Jimmy G. Tharpe
Jimmy Gid Tharpe, Sr. (May 12, 1930 – November 25, 2008), was an Independent Baptist clergyman in Shreveport, Louisiana, who founded the unaccredited theologically conservative Louisiana Baptist University and Theological Seminary, originally established in 1973 as Baptist Christian University. Earlier, Tharpe established Baptist Christian College (1961-1996) and the secondary school, Baptist Christian Academy (1964-1988), both accredited institutitions.
Early years and education
Tharpe was born to Lester H. Tharpe (1905-1972), a fisherman, and the former Fern Crump (1910-1963) in Sibley, five miles south of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana. The senior Tharpe was an alcoholic who converted to Christianity but frequently doubted his salvation and sometimes returned to drinking. Jimmy Tharpe played baseball in his youth and graduated in 1947 from Sibley High School, renamed and relocated early in the 21st century as Lakeside High School. As a youth, Tharpe attended the First Methodist Church in Sibley, along with his mother and sometimes his father, where he was called to the ministry and at twenty became the Sunday school superintendent. After his marriage on April 21, 1950, to the former Mary Edith Moore (August 17, 1932—March 23, 2007), of Sibley, whom he once courted every day for a month, Tharpe switched to Missionary Baptist affiliation and joined the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Minden, under pastor Leander Louis Clover (1902-1975). The Methodist minister in Sibley, L. M. Sawyer, urged Tharpe to remain with his congregation and broke down when Tharpe told him that he had switched to Missionary Baptist, a change which would require baptism by immersion because Baptists do not recognize the Methodist "sprinkling" procedure.
Tharpe was one of the first two graduates of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary, established in Minden in 1952 by pastor Clover. At seventeen, Tharpe began working for the Illinois Central Railroad. When he entered LMBIS in 1952, Tharpe told Clover that he wanted to keep his job and study part-time. Clover told him that such a decision would demonstrate a lack of faith, that Tharpe must be full-time in the ministry to succeed, and depend on God for his sustenance. LMBIS is affiliated with the American Baptist Association, a Landmark Baptist entity based in Texarkana, Texas, the organization of Missionary Baptist churches distinct from Southern Baptists or Independent Baptists.
After LMBIS, Tharpe procured a master of arts degree from Trinity College (Florida), signed by the college president T.W. Watson. Trinity was then in Clearwater but since relocated to Temple Terrace in Hillsborough County near Tampa. He was in-house at Florida Trinity for only two summers but transferred credits from Methodist-affiliated Centenary College of Shreveport and East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, toward the master's degree. Trinity no longer offers master's degrees. Evangelist Billy Graham graduated from Florida Trinity when the institution was known as Florida Bible Institute. Tharpe years later received his doctor of philosophy degree from National Christian University based in Lytle, south of San Antonio, Texas, but with a campus also in Dallas. His memoirs do not give the years of any of his degrees.
Tharpe also received numerous honorary degrees, including a doctor of divinity from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, and a doctor of humane letters from Midwestern Baptist College of Pontiac, Michigan. While in Pontiac, he was invited to speak at the Detroit Baptist Temple located there.
Tharpe taught the principle that a believer in Christ could not lose the gift of salvation regardless of subsequent sin. In his memoirs, he writes, "When a child of God sins, the chastisement of God will come. . . . When Samson (who was a man of God) sinned, he lost his eyes, his respect, and finally lost his life. He didn't lose his salvation. He lost his joy, then his life. God's word teaches that Moses died a premature death because he smote the rock instead of speaking to it. He died because of disobedience to God. David sinned by committing adultery, then tried to hide it by murder. God did not take his salvation, but he did take his joy. David said in Psalm 51:12, "restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.." Losing your joy is probably the worst of all chastisements. Yet, God chastens his children.
In regard to the New Testament church, Tharpe taught that Jesus "did not organize a big, universal, mystical body. He organized a local church with a group of baptized believers who covenanted together in an assembly to carry out His commands. It is a privilege to be a part of it. Great blessings are in store for those who keep the doors of the church open. People who put Christ first, who will dare to be different, who will suffer for his cause, are the ones who believe that His church is great."
Ministerial matters, 1952-2003
Tharpe's active ministry began in 1951 as a Methodist. In 1952, he entered LMBIS under Clover's close tutelage and organized and pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Doyline, also in Webster Parish, then a Missionary Baptist congregation, located west of his native Sibley. In 1956, Tharpe was called to Baptist Tabernacle in Shreveport, then a Missionary Baptist institution planted in 1954 by Foster Dare Lott, Sr. (1920-1966), the state and local missionary for Missionary Baptists, who was originally commissioned from Calvary Church in Minden. A World War II chaplain and a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Lott was known for tent revivals, an old practice still popular in rural communities during the 1950s. Tharpe pastored Baptist Tabernacle (not to be confused with another congregation which it later began, Shreveport Baptist Temple) for forty-seven years until his retirement in 2003. In his memoirs, Tharpe said that the pain of leaving Trinity Baptist, which began with five members, was so difficult that he never wanted to leave another congregation again and was committed to finishing his ministry at Shreveport Tabernacle.
