Fred Hutchison
A grassroots revolution
By Fred Hutchison
September 3, 2009

One can see a grassroots revolution in America in three places: The "tea parties" in the public square, the noisy "town hall" meetings between congressmen, senators and their constituents, and the abandonment of evangelical churches by the teens. These three represent most extraordinary developments, the like of which I have never seen during my lifetime.

One might see an obvious connection between the tea parties and town halls but what has that to do with the teen walk-out? Many think there is no connection. I think there is a connection. This may be the most daring leap of pattern recognition I have ever made — but these are times of unusual upheaval when seemingly unlike things can follow similar patterns.

What is most remarkable aspect of these about these three revolutions? Each case is a grassroots event. They each involve large numbers of people spontaneously doing the same thing with very little organization. Whether it is the tea parties, town squares, or the teens leaving the church, large numbers of people are voting against something with their feet. Each case involves a grassroots protest against something coming to them from the top down.

As a conservative, I am delighted with the tea parties and the town square protests against the left wing policies of the Obama/Pelosi government. However, as a Christian, I am deeply sorry about the teen walkout.

The teen walkout

The Barna Group pollsters and the Innovating Tomorrow blog site reports that 75% of teens from Christian families stop going to church when they leave home to get a job or go to college and don't return to church until they have are married and have children of their own. Some blogsters blame the teen walk out on a general increase in agnosticism and atheism. Some blame the parents. Some blame the internet. I don't agree.

I blame the churches. I blame the dumbing down of the message so that many leave out of sheer boredom. The rock music and mimicking of worldly culture which was thought to appeal to teens is driving some away. However, I think the main problem is the lack of content and the metaphysical shallowness of the teachings. During one's late teen years, one is trying to discover the meaning and purpose in life. The teens want to gain a sense of who they are and to find a place for themselves in the grand scheme of things.

Questions on meaning and purpose and questions about the grand scheme are metaphysical questions. The typical evangelical ministry behaves as though they are afraid of metaphysics. For this reason, many teens find the shallow ministries offered to them irrelevant to their needs. This is the only convincing explanation I can think of to explain the general teen walkout.

What is God doing? I wonder if He is laying aside the threadbare seeker-sensitive ministries and the top-down mega-church entertainment centers. Only God knows for sure, but I wonder if God is not laying the grounds for a grassroots revival. He has done it before. It happened right before the greatest crisis in American history. The grassroots revival was sent from heaven to get ordinary Americans ready for a time of tribulation.

A grassroots revival

In September 23, 1857, Lay minister Jeremiah Lanphear scheduled a weekly prayer meeting on Wall Street in New York. Six attended the first meeting. However, attendance increased so rapidly that Lanphear soon made it a daily meeting. Daily crowds turned from hundreds to thousands, and prayer meetings sprang up in a number of other cities.

Originally, the news of the prayer meetings spread by word of mouth. Then the news of the prayer revival came through daily big-city newspaper headlines.

Fiery prayers came out of the mouths of ordinary Americans, some of whom had no idea they were going to pray — and who had never prayed publically before. This was very different from the highly organized and scripted ways of the professional revivalists. The was a bottom-up movement of the Holy Spirit. Prayer burst forth with an outburst of pent-up spiritual fervor.

A severe financial crash occurred in 1957 involving a 66% decline in the stock market. 30,000 workers lost their jobs. This was a good deal worse than the financial crisis we had in 2008. Many desperate people rushed to the prayer meetings.

An estimated 1,000,000 received Christ and returned to the bulging churches. At the peak of the revival, 50,000 were saved each week.

Episcopal Bishop McIlvain, (1799-1873, an evangelical and twice chaplain of the U.S. Senate) in his annual address before the Diocesan convention of Ohio (9/23/1857) said, "It [the revival/awakening] is the Lord's doing, unaccountable by any natural causes, entirely above and beyond what any human device or power could produce; an outpouring of the Spirit of God on God's people to make them new creatures in Christ Jesus or quickening them to greater enlightenment of service." (Source Fresh Encounter by Henry Blackaby.) As we shall see, such "awakened" ones would soon be desperately needed by a nation in crisis.

The nation was heading into the cataclysm of Civil War (1861–1865), and the Holy Spirit called the people to pray to prepare them to endure tribulation. Many Christians were given "greater enlightenment" to conduct powerful lay ministries during the war.

The focus of the revival shifted to the "camp meetings" in the camps of both union and rebel soldiers. Most of the preaching was done by Christian laymen in the camps who felt exercised at the spur of the moment to preach. The "grass roots" revival continued as the laymen stood on the grass to preach

After the war, the revival continued in the burned-out South where the people were in agony — thereby transforming the South into the Bible belt. Before the war, the North had been the nation's Bible belt.

Modern parallels

Some civil war soldiers who were "tenting on the old camp ground," were suddenly moved by the Holy Spirit to preach to the other soldiers and were surprised to find that they spoke with authority and unction. Likewise, many ordinary Americans at the Tea Parties and Town Halls who have never spoken in public before and who did not plan to speak, spoke with such a moral force that senators, congressmen, and governors quailed before them.

Our present financial crisis is not as severe as the financial crisis of 1957, and it is unlikely that the national crisis which Obama, Pelosi &Co. are leading us into will be as severe as the Civil War. But it seems clear that God is preparing and equipping us for something and that power welling up from the grassroots will be part of it.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Fred Hutchison

Frederick J. Hutchison attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an undergraduate, and Cleveland State University to get his Master's degree in business... (more)


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