Chapter 7 is a very brief conclusion to the first section of Hunter’s book. Hunter sets up a very helpful discussion of the tension that exists between the fact that change is accomplished by elites, and the fact that the spirit of the gospel prohibits an attitude of elitism. “This is why elitism — a disposition and relationality of superiority, condescension, and entitlement by social elites — is so abhorrent for the Christian” (p. 94). But the flip side is this: “When populism becomes a cultural egalitarianism, there is no incentive and no encouragement to excellence. This too is to be bemoaned” (p. 94).
“This brings us to a central dilemma. On the one hand, populism is organic to American Christianity, yet on the other, populism is, in some ways, at odds with what we now know about the most historically significant dynamics of world-changing” (p. 94).
In juxtaposition to what activist Christians are currently trying to do, Hunter sets up the concept — to be developed later in the book — of “faithful presence” in key areas of cultural importance. But in line with my previous post on this, Hunter describes the Christian absences from these centers as “an abandonment” instead of what it more usually has been, “an exclusion and exile” (p. 95).
“Speaking as a Christian myself, contemporary Christian understandings of power and politics are a very large part of what has made contemporary Christianity in America appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective — part and parcel of the worse elements of our late-modern culture today, rather than a healthy alternative to it” (p. 95).
But the tension that Hunter describes between populism and elitism does not just exist in the abstract. In this case, it can be found between pages 94 and 95 of Hunter’s book. Given the evangelical names he has named already, it is hard to avoid the appearance that Hunter believes, for example, that pro-life activism is “appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective” and that he looks down on it with a demeanor of “superiority, condescension, and entitlement.”
Because Hunter has described the ditches on both sides of the road so clearly, we may assume that he does not intend this appearance at all. At the same time, given the choice of populism and elitism, and assuming that Hunter doesn’t want to be either one, it would still be helpful to ask this question. Given that it would be a mistake, which mistake would Hunter prefer be made about him? Would he prefer to be taken for a populist or as one of the elite? Thus far the answer to that question is pretty apparent.