Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)



I met Harry in my first church as an ordained pastor.

Though that was a long time ago when I was a tad more Like a Rock, I often return to our confrontation, my fears about it, and how the outcome has proven to be a tonic over the years as I recall it for pastors in distress or even me when I'm, uh, distressed.

Be that as it is because of how it was and will usually be, Harry was the biggest giver in the church and made sure we knew it, president of the trustees who thought they/he not the session or even God was in charge, and had a spiritually nauseating way of reminding everyone of how important he was to the survival of the church and how we'd never get along without him which he threatened so regularly whenever anyone questioned him or dared propose something that he hadn't thought of first.

And people bought it until...



Whenever I'm feelin' down and almost out or wantin' out, I retrieve an old recording of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching on The Drum Major Instinct (2/4/68, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia) and my pastoral equilibrium is restored; especially when I'm lamenting a vocation that has become more like ecclesiastical babysitting than discipling over the course of a denominational/religious culture that has enabled anyone's word as good as anybody else's word on any subject without reference to education, expertise, experience, or beruf.

It's based on Mark 10:35ff.

Not long after introducing the text, he said, "There is, deep down within all of us, an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct - a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first."

And then, as I listen to that scratchy old cassette - and you won't believe it until you listen to it yourself - a baby can be heard as she/he started crying as MLK started getting into it, "And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention...Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego...Now in adult life, we still have it...We like to be praised for it."

I'm gonna use italics when quoting MLK's sermon the rest of the way.


Session voted to restore the sidewalk on the east side of the sanctuary with cement not long after I arrived.

The vote was unanimous.

But not long after that, a city work crew showed up and started blacktopping the sidewalk.

I rushed out: "What are you doing?"

Answer: "Well, Harry told us to blacktop your sidewalks because we've got some leftovers from patching the streets."

Moi: "You can't do that because session voted to use cement."

Answer: "Listen, boy, when Harry tells us to do something, we do it. That's the way it is around here."


Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don't deserve it, and even if they don't believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else...

If this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes very dangerous, pernicious...really...[becoming]...sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves. And they just boast, and boast, causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention...leads to snobbish exclusivism...

I've known churches get in that bind sometimes...


I went back into the church and called my EP (akin to a bishop no matter what anyone says) who said after I dumped the dirty details, "You go back out there right now and tell them that session not Harry makes decisions in your church."

I asked, "Can you repeat that?"

He did; then I did.

They stopped.

Harry came storming into the church in less than ten minutes, pointed his finger in my face, and screamed, "I don't care what you or that session or your book of something says. We're blacktopping the sidewalk."

"Harry," I said while trying not to appear as afraid as I was, "I don't run this church and you don't run this church. Session makes decisions and I make sure they're followed. If you tell them to blacktop the sidewalk, I will have to call the police."

Not long after that, Harry left the church.


Oh, I see you want to be first...You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be...[His]...disciple, you must be...

Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first...

But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity...


Harry's two sons who were on the session at the time called for a special meeting.

I started updating my dossier.

I was so afraid.

I opened with an incoherent prayer; and the oldest of the two sons said, "Thank you, pastor, for reminding our father that the church was here before he came and will be here after he leaves. Thank you for reminding us that the church is about a people working together for the Lord and not about persons getting their own way. I wasn't sure you were the right pastor for us until now."


Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left, not for any selfish reason...

I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.


I heard Harry's boys picked him up during a Christmas Day family meal, carried him outside, and threw him into a pile of snow.

I thought that was funny, then sad, and then funny again...and then really, really, really sad.

As for the church, it grew and grew and grew; and we never had $ problems again.



I'm headin' off to the hospital to visit a friend before surgery in a few minutes.

I'm going to listen to MLK's last sermon on 4/3/68 (Masonic Temple, Memphis, Tennessee) on the way.

I think that time has come if you know what I mean.


Blessings and Love!

Visit for the faith/fun of whatever!


Dave Hackett said...

Shiver me timbers! That is a moving story.

Dr. Robert R. Kopp said...

Thanks for noticing, brother!

When we take on bullies, they tend to cower and retreat.

Jesus said, "Be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove."

I've always liked how Martin Luther King, Jr. re-minted that: "Be tough-minded and tender-hearted."

It's a tough but necessary balance in a world and sometimes church of bullies.

Blessings and Love!