I’m a registered Republican. I’m also a Southern Baptist pastor. Pro-life. Pro-family. Nowadays it’s fairly common for someone to throw me in the traditional “white male” category. As much as I feel like I defy many of the common stereotypes, I’m sure I also confirm a few others. The farther I swim into the recent political waters, the more I’m convinced that I should remain ashore. The current liberal tide seems to be pulling me out into deep water without any sight of land. However, when I wade into the safer shallows, I turn back to find that even the conservative drift has taken me far from where I began. Nearly six months ago, a storm came that cast me out into troubled waters. Not the Presidential Race. A real southern Louisianan storm. And it left our community almost completely underwater. The rising floodwaters gave my wife and I less than 20 minutes to grab what we could and evacuate our home. As a result, without any place to stay, and with newborn twins, I sent my wife and children up to Kentucky to stay with our family while I rebuilt our home. And that’s when I met Sam. The liberal.
I found Sam and Lisa online one night while staying on a friend’s couch. Their son Mark was part of an adoption support group, and after reading an article of mine one day, he forwarded it to his parents. Sam and Lisa weren’t originally from Baton Rouge. Ten years ago they’d lost almost everything in Katrina, and had moved to Baton Rouge to start a new life. They invited me over one night for a southern meal and offered their guest bed to me for as long as I needed it. Lisa offered to buy me clothes, and to cook for me every night. They said they wanted to help our young family, like others had helped them years ago. “Even if you are a Baptist,” Lisa joked. Sam and Lisa were faithful members of the Church of Christ, and their sense of humor was evident from the first piece of fried chicken they put on my plate. Something told me this was a house of peace, and without a bed to sleep in, I seriously doubted whether I would find a better offer. So I gratefully said yes. That night I called my wife and told her I was moving in with the people I’d met online. For the next three months God placed a Southern Baptist pastor in a home with a Bernie Sanders-loving liberal…during election season. A storm had stripped almost everything from me. My house. My possessions. My family. And it was about to start tugging at many of my preconceptions and prejudices. The following are three things I learned while living with Sam, the man who began as my host and ended up becoming a dear friend.
- It’s Easier to Stereotype People Than to Sit and Listen to Them.
As I said earlier, Sam and Lisa are devoted members of the Church of Christ. To many that would signal social conservatism and an abhorrence for instruments. Not Sam. Sam loves instruments. In fact, Sam led worship for years at their church home in New Orleans. I was also wrong about Sam’s brand of liberalism. While Sam was a staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders and universal healthcare, he also believed that homosexuality was a sin. He did not support the LGBT movement in its entirety, although he did believe in human rights. Sam was born and raised in Birmingham, England. His thick British accent greeted me every morning while smoking a cigarette and listening to NPR news. As a Brit, Sam didn’t understand America’s “fixation” with guns. Nevertheless, he believed in upholding the Second Amendment. After almost every conversation with Sam, I slowly realized that he didn’t fit into any of my preconceived categories for “liberal.” He was actually an eclectic mix. Even in our theological discussion, I found myself guilty of caricaturizing my new British roommate. After learning of Sam’s liberal interpretation of the Old Testament, I then asked, “So do you believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man?” “Of course!” he replied adamantly. The longer I lived with Sam, the more I learned to ask questions first instead of assuming stereotypes. Like a true Brit, Sam took tea several times a day. So on many nights after coming in from working on the house, Sam and I would sip tea and talk. About anything. Life. Floods. Hurricanes. Hillary. It didn’t matter. Every topic was on the table. It was my first genuine civil discourse with a liberal.
- Civil Discourse Can Be Civil.
Sam was a senior engineer at his work, a man of reason and science. Consequently, to my initial dismay, he wanted to talk religion and politics the very first week: Why don’t Baptists serve the Lord’s Supper every Sunday? Do you honestly think Adam and Eve were real people? What about evolution? What’s your view on global warming? You’re not a Trump supporter are you? How is it possible that we inherit Adam’s sin? Despite the fact that we disagreed on so much, what I gradually came to appreciate was the fact that Sam wasn’t a “fire-breathing” liberal, just a curious one. Never in three months did we ever once raise our voices. Not once. Even when watching the debates together. Like so many liberals, Sam demanded reasons, and that of itself isn’t a bad thing. It reminded me to know why I believe what I do, and to use my head with my heart. And vice versa.
- Finding Common Ground Is Possible Without Forfeiting Principles
As Sam defied my definition of “liberal,” he also showed me that I wasn’t as socially “conservative” as perhaps I believed. In the wake of the Alton Sterling shooting and the ambush of several Baton Rouge police officers, race was often the topic of discussion. Night after night, we were both reminded that we supported both black and blue, and that civil rights still had a long way to go in the Deep South. Sam’s son had adopted a black child, and so had Kelly and I in Roman and Ruby. We’d both witnessed prejudices firsthand, even with small children. While we didn’t necessarily agree on the extent of needed prison reform and social justice, we were able to value the things we held in common. We both valued human life, born and unborn. And Sam wasn’t as staunch a Hillary supporter as I had assumed, and neither was I an ardent Trump supporter as he had anticipated. Ironically, Sam had called a Trump victory months before the election. He understood that popular movements, like Brexit in his home country, were often unstoppable in their force. Sam was a fantastic cook, and our friendship grew for three months over international food, good conversation, and mutual respect. Even after some especially intense conversations over the nature of good and evil, Sam and Lisa still cheerfully donated money so that we could rebuild our home. Their love shown to Kelly and I is unparalleled since the flood, and it came from people with plenty of social, political, and theological differences during an especially tumultuous time in our country. I was a stranger and they welcomed me. (Matt. 25:38) Perhaps, with time, we could all be as welcoming.