The Follow: Solomon Missouri, Digital Pastor

Abe Beame connects with Solomon Missouri for the first edition of The Follow in 2023 to talk about what it means to be a recovering evangelical, the modern middle-aged dating scene and much more.
By    March 2, 2023

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Abe Beame will be playing Buhloone first when De La Soul’s discography hits streaming services this Friday.

The Follow is an interview series I plan on putting out occasionally, or frequently, or maybe never again, in which I basically just talk to the people I enjoy following online who are willing to talk to me for a while. It will be about what they come to Twitter for, how they cultivate their online personas, the things they feel passionate enough to contribute to the infinite discourse on this app, and why they feel the need to do it. And on a basic level, it will be two people on Zoom shooting the shit.

It’s rare that a Tweet thread dedicated to an obscure bit of “celebrity” news makes bigger headlines than the news item itself, but that’s precisely what happened at the end of the Summer in 2021 when it was announced that former Charlotte Hornets sharpshooter, 6th Man of the Year, and father of Steph and Seth- Dell Curry- was separating from his wife of 30-plus years.

The thread dedicated to the news was a 31-part masterpiece: a triumph of observation, wit, and economy. Its author, the pastor Solomon Missouri, hilariously laid out what it would mean for a man of a certain age to return to the jungle of dating in the tech-ravaged husk of the 2020s. The thread was unusual in that these days, most viral Tweets are built around reposting a Tiktok, or a simple digestible QT dunking on a moron. This was practically the Moby Dick of viral Tweets, a writer’s showcase that had real voice and perspective. The thread’s opening “Bud, let me tell y’all something, you don’t want to be out here.” Entered the lexicon. Reading it now, it has the hallmarks of an iconic standup bit out of The Kings of Comedy, a referendum on a changing world packed with quotable phrasing and pitch perfect delivery.

I assumed Solomon was another in an endless line of Twitter comedians or television writers and gave him a follow. But the next two years, I got familiar with a unique, elite poster. Solomon Tweets frequently, contributing to the discourse of the day, shooting the shit with his commenters. He’s reliably consistent in his humor, be it further dispatches from the frontlines of the dating wars, or being shockingly, hilariously horny – openly lusting after television characters and wrestlers.

But what really set Solomon apart is it slowly dawned on me that he was an actual pastor- specifically, the pastor of the Invitation A M E Zion Church in Snow Hill, North Carolina– and would also Tweet sober dispatches on faith, spirituality, and Bible study. I’m a lifelong agnostic Jew, but I found his warm, inclusive, progressive vision of his faith as interesting as his killer bits. It all made for one of the most interesting accounts I’d come across since joining the app, and this series was created specifically to give me an excuse to actually get to talk to people I follow and find fascinating, so I reached out to Solomon and set up a predictably enlightening, hilarious conversation.

(Author’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed to make me sound like less of an asshole)

For this interview series, or whatever this is, I usually try to stay away from stock questions, but in terms of biographical information on you, I’m coming in a little blind. Would you mind briefly going over your background?

Solomon Missouri: I am a pastor, a minister. I used to be in finance, nonprofit finance, for ten years. And in the last five years, I transitioned to full time ministry. I just moved to a church in the metropolis of Snow Hill, North Carolina, about 10 miles from Goldsboro, about 20 miles from Greenville, North Carolina. So I’m back in the country, and I am a person who uses Twitter to communicate humanity and grace.

And forgive me, I’m Jewish, so I don’t know if sect is the right word, but what sect of Christianity specifically do you practice? Denomination maybe? Apologies.

Solomon Missouri: Sect isn’t bad. I think I’m going to actually start using sect moving forward. I’m an African Methodist Episcopal, Zion. And effectively, what that is is in the late eighteen hundreds, our denomination split from the general Methodist body because of discrimination.

So how would you characterize that faith? What makes it stand out from what we might associate with “traditional Methodists”?

Solomon Missouri: Our motto is we are the Freedom Church. And so it resonates within a wider liberation movement. So antislavery, antiracism, anti oppression, and really, if we are being honest with it, also anticapitalism. All those things are intersected in our move towards being an earthly expression of the divine. And so these are all fixtures of what we are pronouncing, that we are for resources to be spread and to be dispersed in an equitable manner for the dignity of all people.

