For most evangelical Christians, Tuesday's election proved to be a confirmation of what many of them had feared: Any sense in recent years that evangelical Christian values might have dominated the halls of power was only an illusion.
At least 75 percent of those who call themselves evangelicals (not much different from other recent elections) continued to vote with the Republican Party. But that alliance was soundly thrashed at the polls, as Democrat Barack Obama claimed a 52 percent majority in the popular vote. Only four times in the last 12 elections (Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and George H.W. Bush in 1988) has anyone claimed a higher percentage of the vote.
Although few would make the claim that Obama is himself an evangelical, he did in the course of his campaign exhibit skill-and some would say believability-in discussing spiritual issues. His opponent John McCain, meanwhile, was reticent to pursue such matters. That left voters to guess how self-consciously either might apply his worldview to the task of governance.
With Obama's thumping victory, evangelicals are now very much in a guessing mode on that same subject. Will Obama, they ask, follow the course of all his previous public service, during which he has been labeled-by the non-partisan National Journal-as the most liberal member of the Senate? His political coattails have given him strong majorities in both houses of Congress, allowing him substantial freedom to choose whatever priorities he chooses. Or will he follow the more moderate pattern promised during his campaign, during which he pledged to be a bridge-builder and consensus-seeker?
Either way, he owes little to the traditional evangelical bloc that largely opposed his election. Of great concern to many evangelicals is that Obama, because of his electoral clout, will appear to have earned the right to define public Christian values and ethics any way he wants-while their own contribution to that discussion may be minimal.