Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Emerging Urban Conservative

Part 1 of an occasional series...

This morning I was reminded why I am a conflicted voter.

We got up at 6:45 to get our kids off to school. Now, school is 2 miles away and starts at 8:00, so some of you may be asking why we get up so early to start the process, but for those of you who have kids, you understand.

So every day we have breakfast with our four kids at 7 am. Our kids have never known anything else - it's normal for them.

But for many, many kids in the city (and increasingly in other places) having breakfast with your parents is anything but normal.

This is the source of my conflicted politics. Let me explain, using the Breakfast example.

Many people assert, and I would agree, that school is the place you go for education. Not for parenting, not for essential life skills, not for self-esteem or counseling, and not for breakfast. Back in the day, schools taught kids math and history and science and reading, and many kids brought their own lunches in cool metal lunch boxes with pictures of Speed Racer or some other hero (remember them?). Other kids got hot lunch that their parents paid for - because after all, that is what parents do right? They provide for their kids. So breakfast happened at home, courtesy of mom and dad.

But the reality for lots of kids is parents who do not or cannot provide. There are many reasons for this:

In some cases, both parents have to work in order to stay afloat, and leave home very early. Breakfast is nearly impossible to pull off.

Too many kids grow up with single moms, for a variety of reasons. Breakfast at home becomes a luxury.

Many more kids, like in my wife's old school, have parents who are still kids themselves, or absent, or drug-addicted, or completely broken in some way. The caregivers range from babysitters to Grandma or some other relative to friends of the family to nobody. Really.

Most of this mess is the result of someone's sin. From greedy corporate executives to generations of sinful choices regarding sex, drugs and alcohol, other people's sinful choices cave in on these children and rob them of normality.

Some of the mess is simply a result of difficult circumstances. Either way, it's the kids who pay.

So back to my politics...

My conservative, Republican side says that to saddle the schools with the responsibility to play a parental role is bad for a million reasons. It distracts from the mission of the school to educate, it absolves the irresponsible parent of responsibility, and it turns the government into something of a Big Brother... a Nanny. Those are all valid points, and one of the reasons I'm a Republican (albeit an uncomfortable one).

But the urban side of me recognizes that if the government, by means of the schools, does not feed these kids breakfast, they will not be fed.

We can pontificate all we want about how the church should be doing this and that, but at the moment it is not doing it, and kids need to eat today.

And I believe passionately that the Gospel breaks the chains of sin and irresponsibility and turns losers (like me) into functional people and great parents. I have seen it happen over and over again as people in the 'hood and elsewhere in the city get saved and experience the awesome sanctification of the Holy Spirit, and over time become highly functional people who give back to their communities and raise strong families. This is why I do what I do.

So I wish for a smaller, simpler government but recognize that current reality demands government intrusion in an ostensibly parental responsibility.

I wish for greater individual responsibility for sure, but recognize the reality that there is a corporate responsibility of a society for its needier members. I don't think there is a political party for those realities.

So I am an Emerging Urban Conservative

Conservative because I resonate with the essential tenets of political, social and fiscal conservatism: Small, effecient government with a limited role and great accountability to an educated electorate; taxation that allows essential governmental function without hindering businesses or placing an undue burden on taxpayers; and morality that places value on human life at all its stages and on the responsibility of the individual. I have a real theological problem with people trusting in government for everything. I do not believe it is biblically justifiable, especially for Christians who claim we must trust God.

Urban because the realities of the city cut to the heart of the human condition and cut through the political crap. You see the best and worst here, where the artificial glaze of suburbia is removed. It is in an urban environment that flawed ideology, whether left or right, gets exposed for what it is (even if it still clings to life, as Democratic nonsense does here in Chicago). Despite all my Republican convictions, the reality of the city shows me that life is too complicated for bootstrap ideology. There's a reason there are hardly any Republicans in Chicago!

Emerging because more and more people, especially Christians, are beginning to see that no political system solves all the problems or is substantially in line with biblical thought. There is a political ideology emerging among us that abandons old ideological and political loyalties and instead lives in a messy tension.

You should think about joining me!

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Blogger Aaron said...

well said my friend!

February 4, 2009 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I owe a lot of this thinking to you bro. You forced me to see things from a different angle, and I'm the better for it.

February 4, 2009 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...


I now work at an Alternative School (a big conversation for a different day), but I completely understand where you are coming from:

* Our kids eat breakfast here, at the school
* Many of them have little to no relationship with their parents
* The School is, in a sense, "raising them."

