Aaron M. Renn

The Problem with Servant Leadership

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Many influencers offer teenage boys an aspirational vision of manhood. Some, like Mr. Peterson, say men are important for the sake of others, but present it as part of a heroic vision of masculinity in which men flourish as well. “You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world,” he writes in “12 Rules for Life,” his 2018 bestseller. “You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself.” Traditional authorities, especially in Protestant churches, talk about men being “servant leaders” but reduce that primarily to self-sacrifice and serving others. Pastors preach sermons wondering why men have so much energy left at the end of the day, or saying men shouldn’t have time for hobbies. No wonder young men tune them out.

The name of the violent radical left group Antifa stands for “antifascist action.” On twitter you will sometimes see people say to those criticizing Antifa, “Antifa stands for anti-fascist. So if you don’t like Antifa, you must support fascism.”
The term “servant leadership” functions similarly in evangelical circles. They embue the phrase with particular, specific meanings that transform it from a self-evidently good concept into an evangelical term of art. If you criticize those meanings, you might be accused supporting selfish leadership.
Servant leadership properly understood is an almost self-evident virtue. Of course we want leaders who lead in the genuine service of others and of the institutions they direct.
But there are problems with the way evangelicals talk about servant leadership, particularly when it comes to married men. It’s part of why men turn to online influencers instead of the church. As I noted in my WSJ op-ed on that topic, online influencers provide an aspirational vision of manhood. Traditional authorities like the church provide a “servant leader” vision that is extremely unappealing, and, more importantly, wrong in important ways.
The Call to Servant Leadership
Conservative evangelicals, ones who hold to the so-called complementarian gender theology, affirm that husbands are the head of the home. This is heavily qualified, however, and one such qualification is that headship means service rather than authority. Or at least to the extent that such authority exists, it can only be used for service.
The term “servant leader” was present early in the complementarian movement, though was not especially stressed. John Piper, in his opening chapter from the complementarian ur-text Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote, “The call to leadership is a call to humble oneself and take the responsibility to be a servant-leader in ways that are appropriate to every differing relationship to women.” But the world servant leader only occurs a handful of times in this long book. (I haven’t come across Wayne Grudem, the other principal architect of complementarianism, using it).
Women’s studies professor Mary Kassian, who was among the originators of complementarianism, echoed Piper when she wrote, “Men have a responsibility to exercise headship in their homes and church family, and Christ revolutionized the definition of what that means. Authority is not the right to rule—-it’s the responsibility to serve.”
British evangelical John Stott, shaped in a different tradition but who was a sort of soft complementarian, uses similar language to deny that headship means authority but does mean responsibility. He wrote, “Headship implies some degree of leadership, which, however, is expressed not in terms of ‘authority’ but of ‘responsibility.’” (From Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today).
The main popularizer of the term “servant leader” as applied to husbands today may well be Tim Keller. In their book very popular book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller write:
But an even bigger leap was required to understand that it took an equal degree of submission for for men to submit to their gender roles. They are called to be “servant leaders.” In our world, we are accustomed to seeing the perks and privileges accrue to those who have higher status…..But in the dance of the Trinity, the greatest is the one who is most self-effacing, most sacrificial, most devoted to the good of the other…Jesus redefined all authority as servant-authority. Any exercise of power can only be done in service to the Other, not to please oneself.
Nancy Pearcey’s new book The Toxic War on Masculinity has an entire chapter that expands on this topic. She’s gotten a lot of flack over it. While I think it’s fair to say she probably draws from some egalitarian (Christian feminist) leaning material, she’s basically only summing up what conservative evangelicals actually do teach. Here’s just one short passage:
For example, a man attending a nondenominational church said, “Being the head doesn’t mean that you’re a ruler or something. It’s more of a responsibility.” A middle-aged Charismatic man said, “I have learned that being the head, as you say, is really being a servant because you got to swallow hard and put somebody else first.” A Presbyterian woman said a biblical concept of headship “actually makes his burden even heavier, because he is also supposed to be the kind of man that can hear his wife’s needs, that can be there for his wife, that can respect his wife . . . and that’s a big responsibility.”
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, explains that when a man gets married, he stops living for his own ambitions and instead channels his energies into supporting his family: “He discovers a sense of pride—yes, masculine pride— because he is needed by his wife and family.” Needed not only for protection and financial provision, but also for love and affection.
Because Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve, these people would all seem to be on solid ground. But there are some problems with the way they talk about this. I will address two of them today.
What Service Should Be Provided?
The matter of servant leadership immediately prompts certain questions:

What is the service to be provided?
To whom?
Who makes those decisions?
Who decides whether or not the man is doing a good job at serving?

These are pretty fundamental. But evangelicals tend not to address them explicitly. This is the first problem. Their patterns of rhetoric, however, imply that that servant leadership essentially means catering to the desires of your wife and children. And if that’s the case, they also implicitly get to be the judge of whether you are doing a good job.
Kathy Keller said in a Family Life Today interview that, “A head’s job is to use their authority to please, meet needs, and serve.  A head does not get all the perks, all the privileges—you know, choose control of the remote—all this—pick the color of the car you buy, etc.  Your headship is expressed in servant-hood, primarily.” There’s a similar line in The Meaning of Marriage. “He does not use his headship selfishly, to get his own way about the color of the car they buy, who gets to hold the remote control, and whether he has a ‘night out with the boys’ or stays home to help with the kids when his wife asks him.”
We see here that clearly the correct answer is for him to say home and help with the kids when his wife asks him. This is an example of the patterns of rhetoric used to suggests servant leadership means catering to your wife’s desires. “Please, meet needs, and serves” sounds like what a restaurant waiter does.
They are even more direct later in the book, writing, “Jesus never did anything to please himself. A servant-leader must sacrifice his wants and needs to please and build up his partner.” Note that the husband must not only sacrifice his wants but his actual needs as well to “please” his partner. Following Jesus, he’s never to do anything to please himself.
Mark Driscoll operates similarly. In newsletter #77 I quoted him saying:
There are, however, moments in the marriage where the husband and wife don’t agree. And we’re not talking here about a lesser, secondary issue. It’s date night and he wants steak and she wants fish and they can’t agree on where to go. Those are easy. Just give her what she wants. Those are easy. Just love her, just serve her, do what she wants.
Most of the time, husbands are simply to give their wives whatever they want, even if the wife is behaving selfishly.
Russell Moore said similarly in his book The Storm-Tossed Family:
A husband’s leadership is about a special accountability for sabotaging his own wants and appetites with a forward-looking plan for the best interest of his wife and children. Headship is not about having one’s laundry washed or one’s meals cooked or one’s sexual drives met, but rather about constantly evaluating how to step up first to lay one’s life down for one’s family.
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The Quest for Male Community

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, October 31, 2023
There used to be large numbers of spaces and organizations in the world that were single sex. Male only spaces have been systematically targeted for elimination by feminists and elite culture for quite some time. The years long jihad against Augusta National Golf Club by the New York Times is a great example. At the same time, there’s a vast array of women’s only institutions and programs…Unlike with women demanding to enter male spaces, men have traditionally respected a women’s only label. But this might be breaking down. There was a lot of press about how men have started attending a tech career fair that was supposed to be for women. And why wouldn’t they? There are only a few all male spaces left.

