D. Michael Lindsay, a sociology professor at Rice University, interviewed some 360 evangelicals for his new book, “Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite,” which seems to have inspired Christianity Today to interview him.
You examined four areas: politics, media, academia, and business. Where did you find evangelical leadership strongest, and where is it weakest?
The largest accumulation of evangelicals is clearly in the business world. And regarding their ability to make a difference, there is a pretty big difference between public companies, traded on the stock exchange, versus private companies. If you are the CEO of a private company run by you and your family, you have a lot of latitude.
The area with the least amount of influence would probably be in Hollywood. There’s really only one evangelical in the country who has the resources to “greenlight” a project, and that’s Phil Anschutz.
And he’s not in the traditional power structure there.
You got it. He’s an outsider who has clout; he’s not working through the existing structures. The existing structures are dominated by secular people. That said, there are more entrepreneurial energies devoted to Hollywood than I see even in the political domain. So I fully expect we will see some dramatic changes.
You infer a palpable distaste among the elite for evangelical cultureâfor its music, for its Thomas Kinkade artwork, for its suspicion of intellectualism and science.
That’s right. I would say two things go hand in hand that have the potential to cause deep divisions. One is the divide between mainstream cultural consumption and subcultural consumptionâonly listening to Christian radio, only buying your books from Christian bookstores. And then the other track is church versus non-church spiritual nourishment. Both of those have the potential to create deep divides in evangelicalism.
I think it’s too early to decipher what is going to happen. I don’t notice, for example, that this distaste for evangelical kitsch goes to a deeper level where there is distaste for fellow Christians. Many of the evangelical leaders would couch their comments in saying, “You know, these folks are so sincere about their faith.” They talk about going to Christian conferences where there are the Peter and Paul salt and pepper shakers, and they are dismissive about it. Later on they’ll come back to that as though their conscience is working on them. They’ll say, “You know, I went to one of those conferences and the couple told me about how those salt and pepper shakers meant something very important to them.”
What do you hope people will take away from your book?
There’s been a lot of attention on the stewardship of financial resources, but practically nothing on the stewardship of power. I hope my book will stir greater understanding of how to deal with the issues of power. At this point, the evangelical movement desperately needs more thoughtful reflection on Christians’ exercise of power. Because evangelicals have arrived. They have power that they didn’t have 30 years ago.
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