The following article is taken from chapter seven of God’s Secret Agent, the autobiography of Sammy Tippit, which was written by Jerry B. Jenkins. The chapter is set during the height of what was dubbed by the media as the Jesus Movement. Sammy had a thriving ministry in the drug, alcohol and gang infested areas of Chicago during the early 1970s. His ministry brought many people to Christ and caused problems for some of the nightclubs in the center of the city. He was arrested and placed on trial for sharing the gospel. The following chapter chronicles what transpired.
“It didn’t take long to realize how far-reaching the impact of those arrests could be. Not only were we being denied our right to freedom of speech, but all the other ministries that witnessed on the streets would be jeopardized too. I thought about Open Air Campaigners, the Salvation Army, and the countless dedicated individuals who shared Christ on their own. Our entire ministry, outside of my preaching, was on the street.
My heart broke as 1 thought of the trouble that lay ahead. How could we be denied the right to share Christ, especially when we were careful never to force anything on anyone? As we poured our hearts out to God, pleading for an answer, I began to get the distinct feeling that I should fashion a huge wooden cross and take it to the civic center, where I would fast and pray until our trial. Immediately I tried to tell myself this wasn’t of God, but I couldn’t shake the idea. Lord, I argued, I believe You promised me a boy, and he’s due this month. I have to be with Tex. I cant leave her now.
I felt God telling me, “Sammy, you must.” I knew deep in my heart I had to do it. How I longed for my son to grow up in a country where he had the freedom to share Christ anywhere. I promised my obedience. In the wee hours one morning, another staff member and I found some lumber in the garage and fashioned a crude eight-foot cross.
Tex was with me all the way. The next morning she knelt with me near the cross as the staff put their hands on our shoulders and prayed for us. The burden welled up anew inside me, and tears came. A long month lay ahead.
I called the newspapers that had done stories on us in the past, and the word spread quickly throughout the media. Surrounded by members of the print and broadcast media at the civic center, I explained what I was doing. We received tremendous response from all over. The Wheaton (Illinois) Bible Church held a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil for us, and we received reports of many others. Petitions flooded the Chicago mayor’s office. One afternoon I vainly tried to see him, but an aide said, ‘We know who you are. You’re the one responsible for all these petitions.”
We received calls from dozens of lawyers, who must have figured our case would provide a ton of publicity. The more I prayed about it, the more convinced I became that God wanted us to have a Christian lawyer. We waited for the right man. Meanwhile, our civic center ministry was in full swing.
As I sat on a bench near the cross one day, a girl sat down a few feet away. I looked up from reading my Bible and felt led to take a direct approach. “Hey,” I said, trying to be pleasant, “do you know Jesus?”
“No, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
I never press the subject. I figure if a person doesn’t want to talk or listen after I’ve opened the conversation, I have no right to continue. I went back to my reading, but after a few minutes the girl turned to me in tears. “I need help,” she whimpered. She had run away from her home in the suburbs and said she had messed up her life. In fact, the police were looking for her.
“Jesus promised to give you abundant life,” I said. I shared with her the testimonies of the other runaways I had known and how God had saved them. “They still have the same problems they had before they came to Christ, but Jesus has given them the strength to face them.” Eventually I asked her if she would like to know Christ, and we prayed right there.
I told the staff members and the winos in the area what had happened and asked if they could donate a little money toward getting the girl home. Several of the drunks, who themselves had been panhandling, gave a few cents each, and we raised enough money to get the girl back to the suburbs. A few weeks later the girl’s mother called to tell me that her daughter had been truly changed, and she thanked me for sharing the claims of Christ with her.
The vigil and fast quickly became one of the most beautiful physical and spiritual experiences I’d ever had. Subsisting only on liquids, I lost twenty-five pounds and felt as if I were in the presence of Jesus most of the time. Once, however, I lost my temper. Several well-meaning Christians often joined us to help witness. One such man from a large church in northern Indiana stood around hassling blacks. I had enough trouble winning the confidence of blacks without this professing believer making things worse. Finally I leaped from the bench and grabbed him by the shoulders. I stuck my face close to his. “Listen here!” I said. “You need to get right with God! You need to let Jesus take the hate and prejudice out of your heart and fill you with love!” I let go, and he hurried off, obviously shaken.
