In his 2012 book Coming Apart, Charles Murray argues that the middle class, once seen as the “virtuous silent majority,” is alienated from the “founding virtues” of civic life. “Our nation is coming apart at the seams,” he warns, “not ethnic seams but the seams of class.”
Murray claims that the middle class is losing touch with four “founding virtues” in particular: industriousness, honesty (in the context of community), marriage, and religion. In the past, all of these have played a vital role in the life of our nation.
Murray also refers to these virtues as “family, vocation, faith, and community.” He says these virtues have a “direct and strong relationship to self-reported happiness.”
Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson reviewed Coming Apart, and in his review he noted:
The key point is that the four great social trends of the past half-century–the decline of marriage, of the work ethic, of respect for the law and of religious observance – have affected Fishtown* much more than Belmont. As a consequence, the traditional bonds of civil society have atrophied in Fishtown. And that, Murray concludes, is why people there are so very unhappy – and dysfunctional.
What the country needs is not an even larger federal government but a kind of civic Great Awakening – a return to the republic’s original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith.
Earlier this year Murray wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the recent success of populist candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries is,
An expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.
In other words, the working middle class is angry and isn’t going to take it anymore.
What can Christians do, then, about the situation unfolding in our country?
Murray’s four virtues of family, vocation, faith, and community should sound familiar. These are key areas for Christians to practice stewardship of their gifts and talents as they think about and live out their callings.
Our primary calling as Christians is to be a disciple of Christ. This primary call leads to a number of secondary callings. These secondary callings lead us to find our unique life purpose, in order to use our particular gifts and abilities to their utmost for God’s glory and the common good.
These secondary callings can be summarized as the work we do in four descriptive, all-encompassing categories:
- Our call to the church
- Our call to family
- Our call to community
- Our call to vocation
Our efforts in these four areas are the way our faith makes itself real in the world. James 2:17 says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” The New Testament refers to our work in these four areas as stewardship (1 Cor. 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:8-10).
Enter Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People, the new book by John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith about believers who are seriously living as salt and light in our current post-Christian world. They are “everyday Christians who, across the scope and spectrum of culture, are living lives of redemption and restoration in powerful ways.”
Stonestreet and Smith’s book is full of stories of regular people living in working class America who have asked themselves the following questions:
- What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect, and celebrate?
- What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?
- What is evil in our culture that we can stop?
- What is broken in our culture that we can restore?
Their answers are being written across the cultures in the acts of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. They are those who have taken “a more biblical posture toward the evil and brokenness they see all around them.” Their stories bring hope to the bleak picture painted in Murray’s Coming Apart.
Ferguson is right when he says that “what the country needs is…a kind of civic Great Awakening – a return to the republic’s original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith.” What he doesn’t realize is that it has already started. Will you be part of it?
*Fishtown is a construct Murray created to represent working and middle class towns across America. Belmont likewise represents upper class communities. Neither is a real place.