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Election Honeymoon

Will evangelicals learn to work with an Obama administration?

Barack Obama received a mandate for change November 4, and now evangelicals must decide how they will work with the new administration.

Despite heavy religious outreach by Obama, exit poll results suggested white evangelicals voted for John McCain 74 to 25 percent, roughly similar to 2004 results. The gap among weekly churchgoers, however, closed a bit: McCain beat Obama by a 54-44 percent margin, compared to George W. Bush's 61-39 percent win with the group in 2004.

On election night, social conservatives claimed victories on amendments in California, Arizona, and Florida that would ban same-sex marriage. However, anti-abortion measures in Colorado and South Dakota failed to pass, and at least four social conservatives in Congress were ousted: Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), Steve Chabot (Oh.), Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.), and Bill Sali (Id.).

Obama chose to take a different path from Kerry when he built a religious outreach team and attended forums at Saddleback Church and Messiah College. Just before his acceptance speech, Obama prayed with Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor in Florida.

"Typically in America, we give our leaders a honeymoon," said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "It will be interesting to see if conservative evangelicals give Obama breathing room, and give him a chance to perform before they start criticizing him."

Michael Cromartie, vice president at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, says it will also be interesting to see if Obama continues his outreach to evangelicals.

"In one sense, everyone can have good feelings about an African-American being elected president," he said. "But is president-elect Obama an ultra-liberal dressed up in moderate, soothing garb?"

In 2007, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that he would sign an act removing all restrictions on abortion at the state and federal level. He has also said he would appoint justices that would uphold Roe v. Wade.

Obama appealed to evangelicals by emphasizing his desire to reduce unintended pregnancies by providing more resources for women to carry pregnancies to term. Today the number of abortions—1.2 million in 2005—is nearly the same as in 1976, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

"Barack Obama will be held accountable on a serious commitment to abortion reduction," said Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners. "He called for that, his campaign platform said that, and he should be held accountable to that. He needs prayer and accountability, support and pushing, both at the same time."

In July, Obama pledged to increase funding for faith-based initiatives but said recipients could not discriminate based on religion.

If that gets codified into policy, "there won't be too many takers among evangelicals," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "You've taken away the thing that makes faith-based initiatives successful and attractive in the first place."

Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said evangelicals have serious disagreements on certain issues with Obama, but thinks the president-elect understands evangelicals better than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter.

"I have a strong confidence that evangelicals will find a willing ear here by this new president," Cizik said. "We need to respond."

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