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Left-Wing Mainline Cognitive Structure and IAF Organizing in Metro Nashville

 Michael Byrd

Learning Technology Center
Box 45
Peabody College
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN 37203-0045




Social Justice as a Mediating Principle for Left-Wing Mainline Religion

The Metropolitan Challenges on Organizational Effectiveness





The purpose of this paper is to analyze the reasons for the general effectiveness of Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organizing in Nashville, Tennessee called Tying Nashville Together (TNT) over the last eight years. The factors contributing to this effectiveness primarily involve integrative netorks in Nashville's religious community and the ideological structures that align participant beliefs and movement goals. Secondarily, Nashville's political and economic particularities influence the effectiveness of the IAF effort. My intention in identifying these dimensions is analytical: in reality they do not stand apart or alone, but often engender and support one another. Teasing out these categories aids in understanding movement dynamics.

I intend to primarily focus on the social psychological aspects of TNT, because they reveal the reasons that participants have for mutual engagement in religious institutions and the public arena. As I demonstrate, a principle of social justice provides the precept, rationale, and motive for this engagement. The procedure followed here is first to demonstrate that the social networks that Mark Warren refers to as social capital and the intersubjective or cognitive structures that morally justify participation in TNT (Warren, 1995; Sherkat and Ellison, 1997). This section shows that TNT is characterized primarily by left-wing mainline religious adherents on the basis of the principle of social justice. In the final section I provide an analysis of the Nashville political economy and its influence on organizing and voluntarism.

Social Justice as a Mediating Principle for Left-Wing Mainline Religion

The religious institutions that have participated in TNT are well-suited to community efforts with respect to two different dimensions. One is the social capital that congregations provide, i.e., those personal networks, norms and trust that facilitate action coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Warren, 1995). At its most basic collective level, TNT is constructed from the interdenominational, intercongregational relations between Nashville clergy, laity, and residential leaders. Nashville has an impressive potential resource base upon which organizers can draw when it comes to religious organizations. As religion reporter Ray Waddle observes, "Nashville's six hundred congregations, an equaled proportion for so large a city, are a large pool for TNT recruitment" (1993). These conditions have been good for the political mobilization of various religious movements. For instance, interdenominational coalitions have formed to oppose parimutuel gambling in the 1980s and alcohol vendors at the new Nashville Arena in the 1990s.

However, religious coalitions have rarely formed around proactive initiatives to influence public policy. As Waddle continues, "this is also a mecca for scores of Protestant agencies and identities, a landscape that has traditionally engendered balkanization: spiritually, Nashville is . . . resistant to ecumenical pleas." Nashville's large conservative Protestant community, including Southern Baptists, Churches of Christ, and Pentecostal/Holiness churches have shown little interest in anything more than reactive mobilization to stop certain policies, like opposition to horse tracks and alcohol. At the same time that a significant pool of faith communities exists in Nashville, as long-time community activist Rev. Bill Barnes observes, TNT probably represents "the only possibility that any congregations have to affect public policy."

This possibility is based on a small coalition of what I refer to as left-wing mainline congregations. Mainline churches are those "dominant, culturally established faiths held by the majority of Americans" (Roof and McKinney, 1987). Consistent with mainline congregations elsewhere, groups most likely to participate in IAF's Nashville efforts are those that alloy faith and society. TNT's constituency reflects cultural orientations to the actual world, acceptance of the latent possibilities of the social environment, and a disposition for neo-populism. By classifying these congregations as "left-wing," I mean to indicate that these networks attract churches and synagogues largely from moderate-to-liberal and African American denominations. Given the fact that Nashville is in the center of "Bible-belt" culture, i.e., largely southern environment where evangelical and conservative Protestantism predominates, left-wing mainliners actually constitute a relatively smaller resource pool upon which to draw.

Consequently, TNT enjoys the support of only a fraction of the total six hundred congregations in Nashville. The number of actively participating congregations in TNT has consistently averaged around twenty or twenty-five.1 Nearly all of the congregations in TNT fall within the parameters of what Roof and McKinney label as either liberal, moderate, or African American. TNT enjoys the support of two Jewish synagogues, which are typically the most liberal of American mainliners. The largest number of participating Protestant congregations are from liberal denominations. These include three Episcopalian churches, two United Churches of Christ, and four Presbyterian churches. Moderate congregations are represented largely by six Methodist churches. Six of the members of TNT have been Catholic churches, which are typically the backbone of IAF organizations. One of these parishes is one of only two predomiantly black parishes in the state of Tennessee. Eight African American Protestant churches have been members of TNT.

