Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara title=
Believer's Edge provided coffee, snacks, and support for those released from County Jail in the middle of the night through the Lights On program. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)
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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, operating with a self-described “calling and destiny” to “influence” local government, businesses, media, and education, had accomplished much to be proud of in its seven years of service, Dayton says.

With trademark enthusiasm, he walks the crowd through a PowerPoint presentation of his “Life Mastery” program before inviting Steve Wagner, at the time Goleta’s director of Public Works, to the stage to talk about his faith and how it intersects with his professional ambitions. A few months earlier, then-Police Chief Cam Sanchez had spoken to the congregation about how Jesus had figured prominently in his law enforcement career.

Once Wagner hands the mic back, Dayton grows serious. “Guys,” he says, lowering his voice, “what I’d like to see is a city takeover. … Give me 50 men and we can take back Santa Barbara.” He commends Muslims for not hiding their intent to conquer the globe; Christians, he says, shouldn’t be ashamed of their same goal. “We have been given a kingdom to manage,” he intones, “and this is about taking over the world.”


Rob Dayton | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

“I want us to start by taking this region, this coastal plane,” Dayton continues, his energy rising. “I want it to be known internationally that the City of Santa Barbara is alive with God.” That this is where people go to be healed in Jesus’s name, where the church makes the economy work, where there isn’t homelessness or drug addiction because residents are so blessed. “That’s my vision,” Dayton says. “Do you want to be part of that, guys? C’mon!”

The video and more recent statements and actions by Santa Barbara’s longtime transportation chief ​— ​including allegedly providing a secularized version of his “Life Mastery” curriculum to city staff ​— ​were the subject of an inquiry made this spring by three members of City Council 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 official. 

That inquiry caused Dayton, who earns approximately $190,000 a year and has been on paid leave since May, to file a complaint with the city’s Human Resources department that alleges he is being discriminated against and that he has been passed over for prior promotions because of his Christian convictions. 

This Tuesday, the council met in closed session with city attorneys to discuss Dayton’s complaint, as well as the threat of a lawsuit. Dayton, City Hall sources say, is demanding a $500,000 payment to avoid litigation, though that number could not be independently verified. Because of the legal and political sensitivities involved, no one with knowledge of the matter has been willing to speak about it on the record. 

As the name “Believer’s Edge” enters the public discourse, with lingering questions over City Council candidate Barrett Reed’s past involvement with the ministry, cofounder John Mullen answered questions from the Independent this week about its guiding principles and the impact it has had on the Santa Barbara community.

Believer’s Edge came together in 2007 when Dayton, Mullen ​— ​a former developer and healthcare industry executive ​— ​and several members of Calvary Chapel created an offshoot group from across a dozen area churches who wanted to partner their religious beliefs with their professional goals. The fellowship, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, grew to include more than 100 men who met every Tuesday at downtown’s Christ Presbyterian Church to sing hymns, say prayers, and seek career guidance from each other and guest lecturers. At the time, Dayton and Mullen also co-owned and operated the former Brat Haus restaurant at Paseo Nuevo.

“There was no paid staff, dues, or membership,” said Mullen of the ministry. “It was just many volunteers giving time and energy as needed. The simple idea was to encourage one another to take responsibility to be godly husbands and fathers, to honor others in the workplace, and to quietly serve our neighborhoods and community in a positive manner.”

One example of those efforts was the creation of the successful Lights On program that provides coffee, snacks, and general support for those released from County Jail in the dark of the night, Mullen explained. The program was vetted and approved by the County Board of Supervisors and continues to this day. Dayton declined to be interviewed for this story but did cite the Independent’s 2014 cover story on 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 put on lunches for 100 business people to “share best leadership practices.”

Other ministry members moved beyond Santa Barbara’s borders and started an international charity, HOW International, that provides prosthetic limbs to landmine victims in Mozambique, Mullen said. The organization frequently attracts interns from Cal Poly and Santa Barbara High School’s MAD Academy, and in 2017, it was invited by the United Nations to speak about the challenges of assisting landmine victims in developing countries.

