Key West, Florida
Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2008 for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
D. Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, described eight fallacies or misconceptions he held as he began his book. In the three years of his extensive research, he made surprising discoveries about the true power brokers and centers of power in American evangelicalism. He also found that the deep divisions in this movement are not between the political left and right, not between young and old, but between “cosmopolitan” and “populist” evangelicals. Lindsay discussed the implications of his findings for this election year as well as the future of the evangelical movement. David Kirkpatrick, Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, added some history about “old-school” evangelicalism and ways of categorizing the changes that are occurring within the American evangelical movement.
D. Michael Lindsay, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Rice University
David Kirkpatrick, Washington Correspondent, The New York Times
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate this Transcript:
Evangelicals’ elastic orthodoxy
The real divide in evangelicalism
Cultural omnivores appeal to populists and cosmopolitans
Marketers and emergents
Democrats and evangelicals
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Our topic this morning is something that you all write about a lot, and that is the new shape of American evangelicalism. Michael Lindsay tells me that he had to rewrite his entire speech because of Michael Gerson’s presentation yesterday – (laughter) – but he was able to do that.
Well, I call your attention to Michael’s bio in the biographical descriptions, but one thing you’ll want to know about Michael Lindsay is he wrote a very important book called Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, published by Oxford University Press. It’s been a widely reviewed book, a widely praised book; and in fact, it was named one of the best books of 2007 by Publishers Weekly. It received one of Christianity Today‘s 2008 book awards, and it was Oxford University Press’s nominee for the 2008 nonfiction Pulitzer Prize.
So on the subject of American evangelicals, the new face of American evangelicalism, we can’t think of anyone better than having Michael Lindsay to do that for us this morning. So, Michael, thank you for coming.
D. MICHAEL LINDSAY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Well, it’s great to be here.
CROMARTIE: Now, where’s your tie?
LINDSAY: Yeah, no tie. I tried to break the rule and get us back to normalcy, I guess. But it’s great to be here.
I started thinking about evangelicals in the late ’90s. I was working for the Gallup Organization as a consultant for religion and culture. In the run-up to the 2000 election, some folks in this room – and then some of your colleagues – would call me and say, Michael, I need the data from Gallup and percentage of evangelicals in America. George W. Bush was running in the race, and everybody was interested. The assumption was that there are a lot more evangelicals in America today than there were in ’76 when Jimmy Carter ran for office. And then I’d have to go through a long spiel to explain that, depending on how you measure it, evangelicals constitute somewhere between 7 percent and 47 percent of the adult population. (Laughter.) That’s a pretty wide margin there, but most people who study it think it’s probably around a quarter to a third of the adult population. And the intriguing thing is that the percentages have not really changed over the last 30 years. The percentage of self-identified evangelicals is about the same today as it was in the 1970s.
Claire Brinberg, CNN
David Brooks, The New York Times
Carl Cannon, Reader’s Digest
Eve Conant, Newsweek
Ana Marie Cox, Time
Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard
Tom Foreman, CNN
Lauren Green, FOX News
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR
Sam Hodges, The Dallas Morning News
Cindy Johnston, NPR
Chris Lehmann, CQ Weekly
Jonathan Martin, The Politico
Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post
Reihan Salam, The Atlantic
Will Saletan, Slate
Jacqui Salmon, The Washington Post
Rebecca Sinderbrand, CNN
Kathy Slobogin, CNN
Edward Stoddard, Reuters
Well, that gets us scratching our heads because we think, well, what’s going on? There certainly do seem to be a lot more evangelicals. They’re certainly more public in lots of different areas. We hear about them in politics; we hear about them in Hollywood. What’s bringing about the change? My hunch was that they were a group of leaders, people in national positions leading major social institutions in this country, who were self-identifying as evangelical. Either they had become evangelical on the rise to the top, or they had been evangelical and somehow they had navigated their way into powerful positions. And so I set out to try and study them.
Originally I thought that I might be able to do 20 to 40 interviews, but in the end I found that I could get in and do some more. So I did 360 face-to-face interviews, spent three years doing the research, traveled to 72 different research sites, logged about 300,000 miles and collected about 5,000 pages worth of transcript data. For every one hour of interview I did, I did about eight hours of background research to try and learn the individual stories. I then put that into a larger narrative. So I’ve got lots of data; some of which made it into this book, some of which didn’t. But it was a terrific project, and I learned an awful, awful lot. What I’ll share with you this morning that I thought might be helpful are eight fallacies I had walking into the project that in the end proved to be completely wrong. And I’ll also share some of the interesting developments that I came across.
First, I assumed that evangelicals had succeeded in politics because they had been united, and that unity had been the way that evangelicals have become an important factor in the Republican Party. They had used that unity as a way of getting strength and getting the attention of the national elite. In reality, I found that evangelicals, not surprisingly, are divided across the political spectrum – most people now assume that – and that those divisions are quite significant. Jim Wallis, the head of Sojourners, and James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, really see the world in very different ways. Because of that left-right divide within American evangelicalism, it’s a very significant fracture and oftentimes results in very tense relationships – even among folks who go to the very same church. People who are in the same Bible study or fellowship group oftentimes cannot talk about elections because it’s something that is quite divisive.
I knew that that existed, but I did not realize that within the same White House you could actually have significant division. For example, one of the persons I interviewed for the project was C. Everett Koop (served as surgeon general under President Reagan), and he told me about how in 1986 he became increasingly convinced that AIDS ought to be treated as a public health crisis. Now, when Koop was nominated in 1981, many evangelicals were very excited about this. He was a symbolic appointment; and although he didn’t have experience in public health, he was a world-class surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He eventually got confirmed, even though the public health community was not very excited. But evangelicals were thrilled, and for five years he had a very good relationship with the evangelical community.
Then in 1986 he began to say the White House ought to treat AIDS as a real public-health concern. But remember, in 1986, most evangelicals saw AIDS as God’s punishment against a homosexual lifestyle. One of those evangelicals who held that same position was Gary Bauer; he was serving as President Reagan’s domestic policy advisor. In a matter of a few months, Bauer and Koop began to lock horns and there began to be very significant tensions. Koop would try and get a meeting with the president; Gary Bauer’s staff would get the meeting removed. There was this very deep tension, even within the same White House. And in fact, when I did the interview with Dr. Koop – he has an institute up at Dartmouth now – he didn’t have very nice things to say about Gary Bauer. There are these tensions –
LINDSAY: – and they last, yeah. And so, unity is not what has given evangelicals success in politics. No, the reason why evangelicals have succeeded in politics is because they fundamentally believe something is wrong with the world and they can help set it aright. This gives a fire in their belly that motivates them not just to be active in politics but also to be involved in a whole range of activity. It sustains them through political defeats. If you understand evangelicals just as an interest group in American politics, you miss the fact that they have really strong durability. They can keep coming back and back because they fundamentally believe something’s wrong and they can help set it aright.
Evangelicals embody what I call “elastic orthodoxy.” For a movement to succeed, you have to have some measure of unity; that, for evangelicals, is a core set of shared beliefs that are religious. Religious beliefs provide some sense of unity. Most evangelicals believe the same things about God, the Bible, heaven and hell, and who gets there. That provides a sense of cohesion for the movement. The other thing, though, that makes evangelicals unique is that they have an elasticity to this orthodoxy so that they can build bridges in very interesting and creative ways, so they have been able to build alliances with a whole range of different religious groups and with secular groups as well. That’s different than fundamentalists.
The difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists is how they respond to secular society. A fundamentalist comes into contact with secular society and his or her natural inclination is to pull back, to withdraw, to maintain the integrity of his or her faith. It’s something that’s borne out of religious conviction. Evangelicals, on the other hand, encounter secular society and their natural inclination is to engage it because they’re wanting to win it over. So being part of that mix really influences how evangelicals have been successful, and I think their elastic orthodoxy is quite significant. Now, it doesn’t mean that they’re losing their faith. Books have been written about how evangelicals are becoming more secular; they’re losing their distinctiveness. I think you can certainly say that on commitment to organized religion or a couple of other things that we’ll talk about; but in terms of core beliefs, evangelicals that I interview today look very, very similar to previous generations of evangelicals. The core beliefs have not changed.
Second. The second fallacy that I walked into the project with is that I assumed that 2004 was the apex, the pinnacle of evangelical influence in American politics. And I agree with Michael Gerson that it certainly did demonstrate how evangelicals were able to be a very significant force in a presidential election; but many of the people that I interviewed talked about how very often they voted their person into office and got nothing to show for it. There were no actual results. And many evangelicals, while I was doing the interviews – although they had very positive things to say about the president personally – didn’t feel like that he had delivered as much as they wanted.
So you have to look and say, when have been moments where evangelicals have succeeded on the policy front? And there I’d have to say 1998 is incredibly important. In 1998, evangelicals led a broad coalition of different religious groups to lead the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was a significant development because it said that religious freedom is a basic human right; and because of that it ought to be a fundamental part of American foreign policy. It set up an independent commission that investigates concerns about religious liberty around the world and issues an annual report through the State Department. It established an ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, and is probably, in my opinion, the most significant piece of legislation that has been enacted that deals with religious issues over the last quarter century – very significant. And evangelicals were at the heart of a broad coalition that brought that about. The amazing thing about evangelicals is that the last 30 years have been a series of developments that have helped them move from the margins of society to very much more mainstream positions, and that elastic orthodoxy I think has been important.
Third. The third fallacy I walked into the project with was that there was select group of evangelical movement leaders who functioned as king-makers within the Republican Party. Folks like James Dobson or Chuck Colson had enough clout because evangelicals are the largest, single block or element of the Republican constituency; and because of that, they had very significant influence. But what I learned is that evangelicalism is a movement that is dominated by big personalities. I think Michael was exactly right yesterday when he said that the movement is full of strong leaders but weaker institutions. Dobson and a number of other folks oftentimes see themselves in very, very powerful positions. But based upon the interviews that I conducted with cabinet secretaries, senior White House officials, heads of federal bureaus and agencies, I can tell you that these evangelicals movement leaders are important constituents to keep in the fold, but they certainly do not have make-or-break status within the Republican Party – not at all. In fact, many times there are very deep tensions.
One of the persons that I interviewed for the project was Dick Armey – served as majority leader of the House in the late ’90s. And he’s no longer in politics, so Majority Leader Armey can say pretty much whatever he thinks, and it means he gives really great interviews. And I had heard that after the Republican revolution in 1994, evangelical movement leaders would come and meet with Republican leadership in Washington five or six times a year. These conversations would be strategy sessions but also times in which the movement leaders could voice concerns that they had to the Republican leadership.
As the years went by, these meetings became increasingly acrimonious. In one particular meeting, things really hit a flashpoint. And I was able to confirm that this interaction occurred between Majority Leader Armey and James Dobson; and it actually reflects some of the deep tensions that I found between movement leaders and some of the political leaders that they helped elect into office.
Majority Leader Armey was recounting the story and said, “I said to James Dobson,” quote, ‘You don’t know how the legislative process works. All you want to do is come up here whining and complaining about the failures we’ve experienced when you really ought to mind your own business.'” Then Majority Leader Armey turns to me and says, “You know, there’s a song by the Pointer Sisters, ‘Mr. big shot, who do you think you are?'[*] (Laughter.) Also, there was this little wimpy guy that ran for president, Gary Bauer, and he’s one of these arrogant guys that was telling me about how he made me the majority. Well, Shania Twain says, ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much.'” (Laughter.) So, very deep tensions occur.
Now, what role do evangelicals have in setting up Republican power structures? Well, Republicans are keenly concerned not to have a repeat in 2008 of what they saw happen in 1996. In 1996, most evangelicals were not necessarily excited by the presidential candidacy of Bob Dole. Some of the movement leaders spoke out against him, saying that he wasn’t conservative enough; he didn’t hold to some of their core convictions. So in many ways, evangelicals were not a force to be reckoned with in the 1996 election. And Republicans are concerned about that with a moderate candidate like John McCain, and I think that that will increasingly be important.
The big question in 2008 – there’s two: Will there be a slim segment of the evangelical population that could, in fact, go for a Democratic candidate? Senators Obama and Clinton have certainly done more outreach and have been more outspoken about signaling their faith than any candidate since Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side – very, very significant. And so in tight races in Missouri and in Pennsylvania, it very well could be that they’re able to shave off some of that support, and that could be quite significant. The other very significant question, though, is will evangelicals, by and large, stay home when John McCain is a candidate; because if they’re not mobilized behind him, it could indeed be a repeat of 1996.
Fourth. I assumed that centers of evangelical power, like Wheaton, Ill. and Colorado Springs, Colo. were the central places, the sites of evangelical power. When in fact, if you want to really understand who the evangelical power brokers are in American society, they are not in Wheaton or in Colorado Springs. They are where the rest of the power brokers for American society are. They are in New York, in Washington, and in L.A.
