An Open Letter to Obama-Loving Evangelicals

Read this excerpt from Rod Dreher’s contribution to an election symposium in The American Conservative:

I can’t vote for Barack Obama. He is a pro-abortion zealot and wrong on all the issues that matter most to social conservatives. Mind you, one should not be under any illusion that things will markedly improve under another Republican administration. But there is no question that on issues related to the sanctity of life and traditional marriage, an Obama administration, with a Democratic Congress at its back, would be far worse.

The best case that can be made for John McCain is that he would serve as something of a brake on runaway liberalism. But the country would be at significantly greater risk of war with the intemperate and bellicose McCain in the White House.

This goes a long way toward how I feel. Dreher’s conclusion is that he’s not voting in this election. I’m not sure that’s where I am, but then again I’m not sure where I am. (We’ll see in a week.) But I’m not writing this to sort out my own decisions. Rather, I want to make an observation. It seems that so many Christians of my generation, eager to throw off the strictures and bloviations of the previous generation’s right-wing zealotry, have replaced uncritical conservative dogma not with robust critical thinking but with uncritical pseudo-liberal dogma. Mostly this takes shape under rhetoric along the lines that there are more issues for Christians to be concerned about than just abortion and gay marriage and that feeding the hungry and not killing for the sake of oil or democracy are also “pro-life” issues. Fine and good. I agree. But I have not observed that this has resulted in a more holistic political vision; it has resulted in complete silence on more typical republican-platform issues (other than to repeatedly drone, “There are more issues for Christians to be concerned about than abortion and gay marriage”). Then they go and simply write Obama a blank check.

I’ve experienced firsthand that people who advocate not voting (in this election or any time) are not winning any popularity contests Christian or otherwise, so I won’t try to make that argument. Moreover, I can even see the validity in voting in the direction that the scales are ever-so-slightly tipped in favor of your convictions. But I regularly see all-out evangelical ardor for Obama this campaign season. To my mind, it seems the only proper Christian response in this election is at best bewilderment. Or maybe tentative-but-qualified endorsement. But enthusiasm?


30 comments so far

  1. rcandkc on

    So, it was just today that I put two and two together. Rod Dreher = Crunchy Con. I put the two together after reading your article and a link from another article from a friend of mine to the following article, which is an absolute must read.

    After reading both articles, I must conclude I’ve been missing out on the awesomeness that is the Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher! Even if I disagree with his conclusion in the article you posted.

  2. jeffreimer on

    Ryan (because I’m assuming it was Ryan),

    1. See my email.

    2. I will indeed be reading that article, which looks very good.

    3. Check out his blog:

    4. I think there is a marked difference between Dreher’s reasons for not voting (primarily ad hoc, given that this would be the first election in which he had not voted) and Alasdair MacIntyre’s reasons for not voting (primarily on principle) that you, Derek, and I discussed last week. Would you agree?

  3. R.H. on

    So, if an evangelical supports Obama, then–by definition–they are not/cannot be critically engaged with issues? Do I read this correctly?

  4. Greg on

    What I think is happening right now is that the dividing line between conservatism and liberalism has gotten a bit chaotic, like the boundary between oil and water when you shake things up a bit. We certainly have been “shaken” in the last decade or so.

    “…wrong on all the issues that matter most to social conservatives.”

    I suspect it’s starting to be the case that these issues don’t matter as much to younger social conservatives, at least in terms of these issues functioning as lines of demarcation between the two halves of society. But if so, what does “social conservative” even mean?

    As for whether to vote for Obama, I think people’s demand for politicians who represent platonic ideals of their worldview sometimes gets in the way of other considerations, such as what history calls for at a particular moment in time.

  5. rcandkc on

    Robert, I would say not “by definition,” but possibly guilty by association.

  6. rcandkc on

    Yes, it’s me.

    1) I did, thanks.

    2) You better

    3) I did, thanks

    4) I do see the difference. But, I still disagree for most of the same reasons as I mentioned before.