Mullen was asked about the crusade-heavy rhetoric and branding of Believer’s Edge, which included a sword in its logo and a message on its website to “link our shields to take back this city.” Take it back from whom? “Our charge for one another,” Mullen responded, “was to get involved, to take action in our own way and rise up to take back homelessness, addiction from drugs and alcohol, to take back failed marriages and absentee fathers as well as inequality and discrimination in our homes, neighborhoods, and larger community.”


Believer’s Edge cofounder John Mullen speaks to the service attendees. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Believer’s Edge disbanded in 2019 after fulfilling its goal to push men to lead, Mullen said. “We therefore encouraged each to go back and make a difference in their own churches.” Its last tax filing in 2018 showed the nonprofit collected $138,240 in revenue that year and gave out the same amount in contributions and grants. “While Believer’s Edge did not solicit funds, many members donated to important causes without attention or fanfare,” Mullen said.

Over the last few months, as Rob Dayton and City Hall started battening down their respective hatches, Believer’s Edge began winnowing its online presence. First by removing a handful of Tuesday service videos from their homepage ​— ​including, somewhat conspicuously, those that featured Barrett Reed ​— ​and then this week abruptly scrubbing their entire existence from the Internet, including their website, Facebook page, and Vimeo account. By way of explanation, Mullen said the group decided “not to renew our web services and these services have now just expired.” 

Reed maintains he interacted only briefly with the congregation by giving a talk about his real estate development firm and, as a volunteer chaplain, working alongside Mullen at the jail. He may have attended another Tuesday service but can’t remember, he said. In one of the deleted videos, Reed discussed his close personal relationship with Mullen, including a recent falling-out and reconciliation between the two of them and their families. In another video, he talked about how they used prayer to heal inmates of various medical conditions.

Reed, running to represent District 4, resists the suggestion he’s now trying to distance himself from the ministry, explaining he has no reason to do so and no reason to be critical of Believer’s Edge, describing them as a “good group of guys looking to get better in all that they do.” “As a society,” he said, “I think what they set out to do is what we want men to do: continue to work to be better and better at home with their families and the same where they live and work to hold one another accountable.”

As Dayton’s administrative leave drags on, his absence at the city is acutely felt, especially as Santa Barbara grapples with other top leadership vacuums and the uncertain fate of State Street. Dayton was instrumental in converting the downtown business district to a pedestrian promenade ​— ​the Independent made him a Local Hero in 2020 because of it ​— ​and throughout a nearly 30-year career has been an effective voice for alternative transportation and bicycling projects, some of which are still ongoing and would benefit from his continued guidance.

Dayton does have his critics, though, and some of them have suggested that the promotions he didn’t receive ​— ​one for Community Development Director, the other for Economic Development Director ​— ​had everything to do with a lack of qualifications and experience and nothing to do with his religious beliefs. There were also reportedly concerns raised about his hard-charging and at times high-handed leadership style, evidenced by a recent end-run around the Historic Landmarks Commission for approval of the new Sola Street bike lane. Moreover, the sources said, Dayton has been promoted many times throughout his lengthy career.

Nick Welsh contributed to this report. 

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Marathoner Aug 10, 2021 12:33 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Judge Sterne presided over a million dollar award for a SBPD dispatcher who walked off the job and then sued for retaliatory 'firing' so this dude is trying to cash in on the trend. Not commenting in the hot debate here whether B.E. is part of the theocratic global takeover or just a bunch of well intended Christian types. But I am skeptical about the claim "used prayer to heal inmates of various medical conditions". Really now? Maybe the SBDPH should hire them to pray away the covid, problem solved, virtually cost-free, right? Sorry, not sorry, this point needs to be made.

PitMix Aug 09, 2021 11:52 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

$500K is cheap if he would also agree to resign. Less than 3 yrs pay for doing nothing in his current position. They have to get rid of him because he has already proven himself to be untrustworthy in supporting the City at a fairly high position, so promoting him would be pure idiocy.

Randy Parks Aug 09, 2021 02:47 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

No, when he settles, it will be an "undisclosed" amount, he keeps his job... remember, his performance was never an issue, HE filed lawsuit because of discrimination, "they" aren't trying to fire him, and he never got reprimanded. Incidentally, the reported payment amount was released by a Silly Council blabber-mouth, as the article reads; "a $500,000 payment to avoid litigation, though that number could not be independently verified."

