Long before social justice became part of our everyday vocabulary, Rev. Dr. L. James Bankston ’70 was fighting for it. Bankston, who served as senior minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston for 18 years before retiring in 2013, has spoken out for LGBTQ+ rights, worked toward racial justice, supported immigration reform, and advocated on behalf of the homeless population for decades.

“Through 50 years of changes in the United Methodist Church and the culture, Jim has continued to embody the teachings of Jesus,” says Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who met Bankston when they were both graduate students in the early 1970s. “He has focused his time, energy, and reputation on being a voice for the voiceless, supporting equity for all people, and advocating tolerance, respect, and graciousness.”

Bankston graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Southwestern. He later earned his master’s degree in theology from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and his doctoral degree in ministry from Saint Paul School of Theology. He served as a minister in several churches in Texas before joining St. Paul’s in 1995 and has been a delegate to seven United Methodist Church Jurisdictional Conferences, two General Conferences, and two World Methodist Conferences.

“Jim Bankston is regarded as a leader among leaders,” says Rev. Charles R. Millikan ’68, who has known Bankston since they were both members of the Malakoff High School football team. “He speaks softly, but he is heard over any crowd. He stands firmly for the disadvantaged and is a strong believer in everyone being heard and respected for who they are as a child of God.”

Bankston is a respected leader in the interfaith community in Houston. He is a current member and past co-chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Coalition for Mutual Respect, a group of community and spiritual leaders representing the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu faiths, among others. He has also served on the boards of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue. In 2021, Bankston received the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston Spirit of Respect Award.

“Jim has always represented a genuine commitment to humanity, dignity, and faith,” says Rabbi David Lyon, who also is a member of the Coalition for Mutual Respect. “He has championed the common ground on which all faiths in Houston stand together. Despite each faith tradition’s respective mission, Jim’s rare ability to see past differences to find common purpose enabled strangers to become friends and faith leaders to become partners in building a better future.”

Bankston currently is a member of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center Board of Directors, the Perkins School of Theology Executive Board, and the Rothko Chapel Advisory Board. He mentors young preachers through the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU and is a course of study faculty member for the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. A past member of the Southwestern University Board of Trustees, Bankston also has served on the board for a number of community organizations.

“I have never known anyone as wonderful as him,” says Sara Anderson ’21, one of Bankston’s granddaughters. “I can’t say there are many people in the world I would sit and listen to talk for hours, but I could absolutely do that with him. He makes my life better every day.”

He has taught the ways of generosity and kindness to generations,” says another granddaughter, Megan Hiers. “I love Papa so much, and as I get older, I am realizing just how lucky I am to have him in my life.”

For his abiding commitment to social justice and remarkable service to his community, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Rev. Dr. L. James Bankston with the Medal of Honor.