What I found is that there are very significant divisions within the evangelical movement. And most people who have studied evangelicalism recognize this. They say, well, it’s divided between the political left and political right, or they say it’s divided between the ages: you’ve got the older generation and the younger generation. But the amazing thing is that as I did the research, none of those really held up over the long haul. You know, Jim Dobson and Jim Wallis used the exact same strategies to mobilize their base. They come to different outcomes but they look very, very similar.
And I also learned that it is very possible that Billy Graham could actually look a whole lot like many of the 20- and 30-year-olds that I was interviewing, and there were some 40-year-olds who looked a lot more like Jim Dobson – that it wasn’t a pure generational divide. What I encountered was that there were people in the study who tried to sort of distance themselves.
One of the questions that I asked the leaders was, “Tell me some of the books that you’ve read that have been really important in your life” – a seemingly innocuous question. I was informed by a French sociologist named Pierre Bourdieu, who was trying to figure out how it is that we use different kinds of cultural artifacts to set ourselves apart? And so I was curious, you know, what were some of the books that were important to them. People would say, well, I’ve read C.S. Lewis, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or some other things.
And then one person, after I’d done about a dozen interviews said, “But I’ll tell you, I have never read one of those Left Behind books.” And I thought, well, that’s kind of interesting; I didn’t ask you what you didn’t read. (Laughter.) And then I did another couple of interviews and somebody else said, “Now, that Tim LaHaye, that whole Left Behind, that’s not for me; that’s not my kind of reading.” And I began to realize that there was this motif where people would say, I’ve read lots of interesting things but I have not read that Left Behind series. (Laughter.) And then somebody said to me, “And you know, I not only don’t read that Left Behind, but also I would never hang a Thomas Kinkade painting in my home.” (Laughter.)
And I began to realize that there is a whole segment of the evangelical movement -many of those folks who are in the elite – who were trying to distinguish themselves from the rest of the evangelical subculture. And so I began to think more about this and pay more attention to it. And the real divide, in my opinion, in evangelicalism is not between the left and the right; it’s not between the young and the old. It is between a group that I call the “cosmopolitan” evangelicals and “populist” evangelicals. And these are very, very significant divisions.
You see, populist evangelicals are what we oftentimes think about evangelicals. These are the folks who are culture warriors, who say that they want to take back the country for their faith. They see themselves as embattled against secular society. They are very much concerned that they are in a minority position, and they’ve got to somehow use very strong-arm tactics to win the day.
So that populist evangelicalism is alive and strong, especially in the evangelical subculture: the music, the publishing, the entertainment segment of the evangelical subculture. But there is a whole other segment. The people who I interviewed, by and large, fit more this cosmopolitan outlook. They are less interested in taking back the country for their faith. They really are more interested in their faith being seen as authentic, reasonable, and winsome. So they still have an evangelistic impulse, but their whole modus operandi looks quite different. Because of that they have different ultimate goals of what they are actually trying to achieve. They want to have a seat at the table. They want to be seen as legitimate. They are concerned about what The New York Times or TIME magazine thinks about evangelicals because they [the cosmopolitan evangelicals] are concerned about cultural elites. They want legitimacy. Legitimacy is actually more important to them than necessarily taking back the country. And so that cosmopolitan-populist divide I find to be quite significant.
Within that cosmopolitan element there has been a whole new set of faces that have emerged within the evangelical movement. Now, I interviewed 360. There are some amazing people; I could tell you about lots of different folks, but let me just mention five or six that are interesting people to consider.
One is the increasing role of women within that cosmopolitan segment. Now, it’s true, most of evangelicalism does tend to still embrace a traditionalist understanding about gender relations, but that’s changing. Cherie Harder, for example, was recently named the president of the Trinity Forum. The Trinity Forum is a group of folks who really provide support and continuing education programs for many of the cosmopolitan evangelicals that I interviewed. It’s a very significant operation based out of Washington.
Cherie is a very dynamic woman – served most recently in the first lady’s office. She has worked for Senator Frist, has been in government for a long time, is Harvard educated, is very bright and very sharp. She can certainly hold her own in any group of cosmopolitan secularists, and she happens to be a cosmopolitan evangelical. Or Catherine Rohr, an investment banker who has founded an organization called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. It is designed to basically help those folks who are transitioning out of prison learn entrepreneurial skills so that they could actually try and be successful in the business world. She’s giving a talk at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, the largest leadership conference for evangelical pastors held every August, and she’s one of the featured speakers this year.
Or think about Latinos: Luis Palau, Argentine-born evangelical based out of Portland, Oregon. You don’t think of Portland as a hub of evangelical activity all that often, but there’s Luis. And he sponsors citywide events called festivals that draw even more people than the Billy Graham Crusades do – quite significant.
Or the rise of Asian-Americans. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Twenty years ago, the Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at Yale University, one of the leading evangelical campus ministries, was 100 percent white. Today it’s 90 percent Asian-American. You actually can see this dramatic growth in the percentage of Asians at elite college campuses; and it’s also paralleled the rise of evangelical influence on these elite college campuses. Dan Cho is the executive director of something called the Veritas Forum; it sponsors conversations, debates, engagements on leading college campuses and is a very significant development where the reasonableness of evangelical Christianity is discussed – not in an angry, red-faced manner, but actually quite cosmopolitan in its outlook.
And then intellectual life – here are some ways that evangelicals have become significant. John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture, I think has a lot more influence than he did 10 years ago; and I continue to see it grow. Books and Culture is a very significant publication, especially among cosmopolitan evangelicals. Or who is the most celebrated evangelical today? Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, is an outspoken theistic evolutionist. And that’s significant because the close identification of evangelicals with either traditional creationism or intelligent design is actually going to be giving way, I think, to a whole new generation of theistic evolutionists. It’s going to be integrating in. I could say a whole lot more about evangelicals in academic life; but I wrote a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, this week’s issue, and so you can learn a lot more there.
The new political face – who are some of the new political figures? Well, I really do think that the whole Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson generation is being replaced by a whole new face. And who best personifies that than Mike Huckabee? Huckabee is more telegenic than Falwell; he’s more measured than Robertson; he’s more winsome than Dobson. And he has the ability to appeal to both the populist and the cosmopolitan evangelical crowds, and that is significant.
I mentioned Bourdieu earlier. So Bourdieu made this very interesting observation that in French society, the key element to having success was having what he refers to as “cultural capital.” Cultural capital is access to elite cultural institutions: being able to be familiar with museums or with art galleries, to like the symphony or the opera. That was the way in which French elites were rewarded. You got to the elite positions because you had this exposure and fluency in elite cultural life.
The interesting thing is that in the United States the research has shown that that is not exactly what gives one cultural capital in this context. Bethany Bryson, Paul DiMaggio, Richard Peterson and a whole range of other scholars have found that actually, in the United States, cultural capital is revealed by having an omnivorous approach to cultural artifacts. You have to be cultural omnivores. So you not only have to like the opera and the symphony; you also have to like jazz and hip hop. You have to be omnivorous in your cultural tastes. And you think about it; that’s exactly the case for political figures. You have to be able to have a very interesting conversation with nuclear physicists at 12 o’clock and at 2 o’clock be bowling with the folks down the street. You have to be able to walk in these two arenas, and Huckabee actually can do that. So in the very moment that he’s talking about how he believes in creationism about science, he also says, the book I’m reading right now that’s very interesting on religion and science is Francis Collins‘ book, The Language of God.
So in the very same moment he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. He’s saying, I’m appealing to the populists who are concerned about creationism, and I’m also – anyone who knows Collins knows that he’s a theistic evolutionist. It’s brilliant, and I think it’s the way in which the new political face is looking: where you have to appeal both to the populists and to the cosmopolitans.
Fifth. I assumed that the new issues, the new political issues that were developing across the evangelical political landscape necessarily signaled a party realignment. There had to be this kind of element to where evangelicals were going to be moving more and more – especially younger generations – moving more and more into the Democratic Party. The data actually just does not support that. Evangelicals still are center right, and they are among the most loyal of Republicans. In 1992, for President George H.W. Bush, at the very end of his campaign, most Republicans were leaving him left and right – but not the evangelicals. They were among his most loyal constituency until the very end. And he wasn’t even necessarily one who they identified with, but they were incredibly loyal.
Also, I think we have to recognize that there are very interesting ways in which parties can change. Think about the issue of AIDS. So in 1983, most evangelicals think of AIDS as God’s punishment for a homosexual lifestyle. C. Everett Koop tries to make it a public health crisis, and he’s beat down. There was a dinner being given in his honor in early 1987, and all the major evangelical figures had agreed to come to it. After he goes public about this concern about AIDS, every one of them pulled back their invitation – every one of them. He said there was no major evangelical leader who came to that dinner in January of 1987. Fast-forward 20 years. There’s another evangelical in the White House (who happens to be sitting here) who works with Josh Bolton and a number of other folks to say AIDS is something that, out of Christian compassion, we ought to be concerned with. And, by using a whole variety of modes of reasoning (some of which included religious reasoning), Gerson and others are able to persuade the president to allocate $15 billion for AIDS relief in Africa.
Now, the fact that the evangelical community not only thought that that was legitimate but actually embraced the idea – and have seen now AIDS is one of their celebrated causes – shows just how fast a movement can change its political direction without changing its party affiliation.
It’s true that the Democrats today – Senators Obama and Clinton – are more open and than ever toward evangelicals. But remember this: the Focus on the Family mailing list is 10 times the size of the Sojourners’ mailing list. It’s still a difference of size and scope. I do think that some issues are emerging. I think that the faith-based environmentalism called Creation Care is going to be increasingly important. I do not see that going away. I also see issues like abortion not going away at all. Is it possible for Obama or Clinton to say things that could somehow win over some evangelicals? Yes. Will they do it? Don’t know. It comes down to: are they willing to say that abortion is not just a tragic choice but one that we want to try and reduce the incidence of – and propose some policies that might do that?
There is a whole range of issues that have been out there. The Faith Working Group of the Democratic Caucus has talked about an initiative that has been floated around Washington for about a year and a half now.
I think there are some issues that people assume will be huge elements that I think are going to go away: same-sex unions, for example. I think the train has left the station. I don’t think evangelicals 20 years from now will be raising concerns about it. I think same-sex unions will be across the country in 20 years. And I don’t think evangelicals will raise a very big stink because this is one of the issues where you do see very significant generational divides. Older evangelicals are very opposed to it; younger evangelicals are not. And in this way, it mirrors the rest of the country.
The sixth fallacy I had is that faith in politics, if we have to look at how religion fits into politics, it is most centrally about domestic issues. It is most centrally about abortion and about same-sex unions, those kinds of things. When in fact the real story, the real interesting story, is foreign affairs. Fifty years ago, evangelicals were vehemently opposed to foreign aid. They were opposed to interventionism. In fact, some of the strongest oppositionthat President Woodrow Wilson received for some of his policies when he was in office was from fellow conservative Christians. They said that we should not be involved in multilateral relationships. This was quite upsetting.
The major turnaround that evangelicals have made on issues about foreign aid and foreign investment is quite significant. Today, for example, evangelicals are very, very positive, very high on USAID and the State Department. Why is this? Well, over the last 20 years, we have witnessed a de-professionalization of foreign missions – and that’s a significant development. You see, 50 years ago, evangelicals were sending missionaries by the droves to China, to India, to all over. What has happened is that there has been a paradigm shift within the evangelical community. Now you don’t necessarily send somebody for the rest of his or her life to go and do foreign missions; now you send a lot more people for shorter-term ventures. People go for two weeks, for a month, for a summer, for a year, for two years, and this has changed the dynamic. What it’s done is exposed a lot more average evangelicals to a global culture. So you’ve got 7,000 members of Saddleback Church who have now traveled to Rwanda to go and do development and aid in very interesting ways.
Now, there’s controversy related to that because what’s happened is that it has oftentimes taken amateurs and made them involved or interested in foreign policy. But what has happened is that evangelicals are far friendlier to issues about foreign affairs than they ever were, and they have built very major institutions around the idea. World Vision, one of the very largest foreign relief and development agencies based here in the U.S., is a $2.6 billion enterprise. They distribute most of the food for the hungry that’s given by the United States. They give more of a share than anyone else. And it’s headed by Rich Stearns, a Harvard MBA graduate[*] who used to be the CEO of Lenox china, and before that, Parker Brothers games. In fact, one of the interesting developments is that there is a trend within evangelical parachurch ministries: they are no longer headed by people who are pastors and preachers, who have divinity degrees. They are now headed by business executives; so that Steve Douglass, the president of Campus Crusade for Christ, also is a Harvard MBA graduate.
Seventh. I assumed that church life and theology really drove evangelicals’ political activism. In fact, church involvement is actually quite low among the cosmopolitan evangelicals I’ve studied. Sixty percent of them have low denominational loyalty or low church affiliation. Some of them are members of their church but only show up on Sunday morning; they’re not very engaged. Others are members in name only. Others are not members of any congregation whatsoever, and yet they are on the board of some of evangelicalism’s most important organizations. They just happen to be in the parachurch sector. You see, the parachurch is the real driver of how evangelicals have become so significant in a short span of time. These include operations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, World Vision, as I’ve mentioned, as well as a whole range of educational institutions.
