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D. Michael Lindsay

D. Michael Lindsay

D. Michael Lindsay is a sociologist at Rice University and the author of Surveying America’s Leadership: A Study of the White House Fellows. He is also author of the acclaimed 2007 study, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Evangelical and elite: Four approaches to power

Evangelicals have become significant players on the national stage, so much so that the actions and statements of their leaders ripple across the political and cultural landscape. What happens when evangelicals bring their faith convictions to bear on corporate America or the U.S. government? In particular, how does an evangelical Christian who also leads a major American institution--such as Walmart or the National Institutes of Health--invoke his or her faith when making big decisions?

Bradley C. Smith of Princeton University and I just published a study on this subject in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. It emerged out of a larger study (first published by Oxford University Press as Faith in the Halls of Power) for which I interviewed 360 evangelicals who were top American leaders. These elites included former President Jimmy Carter along with 50 cabinet secretaries and senior White House officials from the last five administrations. I also sat down with 100 CEOs, chairpersons and presidents of major companies including New York Life Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, Tyson Foods, and JC Penney. To round out the study, I met with over 150 leaders from the worlds of nonprofits, the arts, entertainment, and the news media.

I wanted to uncover how these people bring their personal religious convictions to bear on their roles as public leaders. In other words, how does religion seep into their relationships, their work, and the decisions they make?

We found four kinds of evangelicals in the corner offices of major U.S. institutions--the pragmatic, the heroic, the circumspect, and the brazen.

Pragmatic evangelicals are serious about their faith, but they don't advertise it. In the words of Genworth's Chief Investment Officer, Ron Joelson, "You don't want to offend people who are not Christians. . . . [As someone] in a position of power and authority, I don't want people to feel uncomfortable. . . . [That's] not a particularly good witness." Joelson's sentiment was repeated by dozens of other leaders we studied.

Ed Moy, director of the U.S. Mint, takes a different approach. Early in his career, he worked in the private sector and was confronted by his boss after submitting his first expense report:

He shuts the door to his office, and says, "Let me explain something around here. We in sales management never believe that the company is paying us enough, and so...we measure the minimum amount of miles from home to work and back again, and that's personal miles. Everything else . . . gets dumped in the business column, and that way you get an extra 50 [to] 75 bucks a month. If I were to hand this in, accounting is going to ask some questions, and then there's a massive audit on everyone, and we can't have that kind of trouble. So I'm telling you that if you're interested in a career here, you're going to change this expense report."

The next week, when Moy submitted the expense report unchanged, his supervisor threatened to fire him (but, in the end, didn't). Moy refers to the event as a "seminal moment" in shaping his understanding of the relationship between faith and work.

Moy and other evangelicals embody what we call heroic evangelicalism. Even if it costs them their jobs, these evangelicals refuse to compromise their core beliefs. Now, because evangelicalism is a large, diverse group (comprising about one-third of the U.S. adult population), what one evangelical regards as compromise, another sees as prudence.

The circumspect evangelical are leaders who prefer to signal their faith obliquely, rather than make explicit mention. Michael Duke, the CEO of Walmart, keeps a Bible on his desk and reads from it occasionally, but he's uncomfortable being too direct about his Christianity.

As the CEO of the country's biggest business, he has received a number of critiques, many of them challenging how he, as a Christian, could lead a company that pays its workers comparatively low wages and drives smaller businesses into the ground. When asked, he provides answers that would likely please Walmart's supporters and frustrate its critics. But he doesn't quote the Bible. He embodies a cosmopolitan evangelicalism that prefers to bear witness to his faith through subtle signals as opposed to explicit reference.

Finally, brazen evangelicals work in environments where they can take remarkable freedom in being bold about their faith. Some private companies give rise to this kind of Christianity, but the easiest examples come from professional sports.

Consider David Robinson, the San Antonio Spurs center who won both the NBA's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. Robinson felt an obligation to make known his evangelical faith, and he frequently led the team in prayer before games. Not all of his teammates appreciated Robinson's praying in Jesus' name, but no one actively resisted, including a Muslim player on the team. Robinson, like other brazen evangelicals, indiscriminately draws upon his faith with no adverse impact on his career.

These four postures of evangelical leadership--pragmatic, heroic, circumspect, and brazen--can be found all around us in American society. My hunch is that there are analogous approaches occurring among devout Jews in senior leadership positions, as well as among practicing Muslims and those of other faith traditions. Naturally, it will always be a challenge for committed people of faith in senior leadership positions to draw upon their faith sincerely and responsibly. But understanding how their beliefs are playing out on the national stage is the first step in helping them do so--and in holding them accountable for it.

For more, read our panel discussion of Senior Leaders vs middle managers

By D. Michael Lindsay

 |  August 30, 2010; 1:04 PM ET
Category:  CEOs , Compensation , Religious leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You forgot to mention hateful, intolerant Glenn Beck evangelicals.

