In a special holiday edition of 10 Blocks, Timothy Goeglein joins City Journal assistant editor Charles McElwee to discuss how people of faith can help renew American society—themes explored in his new book, American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation.

Coauthored with Craig Osten, American Restoration calls for a revival of spiritual values in America and offers a roadmap for people of faith to engage with our modern culture—especially at the local level.

Timothy Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family. Formerly, he served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush and as a deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is the editor of City Journal, Brian Anderson. First off, a heads up to our regular listeners. We usually post new episodes of the podcast on Wednesday mornings, but next Wednesday is Christmas. So we'll be posting it a day or two earlier next week, so look out for that. It'll be a shorter episode with a special update for our listeners and City Journal readers, so you'll want to check it out at some point during the long holiday week.

Coming up on today's show is another relatively light item, just in time for the season that means so much to people of faith around the world. City Journal's assistant editor, Charles McElwee, will interview Timothy Goeglein. He's the vice president at the faith-based group, Focus on the Family, and a longtime friend of the magazine.

He recently coauthored a book called American Restoration: How Faith, Family and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation. It's an invigorating book that outlines the deterioration of parts of American society and family life, and advances an argument about how Christians and members of other faith communities can engage with the culture to help the nation overcome some of the difficulties facing it. You can find the book on Amazon, and we'll have a link to the book also in the description.

That's it for me. The conversation between Charles McElwee and Timothy Goeglein begins after this.

Charles McElwee: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is your host for this episode, Charles McElwee, assistant editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Timothy Goeglein. Tim is the vice president for external and government relations at Focus on the Family in Washington. He has served in high-level government posts for two decades, including press secretary for former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, special assistant to President George W. Bush, and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Tim is here to discuss his new book, American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation. The book, which is coauthored with Craig Osten, calls for a spiritual and cultural renewal during this polarized and tribal era. Tim offers a roadmap for how Americans can embrace critical components of our culture, especially at the local level.

Tim, welcome to the podcast.

Tim Goeglein: It is great to be with you, Charles. It's a real honor. I have been a great and confirmed fan of City Journal and the Manhattan Institute for more years than I can count, and I'm just really honored to be with you today.

Charles McElwee: Thank you so much, Tim. I'm looking forward to discussing your wonderful book, which I believe really arrived at an appropriate time when you consider how our nation's grappling with so many divisions, from geography to politics. What inspired you to write American Restoration? Was there any particular events or story in the news?

Tim Goeglein: Well, I'm thrilled that that's the way we're beginning our conversation, because it has a very interesting genesis. I have been one of the vice presidents at Focus on the Family for 11 years. I'm based in Washington, unlike many of my colleagues, most of my colleagues who are based in the American West. And in my role, I travel a lot. I travel all 50 States. I travel about a third of the time, and I'm on a different college campus about every two or three weeks.

And whether I'm speaking to an auditorium of 5,000 progressives, or 5,000 conservatives. Whether I'm in Maine, or New Hampshire, or Texas, or California, or any place in between, almost with pinpoint predictability, someone or someone's will raise their hand and they will say something like the following. Point one, "I've never been concerned more than I am now about the future of the country."

Point two, if they have children, Charles, they will say, "I've never been more concerned about the country that I'm leaving my children or my grandchildren." And the third thing they will say is, "I don't know what to do."

And in the course of all of those travels across three years, I came back to Washington, I picked up the telephone, and I called a very good friend of mine, Craig Osten. And I said to Craig, "This is what I've been hearing. Clearly, this is a topic on people's mind. The topic being, what is the way forward for America? How are we supposed to restore, and regenerate, and renew this extraordinary country?" I said to my friend, Craig, "I'm hearing this same narrative everywhere I go."

And so, having been influenced by any number of great thinkers, many social scientists who have done an expert job of laying out what the challenges are, what the hurdles are in marriage, in family, in parenting, in community, in neighborhoods, in churches and synagogues, et cetera, we decided to do a book not on what are the problems, Coming Apart by Charles Murray, Alienated Americans by Tim Carney.

I could go on and on. There are some really extraordinary books out there. But there aren't a lot of books about what can we do? Particularly as conservatives, what can we do at the most organic level? So that's the book that we sought to put together. I'm very humbled to say the book is doing very well. We've had a wonderful response. And I think in large part, Charles, it's because people are hungry about what kind of a country do we want in 50 years from now, and what can we do to achieve that vision or that goal?

