Let's react to the election of Barack Obama with three P's: prayer on our lips, peace in our hearts, and perseverance in the face of the challenges he is likely to offer.
First, prayer. We should pray for Barack Obama because the Bible declares that all authority comes from God. The early Christians were supposed to respect even homicidal Roman emperors like Nero: How much more should we respect presidents we have elected? If you're tempted to curse at Obama, read chapter 13 of Romans.
Second, peace. I've noted before how Horatio Spafford lost his four daughters to death by shipwreck in 1873 and then wrote a hymn that still resonates: "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul." Since God comforted Spafford after his terrible loss, He can certainly comfort those who politically despair. If you're sad or mad, read Psalm 131 and ask God to quiet your soul.
Third, perseverance. America, unlike Rome in the time of the apostles, is still a republic. Early Christians were brave at a time when dissent meant crucifixion, but since we still have freedom of speech under the Constitution, all we need is a willingness to be scorned for Christ and to be shut out from what C.S. Lewis called "the inner ring." At WORLD, we will praise President Obama when he follows biblical principles and criticize him vigorously when he does not. If you're tempted to give up, read chapter 6 of Ephesians and put on the whole armor of God.
One note: Some conservatives are saying, "The worse, the better," in the assumption that Obama radicalism will provoke a reaction that pushes people to the right. But "the worse, the better" is a Leninist concept, not a Christian one. It is belied by history. We should wish Obama success because he will be successful only if he governs from the center, not from the left. In any event, the sky is not falling, because God is holding it up.
Let's also react to the Obama victory with plans to rebuild over the next four years an alliance between evangelicals and fiscal conservatives by emphasizing three C's—community, civil society, and compassion—that could bring back into the fold young evangelicals likely to learn the limitations of Obama.
First, our alliance should stand for community in opposition both to greed and to collectivism. When Gov. Sarah Palin spoke accurately about greed, fiscal conservatives worried that such talk would justify plans of power-hungry government officials to grab from the rich. And yet, greed has consequences: If the choice seems to be enabling greed or growing government, many voters will choose government. Our task is to stand against both G's in favor of community.
Second, the best way within politics to help community is to limit government through expansion of the voluntary, nonprofit organizations that make up civil society. America now has over a million nonprofit organizations, most of them small, that employ 12.5 million people (twice as many as 25 years ago) and use tens of millions of volunteers. Churches and other religious groups are the most significant civil society structures, but civic associations, charities, professional societies, self-help groups, and many others also build community by bring people together for uncoerced action around shared interests, purposes, and values.
The third C stands for compassion. The term "compassionate conservatism" may be dead, but its essence—an alternative to both greed and government—is still the route to societal progress and GOP success. George W. Bush publicized part of the idea but his administration—because of internal divisions, the Iraq War, and the tendency of some to see only the concept's political uses—did not make it a priority. Palin, who exemplifies compassion in her own family, is a natural to run with this understanding in opposition to the greed she and others have decried.
Bottom line: Once, the business of America was business. More recently, government tried to become our god, but it failed. Now a new understanding, with stuttering and missteps, is beginning to appear. Do not fear.