[Paleopsych] NYT: Class Matters: Social Class and Religion in the United States of America

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Class Matters: Social Class and Religion in the United States of America
[Fourth in a series]

    On a Christian Mission to the Top

    For a while last winter, Tim Havens, a recent graduate of Brown
    University and now an evangelical missionary there, had to lead his
    morning prayer group in a stairwell of the campus chapel. That was
    because workers were clattering in to remake the lower floor for a
    display of American Indian art, and a Buddhist student group was
    chanting in the small sanctuary upstairs.

    Like most of the Ivy League universities, Brown was founded by
    Protestant ministers as an expressly Christian college. But over the
    years it gradually shed its religious affiliation and became a secular
    institution, as did the other Ivies. In addition to Buddhists, the
    Brown chaplain's office now recognizes "heathen/pagan" as a "faith

    But these days evangelical students like those in Mr. Havens's prayer
    group are becoming a conspicuous presence at Brown. Of a student body
    of 5,700, about 400 participate in one of three evangelical student
    groups - more than the number of active mainline Protestants, the
    campus chaplain says. And these students are in the vanguard of a
    larger social shift not just on campuses but also at golf resorts and
    in boardrooms; they are part of an expanding beachhead of evangelicals
    in the American elite.

    The growing power and influence of evangelical Christians is manifest
    everywhere these days, from the best-seller lists to the White House,
    but in fact their share of the general population has not changed much
    in half a century. Most pollsters agree that people who identify
    themselves as white evangelical Christians make up about a quarter of
    the population, just as they have for decades.

    What has changed is the class status of evangelicals. In 1929, the
    theologian [4]H. Richard Niebuhr described born-again Christianity as
    the "religion of the disinherited." But over the last 40 years,
    evangelicals have pulled steadily closer in income and education to
    mainline Protestants in the historically affluent establishment
    denominations. In the process they have overturned the old social
    pecking order in which "Episcopalian," for example, was a code word
    for upper class, and "fundamentalist" or "evangelical" shorthand for

    Evangelical Christians are now increasingly likely to be college
    graduates and in the top income brackets. Evangelical C.E.O.'s pray
    together on monthly conference calls, evangelical investment bankers
    study the Bible over lunch on Wall Street and deep-pocketed
    evangelical donors gather at golf courses for conferences restricted
    to those who give more than $200,000 annually to Christian causes.

    Their growing wealth and education help explain the new influence of
    evangelicals in American culture and politics. Their buying power
    fuels the booming market for Christian books, music and films. Their
    rising income has paid for construction of vast mega-churches in
    suburbs across the country. Their charitable contributions finance
    dozens of mission agencies, religious broadcasters and international
    service groups.

    On [5]The Chronicle of Philanthropy's latest list of the 400 top
    charities, [6]Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical student group,
    raised more from private donors than the Boy Scouts of America, the
    Public Broadcasting Service and Easter Seals.

    Now a few affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and
    money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League
    universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni
    formed [7]the Christian Union, an organization intended to "reclaim
    the Ivy League for Christ," according to its fund-raising materials,
    and to "shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from
    these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural

    The Christian Union has bought and maintains new evangelical student
    centers at Brown, Princeton and Cornell, and has plans to establish a
    center on every Ivy League campus. In April, 450 students, alumni and
    supporters met in Princeton for an "Ivy League Congress on Faith and
    Action." A keynote speaker was Charles W. Colson, the born-again
    Watergate felon turned evangelical thinker.

    [8]Matt Bennett, founder of the Christian Union, told the conference,
    "I love these universities - Princeton and all the others, my alma
    mater, Cornell - but it really grieves me and really hurts me to think
    of where they are now."

    The Christian Union's immediate goal, he said, was to recruit campus
    missionaries. "What is happening now is good," Mr. Bennett said, "but
    it is like a finger in the dike of keeping back the flood of

    And trends in the Ivy League today could shape the culture for decades
    to come, he said. "So many leaders come out of these campuses. Seven
    of the nine Supreme Court justices are Ivy League grads; four of the
    seven Massachusetts Supreme Court justices; Christian ministry
    leaders; so many presidents, as you know; leaders of business - they
    are everywhere."

    He added, "If we are going to change the world, we have got, by God's
    power, to see these campuses radically changed."

    An Outsider on Campus Mr. Havens, who graduated from Brown last year,
    is the kind of missionary the Christian Union hopes to enlist. An
    evangelical from what he calls a "solidly middle class" family in the
    Midwest, he would have been an anomaly at Brown a couple of
    generations ago. He applied there, he said, out of a sense of
    "nonconformity" and despite his mother's preference that he attend a
    Christian college.