So you've traveled extensively throughout the country, as you noted. And, of course, we see all the divisions. We see what Charles Murray has said, how we're coming apart. And in suburbia, you're now encountering affluent voters who oftentimes support policies that don't affect them, because they are insulated more than ever before from other parts of the region. They do not understand the struggles of working-class cities and towns.

Meantime, in those struggling post-industrial regions, you have people who are in total despair. They're elderly, they're living longer than ever, but their health is declining. They don't necessarily have access to healthcare. Their churches are closed, their civic infrastructure is fraying. How can we bring these people together to have them understand each other? Because I feel like that's part of the problem. And as you note in the book, you're calling for people to come together as we continue to come apart.

Tim Goeglein: Yeah. I love this, the overview that you've given, because I've lived it just in the course of the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, I spent several days in Nashville, Tennessee, and I was meeting with a lot of the people that you described. It's a demography, it's a sociology, it's a trajectory that is very concerning.

And in this part of America, a part of Appalachia, the kind of narrative that I heard overwhelmingly was almost precisely the kind of narrative that you have described. A spotty sense of economy and work record. Difficulty and dysfunction, some would say chaos, in their family situations. Some very major hurdles in that part of the country, in that kind of demography.

The very next week, I spent three days as part of a very thoughtful panel and forum in the Public Policy School at the University of Pennsylvania. And the contrast in the same country, only separated by a few days, was really remarkable. And I kept thinking during my entire time in both places, that this is precisely why we wrote American Restoration. Because it's possible to be in the same country, in the culture, in the civilization, in the proverbial "We the People," this idea of one nation, and yet understand that in the 21st century, the divisions, the gaps, the polarization is absolutely enormous.

And when I was with friends, and folks at the University of Pennsylvania, as much as I admire and esteem and respect many of these great thinkers, so much of what they were articulating for the country was essentially a top-down approach. They were people who trusted institutions almost organically. They were people who, in a conversation about national renewal, would almost always begin in Washington DC, in Silicon Valley, in the entertainment industry, in the financial district of New York, in corporate America.

And when I was in Nashville having a very similar conversation, it was interesting that I didn't hear much of that at all. What I heard was, "What can we do about my neighborhood? What can we do about the community in which I live and am raising my kids? What is the role for my school?" This idea of family, marriage, parenting, for much of America has become a kind of luxury. It's something that people increasingly don't believe, this idea of the natural nuclear family. They often don't conceive it as something for everybody in the country, but perhaps only for a middle-class family and above.

So the gaps and the challenges ahead of us are very large. And it seems to me, and Craig and I make this point very strongly, that if we are going to have a genuine restoration of our country, if we're going to really experience the kind of regeneration we want, it seems to us it's going to begin in what Edmund Burke called, "the little platoons." It's going to begin at the most local level. And it's going to begin, in my view, to show seedlings of restoration and nourishment when we get past the destruction that we have seen so ardently in too many parts of America.

Charles McElwee: Yes, that's fascinating, because you really deconstruct all the societal trends that are unfolding throughout the country in your book. And as you discuss, we're looking at a decades-long breakdown of marriage, of family, that has really resulted in this social regression.

But it's one that we're also seeing in big cities. So many media reports about big cities now is about how they're attracting talent, how young people are moving there. But there's also increasing public disorder. Just look at Baltimore, where nearly 3000 people have been murdered with really no progress in improved conditions in their neighborhoods, 3000 people within the past decade.

And the current mayor believes that conditions will improve in these neighborhoods by breaking the cycle of poverty. But perhaps this ignores the scores of law-abiding residents who happen to be poor, and they just happen to be living in these neighborhoods. So how did marriage and family breakdown in these urban neighborhoods, how can we help bring them back together in these cities like Baltimore?

Tim Goeglein: Well, I actually believe that what you have just animated and discussed is actually the heart of the way forward for America. Because we can have 50,000 feet discussions of the kind that we engage in this book and in conversations around the country, but if we are not actually organically focused like a laser beam on marriage, family and parenting, the smallest of all civilizations, and how that moral ecology is actually doing. If we are not actually seeing progress in those institutions, then it seems to me and seems to my coauthor, Craig, that it is a matter of time before the kind of deterioration that we have seen in other pockets of America begins to widen and broaden.

