America has perhaps never been more polarized politically than it is today, and the fiery rhetoric from the left and the right is only going to intensify now that the Democrats and Republicans have all but officially tapped their presidential nominees.
And there are not many places you can go where political differences are accepted these days. But there are a few, including The Fuller Center for Housing, where differences are not merely tolerated; they are embraced.
From financial supporters and volunteers to staff and board members, views on politics run the gamut from the liberal left to the conservative right and all levels in between. The Fuller Center is ecumenical by religious standards as it welcomes not just all kinds of Christians, but Muslims, Jews, agnostics and anyone who shares and supports the vision that everyone deserves a simple, decent home. Likewise, The Fuller Center is equally ecumenical in a political sense as it welcomes those across the political spectrum who share the vision.
And, that, says co-founder Linda Fuller Degelmann, is by design, a design hammered out 36 years ago.
“Millard and I set a goal in 1976 to eliminate poverty housing in the world,” Degelmann said. “We knew it would take hundreds of thousands of people working together to accomplish that goal.”
It is that need to unite people that gave birth to Millard Fuller’s “Theology of the Hammer,” a concept that is the essence of The Fuller Center for Housing’s ministry.
“As a means to inspire and rally people, Millard coined the phrase ‘Theology of the Hammer,’ based upon putting God’s love into action by using a tool of Jesus — and a hammer fits into every hand,” Degelmann added. “Therefore, inclusiveness was deliberate because eliminating poverty housing calls for millions of dollars, and those dollars are in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of people.”
DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS
In examining the political makeup of all those under The Fuller Center for Housing’s big, inclusive tent, it did not seem necessary to expose the political leanings of everyone. It suffices to say that from top to bottom, they come from all sides. But there are a few whose political leanings are very public. Among those are Fuller Center board members Jeff Cardwell and Jackie Goodman, who are also good friends in addition to being leaders in The Fuller Center’s mission.
Cardwell is not just a Republican; he is an elected Republican, serving on the City County Council in Indianapolis, representing District 23 on the south side, an area that hosted the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in 2010. He says he often reaches across the aisle for the betterment of the city. And he says he is more concerned with getting things done than he is with scoring political points.
“I have a number of very dear friends and family members who are Democrats that I have great respect for,” Cardwell said. “For example, I consider Jackie Goodman a very dear friend.”
Of course, that might not be the best example because, as Cardwell admits: “Everybody loves Jackie!”
Goodman, likewise, is proud to call herself a Democrat and is just as passionate as Cardwell about The Fuller Center’s mission.
“Some of my best friends whom I have met through The Fuller Center are Republicans!” Goodman says with her usual beaming smile. “We are all entitled to our thoughts and opinions. As Millard Fuller said, ‘We share the Theology of the Hammer,’ so perhaps in this case you could say ‘We share the politics of the hammer.’”
Goodman and Cardwell were among members of the board of directors who had a chance to hear from President Jimmy Carter in Plains, Ga., when the board met in March in Sumter County. Speaking during the dinner, President Carter lamented the decline of civility in politics, noting how he and Presidents Ford and Reagan referred to each other as “my distinguished opponent” during their debates and campaigns. He also praised The Fuller Center for being a harmonious oasis during such polarizing times.
After the dinner, both Cardwell and Goodman were among those who lined up to have their pictures taken with the former president and former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Cardwell has had his photo taken with both Bush presidents and President Reagan, as well. He was just as happy to be photographed with the Democratic president.
“The office of the President of the United States is the symbol for freedom and liberty around the world,” Cardwell said. “I hold a great respect for the office, and it is an honor to meet anyone who has served as our president and leader of the free world. There are Democrats, Republicans and independents, but we are all Americans. I am grateful and proud to be an American.”
WHY DOES THE FULLER CENTER HAVE SUCH WIDE-RANGING SUPPORT?
Mary Ann Turner-DeJesus is one of The Fuller Center’s most dedicated volunteers and a familiar face on build sites. She describes herself as a “moderate-to-conservative Republican.” She says she has friends on trips from across the political spectrum, and each finds something about The Fuller Center’s work that appeals to their political persuasion.
“I, personally, being more conservative, like the idea that you’re helping people make their lives better — not with a handout but with a hand up,” she said. “You know where your money’s going, and I’m a big believer in deciding where your money’s going and what you’re going to support and not just throwing another government program at something.”
Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said he gets a kick out of being in the political center, which he jokingly describes as “a lonely place to be these days.” Although, he does say that no one seems to get too angry about people in the center.
“The best thing about being in the center is that I get to have a little good-natured fun with my friends on the left and right,” he said. “Plus, after 22 years in journalism, I found the old adage true that there’s two sides to every story. The truth always lies somewhere in between.”
He also said Turner-DeJesus hit the nail on the head.
“When I started here in June of 2011, I was amazed how many supporters and volunteers were from both ends of the political spectrum,” he said. “But the reason why became clear quickly. It really is the whole hand up vs. handout approach that The Fuller Center has. No one on the left, right or in the center is against helping people help themselves. It’s something everyone can get behind and feel very good about.”
Degelmann said it’s not just the hand-up approach to housing people but also the mission overall that attracts all sides.
“The Fuller Center for Housing brings folks together around the idea that every human being on the face of the Earth who gets sleepy at night needs a decent and affordable place to live,” she said. “Whether a person is liberal or conservative, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, young or old, believer or non-believer, all can agree that basic shelter is essential to human and community development.
“Individuals, families, churches and groups of various kinds are drawn together by providing resources and labor to make it possible for thousands of families to fulfill their dream of having a simple, decent home.”
Cardwell also harkened back to the “Theology of the Hammer,” saying it’s something deep down in each person that attracts them to The Fuller Center.
“We can all remember a time in our lives when we were in need and someone stood in the gap for us,” he said. “Life is all about people helping people from all walks of life. Millard described this as the ‘Theology of the Hammer.’ Put a hammer in their hand, and everyone comes together for one purpose and goal: Eliminating poverty housing around the world.”
There are many hammers in the Fuller Center for Housing office that Millard Fuller occupied as president and from which he led the world’s affordable housing movement until his unexpected death in 2009. Since then, David Snell has served as president of The Fuller Center. The hammers remain, and the “Theology of the Hammer” remains the way of The Fuller Center for Housing, which Snell insists will always pitch a big, inclusive tent for those who share Millard Fuller’s dream.
“The Fuller Center for Housing is proud of its ecumenical nature, reaching out to all people of good will regardless of faith or creed,” Snell said. “We’re ecumenical in politics, as well. We don’t take a stand on political issues, and any Fuller Center event is sure to include folks from the left, the right and the middle, joining together in a common effort to make decent shelter a reality for all.”