When he came back a few minutes later, I apologized. “I still think you need to get right with God on this,” I said, “but I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”
Murray Bradfield joined me at the cross one night when the drunks were out in full force. I’d had many opportunities to witness to them, but it was often chaotic when several were around at the same time. This night was no exception. A huge, muscular man staggered up, fighting mad. He broke a bottle and stumbled around with the jagged neck in his hand, looking to cut somebody’s throat. Everyone kept out of his way until he threw the bottle away. Then he grabbed Murray’s hair in one hand and mine in the other and smacked our heads together several times, screaming that he wanted to kill us. We just kept shouting, “Jesus loves you, brother!” When he finally let us go, we dropped to our knees and prayed for peace in the midst of confusion.
One night about nine o’clock I heard cheering and shouting in the distance. Suddenly a group of sixty or seventy students from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, Judson College, and local churches came around the corner. They carried posters and shouted Christian slogans. We had a great time of fellowship and prayer together. Ironically, two of us at opposite ends of the sidewalk had been arrested for blocking pedestrian traffic at the same place where more than sixty of them now walked, some spilling into the street.
The day finally came that I received word from Moody Bible Institute that my case had been discussed at a meeting of the Christian Legal Society. They gave me the names of several Christian lawyers, a real answer to prayer—especially since I had been contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU believed in free speech all right, but they were so closely identified with the radical groups they had assisted that I didn’t want anyone to think we were associated with them. From the list provided by the Christian Legal Society I called George Newitt, who had offices near the civic center.
I was impressed with him right off the bat. Most of the lawyers who approached me were slick talkers and pseudo big shots. Newitt sounded sincerely interested in our case. I told him we were just genuine Christians who weren’t out to cause trouble. “We just want our freedom to share Christ.”
After meeting with Lloyd and me, Mr. Newitt became excited about the case. He took it on at no charge, which was the only way we could afford him! God was providing for our needs, though we now had ten full-time staffers living with us, and we tried to pay according to their needs. Even with that our combined salaries for eleven people totaled less than six hundred dollars a month, and we had postage, literature, and food bills besides. Our staffers really gave of themselves.
We planned a rally at the civic center for noon on Saturday, September 25, 1971, four days before the trial. We spread the news by word of mouth, not wanting to tell the media until that day. That morning it rained for hours with no break in sight. When the noon chimes rang in the church steeple across from the center, the rain stopped, and I praised God. About a thousand people showed up for the rally.
Tex was past due about a week, and as I continued to pray for her, it entered my mind that our son might be born the day I went to trial. I churned inside, and I’d have to say that if the same situation faced me today, I’d probably insist on my lawyer seeking a continuance. But back then my choice had been to spend a lot of time away from my very pregnant wife, and Wednesday morning I awoke at the civic center with tremendous anticipation. I knew this would be the most important day of my life.
Tex was in labor when I got to the house. By the time I left for court, she was being taken to the hospital. I worried most about whether I’d be free in time to be with Tex in the hospital. My first stop was Moody Bible Institute, where Lloyd Cole and I were interviewed on the radio. Then we went to the office of a local Christian artist who had offered his place for a pretrial prayer meeting. About 150 friends joined us there, and a hundred more joined us a few blocks away at the little precinct courthouse. It was wall-to-wall people, many of whom I had never seen before.
After the usual hearings over prostitutes and drunks—which broke my heart because it was clear these people were merely being processed without being helped—it was finally the City of Chicago v. Tippit and Cole. A million things raced through my mind as I followed Mr. Newitt to the front of the courtroom.
He started boldly, referring to the charges as spurious. When the judge refused to dismiss the case, Mr. Newitt insisted on a jury trial. The judge was unimpressed.
“Counselor, your clients are not entitled to a jury trial.”
“Why not, Your Honor? These boys’ constitutional rights have been violated.”
The judge countered with: “In this state a misdemeanor would not require sentencing to a penitentiary and is thus not afforded a jury trial.”
Newitt was shocked. “Your Honor, this is fundamental! Are you telling me I can’t have a jury trial on a question as vital as this? The Constitution sets forth certain rights as inalienable. If Illinois law takes away this man’s right to free speech and to exercise his religious prerogatives, then that law cannot stand.”
The crowd seemed about to cheer, and the judge appeared to be taken aback. He reserved judgment until he could consult with the city attorney. We left immediately, and Mr. Newitt checked with his office to reaffirm his position. Then he was surrounded by new microphones. “I felt like the president,” he said later.