    "She just was nervous about, and rightfully so, what was going to
    happen to me freshman year," Mr. Havens recalled.

    When he arrived at Brown, in Providence, R.I., Mr. Havens was
    astounded to find that the biggest campus social event of the fall was
    the annual SexPowerGod dance, sponsored by the [9]Lesbian Gay Bisexual
    Transgender Queer Alliance and advertised with dining-hall displays
    depicting pairs of naked men or women. "Why do they have to put God in
    the name?" he said. "It seems kind of disrespectful."

    Mr. Havens found himself a double outsider of sorts. In addition to
    being devoted to his faith, he was a scholarship student at a
    university where half the students can afford $45,000 in tuition and
    fees without recourse to financial aid and where, he said, many tend
    to "spend money like water."

    But his modest means did not stand out as much as his efforts to guard
    his morals. He did not drink, and he almost never cursed. And he was
    determined to stay "pure" until marriage, though he did not lack for
    attention from female students. Just as his mother feared, Mr. Havens,
    a broad-shouldered former wrestler with tousled brown hair and a
    guileless smile, wavered some his freshman year and dated several

    "I was just like, 'Oh, I can get this girl to like me,' " he recalled.
    " 'Oh, she likes me; she's cute.' And so it was a lot of fairly short
    and meaningless relationships. It was pretty destructive."

    In his sophomore year, though, his evangelical a cappella singing
    group, a Christian twist on an old Ivy League tradition, interceded.
    With its support, he rededicated himself to serving God, and by his
    senior year he was running his own Bible-study group, hoping to
    inoculate first-year students against the temptations he had faced.
    They challenged one another, Mr. Havens said, "committing to remain
    sexually pure, both in a physical sense and in avoiding pornography
    and ogling women and like that."

    Mr. Havens is now living in a house owned and supported by the
    Christian Union and is trying to reach not just other evangelicals but
    nonbelievers as well.

    Prayers in the Boardrooms

    The Christian Union is the brainchild of Matt Bennett, 40, who earned
    bachelor's and master's degrees at Cornell and later directed the
    Campus Crusade for Christ at Princeton. Mr. Bennett, tall and
    soft-spoken, with a Texas drawl that waxes and wanes depending on the
    company he is in, said he got the idea during a 40-day water-and-juice
    fast, when he heard God speaking to him one night in a dream.

    "He was speaking to me very strongly that he wanted to see an
    increasing and dramatic spiritual revival in a place like Princeton,"
    Mr. Bennett said.

    While working for Campus Crusade, Mr. Bennett had discovered that it
    was hard to recruit evangelicals to minister to the elite colleges of
    the Northeast because the environment was alien to them and the
    campuses often far from their homes. He also found that the
    evangelical ministries were hobbled without adequate salaries to
    attract professional staff members and without centers of their own
    where students could gather, socialize and study the Bible. Jews had
    [10]Hillel Houses, and Roman Catholics had [11]Newman Centers.

    He thought evangelicals should have their own houses, too, and began a
    furious round of fund-raising to buy or build some. An early
    benefactor was his twin brother, Monty, who had taken over the
    [12]Dallas hotel empire their father built from a single Holiday Inn
    and who had donated a three-story Victorian in a neighborhood near

    To raise more money, Matt Bennett has followed a grapevine of affluent
    evangelicals around the country, winding up even in places where
    evangelicals would have been a rarity just a few decades ago. In
    Manhattan, for example, he visited Wall Street boardrooms and met with
    the founder of Socrates in the City, a roundtable for religious
    intellectuals that gathers monthly at places like the Algonquin Hotel
    and the Metropolitan Club.

    Those meetings introduced him to an even more promising pool of
    like-minded Christians, the New Canaan Group, a Friday morning prayer
    breakfast typically attended by more than a hundred investment bankers
    and other professionals. The breakfasts started in the Connecticut
    home of a partner in Goldman, Sachs but grew so large that they had to
    move to a local church. Like many other evangelicals, some members
    attend churches that adhere to evangelical doctrine but that remain
    affiliated with mainline denominations.

    Other donors to the Christian Union are members of local elites across
    the Bible Belt. Not long ago, for example, Mr. Bennett paid a visit to
    Montgomery, Ala., for lunch with Julian L. McPhillips Jr., a wealthy
    Princeton alumnus and the managing partner of a local law firm. Mr.
    Bennett, wearing an orange Princeton tie, said he wanted to raise
    enough money for the Christian Union to hire someone to run a "healing
    ministry" for students with depression, eating disorders or drug or
    alcohol addiction.

