Hewitt to young conservatives: Here’s how to exert influence

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Hewitt to young conservatives: Here’s how to exert influence

When 120 students aged 16-20 gather from across the country next week at Colorado Christian University for the Young Conservatives Leadership Conference, lead instructor Hugh Hewitt will offer them a toolbox for influencing the world spiritually, culturally, and politically.

In classroom sessions each day, July 14-18, the law professor, author, and national radio host will draw upon the American Founding, the Bible, the classics, history, the headlines, and his own book In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World (Thomas Nelson, 2012). Reproduced below for YCLC students’ use, with permission of the author, is Professor Hewitt’s third chapter, “The Pressure of These Times.”


Decades ago, union organizer Saul Alinsky committed to text his methods for bringing about radical change in the book, Rules for Radicals, first published in 1971. You might not have heard of Alinsky, but he towers over other would-be American revolutionaries because he influenced not just the unionization movements of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s but also the civil rights movement and the campus radicals of the anti–Vietnam War era. His legacy is a brass-knuckled treatise on how to attack power and destroy consensus, still used by many groups across the nation and the world. Alinsky was an atheist. “We’re talking about revolution,” he proclaimed, “not revelation.”

Like most but not all of the Left, Alinsky believed in changing the here and now; preparing men for an eternal life with or without God was beyond his interest. That focus on the present with its demand for immediate action and results has been a tactical advantage over Christian values for a half century, and that advantage has been exploited to stunning effect. The dominant cultural elite is presently radically Left, and the political elites are balanced between Left and Center Right. (Christians, of course, arefound all across the political spectrum.) Now the church itself is locked in civil war with elements that seem to have committed Alinsky’s methods to memory. Whether the Jesus Seminar or ad hoc caucuses within various mainline denominations, tenured apostates within Catholic universities or headline-grabbing God-and-the-environment lobbies, the Left has continued to assault established Christian hierarchies in the hope, sometimes realized, of capturing control or at least dominant influence.

There is no conspiracy, though it is a frequent tactic of the Left to accuse the Center Right of seeing conspiracy everywhere. Conspiracy signifies an organized hierarchy issuing orders and mapping strategy. The Left is instead defined by a set of attitudes that tend toward the same decisions and actions so that, unorganized and decentralized as it genuinely is, it brings about the very same results as though it was a highly structured and organized command-and-control operation. John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and a former RAND analyst, has written extensively about the new era of “networks and netwars.” Multichannel networks of people operate independently of hierarchy, but because of shared values and common tactics, they can move effectively with devastating consequences for established order.

The new networks are evolving before our eyes. Some are benign, the knitting circles of the Internet age. Think of auser group devoted to crossword puzzles. Some are lethal and intent upon the destruction of the West, and with it the religious liberty that has allowed Christianity to flourish for sixteen hundred years. Al-Qaeda is the most sinister of the networks. Some are simply political and limited in their scope to dominating the institutions of power in the United States. One example is EMILY’s List, an organization that coined its name from the first letters in the old political saying that “early money is like yeast.” Over the years EMILY’s List has used a fund-raising technique termed bundling—the coordination of tens of thousands of modest contributions into huge outpourings of cash—to propel itself into superstar status among interest groups. Unfortunately for Christians, the goals of EMILY’s List are completely from the Left. Some of the new networks are embracing Alinsky’s rules, and advancing in influence and authority on a daily basis. The near continual agitation for policies unthinkable thirty or forty years ago—assisted suicide or repeal of age-of-consent laws—has brought the Left significant progress.

The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s were actually a series of routs of traditional morals and religious beliefs from the field. This is hardly news. Few things have been more reported than the collapse of the Christian consensus in the United States and the rise of the postmodern culture. Nobody needs another “decline of the West”essay or a meditation on the goo of process theology/New Age cliché/trendy nihilism. Instead, I’d like to win a few rounds. I’d like the church (here and throughout this book meaning all “mere Christians” of the C. S. Lewis sort, regardless of denomination) to get up from the ground, shake off the dust, and get back into the game. A lot of Christian leadership seems intent on arguing over who gets the museum keys and who chooses the color of the wallpaper inside the crypt. Another swath is busy organizing the reception committee for Christ’s return. Still others are intent on convincing us that we, in fact, didn’t lose anything to begin with.

We no longer have time for the intramural league. The attack upon the West and Christianity became undeniable on 9/11, even though some are overcome by fear and cannot bring themselves to survey the field. Within the United States, elites of the Left refuse to confront the reality of hatred for the West, even as they keep up their assault on traditional Christianity. If the fundamental dynamics of the struggles for power and influence in the United States are not changed, the Left will be the decisive winner within a generation. If the Left does indeed triumph both culturally and politically, it lacks the will and the ideology to oppose the attack on the West from outside the West. It is that simple. It is that stark.

Of course, the apostles faced a much more daunting task in the first century than American Christians do in the twenty-first. And defeat and even suppression of the West would not dent, limit, or in any way harm the truth of the gospel. But it would make much, much more difficult the execution of the Great Commission. When, as is recorded at the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructed His disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (28:19–20), He did not send them into a world protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution. But that clause is the result of centuries of strife and persecution and a guarantee of the right of Americans to execute the Great Commission.