The city attorney agreed we had the right to a jury trial, and when the judge set the date for October 13, everything went up for grabs. Mr. Newitt, Lloyd, and I were surrounded by the press. One reporter asked if I had heard any news from my wife, and suddenly all the emotion of the past month washed over me, and I broke down. I wept as I announced I was on my way to the hospital.
“Sammy!” a voice yelled from the crowd, “you’re a father! You’ve got an eight-pound baby boy!” Then the questions really started flying. I was drained.
I hurried to the hospital and asked where I could find my wife and baby, only to find that Tex was still in labor! I didn’t know if the person I had heard at the impromptu press conference was a prankster, a prophet, or was just being wishful.
I spent several hours with Tex, praying for her as she endured the contractions. The experience drew us closer, and I appreciated her more than ever. When I took a break to get something to eat, I picked up a copy of the Chicago Tribune and noticed our story on the front page. It told of my going to trial and becoming a father the same day, and it even carried the name of my son, Paul David. The only problem was, I didn’t have a son yet, and for the first time in months my faith wavered. “Lord,” I prayed, “what if I’m wrong?”
Then I felt ashamed. “Lord, I believe you promised me a son, and I’m still claiming it.” Tex’s labor was prolonged, and suddenly I realized that it was getting late. I was scheduled for a TV interview at eleven. Gail Cole, Lloyd’s wife, offered to stay with Tex, but I didn’t want to leave her. Tex talked me into it. “You can tell a lot of people about Jesus tonight,” she said.
When I left she was in deep labor. I knew it wouldn’t be long. It was hard to concentrate, and at a break in the show at 11:30 I took a call from the doctor. “I wanted you to be the first to know,” he said. “You have a healthy baby boy, a little over eight pounds.”
A fantastic day of emotional strain ended for Tex and me, and soon we just held each other and cried. I finally got to see the son God had promised us. It was a sweet, unforgettable day.
The two weeks between September 29 and October 13 were long and busy. Mr. Newitt prepared the pretrial brief as if it were a federal case. He called the lawyer on the other side and warned, “If you go to trial, you are going to lose. The city of Chicago and the police department are going to have a black eye. People are going to get the impression that all your policemen do is knock people off the streets when they are passing out gospel tracts. There’s been a lot of publicity on this case, and there’s going to be a lot more. The best thing that could possibly happen to the city would be for you to let this case be dismissed and slink off into the background.”
Mr. Newitt also told him that he was contemplating filing a counter suit in federal court for the violation of our civil rights to free speech and the exercise of our religion. The case had become a personal matter to our lawyer.
When the case was called and the judge asked if the prosecution was ready, the city attorney requested a continuance of an hour to meet with the defense. Newitt knew then that they were ready to quit. “When you’re confident, you answer, ‘Ready, Your Honor,’” he explained. “When you ask for time, you’re in trouble.”
We went into the office of the chief enforcement attorney for the city. He was a tough, cocky guy who wound up conducting a minitrial of his own and then lecturing all involved. Mr. Newitt knew all along that he was just trying to save face, but he got to me. While interrogating me he insinuated that I wouldn’t know the difference between a knife and fingernail clippers. Then he asked why I didn’t simply sock LeRoy in the nose if he was hassling me. “You don’t understand how we live around here.”
I was insulted. He was trying to make me look like a hillbilly who’d found himself over his head in the big city. “Sir,” I said, nearly in tears, “if you think I’m lying, then let’s just go ahead to court.” I didn’t want the charges dropped. I wanted the freedom to witness on the streets.
Newitt motioned me close and whispered, “Now knock it off. We’re going to get out of this all right. We’ve got them over a barrel, and they’re giving up.”
“Well, I’d rather go to trial and prove I’m innocent.” Newitt insisted there was no need to go to trial to win. In the end we agreed not to file a federal suit against the officer, and the city agreed to drop the charges against us. I didn’t know if we really had gained our freedom or just played a little game with them. I didn’t realize how big a victory we had won until we were threatened again a couple of weeks later. I went to the district commander and told him we’d been threatened by a nightclub owner again.
“Don’t worry, Tippit,” he told me. “None of my men will arrest you boys when you’re out there telling people about Christ. If more young people were doing that, I wouldn’t have half the problems I have today.”
George Newitt felt good about the outcome. He told us, “We gave the city a whipping. The personal satisfaction I received from defending the rights of Christians to share their faith without intimidation will last much longer than any payment I could have received.”