Drinking on the Lord's dime felt counterintuitive to the gospel's mission, but I'm no theological scholar. Besides, I won that beer.
Jonathan McIntosh, lead pastor of Midtown's Christ City Church, bought it for me after a night of spirited discourse at the church's third-ever Civil Pour — a series held at Loflin Yard on the first Thursday of every month.
Civil Pour unites strangers for conversation about controversial topics in an attempt to find middle ground. The brews help to loosen up a goal that is at first uncomfortable. Oversharing on Twitter or Facebook may be the price of admission, but discussing our near-and-dear differences is harder in person. It's unorthodox fellowship, though, and McIntosh says that's the point.
"I think it's important that a church sponsors it even if it isn't particularly religious," McIntosh says. "People battle and fight, but they hardly listen to each other. Instead of saying 'This is what you should think' — which is usually how churches go about these issues — we're asking, 'Are you even listening?' That's the idea of public discourse: Someone might have a thought that you haven't considered."
I convinced my girlfriend, a small-town girl from Bolivar, to come with me. Once inside Loflin Yard's Coach House, a barn-turned-bar, we found five tables that were quickly filling up and chose the only empty one that remained.
Three strangers soon sat down with us: Mary Joe Harmon, a 47-year-old African-American woman who relocated from Chicago to Memphis, and two white, 20-something teachers, Morgan Jaeschke and Atlee Silk, who also moved to the city from home states I can't recall.
McIntosh announced two topics — Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose protest of the national anthem has garnered international attention, or Brock Turner, the Stanford, swimming-star rapist. A show of hands would decide what we discussed. Kaepernick it was.
We were then given three questions:
1. Should he have sat down?
2. If you live in America, do you have to show respect for America?
3. How can we be united and respect individual civil liberties?
After 45 minutes of conversation, each group presented a statement that offered solutions to the questions. Participants voted for whom they thought provided the best answer, and McIntosh bought that group a round of beers on the church.
The idea for Civil Pour grew from a previous series McIntosh ran while working at a church in St. Louis. When he and his wife moved to Memphis six years ago to start Christ City, he wanted to create a similar dialogue. That only happened after the Mid-South provided him with a reality check.
"In arrogance, I thought I was going to teach the city something or save it," McIntosh says. "But I didn't see how much I had to learn, specifically when it comes to issues like wealth, privilege, and race. I think the church in general has to get better about listening."
Civil Pour events have focused on the Greensward, progressive and conservative thinking, and racial profiling and racism.
Each stranger I met at my table came with a background that was opposite of my own. Their life experiences shifted my perspective, and the evening felt like church even though we never prayed nor spoke about theology.
My group decided, after discussing how Kaepernick's protest echoed America's storied history of systematic racism and civil disobedience, that the United States is like a drunk uncle — one you had fond memories of as a child before you knew about his bad temperament and alcohol abuse.
Harmon summed it up best.
"It's a country I've labored in, loved in, and raised children in," she said. "I see these things, and it pisses me off. I want them to change."