I think I could be an EUC...I gotta think about calling myself an "Emerging" anything (overrated).

February 6, 2009 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Steve said...


I hear you on that one! But it does seem to get attention...

I'm open to suggestions!

February 6, 2009 at 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Nina-Marie said...

Wow, Steve. I'm so glad that there are people willing to tell the truth and stop trying to give it a pretty glaze. Thanks for telling it like it is. Unfortunately, I feel like the Church in America doesn't know how to function as the Church. The Bride of Christ described in the Bible is our standard, and we are definitely falling short.

February 7, 2009 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Steve S. said...

I'm not sure how I ended up on this blog, but I'm glad I did. I'm not sure I can call myself an EUC as I think I'm took far removed from the big city to be able to fully understand the Urban part of it. But I agree with the ideas that you stated. I often feel torn as a Catholic on certain issues that have me leaning one way politically but the opposite way as a true Christian.

One thing that I wanted to mention was how do we break this cycle of child neglect? Christopher's mention of an Alternative School just makes me sad to think that there will always be a need for a school to provide parental duties. Children shouldn't be expected to care and fend for themselves, but how do we force parents to become more responsible. As a rural bumpkin looking in and reading my history books, my takeaway is that government handouts are the answer. They haven't worked to improve inner-city society in the past 40+ years; I would even say that the situation has worsened. How do we stop the vicious cycle?


February 9, 2009 at 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Steve S. said...

Sorry, for the edit...I meant to say in my previous post that "government handouts are NOT the answer." Big difference in what I want to convey. :-)


February 9, 2009 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger The Gyrovague said...

Definitely an Emerging Conservative, I am on that road with you. I do not quite live in as urban of area as you, but I know the ideals of which you speak, and we need to get the ideas out.

I guess we are post modern conservatives?

February 10, 2009 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Steve S:

I'm with you on the government handouts, bro. History does not show too much progress. Still, the problem I illustrated is real and the Government is the only party having real impact at the moment.

Ideally, the government would serve as a transition back to family and/or personal function. The historical problem is that once the government gets empowered, it rarely gives that up, and so we get an entitlement culture.

Ultimately, at least from a political perspective, I think that is the only solution: Government must have a role, but it has to be intentionally transient. People need to be self-sufficient in order to have any dignity and functionality.

Good luck reining the monster in, right?


Interesting on the postmodern angle... I'd have to think about that. Overall I think postmodern thought has many more cons than pros - it's generally unrealistic. But perhaps I see your point - the "living in tension" part seems postmodern in many ways.

The reality is that neat political thought systems do not interface with the messiness of real life very well. As a Christian, I see especially how the attempt at making life fit perfectly into a human construct is flawed thinking.

Personally, I do not think there are real, lasting solutions outside of the reign of Jesus Himself. Human depravity will somehow find a way to mess up whatever construct we build.

Until Jesus comes, though, we labor to help people, starting with their need for reconciliation with their creator. Sometimes that help means leveraging the government.

February 10, 2009 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...

Jesus. Yes. Great point Steve.

February 10, 2009 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger hammerdad said...


Urban? definitely. Emerging? I don't know if people are actually moving. Conservative? I am leery of using evangelical, conservative or fundamentalist these days. . . so much baggage.

One thing you are clearly stepping on both sides of the political divide is to say that you don't trust government but do see the pragmatic need and moral value in feeding children.

As whites we often have this tension in government. At heart we say that government is a necessary evil, never does anything well and should be merely tolerated. At the other end of the racial and/or political spectrum is a view that says government is the source of deliverance and our pathway to a just society.

I am torn, as perhaps you are. I have come to the conclusion that ending slavery, instilling civil rights and jump starting the economy are all things that only the government can/could. Add education to that, providing medical care to all, keeping the country safe, making agreements binding and enforceable leading to the creation of capital and therefore wealth. . . these are all governmental functions that are never done well but perhaps can only be done through govt, mainly federal.

I don't know what all that makes me but for sure it means I'm no southerner!!

And yes, of course, I wish the church could and would do more. . .

February 11, 2009 at 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Julius said...

Very interesting Steve, I like it!

February 14, 2009 at 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why do you think we need labels?

February 23, 2009 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I don't know if we NEED them, but as with denominational labels, they serve a purpose. They help define, I guess.

Of course there are pros and cons to identifying my political convictions this way, but so far it has been a helpful processing tool.

February 23, 2009 at 3:07 PM  

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