    Mr. McPhillips, who shares Mr. Bennett's belief in the potential of
    faith healing, remarked that he had once cured an employee's migraine
    headaches just by praying for him. "We joke in my office that we don't
    need health insurance," he told Mr. Bennett before writing a check for

    Mr. Bennett's database has so far grown to about 5,000 names gathered
    by word of mouth alone. They are mostly Ivy League graduates whose
    regular alumni contributions he hopes to channel into the Christian
    Union. And these Ivy League evangelicals, in turn, are just a small
    fraction of the large number of their affluent fellow believers.

    Gaining on the Mainline

    Their commitment to their faith is confounding a long-held assumption
    that, like earlier generations of Baptists or Pentecostals, prosperous
    evangelicals would abandon their religious ties or trade them for
    membership in establishment churches. Instead, they have kept their
    traditionalist beliefs, and their churches have even attracted new
    members from among the well-off.

    Meanwhile, evangelical Protestants are pulling closer to their
    mainline counterparts in class and education. As late as 1965, for
    example, a white mainline Protestant was two and a half times as
    likely to have a college degree as a white evangelical, according to
    an analysis by [13]Prof. Corwin E. Smidt, a political scientist at
    [14]Calvin College, an evangelical institution in Grand Rapids, Mich.
    But by 2000, a mainline Protestant was only 65 percent more likely to
    have the same degree. And since 1985, the percentage of incoming
    freshmen at highly selective private universities who said they were
    born-again also rose by half, to 11 or 12 percent each year from 7.3
    percent, according to the [15]Higher Education Research Institute at
    the University of California, Los Angeles.

    To many evangelical Christians, the reason for their increasing
    worldly success and cultural influence is obvious: God's will at work.
    Some also credit leaders like the midcentury intellectual Carl F. H.
    Henry, who helped to found a [16]large and influential seminary, a
    [17]glossy evangelical Christian magazine and the [18]National
    Association of Evangelicals, a powerful umbrella group that now
    includes 51 denominations. Dr. Henry and his followers implored
    believers to look beyond their churches and fight for a place in the
    American mainstream.

    There were also demographic forces at work, beginning with the G.I.
    Bill, which sent a pioneering generation of evangelicals to college.
    Probably the greatest boost to the prosperity of evangelicals as a
    group came with the Sun Belt expansion of the 1970's and the Texas oil
    boom, which brought new wealth and businesses to the regions where
    evangelical churches had been most heavily concentrated.

    The most striking example of change in how evangelicals see themselves
    and their place in the world may be the [19]Assemblies of God, a
    Pentecostal denomination. It was founded in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1914
    by rural and working-class Christians who believed that the Holy
    Spirit had moved them to speak in tongues. Shunned by established
    churches, they became a sect of outsiders, and their preachers
    condemned worldly temptations like dancing, movies, jewelry and
    swimming in public pools. But like the Southern Baptists and other
    conservative denominations, the Assemblies gradually dropped their
    separatist strictures as their membership prospered and spread.

    As the denomination grew, Assemblies preachers began speaking not only
    of heavenly rewards but also of the material blessings God might
    provide in this world. The notion was controversial in some
    evangelical circles but became widespread nonetheless, and it made the
    Assemblies' faith more compatible with an upwardly mobile middle

    By the 1970's, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent
    suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by [20]Margaret Poloma, a
    historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members
    more educated and better off than the general public.

    As they flourished, evangelical entrepreneurs and strivers built a
    distinctly evangelical business culture of prayer meetings, self-help
    books and business associations. In some cities outside the Northeast,
    evangelical business owners list their names in Christian yellow

    The rise of evangelicals has also coincided with the gradual shift of
    most of them from the Democratic Party to the Republican and their
    growing political activism. The conservative Christian political
    movement seldom developed in poor, rural Bible Belt towns. Instead,
    its wellsprings were places like the Rev. Ed Young's booming
    mega-church in suburban Houston or the [21]Rev. Timothy LaHaye's in
    Orange County, Calif., where evangelical professionals and businessmen
    had the wherewithal to push back against the secular culture by
    organizing boycotts, electing school board members and lobbying for
    conservative judicial appointments.

