Sunday, October 31, 2010

Institutions Can Be Change Agents

I have written of my own experience with the first two ways by which evangelicals believe they can change the world, namely, through evangelizing enough people to reach critical mass, and through changing values by gaining political power. Hunter also speaks of the institutions of society.

Those of us who have only a passing acquaintance with sociology sometimes overlook the crucial role that institutions play as they mediate between the body politic and individuals. I have been involved with many institutions through the years. I was on the board of a small Christian school in Chicago and in Detroit much action occurred through community organizations. However, those organizations seemed to be exclusively focused on being agents of influence on the political machine.

After our daughter was killed in a crash my wife and I became involved in one of Canada’s best institutions, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. In my opinion the people who run MADD really know what they are doing. They understand how to act on multiple societal fronts at the same time, how to bring about political change, and how to influence a change of values in society.

MADD caries on a continual political lobbying effort. They gather statistics, they make presentations and apply pressure. As a result they have seen a gradual change in laws that have raised the penalties for drunk driving while lowering the legal tolerance level.

MADD also seeks to change the values of society. They do this through advertising and through presentations. My wife and I have spoken at The Rotary on behalf of MADD and we also coordinated a contest among school children in Grey County whereby children drew a billboard against Drunk Driving and the winning design was actually turned into a billboard and displayed.

MADD also cares for people who have lost family members to drunk driving. This was in fact our first contact as a nearby chapter called us and offered support.

What we see from this institution is an example of a number of things which Hunter speaks of. MADD speaks to the cultural forming elites of society. Because harm from drunk driving is no respecter of persons they have been able to enlist the support of a number of people who are part of Canada’s elite opinion making class.

As a result society has begun to change its values in regards to drinking and driving. Drunk driving is no longer a joke, it is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive. That is not to say it does not happen, it happens all the time. But society no longer considers it to be permissible behaviour. And this real shift in attitude is largely credited to MADD which effectively, year in and year out, harnessed the power of the opinion making elites. Thus, as I see it, they have functioned brilliantly as an institution by mediating between the political sphere on one hand and seeking to influence the value system of individuals on the other. And further, to a limit extent, they have sought to give care to people at moments of great vulnerability.

MADD however understands its limitations as an institution. It does not, as far as I know, set as a goal the one hundred percent elimination of drunk driving. Nor does it seem to be tempted to go off mission and become involved in other worthwhile causes. Thus MADD seeks change but seeks it within a reasonable framework.

One more thing should be added from my perspective. Many of the people who are active in MADD are people who have lost part of their lives to a drunk driver. And this fact is ever before the organization. Yet, in spite of its title, the majority of people who compose MADD are not consumed with anger, or what Hunter would call resentment. They are people who wish to spare others the horror that they have experienced. This has added to the institution’s impact.

I do see in mediating institutions a way to bring positive influence on society.

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