  7. jeffreimer on


    What I meant to say was that many evangelicals who would like to expand their politics have actually just inadvertently shifted them. If they are still concerned about abortion, for instance, Obama’s unambiguous voting record should at least give them serious pause.

    I admittedly got a little carried away in my last couple of sentences. I should have said that I am not enthusiastic about Obama, and my lack of enthusiasm stems directly from my convictions as a Christian. I don’t want to be so hubristic as to say my position is the only possible Christian position. But I have trouble seeing otherwise.

  8. rcandkc on

    The election symposium was fantastic. Great reading!

  9. jeffreimer on


    Good words. Your Plato metaphor is well-taken. Not that I think you’re saying otherwise, but I would still want to maintain the capacity to imagine the ideal.

    Interestingly, Rod Dreher is one of the people blurring those lines. He clearly identifies himself with the Right but is looking to reform it from within. I like him because I think he succeeds where the trend among progressive evangelicals fails (i.e., he actually is articulating a politics that encompasses elements of both left and right–but from a situated place. He never claims to be “beyond left and right” or “nonpartisan.” It’s refreshing in a lot of ways.) For him, “social conservative” carries resonances of Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk, if you’re familiar with either of them. Kirk talks a lot about conserving local institutions, most fundamentally the family.

  10. R.H. on

    Jeff and Ryan: OK, so if I understand correctly, you’re saying that it seems that the tendency of evangelicals in this election seems to lean towards uncritical support of Obama. But, is it still possible for someone to be 1. an evangelical, 2. thoughtfully engaged/aware, and 3. a supporter of Obama at the same time?

  11. Kristi on

    Fascinating discussion.

  12. jeffreimer on


    Sure. The difference is between critical and uncritical.

  13. Dad on

    Well said, Jeff. Thoughtful post.

  14. rcandkc on

    Of course, Robert.

    But, I think that Jeff’s point is a good one. I’m not sure how Christian’s can be as enthusiastic for this man as many of them are. Both the enthusiasm for Obama and the fear of Obama by Christians really has me shaking my head.

  15. jeffreimer on

    Speaking of fear, did you guys see this?

    Derek Brown posted it on Facebook.

  16. timothycairns on

    In this election my annoyance with Evangelicals for Obama is the rank hypocrisy. Conservatives have been ridiculous in the past. I have heard people say that you can’t be a Christian and vote Democrat, or if you are Canadian, Liberal. This was a ridiculous position to hold. The problem is that in condemning the c(C)onservative Evangelicals for their position, the Evangelical Obamaites have adopted, exactly, in its entirety, the position which they condemn.

    To attack Obama is to tell lies. To make hyperbolic statements (which is the essence of political campaigning – always has been always will be) about an Obama presidency is a great evil and a sin, but hey its ok to attack John McCain. Its ok to project and proclaim all kinds of evil about a McCain presidency – just leave good Christian Obama alone. He is ushering in Matthew 25 all by himself. Not to mention the treatment of Sarah Palin by the Evangelical Obamaites, which has been nothing short of sinful.

    It’s now viewed as a Christian ideal to “spread the wealth” government is becoming an arm of the church in the writings of the emergent bloggers, but sorry, hold on just one doggone minute – even third graders in Alaska know that this is exactly the sort of rhetoric that left leaning Christians condemn the Christian right for holding. It’s plain old hypocrisy.

    Here’s the thing, to the best of my knowledge information and belief God isn’t voting in this election. I don’t think it’s an act of Christian witness (as I saw on the facebook name of a Regent student – not one either of us know well! So don’t worry I am not condemning anyone who would read this) to vote Obama, nor is it an act of Christian piety to vote McCain. Voting for either candidate is defensible for a Christian to do. So let’s stop the hypocrisy and be a little more tolerant. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, male nor female, Obama or McCain, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Or something like that.

