Notes from Faith in the Halls of Power

I read D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite a while ago and have been meaning to post some excerpts from it for a while now. It’s a fascinating sociological study of American evangelical leaders (not just the leaders of American evangelicalism but also leaders in society who are evangelicals). In addition to existing research, Lindsay based his conclusions on interviews with 360 leaders drawn from four categories: political leaders, intellectual leaders, business leaders, and ministry leaders.

Here are some paragraphs that caught my attention.

Page 33:

I found the following quote from German theologian Martin Luther on one political leader’s desk: “The very ablest youth should be reserved and educated not for the office of preaching, but for government, because in preaching the Holy Spirit does it all, whereas in government one must exercise reason in the shadowy realms where ambiguity and uncertainty are the order of the day.”

And this is why we count it a success when our graduates go into the workforce, governmental service, or academia. We do want some graduates to follow us into vocational ministry but not most.

Page 77:

At the same time, evangelicals were establishing campus outreach groups. Some, such as the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, had been present on elite campuses for a couple of decades. The Crusader Club—later renamed the Ambassadors—began as a group of evangelical students from Princeton’s Class of 1912. Their influence is remarkable. One of its founders, for example, was Samuel Shoemaker, who later helped establish Alcoholics Anonymous. Shoemaker’s twelve-step program for overcoming addiction was formulated in this campus group.

Campus ministry has a disproportionate impact on culture — I’ll have to add this to my list of anecdotes. It’s going to go right up there with the long-term impact of the Holy Club at Oxford watch what we do is secret online .

Page 79:

Another important factor is that evangelical young adults tend to become evangelical adults: They are much less likely than others to abandon their faith. Hence, evangelical children attending selective universities become alumni and donors. This development may be at the crux of the evangelical intellectual renaissance.

He footnotes Hout, Greeley, and Wilde “The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States”, American Journal of Sociology 107:468–500 (2001) for this data. I’m encouraged by this observation — I’ve intuitively known for a while that if students make it through college with a fervent faith in Christ they’re likely to maintain it for a lifetime. It’s nice to see that research agrees with me. 😉

Page 85:

Evangelicals’ support is geared not only to the Ivy League but also to a variety of selective, nonsectarian institutions. For example, one of the CEOs I spoke to gives scholarship money to his undergraduate institution, Amherst College. The funds are primarily awarded to active student volunteers in such a way that ‘the scholarships have [typically] been given to Christians.’ Several people told that they prefer not to give money to what they call the ‘crappy schools’ that populate the evangelical subculture but instead prefer to contribute funds to ‘serious’ places like Harvard and Yale, while targeting particular scholars or programs that welcome and engage evangelicals.

Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. If anyone wants to establish a Center for Evangelical (or even Pentecostal) Spirituality at Stanford, give me a call. I have some ideas…

Page 90:

This kind of intellectual exploration of Christianity is not uncommon among the leaders I interviewed, especially those who attended secular universities. Typically, these explorations begin with private reflection and individual reading, often books by evangelical authors seeking to offer a defense of Christian convictions. The most popular of these writers is C. S. Lewis, who was an Oxford tutor and Cambridge professor of medieval literature. Lewis, who died in 1963, wrote dozens of scholarly and popular books, but perhaps his most famous is Mere Christianity, a slim volume published in 1952. The book is based on a series of fifteen-minute radio talks he delivered on the BBC in the 1940s. Nearly one in four of the people I interviewed mentioned Lewis’ influence on their own spiritual journey, and many have read his works multiple times. One CEO told me, “I’ve read Mere Christianity six times… I almost have it memorized.”

While these investigations usually begin in private, most of the people I spoke to said a campus group helped solidify their faith. These groups are the backbone of evangelical networks.

It’s good to know that Chi Alpha is a vertebrae in the backbone of the major evangelical networks in America, because sometimes we feel like vestigial organs. I need to get the last sentence of that quote into the hands of every Assemblies of God pastor in my district. 😉

Also, it’s worth noting that most converts read literature before converting (at least, those who go on to positions of influence do). I should give away more books…

Page 91:

Collectively, they [the evangelical campus ministries] reached a sizable number of undergraduates. At Princeton alone, for example, I found approximately four hundred undergraduate students—close to 10 percent of the student body—regularly involved in one or more evangelical groups on campus. And the number of students involved with the Harvard chapter of Campus Crusade has increased fivefold over the last two decades. These findings mirror wider trends within the Ivy League. They still do not reach large segments of the student body (except perhaps at Princeton), but these and other evangelical groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and campus ministries for particular ethnic groups have seen similar groups. Taken together, these point to a significant shift on the campuses of America’s top universities.


Pages 140–141

“Being There,” an essay by poet and journalist Steve Turner, has become a manifesto for expanding the evangelical presence in mainstream culture. Turner urges evangelicals to create professional and personal communities in cultural centers so that they can reach general audiences. This is sometimes referred to as a “ministry of presence.” Increasingly evangelicals have recognized the value of “being present” in centers of elite cultural production…. Across the evangelical landscape a “theology of the city” has emerged. Several people I spoke to said they were inspired by a passage in Jeremiah 29 where the prophet admonished the exiled Jews to seek the peace and prosperity of their cities, even though they were in areas populated, and ruled, by Babylonian pagans. I was struck by the number of people—all of whom were working places of elite cultural production—who referred to this passage. Evangelicals living and working in these cosmopolitan centers identify with the exiled Jews, for any of them feel a great deal of tension between the worlds of their faith and their profession. They referred to urban centers as “flashpoints” on the “battle lines” between people of faith and their secular opponents and pointed to missionary activities of the early church that centered along trade routes. These are justifications evangelicals offer for their involvement—not necessarily explanations that they give to outsiders, but ways they legitimate their involvement to fellow believers.

