February 12, 2008
'A Gated Community of the Soul'
Author of Faith in the Halls of Power takes evangelicals to task over no-show elites.
Michael Lindsay has, through extensive interviewing, tapped into a feature of American evangelicalism that's both fascinating and frustrating: two distinct social tiers. He identified these as the "populist" and "cosmopolitan" groups, which he wrote about in Faith in the Halls of Power. But there's another way of looking at evangelicals that divides them - much along the same lines - into elite and non-elite Christians.
The separation is fairly deep, it seems. So deep that they don't really go to church together. In fact, Lindsay writes in Monday's USA Today, many of the evangelical elite (including George W. Bush) hardly go to church at all:
I spent the past five years interviewing some of the country's top leaders - two U.S. presidents (George H.W. Bush and Carter), 100 CEOs and senior business executives, Hollywood icons, celebrated artists and world-class athletes. All were chosen because of their widely known faith. Yet I was shocked to find that more than half - 60% - had low levels of commitment to their denominations and congregations. Some were members in name only; others had actively disengaged from church life.
Everybody loses out, Lindsay says: "Community is a virtue for most religious traditions, but evangelicals have excelled at it. Declining church commitment among these leaders, therefore, is ripping at the very fabric that has distinguished American evangelicalism."
He addresses the reasons for this (frustration with the way churches are run) and the issue of where these elites do have Christian fellowship (exclusive Bible studies, parachurch ministry boards), and takes them gently to task for elitism.
But he doesn't give them the assignment of solving the problem - in this article, that's meted out to clergy.
Organized religion is perhaps the one factor that could motivate people to bridge the gap between rich and poor, especially now as more of the faithful move into the halls of power. To turn the tide, clergy around the country must engage and draw in these leaders. Otherwise, affluent believers will continue to leave their congregations - and their fellow believers - behind in their ascent, creating a gated community of the soul.