Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 21 seconds.
This post is about the white evangelical man. If the term is gender-specific, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are not the females, nor are they white-collar people in the usual, college-graduate sense of the word. These people only live for the Institution of the Church.
The ones I am talking about are members of it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left culture, spiritually as well as physically, to take the oath of evangelical life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institution.
Only a few are free-thinkers or ever will be. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as “servant” psychologically necessary, most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are the dominant members of our society nonetheless.
They have not joined together in a recognizable elite—our country does not stand still long enough for that—but it is from their ranks that are coming most of the first and second echelons of our government, and it is their values which are setting the American rule of law.
The Falwell man is the most conspicuous example, but he is only one, for the collectivization so visible in the evangelicals, has affected almost every conservative Christian movement. Blood brother to the squeaky white high school student off to attend Liberty University is the Southern Baptist seminary student, the Mormon missionary headed for Africa, the pundit at Fox News, the mega-church pastor, the Republican Freedom Caucus, and the young law clerk at the American Center for Law and Justice.
They are all, as they so often put it, in the same family of God. Listen to them talk to each other over their walled-in lawns of suburbia and you cannot help but be struck by how well they grasp the common denominators which bind them. Whatever the differences in the denominational ties, it is the common problems of liberalism that dominate their attention, and when the Falwell man talks to the Southern Baptist or gasp, the Catholic or Mormon, it is these problems that are uppermost.
The word Catholic most of them can’t bring themselves to use—except to describe foreign countries or denominations they don’t belong to—but they are keenly aware of how much more beholden they are to the Pope than were their elders. They are cautious about it, to be sure; they talk of “Christ’s atonement” “inspiration of the scripture,” “the virgin birth,” and their hatred of abortion.
But they have a lessening sense of difficulty; between themselves and denominations whose beliefs they share in common, and more than their elders feel comfortable with, they are building an ideology that will permit this alliance.
It is the growth of this ideology, the renunciation, and its practical effects, that is the thread for this post. America has paid much attention to the political consequences of white male evangelicalism—the concentration of power in large denominations, for example, the political power of the mega-church, and the possible emergence of an ultra-conservative moral minority that attempts to dominate the rest of us.
These are proper concerns, but no less significant is the principal impact that evangelical life has had on the individuals within it. A collision has been taking place—indeed, hundreds of thousands of them, and in the aggregate, they have been producing what I believe is a major shift in American ideology.
Officially, we are a people who hold to the Protestant Ethic. Because of the denominational implications of the term, many would deny its relevance to them, but let them eulogize the American Dream, however, and they virtually define the Protestant Ethic. Whatever the embroidery, there is almost always the thought that pursuit of individual salvation, through hard work, thrift, and competitive struggle is the heart of American achievement.
But the harsh facts of evangelical life do not jibe with these precepts.