I was delighted to see that former King’s College professor Anthony Bradley agrees with my write-up on evangelical servant leadership. He wrote on X:
Aaron nailed it! I’ve been to lots of men’s conferences and read dozens of books for Christian men: masculinity’s only expression for evangelical men is domestic. Even if things outside the home are mentioned, they are footnotes. For single young men, there is no on-ramp to live out 1 John 2:14 in their churches/communities so many look for it in video games, YouTube, etc. In fact, go to any evangelical youth group and ask the teenage boys what they want to do with their lives, you’re going to get something like this: “make enough money to provide for a family.” What they want to do, however, is fight evil and do something heroic in the world. They want to be heroes. What do we give them, instead? Small groups, a 6:00 AM Wednesday morning breakfast, 5:30AM F3 groups, and an annual men’s retreat.
Then, men are shamed for not being at home every night with their families. Then, we mock them for not having friends. It’s domestication and they run from this. Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, Hamza, Sneako, etc. offer young men something evangelicalism suppresses: how to use their power & strength outside of the four walls of their home to do something heroic that leaves their mark on the world. Again, I want to be clear here even if the cultural mandate/outside the home is taught for young men it is neither modeled nor practiced in a community of men they can join and there is no rite-of-passage into it outside-of-the-home culture shaping. They want to be brought into adversity & opposition in the fight against real evil & dominion over creation. This is *exactly* what Jesus offered his disciples. Jesus spoke directly to what young guys want. It’s instructive. I’m so glad he didn’t invite them to follow him to stay at home, attend a 6:00AM men’s breakfast or workout group, or a weekly small group. [emphasis added]
If you don’t know Bradley, his writeup on how evangelicalism is matrilineal is a must read. He also has a recent book out on college fraternities.
These are really great observations. I appreciate that he notes how men want a mission in the world, but this is what evangelical teaching denies them as men.
I believe the root cause of much of their bad teaching is in their unwillingness to advocate for substantive gender complementarity. They affirm that it exists, but never in any specifics. Thus the only thing that distinguishes men and women is how they relate to the opposite sex. The main complementarian book defines manhood and womanhood this way. As a result, masculinity (and femininity) can only be expressed in the domestic sphere.
He is also right to talk about a “community of men.” I noted that pagan masculinitist Jack Donovan was onto something when he talked about masculinity as being experience and expressed as part of a group (in his view a “gang”) of other men.
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Rediscovering E. Digby Baltzell’s Sociology of Elites

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Baltzell would see the end of the establishment and the collapse of the upper class into an irrelevant rump as a significant underlying cause of many of today’s social maladies, such as the progressive collapse of norms in our political life. This is frequently bemoaned, often with a heavy dollop of blame heaped on one’s opponents, but it was an inevitable consequence of the destruction of an establishment whose values largely defined those norms and whose social cohesion allowed them to be enforced. Without class codes of conduct, only public scandal constrains, and often now not even that. He would see the loss of the establishment along with its class codes of behavior and social enforcement—not such presently popular notions as the weakening of strong political parties or the end of smoke-filled rooms—as decisive in the erosion of political norms. 

