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Truman Dollar

The Tragic Story of a Baptist Minister
Who Challenged False Thinking
But 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 own life?
   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, 
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 undoing.
   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.
   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 the membership. 
   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 Temple's pastor.
   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 baptism.
   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.

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