Written by Todd Mangum
Monday, 03 December 2012 00:00
The national election is over and President Obama was re-elected. It’s hard to believe those ten words could create such consternation among some people; but it was a close race and was one of the most negative campaigns in the nation’s history. National Review, a newsmagazine of conservative opinion, ran a cover story entitled, “What now?,” saying “Conservatives suffered a terrible defeat on November 6, and there is no point pretending otherwise” (see http://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/issues/333449).
Conservative Christians (evangelicals) have responded similarly. I’ve been disappointed — frankly embarrassed — by the way many conservative Christians have responded to the voting results that reelected Barack Obama as our 44thpresident. Since the election, I’ve heard sermons, seen articles, and listened to much hand-wringing lament as to the ungodly direction the election allegedly portends. Ed Stetzer, the level-headed voice of the research and development wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, penned a post that echoes the National Review cover story; he titled it: “What Should Christians Do Now?” (http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=39109); sounds like the title of a piece written the day after mandatory prayer was prohibited in public schools — and that’s the level-headed branch of the SBC. Many evangelicals have not been even that restrained. The day after the election, I received an email blast from one of the missionaries my church supports suggesting that the election demonstrates “a clear turn away from God by America.”
Some, though not all, of this lament is due to the approval of same sex marriage on a couple of state ballots and the announced endorsement of same by President Obama before the election. (For the record, I oppose “same sex marriage.” I also wish the President were more pro-life.) But Obama’s re-election boding a turn away from God by the country? I want to say, “Get a grip, people!”
Now, had Romney won, I could write a column listing five positive results of his election, too. I suppose it’s also possible one of my faculty colleagues could write a blog entitled, “Five Negative Results of the Presidential Election.” That would be OK; the many issues facing our country are vast and complex, and leave room for legitimate differences of perspective and opinion. I have to believe that most thoughtful Christians recognize there are good things and bad things insofar as Christian concerns and principles on both sides of the aisle dividing Republicans and Democrats. Different aspects of Christian concerns certainly were embraced by both presidential candidates in this past election. All that in mind, here are five points about which I am genuinely glad regarding President Obama’s re-election.
A self-described Christian won over a self-described Mormon.
I know this point may not be as straightforward as that sounds; and I know that Obama’s Christianity is of the more liberal variety (he’s a liberal Christian, not an evangelical Christian), but even still. He is a practicing, devout Christian, not a nominal Christian — more regular (though more private) in his Christian disciplines than was Ronald Reagan, darling of evangelicals (myself included) in the 1980s. I am glad that we will not have four-to-eight more years of evangelicals defending Mormonism or suggesting that Mormonism is certainly not as bad as “black liberation Christianity.” I also hope the silly dirty tricks, such as suggesting that President Obama is a closet Muslim, will be over. That such false rumors have been gobbled up too by the gullible (including an embarrassingly high number of evangelicals) is a travesty that I hope we can now put behind us.
One can be cynical or one can be heartened by the fact that candidates running for the highest office in our land still take great pains to present themselves as people of faith, within the bounds of acceptability by the Christian mainstream. Personally, I am glad about this. And I am glad that we elected a President who claims he seeks to advance policies that are consistent with biblical principles as he sees them appropriately applicable to public policy. I certainly don’t agree with all of his judgments and conclusions — perhaps most notably, I see same sex desires as an area of temptation not a manifestation of Christian love and virtue. Still, I am glad for the expressed desire of the President we elected to frame issues generally in consideration of biblical rationales.
The electing of an African-American President was not just a one-time token fluke.
I cannot say it any better than socio-political commentator Touré (who titled his commentary on the significance of Obama’s re-election, see “The Magical Negro Falls to Earth”). I'm essentially just recapping his point here; viz., Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign made him out to be larger than life, an almost magical, mystical persona whose race added to his mystique. In this election, no one was under any delusions of President Obama’s grandeur — he ran, and was elected, as a very human being. Yet he was still re-elected; not just the first African-American President, but a two-term president. I can feel some uneasiness about so many red states conspicuously being former Confederate States; but even Virginia went Obama — meaning, among other things, the country has gotten past at least some of the worst aspects of its racist history. And for that I am glad.
