By Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | 11/12/2008
Has the Millennium arrived? Maybe Barak Obama’s election to the presidency is giving the Religious Left at least a foretaste of it. After stewing with anger across 8 years in the wilderness, liberal prelates are shouting Hosanna in expectation of spiritual enlightenment during the Obama reign.
“We at the National Council of Churches urge all Americans to come together to uphold you with our hands, our hearts and our prayers,” the NCC’s chief, Michael Kinnamon wrote his congratulatory letter to Obama. The NCC, previously the voice of America’s premier religious denominations, once truly walked in the corridors of power. It has never fully accepted its transition from mainline to sideline in America’s religious demographic. As recently as 1995, the NCC was invited to the White House to “pray” for President Clinton as he was resisting the new Republican Congress. No doubt, the NCC is praying that its White House visitation rights will soon be restored.
Until recently headed by a former Democratic congressman, the NCC’s new chief is an actual theologian and potentially less political. But even Rev. Kinnamon could not suppress his excitement. “The leaders of this Council pledge to you our unstinting support in the difficult days to come,” he promised Obama. “All of us are dependent on God’s loving mercy, and we will regularly pray for you and others elected to high leadership. May your wisdom and discernment serve you well, and may your health never wane.”
More typically, clergy would pray that God would grant a leader “wisdom and discernment.” But since Obama so clearly is already blessed with both in abundance, the Rev. Kinnamon prayed more directly that these obviously pre-existing ample attributes would “serve you well.” He helpfully informed Obama that the NCC is standing “ready to work with you to respond to the realities that a loving God places before us each day.” And he shared that the justice principles that guide the NCC include “equal opportunities for justice, shelter, education, and health care” and the assertion that “war, even when it is necessary to defend ourselves or the weak or the oppressed, is never the will of God.” Nearly every one of the NCC’s over 30 member Protestant and Orthodox communions historically have subscribed to Christianity’s Just War Tradition, which sometimes commands war as an imperative for justice. But Rev. Kinnamon, in typical Religious Left fashion, ignored his own tradition, and sophistically assumed that war is “never the will of God.”
Maybe even more excitable than the NCC was the United Methodist Council of Bishops, who were meeting in Georgia during the election, and could barely contain their joy. Although President Bush is the first Methodist president since William McKinley, he was the target of routine denunciations by United Methodist officials. The Bush White House responded by not issuing as many invites to the church’s officials as the bishops and others seemed to expect. So, understandably, according to the United Methodist News Service, the bishops were “jubilant” over Obama’s election and “celebrated” with “tears, hymns and prayers,” while “while affirming his vision of change for the nation ‘based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised.'”
The church’s news report described the bishops behaving after Election Day almost as though it were Easter morning after Good Friday. Amid all the joy, the bishops “hugged and many cried,” while “holding hands,” [and] they sang ‘My Lord, What a Morning’ and the Negro anthem ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ while many chanted ‘Yes, we did!’-the phrase echoed during Obama’s acceptance speech the night before.”
United Methodism’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, Jim Winkler, who once called for President Bush’s impeachment before retracting the call amid controversy, was also looking forward to ending his exile from White House events. “Barack Obama is a person of deep faith,” he enthused. “I was reminded of that fact last night when he made sure the (election night) festivities in Grant Park began with an invocation. I fully expect The United Methodist Church, for the first time in many years, will be welcomed in the White House.”
Another likely White House religious visitor during the Obama years is Sojourners chief Jim Wallis, who has been feverishly attempting to create an Evangelical Left that would undermine evangelicals’ traditional conservative voting habits. This new Evangelical Left, largely a repackaging of the old Religious Left for a new audience that cannot remember the 1960’s, wants to persuade evangelicals that Global Warming and opposing U.S. military actions is more important than upholding traditional marriage or opposing abortion.
Wallis claimed that his campaign was successful. “Polls leading up to the election showed a significant break from the previous generation on issues like gay marriage and abortion, which while still a top concern, it is not the only one,” he rejoiced. “For those Christians, sanctity of life now includes poverty, war, genocide, and climate change. Healthy families are also still a top concern, but many Christians don’t see gay and lesbian rights as a primary cause of family breakdown.” Wallis, an old 1960’s student radical who now wants to be seen as a soothing centrist, claimed, “These religious voters refuse to be distracted by the culture wars of the previous generation.”
According to Wallis, “This changing face of religion in America gave Barack Obama a 4.4 million voter net gain of Protestants and Catholics over John Kerry and helped lock up key swing states across the country.” He cited increased evangelical support for Obama over John Kerry in 2004 in states such as Colorado and Indiana. There is some truth in Wallis’ claim. But the broader truth is that John McCain, whose almost abject refusal to discuss his own religious faith, still received 74 percent of the white evangelical vote, compared to Bush’s 79 percent. Bill Clinton, who received about 30 percent of the evangelical vote, outperformed Obama. White evangelicals comprise about one quarter of the electorate.
As to the Mainline Protestants, whose representatives at the NCC at the United Methodist Church were so beside themselves, they too seemed to have preferred McCain over Obama. According to exit polls, non-evangelical Protestants favored McCain by 54 percent, compared to 56 percent for Bush in 2004. Obama’s share of this group was 44 percent, identical to John Kerry’s. Among all religious Americans, those who worship weekly or more preferred McCain by 55 percent, versus 43 percent for Obama. Obama’s biggest gains were among the religiously unaffiliated, 75 percent of whom preferred him, compared to 67 percent for Kerry in 2004.
Seemingly, Jim Wallis and other fixtures of the Religious Left are attempting to persuade religious Americans to vote more like non-religious Americans. But Wallis, as he prepares for impending White House audiences, is unlikely to market his appeal so starkly.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.