There have been congregations that seem ostensibly outside the left-wing mainline distinctives that have participated in TNT. One is a Unitarian-Universalist church and two are Southern Baptist-affiliated churches. According to Roof and McKinney (1987), Unitarian-Universalists espouse "a broad liberalism in theology and universal concern for people." Levels of institutional commitment to congregations among these adherents is low as is the membership. Given their more liberal preferences for universal inclusion, it is reasonable to expect a Unitarian-Universalist to support TNT.

On the other hand, Southern Baptist churches until now have never participated in IAF efforts. The Nashville organization boasts the first Southern Baptist Church ever to participate in an IAF effort of any kind.2 We should not expect Southern Baptist churches to support left- wing mainline initiatives like those of IAF. The reason that they do in this case support TNT is based on the ideological affinities between these ostensibly conservative churches. As I am about to demostrate, these institutions possess cognitive structures that mediate these affinities, placing them in higher tension with typically right-wing evangelical institutions and in lower tension with left-wing mainliners.

The other reason that some Nashville religious institutions are well-suited to community efforts is a common ideological system of values and beliefs that determines the kinds of congregations most likely to join IAF organizations. This ideological system or cognitive structure defines the precommitments behind social capital with which left-wing mainliners legitimate their participation in Alinskyite organizing projects. Whereas research has shown conservative Protestant political mobilization to be anchored in a cognitive structure of scriptural inerrancy, left-wing mainline mobilization rests on a very different one (Sherkat and Ellison, 1997).

Moderate and liberal mainline mobilization relies on a sense of transformed, inclusive community of free individuals and a struggle for social justice (i.e. a balance of power and equilibrium of rights) in line with this vision. Judeo-Christian elements of authority (e.g. scripture, canon law, talmudic teaching, tradition, experience, and reason), are interpreted as transmitters or facilitators of the hope of restored community and justice for all. This cognitive structure compliments the tendency of many mainliners to alloy faith and society. It is also a public or civil religion counterpart to more evangelical expressions of patriotic nationalism.

In line with Alinskyism, left-wing mainline cognitive structure emphasizes ideas of social justice over altruism but, unlike Alinskyism, not to the exclusion of the latter. It is focused less on the charitable idea of relief for the poor and more on critiques of the current distribution of power that is believed to create inequitable conditions in the first place. The transformation of inequitable conditions is designed to re-distribute power or re-configure community so that individuals have equal access to common goods. Rather than vertically distributing power from the top-down (which is what left-wing mainliners refer to as charity), social justice emphasizes the lateral preference for various communities to empower themselves. Liberalized public theologies tend to hold that the loss of community is caused by social ills, which are the result of imbalances in power and violations of human rights. Hence, the social justice type tends to couple the security of communal reconciliation with the reform of political relationships.

There are various dimensions or specific preference clusters that characterize left-wing mainline cognitive structure, and I analyze these in more detail in my dissertation. These include a movement away from a closed group or sectarian stance and towards ecumenism and coalition with like-minded other religious and nonreligious groups.3 IAF's ideological counterpart to ecumenism is its "organizing principles" of broader social welfare. Second, mainline preference clusters also include an ambivalence toward ecclesiastical and moral authorities and a disposition for democratic governance. This concept of democratization entails a culture of individualism, an emphasis on matters of personal conscience in morality, and expectations of greater participatory arrangements for laity and citizens. The IAF counterpart of liberalization is its emphasis on grassroots, neighborhood organizing and the assumed privatized nature of religious ideals. Finally, this cluster includes aspects of what Roof and McKinney refer to as "new morality," that is, a re-interpretation of "family values" and the expectation that women will play increasingly nontraditional civic and professional roles (Roof and McKinney, 1987:209--228). The IAF counterpart to new morality is the growing admixture of emphasis on family networks and appreciation for the integral leadership that women publicly accept. Given the purposes of this presentation, I can do no more but touch on these preference clusters here. However, I can clarify in greater detail left-wing commitment to social justice.

My dissertation research includes some indepth, qualitative interviews with TNT participants that support my hypotheses about left-wing mainline cognitive structure.4 In general, each of the interview subjects identified a predisposition for social justice and some reticence about social charity. For instance, one line of the interview with an African American Roman Catholic went:

Q: Is there something in your own Catholic faith that motivated you to participate in TNT?

A: Yes. Catholics have always been great believers and workers . . . in the area of social justice, and that is very important to me: to really be able to make a difference . . . . I wanted to do the real hands-on, groundwork kind of thing . . . .

Q: What do you mean by "social justice"?

A: Making sure or doing what you can to assure justice for all and equality for all . . . . when I came to the Catholic church, I remember we sang, "Here I am, Lord, is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. If you lead me, I will follow. I will hold your people in my heart." I . . . take that very seriously. Also, whatever you do for the least of God's people.

