2018 elections: Pitt County — a Beloved Community?
Sunday, October 21, 2018
It’s time to vote. The signs are sprouting all along the roadways, giving us pause to reflect upon our civic privilege and responsibility to take time to cast a vote for those on the ballot, willing to serve the common good of our community.
How do you choose a candidate? What makes one person more fit or qualified than another for a specific role of public service? Does campaigning really make a difference or are elections simply a matter of party loyalty in this day of political tribalism? And what about those inflammatory sound bites meant to distort truth from reality? You know, the repetitive TV adds designed to manipulate information and demonize good people?
With our country more politically polarized than ever, how in the world do we even begin to listen with openness and respect to those who differ from us, keeping in mind at the end of the day that we are all in this together.
I’m a pastor, not a politician — a citizen of Pitt County, aware of the fact that I am a member of a vast community of human and nonhuman beings that I depend on for essentials I could never provide for myself. Furthermore, as an ordained minister who tries to imagine what the world would be like if we treated others with inherent and equal dignity, I need to faithfully remind myself that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.
Far too much of religion has been about defining where God is and where God isn’t, picking and choosing who and what has God’s image and who and what doesn’t. In reality, it’s not up to us. We have no choice in the matter. All are beloved. Everyone — Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, black, white, brown, gay, straight, transgender, male, female, Republican, Democrat, Independent — all are children of God.
I moved to Pitt County 13 years ago, in the midst of a local struggle in Greenville. I discovered that we had only half a street dedicated to Dr. King, and I had come from Atlanta where I was very immersed in working with planting seeds to dismantle racism. So, I decided to see about inviting faith-based people to a luncheon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Media coverage of the event prompted an anonymous note full of racial slurs, critical of my commitment to work toward becoming God’s Beloved Community. The man wrote in his note he was moving his family from Pitt to Carteret County “which is 91% White.”
I shared this story with a friend over coffee one summer morning as we discussed the hard work of racial equality and reconciliation which can get “messy” at times. We spoke openly through the lens of our unique perspectives and experience, a white man and a black woman — who currently is one of the candidates for Pitt County Sheriff. This work, we agreed, requires courage, humility and wisdom — essential virtues to confront those things that compromise our consciences or threaten the human dignity of all God’s people.
I’ve known Maj. Paula Dance for many years now and have enjoyed working with her on a number of community initiatives, including the role of pastoral care in difficult law enforcement situations. With a 28-year tenure in law enforcement, 26 years with Pitt County, she is in a place of strength to provide the kind of leadership needed to implement successful outcomes for the Sheriff’s Department. A person I trust, Maj.Paula Dance is a law enforcement officer truly capable of uniting people across the county. It’s the spirit she has, not just the work she does, which makes her so authentic and trustworthy.
A rabbi once asked this question of his students: “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?” “When from a distance you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep,” suggested one. “When you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine,” offered another. “No,” the rabbi said. “When you look into the face of a human being and have enough light to recognize that person as your sister or brother. Until then it is night, and darkness is still with us.”
The darkness is still with us, but there are signs that the light is dawning. Miracles happen, I’ve discovered, when we put as much energy into our hopes and dreams as we put into our fears. I live in hope — and dream, that we may yet become the Beloved Community, working through our richly diverse county, to witness together the democratic ideal for which we strive: one nation, under God, indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.
The Rev. Bob Hudak is a Pitt County resident, a member of the governing board of the N.C. Council of Churches and chairman of the Becoming Beloved Community initiative.