In May The Pew Form sponsored another biennial conference on faith, public policy, and politics attended by scholars and journalists. One of the presenters was

D. Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, described eight fallacies or misconceptions he held as he began his book. In the three years of his extensive research, he made surprising discoveries about the true power brokers and centers of power in American evangelicalism.

The book that resulted from his research, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite was published in 2007 by Oxford University Press, and has been very well received.

He gave a talk on evangelicals that is must reading for everyone interested in American public policy and politics.Transcript.

Here are a couple of excerpts.

And I began to realize that there is a whole segment of the evangelical movement –many of those folks who are in the elite – who were trying to distinguish themselves from the rest of the evangelical subculture. And so I began to think more about this and pay more attention to it. And the real divide, in my opinion, in evangelicalism is not between the left and the right; it’s not between the young and the old. It is between a group that I call the “cosmopolitan” evangelicals and “populist” evangelicals. And these are very, very significant divisions.

You see, populist evangelicals are what we oftentimes think about evangelicals. These are the folks who are culture warriors, who say that they want to take back the country for their faith. They see themselves as embattled against secular society. They are very much concerned that they are in a minority position, and they’ve got to somehow use very strong-arm tactics to win the day.

So that populist evangelicalism is alive and strong, especially in the evangelical subculture: the music, the publishing, the entertainment segment of the evangelical subculture. But there is a whole other segment. The people who I interviewed, by and large, fit more this cosmopolitan outlook. They are less interested in taking back the country for their faith. They really are more interested in their faith being seen as authentic, reasonable, and winsome. So they still have an evangelistic impulse, but their whole modus operandi looks quite different. Because of that they have different ultimate goals of what they are actually trying to achieve. They want to have a seat at the table. They want to be seen as legitimate. They are concerned about what The New York Times or TIME magazine thinks about evangelicals because they [the cosmopolitan evangelicals] are concerned about cultural elites. They want legitimacy. Legitimacy is actually more important to them than necessarily taking back the country. And so that cosmopolitan-populist divide I find to be quite significant.


I think there are some issues that people assume will be huge elements that I think are going to go away: same-sex unions, for example. I think the train has left the station. I don’t think evangelicals 20 years from now will be raising concerns about it. I think same-sex unions will be across the country in 20 years. And I don’t think evangelicals will raise a very big stink because this is one of the issues where you do see very significant generational divides. Older evangelicals are very opposed to it; younger evangelicals are not. And in this way, it mirrors the rest of the country.


The sixth fallacy I had is that faith in politics, if we have to look at how religion fits into politics, it is most centrally about domestic issues. It is most centrally about abortion and about same-sex unions, those kinds of things. When in fact the real story, the real interesting story, is foreign affairs. Fifty years ago, evangelicals were vehemently opposed to foreign aid. They were opposed to interventionism. In fact, some of the strongest opposition that President Woodrow Wilson received for some of his policies when he was in office was from fellow conservative Christians. They said that we should not be involved in multilateral relationships. This was quite upsetting.

The major turnaround that evangelicals have made on issues about foreign aid and foreign investment is quite significant. Today, for example, evangelicals are very, very positive, very high on USAID and the State Department. Why is this? Well, over the last 20 years, we have witnessed a de-professionalization of foreign missions – and that’s a significant development. You see, 50 years ago, evangelicals were sending missionaries by the droves to China, to India, to all over. What has happened is that there has been a paradigm shift within the evangelical community. Now you don’t necessarily send somebody for the rest of his or her life to go and do foreign missions; now you send a lot more people for shorter-term ventures. People go for two weeks, for a month, for a summer, for a year, for two years, and this has changed the dynamic. What it’s done is exposed a lot more average evangelicals to a global culture. So you’ve got 7,000 members of Saddleback Church who have now traveled to Rwanda to go and do development and aid in very interesting ways.