Was Jefferson Right About the Corruption of Cities?


Thomas Jefferson was not a fan of cities.

He told James Madison: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get plied upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

I think, as with many of his musings, he was largely correct. No. I know he was. I live in one of the major cities on the planet. Metro Manila is consistently in the top 5 cities on the planet in terms of population. I live here among some 22 million people from every religious, economic, and cultural background you can imagine. And it is corrupt, vile, and sinful. Jefferson’s observations are really a commentary of human nature. We are a sinful people; put us together and the interactions reach a boiling point.

Don’t get me wrong – we love living and raising our family in Metro Manila. But Mayberry RFD, this is not.

Yet, this massive people-centric experiment called a megacity is the perfect test tube for a church plant.

Living in the city may mean that we have many more challenges in reaching people – but it also means we have many more people to reach. And when you cast a net into a school of fish, even a bad throw nets some keepers.

Thomas Jefferson was probably justified in his view of cities. The more people you put together, the more sin emerges. And who thinks that situation is a good idea?

But the reality is that megacities exist, and it is our job as believers to reach them with the gospel. Bringing the gospel to the urban environment is, I believe, the most important task of churches today. Cities influence the world, so the churches must influence the cities.


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