When I was in college at Old Dominion University, George Wallace came to our campus and filled up half the football stadium, though not a large one. I remember the electricity from the crowd and from Wallace. It was a scary moment. Reminded me of the power of crowds and of populist movements. Can we say French Revolution?
When people get fed up with being ignored and forgotten, they can kick back with a power that lays low every obstacle in its way. Rationality is no longer its language, dialogue no longer its MO. It’s about being done, totally done, with whoever is in leadership. Of course, their concerns are usually valid-unchecked tyranny, abuse and being the donkey that bears the load of governmental policies. Those in power have a hand in stirring up the crowd through their own arrogance and condescension. The people become the “forgotten man,” and they are forced to bear the load as government curries the favor of other preferred groups.
It is easy to criticize the ways of the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the unrefined, the haven’t been to college crowd. I have seen it time and time again in this election cycle, even among Evangelical leaders. We forget that Christianity has been a people movement in its history, from the time of Rome to the First and Second Great Awakenings in America. The great argument against the early Christians was how ignorant and low they were. Christianity was called a slave’s and a woman’s religion. The early Christian Apologists such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian had as their project to demonstrate the intellectual credibility of the faith in pushing back against this charge. There were movements within the Medieval Church to give Christianity back to the people, taking it back from the academy who had turned it into a pure intellectualism, barren of heart religion. then there was the Protestant Reformation, which unleashed both the spiritual impulses of the common man but also political reform and push back against tyranny in both the church and the state. Early America became ground zero of people movements as barren Calvinism turned Christianity into elitism and intellectualism. George Whitefield was considered by them to be a fraud and a feigned Christian who was stooping to mob appeal. So it was true of leaders of the Second Great Awakening. You continue to find critics of these movements at places like Westminster Seminary, particularly Carl Trueman. As a close Pastor friend of mine phrases it, the attitude is “the masses are asses.” This is one of the reasons I am a congregationalist.
The church is the people, not its hierarchy. The people will determine the church’s future, one way or another. Better to include them now than be opposed by them later. Eventually they have their say.
In the meantime the amount of abuse heaped on them is stunning. While otherwise sound Evangelical leaders call Trump anything from a fool to a dangerous Mussolini, they come as close as possible to saying that anyone who votes for him is also a fool. They don’t quite go there, but they really want to. PR won’t allow it, but the condescension is dripping from their lips. They are the wise, the ones who have a right to be in charge, the learned, the writer of books, the knowledgeable of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic, the ordained, the famous and often the rich. What’s going on in politics is a shadow of what is happening in the church.