Ritchie has a web about Norris where you can get information: www.jfranknorris.net.]

I have before me as I write part of the transcript from the trial. Let me give you selected statements that are pertinent. Dr. Norris, under oath, quoted Chipps on the phone as saying, “I am not going to stand it any longer. I am coming over there to kill you, you ____ __ ______ ____.”

When Norris asked his name, Chipps first refused to give it, then said, “My name is D. E. Chipps.” Norris pleaded with him not come, saying he didn’t want any trouble, but Chipps responded, “By [profanity deleted], I am coming anyhow.”

When Chipps got there, without waiting for formal admittance via the receptionist, he burst into Norris’ office, and said, “This is D. E. Chipps,” as he closed the door behind him.

Again Chipps said he was going to kill Norris if he said another word “about my friends,” adding, “I mean every word of it.” When the only other person in the room, Mr. Nutt, a banker, asked him who his friends were, Chipps replied, “Meacham. Austin, Carr and Roach.” Then the transcript said he repeated, “I am going to kill you. [Profanity deleted] you.”

Norris tried to reason with him, saying he didn’t want any trouble, but Chipps said again, “You have got to retract that sermon on Meacham or I will kill you.” Norris said, “The sermon is already published, you are making an impossible demand.” And Norris again asked him to leave.

He started to do so, but turned and threatened again, “Remember what I have told you, I mean every word of it.”

The transcript said Chipps went out of the office, but as Norris headed back to his desk he heard Chipps saying again, “I will kill you.” He was returning to the office.

And Norris said he “looked over my shoulder and saw him coming.” He testified Chipps was approaching “very rapidly,” and that “his right hand was at his right side, at his hip, his coat was pulled back.” That was when Norris stepped to his roll top desk, grabbed the gun and fired.

That he feared for his life was obvious. The jury totally agreed. Stokes is a minority that obviously doesn’t. And speaking of this minority opinion, with all these threats made to kill him in advance of Chipps’ arrival, why doesn’t Stokes mention even one? Is that how an honest, fair historian deals with the facts of the case?

When Stokes introduces Norris’ longtime secretary to his readers, Miss Jane Harwell, daughter of missionaries, he is careful to note that Miss Harwell “would go to any length” to help her church and pastor. The implication, of course, is that she would steal, kill, or lie under oath for Norris.

But perhaps Stokes included the statement because a wild rumor briefly made the rounds that Miss Jane killed Chipps and Norris, as a true he-man of the wild west of the times, took the fall for her. Anyone who knew her would have dismissed it handily. As Dr. Richie noted, calling her one of his favorite people, she would have a hard time trying to kill a fly.

At First Baptist the day after the shooting Stokes tells his readers what Mrs. Norris told her Sunday school class about the crucifixion and Judas. And the morning service is described, “The choir was led as usual by Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conductor Brooks Morris. Cynics saw the music building to a crescendo as an exercise where Norris’ ‘minions have gathered about their shepherd in mesmerized faith,’ with ‘psychologically caressed’ pianos furnishing ‘additional emotion.’” Since there were quotes around some of the latter phrases, perhaps that was more of HJM, nickel Blue Book stuff. At any rate, it certainly doesn’t sound like a Bible believer – even if no longer a fundamentalist – reporting history.

Again, more like a historical novel, Stokes tells how the reporter who had been promised that his already started interview would be finished after church Sunday morning, went outside, walked down the block, “self-consciously” (!) smoked a cigarette – even telling how many cancer sticks he smoked – then remembered “Norris would not approve of the smoking.” Well, perhaps this is a novel!

In referring to the interview with the reporter, Stokes said of Norris’ remarks, “It was, in his thinking, all about him.” That is pretty good for telling a man’s feelings 84 years after the fact, isn’t it? Stokes is the same kind of clairvoyant genius as James Canfield and David Lutzweiler, who could do the same with Scofield.

He even notes that the next day, during Chipps’ funeral, Norris was home “in his comfortable house … trying to nap in his easy chair …” Trying to nap? Indeed, what a genius!

As Stokes himself noted, out of the 16 men named on the Tarrant County grand jury to consider the case, three were honorary pallbearers at Chipps’ funeral! Talk about stacking a jury! No wonder they voted to indict! Strangely, after the shooting Norris released a statement (not a mere comment to a reporter) indicating he wanted to be indicted for murder, an astonishing move for a man Stokes wants us to believe was guilty of murder in cold blood.

