D. Michael Lindsay’s book Faith in the Halls of Power documents the rise of evangelicals in American society. That’s an interesting subject, one that I dealt with some in Taming the Rowdies. But I think there are two hard questions that need to be answered before people on both sides get too excited about this.
How much impact are evangelicals really having on the course of society? It depends on what the stated goals are.
If you’re a theonomist (or closet theonomist, many people are in reality but won’t admit it) we’re nowhere near achieving "bringing America back to God," as I keep repeating on this site. We only need to look at our culture–to say nothing about our legal system–to see this.
If you’re comparing us to, say, Europe, we’re doing quite well, but it’s more of a maintenance task with some of the same long-term problems that European have faced in the past.
But what does that have to do with evangelicals in the elite? Evangelical leaders have said two things for years:
- If we could only get our people into places of power and influence, we could redirect the culture.
- We can get into those places because of the superiority of our world view and lifestyle.
The fact that evangelicals, in the face of persistent trashing by our elite directed media, have gotten as far as they have is testament that the latter is true. The former is problematic, because anyone moving up has to meet the demands placed on him or her by the system. In many cases those demands end up effectively overwhelming the ability of the evangelical to really impact the society. That’s the dilemma that impaled the Republicans in Congress: the demands of keeping themselves in office to effect the desired changes forced them to resort to patronage driven spending and other decidedly unconservative things, which defeated the whole purpose of them being there in the first place.
But let’s turn the issue around and look at it from a careerist standpoint. If I am a young man or woman planning a career and want to choose a religion or life philosophy that would advance me the furthest, would I choose Evangelical Christianity?
There’s nothing that will advance a religion in society faster than to become the darling of careerists, as Constantine proved in the Roman Empire. But along with that is the danger that the religion will be corrupted along the way, as Constantine and his successors also showed. In my opinion, though, Evangelical Christianity will never have a chance at becoming the influential force in the upper reaches of our society it wants to be until a critical mass of people can answer this in the affirmative.
There’s no evidence that we’ve arrived at that critical mass. And, if secular "religious tests" really take root in our society, that critical mass will not come together. But there are two "wild card" variables that may alter that.
- A general systemic crisis (like the decline of dollar hegemony) would expose the weakness of the secularist house of cards. To some extent this is what happened in the 1970’s, but not on an elite level (Jimmy Carter notwithstanding.) But Evangelicals need to have their own "house in order" to take full advantage of this.
- Evangelicals need to play their two MO advantages more forcefully: dealing with transparency and integrity (while avoiding triumphalism and Napoleon Hill thinking) and living a lifestyle that is not self-destructive, thus not cutting their own careers short.