During another interview, after saying that her rabbi has a real feel for "the need of social justice" and affiliating herself with that need, a Jewish woman described it:

You don't just constantly provide people with, let's say clothing when what they really need is a job so that they can provide themselves with clothing . . . . And I know there needs to be interim steps . . . but it never deals with the basic issue . . . . Would I call what I described social justice? I think it's absolutely social justice . . . . I would say that I had a great interest in social justice long before I knew much about Judaism.

Finally, part of another interview shows a Southern Baptist's orientation toward social justice:

Q: What is the primary motivating factor for your participation in TNT?

A: Well, you know the term "justice-love" is bandied about a great deal, but I find my motivation in that regard. The life and ministry of Christ calls me beyond pure parochial interest and reminds me that I am part of a humanity, and I see implicit in and explicit of the life of Christ a call to action, a call to confront, a call to shape and re-shape the life situation . . . . . We have religious mandate to do these things rather than just prepare our souls for the sweet bye-and-bye . . . . I mean we live in Nashville. Being religious does not separate me from being concerned about the Mayor's budget or worrying about potholes or race relations . . . . it matters to me what the democratic, common-good community is like . . . . TNT does, for my sake, provide . . . an effective agent for change in the city. There's nothing quite like us here.

 Each of the subjects also identified social justice closely with the idea of equality and equitable access to power. For instance, the Roman Catholic called social justice, "Equal involvement in the running of this city." The Southern Baptist said, "I think in terms of justice and love and equity and democracy." An Episcopalian respondent commented:

I don't quote the Bible very well . . . but I just feel that, throughout the New Testament, our Lord is saying, "We're all equal. Nobody is better than anybody else. God loves us all, and we're all forgiven" . . . . Empowerment is the best word I know. Helping people who don't feel they are worthwhile people to become worthwhile people by being together with them and showing by what they do that they are worthwhile, that they have qualities that are worthwhile.

 Speaking of what she learned at Ten Day Training, the Jewish respondent said, "It's wonderful! That's the sort of thing they attempt to teach community people, who have always approached things hat-in-hand to elected officials . . . It's sort of demanding equality rather than being a supplicant, and it's a wonderful skill." Later in the interview she commented:

working within my own congregation is very different from working in this mixed group . . . . I find working in my own congregation . . . or working in other nonprofit groups . . . very task-oriented . . . . There is a different culture operating [in TNT] and I guess it goes back to the relational aspect. Now maybe that's very much a part of church life. It's not a part of Jewish congregation life that I know . . . . But I found this absolutely fascinating, and I believe that it makes me look at these religious organizations a great deal differently than I used to . . . . I have great respect for the way TNT functions. I like the democratic aspect of it.

Each of these comments supports the claim that left-wing mainliners have ideological precommitments to social justice as a balance of power or equilibrium of rights. This cognitive structure allows a clean interface with IAF organizing principles and the Iron Rule.

On the other hand, each of the interview subjects expressed various levels of ambivalence about the idea of social charity. Three of the four referred to "the older" idea of benevolence. Two respondents, Jewish and Episcopal, called benevolence "the old 'Lady Bountiful' approach." The Jewish woman said of this approach, "I don't like it at all, because I am firmly committed to the idea that you don't do for people what they can do for themselves or make it possible to do for themselves." The Episcopalian responded,

so much of our outreach, almost all of it, is what I call, "do-good stuff," "feel-good stuff" . . . . I do things for people and TNT has none of that. We work with one another, not for somebody, and that's the big, big difference and . . . I don't know of an organization that works that way, and that's what is very impressive to me about it . . . . When I am doing for somebody and sort of patting them on the head, I'm not doing that. I'm being paternalistic, and I'm not seeing myself as an equal with that person, but rather above that person. Everything that I understand our Lord stands for is against that.

The Southern Baptist stated:

I would draw a distinction between benevolent communities that do good for people and organizations that are blatantly nonpartisan organizations, which we are. Take, for example, the Mayor's view of us. The Mayor would like for us to be a kind of single-issue benevolent organization, where we go out and do good, and he's said to people in meetings that I've been present, "A whole lot of big churches are represented around this table. What good are you people doing for the poor?": you know, that kind of old benevolent way of keeping communities from being engaged in the political process . . . . I tend to maybe disparage the term "benevolence" a bit as being kind of uninformed, unsophisticated, simply doing good deeds. A cup of cold water, the bandage, whereas other organizations like TNT are out to change the system or engage the system, to tweak a system in a certain direction, and to bring force, power, and action to bear to do that; not just to pick up the pieces, but to engage that in a political dialogue and debate that changes the politics of the city.