With increasing income inequality and social stratification remi­niscent of the Gilded Age, talk of an “establishment” has re­turned to our political discourse. As in the past, the word is typically used as a pejorative describing an incumbent power structure that needs to be overturned.
Yet today’s sociopolitical regime is vastly different from the establishment that ruled a century ago, the so-called WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. With that establishment most­ly gone from living memory, its chroniclers and scholars have largely faded from view, as well. That is unfortunate, because in some ways the travails of America’s current elite and their institutions cannot be fully understood without comprehending the previous establishment’s history, sociology, self-conception, and demise.
Thus the work of E. Digby Baltzell is due for a rediscovery. Baltzell, the now nearly forgotten sociologist who popularized the term WASP, helps illuminate not only why the previous establishment fell but also many features of today’s world, such as the shattering of norms, declining trust in institutions, and the emergence of charismatic populist leaders like Donald Trump.
Baltzell, the leading authority on the American upper class, was among the WASPs’ fiercest critics. He turned “WASPs” into a house­hold term in a book savaging them for their exclusion of Jews (and also Catholics) from society’s upper ranks. Baltzell believed that an upper class must reflect the ethnic makeup of the country as a whole in order to retain legitimacy. By failing to assimilate worthy new men of non-Protestant ancestry into its ranks, he argued that the WASP upper class had devolved into a caste. If it stayed on this path, the ethnically closed nature of the upper class would eventually cause its ruin. He quoted Aristotle in arguing that “Revolution may also arise when persons of great ability, and second to none in their merits, are treated dishonorably by those who themselves enjoy the highest honors.”
Baltzell, however, did not desire the WASP establishment’s de­struction but rather its reform. Heavily influenced by Tocqueville, he saw the existence of an aristocratic upper-class establishment as a bulwark against atomization and tyranny in democratic society as well as an enforcer of sociopolitical norms. An expanded upper class that, among other things, would bring non-Protestants into its ranks was something he hoped to see emerge. That was not to be, however, and Baltzell then became the WASPs’ chronicler and eulogist as the establishment dissolved.
A Gentleman and a Scholar
Born in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, Edward Digby Baltzell was a scion of the upper class that later became the object of his study—though he was, as he put it, among the “impecunious genteel.” He attended boarding school at St. Paul’s, but unlike his classmates he was unable to attend Harvard, Princeton, or Yale because his father had lost employment at an insurance company due to alcoholism. Instead, he enrolled at Penn, where he paid for at least part of his own schooling by doing odd jobs. He also played sports and was captain of the freshman tennis team. Sport and the gentlemanly honor code of sportsmanship continued to influence his work throughout his life.
After graduation, Baltzell served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific during World War II. It was in the service, where he saw men from several ethnic backgrounds serving together in one body, that he first had the idea of an integrated upper class. Discharged from the Navy, he enrolled in graduate school in sociology at Columbia during that school’s heyday, with professors such as Robert Merton, Robert Lynd, and C. Wright Mills.
He sensed that his upper-class background made him unusual in the sociology field, which was dominated by people of middle-class origins. He also realized that the upper class was an understudied area. He considered the work of the most famous analyst of that class, Thorstein Veblen, inadequate. Veblen, in his view, had given the world the mistaken impression that the upper class was a “leisure class,” not the functional class that Baltzell knew from lived experience.1 Balztell did his dissertation on the American upper class, and for the rest of his life remained the world’s foremost authority on it.
Rejecting a Marxist framework, Baltzell’s theory of class draws heavily from Weber and Tocqueville. His analysis leans on several related but distinct concepts: elite, upper class, aristocracy, authority, establishment, and caste, each of which has a specific meaning in his work.
Baltzell’s elite is the collection of people who occupy the most senior positions in the key domains of society: politics, business, the professions, science, the arts, religion, etc. Elites are individuals and elite status is based on achieved position and accomplishment, not on criteria such as breeding, high intelligence, moral character, “worthi­ness,” and the like.
His upper class is a collection of extended families at the top of the social status hierarchy who are descended from elites of one or more generations past. (The merely wealthy are not themselves a genuine social class, and are generally assimilated into the upper class at a lag across multiple generations). Children of the upper class are born into a secure, ascribed status, freeing them from the type of status anxiety and competition faced by other classes.2 An upper class is generally raised together, intermarried, and maintains unique folkways such as its own vocabulary or accent. (You might say tomayto, but WASPs of the era when that famous song was written said tomahto.3) The elite, the wealthy, and the upper class are thus related but distinct entities, rarely distinguished today within America’s declassed elite.
Baltzell defines an aristocratic upper class as one which justifies its status and privileges through service to the nation, both by assuming leadership roles and by being open to assimilating the families of new men of merit among the elite. An aristocratic upper class will also be a bearer of traditional values and authority.
Authority is legitimized, institutionalized power. Baltzell uses the term to specifically refer to traditional or class authority that pro­duces a popular deference to upper class leadership and respect for American institutions. That is, not only did the WASPs take the lead in public affairs, but the public also saw that as a right and proper thing and followed willingly. He wrote, “Class authority is a mysteri­ous blend of sentiment and myth, of love and loyalty, and the graceful charm of quiet leadership. It is, above all, a product of faith bred of ancient traditions and long continuing organic relationships between the leaders and the led.”
An establishment exists when members of an upper class hold a significant share of the elite positions in key sectors and institutions, and when their traditional values are dominant among the elite and society at large. An establishment is thus a ruling class, but one which governs through authority as defined above, not by force or through authoritarian methods.
An upper class becomes a caste rather than an aristocracy when it retains its social status and privileges but ceases to either provide leadership or to assimilate new worthy men into its ranks, especially for reasons of race, religion, or ethnicity. Baltzell thus follows Tocqueville’s description of the French aristocracy as a caste.4
Finally, the term WASP itself refers specifically to the American upper class, not just anyone who is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Jimmy Carter was not a WASP. George H. W. Bush, the scion of an upper-class Connecticut family, was.5
Thus, beyond distinguishing between the elite, the wealthy, and the upper class, Balztell also provides a guide for distinguishing be­tween well-functioning (aristocratic) and poorly functioning (caste) upper classes, and between well-structured (establishment) and poorly structured (declassed) elites. Throughout his career, he explored these concepts in analyzing the history of the American upper class.
An upper-class establishment was necessary, in his view, to a healthy and functional society. Without it, a democracy would de­volve into bureaucratic despotism, corporate feudalism, charismatic Caesarism, or some other undesirable state as a result of runaway social atomization. This upper-class role came from its status and wealth, to be sure. But it also arose, crucially, from the fact that—in contrast to economically or functionally defined groupings, such as the working class or the elite—it was an actual social community. As Balztell’s student and collaborator Howard Schneiderman summarized it, the upper class maintained “a sense of gemeinschaft-like solidarity.” This social solidarity is what made it a counterweight to social atomization and an independent power base that could act as a check against excesses in business, government, or a charismatic populist leader.
This sense of community also created powerful mechanisms of social con­trol, including the threat of class ostracism, to enforce standards and norms of class behavior. Thus, a man who repeatedly violated the Anglo-American code of the gentleman (by, for example, cheating at sports) risked painful social exclusion. As a real-life example of the WASP social code, divorce was heavily frowned upon. Until the 1960s in Philadelphia, anyone who was divorced and remarried was automatically excluded from receiving an invitation to the socially exclusive Dancing Assembly, no matter who he or she was. In contrast to the upper class, the elite “is not a real group with normative standards of conduct . . . there is a code of honor among thieves and [Boston] Brahmins that does not exist among people listed in Who’s Who or Dun and Bradstreet’s Directory of Directors.”
