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.-- JOHN DANFORTH
Gay marriage; PBS; Terri Schiavo: battlegrounds from the rampant "culture war", stoked by extremists on both the left and the right, which has done tremendous damage to the public discourse. With both sides firmly entrenched in their respective ideological positions, the middle ground is hard to come by these days. That's why it was refreshing to read this past week in the New York Times an op-ed by Episcopal minister and former senator John Danforth (R-MO)
In "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers", Danforth urges a return to the era of civility which, although abandoned only in the past few years, already seems like a distant memory. And Danforth is not shy about confronting those on the right whom he faults as culprits for the current state of the union. "In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics," Danforth says. "With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions."
The reader at this point of the column surely must have shouted "Hallelujah!" and rejoiced to hear someone point out that the fight between "us" and "them" is not between people of faith and godless atheists. Rather, the fight for the future of America's character pits rational-minded people (religious or not) versus intolerant ideologues (Bible-thumpers and secular zealots alike).
To be sure, the role of the religious right is a vital force in shaping American society. But that role looks nothing like the hard-edged, confrontational identity it currently assumes in forcing feeding tubes, assaulting science, discriminating against gays, and trampling all over the separation of church and state. Danforth suggests the responsibility of the faithful as "moderators":
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.
As moderators, the religious community's responsibility is not to seek the merger of church and state but rather to preserve the boundary between the two. Both believers and non-believers are working toward the same goal of a better America. Reverend Danforth shows us that common sense leads us to an intersection where both groups can co-exist peacefully. Amen to that!