While these participants agree that social charity is at least archaic and sometimes ineffective when it comes to transforming their community, they are as not as willing as IAF organizers to entirely reject the possibility of benevolence.5 The Episcopalian respondent has been Outreach Minister at her church and places a high priority on assisting homeless people. She said that she recognized the need for her church's Sunday Lunch Program for the needy, the food bank, and an overnight program for the homeless called Room in the Inn. However, she considered those "band-aid things" that do not precipitate constructive social change. She believes that there as to be more done to promote actual change and that is where she sees TNT fitting in. The Roman Catholic respondent also values her chariable work:

Despite his "disparagement" of benevolence, the Southern Baptist respondent places his commitment to social justice and charitable commitments to outsiders on the same level:

my self-interest is involved in the common good, but it's also good for us to lift our sights from what is benevolent amongst ourselves--taking care of each other, making sure the building is running correctly such that it is, new members come here, and people give their tithes and offerings, and people take food when someone's sick--all those are wonderful things, but that's to become selfish and self-absorbed. Whereas to kick our sights up out from here in a lot of other ways: Room in the Inn, for example . . . . My particular interest has been in Tying Nashville Together . . . . So, it is in [our church's] interest to look beyond ourselves, to expend our money and time in ways that don't immediately impact on us, but that keep us honest and judged by . . . our colleagiality with others in the city.

This data indicates that these left-wing mainliners see appropriate, though circumscribed roles for social charity as a faith-based response to social ills. Thus, the matter of proper social charity is most likely to be the point of greatest contention between TNT's participants and IAF organizers.

All respondents in these interviews mentioned the importance of either their own clergy or fellow clergy in motivating their participation in TNT. Other motivations for participating included those both those that connote specific devotional orientations and those that attach more to a general, civil religion. No clear pattern emerges from the interviews other than, regardless of parochial motivation, the respondents expressed views consistant with Roof and McKinney's view that mainliners alloy faith and society. For instance, one respondent seemed adamant about the primacy of his faith tradition as the center of social transformation:

this is my calling: to maintain my connection to my heritage, my roots, my langauge, which is the biblical language. The further I get away from that, the further I get away from my heart, the more I'm playing at it. What I've discovered is that I can mine my language and my heritage from now until doomsday and back again and never exhaust it . . . . It's not that we drag all that baggage out in public view and hang all the dirty linen out to see or bring all of the meaning from the worship services here . . . to a TNT Strategy Meeting. That's not the point. But I can do that better and more authentically as I am doing it from a religious center and not just a social consciousness center.

In fact, theological language provides him with the justification for branching out to the larger community:

I think it provides a long heritage of concern, ties us to a social consciousness in our tradition in the Hebrew scriptures that we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers, serves as a sense of judgment on us, calls us to a larger community than simply Nashville, and connects us to a more worldwide, almost timeless verities that sometimes get lost in the struggle with the Mayor over his budget this year.

 Even so, this respondent also mentioned his reservations about discouraging strong public leadership on nuanced issues by becoming too self-absorbed in congregational life.

Another respondent mentioned the centrality of the Eucharist in her church's worship life as the prime motivator for her participation:

we all come to the altar as sinners who are bringing who we are and what we are, and then we receive the body and blood of Christ and then we can go out and be renewed and try again to do better; but that is the very reason why I am involved outside the church. It's as though, once that happens and there is some forgiveness and redemption, that I almost don't have a choice but to go out and act in that way in the community. Where I've been forgiven at the altar, I need to go out and not forgive anybody, but offer that same kind of thing figuratively speaking to the community . . . . I think it works . . . in order to be of any longevity and willingness to hang in there when it gets rough. In something like TNT it gets rough. There are times you think, "Why am I doing this?" . . . . [but] there are times where I feel like I really don't have a choice.

However, she also finds that her contact with other denominations in TNT helps her see how her own denominational affinities are "narrow." She considered her exposure to different kinds of worship and music an enriching privilege.

A third respondent stated that she was pleasantly surprised to find that her affiliation with TNT was consistent with what she had always found in the Mass:

When Father talks about: when I am called to judgment and God says, "When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was thirsty did you give me water? When I was lonely did you comfort me?" I have to be able to say, "Yes, Lord, I did." And that is: "Whatever you do for the least of my people you do unto me." So, when I hear things like this or when we pray prayers for justice for all people or equality for all people, for the hungry, the homeless . . . it is good to be in a church and do that, but we are called upon to take action, because faith without action is dead . . . . You are called upon to use the talents he gave you to make the world better. Last Sunday, Father spoke about the mustard seed and being a mustard seed. You know, like start right here in this little area and just grow.

