Rev Eldon Littlejohn
(creator: Jan Maxwell)

Jan Maxwell
Rev Eldon Littlejohn (nickname El) is a Southern Baptist minister, based at Hill County Baptist Church in an (imaginary) small town near Austin in Texas, where the author lives. He has a congregation of about 200, but is an "unorganised pastor" and finds that "trying to make changes in a Baptist church was like trying to dam a stream with sand, the water just went around and back into the original streambed. Eventually the sand washed away, just as pastors were eventually worn away".

El is constantly praying and asking God for help: "Lord, I want to be your servant. Show me your will," he said aloud. "Specific instructions would sure be helpful, Lord". But "as usual he got no answer".
He wonders whether he should ever have entered the ministry. "He had had a choice: graduate school, or seminary. He had just received his Bachelor's degree in chemistry and had been accepted for graduate school at Berkeley, when he had received God's call .... He believed in that call, what worried him was whether it had been to the ministry. He certainly thought so at the time, only the years had dimmed the experience, and sometimes he felt ill-equipped to be a minister of Christ."

He is the creation of Jan Maxwell, the pen name of Jan Maxine Jenks (c1946 - ) who has a PhD in chemistry and a law degree from the University of Texas. Her book Baptism by Murder, was written while she was still at law school. She has written a second book, Fire and Brimstone, that has still to be published. She has a law practice in Austin, Texas, specialising in wills and estate management.

Baptism by Murder (1995)
Baptism by Murder gets off to a promising start when the Rev Eldon Littlejohn (El) has to baptise a huge hulk of a man who unfortunately reminds him of Frankenstein's monster, but he slips and both of them end up under water. But "at least the congregation had the goodness not to laugh". But things go from bad to worse when, next norning, the body of Leroy Boyd, the church treasurer, is found, floating facedown in the baptistry font with a bullet hole in his chest.

Despite the way the congregation address each other as "Brother Wayne" and "Sister Alice", there is no love lost between some of them and their pastor: "Some of his congregation thought he was a murderer, some thought he was a drug dealer, and two or three thought he was gay. He had no doubt which was considered the worst."

He himself is far from self-confident : "Dear Lord, I need strength .... For all my self doubts, I don't want to leave this church. Please,God, show me what to do." Meanwhile he is getting into trouble because, as leading Baptist Senator Marcus Matthew Depew put it: "What was preached in that church (his church) was not the Bible, but instead the ways of the world disguised as truth." El has to admit to himself that "he didn't really preach the Bible ...(He) believed that it was the record of God's work in this world, but it was a record made by fallible men. He never preached that, but that view colored his sermons. It had gotten him into trouble more than once in his previous churches". This brings him right up against most members of his congrgation " who believed as that senator, that the Bible was the infallible Word of God, which to them meant it contained absolutely no error".

When El takes the funeral service for Leroy, who turns out to have been fiddling the funds and dealing in drugs, he is criticised for saying about him, "It is not for man to judge. God will judge. All we need to remember is that Jesus died for us that our sins might be forgiven. I think that even includes the sins of Brother Leroy". But some of his congregation did not like his suggestion that Leroy might have been saved. "El was not surprised. Most churchgoers believed the Baptist doctrine of once saved, always saved. To them, Leroy's actions were evidence that he had never been saved . El sighed. He believed a man could lose his salvation only if he turned his back on God deliberately. If any of those good Baptists found that he did not believe in once saved, always saved, he'd be out the door in a moment."

In the end, after being kidnapped himself, he risks his life to help entrap the leading villain, whose identity comes as quite a surprise - and not a very convincing one. But the strength of the book lies less in the story but in the portrayal of El himself and of his fundamentalist community. I hope the author succeeds in finding a publisher for her second book about him.


There is hardly anything about the author on the web except for a few paragraphs in The Austin Chronicle.




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Baptism by Murder cover
The American paperback cover gives little indication of the book's content. Was this what the artist thought a baptistry font looked like?
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