In their day, the WASPs were a culture-setting class for America, meaning that many of their moral and behavioral codes were norma­tive, or at least aspirational, for all classes. In addition, because WASPs themselves held a substantial number of key elite positions in the era of the Protestant establishment, this allowed them to enforce les règles du jeu and to ensure that not just the letter of the law but also the unwritten rules and norms were followed by all. As Schneiderman put it,
A moral force within the putatively amoral world of politics and power elites, an establishment of leaders drawn from upper‑class families, is the final protector of freedom in modern democratic societies. Such an establishment of political, busi­ness, cultural, religious, and educational leaders succeeds in its moral function when it sets, follows, and enforces rules of fair play in contests of power and opinion. . . . Hegemonic establishments give coherence to the social spheres of greatest con­test. They don’t eliminate conflict, but prevent it from ripping society apart. . . . The genius of an establishment lies in its capacity to put moral brakes on power by applying an upper‑class code of conduct and responsibility to it.
But an establishment was also something of a contradiction in America. The idea of hereditary upper-class leadership was at odds with the country’s egalitarian and democratic aspirations—even if, without it, a successful, healthy democracy was not possible in Baltzell’s view. The country needed to live within that tension to succeed, perhaps even to survive as a society. Baltzell wrote, “No nation can long endure without both the liberal democratic and the authoritative aristocratic processes.” Only a genuinely aristocratic upper class, one that both served the nation through leadership and was open to new men of merit, was capable of sustaining this tension. Such a class could bring needed balance and prevent “the atomization of society, fostered by the fanatic forces of egalitarian individualism,” which he saw as “the greatest threat to political freedom in our time.”
Yet Baltzell also saw that the upper class was failing to meet that challenge, causing an emerging leadership crisis for the country. Increasingly, the WASPs were choosing to withdraw rather than to lead, and they categorically refused to open a number of their institu­tions to those outside of their own ethno-religious community, excluding Jews, Catholics, and blacks. Whether the WASPs could have survived the forces converging on them is debatable, but Baltzell believed their decision to act as a caste rather than as an aristocracy doomed them. During the 1960s, the establishment fell, and the upper class devolved into a hollow shell that receded from the public consciousness. The consequences of that fall continue to bedevil America today.
Baltzell authored three major books on the American upper class, each looking at it through a different analytical lens. Philadelphia Gentlemen described the formation and socioeconomic history of the upper class. The Protestant Establishment detailed how the WASPs failed the openness test of aristocracy. And Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia examined the roots of the WASPs’ failure to meet the leadership test of aristocracy. Baltzell continued returning to this subject in essays until his death in 1996.
The Rise and Fall of a National Upper Class
Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class, published in 1958 (also published in paperback under the title Ameri­can Business Aristocracy), looks at the upper class through the lens of material or economic forces. Baltzell traces the transformation of the American upper class from roughly 1870 to 1890, then analyzes the development of the newly formed national upper class until World War II.
Prior to this late nineteenth-century transition period, the Ameri­can upper class had been local and familial. Each city or state had its own local upper class with its own culture. A national upper class, to the extent that it existed, was a federation of local upper classes. These local upper classes were familial: social status was determined almost solely by the family a person belonged to. Cities were growing rapid­ly at this time but still comparatively small. Philadelphia, for example, only had 121,000 people in 1850. Boston only had about 25,000 peo­ple in 1800. Thus, there was no need for upper class directories like the Social Register. Everyone knew who was upper class.
The upper class consisted of the descendants of personages of historic importance such as colonial-era leaders like John Winthrop of Massachusetts, military leaders like Revolutionary War general John Cadwalader of Philadelphia, and wealthy businessmen in various stages of status assimilation. In many cases, such as the Adamses of Massachusetts or the Harrisons of Virginia, multiple generations of these families became men of eminence in politics and other fields. It was through this type of multigenerational service to and leadership of the nation that the upper class justified its continued existence.6
The structure of the upper class began to shift in the 1870s, driven by several changes in society. The Civil War created a more cohesive American union. Large-scale industrialization, urbanization, and im­migration began to remake the face of the country. As Irving Kristol noted, “In 1870, the United States was a land of small family-owned businesses. By 1905, the large, publicly-owned corporation dominated the economic scene.”7 These firms created vast new wealth, with Gilded Age fortunes dwarfing any that had come before. There were more millionaires in the Senate in 1910 than there had been in the whole country prior to the Civil War.
A more centralized economy and government led naturally to a more centralized upper class. In this new environment, new upper-class institutions came into being, many of them national in scope. These included the elite boarding school—the number of which grew significantly after the Civil War—the country club, the summer resort town, and genealogical societies. The 1880s were a seminal decade in institution building, witnessing the establishment of the first country club in Brookline, Massachusetts (1882), the Groton School (1884), and Tuxedo Park (1885). Of particular note was the publication of the first edition of the Social Register, a directory of upper-class families and their affiliations, for New York in 1887.
Some key upper-class institutions like Exeter Academy, Harvard, and certain clubs predated this period, but they took on increasing importance at this time. Baltzell documents how upper-class families in Philadelphia were more likely to have attended Harvard, Princeton, or Yale and less likely to have attended Penn as generations passed. Similarly, the founders of upper-class families had originally hailed from a variety of religious backgrounds but largely converged on Episcopalianism over time.
Acceptance and participation in these institutions came to eclipse family in importance for defining social status, though obviously being from the right family was also a principal factor in acceptance. “It was, then, one’s club and educational affiliations, rather than family positions and accomplishment alone,” Baltzell wrote, “which placed one in a secure establishment position in the corporate and urban world which America had become by the end of the nineteenth century.” This was particularly the case with schools and the city gentlemen’s clubs. As Baltzell noted, “The circulations of elites in America and the assimilation of new men of power and influence into the upper class takes place primarily through the medium of urban clubdom.” We see this multigenerational assimilation via clubdom in the case of the Rockefeller dynasty. John D. Rockefeller Sr. was a member of the Union League Club of New York, Rockefeller Jr. a member of the more prestigious University Club, and Rockefeller III a member of the most exclusive Knickerbocker Club.
During the late nineteenth century, the upper class also began migrating to the suburbs or outlying neighborhoods. Where once the elite of Philadelphia had lived in Rittenhouse Square, they subsequently moved to places like Chestnut Hill and the Main Line.
Thus the life of a Philadelphia WASP might go something like this: He would start out being raised in Chestnut Hill, proceed through high school at a local elite day school like Episcopal Academy or a boarding school like St. Mark’s, then move on to college at Princeton, where he would join an exclusive dining club like the Ivy. Returning to Philadelphia, he would live in Ardmore, join a prestigious firm such as Drexel and Company or a family enterprise, assume membership in a city club like the Philadelphia or Rittenhouse Club, and be engaged in various charitable endeavors. He would play tennis at the Merion Cricket Club, attend annual Assembly dances, and spend summers in Cape May. He probably met his wife at her debutante, and would proceed to have a larger-than-average number of children with her, staying together for life. Their children would in turn marry the children of other upper-class families or the children of newly minted wealth as a means of assimilating them into the upper class.
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Building Counter-Institutions

