Joel Hunter believes Barack Obama will bend an ear to evangelicals. What makes him think that? Hunter was asked to pray with Obama the same day he was elected into office.
Hunter, who is a registered Republican, is one of the proponents of a wider evangelical agenda and was also asked to pray at the Democratic National Convention. He is author of the book A New Kind of Conservative: Cooperation Without Compromise.
Hunter was supposed to join a conference call with Obama, pentecostal megapastor T.D. Jakes, the Methodist minister Kirbyjon Caldwell. But because Caldwell had to hop on a plane and Jakes had to go on TV, Hunter was left with a more private conversation with Obama and Otis Moss, pastor of Olivet church in Cleveland.
Hunter's prayer with Obama was not something he announced. In an interview with Christianity Today early on November 5, he nearly mentioned the prayer as a side note, but he felt it was an indication that Obama wants evangelicals at his side.
What do you think of an Obama administration?
I think we're going to be invited into many conversations. He is a consensus-oriented type of leader. We need to be able to respond to those invitations to those given. Part of our role is to speak truth to power. That certainly is part of our role. The most effective way of doing that is not to be so narrow and combative. It's to be part of the conversation. It's not to back down on any moral convictions that we have. By the same token, we've got to understand that we can be much more effective in getting our point across and realizing our goals if that prophetic language comes with a degree of understanding and respect.
Do you think he will be willing to work with evangelicals on specific policies?
He has already talked about the expansion of the faith-based initiatives. That's also linked to his engagement of the faith communities in providing service for those in need. There are a number of compassion issues that he has already said that he wants to address: creation care, poverty, HIV/AIDS. I think he's open to dialogue about the reduction of abortion. I think there are a number of issues that we can partner with the government to make the government more effective and the church more resourced.
Where do evangelicals fit in the future of politics?
We just turned a huge corner here. This is not an election that was won by inciting the base. The future will not be built by inciting the base, either on the right or the left. We have to determine whether we're going to cooperate without compromising our values and ideals. There will be those who want to be the voice crying in the darkness. That's fine, but they will prove themselves politically marginalized. There is great potential for the church to be part of the solution to the problems in our culture and the problems in our world if we can build coalitions that help enhance the common good that also enhances the Christian social agenda.
Amendments that would ban gay marriage passed in three states, including your state of Florida.
The moral agenda is not going to change. The outcome is a firm statement, at least from the folks in Florida, that we want to protect marriage as between a man and a woman. By the same token, we have to be careful that we can still treat with respect and some sympathy those who want to build a legal relationship.
Why did you decline to do any interviews after your prayer at the Democratic National Convention?
Before the conventions, while the platforms are still being formed and while the stances of the candidates are still being formed. Between the convention and the election, it's just raw politics, so any moral points you try to make are taken as partisan. That's why I go quiet. For us, the election is just the beginning, because we can work with those in power to have social influence on those in power.
So where do you see indications that Obama will reach out to evangelicals?
Joshua DuBois [director of religious outreach for Obama] has kept in touch with us throughout the whole campaign.
Otis Moss and I were just on the phone praying and talking with him yesterday. There are more than simple policy statements that have to do with the platform that say we are going to be included, at least we hope.
Can you tell me more about the prayer? Did he ask you to pray anything specific?
I don't want to go into details because it was private. It was a very sweet time. It was just a very meaningful time that you could tell meant a lot to him. Sen. Obama has done a great job with keeping us in consistent conversation and it really is a good signal that he wants us to be a part of the conversation.
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