The essay he references is Steve Turner “Being There: A Vision For Christianity and the Arts” Trinity Seminary Review 21 (1999): 25–33 – I can’t find it online, otherwise I would link to it.

Page 165:

As another business leader told me [explaining why he wasn’t a pastor], “There are plenty of Christians working on Sunday morning…. There is no more Christian hour in the country than from eleven to noon on Sunday mornings. But Tuesday afternoon seemed open.”

Page 177–178:

Evangelical business leaders also say faith influences advertising and corporate sponsorships. I interviewed Jockey’s CEO, Debra Waller, in the company’s Manhattan showroom, which was lined with larger-than-life photos of models in Jockey underwear. I told Waller that I had never conducted an interview surrounded by so much human flesh. She replied, “Well, we have intentionally decided to stay away from the more provocative, sexy type of advertising.” When pressed about the extent to which her evangelical faith shapes advertising decisions, Waller, who remains personally involved in approving all of the firm’s advertising, pointed out that all Jockey models wear wedding rings in photo shoots involving both men and women, implying that the couple in the ads is married. She also stipulates, “a man and a woman can’t look like a pretzel…. People hugging each other in this situation would be very believable,” but the ad must not demonstrate anything more “intimate” than that.

Heh. It’s that story that made me want to read the book after I stumbled across it in Andy Crouch’s review

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afro samurai resurrection dvd of Lindsay’s work.

Pages 10 and 220:

Surprisingly, more than half of all leaders talked about embracing the evangelical approach to faith—“deciding to follow Jesus,” in evangelical parlance—after high school. Evangelicalism’s most prolific pollster, George Barna, has found that “if people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their savior before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all is slim.” This suggests that American leaders’ spiritual journeys are noticeably different from those of the general population. Faith is important to them, but they generally embrace it later in life.… a majority of those [evangelical leaders] I interviewed (56 percent) embraced evangelicalism after age seventeen, and over one-quarter were not raised in churchgoing families.

This finding is extremely significant for explaining the strategic importance of college ministry. While most Christians get saved at a young age, those Christians who wind up exerting the most influence on society disproportionately come from those saved in campus ministry (especially at elite universities) or later. The number I hear tossed around is usually 80% — “80% of everyone who gets saved gets saved in children’s or youth ministry.” If that is accurate (and I don’t know what the real statistic is), then someone who converts in college is 5 times as likely to become a significant leader in our culture as someone who converts as a child.

Page 224

…sociologist Sally Gallagher has shown that though evangelicals pay lip service to male headship in the family, few families actually behave that way. Evangelical women join the American workforce at the same rate as women in the general population. And contrary to claims that evangelical belief contributes to domestic violence, churchgoing evangelicals have the lowest rates of domestic violence of any religious group in the country. Evangelical fathers are more active and expressive with their children and more emotionally engaged with their wives. This has led sociologist Brad Wilcox to conclude that if evangelicals maintain a patriarchy, “theirs is a very soft patriarchy.”

That needs to be said more often. Evangelicals get a bum rap that we don’t deserve. He footnotes Sally Gallagher Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life 2003 and Brad Wilcox Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands 2004

Page 289:

The Protestant and Catholic traditions have long recognized the legitimacy of two forms of religious organization: modalities and sodalities. Anchored by geographical function, a modality is a permanent, localized religious structure that serves a range of constituents. The traditional church parish exemplifies a religious modality, serving young and old alike. By contrast, a sodality focuses on particular religious functions and is not tethered to geography in the same way. Examples include medieval Catholic orders and Protestant missionary agencies. Sodalities serve more specialized functions than modalities. During the Reformation, Luther tried to eradicate sodalities from the church, but by the time of William Carey in the nineteenth century, Protestants had rediscovered the tactical benefits of sodalities, finding them helpful in accomplishing goals that were larger than could be undertaken by a single congregation.

Hey, I’m part of a sodality

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. Who knew? It seems that there’s probably a lot of literature on this that I’ve been completely unaware of that would be germane to the contemporary debate about parachurch organizations.

Pages 297 & 300:

Dye’s examination (2002) of the structure of institutional power in the United States reveals that 54 percent of the nation’s corporate leaders and 42 percent of government leaders today graduated from one of twelve highly selective universities…. The eight Ivy League campuses (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale), the University of Chicago, Duke University, Oxford University, and Stanford University.

He footnotes Thomas R. Dye Who Is Running America? The Bush Restoration. 7th ed. (2002).

Two thoughts:
1) Stanford made the list!
2) Chi Alpha still isn’t touching most of those campuses. Sad.hitman dvd

One thought on “Notes from Faith in the Halls of Power”

  1. Awesome. I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time; now I have a taste of it. Great review (and thank you for the quotes… I plan to steal them).

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