You have referred to yourself as a recovering evangelical. Could you expand on that?

Solomon Missouri: I grew up Pentecostal and my grandfather was a Pentecostal pastor. And within that vein and expression of Christianity, there are some deeply harmful, regressive and problematic tropes that are not actually associated with any type of theological thought or progressive theological thought. And so it immerses you in a larger evangelical landscape.

But that also puts you in concert with some of the other more conservative aspects and movements of American evangelicalism. And so when I talk about being a recovering evangelical, I still believe in things like the fullness of the Spirit. I’m still a very charismatic type of minister. I’m still a very energetic type of person. I believe in sharing the Gospel. So I’m cleaving some of the aspects and ideas of evangelicalism that are not reflective of divine love and divine grace. And I’m choosing to still employ some of the aspects of Evangelicalism that are reflective of a deep, thoughtful and regenerative idea of spirituality and the spirit.

So you’re “Recovering” from a more conservative based view of Christianity you were indoctrinated into?

Solomon Missouri: Oh, yes, it performs like an addiction. It supplants things that you would be addicted to. The problem that you have is when we treat the Divine as simply a substitute for addiction, then we now start to do this weird thing where it’s everything and there’s no balance in life. And so it becomes obsession and it becomes impulsive and it becomes all consuming and that’s when it becomes dangerous.

Part of leaving behind or recovering from evangelicalism is associated with finding balance in life, finding maturity, finding ways to think through the world around us, think through people around us in ways that are affirming, in ways that are facilitating hope and facilitating care.

There are two primary intoxicants when it comes to evangelical Christian faith, the first primary intoxicant is the care of the community, right? When you accept the Lord in your heart and you leave behind all of these other things and all of these other ideas, you are showered with affirmation of that community. You are loved, you are cared for. You have somewhere to go, regardless of where you come from, what you’re going through. They don’t have to know you, they don’t have to have your last name. They don’t have to be in any type of relationship with you. You are cared for. That is the first primary and toxicant of Christian communities is affirmation, right? I am affirmed.

The second primary intoxicant of Christian communities is worship, right? And so I am able to deflect and project all of my anxieties, all of my apprehensions, all of my fears, and I am able to project them on to a God and they relieve me, they take care of me, they are undergirding me, they are supporting me. And so with that love and care of the community and my ability to worship or Rudolph Auto would talk about being in the presence of awe in order to facilitate and procure, to create this sense of wonder and the sense of awe in our mind.

Literally the same chemicals in the same parts of the brain that are activated and affected when it comes to doing drugs. Parts of the brain that are affected when it comes to worship and when you’re cared for, when you’re loved, those same parts of the brain are stimulated as well. And so those two intoxicants are getting you to a place facilitating happiness.

Do you think the Bible was written by people?

Solomon Missouri: Yeah, sometimes it was written poorly by people. It didn’t just float down from the heavens, right?

I think some people believe that it’s written by God.

Solomon Missouri: That’s another problem because it exposes another aspect of our one biblical literacy. Right? And so that is we don’t have a healthy relationship to the physical text. Most of what people are doing when it comes to Bible is hearsay. If we actually read the Bible, not like scriptures that we like, not little pieces and chunks, but entire sections and books of the text, we will come to see that- Wait- there’s a lot of stuff in here that is counterintuitive to what I’ve been taught. And then two, there’s a lot of stuff in here that actually stands aside from itself, or it’s kind of hypocritical for what it says in an earlier or later version of a later passage. The other kind of issue that we have when it comes to thinking through the Bible was formed. It came from oral tradition.

They were passing stories down, and stories became consolidated, it became documented and it was translated. But even in translation, there are motivations, political, personal, geographical, regional, cultural, there are all types of implications.

So we’re disconnected from biblical studies, right? Christianity and the way that we use Bible in church is the only field of scholarship that allows itself to be self-referential. That’s weird. Like, if you take, like, any other book that’s written, people criticize it based upon other contemporaries who are writing in that same way, in that same genre. Christianity is the only field where you can get a PhD, be considered a professional person to instruct others, and just be self referential. Like, literally, you can just take Scriptures from the Bible to prove whatever point you want to make. That’s not the case in any other field of scholarship, you need outside sources. They would be like, oh, no, that sucks. That’s poor scholarship.