And I would like to give just the most elemental example, if I may. A mere 55 years ago, which in the world of demography, of empirical data, of history certainly, is a proverbial snap of the fingers. 1965, a little known demographer, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, did what would become a very important study on the black family in America. And he found in 1965 that 25% of all African Americans were born out of wedlock.

And in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan called this a crisis. We are, as I say, only 55 years past the publication of that landmark study. The question is, "How are we doing in 2019 America?" Well, that number among black Americans is now 72% in some urban areas. And I know that the Manhattan Institute and City Journal have cared very deeply about urban America, just as we do at Focus on the Family.

Those out-of-wedlock birth rates among black families is now 72%, and some place higher. In Hispanic American families, that number is often 53% and above. And in native-born white families, that number has reached as high as 33%. If I may say, what is really startling is that the majority of babies born in America today, born to mothers who are 30 years of age or under, the majority of those babies are now born out of wedlock.

And so, while the political class here in Washington is quite literally wrapped around the axle on the question of immigration reform, or tax reform, or all of the other things that we read about, and hear about, and see so regularly, one of the questions that our book, American Restoration, raises in public policy, is where is the discussion about fatherhood? Where is the discussion about what we consider to be an epidemic of fatherlessness in the United States? Where is the discussion about the value, the practical, intact value of families that are functioning with the kind of cohesion that gives us all the other things that we want for our country.

At least at some remove, it's not that the political class can solve these problems, but they can sure make it a whole lot worse. And in the great society, by incentivizing the breakdown of the family, we've seen the destruction that government can do.

Charles McElwee: That's remarkable. And really, I really enjoyed reading about Daniel Patrick Moynihan in your book, because he seems to be this forgotten figure. He was so influential, and he was so prescient at what he predicted, what our society would confront in the decades ahead. And unfortunately he was so widely criticized at the time, and he turned out to be correct.

And that's one of the many reasons your book is so wonderful. You have so many poignant and important quotes woven with history lessons throughout your 15 chapters that really focus on different themes of restoration. I was just wondering, how did you weave all that history and those quotes together? What inspired you to select certain historical lessons and match those to each chapter?

Tim Goeglein: Well, I am a hopefulist to the core. It's not a confetti to the wind optimism, but I'm a person of faith, and I believe that this is the most exceptional country ever. And I believe that our best days are ahead of us. Not our worst days. The late, great Charles Krauthammer famously illustrated that just as decline in a great nation is a choice, so is incline.

And so I am deeply inclined to believe that a generation, maybe even two, which has lived through an enormous amount of brokenness, wants something different. And I'll tell you, one of the things that I am particularly hopeful about is when you actually dig into the data, and you look at how millennials actually view their parents, how they view their grandparents, the value or utility that they assign to family, this is not like the early or the middle part of the baby boom.

We are a long way from the social and the moral revolution, and the era in that revolution, of how the revolutionaries, as it were, thought about the idea of the bourgeois family, how they thought about bourgeois norms and virtues. I actually, as I say, am on a different college campus every two or three weeks. I'm just back from Pepperdine, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova. I also go to places like Concordia in Ann Arbor, and Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I mean, the gamut.

And when you actually meet with this generation, not read about them, or not watch them on the endless cycle of social media. But when you're actually with them in an auditorium, in a classroom, over coffee or having a meal, and you ask about the questions that we're talking about in this wonderful conversation today, what you learn is that they love their families. They love their neighborhoods. They care a lot about marrying the right person. They care a lot about being responsible parents, if they want to be parents. They think a lot about the quality of home life over against a work life.

And I think in part, to go back to where we began our conversation, Charles, I think in part, this is one of the most hopeful strands in urban and even suburban America, that people conceive of the idea of proximity between home and office relative to their ability to be a good husband and wife. The importance that they assign to being good parents.

I was with a very highly-regarded social scientist last week, and she told me, "Yes, but what about the falling marriage rates? What about the falling fertility rates? What about the significant percentage of the rising generation who actually dubbed themselves "nuns", which they don't have any particular faith denominational connection.