Stokes admits some of the best attorneys in the country were working with the prosecution to convict Norris. However, all the preeminent prosecuting legal talent could do was keep the jury out deliberating a mere 74 minutes. While it was a unanimous, apparently-first-ballot decision, Stokes thinks they erred. He is, indeed, one strange gentleman.

Even Stokes thinks the judge thought Norris innocent. In talking about His Honor’s charge to the jury, after quoting it, he writes: “The defense lawyers fought off smiles, as the judge seemed to be giving a charge that seemed to favor their client. There were no such smiles at the prosecution table. McLean and company knew that the case they had all thought was a sure thing, one that would shut the mouth of J. Frank Norris for good, was slipping away.”

The civil suit against Norris by Mrs. Chipps went by the wayside as well, “being dismissed in the autumn of 1930.”

OTHER MATTERS

Early in the book Stokes deals with a Fort Worth eyesore, unofficially called “Hell’s Half Acre.” A committee of 10 gospel ministers, including Norris, were selected by the Tarrant County General Pastors’ Association to look into the mess. They, in turn, hired a private investigator by the name of George Chapman.

They got more than they bargained for, learning the area had “about 80 houses of prostitution,” many owned by some of Fort Worth’s most prominent citizens, including those serving on boards of their own congregations. While it had been previously agreed that all 10 pastors would go before their people and read the names of the guilty, when they discovered their own members were involved, all chickened out but J. Frank. He preached on “The Ten Biggest Devils In Town And Their Records Given,” letting the chips fly and fall where they would.

While Stokes doesn’t say so, Dr. Ritchie tells us the director of the Norris Archives at Arlington Baptist College identified the group running those slime pits as “the Texas Mafia” and fighting them would certainly seem part of a minister’s duty if he were to stand up for God and righteousness. But you get the idea from Stokes that Norris was merely a troublemaker, an obnoxious blight on the city for airing its dirty linen. We certainly hope, if the fine city of Fairfax where Stokes currently pastors develops a Hell’s Half Acre, he will be in the forefront of a fight to annihilate it.

Frankly, we salute/commend Norris for what he did. Having been involved in at least one major exposure myself I can ‘feel’ the fear of retaliation from those involved he must have felt. Believe me, it is nothing like sitting in a comfortable, air-conditioned office nearly a century later and writing a book putting down a preacher’s heroic action.

Though Norris had many battles – some rather ‘bloody’ – with SBC leaders, we question the following statement by Stokes: “As his attacks on the Baptists became more and more vociferous, Norris found himself increasingly and deliberately marginalized by denomination leaders. Eventually, he and his church would be denied participation at the county, state, and national Southern Baptist denominational levels.”

My understanding is that while his local county association and the state convention indeed booted him, he was never excluded from the SBC on the national level. In fact, I was told he sent funds annually to denominational headquarters – that was the criteria on the national level – to keep his options open. My insight is that he was seen right to the end at its national meetings, having his associates distribute his Fundamentalist paper.

As Dr. Wall put it in his thesis, “Although excluded from the Tarrant County Baptist Association and the Texas Baptist Convention, Norris remained affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention until his death and ever continued to challenge what he perceived as the denomination’s drifts.”

Most of his conflicts with SBC leaders were really doctrinal. He was premillennial and dispensational (as are most fundamentalists today), while the majority of the SBC leaders in that day were postmillennial. (Today, we think the majority in the SBC, like Norris, are premillennial.)

Norris also viciously fought the theory of evolution, especially as it was being taught in SBC schools, notably his alma mater, Baylor. In all of this he was unashamedly an inerrantist; many of his opponents were not.

There are other things we could say about Apparent Danger, such as the book’s looseness with truth. For example, The Prologue starts with an opening reading as if the trial took place in Fort Worth. It did not, of course; it took place in Austin, the state capitol. But that is a very minor matter and Stokes did not actually say it was Fort Worth.

The former pastor/successor to J. Frank Norris, Dr. Homer Ritchie, is a longtime friend of mine. In fact, he would never have been pastor of First Baptist if he had listened to me. He called me on a Saturday night to tell me Dr. Norris had invited him to become his assistant (with a possibility of becoming pastor at his decease) and asked my advice. I warned him not to accept, for reasons not necessary to note here.

At any rate, Ritchie wrote, even before I knew the book had been published, a short rebuttal to Stokes. It was titled Some Misrepresentations And Falsehoods About Dr. J. Frank Norris In David Stokes' Book, “Apparent Danger.” In it he charged Stokes with writing on “hearsay and second-hand evaluations,” noting such “can be very biased and prejudicial, depending on one’s predispositions.” That is very true.

