I made the drive to Johnson City and back yesterday to meet with the TEP Tri-Cities committee. I've been in East Tennessee a lot this fall--two trips to Chattanooga, one to Knoxville, one to Sewanee (which isn't technically in East TN, but right on the edge), and now Johnson City.
It was a relaxing drive through a beautiful part of the state. The hills and trees make you want to stop the car and just run up in them and get lost for a day. I was reminded at almost every turn of how socially conservative the State is. First, every hour or so, your eyes meet a Zach Wamp billboard. It wasn't that long ago that he called homosexuality a "sickness." As I crossed into Roane County, I thought of the Ken Yager Becky Ruppe race and those radio ads opposing "gay marriage" that everyone had to listen to for weeks. And if you missed that, the number of religious (read "Evangelical) programs on the radio is hard to avoid as you're scanning through the channels. I have to say I don't blame Senator Yager a bit for going antiquing to escape the noise.
As I drove closer to and then through Knoxville I thought of the youth factor that has been everywhere in political news--the youth surge for Obama and all the twenty and thirty-somethings at the Prop 8 rallies in Tennessee and around the country. The face of the conservative movement in East Tennessee is also young. Naturally, I thought of Rep. Campfield and his enthusiasm for conservative principles and embrace of new media to join the conversation. As I drove further, I saw the sign for White Pine and thought of David Oatney, so I stopped for a quick bite to eat. Not much of a revenue boost to the town he loves so much to be sure, but it was the sign of respect I could manage on a quick trip. I continue to be impressed with his efforts to bring thoughtfulness to issues. Politically, he and I would agree on very little, but I love the fact that he has been involved in education at his parish. I suspect we would agree on a large chunk of theological matters. Driving on, I thought of Republican House leader Jason Mumpower. I didn't make it to Bristol, but he was on my mind. I thought of my college professor's lectures on Machiavelli and Leo Strauss and laughed as I wondered whether they should be updated to include Spider-Man, too.
And I wished as I drove on that thoughtful, young, successful, otherwise kind people like them didn't see our rights as a problem. And I hope it's not always so. In the mean time, I'm amazed at the work that our three committees in East Tennessee are doing. They share a great deal with their conservative counterparts. As the conversation in Tennessee moves along, I hope that will continue to become evident.