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How do you change a culture? Ask Christians in the last few decades, and you would likely get distinct, though overlapping, answers from two camps.

On one side would be seekers of the power of the poll and the ballot box, of school boards, legislatures, and judicial benches. Their contemporary heroes are scrappy fighters like Judge Roy Moore, the defiant defender of keeping the Ten Commandments on courthouse soil. They stay up late parsing voter rolls, and in their dreams, all paper is legal size.

Others focus less on political clout and more on the persuasive power of imagination. Their contemporary heroes tend to be artists like Switchfoot, producing bestselling music infused with faith. They stay up late watching for Christian appearances on Leno, and they dream in stories.

Both groups share common assumptions. They believe in the importance of elites—that change comes from vigorous leadership at the top. They believe in visibility and publicity. Indeed, while their contemporary heroes may differ, both sides tend to draw their deepest inspiration from one man, the 19th-century evangelical William Wilberforce and his powerful allies in the Clapham Sect. This wealthy, pious, and socially progressive group used both Parliament and the press to make the case, in Wilberforce's famous words, for "the abolition of slavery and the reformation of manners in England."

But I'd like to suggest a different hero: Jason Cole, the associate pastor at Parkway Baptist Church in Natchez, Mississippi. Cole would probably protest at being called a hero. But he happened to answer the phone when National Public Radio called in late September, and he spoke for the heroism of a church that was in its fourth week of providing shelter to hundreds ...

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December 2005

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