Eric Metaxas has written a fabulous essay called "Cultural Elites | The Next Unreached People Group" in which he tells the powerful story of William Wilberforce, The Clapham Circle, and how what they were able achieve 200 years ago in Britain is immensely applicable today. You might recognize his name as "the free the slaves guy". And he WAS that. In fact he was one of the most societally He actually founded Freetown Sierra Leone as the first British colony in Africa purposed by "the abolition of the slave trade, the civilization of Africa, and the introduction of the gospel" Amazing right? A lofty dream that would keep many a social justice minded Christian up at night spiritually drooling over. But THAT was not possible without cultural & social reformation in their motherland.
Explain further how cultural elites fit in to slavery abolition? Here's a story Metaxas tells about his NYC home and it's celebrity culture:
"I’ll begin by telling you about the night talkshow host Dick Cavett and I went to see Mickey Rooney perform. This is not a joke. Before the show I got to meet Mickey, along with the photographer Richard Avedon. It was a trip. But the point of this is what happened later that evening, in a Park Avenue bistro, where Cavett and I bumped into a Catholic priest friend of mine. Suddenly, as though it had been eating at him for years, Cavett asked the priest where the Golden Rule came from. The priest, knowing Cavett to be brilliant and well-educated, reached way back and came up with the actual Hebrew passage from the Old Testament, which Jesus would have been referring to when he so famously spoke it in the New Testament. But that’s not what Cavett was after. He didn’t know Jesus had given us the Golden Rule. That’s what he was asking! It was an odd moment watching the priest and the pundit missing each other, and realizing that my favorite smartguy didn’t know what most American fifth-graders know. Why? Because for the last fifty years he had been living among the intellectual and cultural elites of Manhattan – folks like Woody Allen and Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael, people so secular when compared to the rest of the country that they wouldn’t have known it was Jesus either. And if they had, they wouldn’t have brought it up at George Plimpton’s cocktail party or at Paloma Picasso’s opening. Get it?"
What does this have to do with changing the world? Everything. Because, for good or for ill, it is the cultural elites who determine much of what goes on in the rest of the culture, who can set the tone and content of the cultural conversation. They can determine what we sneer at and what we ooh at and ahh at. Not that they are trying to do this. It’s just the way things are"
Aside from issues like slavery, William Wilberforce's other passion was influencing a deep-root cultural transformation in England because he knew that:
- Truth was truth everywhere and his home needed revolution too
- Transforming the culture of influence and resource would take his third world mission from peanuts to peanut fields so to speak.
His driving force became this powerful thought:
"Make Goodness Fashionable"
His group of friends committed to change became known as "The Clapham Circle" and was made up of merchants, CEO's, politicians, professors, lawyers, clergy and entertainers. They became collectively committed to make goodness fashionable, putting their own egos aside and instead pooling talents for the benefit of others... to "insiders" as "insiders". They combated the rampant secularism, specifically with the cultural elites, that very negatively filtered down into everyday life.
"The elites set the extraordinarily low cultural standards, being as hedonistic and selfish as anything we can imagine outside Versailles; they gave nothing to the poor and did nothing to help them. As far as they were concerned, the poor deserved to be poor, and they deserved to be rich. End of discussion. The effect of this was incalculable, and throughout the whole of the 18th century extreme poverty and social chaos held sway, complete with public displays of animal cruelty, epidemic alcoholism among all classes, and every other kind of social horror. One contemporary statistic paints the grim picture: 25 percent of all single women in London were prostitutes. Their average age was sixteen.
Still, despite these longest of odds Wilberforce and his devout friends somehow succeeded in radically changing the cultural conversation and climate over a few decades. By Wilberforce’s death in 1833, they had managed to bring a Christian worldview into the cultural mainstream for the first time in modern history. To say that it was miraculous is merely to know the details. And they did it, as we have said, by showing their faith through works, and by moving principally in culturally elite circles."
"The ethos of Clapham became the spirit of the age"
Historian Stephen Tomkins
My vision is to see the macro-infiltration of the SPIRIT behind kindness. And through it all... I've found a hunger with the "cultural elite" locally for something MORE. We're beginning to locally see goodness become fashionable. And it's making a grass roots difference in Brantford. The Kindness Project seeks to facilitate change on a city-wide scale, towards ordinary people taking care of each other through co-ordinated kindness. I want to see this because:
- Jesus Christ taught his friends to ask his Father God for "His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven" and then he sent his buddies, from many sectors of society, into the world to help show the love they'd experienced. That "Kingdom come" includes prosperity and provision for needs aplenty. And we, together, HAVE the resource.
- There are selfish elements of our society that need transformation for our OWN good
- There are selfish elements of our society that need transformation for the good of others near AND far.
There are lagging continents, cultures, neighborhoods and families on our globe that could and CAN flourish if "goodness becomes fashionable". This vision is DOABLE.