In order for evangelicals to have influence on key decisions that affect millions of people, you have to be in the room. Elite networks matter.
The difference, however, is that the gospel compels us to not live our lives to curry the favor of those in authority. Jesus is clearly not spending his ministry trying to get the Roman authorities to believe his position. And yet, not once does he curse the Roman authorities. The harshest thing he says about Rome is "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's." That is certainly not a condemnation, even though his disciples were begging him to condemn Rome.
Why? Jesus recognizes that a lot of good can come when people committed to God are in positions of responsibility. What we have missed in the evangelical community over the last ten years is an insight advocated by a social thinker named J. P. Nettl. He says social movements are akin to stalactite rock formations, which come from the top down, and stalagmite rock formations, which come from the bottom up. The column is most powerful, he says, when those formations meet. If we want cultural change, we have to attend to both grassroots movements as well as top-down efforts.
What would that look like for evangelicals? What would it look like to build the top-down structure, since we've historically worked with the poor and weak? Does this mean seeking more positions of authority?
Think about the mobilization of concern we've seen for international justice in the last 15 years. It's a wonderful example of how an organization like International Justice Mission has engaged policy makers, folks at very high levels. Gary Haugen, IJM's president, speaks at the Davos World Economic Forum. That is literally where the world's power elite gather. He's not repudiating them. He wants to be a part of it. It makes a real difference. At the same time, Gary is trying to get college students, who are really far from Davos, interested in international justice. IJM does things in the local churches.
That's a great example of how you can engage both top-down and bottom-up strategy to make a lasting impact.
For many Americans, leaders at the top seem incredibly disconnected from the rest of us. True or not? If so, what should change?
It's both true and false. It's true that a significant number of high-ranking people lead gilded lives, far removed from the everyday concerns of ordinary people.
But the people in these positions don't stay there their whole lives. Often, they don't even stay there for 10 years. They move out. People in very powerful positions in the White House are there only temporarily. They don't have a life that stays permanently disconnected from everyday experiences.
In our current political discourse, both conservatives and liberals seem to relentlessly criticize "the elite." What would you say to that mentality of pent-up frustration against elites?
The moment of greatest cultural angst against elites occurred in the wake of the financial meltdown, where certain industries, like finance, seemed to be above the fray, and not really experiencing the country's challenges. It is difficult when you are making an unbelievable amount of money to stay grounded. It's really hard.