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Evangelicals out-of-touch?

Billy Graham, October 2004
Billy Graham, October 2004
Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

There is a modern attitude that whatever the majority believes must be right. It is clearly modern--John Calvin was able to ask rhetorically when the better course was ever favored by the greater number, confident that his readers would agree that this was never the case. We might suppose it to be the democratic principle upon which our nation was founded, but in actuality our democracy began with the very undemocratic view that only educated successful people--those who had some hope of understanding the issues and some stake in preserving the country--could vote. (We still do not have universal sufferage--not long ago I read an opinion piece suggesting that children should be registered voters, their votes cast by proxy by their parents until they were old enough to exercise these themselves. The theory was that parents had greater concern for the long-term future of the country than either single persons or retirees.) Yet however it came to be, many of us believe that whatever the majority thinks is true must be right.

My brother Roy, the philosophy major, observed the absurdity of this. If it is my opinion that the majority is correct, and someone conducting a survey asks me my opinion, the only logical answer is for me to tell him to finish his survey and then inform me based on the results what my opinion actually is. To believe that what the majority believes is correct is to reach no conclusions yourself, but blindly to accept the opinions of others who do not think the majority is necessarily correct, who are willing to have an opinion apart from what the majority believes.

Yet this attitude remains, that if you do not keep pace with what the majority believes you are "out of touch". Indeed, ABC News recently published a story asserting that Evangelicals are out of touch with public opinion, that the positions and ideologies propounded by Evangelical Christian leaders are not what most people believe--as if it were the task of religious leaders to be politicians, to figure out which way the crowd is headed and run out front waving their own flags as if they were leading us there. Nineteenth century American clergyman James Freeman Clark said, "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation." It is the task of true leadership to guide us where we ought to be going, and to tell us when we are going the wrong way, not to figure out where everyone wants to go and carry the handbasket.

This is not to say that the majority opinion is never correct. Rather, it is to say that an accusation that someone does not agree with the majority opinion is a foolish criticism. We need disagreement, strident discordant voices railing against the majority view. It is the way--the only way--that we find our way to the truth. We have probably all been asked at one time or another whether if all our friends were jumping off a cliff we would go with them (or some similar question), and our answer is usually no. It may be that someone sees the cliff toward which we are racing; saying that they are out of touch and do not understand the point of the race is terribly presumptive. Christians have always believed that the way that seems right to man is the way to death. Christians objected to slavery; Christians objected to dictatorial government and censorship. Were they not objecting to something in modern culture, we would know they were not doing their job. You--you who have embraced the view that what the majority thinks must be right--might disagree with what they say, but to reject it merely because it is a minority opinion is potentially as foolish as following everyone else over the edge of the cliff.