As President Barack Obama ended his victory speech Tuesday evening he told the American people "with your help and God's grace, we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth."
The agenda before the nation is large and includes growing poverty and climate change. To be successful, President Obama will need people of faith at his side.
Hurricane Sandy illustrated for us once again the dangers of ignoring our climate crisis. When the president mentioned this reality on Tuesday night it was the first time climate changed had been mentioned in a meaningful way in the presidential contest. Religious leaders of diverse faith backgrounds have been calling for more forceful action for years. GOP leaders often still question the reality of climate change but on this issue people of faith divided on issues such as abortion are often united. Mainline Christians, Roman Catholics and evangelicals have all issued statements calling for immediate action to address the climate change crisis and many of these statements -- issued by the National Council of Churches and others -- were published before Barack Obama was even elected president in 2008. God's creation is at stake in this debate. Faith leaders are going to need to provide more leadership on this issue to provide the president the leverage he needs with some liberal union members and conservative voters, two groups often hesitant about the reforms needed -- but two groups that take faith seriously.
Poverty is a moral issue that impacts people in conservative states often more deeply than in more progressive states but it is a national issue. As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to cut poverty in half within 10 years. Then the economy collapsed in the final months of the Bush presidency and the poverty rate exploded with growing unemployment. President Obama's Recovery Act kept millions out of poverty, according to studies done by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It is hard to imagine any president doing more considering the political realities. But it is time to do more. As President Obama said the night before the election, as long as one child lives in poverty our work as a nation is not finished. Here again you will find broad agreement from religious leaders from many faith traditions who call for additional aid for programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty. For Christians, it is as simple as remembering the words of Jesus would taught us to treat the "least of these" as we would God.
These and other challenges await President Obama and the new Congress in the weeks and months ahead.
With God's grace, I too believe we can move this nation forward. But religious leaders will need to step up to the plate in ways not seen since the Social Gospel movement and engage in public theology in ways that advance the common good. It is what we are called to do. To much of 2012 has been about what divides people of faith. For America and the world to be successful, the future needs to be about confronting the important issues that impact us all -- and on which we can by and large find agreement.
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