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The “Hidden Hand” of Evangelicalism Exposed

Well, the truth can finally be told. As an evangelical, I take my direction from Art Linkletter, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Kurt Warner.

It’s all revealed in the doctoral thesis of D. Michael Lindsay of Princeton University:

Is there a “hidden hand? behind the rise to power of the evangelical movement in America over the last three decades? A Princeton graduate student has gained international attention by answering this question in the largest and most comprehensive study on the significance of faith in the lives of America’s societal leaders.

Shades of the Trilateral Commission!

“This dissertation is giving us an entirely different look at evangelical Protestantism,? said Lindsay’s adviser, Robert Wuthnow, the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences. “Academics often think of conservative Christians as rubes and dupes. The reality is that the real movers and shakers behind the evangelical movement are highly educated, thoughtful people with entrepreneurial skills, wealth and extraordinary management savvy.?

Apparently, we can’t win. We have to be “rubes and dupes” or following “movers and shakers” (but doesn’t that mean we can still be rubes and dupes?).

It gets better:

Interviewees include President Jimmy Carter; President George H.W. Bush; Wal-Mart President Michael Duke; J.C. Penney Chief Executive Officer Myron Ullman; PepsiCo Chief Executive Officer Steve Reinemund; CBS Entertainment Senior Vice President Terry Botwick; entertainers Kathie Lee Gifford and Art Linkletter; Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner; and various Hollywood producers including Ron Austin (“Mission Impossible,? “Charlie’s Angels?) and Dean Batali (“That ’70s Show?).

“This elite cohort,? Lindsay said, “represents the ‘hidden hand’ of evangelicalism and has exerted significant, often understated influence in changing the movement’s direction, scope and strategies over the last 30 years.?

I know he may not mean for this to sound like some kind of conspiracy theory, but it sure comes off sounding that way. Think I was kidding about the Trilateral Commission? Think again:

The paper that won the international sociology competition is titled, “Liminal Organization in Elite Ranks: Linking Societal Power to Religious Faith.? It studies the role of an organization called The Fellowship, which has ties to the evangelical movement and has been important to the nation’s elite. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower — Democrat and Republican — for example, has attended the group’s National Prayer Breakfast, held every February. Yet the group remains largely unknown to most Americans.

But there is hope in the end. Maybe it’s not a conspiracy after all:

“What I’ve found in my research on the evangelical movement is that shared religious conviction unites members across many social boundaries, from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Washington.”

And this gets you a PhD at Princeton University.

I wonder if this isn’t a case of putting the cart before the horse. Might it not be that evangelicalism has grown so popular because it appeals to so many people on so many levels? And because of, well, the underlying, incredibly hopeful message of biblical Christianity?

Gotta run. Kathie Lee’s on the phone. Must be important.

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