WASHINGTON – Some prominent evangelical leaders said Wednesday that they are optimistic about working together with the Obama administration and even noted that relationships have already been built by the campaign's faith outreach arm.
The leaders did acknowledge, however, that differences will continue to exist between the two groups, but pointed out that a growing number of evangelicals are looking to find common ground on culture war issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
"The strategy is very different from the past. The religious right practiced this zero sum game where somebody else has to lose for us to win," commented the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, during an election analysis teleconference on Wednesday.
"And our [centrist evangelical] strategy is a common good that says we are all in this together," he said. "That means we learned as evangelicals how to collaborate with whom we disagree."
Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Atlanta-based Mercer University, went as far as to maintain that the religious right was in decline and that it is up to the right to decide to change and adopt a broader agenda.
"I think that there is clearly a fracture between the evangelical right or Christian right and in many ways the rest of the country and the rest of the evangelical community," Gushee contended.
He questioned if there will be a permanent fracture between the Christian right and the rest of the evangelical body, and contrasted the right with centrist and progressive evangelicals who are "well positioned" to work with the government and the new administration on issues as broad as torture, the environment, immigration and nuclear weapon production.
"A posture that says we don't have to agree on everything but we can work on these things together is going to put us in a better position to be a constructive player in the next four years than the stance that the apocalypse is upon us because Barack Obama has won the election," Gushee asserted.
Both Gushee and Cizik commented on the change in evangelical perspective on social justice issues, which evangelicals increasingly see as values issues caused by a moral problem.
"I am optimistic, as David expressed he is, that this president understands problems in terms of not just of technical revolution but in terms of the moral complexity," Cizik said. "And that's a good sign."
National exit polls show that Obama made significant inroads among religious voters.
While Obama widely lost to Republican candidate Sen. John McCain among evangelical voters (75 percent to 24 percent), it's notable that his support among this group was five percentage points higher than Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry in 2004.