Religious Right Weighs Next Political Steps Leaders of the religious right have tied their fortunes to the Republican Party for a generation. Now, with the Democrats in power, some conservative Christians are gearing up to fight the suddenly resurrected culture wars.
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Religious Right Weighs Next Political Steps

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Religious Right Weighs Next Political Steps

Religious Right Weighs Next Political Steps

Religious Right Weighs Next Political Steps

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During his election night victory speech, President-elect Barack Obama reached out to those who supported his rival — including evangelicals — who had voted overwhelmingly for John McCain.

"I may not have won your vote," Obama said, "but I hear your voices, need your help, and I will be your president, too."

But the promise meant little to leaders of the religious right, who are undaunted by the Democrats' gains in the White House and in Congress.

"I knew, moments after the election results came in, that I was now part of the resistance movement," says Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.

Wright believes Obama is a threat to Christian beliefs, even though the president-elect is a confessed Christian. She argues the election was not a rejection of conservative values. After all, three states — California, Arizona and Florida — passed referenda banning same-sex marriage. So the day after the election, Wright sent out this telemarketing ad to thousands of people across the country.

"We face a president and Congress more hostile to unborn children, to marriage, to religious freedom, to free speech, to protecting our country than has ever existed in our history," she said in the three-minute script. "And never before is there such a need for an organization like CWA."

Wright says that within hours members began calling in asking what they could do.

"These are the kinds of things that many people thought, 'Wait a minute, we've already won that, it's over and done. You mean, we have to fight for it again?'"

Christian Conservatives As Rebels

In fact, Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President Bush, says being the rebel minority is where Christian conservatives are most comfortable.

"I think if you look at the history of religious conservative political involvement," he says, "Richard Neuhaus called it a 'defensive offensive.' It's the notion that it's most energized when it feels under assault.""

Recent history offers evidence of that, says Michael Cromartie, head of evangelical studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. In 1992, he says, many people believed the election of Democrat Bill Clinton spelled the end of the religious right.

"In fact, what it was was the revival of those groups," he says.

Religious conservatives were helped by Clinton; one of his first acts was allowing gays in the military.

"And immediately the outcries were fast, furious and ferocious," Cromartie says. "And they will be the same if President Obama makes gestures to satisfy the left wing of the party but instead provokes more moderate and conservative religious people."

Cromartie says religious leaders are already compiling a list of complaints and using the president-elect's own words to do so. Obama has said that he would appoint judges with "empathy," which conservatives see as judicial activism.

They worry about the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage under federal law as between a man and a woman. And then there's Obama's statement about abortion that he made when he addressed Planned Parenthood in 2007.

Asked what he would do to protection abortion, he said to thunderous applause, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act."

That act — which would need to pass Congress first — would eliminate most federal and state restrictions on abortion. Religious conservatives like Gary Bauer of the Christian activist group American Values are scrutinizing Obama's every word.

"I found myself thinking, 'My goodness, I can't believe he's going to make it this easy for us to rally our troops to get off the mat and get back to work,'" he says.

Obama's First 100 Days

Bauer is also looking for hints about what executive orders the new president would sign. He notes that recently the Obama team said it would allow federal funding for stem cell research and for groups overseas that perform abortions. Bauer believes the president-elect is more liberal than advertised.

"If in his first 100 days, he repeatedly sticks his finger in the eyes of the 48 percent of voters who voted against him," Bauer says, "I think that's going to be a clear signal that however how charming it was to independent voters, it was a ruse."

But Gerson believes Obama learned a lesson from Clinton's experience. He says that the new president would be crazy to make abortion his first agenda item — even though he has to contend with "eight years of pent up liberal demand."

"So he's going to have to make some of those choices," Gerson says. "He has high expectations from the liberal wing of the congressional majority, and he has the realities of governing, where you don't want to pick culture war fights in the first 100 days, or even your first year, because you want to get some things accomplished."