Pastor Josh Miller says his heart breaks when he reads political discussions on social media.
“We have gotten really good at sharpening our knives,” said Miller, who leads a South Side church called The Bridge.
That’s one reason why Miller joined with two other community leaders to create Selfless Ambition, a new faith-based organization that aims to bring together members of Dane County’s churches, along with business and nonprofit officials, in an effort to tackle some of the area’s thorniest issues.
The group, which will announce its launch this week, plans to host neighborhood block parties this summer as part of its Good Neighbor Initiative to help get a sense of how it can bolster community development efforts.
And it’s working on a new website, chronicling the perspectives of a diverse group of Christian writers, to address the problems Miller sees on social media and do what might sound impossible: Have substantive, respectful and productive conversations in an online forum about issues such as race, criminal justice and economic development.
“Madison is an awesome city and we have some huge challenges, and we don’t always have that conversation in a healthy way,” Miller said. “We just want to host a different kind of conversation.”
Henry Sanders — the publisher of Madison365 and a core member of Selfless Ambition along with Miller and Pastor Jon Anderson of Door Creek Church on Madison’s Far East Side — said the new site would cover similar topics as the outlet he co-founded in 2015 to share stories and commentary from writers of color.
But Sanders said the writing on Selfless Ambition, which will launch in July, will come from a distinctly Christian perspective — a “Jesus lens,” that is meant to showcase the diversity of opinion among members of local churches.
The organizers hope the site helps people see they agree on more than they might have thought with people who have different perspectives.
“You attract people who want to have really thoughtful conversations,” Sanders said. “The overall conversations are really healthy debates.”
Activating local church groups
Selfless Ambition also plans to take its work offline, using the knowledge of its members and what Miller called the “tremendous resource engine that is the church in Dane County.”
The project plans to connect local congregations with neighborhoods that need support, and to have those churches work closely with area residents to understand where communities need help and how to go about providing it.
Miller and Sanders stressed their mission will not be to proselytize in the communities — their goal, according to Sanders, will be to “come in humbly and … listen.”
Selfless Ambition is planning to hold block parties starting in late July to hear from residents of the neighborhoods around Aldo Leopold Park on the South Side, Mendota Elementary on the North Side and Lighthouse Christian School on the Near West Side.
Once members know a community’s needs, Miller said, local churches can muster financial resources and tens of thousands of potential volunteers to chip in and help.
There are many local churches that are already doing community development and support work well, Sanders said. His organization hopes to bring them together and multiply the impact they have.
“We’ve gone about trying to address these issues in an isolated manner,” Sanders said. “To have true change, to have true transformation, you have to build relationships, you have to build trust and you also have to do it in a comprehensive and a sustained way.”