She mentioned that she knew skeptics who were critical of the motivation she found in church to do community work. She responded:

they need to understand that church is not just about going there and sitting on Sunday or whenever else there is a Mass. It is about, once you have the Word of God, going out to do the work of God and spreading the Word and showing by your example what God is all about. There's a song that says, "And they will know us by our love" . . . . You can talk religion to people forever, but showing them is a whole lot better: that this is representative of my God, this is what my God is about . . . . I am not holier than thou, goody two-shoes . . . but I really believe that that's what you are supposed to do. 

Another respondent was less motivated by the particulars of her own faith and more motivated by what may be considered a civil religion. She also happens to belong to what Roof and McKinney consider to be the most liberal mainline traditions, Judaism. Her motivation is entailed in the following exchange:

Q: What motivates you to participate in TNT from your own faith perspective? 

A: I wish I knew. I don't have any idea . . . . I've thought about that question before. I cannot trace where or what started my interest . . . . I remember my mother calling me "Salvation Nelle," meaning "Salvation Army," but I don't know where it came from . . . . I remember what we call "tramps" coming to the back door for food and my mother always feeding them. You know, maybe that played a role.

She finds her motivation more in the political and partisan influences on her life and the racial segregation and economic deprevation she witnessed as a child. She contrasts her own values with what she sees as conventional Jewish attitudes against social justice. She believes that many Jews are too cautious about committing to tendentious political reform outside of charity because of retributive episodes like the Holocaust. Other than the historic persecution of Jews, she seemed to have trouble relating her motivation with religious identity:

Q: Is it fair to say that your interest in social justice is perhaps broader than your religious faith, or is that an overstatement?

 A: . . . though I did not have much interest in the organized Jewish religion, I always thought I had a personal relationship with God. Where that came from, I don't know. 

Q: Are you saying that it might not have come from Judaism itself?

 A: I just don't know . . . . Probably some of it was fear because I would have been eleven years old when World War II began and I don't remember any specific discussion, although there must have been many about what came to be known as the Holocaust. I was obviously aware although I don't have any time frame for this, of the extermination of the Jews . . . 

Q: Are you saying that a commitment to social justice may or may not relate to religious faith?

 A: Well, I think it may relate to it in . . . the persecution aspect. I don't care who you are, when you are Jewish you know whether you yourself have experienced persecution. You are aware of its existence, and probably that has something to do with my response to that knowledge.

Her reference to a personal relationship with God supports Roof and McKinney's claim that mainliners are predisposed to privatized faith and individualism. These responses also support their contention that for Jews in general ethnic identity is relatively more significant than either institutional or devotional commitments.6

In each of these cases, the cognitive structure of religious adherents shows affinities with IAF philosophy through a mediating principle. That organizing principle for left-wing mainliners is one of social justice. It relates and couples their devotional life to both the public arena and the IAF culture of organizing. Whether participants are more critical (for instance, arguing that religion ought to play a greater role in TNT) or less so (for instance, acting on grounds broader than religious ones), this data shows that social justice is the principle by which TNT participants engage in "ideological work" (i.e., moral justification) to continue their participation (Rochford, 1985). This ideological work involves drawing connections between the broadest purposes of community reform, the strategic and tactical goals of IAF, and authoritative sources, e.g. the Eucharist, scripture, tradition, and ethnic identity.

Since ideological work represents a discursive attempt to legitimate participation and political action, it also reflects profound tensions seething under the surface of social movements. Without prematurely generalizing to all religious-based movements, I want briefly analyze some of the tensions among the subjects in my study. I found few consistent patterns of dramatic tensions between the typical left-wing mainliners in this study (e.g., Catholic, Episcopalian, and Jew) and their denominations or fellow congregations in their denominations. Many of the tensions I found support the findings of other studies (Roof and McKinney, 1987; Gallup and Castelli, 1987; Castelli and Gremillion, 1987; Vandenakker, 1994; D'Antonio et al., 1996).

I did not find any consistent patterns that would necessitate unique ideological work for participation in TNT. The Catholic respondent voiced her opposition to both the social teaching and institutional practice of the all-male priesthood. However, I did not observe any indication that she experienced dissonance with being a Roman Catholic. In fact, she seemed generally amenable, sometimes enthusiastic to Catholicism. The Episcopalian and Jewish respondents both mentioned their tensions with denominational leadership networks and more conservative congregants. However, they did not express the kind of incompatibilities with their traditions that would require ideological work to legitimate their affiliation. In sum, it is not so much tensions with their denominations that command participation in TNT as it is left-wing ideological affinities with IAF philosophy, and these affinities are not inconsistent with their denominational identities.