There are some theologically literate cosmopolitan evangelicals, people who are able to articulate how their faith matters and drives them to particular positions, but the interesting thing about that is that almost all of them come from the Reformed tradition. The rise of Presbyterian kind of theology has been very interesting to observe. Abraham Kuyper has been one of the figures that is oftentimes cited among the people I interviewed. But on the whole, most of the evangelical leaders that I interviewed – most of the folks who are in powerful positions who are evangelicals, they are like most of their fellow churchgoers. They are like most Americans: they don’t know what they believe or why. They cannot articulate basic theological ideas. There have been a number of folks who have written books about how America is becoming a theocracy as evangelicals have come into powerful positions. One of the interesting notes they talk about is how evangelical ideas about the apocalypse or eschatology are driving American foreign policy. You know, that would be interesting, except most of the people I interviewed do not know the difference between premillenialist and postmillenialist theology. They can’t articulate that.
So the idea that they’re driven by this concern that the rest of the country or the world is getting worse and worse and eventually there’s going to be this kind of cataclysmic result, I don’t find that to be the case at all. In fact, if anything, most of the people I saw are trying to bring about a cultural commission where they’re engaged in a whole range of issues – a much more positive view about future possibilities.
Eighth and finally, I assumed that politics had been the main thing for most evangelicals. The way that evangelicals had succeeded in public life was because politics was a central driving force. In fact, many of the people I interviewed – indeed, most of the people I interviewed – articulated a basic idea that they see politics as simply downstream from culture. Now, part of this is a disillusionment with the fact that they have invested a lot of energy and resources in politics, and it hasn’t resulted in long-term cultural change. But also there has been just this recognition that there are other institutions that are very, very significant.
And so you have, for example, a new document that I got a copy of. I think it’s being released tomorrow at the National Press Club. It’s called, The Evangelical Manifesto. It’s signed by, I don’t know, a hundred evangelical leaders and many mega-church pastors. It is a very significant development. It is drafted by Os Guiness and edited by David Neff, managing editor of Christianity Today. One of the things that’s written in there is that they very much endorse the idea that the first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing. Well, what is the first thing? In terms of cultural life and desire to be involved, I found a lot more energy, enthusiasm, excitement for being engaged in things like Hollywood or on elite college campuses than there is in Washington. In fact, many times, people that I interviewed said that they were far more mobilized about some of the changes that they had seen going on in Hollywood over the last 5, 10 years than anything they’d seen in Washington over the last 30 years. So if you assume that politics is the principal development, I’d have to say that that didn’t wind up how I found it.
So, there’s eight things that I encountered while doing the research. I encountered some new leaders, new faces, new issues; and hopefully that sparks some good conversation.
CROMARTIE: Thank you. Thank you, Michael.
Well, and we’re delighted that David Kirkpatrick could be our respondent. David, for The New York Times, covered not only conservative politics and the conservative intellectual movement, but also covered the rise of religious conservatism and the shape of religious conservatism for The New York Times. And some of you will remember that he did a cover story for The New York Times Magazine a couple of years ago[*] on this very subject. So we’re delighted that David could add some comments before we open it up for questions.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK: Let me just reiterate that I’m structurally outmatched here because I’m here basically because last fall I wrote a magazine article about changes in the evangelical world from a political perspective. So I have at my back only a slender magazine article and he has a whole book. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: It’s not a debate.
KIRKPATRICK: All right. Well, both of us had our thunder stolen to a certain extent by Michael Gerson, who very acutely spelled out the lay of the land in the evangelical world. So I was trying to think about what I could add to this conversation, and I’m going to try to refocus a little bit by talking about the old school. Let me say at the outset I’m just a journalist here, and a journalist for The New York Times, so I shouldn’t really be espousing my own opinion. So I’m going to be kind of play-acting a little bit to start this off.
I feel like the perspective that might be missing from our conversation about the future of the evangelical movement, in particular the political aspects of evangelical participation in American life, is the kind of classic evangelical or old-school evangelical. I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about the maturing of evangelical politics. There is a set of evangelicals out there who object to that term, “maturing,” because it implies that they were immature. It’s a little bit like the way Barack Obama spoke about Pastor Wright. It’s condescending. It explains them away and dismisses them. And they say to that, we weren’t immature; we were onto something and we think we’re still onto it. We’ve thought this through pretty clearly, and we’re right about this. And their argument – while I’m not endorsing it or criticizing it – is internally coherent and it has a validity to it.
And what they would say is, look, we are evangelicals because of a split with the modernist kind of liberal faction of American Protestantism in the first part of this century. And that liberal side that became the mainline churches: they embraced modernity and they embraced historical ideas about the Bible – about how all this came to be written. They got even a little anthropological about that. They started thinking about it as just a particularly important text that we might analyze and pick and choose from. Soon they were on their way to kind of merging with the culture at large. They lost their distinctiveness. They were reading The New York Times editorial page and incorporating those ideas in their sermons; and then Jesus was a sort of asterisk at the end. And it wasn’t so much about heaven and hell and salvation and sin; it was some ideas that we pick up from the Bible that will help you live a better life and be more ethical to your fellow man, et cetera.
And against this, the evangelical side, the orthodox side, broke off and said no to all of that; they said there is a solid, indisputable truth here. The Bible is the full and complete word of God. It’s all we need and it’s what we need. Let’s not be a part of the culture; let’s be over against the culture. And the fracture points famously were these historical ideas about the Bible but also evolution. And the orthodox, or fundamentalist, side of the Scopes Trial went in for quite a bit of mockery then and since. But they’re onto something. It’s no accident that – viewed from a certain angle – while the mainline churches have withered away, the evangelical churches have held their ground. They perhaps have not grown in number – I think Michael Lindsay’s book is really astute about that – but they’ve kept their purchase. One reason that’s the case is that they held onto the really robust sense of original sin, of the fallen nature of man, and a suspicion of this world and the culture around us. That resonated with a lot of people, and it allowed them to preserve their vitality. So they went – as the story goes, they kind of went underground. They huddled into themselves from the Scopes Trial until after the Second World War. Then they burst forth with Billy Graham and Christianity Today; and in the 1970s, they began to be involved in new ways in American political life.
So there is the magazine article I wrote that landed me here. I was very interested in what it was that happened in the 1970s. Because here was a set of people who had been suspicious of politics and really focused on the eternal – the thinking is, in a very simple way, sort of more orthodox Protestant or evangelical Protestant. (I should say I don’t use the word “fundamentalist.” I don’t like the word fundamentalist – partly because people who, in other ways, would fit the definition of fundamentalist – don’t like the word fundamentalist. It’s used too promiscuously. Some people use it to describe non-Christian religions taken to extremes. Fundamentalists find that it has class connotations that they don’t like. You know, people who might otherwise, you know, believe in biblical inerrancy, they don’t use the term, so I don’t really use it anymore at all.)
So, this group of more orthodox or evangelical Protestants – their focus was on salvation. Where the liberal churches got caught up in the idea that we could improve this world – the world that we’re in – the more orthodox side said, you know, let’s keep our eye on the ball. This world is sinful, but thank goodness there is the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ. So let’s keep our eye on the prize and not get caught up in thinking that we can actually perfect the world that we’re in.
So something happened in the ’70s. People who had been suspicious of the political process became much more engaged in the political process. They became engaged in the political process around a new set of issues. There had always been – among the more orthodox Protestants – a sympathy toward political or legalistic concerns about personal morality, laws that were intended to try to keep sin at bay. We can pass on the message of salvation to the next generation if we can just hold back the wolf at the door in terms of alcoholism and pornography and the sins of this world.
In the ’70s, for the first time this evangelical or orthodox Protestant world began to really take up abortion as its own issue. I was interested in that because it became almost definitional of evangelical political participation, and in the ’60s it was nowhere. You know, it really was not a big part of evangelical life. That’s kind of a Catholic thing. And the explanations that you hear most often are, 1973, Roe v. Wade; then there was suddenly this holocaust of fetuses, and that caused the evangelical world to rise to its feet. But I’ve never found that quite convincing because it’s not my sense of how history works, that some spectacle produces an outrage.
And the other explanation that you hear is that people came along who explained the issue in new terms to evangelicals: principally Francis Schaeffer. He said, this is a moral concern that we need to take up, and it’s about truth and relativism and the future of our country. And, again, it doesn’t quite satisfy me because I don’t find that masses of people are lifted to their feet by argument in that way. I feel like I’m more sympathetic to bottom-up arguments about how this issue fit into people’s lives.
So there was this mystery to me. So I decided last summer – there was this sense that things were changing in the evangelical world. I thought this was an opportunity for me to do something I’ve always wanted to do; it was to go to some of the churches that were early on wellsprings of evangelical political activism in the 1970s and talk to the people there. I wanted to talk to the pastors, talk to the parishioners and say, so what happened? And I didn’t quite get the answer that I’d hoped for there because it’s an awfully complicated question, what it was that happened in the 1970s. But I got a much more vivid and firsthand perspective of what’s happening in the evangelical world.
And again, to move back to the kind of old-school view, it is not pretty. The thing that Michael Gerson had called maturing – that a lot of people who are sympathetic to this change refer to as maturing – is, from an old-school perspective, really accurately described as a kind of fragmenting. During that process I got in touch with a theologian named David Wells who has just written a book. I’ll promote his book since I don’t have one of my own. His book is The Courage to be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. And he has a different dichotomy of the outlook of the evangelical landscape.
He has a different kind of breakdown of the map. He says, look, here we are. He says, I, David Wells, am a classic Protestant. I am a historic Christian. I believe what we’ve always believed. Christ died on the cross to save us from sin; that’s the crux of the matter. And now come two new groups in his breakdown. One is what he calls the marketers; and these are the groups epitomized by Willow Creek, and maybe to a lesser extent by Rick Warren. These big, huge churches that have borrowed deeply from popular culture, incorporated the popular culture into their services. And in the case of Willow Creek, famously said: You know what, let’s get the cross out of the way. The cross is turning people off. We can get the message of the gospel to people more effectively if we don’t trouble them with this scary, ugly cross business so upfront. We can bring them to that later.
Willow Creek has been enormously successful in expanding their own church and in passing out blueprints for others to do the same. It’s a kind of evangelical organization within evangelicalism, and very much entrepreneurial. It now has networks of hundreds of thousands of churches that participate in these mammoth telecasts to think with Willow Creek about ways of evangelizing and reaching out to the unchurched. A lot of it is borrowing from popular culture and also borrowing from the literature of commercial marketing. Very self-consciously learning the lessons of corporate America in terms of how to get the message out.
So David Wells, our orthodox Protestant, says, you start out thinking you can take the same old message and put it in this new medium. But you know what, sooner or later you’re working too hard to get the people in the door; and you’re diluting the message, and you’ve become essentially self-centered. You’re flattering these people. You end up capitulating to the commercial popular culture. Now, I don’t want to say whether that’s true or false, but I think that’s an interesting idea.
And then he says, now comes a third group called the emergents, the emerging church crowd. And I was surprised – this is one of the things that surprised me out in Wichita, to go back to my own experience. I went out to Wichita, and I tried to get in touch with these churches that were the big – the core of the Christian conservative political movement in Kansas – where the Christian conservative political movement has been a very big deal. And I was quite surprised to find that one of these churches had become kind of Willow Creek-ish since then. The pastor to this church was really a giant, theologically, within that community. And he had been at the forefront of the Summer of Mercy back in 1991 when a lot of Catholics and Protestants in Wichita rose up against a particularly objectionable abortion clinic there – specializing in late-term abortions. And this is a guy who was at the forefront; he led the brigade of pastors that got arrested and went to jail in an act of civil disobedience.
And I met with him and he said, “Yeah, we’ve changed a little bit. We’ve learned quite a bit from the folks at Willow Creek. They’re very good at reaching out to the unchurched – you know, to people who aren’t believers. And so we’ve learned a lot from them. We’re not identical with them, but we’ve learned a lot of from them. And over time,” he said, “I’ve thought a lot about what we accomplished and what we didn’t accomplish back in the Summer of Mercy. I still think abortion is a bad thing, and more or less I’ve got to say I’m a Republican. But I don’t think that we’re going to achieve those objectives through political change, and I’ve lost faith in the Republican Party as the most effective way to get there. By the way, I might add that I – did not then but now – number myself among the green evangelicals. I’m very concerned about the state of the environment. And I also think that the local church has a more important role to play in providing for the needs of the poor here in our local community. That’s a big Willow Creek takeaway too.” So that was interesting to me.
To summarize that a little bit more coherently, here is this church that had been at the forefront of the Christian conservative movement that we met and got to know in the 1970s. It was focused on abortion; it was taking to the streets; it was committed to the Republican Party as the best hope to try to reform society – especially around these issues of sexual morality and abortion.