But there’s a field of study called Biblical Studies. And in biblical studies, they actually take other documents that were composed at the same time in the same regions, done by people who are experts in different languages. And they say, okay, this is how the Bible compares to these documents. And this is what these documents are saying, and this is what people who are proficient in these fields of studies are saying as well.

One of your non faith-based topics that you explore often is the folly of the modern middle aged dating scene. Where does that perspective come from?

Solomon Missouri: I’m middle aged and I date. So it’s partially comedy, I’m doing riffs. But I was required to take some classes on womanism when I was in seminary, and it totally changed my perspective on life and on dating.

Womanism takes into account the experience of Black women in reference to feminism. So its distinction to the feminist experiences, which is defined through the lenses of white women in America, womanism is defined through the lenses of Black women in America.

The woman’s lens uses Alice Walker’s work in order to set the context and the conversations for the ways that Black women have been treated as far as power, as far as the body, as far as sexuality, even as far as the way that employment works. All of those things are taken through the woman’s lens and given the perspective of the Black woman in society.

So in looking through that, being exposed to women as writers and women as thinkers and, like, women as people, both online and in person, you got to actually ask yourself one or two things. I know the way that I have been incubated black man in America, and I know that there are some disparities, there are some conflicts, there are some oppressions that are associated with me being a Black man in America. But the way that I operate in community means that I am also in concert with Black women.

So there are tiers and levels to oppression, to disparity and to harm. So I have to ask myself, now I know that there is a disparity in place. And now I know that there’s disparate treatment in place. I have to decide either to take that seriously or I decide to ignore it. And then I take that knowledge, and I turn the mirror back on itself. That’s effectively what’s happening. So when I talk about middle aged men and I’m talking about things that we’re experiencing and I’m talking about silly stuff, I’m just turning a mirror and I’m talking about oppression and I’m talking about the real fears that we have. And instead of projecting our fears onto women, I’m accepting them. So all of the insecurities that we have, coming to terms with that helps us be, one, good partners because everything that you got, she got, or they got, whoever you deal with has them. And then two, it helps us be healthy advocates.

But being a healthy advocate also means that I have to be able to listen. I have to be able to step aside, step back, push forward. So I talk about middle aged men, I talk about our insecurities. I try to do it in a comedic type of way because the little teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down. But there is actually a method to my madness.

So to characterize it in short, if I may, it sounds like it’s bringing context- empathy and an honest and open relationship with the self- to dating.

Solomon Missouri: Yeah, because there’s an entire ecosystem of dating advice that is built or that is built upon oppression and built upon exploitation. And would you like if we be honest with the situation that we’re experiencing, if everybody got to work, like leave the house in the morning and go make money, how do you expect yourself to be the inheritor of that emotional labor? The idea of being the head of the house, you need the change to make the house work. And so we have to bring a new set of cultural competencies to relationships in order to facilitate them. Now because women are like they always needed more, but they could not demand more. Now they can demand more. And men are finding a fair amount of distress in being who we need to be because we’ve not been given the tools.

When you write something like one of these threads, is it content that you have worked out in advance, or are you going off the top?

Solomon Missouri: I send myself about 15 to 20 Tweets a day. Things that I want to work out and work through. You’ll see it, and you can probably tell I’m always cooking something. Something is always on the stove.

Well, it’s a very mature and intelligent approach to Tweeting, as opposed to impulsively complaining about a Pitchfork score. You’ve described yourself as a nerd. Do you see any sort of link between religion and fan culture?

Solomon Missouri: Religion and fan culture? Yeah. There’s also some very problematic aspects of religion being fan culture. Religion in many cases is fan culture, especially when we talk about Western Christianity. And this particular scripture is I am the way, the truth and the light, and no man come to the Father but by me. So when you think through that scripture and Jesus is saying that, that becomes like a team slogan that nobody else can go to heaven through Jesus. And that’s a very harmful idea for Christians to describe that as the central motivating emphasis of their emotional and spiritual relationship. Here’s the other problem with that. Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew. At no point in Jesus’ experience did Jesus become a Christian. Did not happen when Jesus went down as a Jew. When he got back up, he got up as the Jew. Jesus was the Jew. Jesus was not a Christian. And so you ask yourself, Jesus never converted. But you say, oh, there was nobody. They convert Jesus. It doesn’t matter. It helps us understand better the way that religion can be harmful when it’s some total gain. When this is all or nothing. Right?