On the other hand, there was evidence from my interview with the Southern Baptist pastor that tensions with his denomination were significant. It is reasonable to claim that if those most likely to participate in IAF efforts are left-wing mainliners, then those participants outside this subculture should experience greater tension and require more ideological work to legitimate their participation. Likewise, the Southern Baptist participant morally justified his church's participation in TNT on the basis of the high degree of divergence between it and the Southern Baptist Convention:

A: My view is that it is better for me and better for the congregation to be publicly connected to things like TNT, gay and lesbian Christian rights, Jewish-Christian relations of the kind that I believe in. We have a very narrow niche in this community. We are the only Baptist congregation in this city the way we are. Our competition is Second Presbyterian, Edgehill [United Methodist], and Hillsboro Presbyterian, for goodness sakes. We have no Baptist competition. So, it's to our advantage for me and the congregation to be out publicly. It attracts people here. Some stick, some don't.

Q: Baptists are attracted here?

A: Well, yes, before they become Presbyterians. We catch them just before they become Presbyterians or drop out of the church entirely . . . . That's how we make our way in the world: is to catch people on the way out of Baptist life into Presbyterian or Episcopal life or Buddhist or something. That's an important role to play that does create tensions with the Baptist community here. Our relationships are not terribly good with SBC or the association because of stances we have made over the years, but so far that's served us well, I think and, maybe since my coming here as Baptists have gone even further to the right, this public stand has been good for us, as opposed to hiding on the hill, doing what we want to, and keeping our mouths shut about it.

Despite the fact that this subject unquestionably places himself in high tension with the Southern Baptist Convention, he does not necessarily reject his denominational identity or simply shift to a left-wing identity. Instead, he directs his ideological work to conjoin right-wing signifiers with his left-wing preferences for social justice (italics are my addition):

I do consider myself evangelical, and I consider myself very Baptist. I think that the best of the Baptist tradition is still alive. It is not alive in the Southern Baptist Convention . . . . We are a Baptist congregation, which means a number of things, including which we baptize by immersion recently confessed Christians. Though we receive Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholics without immersion, we baptize here by immersion recently confessed Christians and there are polity issues like the autonomy of the local congregation, the separation of Church and State, other things . . . . I think evangelical theology voices a certain suspicion about the world and the secular reality and tries to, by a gospel-centered preaching and worship, bring people to a full humanity. Evangelical Christianity does that well and can do it well as long as it does not become something other than that. That doesn't hamper my cooperation with the Temple, Congregation Micah [both Jewish], or Second Presbyterian.

This participant believes that evangelicalism has a place in left-wing mainline culture, that it enables his congregation to attract new members, and remains consistent with IAF philosophy. In fact, he states that he has very few "theological gripes" with IAF, and his criticism of it stem from his belief that TNT has not gotten the "bang-for-the-buck" that they deserved.

With regard to their participation in TNT, insofar as subjects are outside of left-wing mainline denominations, they are more likely to be in higher tension with their denominational subcultures and more likely to embark upon ideological work to align their cognitive structures with preferences for social justice. On the other hand, those subjects who squarely fall within left-wing mainline denominations are in less tension with those denominations. They are also less likely to have to do ideological work to align their cognitive structures with preferences for social justice since those preferences are already legitimate values for left-wing denominations.

The Metropolitan Challenges on Organizational Effectiveness

Discrepencies between different definitions of the common good are what primarily characterize the political environment of Metro Nashville and Davidson County. On the one hand, public administration is the engine of regional growth, and its first priority is economic development. On the the other hand, neighborhood organizing efforts such as TNT are driven by commitments to goods other than strictly those of capital development, including those of public infrastructure, education, justice, altruism, and even religious faith. Mediating this tension is a mutual interest in voluntarism, although that interest does not mitigate the contentiousness between these various commitments.

Regional consolidation of city and county governance in 1962 resulted in the administrative consolidation of policy-making power into the Mayor's office. The current Mayor is a proactive executive, and if one seeks to influence public policy in Metro Nashville, it must be done at the administrative level. The primary principle guiding this administration is that regional economic development is the optimal means of ensuring the common good. Thus, political influence tends to rely on reference to economic development.

The Mayor's office has consistantly stated that its philosophy is to run Metro Nashville as a Chief Executive Officer would run a private corporation. Mayor Phil Bredesen tends to work closely with Chamber of Commerce leaders to attract large-scale, corporate industries to Nashville. He also sometimes bristles at broad-based attempts to redress residential interests. This includes taunting opponents of his plan to bring professional football to Nashville as well as criticizing religious leaders for "telling them how to run the city" eventhough he does not "tell them how to run their churches." Thus, constituents appear to be approached more as stock-holders who have imput into mayoral decisions, but must defer on a day-to-day basis to the executive's policy decisions.

