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Pundits declared evangelicals among of Election Day's losers. Conservative Christian leader James Dobson confessed he was grieving. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said religious right leaders "kept their own flock in line, but the majority of Americans were unmoved."
But few are writing obituaries this week for the Christian right, which has been wrongly considered dead after setbacks like the demise of the Moral Majority and crumbling of the Christian Coalition.
White evangelicals remain a large, loyal and organized Republican voting bloc that delivered last Tuesday for John McCain but could not offset the battery of factors working against Republicans in 2008.
One pressing question in the wake of Barack Obama's historic victory is whether the Christian right can grow its own ranks or take positions with broader appeal. Some Republicans believe a tight embrace of social conservative values turns off independents and moderates, but many Christian right leaders resist compromise and contend that, if anything, the GOP has strayed too far from its principles.
Once again, conservative evangelicals engaged in politics find themselves at a crossroads.
"Do they want to be an oppositional force, lambasting the administration at every turn, which can help their organizations raise money?" said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University. "Or do they find ways to intersect with new leadership and either try to minimize damage to their agenda or move forward issues where they can find consensus? It's an important turning point for the movement."
Exit polls showed McCain carried white evangelicals 74 percent to 24 percent--not far off George Bush's 79 percent to 21 percent margin over John Kerry in 2004.
Six in 10 white evangelicals ranked the economy as their most important issue--slightly less than the voting population as a whole. One difference that emerged was over terrorism: 14 percent of white evangelicals identified that as their top issue, compared with 7 percent of all other voters.
The exit polls did not ask about abortion or gay marriage, but polls throughout the campaign showed those issues ranked low with voters regardless of religion.
Several Christian right leaders, however, dwelled not on the presidential result but on the success in California, Arizona and Florida of constitutional amendments that, in effect, banned gay marriage. In Florida, however, gay marriage wasn't enough to tilt the pivotal battleground state to McCain.
"Conservative politicians lost. Traditional values succeeded," said Tom Minnery, a vice president of Dobson's Focus on the Family. "It ought to tell them to get a clue about the importance of marriage. We were frustrated that Sen. McCain would not speak out about marriage strongly and repeatedly."
Still others pointed to how Hispanics and African-Americans--who overwhelmingly backed Obama--sided with white evangelicals in rejecting gay marriage.
"There is a common thread among these different ethnic groups, and it's church. It's faith," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "If Republicans want to reach into those ethnic groups, really the only bridge they can cross over are the social issues. But they have to be true to them."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said immigration is another issue that holds promise.
"Social conservatives are open to some sort of immigration reform that will be far less offensive to Hispanic voters than some of the more nativist forces" within the Republican family, he said.
But make no mistake. These leaders have no intention of shifting focus from their big three issues: abortion, gay marriage and judges.
Obama's election might open the door to a different breed of evangelicals--those who advocate consensus-building and expanding the agenda to include global poverty and the environment.
Joel Hunter, an Orlando, Fla., megachurch pastor, fits that definition. Hunter, 60, is anti-abortion but also signed a statement on climate change and has denounced "hateful immigration rhetoric." He also delivered the closing prayer at this summer's Democratic National Convention and prayed with Obama by phone Tuesday before the president-elect took the stage in Chicago's Grant Park.
"What really works in this country is not inciting the base, but making partnerships with people with different views to advance your agenda," Hunter said. "Those who don't will marginalize themselves politically. I don't think advancement of a cause primarily by attack is the way of the future."
On gay rights, Hunter said evangelicals can find a home in coalitions that support restricting the institution of marriage to one man and one woman but advocate that gays be able to form legal relationships short of marriage--and that no one face job discrimination.
Even on a divisive issue such as abortion, evangelicals have found success in promoting laws on parental notification, late-term abortion bans and prohibiting federal funding for abortion, Rozell said.
Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, has clashed with culture war-oriented leaders over his activism to combat global warming. He said white evangelicals' support for McCain is not a repudiation of a broader issues agenda.
"Evangelicals, whether showing it at the ballot box or not, are showing a larger palette of concerns," Cizik said. "... There is a spiritual renaissance occurring here and it is broad-based."
There was some evidence Tuesday that younger evangelicals are drawn to a wider agenda. While younger white evangelicals did not vault en masse to Obama, the Democrat made significant inroads. Exit polls showed the proportion of white evangelicals under age 30 who backed Obama this year was double the 16 percent who supported Kerry in 2004.
Four years ago, white evangelicals under 30 were even stronger Bush supporters than those over 50.
"It's too early to say this portends really badly for Republicans in the future and means Democrats are going to pick up a lot of support from the evangelical community for the next 20 years," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who specializes in evangelicals and politics. "Younger evangelicals desperately wanted a change because they were so disappointed in the Bush administration."
Obama and the Democrats will have to deliver on issues dear to young evangelicals or they'll become disillusioned by more empty rhetoric and vote Republican again, he said.
Most evangelicals won't agree with Obama, but they can learn from his positive brand of politics as they regroup under an administration movement leaders fought so hard to prevent, said Mark DeMoss, an evangelical public relations specialist who initially backed Mitt Romney and voted for McCain.
"I don't like the fact that a lot of evangelicals are taking this view of Barack Obama, that he's the anti-Christ or something," DeMoss said. "I'm going to disagree with him politically on probably a whole lot of things--maybe everything. But we ought to try to win on the strength of ideas."