During the 1960s, Shreveport Tabernacle was switched from Missionary Baptist to Independent Baptist affiliation because of a dispute within Missionary Baptist ranks between Lott and Clover which climaxed at an associational meeting in Bossier City, Louisiana. Tharpe stood with Lott and his colleague, C.K. House, and against the association leadership. In effect, Tharpe was evicted from Missionary Baptist fellowship for siding with Lott. Shreveport Tabernacle and several smaller churches were even forbidden to use the Missionary Baptist facility, the Boggs Springs Youth Encampment in southwest Arkansas. Shreveport Tabernacle hence built its own youth camp. Years later, Tharpe and Clover encountered each other again at a funeral in Sarepta, also in Webster Parish, and managed to put aside the old animosities. Clover told Tharpe that he had regarded Tharpe as one of his most capable students at the seminary and was pleased with Tharpe's success at Shreveport Tabernacle. Upon Clover's death, Mrs. Tommie B. Clover (1905-2002) gave Tharpe many of her husband's books.
Tharpe was also responsible for the establishment of some seventy-five churches in Louisiana and Texas, the last having been Sibley Baptist Tabernacle in Tharpe's hometown. On a number of Sundays, Tharpe preached at Sibley Tabernacle in a 9 a.m. service and returned to Shreveport for the 11 a.m. worship.
Baptist Christian College
Baptist Christian College began as an institution for ministerial and other church-related vocations. In 1964, the bachelor's degree in elementary education was added for teachers in Christian schools. In 1967, Louisiana Department of Education granted state teacher certification to those completing the BCC curriculum, a move which allowed BCC graduates to teach in public schools. In 1971, offerings in secondary education were added with state certification for the graduates. The Louisiana Board of Regents licensed BCC in 1993, but the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools refused to grant accreditation. With federal funding available, BCC grew in numbers and programs. It became particularly known as "the Cradle of Coaches" for its training of successful athletes into coaching careers. BCC athletes won state championships, produced "All Americans": nine in basketball, six in baseball, and three in football. In time, too rapid expansion with off-campus and prison inmate programs and the ending of federal funds caused BCC to close its doors after thirty-five years.
Edith Tharpe, like her husband was a Sibley High School alumnus. She received her bachelor's degree from BCC and then procured master's and Ph.D. degrees by commuting to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her doctoral dissertation is on "Teacher Morale", a part of which was subsequently featured in a national magazine. Her career outside the home was as the dean of the BCC Education Department.
Baptist Christian Academy
The accredited Baptist Christian Academy began in 1964 with grades one through eight. High school was added thereafter for the promotion of Christian education. When public school desegregation came to Caddo Parish in the late 1960s, BCA had more requests for admission than space was available. Tharpe recalls in his memoirs "After a year of weeding the tares from the wheat, we had a good school, and for years maintained a strong and healthy enrollment. Then, one by one, new schools sprang up, and many [parents] who had come begging left to go to schools more conveniently located. Many who left were among the founders of these newly-created schools.
Tharpe noted that over the years, Shreveport parents grew tolerant of desegregated schools and many withdrew their children from private schools because it was more affordable to family pocketbooks. Enrollment in all private schools slowly declined, and two institutions, First Baptist Academy and Calvary Baptist Academy, cut back to grades one through eight. Baptist Christian Academy closed entirely in 1988. Tharpe said that "we lasted a long, long time and, sadly, joined the ranks of those who gave in to the diminishing preference in Christian education."
Louisiana Baptist University
Louisiana Baptist University was founded in 1973 as a graduate school distinct from the four-year Baptist Christian College. The stated purpose of LBU is to provide graduate educational opportunities for pastors and Christian workers while they are simultaneously working at their churches. LBU has trained thousands of pastors and church workers, including more than a dozen Christian college or seminary presidents. Tharpe retired from LBU in 1992 and was succeeded by Neal Weaver (born 1940). LBU serves about 100 in-class ministerial students and another approximately 1,200 in distance education from 48 states and some 40 other nations. The institution has strived to maintain the latest technology in distance education.
The name Louisiana Baptist University and Theological Seminary was coined in 1994 to separate the identity of the school more clearly from Baptist Christian College, which, as it developed, closed two years thereafter. LBU was previously housed in the Centrum Building on Hollywood Avenue in Shreveport. It relocated to a 12,500-square-foot facility off Interstate 20 at 6301 Westport Avenue in the center of West Shreveport.
Numerous LBU faculty and administrators procured degrees from LBU, a practice questioned by the accrediting bodies. Rick Walston, who compiled Walston's Guide to Christian Distance Learning said that LBU has not sought accreditation from either a secular board or a Christian agency.
Friends of the ministry
Tharpe invited Shreveport Mayor Clyde Fant, a Democrat, to the dedication of the santuary building of Shreveport Tabernacle. In his memoirs, Tharpe referred to Fant, a Southern Baptist, as "a remarkable person and instrumental in helping us in so many ways. . . . He was such a great mayor and did a lot for the church to make the dedication day possible."
