Frank Tripp: A Missouri Southern Baptist hero
Frank Tripp – a Missouri Southern Baptist hero? OK, perhaps the title of this post raises some questions in your mind: Should a pastor be watching a violent show like “CSI: Miami?” Should a pastor find heroic a fictional character who divorced his alcoholic wife rather than employing the tough love necessary to see her through her time of struggle? Why is a pastor wasting time watching TV, anyway?
And to that I would find it necessary to reply, “You’re thinking about the wrong Frank Tripp.”
Detective Frank Tripp is a character on CBS’s TV show “CSI Miami;” Frank Edgar Tripp (1895-1975)—the Frank Tripp who is one of my heroes—was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in St. Joseph, during some of the most tenuous days (1929-1938) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Great Depression brought financial devastation to the South, ravaging the economic prospects of an Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) constituency that had never been wealthy from the get-go. The inevitable resultant slump in financial contributions came at the worst possible time for SBC entities, which, while under the delirium that intoxicated them in the heady days culminating the famous 75 million fundraising campaign, had engaged in widespread borrowing.
And then, in what easily could have been the coup de grace for the Southern Baptist Convention, the news hit the papers in 1927-28 that two different con-men had gained employment at both the Foreign Mission Board (FMB)(G. N. Sanders, FMB treasurer) and the Home Mission Board (HMB) (Clinton S. Carnes, a career criminal who had become the CFO for the HMB without having to undergo any sort of background check) and had swindled a combined nearly $1.5 million from the fledgling Cooperative Program’s coffers.
In the aftermath, some pastors took full advantage of the opportunity to kick the SBC while it was down and to carp ad nauseum about all of the things that were wrong with our cooperative missions efforts—to remind everyone of their opinion that the SBC was itself a confidence scheme designed to suck money away from the churches and that the SBC was, of course, rapidly becoming irrelevant and would soon pass away. Other pastors sat back and wrung their hands, waiting for the denominational grandees to rush in and save the day.
Not Frank Tripp.
Frank Tripp decided to take personal action to save the Southern Baptist Convention. He organized the “100,000 Club,” enlisting 100,000 Southern Baptist ordinary people to give an extra $1 every month toward the elimination of Southern Baptist indebtedness. Tripp took vast quantities of time and energy away from his own family and local church to campaign throughout the convention on behalf of the effort that he had birthed. By 1943, the SBC had survived the crisis and the debts had been retired, thanks in large part to the faithful efforts of Frank Tripp.
At a time when it was so easy to lull one’s conscience with the sentiment, “They got this here depression on—I’ve got to do for me and mine,” Frank Tripp dared to look beyond himself and his little fiefdom. He caught a vision for something bigger, and then he communicated it to others. I regret that Tripp is lost to the memory of most Southern Baptist church members. I’m fairly confident in saying that most SBC employees could not tell the story of this ordinary man who stood up and took action at just the moment when he was needed most.
I was thinking about Tripp while sitting in the convention hall at Louisville this year, watching Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention present a $100,000 gift to the International Mission Board in these straitened circumstances that Southern Baptists today face together. The story of Frank Tripp contains lessons for our people and our time:
The power of God working through His churches, once they have been shaken from the slumber into which they sometimes drift, is so awesomely more powerful for good than the threat posed by any money-grubbing, power-mongering, political vindictiveness, or ineptitude that might be present from time to time in the bureaucracies that we build.
We do well to consider—each of us—how we will respond to the present needs of our missions enterprise. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) has led the way. Southwestern Seminary Vice President Thomas White is a leading voice in the campaign for a Christmas in August offering on behalf of the International Mission Board. That’s right, a seminary (in the midst of the same financial woes that plague us all at present) is campaigning for Southern Baptists to give extra money to an offering that will not benefit the seminary at all. These stories from SBTC and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary represent the kind of leadership that we are seeing in this season of challenges. The question is, will others rise to the challenge and provide this kind of visionary leadership to their own churches?
We are not entering some historic and unprecedented time of challenge for the Southern Baptist Convention. It was birthed in circumstances hostile to its survival, and nearly every generation of Southern Baptists have faced some impending doom. If we are faithful to the calling of Christ, He will see us through this day just as He has done in the past.
You, pastor, can make more of a difference in our cooperative pursuit of the Great Commission than the “marquee” stars of our day if God calls you to action and you obey Him. (Bart Barton, Ph.D., is pastor of First Baptist Church, Farmersville, Texas, and is a member of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board.)