Tragic Story of a Baptist Minister
Challenged False Thinking
Lost Himself In The End
| How is it that the pastor
of one of the largest Baptist churches in the USA would end up taking his
Truman Dollar did just that.
As one of the most respected and revered Baptist pastors of the twentieth
century, he put a gun to his head and committed suicide.
Truth be told, Dollar was
a sheep in wolfs clothing. In fact, his more moderate view of theology
placed him at odds with the fundamental Baptists of his day. He even
sat on the committee that worked with the translation of the New King James
Version of the Bible; something the "King James Only" faction of the fundamentalists
would never forgive. As a result, he was challenged by legalism,
bigotry, and racial prejudice. In the end, he lost his ministry,
his reputation, his own self respect, and his own life.
Born to a pastor's family
in Texas, Dollar was called to preach like his father before him.
His pastoral experience included the Glenwood Baptist Church in Texas,
the Ambassador Baptist Church of Allen Park, Michigan, and the Kansas City
Baptist Temple in Missouri (1967). In every case, he led each of
these churches to record growth. While at the KCBT, the church experienced
further growth due to Dollar's ability to attract new members via the television
ministry with the membership reaching over 3,500.
Then he accepted the pastorate
of Detroit's Temple Baptist Church.
To understand what happened
to Truman Dollar, one must understand the culture of Detroit during the
mid-1900s. In fact, it was an extremely racially divided city.
As the auto industry grew, Detroit became its headquarters. Working
in an auto factory became the bread and butter for Northern blacks and
Southern whites. The southerners migrated to Michigan because jobs
in Michigan were plentiful at the time and also paid very well. As
a result, the more prejudiced Southerners brought their racial bigotry
with them. Ironically, both the blacks and the whites held one thing
in common. Most of them were Baptists. Yet, the blacks were
kept at arm's length. The bigoted white fundamentalists refused to
allow blacks to even enter their churches; let alone become members.
The most flagrant violation
of the Biblical teaching of our being one in Christ was indeed the Temple
Baptist Church of Detroit. It was a large congregation with 5,000
members. For all sixty years of it's existence, the leadership and
the congregation felt strongly convicted that they were somehow correct
in imposing a ban upon blacks. They were not allowed to enter the facility.
Membership wasn't even a consideration.
As the black community began
to dominate the city center of Detroit, the church relocated itself by
building a large ediface on Grand River Avenue where the white community
was still affluent.
However, as the years passed
by, the black community expanded. Again,
Upon accepting the pastorate
of the church, Dollar soon began challenging both the extremely narrow
legalistic and racist views that had so long been held by the church.
These were "convictions" that were woven into the very fabric of the congregation's
mindset. Yet, he boldly went forth to challenge these views, only
to be met by tremendous opposition.
|instead of integrating, the church
moved further out. The congregation relocated once again. This
time, it built a beautiful facility on a large tract of land on West Chicago
Avenue near Telegraph Road.
Following the passing of
the church's longtime pastor, Beauchamp Vick, it was Truman Dollar who
accepted the pastoral call of the Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan.
It would prove to be his
Dollar would often challenge
these same views from the TBC pulpit.
Regarding the churches strong
leaning toward legalism, he would describe it as "the tendency to reduce
Christianity to a set of rules rather than a personal relationship with
Christ." Like Jesus, he recognized the phariseeical attitudes for
who and what they were. Yet, Dollar continued his attempt to disuade
the church from it's history of racism with tact and diplomacy.
In the meantime, the black
community was expanding. Detroit never regained it's previous status
as one of America's key cities following the riots of 1967. Furthermore,
the demise of the auto industry in Detroit further crippled what was once
a very proud community. The white population continued to move away
from the city into the suburbs. Would the congregation vote one more
time to build another large facility further out again or would they finally
break the previous pattern of racial bigotry by staying and adapting to
the community as it changed, too?
Dollar had made tremendous
headway against all odds. In September of 1985, the deacons of the church
voted 29 to 7 to scrap the anti-black policy of the church, thus, allowing
them membership. The 9,500-member congregation was informed of the
vote to be held at next Sunday's services to approve the decision of the
deacons. By that time, due to Dollar's influence, about seventy blacks
were attending church services at Temple but were not yet allowed to join
Following the vote of the
deacons, Dollar stated, ''I have been here two-and-a-half years and have
been working to change attitudes. It appears we're almost there.''
However, there were those
on the pastoral staff who were very much opposed to the upcoming vote.
They were frantically working to stave it off in any way that they could.
One of them found the pastor's achilles heal and went for it.
It seems that while Dollar
was at his previous pastorate, he had entered into a questionable relationship
with a woman there. Having departed from the ministry in Kansas City,
he was accused of still being in communication with her even after becoming
This bit of information was
used by Dollar's protractors to bring him down and they used it without
mercy. As a result, the church became split between those who still
supported the views of their pastor (if not the pastor himself) and those
who were totally against both him and his views.
It was Doctor James Dobson,
pastor of a large church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was asked to assist
the church when it all began to fall apart. In spite of his best
attempt, the church still split. Dollar ended up resigning the church
due to the charges of sexual impropriety. Truman Dollar moved his
family to Grand Rapids where he agreed to be placed under strict accountablility
to Dobson. In hindsight, one questions the wisdom of this approach
even though there can be no doubt that the motivation behind it was sincere.
Dollar went to work for an
advertising agency. However, he eventually gave in to whatever guilt
and shame he still harbored,
He committed suicide.
Again, irony once again forced
itself upon this sad account.
Those who remained with the
church did eventually sell the facility so that it could be relocated.
Before doing so, they called a more moderate pastor who led the church
to intigrate. It continued its policy of encouraging all born-again
believers of every race and color to unite with the church via believers
Today, the NorthRidge Church
of Plymouth, Michigan (Pastor Brad Howell) has inherited what was left
of the great Temple Baptist Church.
When Powell arrived
at Temple, the church had already lost 75 percent of its attendance and
90 percent of its members. He stated that the situation was so bad
that "...the church elders were talking basically about when they were
going to turn the lights out." The new pastor led the church to shed
it's old name and image. Currently, more than 12,700 attend worship
services at the 79 acre campus. Also, NorthRidge has been recognized
as the Midwest's fastest growing church by Outreach Magazine and listed
as one of the "Top 50 Most Influential Churches" by The Church Report.
Once more, people of color
are welcome to join the membership of this now moderate church which no
longer holds either a racist or legalistic views.
When all is said and done,
Truman Dollar was right in attempting to lead the church out of it's own
dark ages. Yet, he ultimately failed in personally realizing any
success due to his own moral dilemma.
Conversely, those who fought
him so hard; even to the extent of using anything they could find to justify
their cause, must share equal blame for their sad failure to resolve these
issues in their own time.
The very fact that God was
able to resurrect what was once a great church and do so in grander style,
while guiding it to a more balanced theology, only proves once again that
He is the One to Whom we should always look in the first place.