Posted by: areyousaying | September 2, 2010 8:29 AM
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Think Elmer Gantry... get the picture?

Posted by: whocares666 | September 1, 2010 2:43 PM
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I think it is unfair to paint people with a broad brush. I am an Episcopalian by background but otherwise rather quiet about my beliefs and not a regular church goer. Also I am politically very liberal. Most of the evangelical Christians I have known both personally and professionally are some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Even if I do often disagree with their political views. One of my evangelical friends helped me in a profound way in my career several years ago and I consider him to be a lifelong friend. There is good and bad in every religion and while I have a problem with some who try to use their religious views as a means of controlling others via the political process, I think it is unfair to paint an entire group of people with a broad brush. I try to judge people as individuals.

Posted by: da55 | September 1, 2010 12:55 PM
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Rex said:
Instead of taking the most relevant and useful things they have to teach, you quote the most obscure and unused passages as if they were the key points of the religions.
Kinda like evangelicals who quote the most violent passages of the Qu'ran in an attempt to prove Islam is murderous and treacherous.

The responsibility to be honest and logical goes both ways, bub.

Posted by: JMGinPDX | September 1, 2010 12:25 AM
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How about "Annoying Evangelicals" that push their religion on you, judge you if you're not "their" kind of Christian, discriminate against people who aren't Evangelicals, and lie, cheat, and steal in the name of their God.

Posted by: Athena4 | August 31, 2010 11:36 PM
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would never work for an evangelical. The few I've known in my place of work were underhanded, dishonest, power-mad and downright mean. When you worship a cruel and hateful god, chances are you're going to be cruel and hateful too.
Posted by: bigbrother1 | August 31, 2010 10:16 AM
That is a high truth. The loudest people against sex or anything "immoral" are constantly in the news due to their scandalous actions. It is laughable to read them speak of some kind of value system that they themselves are far away from.

People seem to have a better shot at being humane, compassionate and ethical when they free themselves from cultism.

Posted by: revbookburn | August 31, 2010 10:14 PM
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Sorry, but how is the second story an example of "heroic evangelism"? It had nothing to do with evangelizing, and was simply about being honest and taking a stand. People of all faiths and none at all are capable of behaving in an ethical manner.

Posted by: wrybread | August 31, 2010 9:31 PM
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Evangelicals should leave other people alone in the workplace. That's all I expect from them, to be left alone with my own beliefs or lack thereof, which are no one's business but my own, and which, in any case, are unique to myself and impossible to explain to anyone else.

Which is true of everyone. No two people have exactly the same beliefs, as endless religious schisms and efforts to enforce religious conformity over the centuries have proven beyond any doubt.

Even atheists and agnostics, who also sometimes try to enforce conformity within their own ranks,m have differences of opinions with each other.

None of us have any obligation to justify our beliefs to anyone else, and we should be free from religious pressure at the workplace.

Posted by: samsara15 | August 31, 2010 5:06 PM
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Rex...as to your earlier post about Christian virtues...

The issue isn't whether those virtues are officially espoused by religion or by religious leaders, it is whether they are followed by the people doing the espousing.

When you can show me that atheists are more likely to lie, cheat Kill or steal than those who profess to be Christians, then you will have a point. Until then, every Jim Bakker cheater, Catholic Priest child rapist, GW Bush war starter and Newt Gingrich asking a new woman to marry him before his current one has been asked for a divorce undermines any credibility you have.

The discussion here is not about whether Christian values are Good or not. it is about the fiends that use the cover of being a "good Christian" to lie, cheat, steal and kill.

Posted by: Blurred | August 31, 2010 4:22 PM
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Another thing, Rex -- almost all atheists in America are recovering christians, almost 100% of us. Think about that for a second.

Atheists know about those religions you mention, in fact we are quite a diverse group. We know enough about those variants to know that we didn't want to be any of them.

How many of those christian varieties have you tried? Which True Belief have you exchanged for another? Will you become a muslim some day .... after you, you have the prerequisite gullibility.

Really, can you think, I mean is it hard for you?

Posted by: eezmamata | August 31, 2010 4:19 PM
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Rex...I need some expert knowledge here:

Please tell me the difference between a Lutheran and a Protestant.

How about a Catholic and Jesuit?

Posted by: Blurred | August 31, 2010 4:14 PM
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David Robinson is the only person on this list who seems to exemplify the person of Christ.
Posted by: West3 | August 31, 2010 11:36 AM
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Close, but we all know JC played shooting guard

Posted by: Blurred | August 31, 2010 4:11 PM
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oh REXREDDY, you poor put upon little christian you.

Most liberals are not atheists, and most atheists are not liberals.