The church has shifted in its religious practice, in the way it runs its services. It’s showing Willow Creek videos on its big video screen. It’s got an afternoon service that’s all rock and roll. They’ve got basically a kind of ’60s rock band up behind the pastor. And when you meet with the pastor who had gone to jail in ’91, he’s saying, I’m looking at the world a little differently here.
And then I talked to the people who were – I’m trying to get my churches straight -another one of these big churches, similarly at the forefront, very much a fundraiser – both of these two big churches had been fundraisers for the Summer of Mercy, really bankrolled the whole project. And they just had their senior pastor retire; the church was taken over by a much less outspoken successor. I talked to some of the parishioners and they said, “It’s been interesting lately. We were ready to say goodbye to our former pastor. You know, we love him; he’s been great for us. He’s very much in that old school. He stood up every Sunday and reminded us about the substitutionary atonement and why that was important. He told us about abortion again and again and again. But you know what, he had a hard time keeping the younger associate pastors. We liked some of them. They were doing these services that spoke to us: a little bit more casual, a little bit more small-group-ish. They kept turning over because they would clash with him and because they didn’t want to do another voter registration drive in the church.”
And I tracked some of them down, and at least one of them had set up one of these emerging church groups that David Wells is so concerned about. In his taxonomy, his division, there are classical orthodox. There are now these church marketers, like Willow Creek that are incorporating these kinds of corporate tactics to get the message out. And then there are the emergents that are yet a younger third group. If you read publications like ours, you’re just now starting to hear about them; but they’ve been around for a while. And their idea is, let’s get back to basics in our religious practice. We’ll break bread together like they did in the early church, and it’s not going to be as top-down. It’s not going to be like one preacher stands up and hands down the law. We’re all engaged in a search together to get to the truth, and the emphasis is on process and not on letter of the law.
And this is from David Wells’ perspective. The reason he divides them into three is that the emergents look down a little bit at the Willow Creek guys. They look down at the marketers for being too commercial, too corporate, too at home with popular culture. But politically, the emergents are yet again a third thing. (Although, of course, people who have grown up in an evangelical tradition and think of themselves as theological conservatives; you’re never going to meet one who is very pro-choice, who is going to say, hurray for abortion, let’s go. No, that’s not going to happen. They basically have a conservative attitude toward life and toward sexual morality.) They’re much more loosey-goosey in their approach to theology. They’re much more about questioning; and they’re much more open, in my experience, to arguments that you might find from the left as well as the right about improving the society around us.
I was talking to some of the emergent church-type folks out of Wichita. They were saying, “You know, abortion has been really big for us here; and the Summer of Mercy was, in many ways, an inspiring event. But that older generation, they can’t get their heads out of the Summer of Mercy. And basically I’m not sure that we’re going to get that much further here and now in this fight against abortion. Meanwhile, these payday loan shops have been proliferating all over Wichita; and not only is this incredibly abusive to these poor people who take out these onerous loans, but it’s not particularly biblical. I read the Bible and the Bible has a number of – there’s a number of statements there about how sinful usury is, and that’s something that I think we can really get behind. And what’s more, we can actually do something about it with our current Democratic governor here in the state of Kansas.”
So, to sum up, I think David Wells is onto something in this taxonomy. I think from his point of view that is committed to that old-school, clearly orthodox Protestant, I think he’s right to be concerned. I think there is a kind of a fragmentation. In political terms, which I’m guessing is what we’re all interested in, you do find a change with the marketers, with the Willow Creekites and the Rick Warrens, and again with the emergents. You know, Brian McLaren is an emergent writer who’s probably the best-known of the bunch.
When I was covering Huckabee I had a chance to chat with McLaren a little bit about what he thought of this year’s politics; and he’s with Obama. I think he had a little bit of a soft spot for Huckabee because Huckabee, in many ways, tried to wrap himself in the mantle of the maturing of the evangelical movement. He tried to say, to all of you evangelicals who want a broader approach: let’s worry about the fetus after birth as well as before. I’m your guy. All you Willow Creekites, all you McLarenites, come with me.
That was what Huckabee was trying to do, relatively self-consciously. But I guess as we’ve been discussing, Obama – The persona of Obama in the public mind has changed considerably since January, so they may have changed. – But I think that the Democrats are going to have – are likely to have – better luck, or at least less bad luck, reaching these newer schools of thought.
I’ve already said this a couple of times, but I’ll say it a little bit more clearly: it’s not that these newer manifestations of evangelical faith are going to jettison the old concerns about abortion or changing family forms, but they’re adding on new concerns. Michael Gerson said, in addition to these old concerns, we now have concerns about international human rights and environmental concerns. In some places you hear people talking about – as I did in Wichita – trying to lift up the poor in our own communities. These are the concerns that historically you had found on the liberal side of Protestantism, not on the more salvation-oriented, conservative side of Protestantism.
And none of these things necessarily make you a Democrat, right? Republicans, conservatives have cogent and internally coherent answers to the questions of how do we help the poor and how do we address these problems, but they are prudential matters. Once you set as your goal the social welfare of poor people in your own community or remedying environmental harm, then you’ve opened yourself to a variety of arguments that can come from the left or the right. It’s a question of what’s the best way to accomplish it. Not so with the old issues about abortion and family life. I mean, that’s basically a line in the sand: you’re with us or you’re against us. The left has tried and continues to try to make abortion a prudential matter. They say, we’re all against abortion; but we think there are other ways to reduce the number of abortions, and they involve promoting contraception and reducing poverty. And that might take some of the edge off. If someone is saying that, it’s harder to portray that person as zealously, like, urging abortion at all cost. But it’s not fully convincing, and I don’t think anybody -obviously that is not as compelling a way to reduce abortion as making abortion illegal.
But on these other matters, it really is a prudential concern. So I can see why if you’re not just David Wells, the theologian, but if you’re actually somebody in the Republican Party, these are trying times for you. I think Michael Gerson had described it as kind of a challenge but also an opportunity that these moderate evangelicals, or evangelicals embracing a broader set of issues can lead the way to a broader Republican Party. But I don’t think you can deny that there is an opening there for the left if they have the ears to hear it and the eyes to see it, which is an open question.
All right, I’m done.
CROMARTIE: Thank you, David. Thank you.
MICHAEL GERSON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I was wondering just whether “loosey-goosey” was a technical theological term. (Laughter.)
KIRKPATRICK: It is a technical theological term, yes, in my experience.
GERSON: I have a comment and a question – comment to confirm what you were talking about, David. I grew up in a historically orthodox Calvinist church that would have never called itself evangelical. My father-in-law got in trouble for singing at a Billy Graham concert because they referred people to Catholic churches in Billy Graham concerts; and Scotch Calvinists did not view themselves as evangelicals. That church was a couple hundred people. It never grew, never shrunk. It was –
KIRKPATRICK: It was a PC(USA) church?
GERSON: No, it was an OP, Orthodox Presbyterian at the time. And then a son of that church – someone who grew up in that church, with exactly the same theological framework – founded a church, Twin Oaks, that has a couple of thousand people. They do drama; they do outreach along the lines of all these things that you’re talking about. Every one of those members would consider themselves evangelical. And it’s been a huge kind of cultural change. The thing that’s interesting to me is that it does become a kind of least common denominator of Christianity. You do get reactions against it of the type that Wells is talking about.
But the interesting thing that hasn’t been mentioned is how much of that reaction within modern evangelicalism has taken the form, not in the way that Wells wants to go (maybe back towards Reformation orthodoxy), but maybe even further. They have this extraordinary movement of turning to orthodox sources of spirituality, the contemplative tradition. I think people ignore the role that Richard Foster has played in all this with the kind of traditional spiritual disciplines of the church. As an organization, Renovaré, does conferences all over – this interesting dynamic of evangelicals turning to the first 1,500 years of the church to try to re-root their spirituality. And that to me is an interesting kind of movement, and it’s pretty ecumenical in a lot of ways.
But the question that I wanted to ask, Michael, was how much you think this cosmopolitan evangelicalism has seeped into the broader movement. Because I have a tough time, even when I travel around, getting a feel for this. It does seem to have an urban location, in a lot of ways, but there are these kinds of routes of or instruments of influence. It’s amazing – which you talked about – how Africa has played the role of spreading cosmopolitan ideas into the broader community: including Sudan, Save Darfur (not an evangelical organization primarily) and with One Campaign (which is not an evangelical organization primarily). But there are also these church network kind of models where you’ve got pastors that you meet in Zambia that read Tim Keller every week – because of the Internet and all of this sort of stuff.
But I’m just trying to get a feel for whether this is a small, intellectual overlay; whether it is a kind of quickly growing influence in the broader movement, and would evangelicals in rural Alabama have much idea of what’s going on? I’m curious what your feel is.
LINDSAY: Yeah, it’s a great question. There are two points of contact that I find between the cosmopolitan elite or cosmopolitan evangelicalism and populist evangelicalism: the first is the megachurch. The megachurch is the site where you have a lot of interplay between these two networks; and many times the megachurch pastor has to be of that same kind of ilk of what I described of Huckabee, of being able to speak out of both sides of his mouth to be able to appeal to both populist as well as to cosmopolitan evangelicals.
And so, the megachurch, whether it be Redeemer Presbyterian in New York or Menlo Presbyterian in Menlo Park, Silicon Valley or Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena or Willow Creek in Chicago. All of those are places where I’ve found cosmopolitan evangelicals went and populist evangelicalism thrived. It was in those kinds of environments that you saw that. So the megachurch is a site, and they tend to be located in global cities. So the urban areas are very, very central in this. That is different than the suburban megachurch you get outside of Wichita. That looks very different than Redeemer or than Menlo Park.
And then the other place where I found it is in evangelical publishing. There is a whole push among the publishing houses – major publishing houses, whether it be Zondervan or a whole range of them. They are trying to take some of these cosmopolitan evangelicals and tell their stories; so they’re using biography as a way of outreach, as well as having it seep down into some of the kind of works that they publish.
I did a content analysis of Christianity Today over the last 40 years; and editorial content is moving far, far more cosmopolitan over that span of time than toward the populist. Now, they have to be careful that they don’t isolate the populist, so they walk this fine line. Some of their publications like Today’s Christian Woman, are much more populist. It is actually a better – it has a much wider circulation list than Christianity Today. But the actual flagship journal is moving much more toward that cosmopolitan. I found that there were a lot of interesting networks that are involved where you have the leaders trying to bridge both of those divides and trying to bring them along. So it’s a great question.
CROMARTIE: Redeemer is in New York City?
GREEN: In New York City, the spirit – from the work in the city. And one of the reasons why Redeemer is in the city is for the purpose of evangelizing – evangelizing, and being in contact with the urban world because they believe that it’s transforming the world that exists. That’s the work of the gospel: not just personal salvation but also part of the whole redemption of the world. So that’s one reason why they’re in New York.
But one of the questions I had is – and this is something that is never really quite clear when journalists talk about evangelicals – how do you define an evangelical? Is it a self-defining title, or is it something that you just apply to a particular church or denomination?
LINDSAY: This is a great question, and I’m glad it came up because there are very different ways we define evangelicals. I mentioned the 7 percent to 47 percent, and it’s all based upon how you define the population. Because of that you get very different snapshots of the movement; so it’s critical you pay attention to how you define it.
Within the scholarly literature, there are two, maybe three main ways that you do it. The first is self-identified. So, would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian? If you use that simple methodology and don’t ask any other questions about religious tradition, the survey showed that you’ll have upwards of 45, 46, 47 percent of the population who use that terminology. It’s interesting, though; if on a subsequent survey you ask questions about religious tradition – would you call yourself a mainline Protestant, an evangelical Protestant, a Roman Catholic (so you give people a way to say, I’m a Christian). And then when you subsequently ask the born-again question, the born-again figures drop dramatically – they’re more like 30 percent. So there’s a segment of folks who are concerned that they want to be marked as a Christian, and so the question about being born again allows them to do that.
The way in which I defined evangelical in this book, which I think is the best way to do it, is that if somebody calls him or herself evangelical I count them as that. Then we talk about, what does that term mean; because it’s a salient identity, and it’s something that they’re willingly choosing. But, a quarter of the people that I interviewed said, I don’t know what that term means; and I’m not sure I want to be associated with it because it has political and cultural baggage, so what do you mean by it? And I came up with a minimalist definition, three characteristics, that most people who study it say these are the core ideas of what makes an evangelical.
One is the importance of the authority of the Bible. The Bible is the supreme religious authority. It’s more important than church teaching or church tradition; and in this way, it’s different than the Roman Catholic tradition. It’s not to say that you can’t be Catholic and also call yourself evangelical. I’ve made allowance for that, and 6 percent of the people I interviewed are Roman Catholic but call themselves evangelical Catholic. The primacy of the Bible is very important for evangelicals.