And since I'm sure you missed (or ignored ) it; "Dayton was instrumental in converting the downtown business district to a pedestrian promenade ​— ​the Independent made him a Local Hero in 2020 because of it."

Byzantium Aug 07, 2021 02:05 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Looks like stated goals of this organization is working on the root causes our city ills - crime, addictions vagrants, gangs. Yes, they call themselves a religious organization just like Westmont calls itself a religious college. Such institutions do exist amongst us. The fact remains the Salvation Army and the Rescue Mission have an enviable track record of success because they do include a religious component getting peoples lives on a better track. Far better than the over-rated secular Homeless Inc programs and the city sponsored PATH Shelter who do operate without this additional spiritual component. Enabling is what too many tax dollar funded programs end up doing, and growing the problem since so little is ever asked of the clients they pretend they serve. . Enobling lives, not just enabling continued failure, is successful track record of these other well-proven charitable and religious operations. Credit where credit is due, since the shared goal of all these operations should be successfully turning lives around. What we get here as the only option anti-religion screeds, which is a very bleak alternative. Who can not celebrate a group of dedicated individuals who actually reach out to early morning departing jail occupants. Who else reaches out to them? What happens to their lives when they just get dumped on the streets - where do they go first if family and friends are not there. They don't have to accept this outreach, but what happens if no one is there to even give them this choice?

Happy2BeSB Aug 07, 2021 10:28 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

The key red flag is when groups like this use authoritarian "takeover" rhetoric. When a group or individual believes the answer to a problem requires a takeover, they betray a level of pride worthy of the seven deadly sins. The ideals of democracy require leaders who acknowledge that solutions require balancing varied interest of all people, which takes patience and effort. Autocrats are lazy bullies.

Randy Parks Aug 07, 2021 11:55 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

TAKEOVER needs to be taken in context (good grief, don't pull one line, and state an erroneous stance - Here's the awful "TAKEOVER" ==> Our charge for one another,” Mullen responded, “was to get involved, to take action in our own way and rise up to take back homelessness, addiction from drugs and alcohol, to take back failed marriages and absentee fathers as well as inequality and discrimination in our homes, neighborhoods, and larger community.” A LAWSUIT PAYOUT, just like a lawsuit itself, is put those in (check) who are discriminating, whether it be for color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs...

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Many "leaders" (specifically Biden and Polosi) in the White House profess to be Catholics. True Catholics goal is to support the great commission, so tell us, do you call them the same names as you call Christians? Same Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

a-1628353881 Aug 07, 2021 09:31 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

If you believe a "higher power" guides you, be it any religious faith, money, etc. rather then what the community wants then you will do anything so your will wins. You make rules work for you. You are a missionary. In government, all people have a say during "Public Comment". A staff person like this has the power to persuade City staff dishonestly, misuse funds and make it hard to impossible for the general public to be heard. When government influence is the mission of your religion than there is a conflict between church and state. To ask for $500,000 to not sue is coercion, bribery, extortion, an unethical, un-Christian offense. Advocating for a Christian City is intolerance of the worst kind. Morality is universal not religious. The Golden Rule is part of all cultures and religions including humanism and atheism.

Byzantium Aug 09, 2021 12:31 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

It would serve the argument better if you had examples or proof of wrong-doing rather than just speculation about what could be a wide range of reactions. Can you point out any specifics? Or does Dayton stand accused of only thought crimes, all created in your mind?

dukemunson Aug 07, 2021 09:36 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

931am - wait, what??? How is the “golden rule” part of atheism? That’s just humorously nonsensical! You can obviously say atheists can adhere to the golden rule, but the statement that “it’s part of atheism” makes no sense…

Rinconer Aug 07, 2021 08:58 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

The beaten down criminal who steals $50.00 from a Liquor store is relatively easy to spot.
Ironically, it’s the white collar criminals, dressed in nice suits and cloaked in religion, who try to steal 10,000 times that amount , that we should really be watching for. Here in Carp., we have naturally occurring tar, whose got feathers?

