Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

 When we lived in Dallas, while I was a student at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, and we ran a settlement house in a barrio neighborhood with no paved streets and no street lights, we visited a different church each Sunday morning. One day we went to Highland Park Presbyterian.

It was a huge church. Not as large as Highland Park Methodist, which had nine thousand members, but close enough to be intimidating to a boy who grew up in a church of 60 members. William Elliott was the preacher. He was called “Wild Bill,” not because he was wild—indeed, he was rather staid—but because every man in Texas with the name of William is called “Wild Bill.”

His sermon that morning was, supposedly, on the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:44-45: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“Wild Bill” interpreted this, at some length, to mean that every man [1] in the church should aspire to be on the Session, to be a Ruling Elder. [2] That was how you were to be a servant of all, by ruling over all. Of course, it was “the same old same old” in terms of power and leadership-the first shall be first-but baptized to make it look Christian. If he were really preaching Jesus, he would have implored the Ruling Elders to go work at our settlement house.

Or, better yet, to go out to their limousines parked in front, usher their black chauffeur into the back seat, and ask him where they could take him for lunch.

Not everyone in that church had a limo with a black chauffeur, of course. But there was a reserved area along the curb in front, closest to the doors, where there were about six limos parked. Beside each stood a liveried black chauffeur, at attention, in the hot Dallas sun. The chauffeurs, of course, were not allowed to worship there, not allowed to come inside the building at all. I’m sure that the owners of those limos were Ruling Elders, or could be if they wanted to be.

That was how Jesus was preached in Dallas in 1960, and that’s how Jesus is preached increasingly in our nation today, twisted to put an imprimatur on “The Christian way is, those who have too much already should have more. That is how they are able to be servants of all.”

After all, “the poor we have with us always.” We have with us always also those who will twist Jesus, even on his cross, to justify keeping them poor.


1] If women were to aspire, it would be to leadership in the Women’s Society, certainly not on the Session, where they would have power over men.

2] Presbyterian terms. The Session is the church board. A Ruling Elder is a lay member of that board, distinct from the pastor, who is a Teaching Elder.

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