|Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite|
|Issue: 67 Page No: 27 Updated: 12/27/2010 10:00 AM|
|Author:||D Michael Lindsay , Darold H. Morgan|
Book Reviewed by Darold Morgan,
Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite
Oxford University Press: 2007, $25. When one gets into this book, powerful impressions surface quickly! Evangelical Christians in America are now officially a part of the elite in the land. They have become a political force to be reckoned with. Like it or not, they have added to their name a long list of impressive accomplishments. And the movement is obviously controversial! Not only are there persuasive preachers in mega-churches, the movement has major players in corporate offices, the media, academia, and in the highest and most powerful political offices.
Michael Lindsay’s book is a major account of how they got to this level. Not so many years back, evangelicals were dismissed as “backwood bigots, or as poor uneducated, easily-led Christians of which America has an abundant supply. Yet since the days of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and particularly since the Clinton and George W. Bush years, these evangelicals have steadfastly moved from that stereotyped environment into stratospheric heights of genuine influence. How they got there, and even more intriguing whether they can stay there, forms the backbone of this book.
One is impressed by the huge amount of research in the writing of this book. The author, a professor at Rice University, interviewed precisely 360 people, most of whom are evangelicals. The list includes former presidents, corporate executives, prominent personalities from the wellknown evangelical groups, as well as a number of the mega-church pastors. An appendix lists not only the names of these interviewees, but the format used in the encounter.
Lindsay documents how these now bold and intrepid evangelicals have moved from obscurity to positions of power on the American scene. One has to credit these believers with “a holy mission” as they moved to gain major voices in presidential campaigns and the major educational centers in the land. Early on, they perceived the importance of being heard with their message in entertainment and media centers. Gravitating to corporate offices was accomplished quite quickly.
These were not accidental and spasmodic developments. This was and is a deliberate, calculated, “winner take all,” campaign to bring America back to God. These gifted and committed persons view this as a sacred task, growing out of what they define as an evangelical: “someone who believes (1) that the Bible is the supreme authority for religious belief and practice, (2) and that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that (3) one should take a transforming activist approach to faith” (p 4). The author makes it plain that this movement is far more than “a set of beliefs, it is also a social movement and an all encompassing identity.”
A number of evangelical leaders and their organizations quickly made the twin issues of abortion and homosexuality dominant, almost to the neglect of other major social concerns. One detects a loyalty to the Republican Party, resulting in a two way street of influence—evangelical votes will put certain candidates into office as long as they support these specified policies. And these policies are always defined as Christian family concepts.
One of the most helpful parts of this book are his conclusions about developments which may or may not ultimately weaken this evangelical resurgence. One of them is the narrow and limited programs centered about the already mentioned concerns of abortion and homosexuality. Another is the growing divide between what he calls “the cosmopolitan evangelical” and “the populist evangelical.” The former group consists of corporate, educational, academic leadership. The latter is hazily defined as the local church leadership and membership. It is similar to the historic differences between the laity and the clergy. Some business leaders have backed away from local church involvement because some pastors have exhibited glaring examples of poor business judgment as well as the sad saga of moral failures.
The cosmopolitan evangelicals are concerned also about the populist position which often decries women in place of leadership. Additionally they are genuinely concerned about the dominance of sexual issues, which often ignore social issues like poverty and the environment. Both groups are still deeply committed to the national goal of a moral resurgence, but the potential of fragmentation is a fact worth noting.
With the 2008 election in the wings, evangelicals are extremely reluctant to relinquish any of their ‘elitism.’ Whether or not they will is not an issue in this volume. What we have is a fair-minded book which compliments the zeal of these evangelicals, but also gently hints that evangelicals could gain more if there could be more moderation and cooperation.
The evangelical “winner take all” philosophy needs to find some common ground in America’s swirling, complicated, and bruising diversity.
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Lindsay, D Michael , Morgan, Darold H.. "Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite" ChristianEthicsToday.
The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Christmas 2007 (Issue 67 Page 27)