Two, is the importance of having a personal relationship with God that entails a conversion to Jesus Christ. There is a born-again experience. Now, this can be a dramatic moment or a very long process, but there has to come a time when the adherent takes ownership of the faith him or herself. He says, this is not my parents’ faith; it’s something I choose myself, so there is an intentionality of claiming the affiliation.
And third is having an activist approach to faith. So faith compels me to bear witness in both word and deed. I have to talk about it, and my faith has to be integrated into the whole of my life; I don’t segment it off.
If you could affirm all three of those characteristics, I counted you as evangelical; and we talked about why I didn’t like the term.
GREEN: And just one follow-up question because you talked about some of them did not go to church or were not actively involved in church. How are they defining themselves even as evangelicals if they really are not involved in church life?
LINDSAY: Yeah, it’s extraordinary because – it’s very interesting. The religious profile of these leaders that I interviewed looks very, very different than the average person in the pew. For example, 56 percent of the people I interviewed had a born-again experience, a faith awakening, or some significant spiritual milestone after they left home for college. You compare that with the average evangelical and it’s 6 percent. So you’ve got 6 percent of average evangelicals having a born-again experience after they leave home for college and 56 percent of the elite evangelicals. And because of that, in some ways, they have a convert’s zeal. So these people are more willing to be public about their faith because they came to evangelicalism later in life.
Also, 33 percent of the people, a third of the people I interviewed, did not come from a churched background. So their families did not go to church, and because of that they have relatively low affiliation to the church. The church has been important in some of their lives, but for some of them they can leave it. And many of the leaders that I interviewed had very strange relationships with their church. Oftentimes their pastor was intimidated by them, and so it was socially awkward. If they were in a congregation – and it was difficult because they sometimes were carrying 25 percent of the church budget because of their financial contributions – and then they say, I don’t like doing that; I want to back away from it. But then it looks like it’s an insult to the pastor. So how do you get out of that without insulting the pastor? It’s very complicated.
And so many of them –
CROMARTIE: You give 10 percent. (Laughter.)
LINDSAY: Well, and they give it to some other places.
What many of these folks have done is that they’ve found more spiritual support and solidarity in small groups and Bible studies among their peers. They’ve found that that was a more amenable environment for spiritual development, and they have – those kind of fellowship groups honeycomb Washington, New York and L.A. They’re all over the place.
KIRKPATRICK: What percentage of your folks did not describe themselves as evangelical?
LINDSAY: Twenty-four percent. Twenty-four percent said that they were unsure of the term, so they didn’t actively avoid calling themselves evangelical. But when I first asked the question, they paused. They didn’t immediately say it. Seventy-six percent said yes.
CROMARTIE: By the way, let me just quickly say I think a very helpful definition here is the one by Grant Wacker, a historian at Duke Divinity School. It’s about how to tell the difference between an evangelical and a fundamentalist: An evangelical is somebody who really, really, really likes Billy Graham, and a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a liberal. (Laughter.)
Michael, if I might ask a quick follow-up about the definition. As you sought these interviews, did you tell them that this was a project about evangelicals or that you considered them evangelicals? How did you describe your project, if you don’t mind my asking?
LINDSAY: Yeah, it’s a great question. I had to think an awful lot about how I approached people. Everything from, I was at Princeton at the time so do I send an email inquiry from a princeton.edu address or not; because for some that would be good and for some that would be bad. So I had to think about these kinds of things and how I’d describe my own faith journey as well as how I reached out to them. And what I said is that I was interested in people of faith who were in positions of social influence. And so I used the phrase, “people of faith,” but I had a pretty good sense that they fell within the evangelical network because of who recommended them.
My methodology was I think what helped me. I interviewed 157 leaders of evangelical institutions for the first year of my research: presidents of evangelical colleges, seminaries, megachurch pastors. And then I asked them to recommend people at a much higher level – business leaders, political leaders, cultural leaders – who shared their faith who were in positions of significant influence. It became what I call the leapfrog method; I was able to jump over a lot of the barriers that would normally inhibit an academic researcher. Many of these folks then gave me their assistant’s names and email addresses, and I was able to drop – I became the expert name-dropper. I found that I could say, well, I did get an interview with President Carter; and then suddenly I had a lot more legitimacy. It helped a lot.
GERSON: He was very sneaky. (Laughter.)
LINDSAY: You did not agree immediately, Michael. I had to work on you for a while, but I was very grateful for your interview.
KIRKPATRICK: That’s the technical theological term, right – sneaky? (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: Did you have a follow-up, Mike?
ALLEN: Yes, sir.
You have a very sophisticated understanding of the true power that evangelicals have, and I wonder if there are levers, muscles that they have that they don’t know about. Is there a way that these people you know about in philanthropy, the arts, business, academia, journalism could exert more influence on society than they do?
LINDSAY: You know, I have to say that most of the people I interviewed are pretty strategic and intentional, so there is a very strong – I mean, it is possible that they could exert a different influence. Anytime you interview elites, they always see themselves as constrained, whether they’re religious or not. College presidents, heads of companies, political figures, they always think of themselves as more limited; they have fewer possibilities; they have a lot more hindrances than possibilities. So you have to sort of, then, push them. Because if you say, are you powerful? They’ll say, oh, no, I have no power whatsoever. Well, you do head an organization that employs 50,000 people. (Laughter.) You start to push people on things, and then you find ways to get in.
But I would say that on sort of the intentionality of bringing faith into public life, it’s quite significant. Two of the persons I interviewed for the book were Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, who have given an awful, awful lot of money – incredible philanthropists. I asked Roberta, “If you could do anything to bring about cultural change in a way that would be amendable with your faith convictions, what would you do?” And she said, “Exactly what we are doing.” So I think that intentionality is there.
JAQUI SALMON, THE WASHINGTON POST: A question for both of you, and that’s about the religious left. Jim Wallis has been really pushing hard on the idea that they can form alliances with the more centrist evangelicals: the Hybels, Joel Hunter. How realistic do you think that this is, that there could be some kind of alliance between them? Or is the issue of abortion going to be just a – you know, just going to halt any kind of alliance?
KIRKPATRICK: There is an occupational hazard for journalists in that we make the mistake of thinking that people go to church to decide how to vote. And in fact, to the extent that a public policy issue comes up in a religious context, it’s extremely marginal. That’s never what it’s about. So I don’t think – I know that Hybels doesn’t see himself as a political leader, and I don’t think anybody in his extraordinarily broad circle of influence sees themselves as a political leader the way Jim Wallis does.
We were talking about this a little bit last night. I mean, the religious left is a bit of a puzzlement. I mean, I don’t know where to go to find it necessarily. You know, you’ve been hearing the same three names for 30 years: Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo. So it’s hard to tell how many Indians there are behind the chiefs. So I’m hesitant to even speculate about what those alliances would look like, because I don’t have a clear sense of either side of that alliance. Like on the Hybels-Willow Creek side, I don’t think they’re looking to get into a political alliance. And on the other side, I’m not sure how much Jim Wallis brings to the table besides the mailing list of Sojourners magazine.
SALMON: That’s been my sense too. Maybe Michael has a different perspective.
LINDSAY: No, I think that’s right. I concur.
DAVID BROOKS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you. It’s interesting to hear this distinction between cosmopolitan and the populist, or the old school. Since those of us who come from other things recognize it immediately as a distinction between the people who live in Pierre Bourdieu’s world and the people who don’t, whether you’re talking about retail or home building, or certainly politics. And I was sort of struck by the parallels between the Obama evangelicals, the cosmopolitans, and the new Hillary old school – what Ron Brownstein calls the wine track and the beer track, which may not apply in this world. (Laughter.)
LINDSAY: Surprisingly it does. That’s the amazing thing.
BROOKS: Oh, really? See, I was thinking –
LINDSAY: There’s more alcohol flowing at evangelical events than I ever imagined. (Laughter.)
BROOKS: I was thinking it was the whole milk versus the 2 percent lactose-free milk track. (Laughter.)
But I was wondering, one, if both of you could, first of all, describe the various sizes of cosmopolitan versus populist; what are the correlation of forces? Two, the demographics and how it correlates to education in particular but also more broadly to outlook. I’ve been told that people in the less-educated world cling to their religion out of bitterness caused by their – but I was wondering if there’s a sense of – I mean, especially among the non-cosmopolitan – of constrained opportunities and things like that, that somehow feeds into religious perspectives. And then finally, the emotional tone – and this is the David Wells. Among people who are sort of in the David Wells camp, maybe who don’t write books, is there a hostility toward the cosmopolitan? Since in our business we always cover the cosmopolitans first, because they’re more articulate and we like them better – (scattered laughter) – but is there an actual visceral counter-reaction against the more cosmopolitan members?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, the cosmopolitan-populist nomenclature is his.
BROOKS: But it wasn’t inconsistent with your old school.
KIRKPATRICK: No, not necessarily. I think if you go to an evangelical church, it’s not hard to get a whiff of a debate going on. A ferment going on now about the direction of the church and the church’s relationship with the world that bears the marks of the old-school-new-school debate that I talked about. I mean, if you bring up Rick Warren’s name, you can have this kind of a conversation. And I think there is some – among a certain set, there is some anger and resentment. As Michael said, by and large they’re older, but they’re not all older. You know, this one pastor – recently retired pastor in Wichita who I took out to dinner. And he said, “Look, Jesus talked a lot about helping the sick and healing the poor, but he also knew how the cow chews the cabbage. You know, there was a real hard-and-fast lesson here.”[*] And so there is some strong emotion.
Your other question was about class. One of the great things, I think, about Michael’s book is the focus on the number of evangelicals versus the sort of social class position of evangelicals. I mean, you really articulated very clearly that the group that we’re talking about, a sort of orthodox presence, has not grown in number. But they have grown in influence, and they’ve grown in influence in part because a lot of them have many more resources and are better positioned than they used to be.
My understanding is that it doesn’t necessarily – the sort of cosmopolitan-traditionalist, or populist, doesn’t necessarily correlate exactly too well. If you’re actually in a city, you’re probably much more likely to be a cosmopolitan person and have that sensibility; and that’s probably why you moved to the city. But if you’re in a suburb of even a big city, it might be quite different.
What do you think?
LINDSAY: Yeah, that’s right. In terms of size – I talked with John Green – we don’t have national survey data because the cosmopolitan-populist kind of distinction is one of the things I’m hoping to contribute to the conversation. If I were making an estimate, I would say it probably represents 20 to 25 percent of the entire evangelical movement. But it is most definitely the prevailing paradigm among the leadership cohort of evangelicalism: the board members, the major donors, the people who are the public figures for evangelicalism outside of the particular subculture. So you take out the Dobsons, the Colsons, whoever; and then you say, who is the leadership segment? Cosmopolitans dominate.
And they are a wealthy lot. I asked the people I interviewed how much money they give away to Christian causes. Among the business executives, I interviewed 101 CEOs, chairmen, presidents of large companies – everything from Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, New York Life, to some privately held companies – and the smallest amount of money given away to Christian causes in a given year on average was $30,000; the most was $15 million, and the average was $1.1 million.
So these folks are wealthy, and they’re giving toward a lot of causes. That’s why I think this is the new face of evangelicalism, because they’re pouring enormous resources into this becoming the public face. They do tend to be located in the kind of centers of elite cultural production; so they are more prominent in New York, Washington, L.A., and San Francisco than they are in Houston or in Dallas. But they can also be found in Houston and Dallas. Their strategies for action are quite different, though. Instead of mobilizing the masses – in 1980, Bill Bright and a whole range of different folks organized a very large event called the March on Washington. It was designed to have I think a million evangelicals show up in Washington to show their importance. This is populist evangelicalism at its finest: saying that we are here, and we are a large segment to be contended with.
The cosmopolitan evangelicals that I interviewed, they’re not interested in those kind of mass rallies. Instead, they’re interested in funding strategic internships for recent Ivy League graduates (who are evangelicals) to work in Washington to learn the apparatus. And that’s how they become part of the establishment. They are not very committed to having evangelicals separate from the rest of society or demanding their seat at the table. Instead, they simply want to be part of elite cultural institutions.
And remember that the cosmopolitan evangelicals have a different outlook than the populist evangelicals; populist evangelicals’ frame of reference is the evangelical subculture. They imbibe it; they enjoy the cultural goods that come out of the evangelical subculture. Whereas the cosmopolitan evangelicals, they rub shoulders day in and day out with people of different faiths and of no faith at all, and that changes the way they talk. So when you ask about the way in which they bear witness to their faith, it’s not overt evangelism; they do more of what I call signaling their faith. And so they choose certain kind of books to have available behind their desk as a way of signaling.
And it was interesting; I went into a Fortune 10 CEO’s office and was doing an interview. He had to step out for a moment, and while he stepped out I was looking. I was looking on the bookshelf; and there were books about strategy, there were things from Harvard Business School Press and then there was the book by Max Lucado. I thought, well, that’s kind of interesting. And then I looked a little further down and there was a book –
CROMARTIE: A Texas pastor.
