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Convening Power

9780195326666.jpgThe Surgeon General, Fortune 500 CEO’s, Politicians and Bono – powerful people that seem to exist in a different world with different rules. So how do they include their faith in their sometimes cut-throat professional worlds? In the second podcast from our interview with Michael Lindsay, he shares his interviewee’s takes on subjects ranging from medical ethics to making underwear ads less promiscuous – and finally lets us in on the strategy that is making the Evangelicals so successful in their rise to positions of power. The transcript of the audio is after the jump.



My book explains, like no other book can, I think, how evangelicals have shaped not only the movement but shaped American society, cause I’m looking at those who are the movers and shakers of the world. I mean, I interviewed 360 leaders, well who did I interview? President Carter, former President Bush, I interviewed 48 cabinet secretaries, heads of federal bureaus and agencies, everything from C. Everett Koop, who is surgeon general.

I’ll tell you an interesting story. Koop, I go to do the interview with him in August of 2004, he has an institute up in Dartmouth now. So, I drive up to Hanover, New Hampshire, I go to do the interview and we’re talking. And we’re talking about medical ethics and medical issues, and he said, “You know, Michael, I have stamped on every single page of my medical file ‘Do Not Resuscitate,’ do not keep alive with machines.” He said “I’ve told my lawyer, I’ve told my wife, I’ve told my kids, I’ve told my doctors. Everybody knows—don’t keep me alive on machines, this is what’s supposed to happen.” And he said, “The darndest thing happened in January—I died. I clinically died 8 months ago.” And he said, “You know, I wish I could be mad at them, but, I’ll be damned, I’ve done a lot of good things in the last 8 months.” And so I told him I particularly was glad he was still around since I got the interview.

So it’s fascinating to see some of these different political leaders, but I also interviewed a lot of business leaders. 40 of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are in this study, everybody from Gary Datient, who is at Cisco Systems, to Ralph Larsen who is head of Johnson & Johnson. Ralph Larsen told me a very interesting story. So he’s head of Johnson & Johnson, was living in New Jersey, and he and his wife had made a decision that they weren’t going to move to bigger houses as he kept getting promoted within the company. So they kind of stayed in their small town, were going to a very small church, about 200 or 300 folks there. And he said, one Sunday morning we had a new preacher, as he called him, a new kid in town. And this new kid decided he was going to really preach against some of the problems with corporate excess. And he said, “The only problem is that he was really preaching to the congregation, but in truth, everybody knew, he was preaching to me.” So he starts talking about how bad it is, for example, for corporate executives to have drivers—well nobody has a driver but me. And everybody in the room kind of kept thinking, oh this is really coming down hard on Larsen.”

And there are all kinds of interesting stories. I mean, one of the CEO’s here in New York talked about kidnapping threats. And it’s kind of a side of life I never even think about. But a lot of these CEO’s, their kids are threatened. And so, how do they kind of put security in, and how does God fit into that whole mix? One of my favorite stories was I interviewed Debra Waller, she’s the CEO of Jockey underwear. And we met here in New York in their showroom where they bring buyers in. And the room is plastered with larger-than-life photo shoots from their advertising. And I don’t know if you’ve seen underwear advertising recently, but it’s got a lot of flesh in it. And I told her I had never given an interview surrounded by so much flesh, it was rather distracting. And so we were talking about advertising, and I said, “You know, what difference does your faith make in how you advertise, or does it make any difference?” And she told me an interesting story. Jockey is something that she has been involved with for a long time, and she said, “You know, I wanted my faith to have some kind of involvement in our advertising decisions, or our spokespersons, and who represented the company.” And so she made a decision a number of years ago that if they had a picture with a man and a woman that was in the same photo shoot that they would be wearing wedding bands. And she said, “You know, that’s not something that’s necessarily hitting them over the head with the Bible, or anything like that, but it is a way in which I sort of try to encourage that there is a norm where we’re not trying to say this is the most promiscuous thing that we can do.” And she said, “We don’t have models who are twisted together like pretzels.” She alluded to a couple of other advertisers which I won’t mention.

The third thing that I came across that I thought was really interesting is that these evangelicals are united in powerful ways, in ways that we don’t often think about, because of their faith. I found that evangelicals in Washington not only know the evangelicals in Hollywood, but they vacation together, they hang out with one another, they serve on the boards of non-profit organizations together, their kids know each other. And what has happened is that this creates a deep, relational web that’s far, far more powerful than if you if get a particular public policy passed, or if you are able to get a particular perspective picked up by CNN. This deep, relational network is one that very few movements have successfully been able to target in different sectors. It used to be, 50, 100 years ago, that you could identify a cohort of people who were the real elite, and they ran the country. They controlled the media, they controlled politics, they controlled commerce—but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Our different sectors of society are so differentiated, they’re so specialized—it’s very, very difficult for someone to rise up in politics and then jump over to entertainment (ok, Fred Thompson is an exception, but it doesn’t happen very often).

So how do you have people that relate to one another, how do they get to know each other? I found that the evangelical faith provided a very fertile soil where some of these leaders interacted with each other in a powerful way. But they didn’t just keep their connections at a relational level, they used those relational connections to get things done in what I call convening power.

Convening power is the real power that leaders in American society today exercise. It’s the ability to pick up the telephone and call another leader and get that person to not only take your call, but to do what you ask them to help you out with. This is the ability to span these different boundaries so that, if Bono, for example, wants to go on a tour of Africa with Paul O’Neal—I don’t know if you remember this, treasury secretary—guess what, it happens. And why does it happen? Because a guy named Mark Rogers, who is Chief Deputy to Senator Santorum from Pennsylvania. Well Mark Rogers happens to run a group called Faith and Law. And this group is mainly evangelicals from both sides of the aisle who get together to talk not only about how can we bring our faith to public policy or how can it influence the way in which we deal in politics, but also how can we influence the rest of society, how can we influence culture? Well, Mark Rogers built a friendship with some of Bono’s chief staffers, and so they kind of had relations, and eventually Bono and Mark got to be friends and connections. So Bono decides, you know, really I’m very concerned about what’s going on in Africa, and I want to use my celebrity status to actually get the political elite behind the major idea. So, he suggests that, what’s a cabinet secretary that would be the least likely to be really interested in aid for Africa—well, I think the treasury department’s a pretty good candidate. And so he tries to get a relationship with Paul O’Neal. And they end up going on tour all over Africa; that, in turn, gives a chance for Bono to meet the French president, which leads to all types of interesting collaborations. I found that that happened all over the place. So you have elites in different sectors that are using their convening power, building relationships and friendships and networks in ways that can result in real tangible events.

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