Luvaduck Aug 07, 2021 07:26 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

I believe in strict separation of church and state: It's too slippery a road to judge each intrusion of one on the other. I also commend any person or group who is compassionate to those in true need. I don't want to get involved in an embroilment, but Mr. Parks, are you a member of this group? If so, can you explain the idea of a pay-off?

rubyfoo Aug 07, 2021 06:38 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Separation of church and state is a key element in maintaining American brand democracy. If SB can't summon the gumption to get rid of this zealot and the like, then we deserve what we get.

edney Aug 10, 2021 09:35 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Obviously they didn't teach the Bill of Rights at your school.
You do know that many Federal, State Buildings contain a Muslim Prayer room and that it is illegal for State to deny people the right to display religious symbols on their person and office (although you cannot turn your office into a shrine, you can display a crucifix... just not a huge one)
Also there is the Right to Speech (religious speech) and it is a double whammy for the state because its two violations of civil rights.

I am astonished at the percentage of people here who have seperation of church and state backwards. The state cannot restrict the individual. President Obama as is his individual right spoke about how beautiful the Muslim call to prayer is. President Biden quoted Psalm 30 at his Inauguration. Presidents from day one in this country used religious refences in writings, speeches in their official capacity.

If you read this:
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/godinamerica-white-house/

You will see that Jefferson is responsible for the "wall of seperation" Madison as well due to over reach by the Anglican Church. Baptist church leaders were being jailed by the state for not having licenses and the seperation was to protect more religious practice and to eliminate favoritism by law enforcement by the state onto one religion over the other

sbdude Aug 07, 2021 09:11 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Exactly! We should purge all city department heads of anybody who believes certain religious tenets, and while we're at it mandate religious belief statements on all ballots. That'll get them both now and in the future!

JoeG Aug 06, 2021 10:06 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Back in the day, when I actively fought over-densification, and over-development of our beautiful city, my memory of Dayton is that of an empty suit, bureaucrat who specialized in gas lighting anyone who opposed the bad projects he supported. He would sit in public meetings, with a know-it-all smirk on his face, talk in circles, and justify development projects that he knew darn well did not provide ample parking, and that severely, negatively impacted traffic. Obviously, not a fan.

a-1628306412 Aug 06, 2021 08:20 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

He know's what he is doing 500K is probably just the right amount to ask for. Not big enough for the city put funds and man hours (city attorney etc.) into fighting. Easier to pay without admiting anything one-way or another and probably get him to sign a NDA. My question is will he pay taxes on it? is this kind of settlement exempt?

a-1628304729 Aug 06, 2021 07:52 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

I believe all city employee's and board members have to take an ethics training course and it has to be signed off by a “LOCAL OFFICIAL" not State but Local.
https://www.fppc.ca.gov/learn/public-officials-and-employees-rules-/ethics-training.html
AB 1234 Ethics Training is mandatory. Members/employees are required to complete this training within the first year of appointment/employment and EVERY TWO years thereafter.
City needs an ethics review board.

Rypert Johnson Aug 06, 2021 04:45 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Some key things that stand out:

"All-male Christian ministry"
"Calling and destiny to “influence local government, businesses, media, and education"
“Life Mastery”
" City takeover"
"We have been given a kingdom to manage and this is about taking over the world”
"Link our shields to take back this city”
"Prayer to heal inmates of various medical conditions"
"Removing a handful of Tuesday service videos from their homepage"
"Alive with God"

Ummm, yeah, zealotry disguised as leadership. But don't all zealots want to lead?

a-1628349103 Aug 07, 2021 08:11 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Glad to see mention of his fascination and absurd over spending on bicycle access which is directly in his wheelhouse. Wonder if his buddies has Christian themed racing outfits. Seems like a Monty Python skit--racing bikes on Crusade.

Transparent Aug 06, 2021 02:08 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

The problem here is this. In a professional capacity (say, as a City Planner) your JOB is to pursue the objectives laid out by City Council, and the City Manager.

If you are pursuing the goals of your CHURCH instead, that's a serious no-no you are committing ... not discrimination. Discrimination would be if you are punished for PRIVATE beliefs or actions. Once you bring those into your PUBLIC role (as he has clearly stated have done) you are playing a different game.

But sure, get a payout. Not sure that's what Jesus would be after, though.