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
If the old institutions are dying or losing their traditional formational functions, why will not any new ones rapidly meet the same fate? Indeed, we are seeing that many evangelical institutions go into decline rapidly. Many of the earlier 1980s vintage megachurches already have “mainline disease” – an aging member base, fewer families with children, a style that seems stodgy or anachronistic, etc. The New Calvinism movement lasted less than a generation before entering major decline. Tim Keller once said that churches younger than five years attract primarily converts while those that are older attract primarily from existing churches. This seems an admission that the half life of missional effectiveness in churches is extremely short.

A few weeks back, the British writer T. M. Suffield wrote an interesting piece on the need to start building counter-institutions. He channels the common lament about the decline of intermediary institutions, and draws on the work of Yuval Levin in thinking about this problem. He writes:
Levin’s thesis can be stated simply enough: America’s social, economic, and political problems are due to the fracturing of its institutions. Specifically, the mediating institutions that unite individuals together. These mediating institutions are weaker than they used to be, with the individual and national institutions ascendant. To make matters worse, these institutions are supposed to be moulds but have become platforms.
His critique of American society in The Fractured Republic revolves around the death of small institutions, with all of their functions being absorbed into the state; he describes the conformity that was required by these mediating institutions fading over the latter half of the twentieth into the radical individualism that’s familiar to us today. This included many of the societal functions that churches performed being absorbed into state welfare systems—in Levin’s view to be run more efficiently—with the consequence that the community-building impact of being involved in churches and working men’s clubs, labour unions and bowling leagues, also faded away.

If we want to shape Christians to live in a world that is counter-forming them, we will need counter-institutions that are forming them in virtue. We need to ask whether or not our churches are doing this….Levin’s major critique, which he spends most of A Time To Build exploring in different arenas of society, is that the institutions that used to shape us—where they still exist—have become platforms. They no longer see forming people into virtue and helping them to live flourishing lives as their purpose. Instead, they display individuals, giving them prominence and attention without ‘stamping them with a particular character, a distinct set of obligations or responsibilities, or an ethic that comes with constraints.’

The institutions we do have, primarily our local churches, are being shaped into platforms of affirmation. There are many wonderful exceptions; but, anecdotally, I see increasing numbers of churches who are keen to tell people that they are loved by God, and will confront the need to change because of our personal sin, but have little sense that the church is intended to form people into virtue or to form our minds into Christian modes of thought. Mostly we affirm people that they are loved (which is wonderfully true!) and try to challenge as little as possible.
One logical response to the decline of institutions is to create new institutions. (I would argue this is a variation of “exit” in Albert O. Hirschman’s voice. vs. exit framework).
The problem is, how do you create an organization that can actually operate contrary to the forces of society that are corrosive of, and in many cases even formally hostile to functional intermediary institutions? The state actively desires to weaken institutions like the family, or at least render them subject to the state. It is already far advanced in this project.
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Can Mainline Protestantism Be Rebuilt?

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
The negative world is almost defined by institutional incompatibility or hostility to historical Protestantism. This necessitates a countercultural approach and bars the door to a mainline relationship of the church to culture. 

Jake Meador wrote a recent interesting piece on a topic of great interest to me, namely about a call to attempt to create a new Protestant mainline. He says:
So to bring the discussion to reformed catholicity and what reformed catholic churches can do in our current context, here it is: The old Mainline is dead. American Catholicism is likely terminal as well, even prior to the plausible turmoil to come under Pope Francis’s successor. American Evangelicalism is now encountering its own dechurching crisis and loss of influence. The Christian movement in America is thus at a crossroads. Something new will need to be built. But I do not think we should build a new evangelicalism; I think we should build a new mainline.
That mainline should be centered around the EPC, PCA, and ACNA with room for the possible addition of Lutheran, Methodist, or Baptist denominations, should denominations interested in this project emerge from those streams. The old mainline encompassed Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists. We currently have Presbyterian and Anglican communions that might plausibly grow into the “continuing church” vision once articulated at the PCA’s founding. It remains to be seen if the Global Methodists can join this movement, let alone if the LCMS can stave off its own demographic collapse or if a strengthened Baptist commujnion can emerge from the chaos and corruption currently vexing the SBC. These are the institutional pieces to watch, then: the PCA, EPC, ACNA, Global Methodists, LCMS, maybe WELS, and SBC.
I agree that America lost a lot with the decline of the mainline denominations. Attempts to at least salvage or reclaim some of that is of great interest to me, and also others as well. I think you can see Tim Keller’s plan for the renewal of the American church through this lens, and I might be collaborating on an article about that in the future.
Lind’s Four American Republics
Before digging in, however, I thought it was interesting to see Meador lay out a “four Americas” framework from Michael Lind that was very similar to my own version. I did not draw from Lind, though had heard he had something like this. But I think this sort of division of American history is one very obvious way to do it, so I’m sure it has recurred many times.
Where I differ from the framework Meador gives is that I see the “fourth republic” or “America 4.0” as less emerged than he does (or at least that’s my impression). I see us as in a liminal period where we can’t yet see the contours of what the future system will look like, just as those in the Depression didn’t know what postwar America would be like. The old is passing away but the new has not yet been born. Hence we should be cautious about over fitting solutions to the present movement.
Through Catholic Eyes
Meador is also influenced by Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age, which I actually read after I saw him make a previous reference to it. It’s an interesting book in which Bottum makes the common argument that contemporary elite morality and culture is a form of secularized mainline Protestantism (a view with some degree of truth). In his telling, Catholics (with evangelicals in a supporting role as public mouthpiece for Catholic natural law arguments) were the would be replacement for the mainline role in society, but that project failed because America ended up being too Protestant to submit to a Catholicism that was weakened at the time by internal issues.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Bottum himself is a staunch Catholic. That is, like 90% of the people I read who center America’s problems in mainline Protestantism, he himself is not a Protestant. Invariably in these readings, any role Ellis Islanders (like my family) might have played in contemporary America’s failings is minimized or avoided altogether. Just once I’d like to see a Catholic writer say something like, “The WASPs handed over the keys, but we ran the car into a ditch.”
This is one reason I have been arguing that Protestants must stop outsourcing their thinking to Catholic intellectuals. Invariably this leads to us repeating essentially Catholic serving talking points, as Bottum himself basically says in his book (e.g., of George W. Bush).
Meador’s Mainline Restoration Project
With those preliminaries, what does Meador’s mainline restoration project look like?
Institutionally, he sees it centered in the conservative “shadow denominations” of the mainline, mostly splinter groups (EPC, PCA) but some which are not (LCMS). He goes on to say:
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The Teachings of Neo-Pagan Masculinity

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Monday, August 28, 2023
I reject the idea that there’s no link between being a good man and being good at being a man. God created men, so the moral dimension is always present. At the same time, that morality can’t be divorced from the other qualities men were created to exhibit. Nevertheless, the idea of “good at being a man” vs “good man” is useful in helping us draw an important distinction.

