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Introductions: Michael Lindsay, Karen Hughes and America

This post is about introductions in more ways than one. First, let me introduce you to the author D. Michael Lindsay who will be blogging here quite a bit this fall. Lindsay is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University and the author of Faith In The Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined The American Elite. Faith In The Halls of Power draws on interviews Lindsay conducted with an array of prominent Americans — including two former presidents, dozens of political and government leaders, more than 100 top business executives, plus Hollywood moguls, intellectuals, athletes and other powerful figures. His book shows who the real evangelical power brokers are, how they rose to prominence, and what they’re doing with their clout.

In the post below Lindsay recounts introducing himself Karen Hughes in a bookstore. Would you have had the “chutzpah” to walk up and introduce yourself?

Sitting down with some of the nation’s most powerful figures to talk about their faith has been an exhilarating part of my life for the last five years. More than once someone said to me, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this stuff.”

Why did so many prominent leaders speak with me? Perseverance mixed with a dash of chutzpah. Take, for instance, the story of how I landed an interview with Karen Hughes—former Counselor to President Bush, one of his closest confidantes, and someone with whom he shared a spiritual solidarity.

I was keen to interview her, but since she had left the White House she was tough to track down. Her former colleagues were reluctant to pass along contact details, and none of my contacts in Austin were close enough to her to intervene on my behalf.d-michael-lindsay-c-sean-sime.jpg

In April of 2004 I was conducting interviews with some executives in Silicon Valley and had some time to kill, so I headed over to the Stanford bookstore. While browsing in the current affairs section, I saw a woman who looked exactly like Karen Hughes walk into the store. She was dressed in casual clothes and had no entourage, so I wasn’t sure if it was Hughes or just her near-twin. As soon as she opened her mouth, though, I instantly recognized her voice.

Caught completely off-guard, I started rehearsing in my mind what I should say—how I should describe my research and why I wanted to interview her. As I approached her, my heart started beating like mad and butterflies took flight in my stomach. Just as I got up the nerve to clear my throat, she turned a corner and walked away.

To be honest, I was relieved. I took it as a sign and walked out of the store, the color returning to my cheeks. After a few minutes, I began replaying the event in my head. Why was I so scared? I had conducted nearly 200 interviews at that point. What was the worst thing she could do?

9780195326666.jpgI finally regained my confidence and marched back into the store, but Hughes was nowhere in sight. I finally found her standing in line at the coffee shop on the second floor. Without hesitating I walked directly up to her, but I couldn’t decide how to address her. Was it Mrs. Hughes? Or Madam Counselor? Counselor Hughes? Former Madam Counselor Hughes?

My feet reached her before my mind settled on a strategy, so without really thinking, I tapped her on the shoulder. I didn’t address her, but instead launched into a monologue about myself, my research, and why I wanted to talk to her. When I’m nervous, I tend to talk too much and red splotches appear all over my face. As my spiel drew to an end, it felt like I was back in the seventh grade asking the pretty girl if she wanted to dance. Finally, I shut up long enough for her to respond.

“So you want to talk to me about faith and how it influences my life, is that what you want?” she asked pointedly.

“Yes, and what role your faith has played in the president’s messages and policies over the years,” I answered.

“Okay,” she said, “but not now. I’m taking a short break from the campaign to look at colleges with my son. If you can wait until mid-November, I’ll talk to you then.”

I told her that I was willing to wait and then asked for contact details. She didn’t have a business card with her, so she wrote down a telephone number and email address on the back of one of mine.

“Is this really her number?” I half-joked to her son.

The interview ended up taking place across the street from the White House on the day after George W. Bush’s second inauguration. It was well worth the wait. Hughes offered extremely helpful insights into the role of religion in the administration. As I write in my book, it’s not at all what you’d expect. Faith matters in surprising ways.

Recent Comments

  1. Eric Campbell


    I am looking forward to the book signing on the 29th at Barnes & Noble.
    When interviewing such powerful and successful individuals how could you tell if they were always being honest or just giving you the answer they thought might look best for their image when in print?

  2. Mitchell Bennett

    What a wonderful account of how Lindsay was able to interview Karen Hughes! I have followed Michael Lindsay’s career for the last ten years, and I’m confident that his latest book, Faith in the Halls of Power, will be a fascinating testimony of how faith is the undergirding factor which motivates so many of our nation’s leaders and the elite in society.

  3. Bernice Cook

    Just started reading our copy and being an avid “bookworm” can already tell Faith in the Halls of Power is going to be a fascinating and good read.

    Well done, Michael!

  4. Peet Dickinson

    I often asked myself during Michael’s PhD work how intoxicating all this power must be. Michael, how were you able to keep a clear head when interviewing all these movers and shakers. Did you ever see a disconnect between the servant King model of Jesus and the models you encountered in the Halls of Power? If must be difficult for these various evangelicals to keep that balance and not let the power and influence corrupt their hearts.

