“I ask you to keep doing what you are doing,” said the governor. Here in South Carolina it is rare that a public official acknowledges any religions besides Christianity and sometimes Judaism.
But Governor Nikki Haley
is no stranger to the minority experience, having grown up as a first-generation Indian-American in rural S.C. in a family which practiced the Sikh religion. As she noted on a previous occasion, she has faced several challenges in her career: being female, being “ethnic” and not being Christian (she did join the Methodist church when she married).
Tuesday evening Governor Haley and First Gentleman Michael hosted a reception at the Governor’s Mansion
(“your” governor’s mansion, as she reminded several of us) for Interfaith Partners of S.C.
The occasion was the Governor’s Proclamation of January 2014 as South Carolina Interfaith Harmony Month – yes, a little late because of the weather closings.
If anyone thought they were going to a stuffy political event they soon discovered differently. The mansion is simply gorgeous; several fireplaces were lit, the chef had prepared a delicious spread, and the company was a group of people I have come to love dearly over the past several years as we worked together.
It was not a night to gnaw at the hard issues of interfaith; rather, we had fun posing with the Governor and First Gentleman and then
pretending to be Roosevelt making a fireside chat
. I ate an extra crab rangoon, then slipped a praline in my pocket so that I could let it melt in my mouth later. Best of all, we renewed the caring ties that have sustained us through years of discussions and projects.
Haley shared a poignant story with us. Her young son asked what was to happen that evening which would make Mom late coming home (upstairs). When she explained, he at first assumed that guests would be Indian-American (Haley’s parents are involved with IPSC).
When he understood that it was a very diverse group his comment was, “I wish there was something like that for kids.” A collective shiver crossed the group as we all understood the significance of a child’s desire to meet and learn about people who are different from him. Certainly, it will be future generations who hold the key to peace. Those are moments that make all the work worthwhile.
On seeing the photos, someone posted online, “Holli, I didn’t know you are Republican.” Well, I’m not, and I don’t support Haley politically. But that is not the point; politics is not what brought us together on this occasion. Once elected, Haley became my governor, and I am deeply grateful for her support of interfaith work.
To our knowledge, South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. to acknowledge the importance of religious plurality and issue a formal proclamation. Haley may understand, better than any other governor in the nation, that nurturing diversity will strengthen us, not just spiritually, but also economically and in the public sector.
Some say they dislike “politics” and therefore stay away from the State House, rallies, and gatherings such as Tuesday’s reception. But as I walked to my car through the gardens, past a large fountain, and under towering oaks, I thought, yes, this is my mansion, too, our mansion.
It belongs to the Pagan citizens of South Carolina, just as it does to the Southern Baptists, Jews, Baha’i’s, humanists and people of every and no religious stripe. To claim my place in this joint ownership, I must show up, take part, support, discuss, disagree, share my views and listen to the view of others. This is how democracy works, and how it coexists and supports a multi-faith religious community – one that includes Pagans!