Friday, January 06, 2006

"St Jack" and the Bullies in the Pulpit

The Washington Post recently printed a terrific article about Jack Danforth – a former Republican senator from Missouri who brings some level-headed sense to the debate over the role of religion in politics and the GOP. Danforth’s words are important because his point of view is formed by his work as an Episcopal priest and a conservative. He opposes abortion and led the charge to confirm conservative Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991.
Jack Danforth wishes the Republican right would step down from its pulpit. Instead, he sees a constant flow of religion into national politics. And not just any religion, either, but the us-versus-them, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God, velvet-fist variety of Christian evangelism.

As a mainline Episcopal priest, retired U.S. senator and diplomat, Danforth worships a humbler God and considers the right's certainty a sin. Legislating against gay marriage, for instance? "It's just cussedness." As he sees it, many Republican leaders have lost their bearings and, if they don't change, will lose their grip on power. Not to mention make the United States a meaner place.

Danforth told the Post that his dismay over the Terri Schiavo case, and whether to remove the brain-dead Florida woman from life support, pushed him to join the public debate about the ultra-conservative religious role in politics.
Danforth saw the Schiavo case as meshing with the right's opposition to gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research.

"I think a marriage is between a man and a woman, but it's beyond me how the whole thing has become so politicized and people have become so energized by it. Because, what difference does it make? How does it constitute a defense of marriage to legislate in this area?"

In Missouri, where Danforth won five statewide elections, a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage passed overwhelmingly last year. Yet he believes most people would say no if asked, "Do you believe we should just be nasty and humiliate people and degrade them because of sexual orientation?"
Later in the article, Danforth called the Christian right's approach to politics a sin.
"With confidence that it is the mouthpiece for God, it endorses candidates, supports constitutional amendments and mobilizes campaigns to keep poor souls hooked up to feeding tubes," Danforth says. "It calls its opponents 'enemies of the people of faith.' Today that is the style and, I think, the sin of the Christian right."
The Post article ended:
Does it matter what Jack Danforth thinks? He commands no political army and rules no territory beyond his writing desk and the occasional pulpit. He is up against the most polished political operation of modern times, facing the likes of Rove and House Republican disciplinarians such as Tom DeLay.

Jim Wallis, the left-leaning author of "God's Politics," declares hopefully that "the monologue of the religious right is finally over and the new dialogue has just begun. The answer to bad religion isn't secularism, it's better religion. Moderate and centrist evangelicals and Catholics are going to shape the future."
I agree with Wallis that Danforth’s views are important because they mark the end of the “monologue of the religious right.” I do, though, disagree with Wallis on one point.

It’s true that the answer to bad religion is better religion, but I also believe that secular Americans also have a role and responsibility. I suspect that the true answer to bad religion is twofold: Better religion and a kinder, more understanding secular approach that both upholds secular principles and honors the right of religion to exist.

My blog-writing time is quickly running out for today. For more on my ideas on this topic, look at “The Lesbian and Fundamentalists” and “Can You Be Civil When the Opposition is Fighting to the Death” posts.

A hat tip to Nancy Jane for pointing out the article.

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