And I said to her, with great respect, that when you read the cross tabs, and when you actually delve into the research, we are a long way from Western Europe. It's not an atheistic, antinormative family situation. It's just not. Americans conceived this country as a religious republic, even broadly. And so, I think that there are all kinds of shards of hope even in the rising generation of young Americans. I believe that very strongly.

Charles McElwee: Yes. And spirituality and religious institutions, they play such an important role in our communities. It's overlooked. And your chapter on religious liberty alone brought to mind the study from about three years ago, it was released by the Philadelphia-based Partners for Sacred Places. And what they found was historic houses of worship in urban neighborhoods typically generate about $1.7 billion annually in economic impact.

So, we really need to understand the spiritual role played by these churches, but also in addition to that, the economic role that these churches play in their communities. I was wondering if you could expand on that, just the critical role that these institutions, just the church, going even beyond spirituality, how they help people in these towns and cities throughout the nation.

Tim Goeglein: Well, I'm so honored you asked that, because coincidentally, just a moment ago, I mentioned the University of Pennsylvania, which is the academic home of John Dilulio. John is a very great friend, he's a former White House colleague, and one of the most important social scientists of the 21st century.

And John and some of his colleagues at the university of Pennsylvania did what was at the time considered to be a pathbreaking, pioneering, incredibly important study of the importance of religious and faith-based social institutions in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

And what they sought to do in this very famous study, which we allude to in American Restoration, is to actually on a metric determine that if you were to essentially get rid of these faith-based institutions in a metropolitan area like Philadelphia, which is to say the feeding programs would end, the nourishment programs would end, the dentistry, the medical services that are provided would end.

The orphan care, foster care, adoption facilities would close their doors. And he went through, as did his colleagues, this remarkable economic metric, quite apart from orthodoxy or from faith. And it really astonished every person who read and studied, and then reapplied the same metrics to their own metropolitan area around the country.

Because just in Philadelphia alone... And I'm doing this from memory, I think it was just in the Catholic social services space, it turned out to be worth billions. That is to say, again, billions of dollars annually that was not being provided by the federal, the state, or local governments, but was actually provided as an extension of good churchly work.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that we touch on time and again in American Restoration. And I want to go up to 50,000 feet for just a minute, because our chapters all begin with the word "restoring." Restoring America's founding principles, restoring religious liberty, restoring medicine and medical ethics, restoring a culture of life, restoring marriage, social capital. Restoring virtue, restoring education.

All of these things, Charles, have in common the recognition of the centrality of faith and spirit as connected to American public life and good public policy from the very beginning of our constitutional republic. And we say that this is no time to run and hide, because you get up in the morning, you look at the papers, you go on social media, snap on the tele, listen to the radio. And it's very easy to become discouraged or despairing.

But what we say is that discouragement and despair is a kind of sin, because it negates hope. And so we believe very strongly that you can directly apply in every element of life this idea of faith and religion and spirit at the center of the enterprise. You can do it in a way that is utterly and totally constitutional, and what you soon find is the kind of regeneration that we all want in this great country in the next few decades.

Charles McElwee: Yes, your book would certainly be inspirational to so many people who live in these urban neighborhoods, towns throughout the country, who want to help out, who want to feel hope, who want to have a positive outlook on their future.

I was wondering if you saw the recent Census Bureau data that was released that show that Americans are moving at the lowest rate since the government started keeping track. It showed that just 9.8% of Americans moved in the year ending in March of this year, of 2019, the smallest share since the Census Bureau started tracking it in 1947.

These findings are often presented in a negative light. And of course there are all discouraging economic factors that play a role in these statistics. But do you think the problem really is declining mobility, or the fact that the social and economic conditions in these communities have forced residents to consider leaving, when in reality they actually prefer to stay because they love their families, they love their churches if they're open, they love being there, and they love their community?

Tim Goeglein: Yeah, I must say, and it sounds awfully politic, you can look at a data set, and I am familiar, very familiar with these data. You can look at a data set like this, and you can be encouraged, and you can be discouraged at the same time. And it all goes according to the motivation of why people are or are not moving.

