Songs of a Nation… Culture and Politics
“Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.”
— Damon of Athens, one of Plato’s contemporaries
The Clapham Group was built on the belief that culture is upstream of politics, but that does necessarily make culture more important than politics. And with the recent news that Senator Santorum, my former boss, is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in some polls, it is an opportune time to reflect on this understanding of the role of the moral imagination in shaping awareness understanding, and response to injustice. The above featured photo of Rick and me with long time friend Michael W. Smith captures a glimpse of the developing story of how we have engaged the culture thesis.
For the record, I have worked with the Senator for over 20 years, overseeing in one capacity or another his campaigns as well as serving him on official staff. I am currently one of his two senior advisors for his Presidential run. He has been a friend, confidante and I was honored to assist him on the Hill, while his top staffer, on many of the projects that we have undertaken here at Clapham: human trafficking, education for the underprivileged, human life and dignity, domestic and global poverty, religious persecution, global health and animal cruelty.
The Clapham Group is named after the small community of 19th century Evangelicals – including William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament – who addressed such social ills as human trafficking and abusive labor laws. They also pursued the “reformation of manners” which we would understand now as an effort to address the coarsening of culture and breakdown of basic social values, such as the rise of out of wedlock births (which in some quarters in America is now over 70%). Their efforts ushered in the Victorian Age of charity and manners.
Importantly, their efforts also tactically incorporated the engagement of “culture.” In the case of the abolition of slavery in the form of songs, poems and even dinner plates (Josiah Wedgwood). In the case of the reformation of manners movement in the form of short stories and plays. In both cases, this small group understood the inherent limitation of “coercion through legislation” in shaping the common good, and appealed to our better selves through the moral imagination. If you have not seen it, the film Amazing Grace, produced by Walden Media and which we helped promote, is a full feature account of Wilberforce’s and the community’s efforts to end the slave trade.
We at Clapham believe that in a postmodern context, “story” is necessary to communicate fundamental truths about social ills and the world in which we aspire to create for the common good. Through film we have addressed unwanted pregnancy (Bella), human trafficking (Trade and Amazing Grace), restorative justice (Take), global AIDS (Lazarus Affect), climate change (Cool It) and sexual responsibility (Jonas Brothers).
We have architected online campaigns on religious persecution (One with Them), music tours on animal cruelty (All Creatures music tour with The Myriad), trauma and forced rape in the Congo (She’s My Sister) and even a graphic novel www.Ratfist.com that explores the virtues of enterprise and entrepenurship.
We have also followed another important model of the original Clapham Group, to work with “cobelligerents” … people we may differ with on a number issues, but we can enthusiastically work with on at least the one.
We invite you to peruse our website, and enjoy our monthly columns. Each takes a unique perspective of the nexus of faith, culture and cause, and whether you agree with us or not, you will hopefully enjoy a thoughtful and respectful exploration of the topic.
And drop us a line. If you want to join me on the road with the senator, let me know. It would be fun. But if there is a different road you travel this fall, let’s find another one we can travel on together. I would enjoy your company on this journey we are on together as we look to plant gardens that bear the fruit of justice and goodness, as Jesus asked us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.”