On “loving the city” long-term (in contrast to well-intentioned hipster, neo-paternalistic versions)

On “loving the city” long-term (in contrast to well-intentioned hipster, neo-paternalistic versions)

By Anthony Bradley on January 8, 2011 9:14 AM |

There seems to be competing visions about what it means to “love the city.” It seems that many approach it from the perspective of justice and mercy (like the black church) or from the perspective of the arts and culture (hipsters) or some combination of both (well-intentioned but gentrifying suburban elites with short-term programmatic approaches) . My personal concerns about justice and mission, as well as the Christian tradition’s teaching about society, beginning with subsidiarity and Althusius, lead me to understand that loving the city has little to do with opening up art galleries, coffee shops, “cool” pubs, organic grocery stores, etc., or making it a more enjoyable place for elites to live in and/or visit the city.

For me, loving the city, with respect to mission, has more to do with things like:

(1) Fighting for marriage.”The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent.”

(2) Fighting against abortion, foster care, and for adoption. “In New York, for example, In NYC, Black’s have a 59.8% abortion rate, Hispanics have a 41.3% abortion rate, Asians have a 22.7% abortion rate, and Whites have a 20.4% abortion rate “(prob b/c of the pill). One-third of all kids in foster care are black. There is real race bias in this system.

(3) Working against ethnic violence. “The alarming statistics about violence among African-American boys and men is so oft-cited that they have become clichés: for example, “black men are the leading cause of death among young blacks [male and female]”; “1 in 146 black males are at risk of violent death”; and though comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 43 percent of all murder victims are black, compounded by the fact that 93 percent of them are killed by other blacks.”

(4) Rescuing urban children from substandard education. The Schott Foundation recently reported that only 47 percent of black males graduate from high school on time, compared to 78 percent of white male students.

(5) Helping hurting people to not self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol. “The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the highest rate of current (past month) illicit drug use was among American Indian/Alaska Natives (13.7%), followed by blacks/African Americans (9.8%), persons reporting two or more races (8.9%), whites (8.5%), Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders (7.5%), and Hispanics (6.9%). The lowest rate of current illicit drug use was among Asians (3.6%)”

(6) Working to fight HIV/AIDS proliferation. “Blacks/African Americans accounted for 52% of new HIV diagnoses and 48% of AIDS diagnoses in 2008. Of the total number of people living with HIV in 2007 in the 37 U.S. states and 5 dependent areas, 46% were black/African American; 32% white; 20% Hispanic/Latino; 0.8% multiple races; 0.6% Asian; 0.4% American Indian/Alaska Native; and 0.04% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.

Among men diagnosed with AIDS in 2008, 52% of black/African American men, 63% of Hispanic/Latino men and 78% of white men became infected with HIV through male-to-male sexual contact. Among women diagnosed with AIDS in 2008, 77% of black/African American women, 75% of Hispanic/Latino women and 65% of white women became infected through heterosexual contact.”

(7) Working to increase employment by supporting the growth of for-profit businesses that provide entry level positions as well as sustainable employment opportunities. As of Dec 2010, the unemployment rate for blacks is around 16% and for whites it’s around 8.5%

These seem to be the most pressing issues that are destroying cities. I’m not saying that the arts, coffee shops, Trader Joe’s, organic farmers’ markets, pubs with European bear, and the like, don’t matter but black men don’t end up in prison because there were no art shows in their neighborhoods. But they will say that they never had a father (85% of youth incarcerated for any reason are from fatherless homes). It seems that having an HIV/AIDS care community is more needed than a Christian Study Center or a live music venue.

So if churches claim that they are “all about the city” you would assume to find an emphasis on, and money spent doing, the following: (1) discipling black, Latino, and immigrant men, (2) planting churches with minorities or disadvantage communities in the city, (3) establishing programs and relationships that strengthen marriage rates among the disadvantaged, (4) providing alternative living and community arrangements for women so that they do not abort their babies; adopting orphans above 2 years old, starting well-run orphanages, (5) not tutoring programs but actually starting new schools for disadvantaged children and become long-term public school teachers and administrators, etc., (6) caring for HIV/AIDS patients, (7) encouraging (by starting businesses or helping to provide incentives for) sustainable for-profit companies to locate near the unemployed and those who are low-skilled to provide employment opportunities that allow adults to care for themselves and their families. (8) supporting police efforts to fight crime, and so on.

These are not short-term programs that can be handled by any local church’s deaconate nor any single faith-based non-profit. The real needs of the city require men and women working at multiple-levels who are thinking LONG-TERM about social, political, moral, and economic solutions that create a free and virtuous city so as to promote human dignity. A way of life that does not encourage dependence on charity and truly liberates those in the city to live in ways consistent with being made in the image of God. This requires churches to be honest about their limits and for church goers to think differently about their vocations.

If your program, missional church, or lifestyle are not about the things above nor has any long-term plan for addressing these things you may be in the city to consume it and gentrify it. Being a consuming “gentrifier,” however, is also fine. Really, it is. It’s ok because market forces and gentrification change cities for the good as well. Just call it what it is: market-driven, not mercy driven. You want the city to be homogeneous for your enjoyment. That’s cool too, some would say.

As such, one would expect that on Sunday a church that’s really “loving the city” making claims about “renewing the city,” and so on, would have pews filled with single black and Latino adults, single moms, pregnant women, ex-cons, neighborhood children, substance abusing addicts, HIV/AIDS patients, the unemployed, and so on, in addition to those elites who have the opposite providence in order to transfer human capital and demonstrate solidarity with those who are disadvantaged.

Cities do not need more churches and organizations providing “ministry opportunities” but those committed to a way of life.

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