Enthralled by the Halls, Part II

Enthralled by the Halls?
John Turner

A few weeks back, Paul gave us an introduction to Mike Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power.

Lindsay interviewed more than 350 evangelical elites in the fields of business, academia, entertainment, and politics and suggests that "cosmopolitan" evangelical elites have very different concerns and outlooks than "populist" evangelicals enmeshed in the movement's subculture. In short, "cosmopolitan" evangelicals are not right-wing, anti-intellectual Neanderthals. For the most part, they think critically about their vocation / calling, sensitively and often quietly share their faith, and try to make a lasting impact on secular American culture. [Lindsay suggests that evangelicals have made inroads into these segments of elite America over the past three decades, but he does not give sustained attention to the question of how things have changed over time. In some arenas, such as politics, it is clear that an evangelical elite has obtained considerable more power in recent decades, but in the world of business this is much less clear.]

Brad Wilcox recently praised Faith in the Halls of Power in Books & Culture:

"Instead of dreaming up a right-wing evangelical cabal guided by the Christian Reconstructionist writings of R.J. Rushdoony and intent on taking over American politics, academic life, popular culture, and business, Lindsay … finds that American evangelical élites approach these domains from a range of political, ideological, and theological perspectives. He points to politically progressive evangelicals such as former President Jimmy Carter and to hard-to-pin-down figures such as Dr. C. Everett Koop—who angered the religious right by calling for early sex education and condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS—to remind us that evangelical leaders in public life are not uniformly associated with the right wing of the Republican Party."

As Paul noted, Alan Wolfe panned Lindsay's book in the NYT Sunday Book Review. Wolfe suggests that Lindsay "views himself as a sociological dictation machine; they talk, he writes it down." As an example, he mentions Lindsay's profile of Debra Waller, an evangelical executive at Jockey:

"'all Jockey models wear wedding rings in photo shoots involving both men and women.” Jockey International, the underwear manufacturer, is led by an evangelical, Debra Waller, who told Lindsay that “we have intentionally decided to stay away from the more provocative, sexy type of advertising.” When I checked out Jockey’s latest catalog, not only were there bodies I could never hope to replicate, there were no men and women together and hence no wedding rings. America’s libidinal culture has clearly shaped Waller’s priorities more than she has changed it."

As Wolfe concedes, Lindsay occasionally adopts a more critical tone. He is uncomfortable with evangelical executives who fail to wear their cloak of materialism lightly. He also suggests that evangelical elites who criticize the superficiality and insularity of the evangelical subculture often fail to recognize how that subculture nurtured their own success. But after reading the book, I agree with Wolfe that Lindsay's sympathy with his subjects' mission precludes some needed criticism and irony; however, I suspect he aimed for the much-needed corrective to popular and superficial treatments of evangelicalism. Ironically, both appraisals simultaneously contain large elements of truth. But I think one part of Wolfe's judgment is particiularly prescient: "Unfortunately for Lindsay, if you do not agree with him beforehand, you are unlikely to agree with him after he has had his say." Even more unfortunately for Lindsay, those unsympathetic to these cosmopolitan evangelical elites probably won't read his book. If they did, at the very least they would meet an array of fascinating and thoughtful figures, who regardless of their flaws are bringing some very different and challenging perspectives to "the halls of power."


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