LINDSAY: A Texas pastor from San Antonio, best-selling author of Christian books. And then there’s another book by Charles Swindoll, onetime president of Dallas Theological Seminary. So the CEO comes back in the office and I said, “I noticed the books that you have behind your desk. It’s kind of interesting. Do you use those for speeches or in some of your written remarks?” He said, “No, most of the time I read those when I’m traveling or different things. They’re inspirational books. But I made a decision a number of years ago that I would bring some of those in and have them here; I wanted it to be a way in which I could signal my faith, to tip it off.” And I said to him, “Well, does anyone pay attention to that? Has anybody ever noticed that?” And he said, “Well, you did.” (Laughter.) Touché. So that’s some of the different strategies.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: First, it was a homerun of a presentation. Thank you so much. Both of you were great. My question actually is – excuse me, a little bit more – I want to ask both of you about the emergent church. What I can’t figure out is whether it’s kind of religious – the evangelical left? You know, there is less there than meets the eye. Can you describe for me the emergent church and what the doctrinal positions are. From what I understand, some mainline, some evangelicals, don’t consider them to be orthodox. And so if you could just talk to me about what the emergent church is about, and how big it is.
LINDSAY: So the emergent umbrella has a much wider spectrum of doctrinal beliefs. Oftentimes Brian McLaren is seen as sort of the ring leader of this. And he is probably the most, let’s say, unconventional theologically of the movement. And there are a number of other leading lights within the emergent church. One of whom is Chris Seay, who is a pastor in Houston and has written a book, Gospel According to the Sopranos.[*]
HAGERTY: The what –
LINDSAY: Chris Sea, S-E-A-Y. And I would say that the –
CROMARTIE: Is he related to George Seay.
LINDSAY: Not related to George Seay. No.
CROMARTIE: That was a serious question.
LINDSAY: The emergent church, in my estimation, is more about form than it is substance. There is a real intentionality of bringing in more liturgy into an evangelical church service, and the arts are much more central. There are interesting affinities between the evangelical political left and the emergent crowd. They oftentimes come down on the same side of community development, or care for the poor, or international issues. And they also both hate the religious right. (Laughter.) So they both share a strong – they are more united because of their joint opposition to the religious right than anything else.
But in terms of size, I have to say that that there is an element to where it is in some ways more – I think that there is more in appearance there than there is in mass support. And because of that, I don’t think it is a revolutionary element within evangelicalism.
BROOKS: When you say they hate the religious right, is that Dobson? Who are they hating? What do you they mean by that?
LINDSAY: They do have strong dislike for Dobson, for Falwell, and for the close alliance of evangelical Christian belief with conservative politics. So there are certain – some of the leading figures they are very much in opposition to. Probably the most sustained debate has been between Chuck Colson and Brian McLaren. They have oftentimes used public forums like the editorial page of Christianity Today to voice some of their disagreements.
CROMARTIE: Yeah, it’s also rooted in the approach to post-modern world; and how to present theological conviction in a post-modern situation. Brian McLaren has written a lot of books on evangelism in a post-modern world. Isn’t that right?
One, you may have covered this, and I just missed it. I’m wondering how these elite or cosmopolitan evangelicals happen. Like, are they elite first and then become evangelical, or are they evangelical and then become elite? And along those same lines, when do they become wealthy? You know, are they – (laughter) – are they born wealthy and then become – born wealthy an evangelical and then become elite, or – you understand my question.
And then the second thing is, you said these fellowship groups of elite evangelicals, elite cosmopolitan evangelicals honeycomb Washington and New York. I’m wondering what kind of political work gets done there, if any. Is it just networking in a sense of – they know who to call if they want to have something happen? Or are there specific, like agendas that get borne out?
And lastly, I think I heard you say that among these cosmopolitan evangelicals, politics is not necessarily the first concern. They are also very concerned about culture and about popular culture. I have seen personally some activism on the right. I think these same – I would call them cosmopolitan evangelicals do things like – there is a Christian right-wing film festival in L.A. now. There are several Christian-perspective blogs on popular culture; they talk about the same things that I like: Battlestar Galactica and Lost. But they are very heavily informed by the Christian perspective. This is that the kind of thing you’re talking about. What other kinds of effects could we see in popular culture from these apparently very powerful cosmopolitan Christian, or cosmopolitan evangelical elites?
LINDSAY: Yeah, great.
COX: Those are three, sorry.
LINDSAY: Okay, so how did they happen? Well, I do think it’s interesting that over half of them converted or had a significant religious experience after they left home for college. So there is an element to where a strong segment of the cosmopolitan evangelicals I interviewed were in some ways elites before they became evangelical, or that they had added advantages. How did they make their money? It’s like most of the business elite – the majority of the folks who are in corporate positions did not inherit – they are not independently wealthy, but they move into powerful positions.
And what I found is that these folks mirror what we see for the rest of the American elite today. Education is the principal way – elite education is the principal way that you enjoy additional means of social mobility. So if you’re upper-middle class, you move to upper-class; if you’re upper-class, you move to even higher levels. And so a third of the people I interviewed went to one of 12 highly selective schools; of those, a plurality went to Harvard for either undergrad or graduate school. So education is incredibly important.
On the Bible studies and fellowship groups that honeycomb Washington, I observed several of these and then interviewed dozens of people who are involved in them. And my assessment is that not a whole lot of politics – in fact, oftentimes politics is frowned upon in those particular gatherings. I do think that it provides relational bonds that allow for politics to happen outside of that room. So what typically happens is it’s very personal. People share about my kid is struggling with drugs or my wife is battling cancer, and this is where they share the very strong personal concerns.
And they oftentimes will share some of the very personal tolls that they face because of their elite position. One of the CEOs I interviewed said, “I would love to be able to tell people I’d like for them to pray; I’m really afraid because we’re getting so many kidnapping threats against my kids.” And he said, “But I can’t share that in my church because that’s weird, and we don’t want that information to be public. But I go to – there is a – what I found to be the most elite evangelical Bible study occurs at the Links Club once a month in New York, and it’s about 20 folks. It’s a very, very high level of folks. And in that kind of environment, it is possible for you to share about concerns about your kids being kidnapped because they have all faced some of those kinds of issues.”
So it’s those kind of personal bonds. And I do think that the relational substructure which undergirds the elite is very, very important. And one of the reasons why I say evangelicals in the elite are so significant is because religion provides a way to cross divides. Almost every single evangelical I interviewed in Hollywood is a Democrat, almost every single one. And they are ardent Democrats. They are fundraisers for Democrats. They are very committed. And yet, they know the evangelical Republicans in Washington; and they don’t just know them, they’re friendly with them. They work together on different projects. They try to build some forms of synergies.
Now, there are flashpoints of controversy. But in this way, religion provides a way that overcomes some of the divides in the same way almost all of the evangelical scholars that I encountered, who are at major institutions, are left-of-center politically, but yet they know Bill Frist or they know political figures who are on the right who are evangelicals. And this provides a way of bridging some of those divides.
Most of the research about elites falls into one of two categories. It says that either the nation is ruled by an elite class of people who are in a conspiracy to take over the country, and they are very, very powerful. This is C. Wright Mills’ idea in 1956 of The Power Elite, and it’s a very strong part of what social scientists think about elites. The other theory is called the pluralist idea. It says that our society is so complex, we’re so divided, it’s impossible for people to be united according to a single class. And so you rise up in Fortune 500 companies in different ways than you rise up in Hollywood. It’s not the same people. What I found is that an element of both of those theories is right; indeed the pluralists are right that the channels of mobility tend to be industry-specific.
There is some overlay. Sometimes you have, for example, military leaders retire; and they go to work for defense contractors in very senior positions, that does happen. But very rarely do you have somebody who achieves real prominence, let’s say, in politics who then goes over to Hollywood. It just doesn’t work that often. Maybe Fred Thompson is an exception. But it doesn’t happen all of that often. I do find that there are ways in which people are joined across these divides, and I think religion is one of those that has been underappreciated in recent years.
CROMARTIE: Quick point here, if the moderator may intervene. Did you find out, Michael, at these Bible studies, do they ever open the Bible? (Laughter.)
LINDSAY: Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t – very insightful question. Oftentimes they’re more prayer-and-fellowship groups or –
CROMARTIE: Or sharing, just sharing –
LINDSAY: Yeah, exactly than it is – it’s not deep exegesis of the Biblical text, not at all.
CROMARTIE: I thought that might be your answer, yes. (Laughter.)
LINDSAY: The third thing is about the engagement in cultural issues and the rise of film festivals in Los Angeles; or look at the number of film programs that are now housed at evangelical schools in Southern California. As you said, Azusa Pacific has one and Biola has one; at Fuller Theological Seminary, they have a whole program devoted to this. And here you see the populist-cosmopolitan divide even in the midst of that. So you have some of them that are very much engaged and interested in marketing, using kind of populist kind of rhetoric. In many ways, they’re just replicating the strategies they have in politics for getting the next film out or getting mass support.
Yet at the same time you have some folks who see themselves more in cinema than they do in movies. They have this kind of cerebral approach that has much more cosmopolitan sensibilities; and they sometimes are turned off by this crass materialism or crass marketing that they see going on in Hollywood. At the same time that you have this populist-cosmopolitan divide in politics, you also have it in Hollywood or in the arts.
COX: Can you cite any examples of the cinema – the Christian “cinemese”?
LINDSAY: Yeah, Brian Godawa is a screenwriter who wrote a film called To End All Wars, that was based upon the story of the chaplain at Princeton University for a number of years. Scott Derickson is the director of Exorcism of Emily Rose; he’s now working on a major motion picture adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost. He’s much more into the more cinema kind of crowd. And then you have entire marketing companies that have grown up – Grace Hill Media with Jonathan Bock, as an example – that are really interested in getting certain films – let’s say, Prince Caspian, which is coming out in two weeks – trying to get that before religious audiences.
CROMARTIE:Walden Media. Mention Walden.
LINDSAY: Walden Media is –
CROMARTIE: Did you interview Phil Anschutz?
LINDSAY: I had a conversation with Phil Anschutz. His words are in this book, but they are not attributed because it was an off-the-record conversation.
CROMARTIE: What page was that off-the-record? (Laughter.) Just the page, not the sentence or the line – we’ll find –
EVE CONANT, NEWSWEEK: I wanted to ask Michael, ahead of tomorrow’s Evangelical Manifesto meeting, I’d like to hear a little bit more about how evangelicals wish not to be defined. You say, we don’t read Left Behind, we don’t hang Kincade in our homes, to we’re feeling co-opted. But where does this split between populist and cosmopolitans fall in terms of how they feel – what key points or reputations that they’ve inherited or brought upon themselves – what is it that each group feels are their negatives, whether it’s a key point in history or just a trend?
And at tomorrow’s event, are we going to be hearing from cosmopolitans or populists? Are they speaking – is this manifesto specific or broad? Will it be able to succeed if it’s a narrow group?
LINDSAY: Both cosmopolitans and populists want to define themselves against certain things. And the populists, the principal thing is that they do not want to be seen as in the back pocket of Republicans. They are very much offended by this. They don’t want to be seen as being taken advantage of. So the day after the 2004 election, James Dobson is saying, we helped reelect President Bush and we want him to deliver.
CROMARTIE: He owes us.
LINDSAY: He owes us. And so the populist evangelicals are very concerned that they are taken advantage of, that they are seen as just another interest group, and that they don’t actually get results.
The cosmopolitans also are concerned about how they are defined, but they do not want to be identified with that populist segment. So they many times define themselves in opposition to the populists; that is the way in which they’re differentiating themselves.
In terms of the Evangelical Manifesto, there are a few on the right-of-center political spectrum who are signatories on the document. I noticed Jim Tonkowich, who is the head of the Institute on Religion and Democracy?
CROMARTIE: IRD, yeah. Tonkowich.
LINDSAY: Tonkowich – who used to be one of Chuck Colson’s deputies. There are a few folks like that. It’s more megachurch pastors who are not necessarily known for a political affiliation. And in this way, the manifesto is sort of a declaration to say, don’t assume that because I’m pastoring a megachurch that I’m in lockstep with the Republican Party. I think that the main thing about the document that struck me was an intentionality to say politics does not define us. The national media gets this all wrong.
CROMARTIE: It’s a theological document.
LINDSAY: It’s a theological document. Although, it says we’re interested in public commitment. So it’s saying because of theology, we are compelled to be engaged in public issues. But they don’t want to be defined by that. And because of that, I think the document does in fact reflect some of the sensibilities of both the populists and the cosmopolitans. The committee that was the original drafter, that was reaching out to people to be signatories, was more cosmopolitan that populist.
The chair of it was John Huffman, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif.; he’s an erudite Presbyterian pastor who has also served as chairman of the board of Christianity Today. Os Guinness, an author and speaker at a lot of cosmopolitan evangelical gatherings, was a principal drafter. And then David Neff, the managing editor of Christianity Today, was the editor of it.
CROMARTIE: And Richard Mouw.