    Michael, we are so proud of you and can’t wait to read the finished product. It will, I’m sure, be a fascinating read.

  5. Elaine Howard Ecklund

    This is a fascinating story. Not sure that I would have been able to approach someone like Hughes in the same way. I join with others who have already posted in wondering how you knew that you were getting truthful information. I also wonder how you networked with people to get all of these juicy interviews and what kind of obstacles stood in your way. I guess I will have to get a copy of the book to find out!

  6. Daniel Smoak

    I’ve started reading the book, and it is fascinating to me! I’m a minister in a small southern town (high evangelical population), and have long been curious about how evangelical leaders have moved into such pivotal positions (George Bush, for example)and how their faith influences the way they do their jobs.
    It seems as though in recent years, matters of faith are becoming increasingly private, and I am excited and encouraged by the fact that so many evangelical leaders were willing to talk openly with Dr. Lindsay about how their faith does make a difference in their jobs. The idea that someone like Karen Hughes would respond so openly to an invitation to be part of a project like this is incredible. I’m glad Dr. Lindsay had the courage to follow through on her!

  7. Conrad Hackett

    Back in seventh grade, many budding sociologists were afraid to dance in public let alone to approach an attractive dance partner. Michael’s boldness apparently served him well at junior high dances and it has definitely served him well in this project.

    I know many great sociologists but Michael is the only one who could persuade nearly 400 of the most influential leaders in the country to sit down and talk about the influence of their faith. He is not the only author to write about elite evangelicals or their institutions but he is the only author I know who has traveled so far to conduct so many face to face interviews.

    Michael has lots of great stories to tell from his research. Many of these stories, though certainly not all of them, are in this fine book.

    Many of us think we know something about the evangelical world. But how many know:
    The most influential evangelical among elites? Hint: it is not James Dobson.
    Anything about The Fellowship?
    That evangelical elites tend not to attend local church services on a regular basis?

  8. Karen Hill

    Since my teenage years I have had an interest in political science, and especially what goes on in the White House. So when I read about the people Michael interviewed who were involved in the Oval Office, I found it very interesting and enlightening. I was also amazed at how Michael wove his interviews into a cohesive story of evangelicals in power. Before I read this, I had no idea of their influence in the government other than high-profile individuals like Billy Graham.

  9. Roger Patterson

    As a second chair leader, I am particularly interested in the principles gleaned from your interviews from those who were leaders, serving other leaders. I think this gets to the core of what it really is to be a servant and I can’t wait to glean anything I can to assist me in being a better servant leader in the second chair.

    Thanks for this great work. I can’t wait to dig through it and mine principles for my own leadership journey and faith walk. Sounds fascinating!

    Roger Patterson

  10. Paul Mundey

    I’ve always wanted ‘the inside edge’ and Michael gives it in his new book! First, he provides a front row seat (through 360 interviews) amid a cadre of power brokers largely overlooked: evangelical leaders, in the elite sectors of life. The outcome is the surprising, even shocking discovery, that Rick Warren has more influence over American life than Michael Moore, or so surmises David Gergen in his endorsement of Michael’s book. Another contribution Michael provides, which I find refreshing — is a challenge to conventional categories. Evangelicals are not a sub-standard breed, but a multi-faceted, lively, smart, pointed movement moving across a wide bandwidth of American life. Recently I heard persons assume that the deaths of Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy would equate the waning of evangelical influence. Michael challenges that assumption, documenting that evangelical currents run far deeper than a few televised personalities. In sum: Michael’s new book is a ‘must read’ for persons wanting to move beyond assumptions and stereotypes toward the ‘inside story’ of religious influence in this country. Thanks Michael for providing a new, well-informed path into privileged territory!

  11. Ryan Frederick

    What a fascinating and relevant survey and analysis on power, leadership, influence and cultural change. Michael has done an impressive job of weaving together observations from nearly 400 interviews from several elite domains of our society. The insights of the book make an interesting read for Christians and non-Christians alike. I’ve circulated the book to some friends and we’re going to be discussing it as a group next month. The discussion will be fascinating. I encourage others to think about using it as a platform for discussion among peers.

  12. Milada Pejovic

    The number of the individuals from the “power elite” of American society, whom Dr. Michael Lindsay interviewed, is quite impressive. Thanks to his natural unfailing kindness and gentle diplomacy he has, he has opened so many doors and interacted with so many prominent evangelicals in such influential positions. I find Dr. Lindsay’s book both easy to read and profound. Coming from the Orthodox Christian background, I find both comfort and inspiration from the material presented in Dr. Lindsay’s book.

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