Because when it’s all or nothing, it becomes the context for abuse. Who can be harmed, who’s okay, being harmed? Who can be offended? Who’s okay being offended? Like, how can we press and impress? How can we frame our world?

The necessary aspect of superhero culture is that they give their entire life to win. But if we’re really thinking through the divine story of Jesus, and this is something that Christians don’t like to really talk about or address, Jesus shows us ultimate sacrifice by losing. He just loses. He says I’m just not willing to go. I won’t kill all of these guards. I won’t overthrow the government. I’ll just lose, and I’ll let everybody see me lose. And through losing, there is an exposition of violence that exposes us to self that shows us just how depraved we are. We’re willing to kill this one man in order to superimpose our will on somebody else.

So the New Testament is Dark Knight Rises?

Solomon Missouri: Yeah. Literally, it blows up, and that’s it.

Without the last scene where Jesus is casually sipping espresso with Alfred in Tuscany. So switching tracks, and I don’t know how comfortable you’d feel answering this, so we can skip if you’d like. But to me, you are what could potentially be characterized as occasionally “horny on main.” Is that something you do with intention? And do you have any reservations about being “horny on main”?

Solomon Missouri: No, I’m horny on main, consistently.

(Author’s Note: Solomon immediately launched into this incredibly eloquent response and it took me two full minutes to stop laughing)

Solomon Missouri: One, I do not believe our body to be a scandal. I believe them to be a celebration, right? I believe in our desire to be a celebration, and so I celebrate it. I talk about the things that I enjoy, the things that I like to do. And also I am intentionally provoking taboo. I am a minister who is using my position in the church and subverting divine ideas in order to provoke discomfort, in order to provoke anxiety and provoke apprehension. So we can work through some things that we’re uncomfortable with. So we can talk through the body, so we can talk through things we care about. Because if I don’t talk about it and we’re telling people that you need to have a healthy sense of body, what does a healthy sense of body look like? What does healthy desire look like? I ain’t saying. I ain’t got it down. I’m like I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’d be too horned. I’d be like, wait, I didn’t mean it like that.

I have a particular way about myself that allows for things to be misinterpreted, which I also enjoy. But we help each other work through those insecurities that people have given us about body and given us about desire and given us about, even when it comes to my masculinity, I am playing with that. I am playing with the idea that this big old Black guy has to be so secure in his sexuality and orientation in public spaces. And I’m allowing other people to engage that, to think through, because once they engage me, they’re also engaging themselves. What are they uncomfortable with? What brings them distress? What brings them sorrow? Like, what am I afraid of? What am I fighting? What am I ignoring? What am I rejecting? Who am I fighting? Who am I rejecting? Who am I ignoring? And when we have all of these questions being answered, we’re also doing that internal work.

It’s work that helps us to be better partners, the work that helps us be sexually fulfilled, the work that helps us to prosper, even as our souls prosper, to have profound and great spirituality, but also to have profound and beautiful sensuality as well. And so all these things grow together and they go together.

What role do you think marriage and monogamy have as institutions in the church and in the relationship with God?

Solomon Missouri: I think that what we have done with the institutions of both marriage and monogamy is made them idols instead of making them options. Not every person needs to be married. That’s a difficult thing to hear because a lot of people want to be married, but they want to be married for societal weight and burden, not because they actually enjoy sharing their life with another person, sharing their direction with another person. When we’re thinking through marriage, this is not about me taking another person with me. This is about two people coming together and charting a new course. And so if I’m not okay with a person taking me off of this course that I thought was going to be the way that my life was going to be and charting a new course together, I don’t need to be married. That’s not saying you don’t need to be a partner. That’s not saying that you don’t need to have the satisfaction of physical intimacy. And that’s the other problem. We think that marriage is the place well, let me say Western evangelicals Christians believe that marriage is a place that you get sex from.

If you decouple the institution of marriage and the institution of sex, you would see marriages improved and you would also see sex improved. Now I have to choose this person that I’m with, and I have to be invested in not only their sexual, their physical happiness, but their emotional happiness, their intellectual happiness. Like all those things move together.

