After the Jewish people went into exile, the prophet Jeremiah sent them a letter, which appears in Jeremiah 29 in the Old Testament. There is no dispute about the letter’s authenticity in modern biblical scholarship.
Jeremiah writes: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
There is a growing class of conservatives in the United States that can be considered Jeremiah 29 conservatives. They have given up on national politics. These conservatives have become too ugly, too compromising, too unaligned with their values and too willing to make compromises with bad government and big government to advance a compromised agenda.
These conservatives are trying to seek the welfare of the cities in which they live, recognizing that it is there they will find their welfare. They want good government and understand the most important fight of the day is the one for their family’s daily well-being. Washington, they know, is too far removed from their daily lives. In their minds, Republicans and conservative institutions in Washington have made too many compromises to be effective.
At the end of the Bush administration and beginning of the Obama era (thanks, oddly enough, to the Citizens United case), grassroots groups were springing up around the country to help conservatives down to the local level. There were training sessions for conservative activists on simple things such as the best way to write editorials to local papers. These grassroots groups provided tools for local activists to contact their state legislatures. They explained how to find city council meeting times and how to show up to speak on an issue. They encouraged conservative activists to run for their school boards.
As the tea party rose, conservative organizations began focusing more and more on fighting Barack Obama. They abandoned the fights in the states. They left behind conservatives who had convinced themselves — often accurately — that they could not have a meaningful impact in Washington. Once Donald Trump got elected, most conservative groups focused on protecting their precious president and advancing his agenda. Organizations that once would have fought massive spending bills looked the other way. As some conservatives retreated from national politics because they could not stomach the character flaws of the president or the direction of the Republican Party, donors and institutions who had once found ways to keep people engaged locally began to direct money elsewhere.
There is now a class of American conservative who is mostly checked out of politics. They would be engaged, but they will not dirty themselves with Washington. They want help advocating for good government on their school boards. Local media institutions that once exposed government corruption in city halls are going out of business, and these activists could use the help. They want to seek the welfare of their cities but have few, if any, helping hands among conservative institutions and donors.
To be sure, some states have great government accountability projects. In Texas, the group Empower Texans is one of the best nationwide at highlighting government abuse and failures. They have a statewide network of local activists who are well-trained and highly motivated. Texas, however, is the exception, not the rule.
Conservatives in Washington and the conservative donor class need to reconsider how to engage on the local level with those more worried about their children’s education than a border wall. Scripture is right. We will all be better off seeking the welfare of our local communities because we will find our welfare there. As political winds shift in Washington, helping locally involved moms and dads find common ground with their community on school board issues and city hall corruption will become vitally important.