    'A Bunch of Heathens'

    Mr. Havens, the Brown missionary, is part of the upsurge of
    well-educated born-again Christians. He grew up in one of the few
    white households in a poor black neighborhood of St. Louis, where his
    parents had moved to start a church, which failed to take off. Mr.
    Havens's father never graduated from college. After being laid off
    from his job at a marketing company two years ago, he now works in an
    insurance company's software and systems department. Tim Havens's
    mother home-schooled the family's six children for at least a few
    years each.

    Mr. Havens got through Brown on scholarships and loans, and at
    graduation was $25,000 in debt. To return to campus for his missionary
    year and pay his expenses, he needed to raise an additional $36,000,
    and on the advice of Geoff Freeman, the head of the Brown branch of
    Campus Crusade, he did his fund-raising in St. Louis.

    "It is easy to sell New England in the Midwest," as Mr. Freeman put it
    later. Midwesterners, he said, see New Englanders as "a bunch of

    So Mr. Havens drove home each day from a summer job at a stone supply
    warehouse to work the phone from his cluttered childhood bedroom. He
    told potential donors that many of the American-born students at Brown
    had never even been to church, to say nothing of the students from
    Asia or the Middle East. "In a sense, it is pre-Christian," he

    Among his family's friends, however, encouragement was easier to come
    by than cash. As the summer came to a close, Mr. Havens was still
    $6,000 short. He decided to give himself a pay cut and go back to
    Brown with what he had raised, trusting God to take care of his needs
    just as he always had when money seemed scarce during college.

    "God owns the cattle on a thousand hills," he often told himself. "God
    has plenty of money."

    Thanks to the Christian Union, Mr. Haven's present quarters as a
    ministry intern at Brown are actually more upscale than his home in
    St. Louis. On Friday nights, he is a host for a Bible-study and dinner
    party for 70 or 80 Christian students, who serve themselves heaping
    plates of pasta before breaking into study groups. Afterward, they
    regroup in the living room for board games and goofy improvisation
    contests, all free of profanity and even double entendre.

    Lately, though, Mr. Havens has been contemplating steps that would
    take him away from Brown and campus ministry. After a chaste romance -
    "I didn't kiss her until I asked her to marry me," he said - he
    recently became engaged to a missionary colleague, Liz Chalmers. He
    has been thinking about how to support the children they hope to have.

    And he has been considering the example of his future father-in-law,
    Daniel Chalmers, a Baptist missionary to the Philippines who ended up
    building power plants there and making a small fortune. Mr. Chalmers
    has been a steady donor to Christian causes, and he bought a plot of
    land in Oregon, where he plans to build a retreat center.

    "God has always used wealthy people to help the church," Mr. Havens
    said. He pointed out that in the Bible, rich believers helped support
    the apostles, just as donors to the Christian Union are investing
    strategically in the Ivy League today.

    With those examples and his own father in mind, Mr. Havens chose
    medicine over campus ministry. He scored well on his medical school
    entrance exams and, after another year at Brown, he will head to St.
    Louis University School of Medicine. At the Christian Union conference
    in April, he was pleased to hear doctors talk about praying with their
    patients and traveling as medical missionaries.

    He is looking forward to having the money a medical degree can bring,
    and especially to putting his children through college without the
    scholarships and part-time jobs he needed. But whether he becomes
    rich, he said, "will depend on how much I keep."

    Like other evangelicals of his generation, he means to take his faith
    with him as he makes his way in the world. He said his roommates at
    Brown had always predicted that he would "sell out"- loosen up about
    his faith and adopt their taste for new cars, new clothes and the
    other trappings of the upper class.

    He didn't at Brown and he thinks he never will.

    "So far so good," he said. But he admitted, "I don't have any money


    4. http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/bms/bms00630.html
    5. http://philanthropy.com/
    6. http://www.ccci.org/
    7. http://involve.christian-union.org/site/PageServer
    8. http://involve.christian-union.org/site/PageServer?pagename=CUStaffINfo
    9. http://queer.brown.edu/
   10. http://www.hillel.org/
   11. http://www.catholiclinks.org/newmanunitedstates.htm
   12. http://www.remingtonhotels.com/
   13. http://www.calvin.edu/admin/csr/faculty/smidt_c/
   14. http://www.calvin.edu/
   15. http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/heri.html
   16. http://www.fuller.edu/
   17. http://www.christianitytoday.com/
   18. http://www.nae.net/
   19. http://ag.org/
   20. http://www3.uakron.edu/sociology/poloma.htm
   21. http://www.timlahaye.com/index2.php3

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