LINDSAY: Oh, yeah, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
UNIDENTIFIED: Was Rick Warren a signatory?
LINDSAY: He is not a signatory.
CROMARTIE: Oh, I was told he was.
UNIDENTIFIED: I mean, that is a statement right there.
UNIDENTIFIED: What kind of statement?
UNIDENTIFIED: Yeah, what does it say? What kind of statement is that?
LINDSAY: I don’t know. I heard that – I heard that both Warren and Colson had pulled their names off at the very end.
CROMARTIE: Yeah, that’s right.
UNIDENTIFIED: Just recently they pulled their names off.
LINDSAY: The news I have was very recently.
CROMARTIE: If I could say – I read the manifesto also. And I think Rick Warren is backing off from signing so many things, is what’s going on. There is a lot of things he signed on to that later he was criticized for. But you understand what I’m saying. So I think he’s sort of backing away from trying to put his name on so many things.
WILL SALETAN, SLATE: Michael, I was most struck by what – first of all, I loved the distinction between the cosmopolitan and populist and also the generational analysis. And there was a bottom line in terms of issues that just blew me away. You described the evaporation over time of two of the biggest culture war issues that we’re dealing with now: some parts of the homosexual issue and evolution. And I’m not saying the whole thing goes away, but there are crucial ways they can be worked out. That raises the stakes on the remaining issue that has grown, that is abortion. And also, David, I was also struck by your account of the guy at Willow Creek who had been at the Summer of Mercy and was – it sounded as though – rethinking the role of politics and issues generally. I don’t know whether that applied to that issue in particular.
CROMARTIE: Which issue?
UNIDENTIFIED: It was in Wichita, actually.
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, he’s still against – he is in Wichita, right, but he’s still against abortion. He’s rethinking – he’s still against abortion. He’s not in favor of abortion rights, but he’s just rethinking how the church should act on those views.
CROMARTIE: Let me just say something about David’s article. He’s too modest too say it. The most insightful thing about the piece he did in the magazine was that that pastor preached against abortion 52 times a year – every Sunday; that is what he did. Isn’t that right?
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, there is two –
UNIDENTIFIED: He’s talking about Reverend Faulks.
KIRKPATRICK: Oh, Reverend Faulks. Yeah, that is right. He left. Right. That is right.
CROMARTIE: He was so consumed. I thought that’s who we are talking about?
KIRKPATRICK: No, this is another gentleman who –
CROMARTIE: Oh, who came later.
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, this is a guy named Carlson who recently stepped down from his church and has done some rethinking about his own role in the Summer of Mercy, right.
SALETAN: Well, I may be putting two things together that can’t be put together. We raised the stakes on the abortion issue as something where now you have Democratic politicians who are going to be very sympathetic to the idea that there is something wrong with the world and we need to be active in it; so they can find bridges there to evangelicals. They have the problem of these issues – two of them go away. Now they are dealing with abortion. So the stakes are very high if they can find some acceptable common ground here. Can they do it in a way – can they speak to people who may be disillusioned with the use of politics in general to solve problems or that there is some way of addressing a moral problem?
So I guess my question is, can we put together some kind of – imagine some kind of a package – that a Democratic candidate can come to evangelicals with on that issue that will at least make them – at a minimum – they can hold their nose and say this is enough that I can work with this person on other issues. I can support them.
Now, my evangelical friend to my right has a red line about that; there has to be something banned, or there has to be a legal statement that something should be outlawed. Suppose a candidate had – one package would be – you had the standard abortion reduction message. We have contraception – well, that is not enough. We promote adoption as well. We promote the adoption choice. Secondly, we have – we do ban something. We ban, say, partial-birth abortion with Daschle language or something like that. You know, I’m not sure how that is worked out.
And thirdly, you pledge the use of the bully pulpit in a Hillary Clinton style. Really, she has gone farther, I think, than any Democrat in saying this is a nationwide problem; we need to do so something about it. I think she has abandoned the neutrality in her language about abortion in a way that other Democratic politicians generally haven’t. Would something like that work? Would it make a difference? How many – using this analysis of cosmopolitan-populist and using the generational analysis – how many evangelicals might go along with something like that?
LINDSAY: The initiative that was floated around Washington is this 95-10 Initiative. It said we want to reduce 95 percent of the abortions performed in this country over the next 10 years – not by putting additional restrictions but by reforming adoption policy and some of the economic issues (because economics is the top reason that women give for having an abortion).
This is not the kind of thing you float when you’re trying to win a democratic primary. Is it possible that that could be floated in a general election? I think it’s far more likely in a Clinton candidacy than an Obama candidacy; and part of that is because I think Clinton has been more outspoken about leaving behind the neutrality language. And she has signaled a lot more to say this is not just a choice, it’s a tragic choice; and using that kind of language I think is quite significant.
I have to say that using bully pulpit and the rhetorical strategy will not, in the end, capture support – particularly because it is Hillary Clinton. So if it were someone else, perhaps. I’ve often said that movements don’t have to have a god to succeed, but they do have to have a devil. And in 1990s, for evangelicals, Hillary Clinton embodied the devil in many ways. She was sort of the poster child for ’60s progressivism. And so she has a particularly difficult time of overcoming in ways that Obama does not. If you took out the Jeremiah Wright element, she had a lot more liabilities of winning over the evangelical crowd than Obama did. And so that I think makes things a little bit more difficult.
SALETAN: Let’s pretend it’s not Hillary because she’s dead. Let’s pretend its Obama.
LINDSAY: Yeah, so if it’s Obama, I think Obama has to do – I think to win over the cosmopolitan evangelicals on this issue – he has to take a position that is more like Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It is recognizing that late-term abortions are not acceptable to most Americans – something like that. I think there would have to be that. He risks alienating his base by doing that. And that’s a very important thing to keep in mind. He doesn’t want to do that. But I do think in terms of winning – especially in tight races, and in places where there is a real tension, like I said – I think that the cosmopolitan evangelicals could in fact play an important role in some of these important swing states.
And this is not so much Ohio and Missouri, but a place like Florida for example. There are a whole lot of cosmopolitan evangelicals in Florida – Naples. And I think there are ways that –
LINDSAY: Orlando. And I think that there are ways that it could change things in important dynamics.
CROMARTIE: Michael, on this point quickly?
GERSON: Yeah, real quickly. I just wanted to clarify. I’m not sure the ban is the point. But I agree with Michael that something having to do – there are a significant number of evangelicals that are substantively gradualist on life, that are more concerned with late-term abortion than they are early-term abortion. It’s not a majority, but that’s a significant group. And the way that you make that position clear is your willingness to take late-term abortions more seriously than early ones. That seems to me a very, very important kind of line.
And of course there is a Democratic model to appeal to these things. You know, it’s Governor Casey of Pennsylvania who was really pro-life and as well as being pro-poor. And that would be a tremendously powerful political moment for Democrats if they were to, you know, run a candidate along those lines; but he was essentially hounded out of the party in a lot of ways. I mean, he was treated in an extraordinarily shameful fashion by Bill Clinton. And I think that is associated with the Clintons in many ways.
KIRKPATRICK: Look, what I would bet, per, what Bill Galston said yesterday. The narrative of 2004 is understood to be Democrats lost in part because of religion and social issues. I would be willing to make any bet that whoever the Democratic nominee is, they will make some effort to put some distance between themselves and NARAL in a way that is more effective than John Kerry did – in a way that is more coherent than saying I believe life believes at conception and I am adamantly pro-choice, full stop. I mean, there is something – they’ll do better than that.
CINDY JOHNSTON, NPR: I am fascinated by how many times Presbyterians have been mentioned in this discussion, especially – certainly seen as one of the quintessential mainline denominations. It seems as though people are separating themselves from that denomination and yet maintaining that Presbyterian identity. And I’m curious to know what is it about? Why is this happening, and is this unusual? You know, are Lutherans and Methodists still being evangelical and yet seeing themselves as Lutherans and Methodists?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, I’ll take a crack at that. I don’t think Presbyterians are so special. I think what we’re seeing simply is, one, all of the denominations are kind of in crisis. There are still – non-denominational churches are growing. All of the denominations are shrinking. And what we have now is a kind of orthodox versus modernist fight across the board, inside every denomination.
And what’s happened in the last two years is the places where it seemed to be invisible, which is the evangelical world, it started to crop up. Within the more orthodox world, you’re beginning to have internal tensions between people who lean to a more liberal theology or a more conservative theology. Just as, for the last decade, we’ve had in a more full-blown way within the mainline denominations. So within the Methodists, within the Presbyterians, within the Episcopalians, you’ve had people going at it like this along those liberal-conservative theological lines. And now we’re beginning to see signs of that same fight stretching over to the evangelical side of the spectrum. Am I –
LINDSAY: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And the interesting thing is that the Presbyterian tradition, the Reformed tradition, has provided some of the intellectual gravitas for evangelical ascendancy. And it’s being promulgated in lots of creative ways so that you have the idea of Kuyper or a cultural commission of cultural engagement is being promulgated by Chuck Colson, who is a Baptist. So Presbyterians are – if I had to say what are the two main intellectual influences on the evangelical ascendancy – it’s Roman Catholicism, conservative Catholicism, embodied by, let’s say, Richard John Neuhaus in First Things. And it’s going to be Reformed theology coming out of places like the philosophy department at Calvin College.
JOHNSTON: Can I ask one other question a little bit different? That is, I was curious to know, Michael, when you gave your definition of what is an evangelical, did you find people who absolutely fit that definition (saw the primacy of the Bible, had that personal relationship with Christ, and are advocates for the faith) and yet would completely reject being called evangelical?
LINDSAY: Not many, not many cases when I defined it in that way did – there were certain pockets of places where people were more uncomfortable with the term. And if I had to say where were those people most often located, it was Hollywood. That was the one place where they tended to really recoil at – but they recoil at all labels because they are afraid of alienating potential jobs. And so I think that that is just a reflection of the culture-producing industries.
CROMARTIE: But more and more you’re finding evangelical, cosmopolitan evangelicals are saying, I don’t think the word works anymore. You know, it’s so politicized. And that’s, by the way, why that manifesto is coming out tomorrow because – it’s really a theological document critiquing the politicization of the faith, and that’s why that’s important.
GREEN: I just wanted to comment on what Cindy was talking about, the Presbyterian Church, just because I go to a Presbyterian church. And I think people forget that there are actual different branches of those churches, of those mainline churches, especially the Presbyterian Church. You’ve got the PC(USA), and you’ve got the PCA. And so they divide on, yes, conservative or liberal tracks – but you’re seeing against the schism that is happening within the Episcopal Church, and you have the Methodists also creating this difference. But particularly in the Presbyterian Church, these are two separate branches that now have hierarchical divisions, so that it’s not even really –
LINDSAY: But even within that -Redeemer is certainly on the liberal spectrum of the PCA. I mean, it’s certainly not the kind of PCA I grew up with in Jackson, Mississippi, with – Reformed Seminary. And partially, it’s on issues of women, for example.
GREEN: Yeah, but the thing about it is that I think I would believe that Redeemer is more of the conservative side because it does not –
CROMARTIE: New York City.
GREEN: Well, because people don’t understand. Even though they preach a lot of social justice, they do not allow women in the pulpit; they do preach against homosexuality, against premarital sex. These are very conservative – very far rightwing kinds of things, and so –
LINDSAY: But not conservative for PCA, is what I’m saying. So relative to their denomination, they’re much more progressive than the rest of their denomination.
GREEN: Well, I suppose so, but if you define it by those specific political issues, they are extremely conservative and mirror the Catholic Church, Catholic doctrine.
CROMARTIE: I think that Michael is just suggesting that the PCA in Calhoun County, Alabama, is different than one in New York City. Am I right, Michael?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN: I have been arguing for several weeks that the Obama campaign is important beyond Obama because it is the leading edge of, I think, this very same shift you’re talking about – but I want both of your thoughts on this. This notion that everybody is giving up on the government: approval ratings are terrible, Democratic or Republican. They’re awful in terms of what the people are actually doing. You have this manifesto coming out with people essentially saying we don’t want to be tied to that. You mentioned that they’re leaning more toward the cultural side than the political side. Do each of you think that what is happening now, that this is also part of that same wave of younger people saying the government still matters, but what matters most is culture and society. And if we can control that or shape that, the government will have to follow?
KIRKPATRICK: That’s some people’s definition of conservatism. The conservatives understand that the culture is the important thing, and the politics follows from that. So I’m not sure I follow –
FOREMAN: The problem is, even many people who would consider themselves conservatives have said what has happened in government has divorced itself from what actual people in Alabama, Birmingham, Nashville, no matter where you go, what actual people are experiencing in life. And my question is to what degree – maybe it’s the populist group – are they saying enough already; let’s quit worrying about the government. Let’s just focus on these localized changes. Let’s focus on building in actuality – years ago I had a dinner with the late Peter Jennings. We had a big argument because he said everything that matters in America flows from politics. And I said, I think a lot of communities would say everything that matters is despite politics.
