What factors bring about cultural change? Can they be listed and described and then implemented with effect?

I’ve been thinking about this as I read the book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent after having read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Gladwell’s book doesn’t seem to be so much about how little things make a big difference. Instead it’s about how the right little things, a lot of them, done in the right way create the possibility for the development of a social phenomenon.

I think of this while I read the book on Prohibition. Though we often think of the colossal failure of that constitutional amendment, we don’t often realize the real and lasting support of millions of people who wanted to make the whole country dry. It was 70 years of furthering the Prohibition cause, and to get there, the country allowed for the creation of the income tax and gave the vote to women.

Surely, Prohibition was a failure. No question. But that blinds us to the remarkable success of its promoters. What they achieved was remarkable. They passed a constitutional amendment that was supported by churches, communists, and capitalists. How did they do it?

I wonder if today’s Christians who are eager to engage and change “the culture” would be willing to look at what the prohibitionists did as a framework for their own cultural engagement. Of course, the prohibitionists didn’t create lasting change–not on Prohibition at least; their changes to the income tax and women’s suffrage certainly cannot be discounted–but readers of The Tipping Point don’t complain that Airwalk and Hush Puppies didn’t create lasting footwear change. They reached a tipping point, and how they got there was fascinating and the result of specific actions that others have sought to emulate since the book’s printing in 2002.

What can Christians learn from this?

I think cultural change is more than the aggregate of the changed hearts of a number of individuals. What can the church do to create cultural change? Should it study how culture change happens and put it into practice?

What do you think?


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