Americans No Longer Trust the Church, the Government or Even Big Money. Is There a New Power Rising? | Opinion

A Pew article from July 2019 says that 75 percent of U.S. adults feel that our trust in the Federal Government is shrinking. 64 percent of Americans feel that we are losing the ability to trust each other. As an academic who studies communication, I can tell you that this is a huge problem. Without trust, we don't have the ability to forge successful empowering relationships.

Over at Gallup, Frank Newport says that in 1975, 68 percent of Americans believed that organized religion could be trusted. "As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions Gallup tracks" (Newport, 2019, P. 1). By 2019, the church had reached a new low, with only 36 percent having confidence in its leadership. 36 percent. Pastors should be concerned.

In the wake of the constant news cycle, chaotic elections, and polarized Twitter feeds, it does seem that something is else is building in America.

Last week, Harvey Wienstein went on trial for crimes that reach back decades. There had been a shadow over his career for years that went all but ignored. On Wednesday, the Provost at the University of Michigan was put on paid leave amid sexual assault allegations. He is the school's top academic officer, a man with great power, who is now being investigated. The President of the University, Mark S. Schlissel, invited students and faculty to submit any information that would help them in their investigation. In the constant chaos that seems to be life right now, it may be easy to forget how unique this is. How radical it has become for people with relatively no power, to challenge those who do successfully. For perhaps the first time, it appears that new power is toppling old power systems and we should all pay attention.

In their book New Power, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms posit that discussed that old power operates like a currency. It is a closed system that is deeply guarded and very few people have access to it. New Power is the opposite. It's not a currency but a current that allows its users to participate in it. The goal of New Power is not to keep it to a selected few, but to distribute it across many. The more you get people to buy in to the idea that they can participate in this new system, the more powerful the system itself becomes. This is why the #Metoo movement surged our networks seemingly overnight. This is why, according to Timms and Heimans, Airbnb is worth more than Hilton, and this is why hundreds of thousands of people will show up in D.C. on Friday for March for our Lives. The rules in America have changed. It is unravelling how I see my politicians, democracy, and even my worship experience.

Trump is not just a President; he is a symbol of both old and new power. How is it that amidst all his scandals and current impeachment, he is, according to the latest Gallup poll, sitting at his highest overall approval rating of his presidency, at 42 percent? The President's supporters are not just following him for who he is, they are supporting him for who they believe they are. His frequent use of Twitter—which this week hit a new record of 162 tweets in just one day—has made him a participatory President. He may be grounded in old power systems like the White House, but he understands and uses New Power strategies. For his base, this allows them to feel attacked when he is attacked, and validated when he is affirmed, and it's been a game-changer to democracy.

Whether you like it or not, I don't think it will be old power strategies that help American's regain their trust of government. It will have to come from a new place, from Americans themselves.

I am a Communication Professor. I breathe University culture. I work with students all day who are passionate, inspired, and motivated to see real change in their communities and leadership. Maybe it is time for a wave of New Power? Perhaps it is time to fight for systems that we do believe in, and defect from the ones we don't. According to communication textbooks like Joseph DeVito's, the definition of power is simply being able to influence what someone else thinks or does. We are in a culture of participatory influence. We believe that our experiences should be shared, and our voices should be heard. And maybe it is time to stop merely talking about what we want, and start actively engaging with our civic systems to create a path toward trust again.

If Christians want our churches to be trusted, how can each member, as an active participant of that organization, use new power to build bridges? How can the federal government respond to the concerns of 75 percent of their citizens? How can we use participatory power, across all of our social platforms to answer the 64 percent of Americans who don't feel like they can trust one another? Without trust, we will never have cooperation.

Americans need their government to work for them. As a Christian, I believe we need our churches to work for our communities. And as a human being, and academic, I know that we need each other, to work through conflict. Church, government, wealth: they need to become something we all have a stake in, that we believe directly benefits from our participation and vice versa.

So how will we get through this?

The answer is, and has always been: together.

Dr. Heather Thompson Day is Communication Professor at Colorado Christian University, and a contributor to the Barna Group, an evangelical research institution. She can be found blogging on I'm That Wife.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​