A culture of "partnership" drives this entrepeneurial spirit. While the Mayor directs economic development, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) is its engine. MDHA is a quasi-public agency that attempts to build partnerships with private industry to generate capital for Metro Nashville. Capital, governance, and an aesthetic awareness of disjuncture between developed areas and urban squalor have driven Nashville's private/public partnership. MDHA "re-developed" areas for retail store space, a convention center, a river-front park, a sports arena, and an entertainment district. It is currently working on projects for a riverside greenbelt, a professional football stadium, high-rise residential buildings, new urban neighborhoods, and pedestrian boulevards (Kreyling, 1996a, 1996b). In each of these cases, the prime motivation for government subsidies (e.g., block grants) directed toward private development was the goal of "enhancing" Nashville's image, especially for its growing tourist industry.

On the other hand, community-based organizations often demand attention to political equity or at least represent a segment otherwise excluded from "the table." The development of the twentieth century neighborhood organizing movement spawns the need for more organizers who rely on face-to-face definitions of the common good (Fisher, 1994). Warren (1995) shows that this demand is often met by social capital. However, the exigencies of metropolitan growth also force organizers to moderate their strategies.7 They must rely on voluntarism to address popular disaffection in the wake of diminishing government resources (Milofsky, 1988).

Metropolitan governments are the primary channels through which federal subsidies flow. However, local associations in Metro Nashville mainly rely on the mobilization of human resources that are dependent on grassroots, democratic processes. These stocks of organized citizenry conversely affect the legitimacy of Metro initiatives as they either collectively lend their support or withdraw it. Therefore, the legitimacy of public policy is affected not just by development interests "from the top," but generalized interests at the grassroots. Regardless of his interest in economic development, Mayor Bredesen has to appeal to community-based organizations because of their enduring social capital and their mobilizable numbers.

This is not to say that Metro government will not gladly apportion federal funds for "community improvements," but that it is prone to do so from an executive understanding of development. Thus, building a corporate office tower to attract large-scale business interests might be seen as generally improving both the local neighborhood and broader area. This is consistent with Reaganesque supply-side tenets. However, there is a high probability that a few disproportionally benefit, and those tend to be the tower occupants, developers, established merchants, and upscale residents who live downtown. Consequently, Metro is ripe for leaders interested in democratic organizing to depend more on voluntary mobilization than on garnering the help of way business elites or government official. Associations provide the moral cohesion necessary to mobilize human resources. In Metro Nashville, successful organizers must be at once reforming in sentiment and development-minded.

Bredesen tends to approach neighborhood and community-based organizations with a friendly attitude, but less enthusiastically than he does the Chamber of Commerce. On the one hand, he consistently allies himself with neighborhood interests in public safety and schools. On the other hand, he also tends to fuse large-scale economic development with neighborhood interests in defiance of the self-expressions of those interests. This illustrates that organizations like TNT face the same challenges that they do elsewhere. They are not the proactive agents public policy, and so, they lack the same power. Despite a proliferation of voluntary organizations and special interest groups, Mayor Bredesen infrequently seeks their imput when formulating policies on economic growth. The best that these interest groups usually can hope for is, as elsewhere,

an important secondary role in creating a policymaking environment that will be hospitable to some kinds of proposals and unkind to others. They incrementally alter agendas, force initiators to anticipate their preferences, and play a vital role in the planning process at both the neighborhood and citywide levels (Berry et al., 1993).

The administrative commitment to economic development causes Bredesen to court corporate and professional organizations, which have greater access to material rather than human resources.

These political relations largely explain both the successes and failures of TNT's attempts to influence public policy. For example, the Mayor funded the TNT-proposed Neighborhood Justice Center (NJC) in 1995. The NJC was designed "to reduce the number of people going to court, the number of repeat disputes, the number of non-emergency policy calls; to foster the sense of a community or village and to improve the perception of law enforcement and the justice system in the neighborhood" (TNT, 1995). Officials approved $63,000 in the Metro budget for the NJC and trained and utilized approximately forty volunteer mediators from the surrounding Jefferson Street neighborhood. It was staffed by two police officers, one juvenile probation officer, and the TNT-picked Director. It was governed by a board of TNT members and the predominately black Interdenominational Ministers' Fellowship. The attractiveness of this project for public administration arose from its dependence on volunteers, its promise of judicial efficiency, its relative inexpensiveness, and its potential both to placate TNT and for crime deterrance.