On the other hand, Ritchie knew him well, worked with him closely, and even wrote one of his biographies. For the latter he did “a massive amount of library research, as well as interviews with people who personally knew him,” including at least one of the trial’s key witnesses.

About Norris the man, Ritchie said, “Contrary to what his critics and enemies wrote or stated, Dr. Norris was a kind, generous, compassionate and Spirit-filled man. I have seen him weep over the lost and downtrodden. He led his church to feed thousands of poor, hungry people. I witnessed on many occasions when he would give needy people his last dollar. On the other hand, he courageously and aggressively exposed social evils, religious racketeers, charlatans, liberal professors in Southern Baptist schools, denominational leaders, and deceivers who taught heresies. At times his methods were objectionable to some people who did not agree with his strong Biblical views. That’s nothing new. Christ’s critics and enemies tried on several occasions to kill Him and finally succeeded at Calvary. The same was true of Stephen, Paul, the Apostles, the true prophets of Israel, the martyrs, and faithful men and women of God in the Bible.” This, obviously, is an entirely different portrait of the man than the one Stokes paints, but others, even among Norris’ enemies, have acknowledged the same.

Dr. Wall also noted in his thesis, “He sided with the poor and outcast, often feeding thousands of street people and drifters in the soup kitchens of his downtown church.”

By the way, Stokes even gets Jerry Falwell into his book, calling him “linked to the empire and activities of J. Frank Norris.” It seems Falwell went to the same school Stokes attended! Ah, ‘links!’ That must mean Stokes was “linked to the empire and activities of J. Frank Norris.”

During an interview about the book, Stokes boasted that in his first pastorate (Lubbock, TX) he got acquainted with a nephew of Norris, Homer Duncan. He says, “I spent a lot of time with him. He was in the ministry, too, and had left the Baptist Church because of his Uncle Frank and the mean treatment of him. He didn’t want to tell them who he was related to.”

I found that very interesting because Homer and I were good friends, also. I published a good number of his messages in The Biblical Evangelist. We chatted often on the phone and corresponded back and forth. He sent me his books for review and I sent him mine. We received the other’s paper on an “exchange” basis.

In fact, we had quite a mutual admiration society going for a number of years. (I still quote him in come of our book ads.) I’m not sure he is still living since we lost touch some time after I left Texas; if so, he would 97 (he was born on January 1, 1913) and his Missionary Crusader mission – through which he gave phenomenal sums in cash and literature to missionaries – would be in its 67th year. I believe his son, Mark, a graduate of Dallas Seminary, heads that noble work today.

Homer was very evangelistic, founding The Worldwide Missionary Crusader, Inc., and on his board of directors had such men as Willard M. Aldrich (Multnomah School of the Bible), Charles L. Feinberg (Talbot Theological Seminary), Tim LaHaye (Family Life Seminars), Leslie Madison (Calvary Bible College), Elwood McQuaid (Friends of Israel), and John F. Walvoord (Dallas Theological Seminary).

In one letter to me about his Uncle Frank he said, “Luther [Peak], to encourage me to work with my Uncle Frank told me, ‘His relationship to you is your God-given heritage.’ My Uncle Frank helped me get the Highland Baptist Church in Utica, New York, and I tried working with him for several years, but found, as have so many others that it is very difficult to work with him. I believe he was harder on me than on the average person since I was his nephew. I used to stand up to him, a thing that most preachers feared to do. One time he told me, ‘George never talks back.’” The latter reference, we assume, was to his son, George Norris, who worked with him for several years then started another church across town.

Was Norris “mean” to Homer? He never said so to me, other than what myriads of others have said about being hard to work with. The same could be said of most other dynamic leaders, I think.

Homer was so disgusted with his uncle and ashamed of him, that when he ran across a letter Norris had written to him, offering advice to him when he started out in the ministry, he wondered if I could help him circulate it. I offered to print it in The Biblical Evangelist where, at that time, it would reach 15,000 preachers. Then I recommend the W. L. Carver Rare Book Room of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He wrote back and asked if I would help him contact them about it. I would and I did. They were thrilled at the possibility of receiving it. So, Homer, whom Stokes says was ashamed to be associated with his uncle, sent them the original where I assume it is on display today. (I only have a copy!)

It was a three-page letter giving excellent advice to a young preacher and that closed, “I predict for you a successful ministry, and by that I mean a soul winning ministry.

“Please command me at any time and never count me too busy.”

