Priests and Prophets

Print More

Jonah.jpegAs Pastordan suggests, there may not be much interest out there in the Religious Industrial Complex discussion, but there are those of us who like it, and nobody’s forcing you to read this.
On the question of the efficacy of RIC outreach, let me get a little empirical. Laurie Goodstein of the NYT was kind enough to make available some number-crunching of the exit poll numbers on white evangelicals that the pollsters, Edison/Mitofsky, did for her; and it’s pretty interesting stuff. The margin among 18-29 year-olds went from 83-16 for Bush in 2004 to 66-32 for McCain in 2008. Among 30-44 year-olds, the shrinkage was from 86-12 to 76-23. Among the 45-64 year-olds, there was essentially no change: 76-23 to 76-22. And among those 65 and older, the GOP margin grew, from 68-32 for Bush to 72-26. So we’re talking about swings toward Obama of 33 and 20 points in the younger cohorts, and towards McCain of 1 and 10 points in the older cohorts. This does suggest that there may be dividends for the kind of outreach that Pastordan and Fred Clarkson and Digby eschew.
Once upon a time, I co-wrote a book called The American Establishment that, while not uncritical of it, made a kind of case for the establishmentarian approach to life. There can be no doubt that folks like Faith in Public Life and Jim Wallis are establishmentarian as hell. They want to reach across divides, they want to be players, they want to gather together and ask the Lord’s blessing. Are they prophets? No, right-thinking and even impassioned as they may be, they’re priests, specializing in the laying on of hands and the eirenic sensibility and the rhetorical unction. Fun to read they’re not. But like it or not, they may be doing the Lord’s work, if by that you choose to mean the gathering up of forces for the, ah, common good.
Are they sometimes wrong and wrong-headed? Will they too readily glad hand and even kowtow to folks who shouldn’t be trusted? Do they have a weakness for insiderdom? Yes, all of the above. And so it’s important to have some prophets around to give them a good poking now and then. Each side has its proper business to attend to. What’s annoying is the priest who pretends to be a prophet, and the prophet who tries to be treated as a priest.