The Story: You don't need to hire the world's largest PR firm to conclude that governments across the world have suffered a collapse in trust among their citizens in these years of financial hardship. Nevertheless, Edelman's new study confirms the diminished authority of government officials in the wake of market collapse, debt explosion, and job stagnation. After trust in government fell dramatically in the United States during the last survey, the low level of public confidence persisted at the outset of 2012.
The Background: These numbers reinforce record-low approval ratings for the U.S. Congress: 13 percent according to The Washington Post/ABC News and 11 percent in Gallup's survey. Business fared somewhat better in Edelman's trust survey but declined significantly in Germany, France, and South Korea. Academics and technical experts are the two most trusted spokespeople, according to Edelman. But the next two groups on the list may surprise you: "people like me" and "regular employees." Social media have expanded our ability to share news and consumer advice without the aid of distrusted experts. Indeed, Edelman cites this study as "further evidence of the dispersion of authority."
Why It Matters: Religious authorities do not appear in the survey, but Christians can hardly rest easy. Allegations of hypocrisy and self-seeking continue to dog pastors and other high-profile spiritual leaders in the wake of the Roman Catholic abuse scandal. This survey underscores why so much effective evangelism these days happens among trusted friends rather than in church-run programs. Nevertheless, we ought not assume that biblical pastoral leadership is doomed. Curriculum such as Christianity Explored recognizes that you can retain beneficial structure while encouraging open spiritual discussion among "people like me." Rather than fear diminished authority in an mistrusting age, wise church leaders will continue exploring ways to equip the saints to do the work of evangelism in their natural networks.
Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. Formerly an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine, he is the author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.