  17. R.H. on

    OK, so I wonder if something like the following might work, in an attempt to cobble together some of what’s been expressed so far:

    If one (a) is critically aware of and engaged in the issues at stake in this election (Jeff) and (b) avoids characterizing either candidate as the clear Christian choice (Ryan), it is possible, as a Christian, to (c) vote for either candidate in this election (Tim).

  18. Michele H. on

    This issue is very interesting, indeed. I do agree with Tim in that “voting for either candidate is defensible for a Christian to do”. On the other hand it is scaring me a bit to think there are also Christians out there who think voting for Obama would put one in a category of “less Christian,” in the same vein that a southern evangelical might put one who drinks alcohol in the same “less Christian” category.
    I would hope that any voter would look at all the issues including national and global economy, health care, education, national debt, and war. Moral issues such as abortion (and should I bring up infidelity?) are only one of many.

  19. rcandkc on

    Robert Hand: Synthesizer of arguments to the Glory of God.

  20. timothycairns on


    I think my problem is that some Christians say the same thing about a vote for McCain ie you are somewhat less of a Christian if you vote for McCain. Both sides say it and both sides should stop.

  21. Greg on

    “For him, ‘social conservative’ carries resonances of Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk…”

    And apparently Wendell Berry too, based on the article linked above, which states:

    “We can only be fulfilled by living within the bounds prescribed by our nature, and in fidelity not to our selfish desires but to the greater good of our families, friends and communities.”

    That seems right in line with what I’ve read of Berry. In fact I think Berry would advocate living within the bounds not just of our own nature, but of nature itself. It’s definitely a definition of social conservatism that I could get behind, not withstanding that it flirts with the naturalistic fallacy.

    However, localism, environmentalism, community-orientedness, sustainability, etc, would seem to me to fall under the umbrella of liberalism. Maybe the liberals just have temporary custody of these issues while conservatives figure what the heck it is that they actually stand for. Anyway, all of that to say, if you’re looking for a compelling definition of social conservatism, you could do worse than to crack open a Wendell Berry novel.

  22. jeffreimer on

    Right-ho, Greg. I think Rod Dreher is working pretty hard to claim Berry, and the issues he stands for, for a reformed conservative movement. He’s definitely fighting an uphill battle on that one, but it seems to make a lot more sense by identifying Wendell Berry as a successor to the conservative vision of Burke and Kirk (from the little I know about them).

    What do you mean by “it flirts with the naturalistic fallacy”?

  23. R.H. on

    Speaking of Wendell Berry . . . I’ll take this is a cue to exploit a new Brazos book, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life.

  24. Greg on

    From what I understand, the naturalistic fallacy is a rabbit-hole and not everyone agrees it’s an actual fallacy. But basically it’s when you say, “it’s natural therefore it’s good.” For example the “noble savage” mentality or that natural ingredients are inherently better, which is subtly different from the belief that natural ingredients are almost always better.

    So Berry-esque conservatism or Darwinian conservatism (which IMO are essentially the same thing) are making an appeal to the natural order of things, saying we ought not stray too far from it when ordering society.

    By contrast, eugenics would be against the natural order of things, which might seem to vindicate the naturalistic fallacy. Then again, modern medicine, powered flight, space travel, the internet, etc, are all a bit unnatural. So perhaps not all ethics should derive from the natural order of things. And so it goes.

  25. rcandkc on

    Robert Hand: Granter of insight into upcoming sweet books.

  26. Greg on

    “He’s definitely fighting an uphill battle on that one”

    I, for one, hope he succeeds.

  27. Greg on

    Robert Hand: Paster of links that return “404 – Document Not Found”

  28. jeffreimer on

    Actually, I think there’s something wrong with Amazon’s search function right now.

  29. R.H. on

    Works on my end…

  30. Josh on

    And so it is. President Obama. As a Christian, I neither rejoice (except at the symbolism of this country electing its first African-American president) nor mourn. I both admire and like the man and critically disagree with some of his policy proposals. I pray for Mr. Obama and ask God’s wisdom for him but do not expect him to usher in the Kingdom. Did I get it just about right here?

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