One of my big themes has been the disconnect between men turning away from traditional authorities and institutions (churches, politicians, teachers, etc) and towards online men’s influencers like Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, and Andrew Tate.
I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what the online influencers are doing and what they are saying so that we can understand them and their appeal better, and perhaps in some cases elevate our own game in response and attract more of their young male audience to the church. Today I want to continue that by looking at the vision of neo-pagan masculinity put forth in books by two men’s influencers, Jack Donovan and Ryan Landry.
Jack Donovan and The Way of Men
The Way of Men is a short book by Jack Donovan published in 2012. It is a semi-famous book and has certainly sold a huge number of copies as it has 5,300 ratings on Amazon (only slightly fewer than Tim Keller’s The Reason for God). It appears to still be moving copies.
Donovan is an interesting figure to say the least. He’s gay, but rejects the label because he thinks the word has become coded to refer to a set of effeminate behaviors he rejects. He prefers the term “androphile,” and wrote an entire book on that subject that’s since been unpublished. (A significant number of online men’s influencers are gay). He’s also explicitly neo-pagan, worshipping Thor or some such. He was previously an ordained priest in the Church of Satan, and involved with various organizations in the alt-right (though has since disavowed the movement).
If anyone deserves the term pagan masculinist, it’s Donovan.
Interestingly, despite Donovan’s bizarre personal history, The Way of Men is essentially a mainstream book. For example, he interviewed Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness when writing it, and has been featured on that site several times. Although it has some themes I reject, this book is basically safe to read. I’m sure it has been bought many times by ordinary people with no idea about Donovan’s background.
Donovan’s take on manhood is essentially rooted in the basic evolutionary psychology framework that’s common to most online men’s influencers. In his view, our instinctual masculinity developed in primitive times, when humans faced mortal dangers. The traits men had to develop to survive in this environment are what come down to us as masculinity.
The most important concept in Donovan’s book is his claim that “the way of men is the way of the gang.” That is, the natural milieu of men is with a small group of other men – the hunting party, the warband, the street gang, a sports team, etc. Donovan writes:
A man is not merely a man but a man among men, in a world of men. Being good at being a man has more to do with a man’s ability to succeed with men and within groups of men than it does with a man’s relationship to any woman or any group of women.
While recognizing than men do often form gangs, I’m not sure I buy Donovan’s view of the gang as the fundamental unit of masculinity. However, there are valid points here:

There’s a communal element to masculinity. Virtually all discussion today about how to be a better man focuses on essentially individual actions: eat better, work out, embrace the grind, impose your will on the world, get married and have kids, etc. I’m as guilty as anyone of this. But human beings are social and political animals, not lone wolves. Manhood is pursued and developed in a community of men. Iron sharpens iron after all.
Manhood is defined by a man’s relationship with other men. Scholars like anthropologist David D. Gilmore have noted that manhood is an earned status. It’s not just about hitting a particular age. To be accepted as a man requires that a man perform in the activities and traits of men. There’s a standard that must be met. And the people who primarily determine whether that standard is met is other men – not women. Women merely reflect what other men have already determined. As Jordan Peterson put it, “Girls are attracted to boys who win status competitions with other boys.”

In other words, Donovan’s book is about the way of men, not the way of a man.
It’s interesting that evangelicals have essentially rejected these points. They do this by defining manhood almost entirely as a singular man’s relationship to women and children. For example, in the complementarian ur-text Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper writes:
Here we take the definition of masculinity, a phrase at a time and unfold its meaning and implications.
This phrase signals that the definitions are not exhaustive. There is more to masculinity and femininity, but there is not less. We believe this is at the heart of what true manhood means, even if there is a mystery to our complementary existence that we will never exhaust. [caps in original]
While acknowledging there’s more to manhood, this defines masculinity exclusively in terms of an individual man’s relationships to women. Right or wrong, this is what they teach. I don’t believe this is how anyone would have understood or defined masculinity until very recently.
It’s also interesting that mainstream society is very hostile to men being part of all-male groups. Obviously they don’t like literal gangs. But any all male space or organization will be targeted to force it to include women. The vast majority have already done. The most famous recent case here is probably the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. The New York Times wrote dozens, maybe even over a hundred article attacking the club for not having female members. (The club eventually capitulated). The few remaining all male organizations like college fraternities have a target on their back. Interestingly, churches are one of the few places were all male groups still seem to be accepted.
The lack of male groups, institutions, and spaces is almost certainly a factor in the various struggles men are experiencing today, as documented by people like researcher Richard Reeves in his book Of Boys and Men.
One way to attempt to ameliorate the problems boys and young men are experiencing would be to legitimize and encourage more all male spaces. But other than a few people who argue for more single sex education, this does not appear to be on the radar.
Possibly inspired by Donovan, one of the core ideas of the dissident right is the männerbund, which they define as a brotherhood of men united in common purpose. Their particular purpose, of course, being right wing politics. However, their attempts at männerbund creation have seen many failures. Their members don’t actually seem to have much actual loyalty to each other, as a large number of the various doxxes of anonymous far right accounts originated with people inside the group ratting out their peers to the press. (I have read that Donovan has his own “gang” of men. It may be an exception. I don’t know anything about it).
In terms of the content of what masculinity entails, Donovan focuses on four of what he calls the “tactical virtues”: Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor.
Here is where the typical feminist objection would arise. Can’t women be strong? Can’t women be courageous? This seems to be something evangelicals struggle to respond to, and I believe accounts for part of why Piper defines masculinity the way he does. There are several extended Bible passages that discuss the relationship of men and women in different ways, such as by saying the husband is the head of the home and the wife is to submit. But when it comes to characteristics like courage, the pickings are much slimmer. Given the general “biblicist” approach of evangelicalism, if they can’t proof-text something from the Bible, then they struggle to advocate it. And some feminist writer can simply respond with an example of a “gynocentric interruption” like Deborah in Judges.
Donovan has a different response to this objection. He doesn’t deny that women can be strong, courageous, etc. Strength is a masculine virtue not because only men are strong – though Donovan affirms that men are generally physically stronger than women – but because men and only men are judged on their strength. He writes:
Women can demonstrate strength, but strength is a quality that defines masculinity. Greater strength differentiates men from women. Weak men are regarded as less manly, but no one really cares or notices if a woman is physically weaker than her peers.
A man who is weak fails the test of manhood. Whereas almost no one judges a women negatively for being weak.
It’s similar for courage. A man who displays cowardice when he should display courage earns the contempt of his fellow men. A woman who is courageous may be praised by others. But if she isn’t courageous, if she runs way, she’s not going to be judged as deficient in femininity. Donovan writes, “Both men and women can be game, but status for human females has rarely depended on a woman’s willingness to fight. Demure, polite, passive women are attractive to men and are generally well-liked by other women.”
I was surprised that he didn’t talk more about loyalty, which I would have considered a preeminent virtue of the primitive male gang. He does mention it. The word appears eight times in the book. But he doesn’t list it as a separate tactical virtue. I wrote about loyalty in newsletter #58.
Donovan also echoes the common take that there’s an amoral quality to masculinity as he describes it. The classic expression would that there’s a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man. A mob boss might demonstrate all the tactical virtues, while being morally evil. There can also be good men who don’t measure up in terms of masculinity. But being neo-pagan in orientation, Donovan is less concerned with good vs. evil than he is friend vs. enemy. For example, he writes about 9/11 hijackers:
What about suicide bombers? I’d say that hijacking a plane with a box knife and flying it into a building takes balls of steel. I don’t have to like it, but if I’m being honest with myself, I can’t call those guys unmanly. Enemies of my tribe, yes. Unmanly, no.
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Big Eva Says Out with Complementarianism, In with Anti-Fundamentalism

