WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama regained the White House for another four years in an election that proved a convincing setback on moral issues for evangelical Christians and other social conservatives.
The country’s first African American president turned back the challenge of Republican Mitt Romney Nov. 6 by winning the popular vote and more than 300 electoral votes. The day after the election, Obama led 303-206 in the Electoral College, with Florida still too close to call. The president’s popular vote margin stood at 60,097,107 (50 percent) to 57,412,778 (48 percent) for Romney.
The election did nothing to change the balance of power in Washington, which has been gripped by a legislative stalemate the last two years. Democrats not only maintained control of the White House, but they slightly strengthened their majority in the Senate. Republicans lost some seats in the House of Representatives but kept their majority.
Obama won re-election despite governing to the left on moral issues – most notably in his unrestricted backing for abortion and its funding, as well as his endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier this year – and even campaigning explicitly in favor of abortion rights. The Democrats’ hold on the Senate – which will swear in its first openly homosexual member in newly elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin – appears to assure Congress will take no steps for at least two more years to rein in the president’s liberal policies.
In votes on state initiatives, Maine, Maryland and possibly Washington state became the first states to support same-sex marriage in popular votes. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational use of marijuana.
Fred Luter, the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African American president, said the Bible encourages Christians to pray for those in authority regardless of their political affiliation.
“As citizens of the United States, it’s now time for us to put away our yard signs and buttons and [pray for] our president,” Luter told Baptist Press. “Our nation is in trouble, and we need believers to pray God’s will be done in America. We need to understand it’s only going to happen because the people of God start praying for revival in America.”
Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said God made a promise to His people, not to the government, then quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“‘If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.’ So, even though we’ve just elected a president, it’s not dependent on the president, but on the people of God doing our part,” Luter said.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “[I]t is remarkable how little has changed in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars being spent and countless months of debates.”
The divided state of Congress “is a recipe for gridlock and division, which the nation cannot afford,” Land said.
“I call upon all elected leaders to seek to lead us in ways that will restore both moral and economic health in our nation,” he said. “I call upon all Christians and other people of faith to heed the biblical admonition to pray for all those in authority and to communicate their concerns to their elected representatives.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said evangelicals “must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns.”
The election results and accompanying data, Mohler wrote in a Nov. 7 blog post, “indicate that President Obama’s ‘evolution’ on the issue of same-sex marriage cost him nothing. That probably surprised both sides in that controversy.”
“Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues,” he said. “We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life, and a range of moral issues. This will not be easy. It is, however, an urgent call to action.”
During the last year, Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders joined Roman Catholics in contesting the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, which requires all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives – even ones that can cause abortions – and has a religious exemption that covers churches but not most religious organizations.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Obama to congratulate him and to say the bishops would be praying for him.
“[W]e pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant,” Dolan wrote. “We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage, and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom. We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.”
Dissatisfaction with the Romney campaign’s refusal to respond to Obama’s pro-abortion rights campaigning came from at least one pro-life leader.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, described the non-engagement on the abortion issue as “the latest in a series of missed opportunities for the Republican Party. Voters overwhelmingly disagree with the extreme positions on abortion taken by President Obama and the Democrats. Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, and their Super PAC allies never highlighted this vulnerability, despite the fact that our polling of likely swing voters revealed it to be a persuasive line of argument.”
A survey sponsored by Dannenfelser’s organization found 54 percent of likely swing voters would be less likely to support Obama after learning about his record on abortion, including his votes as an Illinois state senator against a law to protect babies born alive after failed abortions.
“What was presented as discipline by the Romney campaign by staying on one message – the economy – was a strategic error that resulted in a winning margin of pro-life votes being left on the table,” she said.
Evangelicals reportedly supported Romney, though he is a Mormon, by more than 3-to-1, but there was no nationwide exit polling to substantiate that margin. The National Election Pool (NEP), which conducts the polls on behalf of the Associated Press and the major television networks, decided not to do exit polling in 19 states, ones NEP decided did not have a competitive race worthy analyzing.
Among states in which exit polling was done, Romney fared as well as or better than the GOP’s 2008 nominee, John McCain, with evangelical voters in most cases, according to Christianity Today. An exception was Ohio, where 30 percent of evangelicals voted for Obama this year in contrast to 27 percent in 2008.
The NEP exit polling that was done showed Romney won among Protestants, 57-42 percent, but Obama gained the edge with Catholics, 50-48 percent; Jews, 69-30 percent, and those with no religious affiliation, 70-26 percent.
The exit polls showed Obama won an increasingly greater percentage of support as attendance at religious services decreased. Romney won among those who attend more than once a week, 63-36 percent, and weekly, 58-41 percent. Obama won among those who attend monthly, 55-44 percent; a few times a year, 56-42 percent, and never, 62-34 percent.
Luter said he was encouraged both Obama and Romney said in their post-election speeches they are willing to meet with the other to work together to solve the country’s problems.
“That’s what needs to happen,” Luter said. “We need Americans, all of us, to work together for the betterment of our nation. It’s not going to happen because we’re riding a donkey or an elephant. It will happen when all of us together, hand in hand, walk together as one.”
In a letter written before the election at the request of Religion News Service, Land appealed to the president-elect – whoever that was to be – to promote several policy positions, including: The sanctity of all human life; religious liberty and freedom of conscience; marriage as a union of a man and a woman; fair immigration reform; Israel’s security; reduction of pornography, and eradication of sex trafficking.
He acknowledged it would be “a full and challenging agenda. However, I believe it is one that the American people would embrace under the principled leadership of their public officials.” In the letter, Land said he would pray Obama and other officials will “lead us to real, God-honoring solutions that will make a significant impact toward us becoming a more moral, unified people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Marty King, director of corporate communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)