In the hours before and after results were in, WORLD writers around the country spoke with a variety of leading conservative political and religious minds, asking for reaction to Barack Obama's victory but also seeking answers to this question: What should conservative Christians focus on politically over the next four years?
(Editor's Note: What follows are the full comments of these conservative political and religious leaders, expanding upon what appeared in the print edition of the magazine.)
Robert George, Princeton professor of jurisprudence, specialist on constitutional law and political philosophy
"The idea that we would retreat into churches or into insular communities and abandon our responsibilities as citizens is a daft and dangerous idea. There's no way that Christian families can insulate themselves from the culture. … There's no retreating to a corner. … Culture shapes conduct. Law shapes culture.
"Of course the central human right of our domestic politics is the question of abortion and embryo destructive research and the right to life of the unborn child. There's no turning away from that. ... The second issue is the issue of marriage and family. This must remain central and we must redouble our efforts across the country at both a state and a national level to protect the institution of marriage.
"The best thing we can do to fight poverty in this country-not the only thing, but the best thing we can do-is rebuild the institution of marriage and the family.
"We need to encourage people to be citizen-statesmen, that is citizens-not professional politicians-who are prepared, often at great cost to themselves, to stand for public office. ... More people, who share our convictions, need to be willing to take up the burden of running for office. We need more activism. We need more love-inspired action in supporting the candidates who will stand for the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage.
"We need to be more generous about contributing money to the pro-life and pro-marriage cause. ... The side that's prepared to give more is the side that wins."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
"I think [Republicans] have to go back to their core principles. And I think they have to try to make a better argument. I had someone ask me the other day, 'What's going to happen if Obama wins?' And I said, 'The sun will come up in the morning, and it will go down at night.'
"Let's remember that if Jimmy Carter hadn't won over Gerald Ford, we would never have had Ronald Reagan. If Bill Clinton hadn't won, we would never have had the Contract with America and the Republican ascendancy in Congress, which led to the balanced budget that Bill Clinton takes credit for. You never know what the consequences are going to be."
Larry Schweikart, professor of History, University of Dayton, Ohio
"Conservative Christians must focus on … wealth redistribution. This is fundamentally unscriptural and unbiblical. We are commanded to give on a personal, voluntary basis, not to allow Caesar to take more than what is his. This is where the 'values voters' and the 'fiscal conservatives' can work to rebuild the Reagan coalition. Wealth confiscation is fundamentally sinful, whatever the reason for doing so. But it will require some of the conservative Christians to subordinate [the issue of] abortion … to issues that can bring us together, and which can provide a power base so that, once again, a government could take action on abortion. George Bush [signing] the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was the final step of a program Ronald Reagan started in 1980-but it took 20 years to achieve, and it was not Reagan's first political priority.
"The first mistake [conservatives made] is a mundane, 'inside baseball' error. Namely, we were told for eight years of Karl Rove that 'If Republicans turn out, they can't lose.' … Well, that's not true. We need to realize that Republicans-hence, conservatives as a subgroup-are a minority, or close to it, in states they once dominated: Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, and Florida. So the first thing you have to do is figure out who 'your people' are-who can you absolutely rely on to vote with you in an election.
"Second-and John McCain is a classic example of this-a conservative can never out-give a liberal. Whatever you promise, they'll promise double and not feel guilty about providing it. Conservatives need to return to the conservative message of small government, low taxes, local control, sanctity of life, and free markets. The minute John McCain came out in favor of the bailout bill, he was political toast. This is the kind of thing that plays into the 'feels your pain' answers to pollsters. Americans did not want big banks bailed out, and it becomes impossible to talk about the virtues of the free market if you don't ever allow the big shots to feel the pain of the free market when they mess up."
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
"What we've had is eight years of Republicans not doing what they said they would do and consequently discouraging the heck out of everybody. It's political expediency abandoning conservative values. The party has to have a change in the people who are representing it. If it doesn't, it will die and another party will come along."
Robert Spencer, director of JihadWatch
"Conservative Christians should emphasize politically their commitment to and defense of constitutional principles, particularly as challenges to the freedom of speech and the principle of the equality of rights of all people before the law continue to increase. Muslim brotherhood-linked groups in America are certain to step up their campaign to have any examination of how Islamic jihadists use Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence and supremacism classified as 'hate speech' and criminalized. They are also certain to continue their stealth jihad campaign to win special accommodations and privileges for Muslims from American businesses, schools, and institutions, as part of their larger effort to-in the words of a brotherhood document revealed last year-eliminate and destroy Western civilization, 'so that Allah's religion is made victorious over other religions.' Christian conservatives, as among the few who generally recognize the nature and magnitude of this Islamic supremacist threat, need to be prepared to stand at the vanguard of resistance to these jihadist efforts.