One Baptist Bible Fellowship leader that broke from Norris to help start BBFI told me Norris’ greatest days experiencing God’s blessing on his ministry were after the shooting. That was when he went to Temple at Detroit, when he started his school in Fort Worth, and when he saw literally tens of thousands of conversions and additions to his churches. By the way, he kept that dual Fort Worth/Detroit pastorate – some 1,300 miles apart – for fifteen years, traveling between them mostly by train.

Actually, as even Stokes reports, there were over 600 additions to the church in the first three months following the shooting. Over 1,000 people joined First Baptist from the day Chipps was shot until before the murder trial started. In fact, Barry Hankins, writing a nonfavorable book on Norris called God’s Rascal: J. Frank Norris & the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism, says, “… in the year following the shooting itself, First Baptist added two thousand new members.” And even Stokes acknowledges, “By the late 1940s, it was reported that the combined membership of the churches numbered 25,000.”

Sinclair Lewis, whom Stokes wanted to use in denigrating Norris, visited the church in 1937 for the first time (saying doing so “satisfied a desire of a great many years standing”). He exclaimed in amazement, “I have never seen before so many people at church at once” (quoted by Hankins; see previous paragraph).

Remember, earlier we quoted Stokes as saying, “When Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis was researching and writing Elmer Gantry, his book about a disreputable preacher who was a master of manipulation, he made it a point to go out of his way to visit Fort Worth to catch a glimpse of the preacher in full glory.” This lie is disposed of when you realize he wrote Gantry in 1926 – and his first visit to Norris’ church in Fort Worth was in 1937! Someone didn’t do his homework, obviously.

In the Epilogue, Stokes says Amon G. Carter, the famous newspaper man and a key figure in the book, in plans calling for the celebration of the centennial of Texas (1936), called J. Frank on the phone and the following dialogue allegedly took place:

“Are you going out of town this summer?”

“I might. Why?”

“We’ve got this centennial show and some nude girls, and we’re going to sell liquor.”

“I see. I’ve been intending to hold some revivals. I guess I could start them early.” Like most of the rest of the book, no documentation is given and anyone who believes it took place evidently knows nothing about the “Texas Tornado,” as Norris was called.

Since he put the conversation in quotes you could expect it to be “documented” in the Epilogue section of his “documentation,” but the only thing recorded there is “Minutes of the District Court 96th Judicial District of Texas,” which obviously was NOT the source, “Pirtle,” and “SL” (Searchlight). We would not expect Norris to be boasting about that in his paper. So that leaves Pirtle. It seems a Caleb Pirtle III wrote Fort Worth – The Civilized West, but we have never seen it. How he would have such information about the private telephone conversation of Carter and Norris, we have no idea.

Also in the Epilogue he sums up the Detroit church where he and his mother allegedly attended, merely saying about what happened there, “… installing an expert administrator to oversee the Motor City ministry.” He did not even name G. Beauchamp Vick, the aggressive, popular, successful and well-known leader who became pastor at Temple Baptist after Norris, a very prominent voice in the movement and the school – at one time president – where Stokes received his training for the ministry.

As might be expected of an ex-fundamentalist turned nondenominational, he closes with harsh words for the former.

Stokes’ book is very well written. It is interesting. It grabs and holds your attention. As we said earlier, it would make a great historical novel. We also noted many technical errors that we assume will be corrected in future editions. Quite frankly, Stokes is a gifted writer, shows evidence in this volume of considerable research, although there was more interesting information about the city of Fort Worth than Frank Norris. Or so it seemed to me.

In an interview about Danger, Stokes said his next book was based on the 1952 speech by Richard Nixon called “The Checkers Speech.” In that case, if anything like the Norris book, we give our advance sympathy to the late President Nixon and all his survivors!

By the way, in that same interview, the questioner noted, “You said about Norris, that ‘No one is neutral.’ You made your views clear, but managed to write in such a way that readers weren’t overly influenced by your opinions – they can make up their own minds. Was maintaining the voice of a neutral narrator a difficult task?”

His reply, “Yeah.”

If so, God protect and save me from ‘neutral’ writers!

[When we “searched” Bascom Hill Books we learned it is “a division of Hillcrest Publishing Group, Inc.,” and seemed to be primarily a self-publishing group, something like Xulon Press. So perhaps, like Canfield and Lutzweiler before him, Stokes found it difficult to find a regular publisher willing to handle Danger.

 [As we were getting ready to send copy to our pager, a major publisher was able to see (you know, $$$) the value of handling the book. So Stokes was dumping his supply for $7.95 (I feel robbed). Stokes says he is retaining "dramatic" rights, just in case someone sees big screen potential in it. He says his “agent” is very interested in this aspect of the project. I’m $ure he is; that’$ where the really big dollar$ are!]