How is it you don't know that? After all you've told us about what real christians are, should we not expect you to be equally knowledgeable about atheists? You certainly think you are. You are more than wrong, you are stupid about it.

Posted by: eezmamata | August 31, 2010 4:06 PM
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"...So afraid of evangelicals are we?
Those who espouse terrible virtues like:..."

This is truly childish, people only do this when they have nothing productive to say.

The author and many of the posters here are not belittling the so-called virtues of evangelicals, they (we) are bemoaning the lack of live-and-let-live attitude that has made our country work as well as it has.

Perhaps you, and many other evangelicals, are a pain the buttocks to be blunt. Whatever fantasy you use to get through your day is fine, just keep it to yourself.

How about George Carlin's 11th Commandment: keep they religion to thyself. Most people are able to do that, why can't the evangelicals do that?

Posted by: eezmamata | August 31, 2010 4:03 PM
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Oh you poor atheist liberals!

You are totally confused by what a Christian is.
You don’t know the difference between an:
Jehovah’s Witness
Or all the rest, so you call them all evangelical and nuts and yadda yadda yadda!

Instead of taking the most relevant and useful things they have to teach, you quote the most obscure and unused passages as if they were the key points of the religions.

You won’t take the time to learn about them.
But you will read the book about the Flying Spaghetti Monster several times while listening to “Imagine”

It’s like you are reading the instructions to building a bicycle backwards and calling the whole thing stupid & evil when it doesn’t work and you can’t figure it out.

Posted by: rexreddy | August 31, 2010 4:01 PM
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This WP column sure is focused on trying to divide religious people. Every day it is a call to debate a divisive topic. Good web ratings, and it divides religious people.

Says a lot about the WP these days. What did the WP's magazine, Newsweek, sell for? Was it more or less than $1.01?

Posted by: Delongl | August 31, 2010 3:48 PM
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fr the article:

>...Michael Duke, the CEO of Walmart, keeps a Bible on his desk and reads from it occasionally, but he's uncomfortable being too direct about his Christianity.
As the CEO of the country's biggest business, he has received a number of critiques, many of them challenging how he, as a Christian, could lead a company that pays its workers comparatively low wages and drives smaller businesses into the ground. When asked, he provides answers that would likely please Walmart's supporters and frustrate its critics...

It's clearly obvious that this clown skips the passages about helping the widows and orphans.

I once worked for an evangelical. She started off very nice, but soon turned into a micromanaging "person", and that's putting it VERY mildly. She used to work for a private parochial middle school, and at my last job, couldn't figure out WHY the students of the private college didn't respect her as an authority figure. Simple. She introduced EVERYONE as her "new best friend".

Posted by: Alex511 | August 31, 2010 3:40 PM
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So afraid of evangelicals are we?
Those who espouse terrible virtues like:
Clean living
Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Turn the other cheek.
Thou shalt not Kill.
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not Boff thy Neighbors wife.
Thou shalt keep it in your pants unless it's "your wife."
Remember the Sabbath day and “Chill dude.”
Thou shalt be cool to your “rents” and maybe you won’t get a cap in yo’ @zs. –jus sayn!

Not bad stuff, a lot of common sense really.

I would be more concerned with the Anti-evangelicals that are burning churches, initiating ridiculous law suites and destroying organized religion where ever they can.

Posted by: rexreddy | August 31, 2010 3:35 PM
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I have worked for a few evangelical Christians, with mixed results. I think the analysis drew out 4 characteristics that are not unique to one person, but are exibited by most people at some point in thier life, and depending on circumstances. A previous manager I had hired and fired based on belief's, and without a doubt had a heavy bias to others with the same as his. Current manager, very religious, but other than moral compass, does not bring it into the workplace.

Posted by: BigNutz1 | August 31, 2010 3:18 PM
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As a writer and researcher on the subject of Christianity And Business I am sympathetic to D Michael Lindsay’s endeavors. But, I can scarcely agree with his assertion that Evangelicals have become significant players on the national stage. Significant, OK. But, what is their beneficial influence on American political and business behavior? None. In terms of politics -- the Evangelicals took us into 2 [unnecessary] wars and into the practice of torture, both of which Christ explicitly forbids [Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 and 35]. No beneficial Evangelical influence here. Prudential fleeced Veterans of investment income. No beneficial Evangelical influence here. Ken Lay facilitated accounting fraud at Enron. No beneficial Evangelical influence here. Ann Iverson of Laura Ashley [study page 16] says of her business decision-making – “I wouldn’t make any decision…..without prayer. When I am sitting in a board meeting now…..I will ask God to just guide me.” Prayer, she says, helps her discern right from wrong. But, in the world of the Evangelical businessman – just what is right and what is wrong? Is it right to fleece Veterans? Defraud investors? And, is it right to fire people in order to enlarge the bottom line? Evangelicals may have become significant players in politics and in business, as Lindsay asserts. But, clearly, they have failed significantly to exert a beneficial, Christian, influence on either stage.

