“A Long-time Minister of the Gospel and a Great Leader in Our Southern Baptist Convention”: The Selsus E. Tull Collection

Excerpt from formal photograph of Dr. Selsus E. Tull, ca 1900

The newest addition to the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections is a fascinating archival collection long housed in the Moody Memorial Library: the sermons and papers of Dr. Selsus E. Tull, a Baptist minister with more than a half-century of service to Southern churches and an influential member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Tull was born in rural Louisiana in 1878 to a “Confederate soldier who fought in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia under Jackson, Early, and Gordon.”(1) He received an education at Union University and attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a year before striking out to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kosciusko, Mississippi.

Thus began a lifetime of preaching the gospel at Baptist churches across the South. From Mississippi to Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and finally in Florida, Tull pastored churches large and small for the better part of half a century. In addition to shepherding his flocks through crises large and small, Tull became influential in Baptist politics on a national level in two major ways: a revolution in church administration and sponsorship of a written stance against evolution.

The Lord’s Work on a Budget: Tull’s Approach to Church Administration

In his oral memoirs, Tull reveals a frustration felt by many pastors in the early 1900s.

“Well, in those days, in passing the plate at church, you got practically no money; people just gave their incidentals that they had in their pocket. It wasn’t near enough to pay the pastor, even. And so, [FBC Kosciusko secretary] Lockard Brown would get out of his store at the end of the month and go around the square, asking the fellows, ‘Time to pay the preacher now, and you can give me some money for the preacher.’ And that’s the way pastor’s salary was collected.” (2)

Tull mentions that he saw a similar situation at all the churches he pastored in his early years and became determined to do something different. During his pastorship at First Baptist Church of Paducah, Kentucky, Tull hit on the idea of creating a budget for the church. He sat down in his study and “made out a local budget of all the costs it would take to run the church.” He wrote his plan on a chalkboard, assembled his church membership and said,

“Now, brethren, if you’ll adopt this budget, which is a perfect unified budget of denominational and local costs, we’ll not have any more collections in this church. We’ll ask people to subscribe to this budget by an every-member canvass and bring their money to church every Sunday. And at the end of each month, we’ll remit to the denomination on this percentage basis what we owe the denomination and if there’s any deficit anywhere, it’ll fall on those expenses and not on the denominational causes.” (3)

The plan passed with flying colors, and when Tull transferred to a new church in Temple, Texas later that year, his condition for taking the job was that the church adopt a similar setup. The church agreed, and Tull’s new approach began to garner interest from other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Eventually, it made enough noise that the idea of making his approach standard across the convention was brought up for a vote in 1916. It passed a floor vote, and following a review by a hand-picked committee of prominent Baptists, it was released denomination-wide under the title Church Organization and Methods: A Manual for Baptist Churches in 1917.

Title page from “Church Organization and Methods” by S.E. Tull et al., 1917

The “Tull Resolution” of 1926

Tull’s name came back into the spotlight in 1926 when he was tangentially involved in the national debate over evolution as personified by the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. At the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual convention in Memphis that year, members voted to adopt the “Memphis Articles of Faith,” which read, “We believe that man was created in holiness under the law of his maker.” A proposal to add the words “and not by evolution” to this statement was narrowly voted down by the members, but it would be brought up again in a different form at the annual meeting in Houston in 1926.

That year, a statement was introduced that read, “This convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was a special creation of God and rejects every theory, evolution or otherwise, which teaches that man originated or came by way of a lower and animal ancestor.” The statement was accepted by the membership, and Tull suggested it be accepted and endorsed by all “our institutions, from the Foreign Mission Board down,” including seminaries. It subsequently became known as the Tull Resolution and was adopted at the 1926 convention as well.

Excerpt from page one of Tull’s sermon “The Devil in Robes of Light,” first delivered April 29, 1934

The Tull Collection at Baylor University

How Tull’s papers came to Baylor is an interesting story in and of itself. In 1965, Tull gave his oral history to Dr. Robert Baker of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of the Texas Baptist Oral History Consortium (TBOHC) on behalf of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The director of TBOHC, Dr. Thomas Charlton, would later serve as director of the Texas Collection at Baylor University and was an integral part of the oral history community at Baylor for many years.

A promotional flyer for Dr. Tull’s services as a “Baptist Evangelist”

When Tull died in 1973, his daughter, Martha Tull McKnight, signed the agreement to open Tull’s memoirs to the world, and they were included in Baylor’s Texas Baptist Project, a collection of oral histories from Baptist luminaries across the state. This pre-established relationship with Dr. Charlton and Baylor University led Tull’s family to donate his papers – including his hundreds of envelopes filled with his handwritten sermon notes – to the university, where they have been stored as part of the Baptist collection in Moody Library for many years.

Tull’s sermons in original storage box prior to digitization and rehousing in archival storage

A chance conversation between Digitization Projects Group (DPG) staff and Beth Farwell, assistant director for the central libraries, led us to investigate the collection, and it was an easy decision to make the Tull sermons a candidate for digitization. To date, we have digitized more than 400 of his sermons, with some 200 having been fully transcribed into computer-searchable text. The process of placing them online began this summer, and they will be added to the collection on a consistent basis until the entire collection is available online.

To learn more about the Tull Collection, and to get better acquainted with Dr. Tull and his work, visit the collection’s homepage. We hope you’ll find this dedicated servant’s life journey fascinating, and that the output of his ministerial work is enlightening, revelatory and informational.

And do take time to read his oral history for a complete look at his life. Tull’s 94 years were filled with interesting events, and his homespun phrases – including “He lost his molasses jug and made a mess of it” (4) to describe a speaker’s anger – make for an all-around excellent summer read.

Photos from the Selsus Tull Collection. Citations 1-4 from the Oral Memoirs of Selsus Estol Tull courtesy the Baylor University Institute for Oral History.