David Brooks, Social Conservatives and City Transformation

Last week, David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times (June 30, 2015) titled, The Next Culture War. In his column, Brooks advocated for the kind of work that Christian leaders are quietly engaged with in cities all over America.

Brooks’ focus was on the decline in Christianity in the United States, the smaller share of Evangelicals in the U.S. electorate, and the recent Supreme Court decision supporting gay marriage. He took the opportunity to advocate a significant shift for social conservatives to make from the front lines of the current culture wars to offering collaborative service, social and spiritual capital in their cities and communities.

As Americans, Christians are often conflicted when deeply held moral and ethical positions are overridden by elections and/or court decisions. However, being an American and being a Christian represent two very different identities. Recent decisions on public policies should help Christians understand their cultural context and live counter-culturally.

Brooks wrote, “Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” The culture war makes people, who should be known for profound love and a commitment to equality and justice, appear to be neither loving nor just.

He writes, “Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commmitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.” He could substitute “Evangelical Christians” for his use of the term “social conservatives.” However, it’s good that he does not, because many of us find our place on the political spectrum to be somewhere between conservatives and liberals, who have become so polemic that sensible public policy seems to get lost in the rhetoric.

Here’s where Christian leaders’ work in cities and David Brooks’ viewpoint dovetail. It’s when he writes, “The defining face of social conservativism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spritutal poverty reinforce each other.  Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” I would add, Those are the people who seek the peace and prosperity of their city and offer hope.

When we take an approach that is innovative and collaborative that focuses on “what people care about” in cities and communities, Christians will enter the public square and find they become valued partners. I’ve written a short e-book about how this is already taking place in a number of cities and to offer a method that will give many thousands of people an opportunity to engage in helping every city to become a good city; to move toward city transformation in ways that help repair the fabric of our communities and, as David Brooks writes, “…to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.”

Free eBook: Multiply Volunteers and Resources

The ebook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources, is being offered as a valuable tool to engage leaders throughout your city or community in signiicant work that addresses causal issues, not just the symptoms. Click the button here or in the side bar to download your copy today.

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City Transformation as A Platform

In our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Eric Swanson introduced a creative approach when he gave a 20 minute presentation titled “City Transformation as a Platform” (his full presentation is available at the end of this post). His belief is that the real power of a decentralized network in a city is found in the many ways that people live out their callings and yet, unify under a city transformation vision.
Swanson notes that people will find their place within a common vision if it serves their own self interest. He distinguishes between self interest and selfish interests by stating that self interest is a belief from those involved that they will get more out of being involved with the movement than through non-involvement. Selfish interest is a viewpoint that only engages because of a self-promoting ulterior motive (i.e. a sales rep who gets involved in a volunteer organization to make sales instead of to accomplish the goals of the volunteer organization.)
He compares this new approach to Web 2.0 which has radically changed our online experiences. Web 1.0 offered a way for people and organizations to share information about themselves with others. Web 2.0 offers an interactive experience where internet users pursue their interests and engage information and organizations to get what they are looking for. In Web 2.0 Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are four big platforms where internet users find what they need.
Swanson asks, “How can we be more like…
  • YouTube not ABC?
  • Wikipedia not Encyclopedia Britannica?
  • Airbnb not Marriott Hotels?
  • Twitter not Associated Press?
  • A playground not Little League?

City movements become much more powerful when they lift a transformational vision that engages people and organizations in their self interest. Swanson listed the kinds of self interests that various parties within city movements hold deeply to give examples of why they may become involved. These self interests include:

When city transformation becomes a platform rather than only residing in an organization, the work of a city movement will experience new levels of effectiveness.

Download Slides From Eric Swanson’s City Transformation as a Platform

The full presentation  below was recorded at our GoodCities Leadership Gathering. The video of Eric was pretty shaky, although the audio was very good, so this presentation shows a few stills of Eric interspersed throughout the presentation of his slide deck.

The Arts, Job Creation, and Community Transformation in Italy

Tonight on All Things Considered, a story that demonstrates how Christians involved in the arts in the second, third, and fourth centuries were brought together with impoverished youth by a visionary priest to restore both the artistic creations and prosperity of this younger generation. Christopher Livesay in his story, “Under the Streets of Naples, A Way Out for Local Kids”, reports on how Don Antonio Loffredo arrived in the rough and tumble Sanita neighborhood of Naples ten years ago and “…found three levels of frescoes, chapels, and cubicles beneath the neighborhood’s trash-strewn streets.”

Don Loffredo began to engage the youth in their teens to help him clean out these early Christian catacombs and reveal the artistic treasures within. In the process, the youth created a thriving business that today employs forty. “Before the the full-scale makeover, roughly 5,000 visitors came per year. Now it’s up to 40,000.”

This is a prime example of how community transformation occurs through asset based community development. This is the missional church at its best. The outcomes in work like this move the social indicators and create good cities.The 5 minute story of community transformation combines an appreciation for the arts and job creation. Click here to listen to this compelling story.