The Spiritual State of the Nation (3)

John ArmstrongAmerica and Americanism, Culture, Current Affairs, Politics, Separation of Church & State

Last week I began a review of the exit-polling data from our recent national election that has been crunched an analyzed since November 7. It provides some intriguing story lines that are clearly emerging. It also reveals something to us about the spiritual state of our nation. For example, the National Catholic Reporter says, “We live in a new America.” It is an America in which a black man wins a second term as president, an America in which a large majority of white votes can no longer assure a victory and in which Latinos played the most crucial role of all. President Obama’s victory was accomplished by a broad coalition of minorities, including Hispanics, Asians, women and younger voters. Obama captured all but two of the states he won four years ago even though the total vote was much closer this time.

Christianity Today, the flagship publication of evangelical Christianity in America, notes that in defeat the evangelicals’ political unity was at an all time high. The so-called “born-again” vote went 4-1 to Romney. Though there were some who may have stayed at home rather than vote for the Mormon Mitt Romney, he did not lose because of a lack of mainstream evangelical success. His numbers exceeded those of any previous candidate.

The result of all of this leads us to consider what Christianity Today called, the “New Moral Landscape.” It was not only Obama’s win that went against evangelical voters but also state initiatives on same-sex marriage, abortion and the legalization of marijuana were also successful. In fact, at no point did the “evangelical” influence profoundly alter the outcomes of major initiatives. This was, so far as I can tell, a first.

How Did Christians Respond?

On the evangelical side some of the leading spokespersons commented on what happened. My friend Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research of the Southern Baptist Convention, correctly notes:

We [Christians] must face the reality that we may be on the losing side of the culture war. For decades, the “religious right’ has focused its energies on winning the day through political means. But this year, voters in more than one state appear to have clearly passed referenda supporting gay marriage. This marks the first time for any state to legalize same-sex marriage by the expressed will of the people rather than through court rulings or legislation. While this certainly does not mean we should stop legal or political efforts completely, it does mean that we should begin thinking about what it looks like to be the church in a ‘post-culture war’ era. We need to be prepared to defend the protection of religious liberty as we move into the future.

Albert Mohler, a leading conservative voice in the culture war over the last decade, noted:

The 2012 election makes clear that Americans are divided over fundamental questions. . . . The election did not cause the division, it merely revealed it. This deep division at the level of worldview presents President Obama with a daunting political challenge, but a worldview crisis is an even greater challenge for the church.

Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns. . . . Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues. 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.

Scot McKnight added, very helpfully to my mind, that:

We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God’s people. God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope.

Pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren simply concluded: “Our hope is not in the man we put in the White House but in the Man we put on the cross.”

Responses from a host of other Christians followed November 6. Cardinal Timothy Dolan appealed for the president to use his office for the “common good” while John Green, an expert on religion and politics at Akron University, and senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said, “Maybe Hispanic Catholics were not as moved by (Romney’s) religious liberty-type arguments as by immigration and economics.”

My sense is that all of these voices reflect a plethora of common sense and thus provide solid responses to what transpired on November 6.