"The election of Obama will bring renewed challenges to the freedom of speech, which the Organization of the Islamic Conference is already challenging at the U.N. Christian conservatives and all free citizens will need to raise awareness among Americans of what's at stake, and try to head off any attempt by the new president to build bridges with the Islamic world by enacting 'hate speech' codes that compromise this constitutional right."
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
"I happen to believe that truth doesn't change because the American public decides to elect a different group of people with a different philosophy. The idea of principled conservatism and Christian conservatism is a standard that has stood the test of time and will stand the test of time. We should not walk away from policies that we know are beneficial to mankind and to America as a society because we have either poorly implemented our own philosophy or poorly communicated those philosophies.
"I don't think the things that have occurred happened in a vacuum. They occurred because we did not implement our governing philosophy and did not communicate our philosophy.
"If we did articulate those principles in a way that was persuasive, then we will be successful again, because America will try something that doesn't work and then come back to something that does.
"I think we do need to recognize that we lost our way on some things, in particular at home and in the economy, in the way we got wrapped up in the idea that government can solve problems instead of looking for ways to facilitate the private sector to do so.
"We have to look back at how we govern from the standpoint of domestic policy. We have failed on the domestic policy, particularly in not implementing our vision. From a broader perspective we have failed on the standpoint of communication.
"On social policy, to me, the policies aren't going to change. We have implemented very little. We are treading water in the culture right now, in a culture that is getting much more polluted and noxious to swim in."
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America
"Barack Obama was like a blank screen and people projected their own beliefs onto him, so I think his challenge now is how he is going to govern. Of those who voted for him, liberals saw themselves in him, moderates heard themselves in him, and some conservatives hoped that he'd believe like them. … We're going to have to fight for every pro-life protection that we have gained in the last 35 years. … We hope that he will honor the decisions of the majority of Americans when it comes to protecting marriage, especially when it comes to helping this next generation of children who deserve a mother and a father.
"We're going to need grassroots activists to be more involved than they ever have before when it comes to the issues Christians care about, especially judges. Even now, before the new president and new Congress are sworn in, people could be reaching out to their representatives, especially if they are new representatives … and congratulating them in their victories but also making very clear that we hope that they will honor the desires of the majority of Americans who overwhelmingly support regulations on abortion, protection for marriage, and judges who rule according to the Constitution and not their whims.
"The left has been unusually successful in demonizing our rising stars. We saw this most blatantly when it came to judges, when President Bush appointed really solid candidates for the federal bench and the left threw all kinds of spurious and untruthful accusations against them. We need to learn how to defend and stand up for good men and women who are in public office or would be in public office.
"The left has had a strategy of picking off rising conservative stars and not just fighting their current position or nomination but destroying the candidates' reputations, to try to keep them from future positions. And we've got to learn how to protect good people better."
Mark DeMoss, public relations executive
"I'm still amazed and somewhat disappointed at the number of evangelical voters, including many in leadership positions, who are really quite uninformed about candidates and the process. I think that's a terrible mistake to approach something this important uninformed. People will say they're for this candidate or they like this candidate, and if you ask them why, many times the best answer they can give is that they're Christian or they love the Lord or they share my values. And you ask them which values, and they don't know. We ought to be informed. And particularly in a day and age when it is so easy to get informed.
"To a large degree, [evangelicals] have not realized the importance of money in elections. … If we're serious about electing Candidate X or Candidate Y, we've got to not only speak out for these candidates and talk them up, we have to give them money. A pastor stands up and promotes a missions campaign or a new building campaign, and he asks people to give money and support it because it takes money. We stand up and say that we need to elect a candidate who will represent our values, but we don't give them money. … If Christians wanted Mike Huckabee, for example, as the Republican nominee, they should have given him money. And I think we just ignore this too often. We think our job is to talk and promote and invite candidates to our churches, but somehow we're exempt from putting money down.
"No candidate is perfect and no candidate is all bad, in my opinion. To be more specific, I would say, for religious conservatives, John McCain is not our savior and Barack Obama is not the antichrist. Too often we look at things completely black and white, and suggest that the candidate we're supporting can do no wrong, and the other candidate can do nothing right or say anything right. And that's just not true anywhere in life. I think we lose credibility when we suggest we're perfect and you're evil. I think we lose a platform for influence. I think that's a terrible mistake.
"Governing the United States of America encompasses so much more than two or three so-called social issues.
"I would emphasize a positive vision for America rather than a divisive attack on Barack Obama. I think if Obama wins it will be in large part because he ran arguably the most positive, uplifting, energetic campaign in modern history. I think evangelicals of all people ought to be able to speak the truth in love, and to be respectful and kind and courteous, and it's possible to be all those things without compromising your beliefs.
"I would really like to see evangelicals begin to or continue encouraging people of faith to look for and support candidates who share their values, whether or not they share your theology or faith. And I think we made some progress on that front this year, but I don't think we made enough. I think we still have too many evangelicals choosing candidates on the basis of their faith rather than on the basis of their values and their competence and qualifications and experience to serve.
"Evangelical Christians ought to be the thought leaders, not the flame-throwers. We ought to make compelling arguments and do it respectfully. We ought to be attractive to other people who look at us, and I don't see enough of that."
Tony Evans, senior pastor, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, Texas
"Relevancy. You have to show where your belief system is relevant to the perspectives, needs, hopes, dreams of the people. Without compromising standards, you have to be relevant. Conservatives have often been too disconnected from where people really are and that showed up in the economic crisis. The masses did not feel that the conservative approach was relevant to where the average person is. It didn't relate to their kitchen table talk.
"Conservatives can often be ethereal and irrelevant. We must show how our biblical worldview is also a relevant worldview, and that it speaks to what people are dealing with here and now. That means making sure that we're giving them answers for their particular situations, not solutions so broad that they are simply 'making America a better place.' Barack Obama made people on the lower levels feel like they mattered and that their pain was worth making a big deal about. Even if his [policy ideas] weren't the best strategy, they appealed to people on a personal level.
"When Ronald Reagan asked, 'Are you better off today than you were four years ago?' it was a global question, but it required an individual answer. For most people the answer was no, therefore Reagan swept into office.
"When he first ran for president, George W. Bush's faith-based initiative was a big deal. It made the issue [of compassion] practical. Bush said, 'Let's respond to these faith-based organizations who are doing good works across the nation.' It localized the issue in terms of people helping people in need.
"Moral issues need to be heralded so that they are viewed as important. We need to lift those issues up so that they are not seen as peripheral issues, but as central to the well-being of the nation. That's a big order, and it can't be done independently of other issues, such as economic need."
Karl Zinsmeister, White House domestic policy adviser
"True Story: On my way in to after the election, I was cycling down Pennsylvania Avenue at dawn. Just as I passed the National Gallery of Art I heard a thud to my left. I looked over, and was astonished to see a big, strong red-tailed hawk, which had pounced on a rat in the bushes. Quite apart from the beauty and thrill of seeing a wild predator hunting right in the heart of Washington, I found it a very comforting symbol of how the natural order goes on-unruffled, adaptable, persistent, and permanent. Men come and go, but always there are longer-term forces that drive forward, that cannot be suppressed, that accomplish unexpected things with a motive force beyond human orchestration."
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
"We've got to get back to being more of who we are rather than less. By that, I think of being both pro-life and whole-life. We really have to emphasize that all life is sacred at all stages. We have to emphasize the whole-life side-issues of poverty, prison reform, human rights, immigration-to attract people in a compassionate way. We have to go back to dealing with tough problems to show the country that we believe life is sacred and then proving that by those actions.
"We have to take our faith fully into the public square and when we're debating, it's got to be in truth and love. If that's not evident, our words either come across as tinny or empty.
"I think it will be a good soul-searching time period. I think there should be some real experimentation at the state level on our core philosophical issues. We need to be a loyal opposition.
"It really is a historic election and I'm pleased from that standpoint that the racial barrier has been broken through. I hope our policy differences don't take away from the history-making aspect of this election."
Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy
"The conservative movement needs to recalibrate itself as to what are the ideas that we stand for and look at what has happened to our branding, because somewhere we seem to have lost the ideas of freedom and liberty. Part of what made Reagan effective was that he called a spade a spade; he called the Soviets an evil empire and had a clear policy with how we dealt with the Cold War and the ideology of communism and socialism. Now, we too often let go of the righteousness of the ideas of freedom and liberty in exchange for short-term compromise. As a result, we fall into the same dilemmas of moral equivalency as the left. Voters turn off when they realize the inconsistency there."