If, in fact, people are reviewing the impact of constant mobility, of uprooting and transition on their children, on a marriage, on the idea of being connected to a particular community, a particular way of life, a particular neighborhood, that says something very positive. I love G.K. Chesterton's great view of this, that every neighborhood should have its own banner. That to me is the ultimate conservative credo, that we're all from somewhere. We love our family, we love our home, we love our neighborhood. It's familiarity, it's community, it's neighborhood.

And when we talk about authentic restoration of the institutions, back to Edmund Burke and little platoons, we have to go directly to localism and say, "Yeah, it's great to have these national goals. More power to the national goal makers. But what about my neighborhood? What about my town, or village, or city?"

So if you're looking at mobility numbers and applying it in that regard, people are remaining where they're at because of the impact on their marriage, family, parenting, community, then I think that there is reason for blue skies and green lights.

On the other hand, in a dynamic economy, in an era of dynamic capitalism, we also as Americans have to say that there is a cherished and important tradition of mobility. That very often, accepting a new job, making a transition, in fact has a better impact on family where they have perhaps encountered economic stagnation and worse.

So I want to be very careful in answering your question to say that very often as conservatives, the kind of local attachments we can see and observe can be a good thing. But we also want to make sure that one of the greatest data points that is bedeviling us, which are the large number of percentage of men who are not working, for instance, that has a very deleterious impact on marriage and family cohesion and stability. And having large percentages of able-bodied men working is a very important thing. And that's also consonant to the idea of restoration in America.

Charles McElwee: And finally to my last question for you, we're entering this chaotic 2020 presidential election cycle, which is proving exhausting for anyone who follows it. What can we take from your book to get us through this? What are the lessons we can take to understand each other during this polarized era, when that unfortunately will likely intensify as the cycle continues through next November?

Tim Goeglein: I believe very strongly that in American Restoration, we wanted to emphasize that government will not provide the solutions that we desperately need in America. We wanted to emphasize, Charles, that the solutions, the ones that actually work, the ones that move us closer to the national renewal that we really seek, that these solutions lie in our churches, in our synagogues, in our communities, and in our homes.

And we're not shy about saying that the light for our path is faith. And we believe that as that light pierces the darkness, that America will experience a reawakening, regeneration, and renewal. And I have to say, that culture leads. That by and large, the political class does not lead. I think we ought to seriously consider not making most politicians the grand marshals of any parades.

We have fallen into this habit that maybe it's Silicon Valley that is going to lead us out of this. Maybe it is the financial district and the financial poobahs in New York. Maybe it is going to be the political class in Washington that will come up with the clever answers. Maybe the entertainment industry. I don't believe that that is the case. It's not to say that those communities are unimportant or don't have a role. Of course they have an outsized role.

But if we really are seeking an America which is intact, which is confident, and which is contributing to the kind of constitutional republic that we seek, we ought pay attention to the rising generation of young men and young women who do not go to politics first. And I think that for the importance of politics, that having a healthy conversation in public policy in the local institutions is really the healthier way to think about the way forward for the United States.

It's not Hollywood's country. It's not Wall Street's country. It's not Silicon Valley's country, or Washington DC's country. It's our country. Self-government is the thing that makes America exceptional. Our constitution, our declaration are our great institutions. And I think that they are strong, and I think that we can make them stronger.

And I think it begins in the states, at the local and regional levels. I really believe that there's a lot of room for restoration there. And let's not forget the centrality of faith. I think we have to reweave and reconnect this idea of faith in public life. And from there I think good things will happen.

Charles McElwee: Tim, your book was such an inspiration, and I hope people will pick it up, order it, read it, because they will doubtlessly have the same takeaway. It was just a wonderful book, and I congratulate you and Craig. And thank you so much for this conversation.

Tim Goeglein: It's been such a pleasure to be with you. It's been a real honor. Thank you so much.

Charles McElwee: Thank you, Tim. And don't forget to order American Restoration.

We'd also love to hear your comments about the interview today on Twitter, @CityJournal. And if you liked the show and would like to hear more, please leave ratings and reviews on iTunes. Thanks again for listening, and thank you, Tim.

Tim Goeglein: Thank you.

Brian Anderson: Thanks for joining us for the weekly 10 Blocks Podcast, featuring urban policy and cultural commentary with City Journal editors, contributors, and special guests.

Photo by EJ_Rodriquez/iStock

More from 10 Blocks