Faced with a Barack Obama presidency and Democratic gains in Congress, evangelicals are planning their next steps in a transformed political landscape, with hopes for some common ground and plans to continue fighting for social issues that had mixed results at the ballot box.
“Where we agree, such as standing against genocide in Darfur and protecting basic human rights around the world, we’re going to support him,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of Obama.
“On issues on which we disagree, we’ll do our best to persuade him.”
Wasting little time, conservative Christian groups have already drafted open letters to Obama stressing their opposition to abortion, and are taking steps to reassure supporters that they will fight any attempt to give the new administration a blank check — especially on social issues.
“Barack Obama can clearly claim a mandate from the American people on the economy, maybe even our standing in the eyes of the rest of the world, but he cannot claim a mandate to impose or to advance a liberal social agenda,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
While exit polls indicate Obama gained ground among Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hispanic voters, he won only one in four evangelical votes, and less than half (43 percent) of weekly church-goers.
Though conservative Christians won’t have “the same type of relationship we had with the Bush administration,” Perkins said the passage of amendments in three states that banned same-sex marriage shows their values have staying power.
“This was, I think, more of a referendum on the Republican Party than conservative values,” he said. “We focused upon the marriage amendments in the three states. … They passed in two states (California and Florida), which Barack Obama carried handily.”
None of the state referenda on abortion — including one on parental consent in California and a “personhood” amendment in Colorado — passed on Election Day, but Land said conservative Christians will be undeterred by those losses at the polls.
“Pro-life Catholics and pro-life evangelicals aren’t going anywhere,” he said.
Charisma magazine publisher Steve Strang, who endorsed Republican presidential nominee John McCain in part because of his anti-abortion stance, voiced concern about the political future because of Obama’s win.
“The scary thing for those of us who believe the Bible and want conservative values is that the change may move the country too far to the left politically and morally,” he said in his Strang Report. “You and I may not influence the halls of Congress, but we do influence people in our families, our workplaces and our churches.”
Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said he hopes evangelicals can find common ground with Obama on the volatile issue of abortion.
“If we happen to disagree about abortion, for example, might not we agree to find strategies to reduce the numbers of abortion in America?” he said. “I think that is a good idea. Moreover, it’s consistent with playing politics a little different than has been played in the past.”
Cizik was one of the religious leaders who met with Obama in June in Chicago. He came away thinking the now-president-elect understood evangelicals better than any Democrat since former President Jimmy Carter.
“It would behoove us to find mutual areas of concern,” he said.
Sojourners President Jim Wallis said the election results indicate a wide range of evangelicals may be ready to broaden the issues they address with Congress and the White House.
“The leadership of African-American and Latino evangelicals, along with a new generation of Christians in white America, is ending an age of narrow and divisive religion,” he said. “This new faith coalition voted for a broad new moral agenda for faith in public life. Racial and economic justice, creation care, peacemaking, and a more consistent ethic of life will be the keystones of this growing shift.”
Land said younger evangelicals, who have indicated a broader interest in issues beyond abortion, will likely become the center of attention as new conservative political leaders begin the long preparations for the next presidential election.
“I do think … in this long-term, extended beauty contest, they’re going to be pushing for expansion of the agenda,” he said. “But they’re not going to accept a pro-choice candidate.”