Thanks for clicking through to our twenty-ninth entry here at the “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog! Over the next two months, with the election season looming (for good or for ill), we will be turning our attention to a number of governmental and political figures (and critics) with possible ties to Churches of Christ. As always, I welcome your feedback and topic suggestions via social media or over at the Contact page.
Today’s short post focuses on one of the most accomplished writers and social critics in Alabama history: Thomas Sigismund Stribling (1881-1965). Though not especially well known or widely read today, T.S. Stribling’s work was highly lauded in his own era. In particular, Stribling’s Vaiden trilogy is seen as a pillar of early twentieth century southern literature, and the second volume in the series, The Store, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1933. Blog readers from north Alabama might already know that the trilogy is set in Florence, and that the titular store is likely a reference to the prominent downtown building once occupied by Rogers Department Store.
Given Stribling’s upbringing in southern Tennessee and his education in Florence and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it is no great surprise that he came into contact with churches associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement. In his posthumously released autobiography, Laughing Stock, Stribling lists a few of his various connections to those churches. He mentions that a cousin of his “left an endowment to pay a Christian preacher, commonly called a Campbellite preacher, to preach in Wayne County [Tennessee] in perpetuity.” (1) The famously skeptical Stribling also notes that when he stayed with his aunt one summer, she, “instead of making me go to her church, the Christian, or as it was commonly called, the Campbellite Church, she would bribe me with blackberry cobblers… Under the influence of the cobblers, all my Cliftonian arguments against religion not only were hushed, they absolutely disappeared from my mind.” (2)
The young Stribling found the services fascinating, not because they were particularly lively, but rather because they were quite the opposite:
There was never any shouting. The Campbellites prided themselves on their pure logic, their adherence to reason, and their undemonstrativeness. The preacher always used various texts from the Bible as if they were the elements of a syllogism, placed them carefully together, and drew his conclusion, even his sermon on heaven. He proved to you there was a heaven, how to get there, and what it would be like after you got there. (3)
At the end of one such service, Stribling followed his uncle’s lead in converting, though the arrangement did not stick. “For at least a week, or maybe two weeks,” he writes with his characteristic understatement, “I worked very hard at being a Christian… I continued religious more or less all that summer until I went home to Clifton, where, of course, I became an infidel again.” (4)
While Stribling’s brief fling with organized religion did not last, what little time he devoted to faith was in the Christian Church, adding a neat footnote to his life’s story and the history of the church.
Thanks for reading, and check back in two weeks for our next post here at the blog!
(1) T.S. Stribling, Laughing Stock: The Posthumous Autobiography, ed. Randy K. Cross and John T. McMillan (Memphis, TN: St. Luke’s Press, 1982), 68.
(2) Stribling, Laughing Stock, 72.
(3) Stribling, Laughing Stock, 73.
(4) Stribling, Laughing Stock, 74-75.