And it seems like right now I feel like a rising tide of that everything that matters is despite politics, not because of it.
KIRKPATRICK: I feel like within the evangelical world, just like within a lot of other different subcultures, there is a back-and-forth pendulum: towards engagement or away from engagement, towards hopefulness about political change and then back towards, you know, working on our own homes, our own schools, our own home-schooling, our own churches. So the separatism – you know, separatism is a dirty word, but it has not really gone away; there is a kind of look inward, look outward, back and forth. I think what is happening now may go beyond that, that there may be more than just the pendulum change; there may be a different kind of a looking outward. What do you think?
LINDSAY: Yeah, I think that is right. I think there is enormous disappointment with the lack of gains evangelicals have had over the last 30 years. And there is a spirit of disillusionment among the people that I interviewed: people who say I’ve toiled an awful long time in Washington, and I just can’t see results from my efforts. And they think that it is easier in other arenas. In some ways they are right that it is easier because all you have to do is persuade gatekeepers in these other realms. The problem is that the gatekeepers are the ones who are least-likely to embrace evangelical convictions or ideas. They actually have a much higher hurdle to clear than other groups who have been very successful.
A great example of this would be the gay-and-lesbian movement that has oftentimes – instead of using legislation to bring about cultural change, they have simply introduced sympathetic characters on a sitcom: or they’ve used major films to communicate a story that is very human and in a way has changed the dynamic. And I think that textbook publishing for elementary school – these are simple ways in which if you can persuade the gatekeepers, oftentimes it doesn’t require mass mobilization; it’s much more strategic.
HAGERTY: One thing I wonder – I heard that argument a lot about being frustrated with politics from people who decided what they wanted to do was affect change through law. And what happened is you had people – Liberty University has its own law school. You have all of these non-profit Christian – what is it – oh, the one out in Albuquerque, but you have non-profit Christian legal organizations that basically, promote Christian causes – that kind of thing. I’m wondering if you found a large segment of your elites doing that too? What they do is they look at what the liberals have done and gay-rights folks, and they say, okay – they kind of circumvented the political system. They went and they went to the federal courts and they created a sympathetic case, and then they kind of did what – and they rammed it through, and we see laws changed that way. It’s more effective.
LINDSAY: The judiciary is incredibly important. And the people that I interviewed, if there was any branch that they thought was particularly strategic, it was the judicial branch.
KATHY SLOBOGIN, CNN: In the past we’ve seen in the evangelical movement a kind of aggressive and deliberate embrace of politics as a method to achieve their aims. And I’m wondering with the emergence of what you’ve called the cosmopolitans, if we’re going to see a decrease in that. I’m thinking of things like the patriot pastors, or more locally, pastors who have their pastor’s picks on their websites and that kind of thing. Are we going to see a – is that yesterday’s news, or is that –
LINDSAY: I think it is. I think that the future face of evangelicalism is the cosmopolitan sensibility. I think that that sort of defensive stance that the populists had and the using aggressive tactics, it just does not resonate. Hanna Rosin is a great journalist, and she wrote a piece in The Washington Post that described evangelicals as the new Episcopalians, you know – (laughter) – they blush easily. And I have to say that that resonates with the people I interviewed; they are uncomfortable with the placards and the protests, and they don’t see that as their identity. And that gets back to Eve’s question, is that they don’t want to be seen as being against things; they want to be seen as being for things. And so that’s driving the way in which they respond.
SLOBOGIN: Actually, Hanna Rosin provides a nice segue into my second question, which is about Patrick Henry College. She wrote a great piece; and I’m wondering where you see them on the spectrum. On the one hand, they are fiercely anti-secular, and their mission is to shape the culture with biblical values. On the other hand, their mission is to place graduates in the quarters of power. So is that wanting a seat at the table, or is it like infiltrating the enemy camp?
LINDSAY: Yeah, the interesting thing is that I think – and I asked Hanna about this – I think there is a real differential between the board and funders of Patrick Henry and the actual students at Patrick Henry. I think that the students at Patrick Henry are far more cosmopolitan in their outlook than the board and funders. Now, this is not unusual at Christian colleges and universities. If you compare the board of Wheaton College to the student body of Wheaton, it looks different. They come to different political positions. They have very different perspectives.
But it is particularly pronounced at Patrick Henry because there is this intentionality among the board that says we want to get involved. But their way of getting involved is to sort of take back – it’s the sort of oppositional; whereas the students that I interacted with – I’ve spoken there – and the students I’ve interacted with – they are much – they have much softer edges to them than the impression that I have.
I still see Patrick Henry as an outlier. I don’t see it – it is not the training ground for the evangelical elite. The training ground for the evangelical elite is the same as the training ground for the American elite. It’s Harvard, Princeton, Yale. Where we really ought to be paying attention is the rise of evangelical campus groups on these elite college campuses and the ways in which – there is more intellectual space to bring religious conviction into wider conservations in the academy. So there are a whole series of academic centers that Pew helped fund in the 1990s, to individual professors who have made religion part of their research agendas.
ANDREW FERGUSON, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I just had a quick question. You talked a bit about abortion and the differences in the cosmopolitans and the populists interviewed. Is there any salience to embryonic stem-cell research any more, and are their differences between the populists and the cosmopolitans?
LINDSAY: This was not as big of an issue in the people that I interviewed. It was nowhere near the kind of engagement that they had on the issue of abortion. I don’t know what to make of that except that I think that abortion is far more salient.
Now, I tend to agree – there is a cultural anthropologist named Mary Douglas who has said that we care about things related to the body in politics much more so than we care about things that don’t have an organic component. One of the reasons why abortion or, homosexual relations or stem-cell research – the reason why they are so important is because we feel them in our body. There is an organic connection to the politics that we feel differently than when we’re talking about trade relationships or the federal budget. And I agree with her.
So I do think that there are – important issues that relate to us – like bioethics. I think that Americans feel those more viscerally than some of the other hot-button issues. But I don’t see – I did not find – in my research, stem-cell research. I’d be curious, though – David, what you found among the folks that you were interacting with? Did they – was stem-cell research one of the – was it as important as abortion?
KIRKPATRICK: No. I mean, no. Stem-cell research is complicated, hard to understand. In the late-term, early-term spectrum, it’s very early-term. And I think there is a growing sense that technology may begin to obviate this debate. I don’t think stem cell – I think there will be adult stem cells, there will other kinds of stem-cell research. And I don’t think that quarrel over the ethics of embryonic stem-cell research will necessarily be with us as long as the questions about terminating pregnancies.
REIHAN SALAM, THE ATLANTIC: I just wanted to recommend to everyone – there is a really wonderful piece that was a response to David Kirkpatrick’s piece on evangelicals by a student at Patrick Henry College, so it just seemed salient. He’s named David Sessions; he’s actually a 21-year-old intern at Slate who is also a web developer. Anyway, it’s a just a very thoughtful kind of meditation on the recent political history of the evangelical movement called “The Evangelical Crackup is a Myth.”[*] So if you get a chance to look it up.
CROMARTIE: Could you summarize it for us, though. I mean –
SALAM: Well, he’s basically just looking at the past 10 years and different arguments deployed about the extent and scale of evangelical influence – and about how these arguments are cyclical, and how – much like the stuff that you guys have been talking about – we kind of over-interpret the influence of the evangelical left or rather we over-estimate it. It was that kind of thing. I mean, it’s not – I don’t think there was a – he makes some fair points. I don’t think it was entirely right about everything, but I think he’s an impressive guy you’ll be hearing more from.
KIRKPATRICK: My impression was that he straw-manned me a little bit, that he tried to suggest that I was painting a kind of mythical past of total evangelical unanimity and cohesion.
CROMARTIE: He’s only 21years old. (Laughter.)
KIRKPATRICK: Well, whatever. He’s correct that that never existed, but I don’t think I quite said that. And as we had said yesterday, in 2004, there appeared to be a great deal of evangelical enthusiasm and cohesion around President Bush’s reelection. And at the time, nobody was saying this is just for one president. I mean, there was thought that this was kind of a real consolidation of a coalition. So –
SALAM: I think kind of his core point was also just the idea that actually this is not a bloc that is solely oriented around moral issues, and that actually part of the alienation of the group from the Republican Party is for the kind of classical small-government reasons. Given the rising affluence of this group – which kind of both trends in this cosmopolitan evangelical direction in one respect – but also in a direction that is kind of more tax-sensitive. It goes to the point about Hispanic evangelicals from yesterday. But, you know, anyway, interesting piece.
CROMARTIE: Well, that is very interesting. Cindy, on this point, and also Andrew Ferguson on this point.
JOHNSTON: Okay, well, let me say – I’m sort of going back actually to Andy’s point that was what about end-of-life issues. I mean, that certainly is not something that we have a technology or something, at least at the moment, that’s progressing on – that certainly is going to become an issue in the future.
CROMARTIE: Before you answer that, let Andy –
FERGUSON: While you were doing your research, the Schiavo business was probably going on, which, you know, Republicans recoiled in horror from what the terrible evangelicals and Catholics had forced on them. I was just wondering, did you see that in the cosmopolitans? Were they sort of alarmed by –
LINDSAY: They – the cosmopolitan evangelicals were not – did not raise end-of-life issues; it was not a discussion, and many of the people that I talked with were actually horrified by sort of the ways in which things were handled about the Schiavo case. They worked very hard – they distanced themselves as much from that as they did from Thomas Kincade. (Laughter.)
GERSON: I did want to raise one point to get a reaction here. They were talking earlier about divisions between centrist evangelicals and the evangelical left; and abortion was mentioned in that context. But I tell you – when I’ve been in these groups where both are represented – when it comes down to it, the largest disagreements are actually on foreign policy. The evangelical left is much more conventionally liberal when it comes to a kind of vague anti-Americanism: a kind of belief that we’re a corrupting influence in the world, all of the basic kind of things there. You know, many of them had been involved in the nuclear freeze movement, were very opposed to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. And that is not generally true of centrist evangelicals, it seems to me.
But I mention it and want to get your reaction because I haven’t gone in those settings – and I do think sometimes the evangelical left downplays the abortion issue, but they’re generally and vaguely pro-life – but in these settings, the foreign policy issues are deeply divisive.
LINDSAY: I didn’t find anyone on the evangelical left who said that they were – who were outspoken about being pro-choice; I did not. Some of them said they wanted to leave that behind. They didn’t want it to be the defining characteristic; but I think you’re exactly right, Michael, that foreign affairs – and opposition to the war, that was a really strong motif among the evangelical left that I interviewed, much more so than the abortion debate. In many ways, they said, we’re just trying to persuade our party to try and address some of these issues that would be more acceptable to evangelicals.
ED STODDARD, REUTERS: I was just curious, Michael – to kind of sum up what you’ve been saying here, do you buy in to David Gushee‘s kind of view that there is an emerging evangelical center that is kind of, you know, not happy with the polarization that has come from the old religious right, but it is also uncomfortable with the evangelical left sort of playing down of things like the abortion issue, and who would be a good leader – who do you see is kind of the leaders in the center?
LINDSAY: So I think David Gushee is an incredibly important theologian for evangelicalism, and I think he’s one of the new faces we ought to be paying attention to. And I do think he represents someone who has tried to bridge the left-right divide. The problem is that you do not galvanize around the middle; you galvanize around the extremes. And going back to the early argument, you’ve got to have something to oppose for the movement to progress.
So what has been the source of opposition for evangelicals over the last 60 years? Well, for the first 30 years, it was communism, godless communism – motivated evangelicals in very significant ways. And in the last 30 years, it’s been secular humanism. It’s using this broad language of secularism and we’re opposing that. If you’re in the center, in some ways you’re opposing both extremes. So it minimizes the number of allies that you can work with, and it’s not the same kind of galvanizing activity; and I think that’s the real challenge that this evangelical centrist would face.
CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to make a few announcements. But before I do, let’s thank both of our speakers for a wonderful – (inaudible, applause).
- The lyrics to the Pointer Sisters’ song are: “Mr. big stuff, who do you think you are?”
- Rich Stearns’ MBA degree is from the University of Pennsylvania.
- David Kirkpatrick’s article forThe New York Times Magazine was published October 28, 2007.
- The full quote from the pastor, included in David Kirkpatrick’sNew York Time Magazine article is:
“‘Even in the groups I travel in and grew up in – the preachers who are from the same background I was in, who run in the same circles I ran in, who went to the same schools I did – I don’t find many young evangelical preachers who are willing to stand up and take a stand on the hard issues, because they think they might offend somebody,” he said.”‘I think the Gospel is offensive, and I think the cross is offensive,” Wright continued. “‘I think Jesus loved everybody and I think he loved the Pharisees, but he certainly told them how the cow eats the cabbage.”
- The title of Chris Seay’s book isThe Gospel According to Tony Soprano.
- David Sessions article is called “Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be.”
This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar by Cheryl Jackson.
Photo credit: David McNew/Getty Images