Politics is mostly a downstream activity. Rarely are political leaders true agents of cultural change.
“Politics is a field in which the consequences of culture play out; it is not the field in which the culture itself is formed” (David Bahnsen).
I know some very fine politicians who desire to lead with honor and integrity. The environment of their work, however, makes it exceptionally difficult.
Although politicians are generally known for following the will of those who voted them into office, an increasing number are out of touch with public concerns. Pandering to party lines and special interests seems like the name of the game for those who want to stay in office. Voter apathy helps to make this possible.
I suspect it would be hard to find people who trust politicians. And this doesn’t make it any easier for those who wish to serve with integrity. Yet many people believe that it’s no longer possible to maintain integrity in politics. I hope this is not true, but I fear that the current reputation of Washington will cause men and women of integrity to avoid public office.
Agents of change
So if politicians do not shape public opinion, who are the primary influencers upstream from politics? Who are the agents of cultural change?
Media used to play a more prominent role, but it has laregly lost credibility. Where can one find unbiased reporting of the news? The New York Times? The Bill O’Reillys who are willing to challenge all sides of politics are rare. What does it tells us that his ratings far outpace all others?
This question about who shapes public opinion is important in a country whose government is by the people. Abraham Lincoln captured it well when he said, “In this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”
Many think that Hollywood and the movie industry the primary agents shaping public opinion. Yet because movies must appeal to viewers to make money, it seems that the industry would ask what viewers want to see rather than impose their preferences on people. A little of both happens. Network television has evolved significantly in the way it represents the family. Yet it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that television has changed the family. More likely, families changed and the networks followed.
Musicians play a greater role of influence. They tend to be more independent with their lyrics and more willing to invoke rebellion against the norms of society. The sound bite and repetitive nature of lyrics also sticks with people, providing worldview content. If you want to know something about a person, just ask what she likes to sing. Entire ways of life go with different genres of music.
Our universities are an upstream influence that shape public opinion. Young people are ripe for change when they arrive at the university. While the foundation is laid in their homes, for many of them, the foundation is what they look to escape. The pervasive breakdown of homes has also made universities more influential.
I’d like to report that churches play a significant role in shaping public opinion and, gratefully, many do. Yet other parts of the culture have worked hard to marginalize Churches from the roles they filled in the early days of our country. Some of this is due to deeply misguided distortions of the First Amendment as a vehicle for the separation of church and state.
Sadly, many churches have lost credibility because of the misconduct of their leaders. Distrust of pastors and priests is at an all-time high.
But this must not deter those committed to serving with honor —whether politicians or pastors. We live in difficult times when men and women of strength and character are badly needed. I pray that we can still inspire young people to pursue these roles of leadership and influence with integrity.
Dads and Moms
I especially hope that the most influential people will not lose heart. I am referring to moms and dads. If we desire to turn this nation around, it must happen one home at a time. The chaos we see in our cities is a result of the breakdown of the home. Absentee fathers is a primary cause.
This is not hype. I’ve served as the pastor of one church for more than 30 years, and I’ve had the joy and challenge of raising four children to adulthood. I am also now a grandfather of five grandchildren. We simply must recapture a vision for strong and healthy homes. Let it start with you.
God said, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14)
Pray often for those who lead our homes and our communities.
Steven W. Cornell