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Adventures in Government - Family, Marriage, Israel

I began my campaign to run for Congress almost immediately after election day last November. Once I confirmed that Martha McSally beat Matt Heinz, it was time to start setting the wheels in motion.

My first target? Churches.

I'm not sure how appropriate it is to campaign at church. I don't really want religion in my politics or politics in my religion, despite how often the two seem to come together in reality. I'd like to avoid encouraging people to associate religion with politics if I can help it.

That said, you can learn a lot about people by witnessing their worship services. My intention is to reflect the values of the people of this district, and at church people wear their values on their sleeves.

Plus, everyone notices when a new face joins their congregation. There's something to be said for people to simply be familiar with my face.

Given all of that, after election day I immediately began to look at churches in this district and make plans to attend a different one every week. Soon I'd seen large churches with dwindling congregations, small churches with active, young congregations, and everything in between.

After attending each service, I got in touch with the pastor (or other congregation leader) and asked them if they would be willing to meet with me to discuss politics. The first one to respond was Pastor Brent Armstrong of Tucson Baptist Church.

Tucson Baptist impressed me immediately when I attended their service. The church complex was huge, with multiple large buildings and a meticulously maintained property. The multi-story auditorium could easily seat over a thousand people, if I'm not mistaken, and most of those seats were filled when I attended. The service was also streamed online, with hundreds of people watching according to their records.

Suffice to say, it's an impressive operation.

It was also the most comfortable experience for me up to that point in some ways. I was raised Baptist, so the trappings were mostly familiar; I knew the hymns well enough to sing along with them, for instance. (This was more of a relief than I expected it to be.)

It was also clear to me that the church did have some very specific political leanings. There were prominent banners on the walls proudly claiming "We stand for Family," "We stand for Marriage," and "We stand with Israel."

Each statement had an implication I read loud and clear: We are anti-abortion, we oppose gay marriage, and we don't like Muslims. In short, they stand far away from me on the political spectrum.

The only one I wasn't certain about was the "Pro-Israel equals Anti-Islam" implication. Though it's a tough line to walk, Zionism isn't inherently Islamophobic. However, during the sermon the pastor told a story in which he spoke with a Muslim man on an airplane, and though the pastor went to great lengths to humanize the Muslim in his story, there was an audible reaction from the audience when the man's religion was revealed. My heart sank a little.

Still, I met with Pastor Armstrong, even knowing we would not align together very much politically. It's not wise to boil people down to their political ideologies, and it's a mistake to assume that the people who disagree with you have nothing to offer. Liberals sometimes flatter themselves as being the "educated" side of the political spectrum, but political ideology isn't a matter of intelligence or education. Politics are complicated, and pretending otherwise insults everyone.

I scheduled a meeting with Pastor Armstrong at his office. Unlike the casual conversations in neutral meeting places I've had since then, this time I was definitely in someone else's domain. Pastor Armstrong's influence was quietly on display all around me; the large, wooden desk, the plush chairs, the attached conference room, paintings, statues, and so on.

For me, who generally makes due with IKEA furniture and whatever else I can find that's functional and affordable, the ornate and elaborate furniture of Pastor Armstrong's office was interesting and impressive. I'm not intimidated by displays of wealth and influence, but I can appreciate it all the same.

He spoke casually of his acquaintance with Martha McSally, and how he travels to Washington, D.C. regularly. Pastor Armstrong is a very politically active man, and he happily told me of his active role in defeating Arizona's referendum to legalize marijuana. In short, he is clearly a man of great influence and charisma.

Neither of us were under any illusions about our opposing political perspectives. We spoke about it openly, and we connected on how we both dislike the way people on each side distort and demonize each other.

He offered a lot of advice to me on my campaign, and we spoke at length about things both great and small. In the end, the conversation reinforced my belief that when you really get down to it we're more alike than different.

I doubt many members of the Tucson Baptist congregation will vote for me, though Pastor Armstrong suggested I might be surprised. As it is, I don't think the congregation's three core values will really come up in Congress, despite how much they come up in conversation. Roe v. Wade has stood for over 40 years, and I don't expect that to change. Obergefell v. Hodges is still a fresh case, but popular acceptance of gay marriage is growing, so Republicans would be unwise to attempt to challenge that decision. And while Congress does influence the degree of our support for Israel somewhat, foreign relations is primarily the domain of the Executive Branch.

(To be clear, I'm by no means anti-Israel. I'm simply not anti-Muslim. Israeli-Palestinian relations is a complicated subject I won't go into right now, but suffice to say I don't think it's wise to promise blind support to anyone.)

That said, whether they vote for me or not, if I become the representative of this district,  it will be my job to represent them. My purpose will be to listen, communicate with, and represent the district in Congress, even if the district at large disagrees with my personal views.

Stopping to listen and speak with the people who disagree with us, to accept the wisdom they have to offer, is an important first step in ending destructive political posturing and party politics. A refusal to listen and engage is a refusal to compromise, and given the diverse nature of the country at large and this district in particular, compromise is often the only path to progress.

Given that, I intend to continue attending different churches around town, whether we seem likely to align politically or not. It's always an enlightening experience, and regardless of our politics, church-going people are almost always generous, friendly, and good-natured people. Getting to know them is its own reward.

-Charlie