Before all of our events, we plaster the town with posters so people know what we’re up to. That includes grocery stores, public bulletin boards, churches and your living room if you’re willing. We get all sorts of responses to the plastering, from warm welcomes to recitations of no-poster policies.
A couple of years ago we took a poster for Faith & The Founding Fathers to a large conservative church in town. I thought that was a safe topic and – as always – we want to invite as wide a diversity of opinion as we can to the table. Staff there said, as churches and some businesses usually do, that they have to get the OK of the pastor. A couple days later I got a call that it wasn’t approved and that I could come by to pick up my poster. I thought it was particularly kind and respectful of them to bother to call me back to get my poster (and wasn’t likely easy).
I was also quite discouraged. If a nonpartisan discussion on faith and the founding fathers wasn’t acceptable content for their bulletin board, it seemed like nothing The Village Square offers would be and my efforts to include their congregation in our discussions would be effectively over. To me, this was a sure sign of what Bill Bishop (one of our dinner speakers this year) calls “The Big Sort”. After all, how would we ever learn from each other if we never actually sat in the same room?
Tuesday night, on election day, I drove by the same church. It was a polling station and outside of it there were the normal hodgepodge of sign-waivers for every flavor of candidate, some likely highly objectionable to the same pastor I suspect.
So on this particular day this church had swung their doors wide open for that messy sport of democracy. On this one day, church and state – seeming to strain so often – cooperated to bring us the election. The church paid the electricity, provided the space, and likely cleaned the floors afterward. Inside the church, an endless stream of people who might not agree with the prevailing opinions of the pastor and congregation were invited in to express their own opinion.
This isn’t a small thing.
I still won’t go back with posters anytime soon, but I’ve revised my sentiment when I pass the church. Village Square posters might not hang there, but we’re forever connected through this exceptional country we share.
Again, not a small thing.