On the contrary, TNT projects that posed as potential threats to mayorial commitments to economic development faced greater resistance. One such threat was TNT's attempts to influence the Mayor toward designating substantial government and industrial resources for generating workforce reform. For example, when TNT held hearings on Nursing Home conditions and began to advocate for raises in nursing staff income (from minimum wage to eight dollar per hour) at the city-run institution, the Mayor let them know in no uncertain terms that they were demanding too much. Also, TNT initiatives for adult education and youth vocational training, along with calls to raise the minimum income for Nashville workers to a "livable wage" (around $26,000 for an average family of four), met with his resistance. Mayor Bredesen viewed these initiatives as unnecessarily burdensome on his attempts to attract corporations, because they required taxation and private funding. Many leaders were also concerned about connotations of unionism in a state that billed itself as a "right-to-work" state.

In sum, the political economy of Metro Nashville requires that TNT work for initiatives that are progressive and yet primarily development-mined. TNT initiatives are most effective as they tap into principles of voluntarism that require relatively low amounts of public and private subsidies. They are least effective the more they demand greater levels of public and private subsidies. The reason for this is that as a religious-based organization, TNT does not carry public legitimacy to the degree that business and partisan organizations do in metropolitan politics. Nashville's public administration is generally able to manage religious-based organizing on its policies. Also, as a left-wing mainline organization in the Bible Belt, TNT does not garner a large enough base of social or material capital to sufficiently impress the Mayor to substantially alter his policies. 


This paper succinctly analyzed the effectiveness of religious-based organizing in Middle Tennessee at both micro and macro levels. On the one hand, it demonstrated that there is a certain social psychological profile of religious adherents who are motivated to participate in IAF efforts in Nashville. The main purpose of this paper was to survey the principle of social justice as the cognitive structure motivating left-wing mainliners to organize. On the other hand, this paper provided a short overview of the broader political and economic conditions that challenge and determine religious-based organizing in Nashville. The auxilliary purpose of this paper was to outline the environmental influences and directives on IAF's Nashville efforts. Each of these variables is critical to understanding the effectiveness of TNT over the last eight years, and I hope that they might shed some perspective on IAF's projects in other communities.


1At the height of its organizing (1993--1994), TNT enjoyed the participation of around thirty to forty congregations and neighborhood associations.

2 This was corroborated by Glendale's leadership.

3 A caveat to mainline ecumenism is necessary with respect to black Protestants. Roof and McKinney (p. 91) note that, while their place in mainstream culture rests on their appeals to the discrepancies between national ideals and actual discrimination, black Protestants maintain strong socioreligious groupís ties. The fact that African Americans generally have a higher level of denominational commitment than other groups intimates that they might not be as enthusiastic about ecumenism as others in the mainline.

4 At the time of this writing, I have completed four one to one-and-a-half hour long interviews. I have two more to conduct. My procedure for selecting subjects includes identifying two representatives from three different groups based on my eight years of participant observation: two are subjects that I consider "enthusiastic supporters" of TNT; two are what I consider "strong community leaders" who participate in TNT; and two are those I consider "critical" or "disgruntled" participants of TNT. In compliance with Vanderbilt University policy, I have assured the subjects that their names and congregational affiliation will remain confidential. I can identify other important variables: one is a retired white Jewish laywoman; one is a white Southern Baptist male pastor; one is an African American Roman Catholic laywoman who is also an Internal Revenue officer; one is a white Episcopalian laywoman who is on staff at her church. Remaining to be interviewed are an African American Baptist male pastor and a white Roman Catholic laywoman. My procedure was to send them a standard list of eighteen questions concerning their participation, religious motivations for participation, and their views of their denominational and congregational affiliation. I conducted and audiotaped the interviews using the questions and asking follow-ups.

5 Besides the organizing principles and the Iron Rule, IAF organizers have expressed to me their displeasure with the commitment of congregational leaders to benevolence. For example, organizer Tom Murphy said to me on one occasion, "I wish we could find a way to get some of these local leaders to stop using benevolence as a way to do things for others that they could do for themselves."

6 Roof and McKinney state: "Jews have the lowest level of institutional commitment. Though fairly weak in commitment to synagogue attendance, they rank higher on both religious group activity and strength of group ties. In belief in life after death they rank at the very bottom--even below nonaffiliates. Ties to tradition and minority experience are far more important than common belief for this group, making it more an ethnic than a religious collectivity in many respects" (p. 102).

7 Fisher observes that, since the nineteenth century, populism has always assumed a middle ground between traditional liberal elitism and socialism's class conflict analyses (pp. 139). While it is critical of elements of the economic system, he writes, it sees large, unaccountable power, rather than capital, as its antagonist.


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