The message of fairness and compassion won over the message of suck-it-up self-sufficiency.
This one’s more of a mixed bag for me, truthfully. I’m not an expert in economics, so it is difficult for me to evaluate with any confidence which candidate in the end really had the better economic plan; it’s possible that Romney-Ryan may have had a plan that would have created more jobs and thus have been more “compassionate” to more people in the end after all. I don’t know. But I do know that the message of the two campaigns was very different. Even if one is completely cynical and chalks it all up to rhetoric and “polling for messaging,” I would think that Christians can recognize that policies adopted out of concern for the poor and powerless — to ensure that such people are not just left on their own to make it in a country that still abounds with wealth and affluence — is not a bad thing, and has considerable biblical backing. I appreciate that the Democrats even quoted from Jesus and the prophets to make some of their points — and not out of context, either.
“Obamacare” is a behemoth government program, but I do not regret that an additional 32 million people will have health insurance coverage who otherwise would have few options when they got sick or injured. I do not regret that insurance and pharmaceutical companies may earn a little less in profits to provide this. I think that the Republicans could have made the plan better had they worked to compromise on some of the specifics rather than just oppose it and try to defeat it. I still hope aspects of “the Affordable Health Care Act” that could threaten to violate Christian conscience or freedom of speech will yet be adjusted or repealed; but Republicans need to be willing to play ball on this and significant other issues in which their strategy before this election was simply to stonewall, roadblock, and obstruct. That this was their strategy and that we will end up with a less effective health plan because of it I do regret. But that also leads to my next point.
Political intransigence was punished.
During the first month of President Obama’s election, we now know, Republicans adopted as their number one goal being to make him a one-term president; their strategy consisted in part of opposing whatever he proposed. Obama may have been naïve and even arrogant; and I’m not blind to the fact that he had and has a political agenda as well — he wanted to look good, and be the president who got big things done quickly. So, many of his early proposals deliberately included points that Republicans had advocated under Bush; but when he proposed them, they opposed them at times with the most extreme rhetoric. Gridlock ensued, with the partisan divide hardening (contributed to then by BOTH sides).
This most recent election left the House in Republican hands, but the most partisan candidates were defeated — even in “red states.” And exit polling listed the partisan political tactics of demonizing the opponent rather than working for the good of the country as a primary reason people voted the way they did. One can argue with whether the American people made the right call in each case, but I am glad for this message being sent loud and clear to the politicians. I hope working together for solutions — not working against the ones from the “other side” to forward one’s own political aspirations — becomes more the goal and assumption during President Obama’s second term.
Religious right triumphalism was rebuked.
It’s not that I am against the positions of the “religious right,” or what was once called “the moral majority.” However, as many Christian thinkers have observed (especially the Anabaptists), Christianity does not do so well as a political power imposed on others.
I have been a member of the National Right to Life Committee for over thirty years. Still, sometimes I do wonder if making abortion illegal would lower the number of abortions or just make them more dangerous. Did you know that the number of abortions performed in the U.S. has steadily gone down since 1994? There are a variety of reasons for this, no doubt — but there have actually been fewer abortions under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton than under Reagan. What do we make of this?
I don’t like the bloody nose Christians sometimes get in the political rhetoric asserted by those who oppose legislative stances urged by evangelical Christians. I can wonder if some of the early “victories” of “the moral majority” have served as more a distraction for Christians than a help. Political victory is heady stuff for those at all inclined to power hungriness, and evangelicals are not immune to such temptations. Nor does coercive power wear to well on those claiming to forward “a more excellent way.” Are our time, effort, and resources better invested in nobler, more effectual endeavors? I am glad that this election has forced Christians to revisit these questions anew, and perhaps re-gauge our priorities.
“There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God: (Romans 13:1). As evangelicals have long noted, if that could be said under inspiration of the Spirit when Nero was ruler, it certainly remains true now. I am glad that God is still on the throne; in the end, on the only throne that really matters. And that’s true after any election, regardless of how happy or sad we may be about the immediate results.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum