For the Common Good

Newsletter No. 16

Anne Snyder
Anne Snyder is the editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, a publication of Cardus, and the creator and host of Breaking Ground. From 2016 to 2019 she directed The Philanthropy Roundtable‘s Character Initiative, a program seeking to help foundations and business leaders re-envision the nature and shape of formative institutions needed for social and moral renewal in the United States. Her path-breaking guidebook, The Fabric of Character, was published in 2019. Anne is also a 2020 Emerson Fellow, a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow, and a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank that explores how cities can drive opportunity for the bulk of their citizens. She has published widely, and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

Allow me to take a stylistic detour in this week’s newsletter. Next week, Breaking Ground will unveil a long-planned cultural artifact that we trust will layer some grace and moral muscle onto our naked public square. Back when theology was considered a viable source of knowledge in the Western world, or, perhaps more accurately, a moral lens with some authority, mainstream newspapers would publish sermons of particular poignance and social implication. Given the upsurge in existential reflection and moral casting about this 2020, it seemed worthwhile for Breaking Ground to revive this tradition as an offering of public theology in an era of crisis and recalibration . . . for the common good.

Enter The Sermonizer. With the help of select seminaries, respected pastors, and discerning lay people, we are going to be publishing a curated archive of historic and contemporary sermons of proven social consequence, from four distinct theological traditions: the Black Church, the Catholic Church, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Reformed tradition. I will explain our choice of these four “lanes” next week, but for now, consider helping us. Chances are you are familiar with signature voices within your own tradition that others would be much edified by, if only they knew the name. Our criteria demand that each sermon be:

. . . in vivid, clear response to a large crisis of the land (past or present); discerning of “the signs of the times” in which preached.

. . . creedal—in agreement and accord with the trinitarian nature of the Nicene Creed.

. . . empowering of distinctive Christian engagement of civic life and the public square.

. . . prophetic and potentially life-transforming, and taking more cues from biblical wisdom on questions of justice and the order of loves than the reigning paradigms of our present landscape.

. . . in alignment with these six editorial principles that guide all of Breaking Ground’s editorial judgments and public engagement: excellence, hospitality and collaboration, humility and discernment, contextual sensitivity, hope and generativity, and in service to practitioners.

In other programmatic news, we have established an events calendar promoting events hosted by our partner organizations that speak to Breaking Ground‘s animating questions, namely:

1. Seeing clearly and deeply: What exactly is being revealed in this layered crisis? About society? About the state of our own hearts?

2. Learning from the past: How have plagues historically provided opportunities for new beginnings, new building, a renewal of institutions?

3. Imagining the future: What institutions need renewing now, and how might that happen? What might be born anew in this time, and how might God’s people help in the building?

This budding institutional ecosystem is hosting a treasure trove of thoughtful people asking what we at Breaking Ground consider to be the right questions, even if the answers are not singular in nature, and modeling a form of deep listening and humility besides. We highly encourage your participation in any one of the events on this page.

Finally, the first season of BG’s podcast, The Whole Person Revolution, wrapped up two weeks ago with a probing interview about the present and future shape of the sacred sector with Dave Hillis and Cornelius Williams. The second season is going to widen the sphere of inquiry to focus on each sphere of civil society as traditionally understood—education, healthcare, law, politics, journalism, religion, business, non-profit, and social service—and learn what Christian actors within see as stuck, dying, and/or being midwifed in the midst of this earthquake year. We hope you’ll tune in, and feel free to recommend guests!