Given the number of Americans who identity with no religion, the aggressive anti-Christian agenda of some atheists, and those who water down the practice of traditional Christianity, practicing Christians would do well to remember and recite how the faith community builds social capital.
Below is my column that appeared last week in the Tennessean. While it focuses on what the faith community has done over the past year to build social capital in Nashville, I suspect – I hope – that similar stories could be told in other communities.
Take a look at these examples. Consider what the faith community has done where you live.
Here’s what I wrote:
Faith is mostly missing – with one brief exception – from the TV drama “Nashville.”
That’s puzzling given Nashville’s reputation as the buckle on the Bible Belt with three of the country’s largest faith-based publishing houses, three good-sized faith-affiliated universities and a host of houses of faith.
Faith is also missing from much of the discourse in the public square, especially the role houses of faith play in building social capital.
As the health care industry adds financial capital, schools supply educational capital and the entertainment industry contributes to cultural capital, the faith community brings social capital. See it in the common good, the degree of civility, the care for the vulnerable.
Four events illustrate how the faith community in 2012 built up the city’s social capital.
First was an event in January, hosted by Loews Hotel, where 100 clergy, including three area bishops, screened the documentary “Gospel Without Borders” and advocated for the decent treatment of the undocumented.
Two months earlier, Loews hosted a similar event. Two months later, clergy had a day on Capitol Hill, where they spoke to the boiling anti-immigration fever.
Through ongoing initiatives, faith leaders built enough social capital that Tennessee didn’t take the low road of demonization travelled by neighboring states – Alabama and Georgia – with punitive anti-immigration laws.
Second was a show at Lipscomb University in June. “Tokens” poked fun at evangelical Christians, noting their challenge of voting for a Democrat or a Mormon.
It also offered a prophetic witness about Christian-Muslim relations with scholars from each tradition speaking constructively about their faith and the role of faith in advancing the common good.
A few months later, the university hosted an event for the family of Abraham – those of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith.
Such events added to interfaith civility in Nashville, which differs from other cities besmirched by anti-Islamic initiatives.
Third was a 700-person luncheon at Belmont University in October for a remarkable ministry begun by First Baptist Nashville, but now with widespread ecumenical support.
The Next Door is one of Nashville’s crown jewels. If women released from the Tennessee Prison for Women complete The Next Door’s program, they have a much lower recidivism rate.
Recidivism is a crippling problem with an estimated 40 percent of released inmates nationwide re-entering prison within a few years.
Add to that the costs of prison that are busting budgets. Any effort that reduces the recidivism rate adds to the social capital of a community.
Fourth was a race on Belle Meade Boulevard on Thanksgiving morning that drew 8,600 participants.
Sponsored by three congregations, the Boulevard Bolt has raised $2 million in 19 years with funds going to more than 30 organizations that help the homeless.
In addition to revenue, the event itself builds a civic spirit.
The race affords Nashvillians an opportunity to transcend the city’s religious, racial and economic divides. The community feels better about itself and demonstrates its commitment to care for others.
These are but a few of the positive examples of how the faith community builds Nashville’s social capital. Nashville is what it is in no small measure because of faith.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.