â€œâ€¦You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other.â€
So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the recent HBO mini-series â€œJohn Adamsâ€ as â€œthe north and south poles of our revolution.â€
Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll.
They, as others in the foundersâ€™ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking to each other.
Despite the differences between them and the odds against them, the founders managed to cobble together their opus â€“ and ours â€“ the Constitution, which despite all probability still guides this diverse group of people forward together.
But, alas, â€œpolitics ainâ€™t beanbagâ€ and two election cycles later, Jefferson and Adams had no tolerance for one another.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries and most of us are likely to relate to the fix Adams and Jefferson found themselves in. We, like they, have deep disagreement with – and sometimes little tolerance for – one another.
Perhaps nowhere is this gap more profound today than on matters where faith and politics intersect.
It was a bold experiment the founders undertook when they broke with hundreds of years of history to form a country without an official religion. Woven through their work was the then radical belief that individual liberty was of the highest value, more important than the interests of government and kings.
Flowing inevitably from this notion was a strong commitment to individual religious freedom. The specifics of the relationship between church and state, however, produced disagreement, much as it does today. So they agreed where they could, agreed to disagree where they couldnâ€™t and kicked the sticking points down the road a bit.
Today our religious diversity is far beyond the imagination of the founding fathers, yet we are still a country with the freedom to worship as we choose.
Despite that astounding achievement, as the 2008 presidential contest put in sharp relief, we still donâ€™t see eye-to-eye about the role of faith in our union, just as we donâ€™t agree about economics, fighting terrorism, the role of government in our lives or really much of anything it sometimes seems.
Maybe more concerning than the basic disagreements, though, is the fact that weâ€™ve largely stopped talking – and most certainly stopped listening – to those with whom we disagree. We naturally surround ourselves – socially, in church, in our television viewing – with those who see it our way.
Lost in the sea of sameness is the healthy – though sometimes difficult – struggle of ideas between â€œneighborsâ€, akin to the struggle that birthed our democracy. It was, in fact, that very diversity of ideas that some founders expected would naturally protect the freedoms they held so dear.
Next Tuesday, The Village Square will fly in the face of this recent trend, ignoring good manners – and possibly good sense â€“ as we continue our Dinner at the Square season â€œFaith, Politics & Neighbors.â€ Our panel â€“ Center for a Just Societyâ€™s Ken Connor, Lawton Chilesâ€™ General Counsel Dexter Douglass, ordained minister and former Lieutenant Governor candidate Allison DeFoor and former FSU Religion Chair Leo Sandon â€“ will debate â€œFaith in the Public Square.â€
With two Democrats and two Republicans on the panel, they likely wonâ€™t agree.
But our foolishness only starts there. To mark the inauguration of a new president, we are inviting you to join us in lunch across the divide by inviting a conservative friend to lunch if youâ€™re a Democrat and a liberal friend to lunch if youâ€™re a Republican.
And, like Jefferson and Adams before you, explain yourselves to each other.
Adams and Jefferson ultimately died friends, having given history the gift of their final correspondence. They died on the same day, July 4th, 50 years to the day after the nation they built was born.
â€œWhether you or I were right,â€ Adams had written to Jefferson, â€œposterity must judge. Yet I ask of you, who shall write the history of our revolution?â€
The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well today in us, in this amazing American experiment â€œin the course of human events.â€
And we are still writing the history of their revolution.
Like the founders, we hardly have the luxury to stop talking to each other.