I was bemused. First off, I couldn't imagine anybody paying good money to listen to him pontificate who didn't have other reasons to belong to his already-well-established congregation. For that matter, knowing him a bit as I did from way back, I knew of a couple of major screw-ups in his past, which the friendly powers-that-be had got him out of each time by promoting him. "Goof up to move up," as the saying went. Without the backing of powerful patrons to move him to new churches and give him raises, I couldn't see him making a go of a clergy career.
Yes, I know, they're not buying our sermons by the pound, nor do we charge per pastoral visit. But when you "go independent," you are selling yourself -- your ministry, your vision, your energy -- to make something work. Besides the entrepreneurial skill set which I doubt this guy had, you need to be able to make people believe in you. And this guy was as phony as an Abraham Lincoln quote about the internet.
To be fair, a lot of clergy more orthodox and less self-absorbed than this guy would probably fail if they had to start up their own ministry and make a living from it. That's why it's a lovely thing to have someone else certify you as employable and then -- you know -- employ you. Please don't hear me as simply sneering at his assumption that he could make a go of it, that people would flock to hear his gas escaping.
No, the reason I was reminded of ol' Rev. Wackadoo was because I have been reading a lot of stuff from UM clergy in the run-up to this month's General Conference. And a lot of the most vocal and radical clergy I know serve small congregations that they don't do much with. They're mostly full-time radicals. They pastor part-time for a full-time salary, courtesy of the powerful patrons who make sure they have one of our guaranteed appointments. Many of them also contribute a lot to service in Conference positions, both paid and volunteer. Boards of Ordained Ministry have quite a few of them beavering away on clergy credentialing. And they do their bit to manage the decline of our denomination gracefully, I'm sure. But the point is: without all the denominational machinery to back them up, a very large number of these men and women would be simply unemployable as clergy.
Oh, but Adam Hamilton, you say. Well, there's ONE. And for every Adam Hamilton, there are a hundred carnival barkers trying to move The UMC in their direction, who add nothing to the overall success of the denomination. How many professions of faith do they have to report? Average attendance, is it holding steady? Baptisms? How many could serve a larger church and help it grow vs. shrink it down to a size they can handle? And don't get me started on theology.
I'm not saying that the evangelicals are all better at this than the progressives. There are plenty of evangelicals who only manage to keep going because of the guaranteed annual appointment. I'm just saying that some of the people I see being quoted in magazine and website interviews about the Way Forward for The UMC are a bunch of ecclesiastical jobsworths and grifters. They owe their positions and their megaphones to the poo-bahs who humor them and promote them.
And some of them now are the poo-bahs who have ascended to a position from which they are unlikely to ever again be allowed to risk failing. Which is why they want to keep us all together; because if all the people who make things happen and who pay for things were to leave, who would maintain them in the style to which they have become accustomed?