Recommended Reading: "Apparent Danger" by David Stokes

Posted: Mar 28, 2010 8:30 PM

“In 1926, during the decade known famously as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties, the pastor of the largest Protestant church in the land- a man who was also a successful newspaper publisher, radio broadcasting pioneer, and rising conservative cultural star—shot an unarmed man to death in his church office.”
-David Stokes columnist David Stokes wrote the above passage in the preface to his new book “Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920’s.” In that book, Stokes wrote about the life of Reverend Doctor J. Frank Norris, who shot and killed an unarmed man. Norris was an extremely controversial pastor who often used his pulpit to criticize prominent members of his community and the Catholic Church. The story of Norris’ rise in the church, his fiery accusations against local leaders and the murder he committed is a fascinating story and Stokes explores it well in his new book. [# More #]

In the book, Norris is presented as a controversial and charismatic church leader. Stokes wrote that Norris knew how to communicate effectively and how to build the support of his congregation. “Even critics”, Stokes wrote, “reluctantly acknowledged his skills as a preacher-orator and admirers marveled at the way he could work an audience...he would become the undisputed leader of American fundamentalism."

However, his ability to captivate an audience was not the only thing that brought Norris publicity. In July of 1926, he was also responsible for the death of Mr. Chipps, an unarmed man who visited Norris' office to criticize the reverend for attacking leaders in the community. After a confrontation, Stokes wrote that “J. Frank Norris, the leading fundamentalist in the nation, heir to William Jennings Bryan himself…fired three shots into the massive frame of Dexter Elliot Chipps.”  Chipps died shortly therafter.

After that encounter, the book focuses on the case against Norris and the courtroom drama that ensued as Norris was charged with murder. The title of the book itself refers to a defense Norris’ legal team used to attempt to get their client set free. Stokes wrote that Norrris' lawyers believed that “if the defense could prove that J. Frank Norris ‘thought’ he was in danger, even if there was no actual evidence found afterward, he would go free.”

“Apparent Danger” is based on the true story of Reverend J. Frank Norris of Texas. It is a fascinating read about a pastor who seemingly loved media attention and controversy and found himself entangled in both after he shot a man to death in his own office.  

For more information about “Apparent Danger”, click here.