Posted by: eandabhatty | August 31, 2010 2:44 PM
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Interestingly enough, as an atheist I have precisely the opposite feelings regarding "brazenness" than those described by 20854epicurean in a recent post. I have no problem with S. Truett Cathy posting Christian messages in his stores, or even closing them on Sunday, because it is entirely my choice whether or not I wish to patronize them. His employees have a similar choice of whether or not to work there. If Mr. Cathy is willing to lose business on Sundays because of his beliefs, that is his privilege.

What I would object to is if he gave customers "church bulletin" discounts (thus favoring believers) or if he joined with other like-minded believers to try to force all stores to close on Sunday, as used to occur under "Blue Laws."

On the other hand, I find the idea of coaches leading pre-game prayers to be quite brazen. It belies an arrogant assumption by the coach that all of the players share his beliefs, and that being "his kind of Christian" is part of being on the team. If he wanted to give the players a few moments before going on the field for silent prayer or reflection, fine. But unless he's the chaplain at a religious school, he has no business "leading" the team in prayer. Professional football coaches or those at public schools have no excuse. Pushing their religion isn't part of the job description.

Posted by: alert4jsw | August 31, 2010 2:28 PM
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I take issue with defining David Robinson leading a pre-game prayer as "brazen". I think a better example would be S. Truett Cathy the founder of Chic-fil-A. He not only closes his stores on Sundays in observance of the Sabbath but also posts Christian messages on the walls of his restaurants for all patrons to see. This is cleraly brazen behavior.

Posted by: 20854Epicurean | August 31, 2010 1:38 PM
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This is good analysis, except the the second kind the author brings out. This category really is incorrect. This category really is not an intrinsic characteristic to evangelicals. It really distinguishes between honest and not so honest groups. I bet there are just as many evangelicals who cheat on not only expense returns, but on taxes, shoplifting, as non-evangelicals. So there is no need for this category. Next is the last two categories the most pernicious kind. The work place should be no place for these two kinds at all. The first kind is actually the heroic ones, who are able to leave their faith in their house and not bring it to the work place. The last two are the Despicables, who do not deserve a place at work place. But alas there are plenty of them and we have to live with them, and tread carefully. In fact the fourth kind I like to smack them and often I have done that (figuratively speaking). They get nothing from me except my scorn.

Posted by: Secular | August 31, 2010 12:51 PM
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Exellent analysis, there is a fifth kind: Aggressive Evangelicals. These are the ones who form lobbies, PACs, attorney associations (like Liberty Lobby), think-tanks, grassroot political efforts, etc. to assert their legal rights, limit others' legal rights, impose their views on everyone else, and revise American history (like the de-emphasis of Thomas Jefferson by the right-wing Ed board in Texas). And while they want to run America, they often avoid associating with others--home schooling is a case in point. Another is innocuous-named organizations that hide separatism, like American Heritage Girs, which is the Christian equivalent to that Godless and malevolent group, the Girl Scouts.

Posted by: mipost1 | August 31, 2010 12:19 PM
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Based on the unethical, immoral, unscrupulous and unChristian practices of Walmart it would appear Michael Duke's Bible is for show only. Walmart only worships at the altar of profit, regardless of the damage done.

David Robinson is the only person on this list who seems to exemplify the person of Christ.

Posted by: West3 | August 31, 2010 11:36 AM
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I've been very wary of the proselytizing evangelicals who lean heavily into the bullying column. Religion and faith (or lack of) are very personal things. When someone feels the urge to press their personal beliefs on others with no concession to the possibility that others may well not share them, it is offensive. I grew up in a time and place where one's religion WAS a personal matter, and in small towns, difference in faith can be simply too divisive. We kept our religion to ourselves and went to church or synogogue on the appropriate days. All this public praying and proclamation of faith I find very uncomfortable and more than a little bit offensive. When those in power and control, such as managers, publicly proclaim the faith, it is even more uncomfortable. They are using their power to force me to listen and not disagree.

Posted by: littleoldlady | August 31, 2010 11:07 AM
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A true Evangelical is a Believer in Jesus who tells others about the "Good News" of Jesus' free gift of salvation.

One can be a liberal in one's politics and still be a scripturally correct Evangelical.

It's the right-wing proof-texting Bible-thumpers who have ruined the name "Evangelical" by misusing it.

Posted by: joe_allen_doty | August 31, 2010 10:42 AM
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I would never work for an evangelical. The few I've known in my place of work were underhanded, dishonest, power-mad and downright mean. When you worship a cruel and hateful god, chances are you're going to be cruel and hateful too.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | August 31, 2010 10:16 AM
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