This article was first posted at The Immanent Frame, the Social Science Research Council's blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere.
In the wake of the presidential election, who now speaks for American evangelicals? Will the generation of James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Chuck Colson be replaced with a new cohort? Does the Democratic victory signal the end of the Religious Right as we know it? Will the Obama presidency give credence to left-leaning evangelical leaders such as Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, and megachurch pastors such as Joel Hunter, both of whom personally know the president-elect?
Certainly, personal interaction with the president raises the stock of an evangelical leader. The late Jerry Falwell often let it be known that President Reagan personally called him when the president nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court. That one presidential gesture in 1981 validated Falwell's claim to authority, even though he was just one of many figures vying to lead the evangelical movement in the early 1980s.
So who will President-Elect Obama turn to when he wants to hear what the evangelical community is thinking? As has been the case with President Bush, he will first turn to members of his own administration who are evangelical. I expect Burns Strider, who once led religious outreach in Hillary Clinton's campaign, will serve somewhere, most likely in the office of public liaison. This is the office that was institutionalized by Presidents Nixon and Ford as a way of maintaining regular contact with core constituencies. There has been a person in this office tasked with religious outreach for over three decades. No one in the Democratic Party has done a better job reaching out to evangelicals ...