Don't Mess with Texas Baptists

Stop Baptist Predators
September 2, 2013

I was cleaning out some boxes recently and ran across the January 1986 sesquicentennial edition of Texas Monthly magazine. In it was a fascinating article called “Bane of the Baptists” by Gary Cleve Wilson, which I’ve excerpted below. (This, of course, is why my cleaning process invariably stalls out – I stop to read things.)

The article that distracted me was about William Cowper Brann, who was described as “the most controversial and widely read Texan of his day.” After serving as chief editorial writer on the Houston Post, he moved to Austin where he founded the Iconoclast, a journal that by the end of 1894, its first year of publication, had a circulation of 100,000. In effect, Brann was something like a pre-blogging version of a blogger.

Brann took on Texas Baptists in his writings, and Texas Baptists didn’t like it. Not one bit. Brann paid a high price. The lesson: Don’t mess with Texas Baptists.

Nowadays, I see so much of Texas Baptists’ complicity in clergy sex abuse and cover-ups, and so much of Texas Baptists’ bullying and intimidation tactics against those who speak out about abuse that, sometimes, I think some Texas Baptists couldn’t possibly get any badder if they tried. But then I ponder the long history of connections between Texas Baptists and the Texas Klan. And then I run across an article like this one about Brann. And then I remember just how deeply entrenched violence actually is in the institutionalized heart of Texas Baptists.

From “Bane of the Baptists:”

“What readers relished most was the Iconoclast’s running war with Waco, Baylor, and the Baptists. To Brann, that countrified Trinity exemplified Victorian hypocrisy in its most splendid combination. When local preachers thundered against prizefighting, Brann wrote, ‘If Corbett and Fitzsimmons were to fight in Dallas today – without admission fee – Waco, the religious hub of the world, would be depopulated. Half the preachers of Texas would go early to secure front seats.’”

A prominent religious leader of the day “christened Brann ‘Apostle of the Devil.’ The name stuck, and Baptists began to pray for deliverance from that journalistic scourge. . . .”

“Then Antonia Teixeira came along…. . A Brazilian missionary student at Baylor, Antonia boarded with Baylor’s president, the Reverend Dr. Rufus C. Burleson. While there, she became pregnant. In the summer of 1895 H. Steen Morris, a relative of Burleson’s, was arrested and charged with her rape. Brann put two and two together, and it came up ‘Baptists and a despoiled innocent.” He could ask for no better cause.

“’Baylor,’ Brann wrote, would ‘stink forever in the nostrils of Christendom – it is damned to everlasting fame.’ It was as if the university itself had committed the rape. Baptists and Baylor tried to defend their honor while Brann exploited the issue for two years. . . .

“It was only a matter of time before Baylor sympathizers would act. When Brann proposed the erection of a monument commemorating Baylor’s taking ‘an ignorant little Catholic as raw material’ and getting ‘two Baptists as the finished product,’ Baylor loyalists figured they had had enough.

“On a Saturday afternoon in October 1897, Brann was abducted at gunpoint and driven to the Baylor campus for a lesson in humility. Beaten and threatened with worse, he was chased off campus. A week later he was caned and horsewhipped by a father-and-son team of Baylor partisans. Brann began to carry a gun and took shooting lessons. Six months later he got his chance.

“Brann was to take a well-earned vacation in the spring of 1898. He and his business manager were downtown buying railroad tickets when from behind them stepped Tom Davis, a local real estate investor and vocal detractor of Brann. Davis drew his pistol and shot at the lanky editor. Brann whirled, returning fire. The two emptied their six-shooters into each other as the late afternoon crowd stampeded. Moments later Davis was lying in a pool of blood, and Brann – shot in the groin, foot, and back – slid to the ground. He died early the next morning. Davis, hit six times, died soon after Brann.

“No one has given Texas Baptists much trouble since.”

Some things have changed since Brann’s time, but a lot of things haven’t. To this day, people don’t tend to give Texas Baptists much trouble, which helps to explain why stories like the mega-scandal at the Prestonwood Baptist mega-church can so easily get swept under the rug with no accountability for the cover-uppers.


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