Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Cosmopolitan Evangelicals

So this post is more in the realm of sociology than history, but there is a significant amount of overlap. I wondered if any of you had seen or read D. Michael Lindsay's book Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. He contends that the major division in the American evangelical movement is not between those who support the political right and the political left, but between "populist" evangelicals and "cosmopolitan" evangelicals. In an interview conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Lindsay comments:

"I differentiate between two kinds of evangelicals. Populist evangelicalism has been what a lot of attention has been devoted to. This is the domain of, “We’re going to take back Washington.” A lot of Patrick Henry [college] embodies populist evangelicalism. Principally seeing politics as the arena where you have to bring about cultural change using mass rallies.

An exemplar of this was, in 1980, there was a Washington for Jesus rally, which Bill Bright and a number of other evangelical leaders organized. It’s the idea that a radio commentator would get on and say, “You need to call your congressman today. They’re voting on an issue.” And the evangelicals would flood the phone lines on Capitol Hill. This is an important part of evangelical activism. But I think it’s actually [part of] the previous generation.

That generation is dying off, and it’s being replaced with what I call cosmopolitan evangelicalism. This is the evangelicalism of the establishment, where the edges have been softened. The cosmopolitan evangelicals that came up time and again in my research are those folks who interact regularly with people of different faiths and of no faith at all. They rub shoulders in the secular world all the time. And they don’t lose their faith as a result of that, but they interact with their faith in different ways.

So whereas populist evangelicals want to take back America or convert to the Christianization of this country, cosmopolitan evangelicals have a more modest goal. They simply want their faith to be seen as legitimate, authentic, and – they hope in the end – attractive and winsome. In the same way, they do want their faith to draw others, but [they use] different forms of mobilization [that are] far more subtle, more nuanced, and because of that, more significant."

1 comment:

Exploring the Study of Religious History said...

This is an interesting post and I'm eager to view this book. I wonder if you think he is correct in his assessment? It seems to me that young American Evangelicals are not necessarily less political, they are just less connected with the "Religious Right" of Jerry Falwell. They are increasingly drawn to issues of justice, poverty and the environment. However, I think he is mostly correct in his understanding of the 'cosmopolitan' bunch. What do you think?

Thanks for the post,