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Monday, July 24, 2023
Moore is a former Southern Baptist leader and Gospel Coalition council member who is now the editor of Christianity Today magazine. The mere fact that he’s now the editor there shows something is afoot, given that Moore was historically strongly complementarian and Christianity Today has long been egalitarian. As I noted in a previous post, Moore wrote a column in March of this year saying that evangelicals needed to rethink their gender wars. Though obviously in a Moore style rather than a Keller one, it is an almost perfect instantiation of Keller’s framework and strategy. 

The term “Big Eva,” short for big evangelicalism, was coined, I believe, by the theologian Carl Trueman, who has been using it since at least 2014. It’s a catchall term for evangelical elites and powerbrokers, mostly referring to the leadership of the New Calvinist movement and adjacent spaces.
New Calvinism is but one faction of the evangelical world, but is disproportionately influential, particularly in enforcing doctrinal boundaries. As sociologist Brad Vermurlen noted in his academic study of the movement, its influence is far greater than its numbers. Hence what these leaders do is highly consequential for evangelicalism as a whole. As he put it, “New Calvinist leaders’ symbolic capital (recognition or esteem) translates into symbolic power as the authority to define legitimacy and membership in the field.”
New Calvinism, along with the rest of the evangelical field, is facing a rapidly shifting landscape as a result of the transition to the negative world. The dawn of the negative world – one in which for the first time in the 400 year history of the United States, secular society views Christianity negatively – has produced significant intra-evangelical conflict, realignment, and even deformation in some cases. As Vermurlen put it:
Evangelicalism in America writ large can no longer properly be considered a unified Christian movement but instead is a heterogeneous arena of conflict and contestation—that is, a field. It is not merely diverse; it is divided.
For New Calvinism in particular, its leaders face additional challenges. First, the movement, while far from dead, is past its peak in terms of energy and influence, something Vermurlen also notes. Secondly, the leading lights of this movement were baby boomer or older figures who are retired (John Piper), have died (Tim Keller), or soon will no longer be active. The movement today needs to take steps to reinvigorate itself.
In this newsletter I will explain a core element of how some of them are planning to reposition themselves for the future by redefining “legitimacy and membership.” This strategy is to redraw the boundaries of the movement by eliminating complementarianism and replacing it with anti-fundamentalism.
Complementarianism is the gender theology that says only men can be pastors and that husbands are the head of the home. Big Eva has been firmly complementarian, treating that not as a first order matter necessary for salvation, but defining part of the boundary that defined their own community as instantiated in organizations like the Gospel Coalition. In the proposed strategic change, complementarianism would be downgraded further as becoming more a matter of personal conscience that does not function as a community boundary. (The alternative to complementarianism is egalitarianism, where women can be pastors and husbands and wives hold equal leadership weight in the home).
In other words, as New Calvinism loses traction – and comes under increasing attacks from the right of a variety and intensity previously unseen – this strategy says the movement should responds by shifting left, acquiring new allies among more conservative leaning egalitarians. Rather than a solidly conservative movement, as New Calvinism had previously been, this new alliance would be much more of a self-consciously centrist movement (possibly under new branding).
Brad Isbell, who hosts a podcast called Presbycast, has suggested an additional reason to make this move. He points to the ongoing split in the United Methodist Church, in which over 6,000 conservative leaning churches have departed the denomination. Methodist theology long ago led to an acceptance of female pastors. So creating space to ally with egalitarians creates the potential for finding new allies among this large block of Methodists (although Methodism is theologically very different from Calvinism, so it’s not clear what that would look like).
Tim Keller’s Strategy for Renewing the American Church
This new strategy was explicitly outlined by Tim Keller, arguably the most respected and influential New Calvinist leader. He wrote a four part series on the decline and renewal of the American church in 2021 and 2022. Then he consolidated these installments and added a lot of new material, publishing a consolidated version late last year.
This consolidated strategy for the future of the church was released about the same time as his final book Forgive. He had terminal cancer at the time, and died six months after its publication. The fact that this was in essence his final publication shows how important he obviously thought it was. While he cannot drive its implementation, given his intellect, thoughtfulness, track record of success, and wide respect, this strategy will and should receive significant attention from evangelical leaders. There’s a lot of good material in there and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
Keller divides evangelicalism into four zones ranging from conservative to liberal. On his graphic of this, conservatives are to the left and liberals are to the right.
He defines Zone 1 as Fundamentalism, Zone 2 as Conservative Evangelicalism (complementarian), Zone 3 as Egalitarian Evangelicalism, and Zone 4 as Ex- or Post-Evangelicalism. He further divides Zones 2 and 3 into subregions A and B. A key difference between these sub-zones are a willingness to work with people in the other zone. So Zone 2b are complementarians willing to work with egalitarians, and Zone 3a are egalitarians willing to work with complementarians.
The fact that his “zone of renewal” spans 2b and 3a shows that he is explicitly dissolving any boundary between complementarianism and egalitarianism. Now, Keller himself has long been willing to work with egalitarians as far as I know. At the same time, he co-founded the Gospel Coalition, the key New Calvinist hub, as an explicitly complementarian organization, showing that he previously put something of a high value on this distinction.
As the chart indicates, he proposes to divide from Zone 1 fundamentalism, saying, “Something like the evangelical-fundamentalist split of the 1940s may need to happen (or is happening) again.” He calls this “dividing with tears and grace.” Then he wants a new movement that combines both complementarian and egalitarian elements.
He sums up the strategy as:
Generally speaking—the way forward is to (a) divide from Zones 1 and 4 in different ways, and (b) bring both individuals, and leaders and some older institutions most likely from the ‘right half’ of Zone 2 and the ‘left half’ of Zone 3 into a new Zone 5. (c) Then: do the strategic initiatives, launch the mission projects, and start new institutions.
This is about as clear as it gets. He wants to eliminate complementarianism as a movement boundary and replace it with anti-fundamentalism (New Calvinism having already divided from Zone 4 ex-vangelicalism). So when I say this is the strategy, I’m not making something up that’s not really there. It’s explicit.
Russell Moore Puts the Plan Into Action
Keller’s strategy could be viewed as little more than an academic exercise were it not for the fact that we see various elements of the evangelical world starting to put it into practice.
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There Are Plenty of Good Fish in the Sea

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
The reality is that there are plenty of high quality single Christian women, and men, in America. The problems of frustrated singleness are real and shouldn’t be discounted. The technological and cultural problems of America when it comes to marriage are likewise real. But an absolute shortage of high caliber potential marriage partners is not one of those problems.

