The seeming absence of the Evangelical Left in this election is notable. Liberal evangelicals were fired up for Barack Obama in 2008. Obama’s overall improvement in evangelical support was not huge. He got 24 percent of white evangelicals versus 21 percent for John Kerry in 2004. But he got about 33 percent of young evangelicals, inspiring hopes for a generational shift in evangelical voting habits.
Polls seem to indicate that white evangelicals will vote for Romney at about or nearly the same level they did for Bush in 2004. A Pew poll has Romney getting 74 percent of white evangelicals versus 19 percent for Obama. A Public Religion Research Institute poll shows young white evangelicals choosing Romney over Obama by 80 percent to 15 percent. So much for a generational shift.
Some of this ennui is expressed in the latest Sojourners column from Evangelical Left icon Jim Wallis, who had been nearly ecstatic for Obama in 2008.
“Remember what was in the political air during the fall campaign for the 2008 presidential election—the feelings of hope and the possibility for real change?” Wallis asked. “Doesn’t that seem like a very long time ago now?”
Wallis admitted: “Nobody can deny how much that hope for change and reform has now faded.” He lamented the lack of “political cooperation” amid “uncivil partisan warfare” and the ongoing “power of special and vested interests.” He concluded: “The system is still as broken as ever, with the power of money even more dominant since the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court decision which ruled that corporate expenditures in political campaigns couldn’t be limited.”
Contrast Wallis’ current mood with his exaltation after Obama’s inauguration in 2009. “My prayers for decades have been answered in this minute,” he then gushed about the new president, of whom he boasted: “We’ve been talking faith and politics for a long time.” Wallis also rejoiced: “This White House wants our advice.” He noted: “Leaders from the faith community have been virtually inhabiting the offices of the Transition Team over the last weeks, with our advice being sought on global and domestic poverty, human rights, criminal justice, torture, faith-based offices, foreign policy, Gaza and the Middle East. A staffer joked one day, ‘We should have just gotten all of you bunks here.’”
With Obama in power, Wallis declared America is “a better country than I thought it was.” He recalled that across 40 he had “been fighting against all the bad stuff in America—the poverty, the racism, the human rights violations, and always the wars,” along with “the arrogance, self-righteousness, materialism, and ignorance of the rest of the world, the habitual ignoring of the ones that God says we can’t, the ones Jesus calls the least of these.” But now, with President Obama, Wallis was “proud of my country for the first time in a very long time.” Recalling how often he had been arrested at protests, sometimes outside the White House, Wallis wondered how it would be as White House insider.
In his recent column, Wallis reverts to his more traditional, prophetic wailings about the state of the nation. He lamented that neither of the political conventions this Summer seriously discussed the poor or racism. He also was miffed over the constant refrain of “God bless America,” when God should instead be asked to “bless the whole world.” He was a little unsettled about so much praise for the military amid little talk about “unnecessary and wrong wars.” He bemoaned the absence of discussion about “creation care” and withdrawing from dependence on fossil fuels.
“It’s time to apply the lessons we have learned about not ultimately trusting in candidates, and certainly not in parties, for the changes we need,” Wallis solemnly concluded. So evidently the celebration over Obama has concluded for him, and perhaps for much of the Evangelical Left. This lack of enthusiasm for a president’s reelection vividly contrasts with high octane evangelical support for Bush in 2004, or even for Reagan in 1984.
Of course the hardcore Evangelical Left will vote for Obama, if with apparently limited enthusiasm. But no matter who wins, how will liberal evangelical elites approach politics after disappointment over a candidate who aroused almost messianic hopes? Many on the Evangelical Left espouse a sort of neo-Anabaptist stance that disparages the “empire” while still demanding its Welfare and Regulatory State. Maybe at least some evangelical liberals will explore greater fidelity to the traditional, separatist Anabaptist approach and attach less importance to electoral politics. Stay tuned!