After months of campaigns that polarized the nation—including the faith community—both President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry were conciliatory in their respective acceptance and concession speeches.
Conceding his defeat on Wednesday, Kerry said he hoped the nation can now “begin the healing” and pledged to “do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide.”
“We are required now to work together for the good of our country,” Kerry said. “In the days ahead, we must find common cause, we must join in common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor.”
The president congratulated Kerry for “a spirited campaign” and said he and his supporters should be proud of their efforts.
Bush addressed “every person who voted for my opponent.”
“To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it,” Bush said. “I will do all I can to deserve your trust. A new term is an opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. And when we come together there is no limit to the greatness of America.”
Among battle lines in the race was religion. Conservative, white evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Bush, while many secular voters and the religious left preferred Kerry.
Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches pledged to pray for President Bush and to “offer our best efforts to unite the nation in the cause of justice and peace.”
“This election confirmed that we are a divided nation, not only politically but in terms of our interpretations of God’s will,” Edgar said in a statement. “We in the church must redouble our efforts to call all people of faith to affirm the values of both public morality and private piety.”
Edgar said that regardless of who leads the country, “the agenda of the church must always respond faithfully to the Bible’s timeless mandate to minister to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast; and to be seekers and makers of peace.”
Jim Wallis of Sojourners—which conducted a media campaign insisting that God is neither a Republican or Democrat–said it was Kerry who went down defeat, and not his group’s agenda of mobilizing evangelicals to fight poverty.
“The vision I believe in wasn’t running,” said Wallis, who also represents the anti-poverty coalition Call to Renewal.
Wallis said he didn’t endorse Kerry, because he “didn’t run on the issues that were most important to me.”
Wallis said Kerry did not make “championing the poor” or the war in Iraq a big part of his campaign and did not start talking about religious values until the final two weeks of the campaign.
Wallis told EthicsDaily.com his plan for the next four years is “to hold this administration accountable” for addressing poverty.
“The real issue is not what happens on November 2, but on November 3 we better be at the doorstep of whoever wins with solutions for poverty,” Wallis said.
Wallis said he believed efforts by socially progressive Christians to register and educate voters made a difference in the election. “I think there was for the first time a good and serious debate about what moral values are.”
While the religious right’s effort to reduce morality to abortion and homosexuality is “horrible theology,” Wallis said, he also faulted the Democrats for “an extreme abortion” stance that costs votes of pro-life Christians like himself every election.
Wallis said he believes abortion is wrong. While the GOP accommodates pro-choice people, he said, the Democrats “have been unable to find space” for pro-life concessions. At the same time, he said, it is wrong to make gay marriage the most important issue on the Christian agenda, given the 2,000 verses of Scripture mentioning the poor.
“I’m a religious conservative and a social radical at the same time,” he said.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said he hoped Bush would view his re-election as “a second chance to keep his 2000 campaign pledge that he would be a uniter not a divider.”
“If he will admit his grave mistakes in taking the nation to war in Iraq under false pretenses and turn from his unbiblical economic agenda, then he will advance the unity so badly needed,” Parham said. “He will also approach an authentic Christian faith that prioritizes making peace, doing justice and demonstrating humility.”
On the other hand, Parham said, if the president “reads the results as a divinely ordained mandate and keeps in place his prideful, administrative ideologues and policies, then he will fail badly and tear the nation asunder. The president needs the prayers and prophetic critique of the religious community more than ever.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.