As I’ve noted many times, the degree of difficulty dial on finding a spouse and staying married has been turned up a lot in America. Falling marriage rates attest to the problems here, ranging from the rise of technology mediated dating, to an imbalance in college degree attainment between men and women, to a politically polarized dating environment.
At the same time, a bad macro environment does not necessarily determine our individual results. In some cases, these trends can even help a subset of people. For example, if more women than men are getting college degrees, then if you are a man with a degree, in theory that could work to your advantage.
However, I hear a lot of complaints from some singles about how this environment makes it all but impossible to get married. For example, one of the tropes of manosphere thinking is that the dating pool for men is poisoned. In their view, the American woman has been ruined as wife material — by feminism, sleeping around with too many men, etc.
One of the more recent incarnations of this view is the rise of the so-called “passport bros,” or men who decide that there are so few good women in the US, that they have to seek out a wife overseas. There are a ton of Youtube videos on this phenomenon, many with hundreds of thousands of view. I think that only a small number of men have actually done this, but the huge amount of debate over it is revealing of a certain attitude.
While few Christians likely spend time consuming this kind of material, I’ve noticed that a lot of single Christian guys also seem to believe it’s hard to find someone to marry, even in cities with tons of Christian singles like NYC.
My church in New York never had more than a few hundred members, and many of them (most?) were married. Yet there were several single women there that I thought seemed to be high quality dating and marriage prospects. Now, I didn’t date any of them. Maybe they had hidden flaws or were not compatible in some way that I don’t know about. Maybe they were prima donnas with ridiculous standards who ended up breaking it off with every guy they ever went out with. Some of them were out of my age range. But if I were single in that church, I would not have been complaining about a lack of quality women to ask out on dates. I have to believe that the same is true of most other churches in town, maybe even to a greater extent, since many of them are larger and with a higher percentage of singles.
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There Are Plenty of Good Fish in the Sea

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
The reality is that there are plenty of high quality single Christian women, and men, in America. The problems of frustrated singleness are real and shouldn’t be discounted. The technological and cultural problems of America when it comes to marriage are likewise real. But an absolute shortage of high caliber potential marriage partners is not one of those problems.

As I’ve noted many times, the degree of difficulty dial on finding a spouse and staying married has been turned up a lot in America. Falling marriage rates attest to the problems here, ranging from the rise of technology mediated dating, to an imbalance in college degree attainment between men and women, to a politically polarized dating environment.
At the same time, a bad macro environment does not necessarily determine our individual results. In some cases, these trends can even help a subset of people. For example, if more women than men are getting college degrees, then if you are a man with a degree, in theory that could work to your advantage.
However, I hear a lot of complaints from some singles about how this environment makes it all but impossible to get married. For example, one of the tropes of manosphere thinking is that the dating pool for men is poisoned. In their view, the American woman has been ruined as wife material — by feminism, sleeping around with too many men, etc.
One of the more recent incarnations of this view is the rise of the so-called “passport bros,” or men who decide that there are so few good women in the US, that they have to seek out a wife overseas. There are a ton of Youtube videos on this phenomenon, many with hundreds of thousands of view. I think that only a small number of men have actually done this, but the huge amount of debate over it is revealing of a certain attitude.
While few Christians likely spend time consuming this kind of material, I’ve noticed that a lot of single Christian guys also seem to believe it’s hard to find someone to marry, even in cities with tons of Christian singles like NYC.
My church in New York never had more than a few hundred members, and many of them (most?) were married. Yet there were several single women there that I thought seemed to be high quality dating and marriage prospects. Now, I didn’t date any of them. Maybe they had hidden flaws or were not compatible in some way that I don’t know about. Maybe they were prima donnas with ridiculous standards who ended up breaking it off with every guy they ever went out with. Some of them were out of my age range. But if I were single in that church, I would not have been complaining about a lack of quality women to ask out on dates. I have to believe that the same is true of most other churches in town, maybe even to a greater extent, since many of them are larger and with a higher percentage of singles.
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High Trust as Force Multiplier

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Monday, June 12, 2023
Do we, can we, should we trust the government, other institutions, or other citizens? There are multiple dimensions of this: trustworthiness (ethical dealings), competence, delivery of results (a product of trustworthiness and competence applied to a defined mission). If you have this trust, it operates as a force multiplier that makes everything else work better. When it’s lost, it undermines everything else you try to do.

One of the most challenges passages in the Bible is the Parable of the Talents. In it, initial resources are distributed to the servants in a highly unequal manner, with a 10x ratio between the highest and lowest recipient. And then that which was held by the least endowed servant was redistributed upward to the person with the most resources. It concludes with the famous line, “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”
Let’s be honest, doesn’t this seem to be how the world actually works? It does seem that there’s a natural concentration toward the top, which is only reversed with great effort (or great calamity like war).
We see this on display in a recent study in Medellin, Colombia. Chris Blattman, one of the researchers, tweeted an interesting thread with findings and a link to the full study. In Colombia, policing is a national function, so cities that want to do something about crime and disorder have to employ civilians to try this. (Former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus famously sent out an army of mimes to try to encourage better driving).
This study involved randomly assigning civilian liaisons to various Medellin neighborhoods, creating a task force to address needs identified by the liaisons, and putting on a public services fair. The net result of this was “No change in crime. No fall in emergency calls. No increase in perceived services. No gain in legitimacy.” This was after a “60-fold intensification of street-level staff + a 3-fold increase in central attention.”
But this headline finding obscured something going on under the covers. Some of the neighborhoods started off with better services, better policing, etc.
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