FORT WORTH, Texas -- The "mother church" of a Baptist fundamentalist
movement that led many churches to break with the Southern Baptist Convention
in the 1920s has voted to rejoin the denomination.
First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, once led by the fiery fundamentalist J.
Frank Norris, voted overwhelmingly Sunday to seek affiliation with the Southern
Baptist Convention, based on the denomination's trend toward fundamentalism,
said the church's pastor, the Rev. Billy Ramsey.
The action could lead the way for other independent fundamentalist churches
to join the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group,
said the Rev. Paige Patterson, a fundamentalist leader and president of
Criswell College in Dallas.
"This is kind of like patching up an old family spat," Patterson said.
The vote by First Baptist to rejoin the convention followed the
denomination's national convention in New Orleans last week, during which a
fundamentalist president was elected for the 12th year.
The legendary Norris, who was acquitted of murder and arson during
sensational trials in the 1930s, kept the church's ties with the national
Southern Baptist Convention until 1948, when delegates voted to deny him status
as a delegate at a national convention in Memphis, Tenn.
While attacking liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Norris
founded an independent fundamentalist Baptist movement that has ties with
conservative colleges, seminaries and Bible schools, and many congregations,
including Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., whose pastor is TV
evangelist Jerry Falwell. Norris died in 1952.
Ramsey said Norris would have approved of his church's action in seeking
ties with Southern Baptists, but Ramsey expects to be "hammered" by criticism
from other independent fundamentalist Baptists who oppose the move.
"I feel if Dr. J. Frank Norris were here today and saw the direction the
Southern Baptist Convention was moving, he would vote with us to reunite with
the Southern Baptists," said Ramsey, 32. "This is an effort to complete the
fight for the Bible started under Dr. Norris."
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Ramsey said nothing shows that First Baptist members ever voted to leave the
Southern Baptist Convention.
He said his "dream is that other independent fundamentalist churches will
join" the Southern Baptist crusade of conservatives.
Patterson hailed the action of Ramsey's church and said he believes that
more churches involved with the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement
will seek affiliation with Southern Baptists.
"I think it was a most historic Sunday when they voted to rejoin our
Southern Baptist Convention," Patterson said. "And I frankly believe you will
see more movement (by independent Baptist fundamentalist churches) toward
unification with Southern Baptists."
The Rev. James Draper, former Southern Baptist president and pastor of First
Baptist Church of Euless, a city between Dallas and Fort Worth, appeared with
Ramsey at a pastors' conference of the Tarrant Baptist Association, the county
association of Southern Baptists, on Monday to announce the vote by Ramsey's
"I think if First Baptist rejoins the Southern Baptist Convention, it is a
tremendous testimony that a healing is taking place," Draper said. "When Dr.
Norris was expelled, it was a very bitter and hostile time."
Also, Ramsey conferred with fundamentalist leaders, including the Rev. W.A.
Criswell of Dallas, before pursuing the affiliation with Southern Baptists.
Criswell, he said, was elated by the possibility of Norris' old church
coming back into the denomination.
The action was met with amazement by some independent fundamentalist
Baptists, who have railed for decades about liberalism in the Southern Baptist
"J. Frank Norris Is Turning Over in His Grave," says a headline in the
Searchlight, a newspaper published by Independent Baptist Fellowship
International, a fundamentalist group based in Fort Worth, which carried an
article critical of the church's possible return to the Southern Baptist
The Rev. Raymond Barber, pastor of Worth Baptist Church in Fort Worth and
president of Independent Baptist Fellowship International, which is dedicated
to preserving Norris' teachings, said he was saddened by First Baptist's vote.
"I am grieved that the mother church of fundamentalist and independent
Baptists has voted to go back into the Southern Baptist Convention," Barber
said. "It is a sad day for all independent Baptists."
First Baptist, originally in downtown Fort Worth, is now in the Fort Worth
suburb of Haltom City. It has 2,000 members on its church rolls and about 700
active members, Ramsey said.
In the past, Patterson and other Southern Baptist fundamentalists have
shunned any comparisons to Norris, who became notorious for his vituperative
attacks against influential pastors and seminary presidents.
Norris is hailed by many as a master pulpiteer, and his sermons are still
His flamboyant style drew thousands to his church, and he once rented
several monkeys to play around his pulpit as he preached a sermon against
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