As the committee members gathered in the church parish house, one committee member came through the door from the parking lot and addressed one of the other committee members in a voice that conveyed a bit of shock and alarm, “___________, are you a Republican? Do you have that car out there that has a Republican bumper sticker?”
The man to whom these questions were asked declared happily, “Yes, of course I’m a Republican.” And, then he went on to repeat the message from the bumper sticker, “Working people vote Republican.”
There was a sort of stunned silence, as the two men (the first one is a Democrat) who’ve known and worked together at Old South for some time, settled on the news that they were in opposing political camps. As more people arrived, the meeting began and we moved on.
This is the life at Old South. And it’s real shame that there aren’t many places like this in this country—places where people with differing political perspectives gather together, in community and friendship, and manage to get work done, worship together, and endeavor to be the Body of Christ, even in the midst of wide variety of life experiences, perspectives, and political persuasions.
Old South has been, for a long time, a place where a real diversity exists in terms of political allegiances. We have, and have had, people who are strident Republicans, and strident Democrats, and even a few strident Independents. And, we have some number of people who aren’t strident at all about politics.
Yet, somehow we all manage to share this church community. For us, what we do is not all that extraordinary. It’s been like this for a long time.
But, taking a good look outside our community, it’s clear that places like Old South do not exist, at least not in large numbers. When I first moved to Maine in 1997, there was a general sense that, at the state level anyway, politicians somehow figured out how to get things done in the state, despite their differing political parties. Now, that’s not so true.
I don’t visit the state house very often, even though it is only a couple of miles up the road, but when I am there from time to time, to lead the Senate in prayer (I’ll lead the House later this month), I can feel the tension. The community spirit is not to be found.
In other places as well, it’s not hard to notice that people increasingly tend to gather with others with whom they agree. There’s no perceived value in seeking out difference, certainly political difference. In fact, it feels like the sense of value has shifted. Now, to gather or be friends with people of differing political views is perceived as problematic and even treasonous. And, to be so foolish as to marry (I’m a Democrat, married to a Republican), is seen as deeply suspect and just plain wrong.
It’s too bad that there aren’t many places like Old South. There’s a lot to be gained through relationship with people who hold differing perspectives and even opposing political opinions. It’s helpful, once and a while, to realize that the “other” isn’t evil or stupid, and that working together to make things better requires a recognition of another’s humanity, just as one expects one’s own humanity to be acknowledged. I think there’s a bible verse that goes something like that . . . .