Church, State and “Take Back” Santa Barbara
This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.
By Tyler Hayden of The Independent
The video begins with Rob Dayton introducing himself to the Believer’s Edge Congregation as the City of Santa Barbara’s Senior Transportation Planner and a founding member of their all-male Christian ministry. It’s 2014 and the group, which proclaims itself a “call and intended” to “influence” local government, business, media and education, has accomplished a lot to be proud of over the past seven years. years of service, Dayton said.
With hallmark enthusiasm, he walks the crowd through a PowerPoint presentation of his “Life Mastery” program before inviting Steve Wagner, then Goleta’s public works director, on stage to talk about his faith and faith. way in which she crosses her professional ambitions. Months earlier, then police chief Cam Sanchez told the congregation how Jesus had featured prominently in his law enforcement career.
Once Wagner returns the mic, Dayton gets serious. “Guys,” he said lowering his voice, “what I’d like to see is a takeover of the city. … Give me 50 men and we can take back Santa Barbara. He congratulates Muslims for not hiding their intention to conquer the globe; Christians, he said, should not be ashamed of their same goal. “We’ve been given a kingdom to run,” he intones, “and it’s about taking over the world.”
“I want us to start by taking this area, this coastal plane,” Dayton continues, his energy rising. “I want people to know internationally that the city of Santa Barbara is alive with God.” That this is where people are going to be healed in Jesus name, where the church runs the economy, where there is no homelessness or drug addiction because the residents are so blessed. “This is my vision,” Dayton says. “Do you want to be a part of it, guys?” Let’s go! “
The video and more recent statements and actions from Santa Barbara’s longtime transportation chief, including the alleged provision of a secularized version of his “Mastery of Life” program to city staff, made the the subject of an investigation this spring by three members of the city. The Council was concerned about Dayton’s involvement with Believer’s Edge and whether it blurred the line between his personal religiosity and his duties as a public servant.
The investigation led Dayton, who earns around $ 190,000 a year and has been on paid leave since May, to file a complaint with the city’s human resources department alleging he is a victim of discrimination and has been dismissed for previous promotions because of his Christian beliefs.
On Tuesday, the council met behind closed doors with city lawyers to discuss Dayton’s complaint, as well as the threat of a trial. Dayton, according to city hall sources, is demanding a payment of $ 500,000 to avoid litigation, although that number could not be independently verified. Due to the legal and political sensitivities involved, no one familiar with the matter wanted to officially talk about it.
As the name “Believer’s Edge” enters public discourse, with questions lingering about city council candidate Barrett Reed’s past involvement with the ministry, co-founder John Mullen answered questions from The Independent this week about his guiding principles and the impact it had on the Santa Barbara community.
Believer’s Edge came together in 2007 when Dayton, Mullen – a former developer and executive in the healthcare industry – and several members of Calvary Chapel formed a spin-off group of a dozen area churches who wanted relate their religious beliefs to their professional goals. . The Brotherhood, a 501 (c) 3 registered nonprofit, grew to include more than 100 men who gathered every Tuesday at Christ Presbyterian Church in the city center to sing hymns, say prayers and seek career advice from each other and guest speakers. At the time, Dayton and Mullen also co-owned and operated the former Brat Haus restaurant in Paseo Nuevo.
“There was no paid staff, dues or membership,” said Mullen of the ministry. “It was just a lot of volunteers giving time and energy when needed. The simple idea was to encourage each other to take responsibility for being godly husbands and fathers, honoring others in the workplace, and quietly serving our neighborhoods and community in a positive way.
An example of such efforts was the creation of the successful Lights On program which provides coffee, snacks and general support to those released from the county jail in the dark of night, Mullen explained. The program has been reviewed and approved by the County Supervisory Board and continues to this day. Dayton declined to be interviewed for this story, but cited the Independent’s 2014 cover story about the program as an example of the group’s good deeds.
Believer’s Edge also hosted a 500-attendee event that honored local teachers, Mullen said, and on two other occasions, hosted lunches for 100 businessmen to “share leadership best practices.”
Other members of the ministry have crossed the borders of Santa Barbara and created an international charity, HOW International, which provides prostheses to landmine victims in Mozambique, Mullen said. The organization frequently attracts interns from MAD Academy at Cal Poly and Santa Barbara High School, and in 2017 it was invited by the United Nations to speak about the challenges of assisting landmine victims in developing countries. development.
Mullen was asked about the crusader-heavy rhetoric and branding of Believer’s Edge, which included a sword in its logo and a message on its website to “bind our shields to take back this city”. Take it back from whom? “Our charge for each other,” Mullen replied, “was to get involved, do our own thing and stand up to take back homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction. , to address failed marriages and absent fathers as well as inequalities and discrimination in our homes, neighborhoods and the community in general.
Believer’s Edge co-founder John Mullen speaks to attendees of the service. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)
Believer’s Edge disbanded in 2019 after achieving its goal of pushing men to lead, Mullen said. “So we encouraged everyone to go back and make a difference in their own churches. His last tax return in 2018 showed that the association had collected $ 138,240 in income that year and paid the same amount in contributions and grants. “Although Believer’s Edge did not solicit funds, many members have donated to important causes without attention or fanfare,” Mullen said.
In recent months, as Rob Dayton and City Hall began to close their respective hatches, Believer’s Edge has started to tout its presence online. First by removing a handful of Tuesday’s service videos from their homepages, including, quite conspicuously, those featuring Barrett Reed, and then this week by abruptly wiping their entire existence from the internet, including their website, Facebook page and Vimeo. Account. In explanation, Mullen said the group has decided “not to renew our web services and that these services have just expired.”
Reed maintains that he only briefly interacted with the congregation giving a talk about his real estate development business and, as a volunteer chaplain, working alongside Mullen in the prison. He may have attended another service on Tuesday but does not remember it, he said. In one of the deleted videos, Reed discussed his close personal relationship with Mullen, including a recent fall-out and reconciliation between the two of them and their families. In another video, he explained how they used prayer to heal inmates with various health conditions.
Reed, who is running to represent District 4, resists the suggestion that he is now trying to distance himself from the ministry, explaining that he has no reason to do so and no reason to criticize Believer’s Edge, describing them as a “Great group of guys looking to get better at whatever they do.” “As a society,” he said, “I think what they set out to do is what we want men to do: keep working to be better and better at home with their children. family and the same where they live and work to hold one another responsible.
As Dayton’s administrative holiday drags on, his absence from the city is sorely felt, especially as Santa Barbara grapples with other leadership vacuum and the uncertain fate of State Street. Dayton was instrumental in converting the downtown business district into a pedestrian promenade – the Independent made him a local hero in 2020 because of it – and throughout a career of nearly 30 years has been an effective voice for alternative transport and cycling projects, some of which are still ongoing and would benefit from his continued guidance.
Dayton has his detractors, however, and some of them have suggested that the promotions he didn’t receive – one for the director of community development, the other for the director of economic development – had everything to do with a lack of qualifications and experience and nothing to do with his religious beliefs. There were also reportedly concerns about his harsh and at times overbearing leadership style, as evidenced by a recent final run around the Historic Monuments Commission for approval of the new Sola Street cycle path. Moreover, according to the sources, Dayton has been promoted several times during his long career.
Nick Welsh contributed to this report.