Diary of a Delegate: Two megachurch pastors walk into a bar

Adam Hamilton, promo photo from the web

Given my previous post, it should come as no surprise that the highlight of my day yesterday was going out to an open air bar with some friends, old and new. It was a gorgeous night and we found a great spot to hang out.

When we walked in, one member of our group noticed the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter sitting together at a nearby table. As mentioned previously, Adam had been a presenter for the Call to Action legislative proposals which, along with every other proposed restructure of the denomination, was shot down in committee. I imagine Adam was feeling pretty empty, too. Maybe he was just trying to relax with a friend and regroup for next week, just like me.

But it was hard to resist the temptation. Two UMC rock stars at the same table! More importantly, two powerful voices for reshaping the future of the church. Right over there.

Finally, after some deliberation and some pushing from my friends and tablemates (you guys realize you are that group at the party, sending your friend over to get a guy’s number, right?), I approached the table where the megachurch pastors were sitting, and inserted myself into their conversation.

Mike Slaughter, promo photo from the web

I introduced myself and confessed to Adam that I was @pastorbecca on Twitter, where I had, it seems, started a trend by tweeting “you can’t scare people into hope” at him, a tweet he’d mentioned as having gotten his attention (to be fair, I really thought I retweeted that from someone, but twitterverse tells me that they got it from me). I told him I hadn’t meant it to be a personal attack, but a sincere reflection of how I was feeling in the moment, and how I felt about the proposals from the Call to Action. We launched into a conversation about the nature of twitter and social media for a bit, and I thanked Adam for speaking with the young people who had raised questions.

“The problem, I think,” I said to them, “is that both of you have these huge churches that you’ve built and done so well in, and you’ve been given big voices along with that. We have little churches and littler voices, so there’s a disconnect. Some of what each of you says doesn’t resonate with us, because the context is so different. Twitter is basically all we’ve got, but it’s grassroots and open-source, and our voices get out there and get heard.”

We talked more about the church declining in the United States and how we struggle to be relevant. I shared my frustration with being so horribly out of touch with relativity as a church when it comes to homosexuality, and vented that while we struggle to find a way to be a global denomination, with polity and principles that can be shared by liberals and conservatives around the world and across the country, in the mean time, the U.S. church is dying, and I can’t make a very good case for it to live in my progressive town. Both of them encouraged me to keep seeking justice and be patient, which I thought was pretty refreshing. They’re good guys, but not ones I would normally turn to for advice in the perseverance against injustice department.

Finally, I shared some exegesis of my own (okay, so that may have been a bit presumptuous) about the text where the Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus for help, and I said I thought our church was where Jesus was in that story: tired, anxious, and stretched too thin, our knee jerk reaction is to close in on ourselves, revert to what is safe and known, and push others away with words and actions that can be very hurtful. But the woman knows Jesus is more than that, and better than that, and calls him out, and he agrees. Those who criticize the church, I said, be it for its restructure attempts and the critiques we see there, or for it’s exclusion of the GLBT community, we know that the church us better than it is being right in this moment, and we’re calling it out. May the church rise to the challenge and open to the possibility that our faith is healing.

Adam said he thought that would make a good sermon. I expect my royalty check in the mail 😉

So thanks to Adam and Mike, who were probably also stretched thin and could have shunned the woman from outside their circle, approaching their table and pushing into their conversation. you received me with grace and our conversation was good.

Of course, this morning I woke up with the one thing– the very one thing– I would have Adam Hamilton if I got the chance. Isn’t that always the way?

6 thoughts on “Diary of a Delegate: Two megachurch pastors walk into a bar”

  1. Another exegesis I’ve seen regarding the Syrophoenician Woman portrays Jesus not as “tired, anxious and stretched too thin”, but as hopeful beyond measure that this woman will come back at him – perhaps as much for herself and the disciples listening and watching the situation. In Matthew’s rendering of the story, there is no specific mention of Jesus secretly entering a house as in Mark’s telling. Jesus’ “withdrawal to the region ot Tyre and Sidon” is less explicit about any desire on the part of Jesus to be alone.

    Matthew tells us the disciples tried to convince Jesus to get rid of her. Unlike the disciples, so this exegesis posits, Christ is not only willing to hear her out, but hoping she gives voice to her faith.

    That’s the image I want to work from – not a tired Christ who has to be convinced, but an engaged Christ who, in spite of the pressures of his closest friends, is ready to crack open the “Good News” for everyone – inclusively, with blissfully reckless abandon, willing to defy the self-centered advice of the self-appointed (or duly elected) “delegates” – whether numbered by the dozen or by the thousands.

    Jesus did not take a vote on this one.

    Blessings to you, Becca.

  2. While there are some “polity and principles that can be shared by liberals and conservatives,” the issues of same-sex marriage and ordination of gays cannot be resolved in a way that is acceptable to both sides. This is a zero-sum game. The Church can allow same-sex marriage or it can reject same-sex marriage.

    Even a regional approach – where some conferences allow it and others don’t – doesn’t placate both sides.

    I think the “frustration” you feel is because there is a discrepancy between your beliefs and the tenets of your Church.

    You said “the U.S. church is dying, and I can’t make a very good case for it to live in my progressive town.” In the video you posted last week, you said “it’s harder and harder to say that I am proud to be United Methodist.”

    That’s not a good situation for anybody. Nobody wins when there is that wide of a disconnect between their beliefs and their Church’s beliefs. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for the Church.

    My prayer for those who feel that the UMC “doesn’t resonate” with them anymore is that they find peace worshiping in another denomination that they will be happier to be a part of. That is a far more sensible solution than waging this war over and over again within the UMC.

    I think we can all agree that – given the shifting demographics of the Church – it isn’t realistic to expect a change in UMC policy anytime in the foreseeable future.

    I hope that people will simply worship God where they are happy worshiping God rather than rehashing this for decades to come.

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