Put another way, Sudanese Christians—horribly persecuted, often to the point of death or enslavement—cannot be succored by an American church that is empty or irrelevant. Hundreds of millions of Chinese may someday win the right to leave the shadows of their house churches and receive the theological legacy of the West, but that legacy will be worthless if it is corrupted or spent. And the missionary zeal, which once animated Europe and America, is at its lowest ebb today and will surely vanish in the absence of a vibrant and confident church. Many believers respond to the world’s crises with prayer—which is exactly what all believers should do. Pray for the church. Pray for the culture. Pray for conversion and revival. Pray especially for your enemies. Many other believers are busy renewing the church by strengthening a particular church. Which is not only good but also necessary, and indeed commanded of believers. Every reader is called to be a part of a local church and to serve within that church.

There is, however, a much wider world within which to act, to serve, and to lead. This is the sphere of political and public affairs. Christians in great numbers have deserted this sphere, and those who remain within it are often incompetent, sometimes fanatical, and usually inconsequential. That has to change if the culture, the country, and the world are going to change. “The basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to recognize the world as it is,” wrote Alinsky. “We must work with it on its terms if we are to change it to the kind of world we would like it to be. We must first see the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We must see the world as all political realists have, in terms of ‘what men do and not what they ought to do,’ as Machiavelli and others have put it.” Christians have a head start on understanding the world as it is, because Christians begin with an understanding that man is fallen and that sin is everywhere and a part of everyone’s life. It is familiar territory for believers when they read Alinsky’s conclusions:

It is not a world of peace and beauty and dispassionate rationality, but as Henry James once wrote, “Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.” Henry James’s statement is an affirmation of that of Job: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.”

‘Even Christians nod their heads as they read Alinsky, James, and Job, though they are generally limited in their response to how the world is. In recent years, Christians in vast numbers have given up on the idea of changing the world and focused instead on building their congregations, and praying for a wide variety of good and godly causes, including missions work. California Christianity seems especially focused on inviting friends to church, giving some time and money to inner-city poverty relief and mission trips to Mexico. These are all exceptionally good undertakings—make no mistake about that. They should not only continue but also expand in scope and intensity. Changing the circumstances of individual lives is very much an obligation for every believer.

“There are no ordinary people,” wrote C. S. Lewis. “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Given this perspective, that each soul is immortal, changing the trajectory of a soul’s path is a matter of infinite consequences. So the tasks and efforts touched on are supremely important. But then so, too, is the world. If inviting nonbelievers to worship matters, then so does preserving the freedom to worship. If ministering to the needs of the poor is a mandate, then changing the policies creating poverty is very much within that mandate. And if building shelter in developing countries is part and parcel of a Christian’s burden, so is the destruction of the power of tyrants who oppress peoples around the globe. Taking first steps on a path is not running an entire race.

Three decades after the Moral Majority and two decades after the Christian Coalition, American Christians have pretty much given up on changing their culture through politics. The marginalization of the Christian Right is profound and deserved in many ways. Its leaders often appeared as bullies, its statements fanatical, and some of its troops wild-eyed. And, of course, its “victories” were transient, if not totally contrived to begin with. Use any measure: religious liberty, the state of public education, the availability of porn, the abuse of drugs, the prevalence of abortion, the continued splintering of family. These are indices not only of social destruction, but also, inversely, of the impact of Christianity upon its culture. As the obvious tallies of sin rise, one can conclude only that Christianity’s impact has fallen. How to change this? Not through a renewed Moral Majority or a newer, improved version of the Christian Coalition certainly.

Rather, every Christian must consciously commit to impacting the culture. To do that requires influence. Influence is not an automatic gift bestowed on good people. It is earned. It falls to a huge variety of people, most of whom consciously plan on acquiring influence. Christians need to seek influence. They need to acquire it. They need to use it once they have it. But first they must acquire it. This is a book about acquiring influence. It is primarily directed at young adults under age forty-five, though it is usable by the middle-aged and even seniors. There is little mystery about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to acquiring influence, but some methods are clearly criminal—blackmail, for example—and others ought to be off-limits to Christians.

Though obvious, the means of acquiring influence are infrequently discussed among Christians. Thus what follows is a very “worldly” discussion and not for the fainthearted who think worldly ambition is itself evil or who are repulsed by Alexander Hamilton’s blunt conclusion that “fame is the highest calling of the noblest minds.” But if you have bought this book or received it as a gift, then you or someone you know thinks you have the right stuff to lead in the world, and you or someone you know has decided to add a little provocative writing and some very practical advice to your thought process. The first few chapters are for young adults—between eighteen and about thirty. Older folks can find some useful stuff there, but advice on academic credentials comes a little late for most people on the far side of thirty. The balance of the book is applicable throughout the five stages of an adult’s life.

Your twenties are stage one. Stage two takes you from around thirty to around forty-five—the years of professional apprenticeship and usually small and demanding children. Professionally you will be at your peak abilities from forty-five to sixty, which is stage three. From sixty to the onset of physical disability, stage four, is the time to mentor and transition. And when the body begins to break down, you can relax and reflect. Influence tends to ebb as the body does, even as its acquisition peaks with professional accomplishment. These rough segments have fuzzy, permeable borders, of course, but they work well as general guideposts.

This is a critical point: you will find it difficult to obtain influence in your peak years if you have done nothing about it prior to entering the shadow of fifty. And once you have influence, it is very hard to relinquish it. Which is why everyone who thinks he wants influence and who believes he wants to lead should think at least a little on the myth of Er, which is described in detail in the next chapter. It may be a little odd to begin a book about Christian leadership with a reference to the closing chapter of Plato’s Republic, but that’s where we find the myth. And it teaches that a decision to seek influence and a decision to lead carry huge implications for your life, not all of them good.

END COPYRIGHTED BOOK EXCERPT from Hewitt, Hugh (2012-05-22). In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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