All of this shame that’s layered on top of our sexuality because I didn’t have when a kid when I was married, or I got married and I had a divorce, or I had a kid before I was married, or I had a kid when I was married to somebody else, or a million other things that are associated with the body and shame. Like I don’t know how to tell my partner I’m not being satisfied, I’m not being fulfilled. Because all that is “supposed to” come naturally once you’re married. It’s supposed to fix everything, and it doesn’t. So thinking through the institution of marriage in new ways, thinking through the institution of sex, because sex is an institution in different ways, thinking through them in ways that decouple shame, remove guilt, that center joy, center affirmation, that centers reciprocity. All of this helps us move into a new place so we can actually think through healthy marriage and healthy sexuality.

What is your perspective on the Book of Revelations? As a Jew, I’ve always thought it was one of the most curious and hard to grapple with books, maybe ever written.

Solomon Missouri: Well, again, this is where the prospect of healthy scholarship comes into play. And that will be healthy scholarship that not only takes into account the literalism of the text, but also, what comes in concert or different genres when it comes to annihilation or literature, where kingdoms are falling. One thinks of the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel as texts in concert with one another. Both of them are talking about the fall of kingdoms. A lot of it is a dream, and I don’t trust my dreams like that. Can I trust that? Can I wake up the next morning and write that out? And can that be an affirmative expression of the gospel? Probably not.

And so we hold it in intention. It can be a commentary on the nature of empire. And let’s think of it as a commentary on the nature of empire, that all empires eventually fall and that includes the empire of the United States of America. So you see how promised lands become problematic places and seeing our promised land as a problematic place helps us understand the nature of empire. The Book of Revelations is a book about empire and the book about the failures of empire and how those empires fall. It was probably about Rome, but it could also be about any other empire in the world. Or it could be about a dream and he ate something that was probably not good the night before.

Could you share your thoughts and feelings about the complicated history of repression that exists between Black people and Christianity in America?

Solomon Missouri: This is a question that I encounter a lot with people who are doing the work of decoupling the institution of liberation from the historical ways that the text is being used for suppression, for domination. So I refer back to the work of Bishop Yvette Flunder and Dr. Rita Williams, when they talk about the ways that Black people have always written ourselves into the text.

In other words, we supply ourselves, we place ourselves in the care of the divine through the text. But let’s be honest. The Bible has always been a book written by brown people. It’s always been an Eastern book. It was co-opted by white folks, and it was co-opted by Europeans, and it was co-opted by the Western church in order for domination. But it’s always been a book about liberation, always been a book about freedom, always been a book about freeing ourselves, not just the work of the divine freeing ourselves, but the way that we incorporate and empower ourselves to work for freedom, for our own communities. If you look through the centralizing narrative of the Old Testament, what you’re experiencing is folks who are doing the work to get themselves loose, who come into contact in conversation with oppressive powers and with forces and that say that I will not be under this power forever, but I will fight. I will literally fight like these people fought in order to free themselves and then procured, created and cultivated freedom.

They created an oral tradition of freedom, of liberty, an oral tradition of emancipation. And so as Black folks, what happens is, if you’re not careful, you can see that slaves obey their masters, and you can see, oh, wait, yeah, it’s in the Bible. And that makes it something that God would want. But everything that’s in the Bible is not a divine institution. It’s just in the Bible. Because if it was a divine institution, why would God command Moses to tell Pharaoh to let my people go? We are making choices in the text. People who decide to employ the Bible as a centralizing and galvanizing place for their spiritual lives need to make choices in the text. My desire, my hope, my goal, my work is to help people make better choices, to make choices towards compassion, to make choices towards consciousness, to make choices towards affirmation, to make choices towards peace, and to make choices towards love. So, sure, can you use the Bible in perverse, harmful ways? Yes. But you can also use the Bible in ways that are liberating, that are freeing and that are careful. We can use the Bible in ways that are careful.

So, if I can paraphrase, it’s thinking of the book as a tool that is free of context, and it can have both useful and harmful applications.

Solomon Missouri: The Bible within itself is morally ambivalent. It is at the discretion of its user. And that’s why you have to be careful about who’s using it and how they’re using it, because not all expressions of biblical faith are reflective of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For me, as a Christian, it’s not reflective of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s not reflective of divine love and care.

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