Encyclopedia Of Arkansas: Jonesboro Church Wars

Apr 15, 2019

Actor-comedian turned evangelist Joe Jeffers brought turmoil to Jonesboro’s Baptist community, leading to brawls, gunfights and a fatal shooting.

Jeffers held a tent revival in June 1930 that led to a schism in Jonesboro’s First Baptist Church as some members sought to make him pastor. He returned for another revival in 1931, causing such mayhem that the National Guard was sent to Jonesboro to restore order. The traveling preacher returned in 1933 and sought control of a new Baptist church, leading to two separate congregations holding services in the same church at the same time.

A court ruling against Jeffers gave control of the church to pastor Dale Crowley, but a shootout as he sought to take possession led to the death of a Jeffers supporter. As Crowley awaited trial for murder, someone tried to machine gun him in his jail cell. He was acquitted, Jeffers left town, and the Jonesboro Church Wars ended, though bad feelings lingered for years.

To learn more, visit the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.