Randy Parks Aug 06, 2021 11:40 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

He's not a god (note the little G) = what he says doesn't go... - there's a Mayor and City Council, "he" can't fast-track anything, and if he did, sleepy council would have/needed to speak up = not the case. Keep in mind (don't be a numbskull like most others here) IF HIS PERFORMANCE were an issue, all would be having a different conversation - HE filed lawsuit because of discrimination, "they" aren't trying to fire him, and he never got reprimanded, THIS IS AN IMPORTANT POINT.

Randy Parks Aug 06, 2021 04:33 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Ahh, every person makes decisions, and takes action based on one's belief system, or lack thereof. His just happens to be Christian based. He was never reprimanded for pushing his faith on anything or anyone. As stated: any literature he (may) have handed out was secular...

Who are you to say "Discrimination would be if you are punished for PRIVATE beliefs or actions?" Punishment isn't even the correct word to use <><> Definition of Discrimination is: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. <><> Many "leaders" (specifically Biden and Polosi) in the White House profess to be Catholics, so tell us, do you call them the same names as you call Christians? Same Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

TheKid5 Aug 06, 2021 02:02 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

These are 6 Countries With A Theocratic Government and I suggest that these guys go there and try to sell their religious wares there, if they survive! I have always stuck with Jefferson!

Yemen
Sudan
Saudi Arabia.
Mauritania
Iran.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."

a-1628348922 Aug 07, 2021 08:08 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Israel is a theocratic government in the sense that it is committed to a "Jewish" state and has many provisions in its laws that give preference to Jewish practitioners, for example exemption of some from military service.

ZeroHawk Aug 06, 2021 04:37 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

well...TheKid is correct...
4:09pm, no, Israel is not a theocratic government. nor is the vatican. i see why you would think so, but they are not. not by inner workings nor definition.

edney Aug 06, 2021 01:27 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

""These are the beliefs we don't feel are appropriate for high-ranking public servants in Santa Barbara..."

1. Please please please do this to me. I'd love to get a $2M settlement from the taxpayers for violating my rights

2. What would stop a very conservative city council from blocking anyone who donates to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU?

Slippery slippery unconstitutional slope

sbdude Aug 06, 2021 12:13 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

The City Council should stop beating around the bush and just pass a resolution: "These are the beliefs we don't feel are appropriate for high-ranking public servants in Santa Barbara..." Then start listing the things Mullen, et. al. believe in. Maybe list some churches and organizations by name. Put 'em all on notice.

Randy Parks Aug 06, 2021 12:17 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

He did NOT give "religious literature" Lets be accurate!!! IT READS: "including allegedly providing a SECULARIZED version of his “Life Mastery” curriculum to city staff. <> <> Ever listen to self-help gurus like Tony Robbins? they all use godly/biblical principles in their (teachings) and literature...  ​

SantaBarbaraObserver Aug 06, 2021 11:28 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

These people are gross. History has proven time and time again that when religious zealots come together, evil arrives shortly thereafter... Get these arrogant, ignorant zealots out of our government and out of our lives.

OpossumBoy Aug 06, 2021 02:39 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

SBObserver - You and I are on the same page when it comes to religious zealots. This one kind of reminds me of Jim Jones https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

It will be interesting to see what this guy and his followers ultimately do in the following decade. Drink the kool-aid?

Roger Aug 06, 2021 11:27 AM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is very corrupt then there are these little groups of back scratchers and ass kissers throughout every business and Government in the city including your Dog Damn Hero's it's all political Horse Manure. this is just a small part of it. Anyone worth running for the office of Mayor won't for these reasons and those that do who have never been in politics figure it out soon after and cannot wait for it all to end hopping they don't win....It's all Cull Carp...

Randy Parks Aug 06, 2021 12:21 PM
Church, State, and ‘Taking Back’ Santa Barbara

AGAIN, let's be accurate!!! Your comment should read, no need to pay taxes, SINCE: Its last tax filing in 2018 showed the nonprofit collected $138,240 in revenue that year and gave out the same amount in contributions and grants. “While Believer’s Edge did not solicit funds, many members donated to important causes without attention or fanfare,” Mullen said.

If your going to comment, at least have your comment make sense.

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