Fundamentalism and the Press: A Story From 1904

The October 21 forced resignation of North Carolina Biblical Recorder editor Norman Jameson continues to ripple throughout North Carolina Baptist life: on Thursday, a member of the Recorder’s board of directors resigned in protest of Jameson’s mistreatment.

Pushed out of his position because of threats from an angry Baptist minister in the state, Jameson, accused of not being conservative enough, is the latest victim of religious fundamentalism’s opposition to the foundational Baptist principle of freedom of conscience.

In short, fundamentalism and a free press are not compatible: in the hands of fundamentalists, newspapers and news services become outlets for religious propaganda.

Nonetheless, the purveyors of theological and political correctness that characterize today’s Southern Baptist news landscape are more civilized than some of their predecessors.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Texas remained the Wild West. In May 1904, on an east-bound train from Dallas to Nashville, two Baptists from Dallas got into an altercation in the lavatory. Their bathroom brawl was no ordinary affair, and the two men were no ordinary Baptists.

James Britton Cranfill, Baptist preacher and long-time newspaper editor, was at the time the editor of the Texas Baptist Standard. His opponent, Samuel Augustus Hayden, also a Baptist preacher and long-time newspaper man, was editor of the Texas Baptist and Herald. The best known Baptist ministers in Texas by virtue of their news outlets, Cranfill and Hayden had been bitter enemies for years, their feud playing out in print.

However, newsprint could not contain their disagreements this May day. As the train chugged toward Nashville, Tennessee, where the two Baptists were to attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, shots rang out in the lavatory. Cranfill tried to shoot Hayden but his aim was ineffectual, as the two struggled over control of the pistol.

Cranfill was arraigned on charges of attempted murder when the train stopped in Texarkana, but posted bond and was released to continue his trip to Nashville … on a separate train than Hayden.

(Baptist historian Joseph Early, Jr. authored an account of the long-running feud between Cranfill and Hayden, entitled A Texas Baptist Power Struggle: The Hayden Controversy.

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  1. My favorite Professor at SEBTS 1967-70 was John Carlton who came my Senior year. He was from Texas and often chortled over the "strange" Baptists in Texas. This story confirms it!!!

    Actually, after the Civil War, many reprobates from the deep South were unwelcome to come home. Many of them settled in Texas and carried their religion with them–often strange.

    I pastored the Noonday Baptist Church north of Atlanta and in the area where the last furious battles before Sherman took Atlanta. They had their minutes bound and laminated from 1835 onward. One day the Smith family from the Noonday community outside Tyler, TX, came by in search of their ancestor who founded the crossroad town and named it after his point of origin = Noonday, TX.

    I have no idea what kind of Baptist he was, but that story validates the migration to Texas from the deep South.

    I do know this–there a not Baptists like those east of the Missippi. It is a different world. My brother married in a small Baptist church in Magnolia, AK, just north of the Texas border and mid-way of Arkansas. On their church sanctuary front was posted the statement I had only seen in the front of an old Baptist Hymnal before. It spoke of abstenance from alcohol and other beliefs of "old time Baptists."

    I was in Mobile, ALA, chasing Katrina for my next encounter with large Baptist churches of that "over-righteous" town. It contains Dolphin Way and Cottage Hill where traffic cops direct traffic in the "Bible belt" religion from Catholic to Baptist and in between. It was like going back some 40 years in southern culture. You could quickly detect why the race marches started in Selma and other Alabama / Arkansas places.

    In this "super righteous" town there was an underbelly of corruption in politics and law enforcement. I am not really surprised at the above story of a gunfight between 2 editors. Where the Baptists of NC/SC/GA I know can fight verbally in the Convention meetings, I never knew of an actual gunfight of fistfight–except a FBC Atlanta when Charles Stanley did not fulfill his promises as the Interim Pastor to not seek the Pastorate he wormed his way into!

    As the Nazi in "Laugh In" said, "Interesting–velly interesting!"

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