Earlier this month, Cameron Runyan happened to run across my blog post from November, when I shared with y’all his written explanation of his lone vote against same-sex benefits.
He wanted to get together and “catch up,” so I met him for breakfast on Jan. 23.
At that time, he shared with me some of the story about how he came to be a lone culture warrior on Columbia City Council, among other things. I wasn’t sure at the time that I was going to write anything about the conversation, and took few notes (so Cameron, if I remember anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct it). Then I decided that I would write about it, but only after talking with his likely opponent in this year’s election, Tige Watts. I spoke with Mr. Watts Friday, making a point of taking more notes this time.
But first, the incumbent, starting with his conversion experience…
Cameron Runyan’s grandparents were missionaries, but he didn’t really get deeply into religion until just over three years ago.
He and his extended family were spending the Christmas holidays in the Caribbean. On Boxing Day 2011, he and a couple of other family members went out for a run (if you recall from something I wrote earlier that year, he had “disgustingly healthy habits”).
Suddenly, he could not go on. His muscles were seizing up, and he could hardly breathe. Apparently, it was a matter of dehydration or something of that sort — in any case, his electrolytes (which plants crave) were all out of whack. “The point of dehydration where I was is 50-60% fatal,” he added in a text to me today. “You more often die than live at that point. It was extremely dire and painful.” He thought this was it; he was dying. And as he lay more or less helpless on a bed in a medical facility later, trying to recover, he concluded that he was not happy with how he had lived his life thus far. He felt himself to be lacking the proper connection to something greater than himself.
Over the coming months, he plunged into a new sort of relationship with God, one with an evangelical flavor. For a time, his wife had a hard time dealing with the new Cameron. Then one day, he came home and she had undergone a conversion of her own. From then on, the Runyans were on the same journey, bringing their kids along with them.
For a good while, they attended services presided over by Det Bowers. Det was from Hampton County, where Cameron had grown up. And his life had followed in some ways a similar trajectory. Bowers was an attorney who managed Michael Dukakis’ campaign in South Carolina in 1988, and went on to become a preacher who would run to the right of Lindsey Graham in last year’s GOP primary.
But when Mr. Bowers gave up preaching, the Runyans ended up at Columbia’s First Presbyterian Church, well known as one of the most conservative large, brand-name congregations in the city. I showed my ignorance by saying that while I knew First Pres was pretty conservative, it wasn’t as conservative as A.R.P. Cameron said it is A.R.P. (which I think maybe I once knew, but had forgotten), and in fact the biggest Associate Reform Presbyterian church around.
A word or two about the A.R.P. denomination… While the only time I can recall entering an A.R.P. church was for Lee Bandy’s funeral, it looms large in my family tree. Look up the church’s history, and you see among the founders such names as Moffatt and Pressly, which are kin to my father’s mother. Erskine College is A.R.P., as was Erskine Caldwell, in spite of the sexually titillating books for which he became famous. In the years before my grandfather died in 1957, he and my grandmother had been living in a house on the edge of Due West owned by the president of Erskine. Billy Graham was brought up in an A.R.P. church, although he was later ordained as a Southern Baptist.
Among other things, Wikipedia notes that the denomination officially calls homosexuals “to repentance, cleansing, and deliverance in the saving power of Jesus Christ.”
So it is not surprising that when Cameron Runyan gets onto the subject of same-sex marriage, there is a good bit of talk about God’s will along with his objections to moral relativism, postmodernism and so forth.
I think I’ve fairly brought you up to date on that. Some other items from our conversation:
- When he voted as he did on the benefits issue, I recall that a number of people expressed disappointment in him as a Democrat. Well, he doesn’t consider himself to be a Democrat any longer. (Remember, city council elections are nonpartisan.) As evidence of that, he pointed to his support of Mr. Bowers in last year’s Senate primary.
- He didn’t want to talk about his relationship with Steve Benjamin who endorsed his candidacy last time around, and with whom he has been so closely allied for quite some time thereafter. But there are indications that that relationship is at best strained, compared to what it was.
- While he is running for re-election in November, he says he won’t run again for this seat, after this time. I did not gather from that that he was retiring from politics; he just doesn’t want to hold this seat past one more term.
- When I mentioned that it looked as though he had opposition, he said that yes, he’d heard that Joe Azar might run against him. He did not mention Tige Watts, whose yet-to-be-official candidacy has actually been the subject of some talk in the community.
Speaking of Mr. Watts, I’d best turn to my post about him…