Tharpe gives special consideration to two Episcopalians who aided the ministry. Shreveport attorney George Whitfield Jack, Jr. (1906-1989) represented Baptist Tabernacle before the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was investigating the sale of church bonds. A government administrator in Fort Worth, Texas, had told Tharpe that the church had two weeks before it must declare bankruptcy, but Jack's trip quickly resolved the matter.
Tharpe also developed a close friendship with Republican Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., whom Tharpe supported in the 1995 jungle primary before Foster began to emerge as the leading candidate. The Episcopalian Foster invited Tharpe to lead the prayer at Foster's inauguration ceremony. Tharpe presented Foster with an honorary degree from LBU. Earlier, Tharpe had accorded such honors to former Republican Governor David C. Treen.
Others listed as "Friends of the Ministry" are the late Jerry Falwell of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Lee Roberson, the founder of Tennessee Temple University, Falwell mentor B.R. Lakin, and R.G. Lee of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Two Western film stars, Lash La Rue (1917-1996) and Dale Robertson, best known for his old television series Tales of Wells Fargo, are also mentioned in Tharpe's memoirs. Tharpe declared "Lash La Rue" day at Baptist Tabernacle and baptized the Louisiana-born actor, who had already declared his belief in Jesus Christ. Missionary Baptist policy restricts formal pulpit speaker to members of that denomination, but Tharpe said that he felt he should offer access to any traditional believer in the Gospel regardless of denominational ties.
Death and legacy
Tharpe, a diabetic for the last two decades of his life, recovered from a stroke in the 1990s but died of congestive heart failure. Tharpe was survived by six children, all of Shreveport, Kathy T. Martin (born 1951) and husband, Charles Philip Martin (born 1949); Sharon Stevens (born 1953) and husband, Al D. Stevens; Jimmy G. Tharpe, Jr. (born 1954) and wife, Kimberly; Deborah T. "Debbye" Langley (born 1955) and husband, Gregory James Langley (born 1952); Roger David Tharpe (born 1957) and wife, the former Karen Ann Pharr, and Brenda Gayle Scott (born 1964) and husband, Paul Scott; twenty grandchildren, and twenty-four great-grandchildren.
His two brothers, both real estate developers, were George Norman Tharpe (1932-2013) and wife, Mary Darlene, and Jack Donald Tharpe (born 1935) and wife, Barbara, all of Sibley. George Tharpe, who was the pastor of three churches, was a three-term member of the Sibley Town Council and a two-term mayor of the municipality. The Tharpes' only sister, Bonnie Lee, died at the age of eight.
Services were held on November 29, 2008, at Baptist Tabernacle. Interment followed at Forest Park West Cemetery in Shreveport.
On December 1, 1978, Tharpe was inducted into the Preacher's Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, an honor bestowed on living ministers. In the ceremony, it was noted that Tharpe "is in constant demand as a speaker all over America and in many foreign lands." Inducted along with Tharpe was Dr. Wendell Zimmerman, one of the original founders of Baptist Bible College of Springfield, Missouri. Tharpe is also honored through the J. G. Tharpe Life Center at Baptist Tabernacle, 8501 East Kingston Road, Shreveport, LA 71118, One of Tharpe's grandsons, Dustin Aaron Tharpe (born 1982), became in 2008 the student pastor at Baptist Tabernacle.
In 2003, Tharpe published his autobiography entitled Mr. Baptist.
- Social Security Death Index. rootsweb.com.
- Jimmy G. Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, Springfield, Missouri: 21st Century Press, 2003, pp. 19, 24-25
- Statement of Jack Donald Tharpe, Sibley, Louisiana, December 15, 2008
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 37-38, 40
- Louisiana Baptist University, faculty and staff listing. lbu.edu.
- History of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Minden, Louisiana. calvarybaptistminden.com.
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 143
- Obituary of Jimmy G. Tharpe, November 30, 2008. Minden Press-Herald.
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 12
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 192-193
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 203
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 60-61
- "Rev. Lott to Hold Revival at Fairgrounds", Minden Press, April 18, 1952, p. 13
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 36
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 54
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 51-53
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 60-61
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 129-132
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 144-145
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 132-133
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, p. 134
- Statement of Dr. Neal Weaver, Shreveport, Louisiana, December 12, 2008
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 135-137
- Walston's Guide to Christian Distance Learning. Google Books.
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 58-59
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 71-74
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 91-92, 112-113.
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 74-76, 86-87, 115
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 53-54
- Obituary of Jimmy G. Tharpe, November 28, 2008. Shreveport Times.
- George Norman Tharpe. Shreveport Times. Retrieved on December 2, 2013.
- Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, February 13, 1985, p. 1
- Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, pp. 221-222
- Baptist Tabernacle staff. baptisttabernacle.net.
- Jimmy G. Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, Springfield, Missouri: 21st Century Press, 2003, 224 pp, ISBN 0-9728899-2-2