And the Prayers Encircled Him All Around
By Mary Frances Schjonberg, November 05, 2008
[Episcopal News Service] National religious organizations pledged their prayers and support to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama November 5, while noting the challenges he faces but saying, in the words of one, that people of faith stand "ready to work with you to respond to the realities that a loving God places before us each day."
The National Council of Churches (NCC) and Sojourners, a Christian social-justice advocacy group, were among many organizations that placed open letters to Obama or statements on their websites.
Diocese of Massachusetts Bishop Thomas Shaw Jr. said in a statement that "we find ourselves at a place of intersection, where it feels as if God's time and ours have met, not in the sense of a favored candidate's win or loss but, instead, in that something new has happened and that we've been reminded that history is ever calling us forward."
"For many this is a moment filled with great hope and expectation," Shaw said. "What will we make of it, as citizens and newcomers, as Democrats and Republicans, as one people under God?"
Shaw urged members of the diocese to pray for Obama, suggesting prayer 23 on page 822 of the Book of Common Prayer. (Prayer 19 on page 820, "For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority," was suggested November 5 by Ann Fontaine of the Episcopal Café website.
Roman Catholic Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, wrote Obama to congratulate him and "offer our prayers that God give you strength and wisdom to meet the coming challenges."
George also told Obama that the Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. "pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world. We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person."
Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said that "as a church that is committed to inclusivity, we celebrate the fact that a person of color has been elected to the highest office in the U.S. and the progress that has been made towards overcoming racial divisions."
Noted evangelical leader Billy Graham, who turns 90 on November 7, said that "President Elect Barack Obama faces many challenges and I urge everyone to join me in pledging our support and prayers as he begins the difficult task ahead."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations' National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement that Obama's election "sends the unmistakable message that America is a nation that offers equal opportunity to people of all backgrounds." Awad also said CAIR looks forward to working with Obama "in protecting the civil rights of all Americans, projecting an accurate image of America in the Muslim world and playing a positive role in securing our nation."
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America wished Obama "mazal tov," or "good fortune," and told him that "we pledge to work with you and your administration to achieve the goals and interests which we share in the service of our people and the nation."
The NCC's letter, noting that the organization represents 45 million Christians in the United States (including the members of the Episcopal Church), "urge[d] all Americans to come together to uphold you with our hands, our hearts and our prayers."
NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnamon told Obama in the letter that "the leaders of this Council pledge to you our unstinting support in the difficult days to come."
"All of us are dependent on God's loving mercy, and we will regularly pray for you and others elected to high leadership. May your wisdom and discernment serve you well, and may your health never wane," he wrote.
Kinnamon wrote that the organization's commitment to work with Obama would be guided by what he called the NCC's "basic principles." They include the belief that "those living in poverty are deeply loved of God … all God's people are entitled to equal opportunities for justice, shelter, education, and health care … [and] war, even when it is necessary to defend ourselves or the weak or the oppressed, is never the will of God."
The Sojourners invited people to sign onto its "Prayer and Pledge for Real Change" petition. Signers commit to being part of what it calls "a growing movement of Christians and people of faith who support a broad moral agenda that includes a deep concern for poverty, peacemaking, a consistent ethic of life, and care for creation." The petition also pledges signers to help Obama accomplish the change, and to "pray for you and hold you accountable to the things you promised."
The petition, which the website says will be given to Obama by Sojourners Chief Executive Officer Jim Wallis, calls on the president-elect to give "high priority" to overcoming poverty, "finding better ways than war", "promoting a consistent ethic of life" and reversing climate change.
"To be the best president you can be, you will need both the support and the push of the faith community," the petition concludes. "I pledge to help build the movement that will keep your administration accountable and faithful."
The support and challenges posed by religious leaders came the day after an election in which many analysts said Obama garnered stronger support among religious voters than his recent Democratic predecessors. Steven Waldman, the editor-in-chief of the website beliefnet.com, wrote November 5 that final exit polling showed Obama collecting the votes of 43 percent of regular church-goers compared to 39 percent of such voters who chose Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
"Obama forged a New Democratic Faith Coalition." Waldman wrote. "To a large degree, he was able to make such progress with these groups because of the economy. Some pro-life voters went with Obama in spite of his positions on 'values issues,' not because of them."
He also credited the change to what he called Obama's "canny set of tactics and strategies unlike anything we've seen from Democrats in years." They included Obama's emphasis of his personal faith, his outreach to people of faith at the same time that the U.S. saw a rise in what Waldman called the "religious left," Obama's "abortion reduction" stance that Waldman said mitigated the candidate's pro-choice views, and the vice presidential choice of Delaware Senator Joe Biden, whom Waldman called a "cultural Catholic."
Researchers at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life added perspective November 5 to Waldman's views.
"Still, a sizeable gap persists between Obama's support among white evangelical Protestants and his support among the religiously unaffiliated," the forum's website noted. "Similarly, a sizeable gap exists between those who attend religious services regularly and those who attend less often."
The research group's analysis of religious voters' election choices also showed that 45 percent of Protestants voted for Obama, a five-point increase from the 2004 election.
"Catholics, too, moved noticeably in a Democratic direction in 2008," the researchers said. Overall, the Pew Forum reported, Catholics supported Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin (54 percent to 45 percent). In the 2004 election the Catholics favored Republican incumbent George W. Bush over Kerry 52 percent to 47 percent).
Those religiously affiliated voters were part of a turnout that was the highest in generations and perhaps in a century, according to the Associated Press.
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