Friday, June 17, 2005

Ouch

John Danforth, a Republican former senator from Missouri, an Episcopal priest (he presided at President Reagan's funeral) and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. (appointed by President Bush), had this rather pointed op-ed piece in the NYTimes today praising religious moderates. One of my professor's last year, Susan Schwab (the former dean of Maryland's public policy school and onetime nominee for deputy treasury secretary) was an assistant to the then Sen. Danforth for about a decade and talked about him a lot, with lots of praise for him. He's pretty well-respected in all circles, from what I understand - a kind of John McCain from a couple of decades ago. It's no surprise that this was the NYTimes Online's most e-mailed story today and, I'm sure, will be for the next few days (Always check out a news website's most read or e-mailed articles. It tells you a lot about the news source and about its readers. Usually the Times' most e-mailed pieces are Maureen Dowd columns, but she's on book leave right now and, thankfully, not writing columns - or should I say whining, as that's what her pieces always are. But unfortuately we have a new book of hers to get back at us for the reprieve of her twice-weekly columns) Here's some excerpts from Sen. Danforth:
For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.