FIRST-PERSON: Lessons from the 2012 election
Several lessons emerge in the immediate aftermath of the election and Christians should consider them carefully.
A decisive victory
First, we must recognize that President Barack Obama won a decisive and clear victory, surging to over 300 votes in the Electoral College before midnight. Against the expectations of many, the president held his 2008 coalition together. Voting intensity among younger Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and other crucial constituencies held firm.
Barack Obama avoided the ignominy of an electoral repudiation and also won the popular vote. The decisive nature of his win spared the nation the agonies of the 2000 election and points to a major political realignment. Other issues also became clear. The election returns and voting data indicate that President Obama's "evolution" on the issue of same-sex marriage cost him nothing. That probably surprised both sides in that controversy.
Christians must now pray for our president. As the apostle Paul instructs us, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV). We should eagerly and urgently pray for our president. We should pray for his health and his family, for his stamina and his character. We should even pray that he and his administration will be remembered as one of the greatest of our nation's history, measured even by the convictions that are most important to us.
We are rightly and deeply concerned. We must pray that God will change President Obama's heart on a host of issues, ranging from the sanctity of unborn life to the integrity of marriage. We must push back against his contraception mandate that tramples upon religious liberty. Given the trajectory of his first term in office, we are urgently concerned about a second term, knowing that the president will never again need to face the electorate.
As the president acknowledged in his speech last night, our nation faces huge challenges. We must pray that President Obama will lead in a spirit of national unity and mutual respect, bringing Americans together to resolve these ominous problems. Incredible responsibility now rests on his shoulders. He has won a second term, now he must rightly lead.
A divided electorate
As morning dawned, the election of 2012 looms as one of the closest in American history. At 2 a.m., only 240,000 votes out of more than 103 million cast separated President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. That is a margin of .3 percent and would rank the election as the third closest, falling behind the slim margins of the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon and the 1880 election between James Garfield and Winfield S. Hancock.
The margin in the Electoral College is significant, but the popular vote reveals a deeply divided nation. The nation is divided politically, but that divide points to a division at the level of worldview. The 2012 election makes clear that Americans are divided over fundamental questions. Americans are divided into camps that define and see the world in fundamentally different terms. The election did not cause this division, it merely revealed it. This deep division at the level of worldview presents President Obama with a daunting political challenge, but a worldview crisis is an even greater challenge for the church.
A changed and changing electorate
Fundamental changes to the American electorate have become evident. Vast demographic changes mean that the electorate is far more ethnically, culturally and ideologically diverse. The electorate is becoming more secular. Recent studies have indicated that the single greatest predictor of voting patterns is the frequency of church attendance. Far fewer Americans now attend church, and a recent study indicated that fully 20 percent of all Americans identify with no religious preference at all. The secularizing of the electorate will have monumental consequences.
America is becoming more urbanized, and this also changes voting patterns. Younger voters are disproportionately identified in ethnic terms, pointing to long-term electoral shifts. Fewer Americans are married and fewer have children in the home. This, too, changes voting habits. These are just a few of the factors pointing to a fundamental change in the nation.
A catastrophe on moral issues
Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns. The election of President Obama returns a radically pro-abortion president to the White House, soon after he had endorsed same-sex marriage. President Obama is likely to have the opportunity to appoint one or more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are almost sure to agree with his constitutional philosophy.
Furthermore, at least two states, Maine and Maryland, legalized same-sex marriage last night. Washington State is likely to join them once the votes there are counted. An effort to pass a constitutional amendment preventing same-sex marriage went down to defeat in Minnesota. These came after 33 states had passed some measure defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. After 33 victories, last night brought multiple defeats. Maine and Maryland (and probably Washington State) became the first states in the union to legalize same-sex marriage by action of the voters. There is no discounting the moral shift that momentous development represents.
Other states considered issues ranging from abortion and marijuana to assisted suicide. While not all were lost, the moral shift was evident in the voting patterns.
Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues. We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life and a range of moral issues. This will not be easy. It is, however, an urgent call to action.
The demise of the Republican coalition
Though many Republicans will draw encouragement from the popular vote, the Electoral College now confronts the Republican Party as a massive problem. The map just does not add up for Republicans in terms of the present reality, much less the shape of the future. Put simply, the Republican Party cannot win unless it becomes the party of aspiration for younger Americans and Hispanic Americans. Otherwise, it will soon become a retirement community for aging conservatives. The party's position on immigration is disastrous, and it is at odds with the party's own values.
No party can win if it is seen as heartless. No party can win if it appeals only to white and older Americans. No party can win if it looks more like the way to the past than the way to the future. The Republican Party could not defeat a sitting president with a weak economy and catastrophic unemployment. As columnist George Will has said, a party that cannot win under these circumstances might need to look for another line of work.
The Republican Party will surely enter into a period of intense self-examination and a struggle for the future shape and direction of the party. That fight will be necessary, and it will be important to those of us who are concerned about a range of issues.
More than a presidency was at stake
Scores of other offices were at stake in the 2012 election, and at every level. The lack of complete election results leaves many unanswered questions today, but one big fact is known -- the U.S. Senate will remain in Democratic hands. As a matter of fact, this election may well point to a liberal shift in that body. The election of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and the re-election of Sherrod Brown in Ohio point in this direction. Tammy Baldwin becomes the first openly gay candidate elected to the U.S. Senate.
Christians must never see political action as an end, but only as a means. We can never seek salvation through the voting booth, and we must never look for a political messiah. Nevertheless, Christians do bear a political responsibility, established in love of God and love of neighbor. We are rightly concerned about this world, but only to a limited extent. Our main concern is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Being in the world but not of the world has never been easy. The 2012 election underlines the challenges we now face and the responsibilities we dare not neglect.
R. Albert Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).