At the close of a Sunday School discussion on faith and politics, Parks Helms had a warning for those in public service who claim to have the endorsement of God.
Are you ready to raise taxes to feed the poor? Do you oppose the death penalty because Thou shall not kill?
Governing in a Christ-like way, the Democrat said, can be political suicide.
Republican Wayne Powers got the final word: Its also arrogant.
That consensus was among several examples of bipartisanship on display Sunday morning at Park Road Baptist Church, from two politicians who dont agree on much.
Yet they both decried a political and spiritual certainty that walls off opposing points of view. And while they acknowledge that their spiritual beliefs influence their political ones, they say they are not one and the same.
Politics can be informed by our faith. It can be a way of expressing our Christian values, Powers said. But politics is not Christianity.
He also struck a note for public civility.
I disagree with Parks about as much as I possibly can with anyone, he said. Yet I feel a respect and love for him as a fellow Christian and as a public servant, and Im honored to be part of this conversation.
Their appearance, before about 50 fellow Park Road members, was part of a series devised by church co-pastor Russ Dean to open the congregation to a summer of differing viewpoints.
Too much of the country, he said, is trapped in a partisanship devoid of patience for conflicting opinions. He calls it, our national inability to talk to each other.
The vacuum, many believe, was on display this spring during North Carolinas polarizing fight over the marriage amendment. Still ahead: a fall filled with potentially withering campaigns for president down to county and city offices.
More and more, on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights and birth control, the matters of church and state intersect often without thoughtful debate.
The fight over marriage, Helms said later in the day, shows just how far public discourse has fallen.
There are those who will use the Bible like a hammer, he said. They will beat you over the head with it, without appreciating the scriptural lessons.
Powers, too, called for more inclusiveness in the public sphere. At a gathering of Republicans, Powers said he cast the only nay vote in the room against the marriage amendment, and it was a really big room.
The current unwillingness to discuss and compromise? I dont think that would be pleasing to Christ, he said.
For the record, the two did disagree. Helms said the Democratic Party believes government can do some of the work God wants done, from helping the needy to healing the sick to educating the young.
Powers said big government, absolute and authoritarian, undermines the individual responsibility to help those who need it.
Dean, the pastor, said he started the summer series because the more opportunities we have to hear other peoples stories, the bigger our world will be.
So one Sunday, he invited Osama Wazan, author of The Last Moderate Muslim. On another, Sue Worrell, executive director of the Jewish Federation, spoke.
For his discussion on faith and politics, he turned to two church members: Helms, the former longtime Mecklenburg commission chairman and state legislator; Powers, a conservative GOP activist making his first run for public office an at-large seat on the Mecklenburg commission.
The pair answered questions from the audience. Debbie Burch wanted to know if the country has outgrown a two-party system. Wazan sat in and wondered if compromise is sometimes reached at too high a cost.
Afterward, church member Jaime Pollard-Smith called the summer conversations phenomenal, because they have pushed those who hear them outside familiar points of view.
Helms has been a member of Park Road Baptist since 1961. This spring, Powers, a lifelong Catholic, asked to join and be baptized there.
The ceremony took place on Easter. Though they did not know each other well, Powers asked Helms to read his declaration of faith.
That, Dean says, is when came up with the idea for their conversation.
If these two could share in the sacraments and symbols of faith, he said, we ought to be able to talk.