It's Time the GOP Center Took On The Christian Right
This is a great article we were sent last week – enjoy the excerpts.
It’s about time that traditional Republicans called the Religious Right on the carpet.
Hope you enjoy it –
'St. Jack' and the Bullies in the Pulpit
John Danforth Says It's Time the
By Peter Slevin
Thursday, February 2, 2006; C01
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
Danforth is no squalling liberal. He is a lifelong Republican. And his own political history shows he is no milquetoast.
A man of God and the GOP, he is speaking out for moderation -- in religion, politics, science and government. The lanky figure once dubbed "St. Jack," not always warmly, for the perch he seemed to occupy on
"I'm counting on nausea," he says.
In a political year that promises a fresh battle for the national soul, religion is emerging as a tool and a test, with Danforth's words marking a fissure within the GOP. The conservative evangelical Christian movement that helped propel President Bush and congressional Republicans into power has become a big, fat target, even as Democrats and GOP moderates agonize about how to capture more votes from the faithful.
"The Republican Party has been taken over by something that it's not," Danforth says over a suitably austere lunch of steamed vegetables in a well-appointed 40th-floor
Why won't it last?
"It won't stand the light of day," Danforth says in one of several conversations. "The more people think about it, the more people will resist it. People do not want a sectarian political party, including a lot of people who are traditional Republicans."
Richard Land gets a big laugh out of that.
The combative voice of the Southern Baptist Convention and confidant of White House political guru Karl Rove has little use for Danforth, however grand his religious and political pedigrees. He describes the former senator as "what was wrong with the Republican Party and why they were a minority party."
"Votes reflect moral values. The struggle for hearts and minds gets reflected in the ballot box," Land says, setting up the twist of the knife. "It just sounds to me like Danforth's sore that he lost the argument with a majority of the American people."
The Turning Point
It seems like another era when John Claggett Danforth was perceived as one of the most publicly pious players in
When asked in 1991 to respond to critics who used "St. Jack" as a pejorative to suggest sanctimony, he told a Post interviewer, "I think anyone who felt that he was, you know, Mr. Wonderful, with an agenda that is the God-given agenda for the country to be accomplished at all costs -- he would be both sick and ineffective."
Danforth was talking about himself. Little did he imagine that there was a battalion of evangelical Mr. Wonderfuls marching on the nation's capital, which they would soon rule. Now he wishes that part about ineffectiveness were only true.
Danforth, 69, is out of government after 18 years in the Senate, service as a peacemaker in
One morning last spring, as he walked with his wife, Sally, in
The trigger was the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead
"If you turned on Fox News, you would hear relentless talking heads talking about, 'They're killing Terri!' and 'This is murder!' " Danforth says, recalling the campaign to remove the case from
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?"
"The Ten Commandments in the courthouse?" he says of another front in the culture wars. "Talk about much ado about nothing."
Danforth is appearing in television and radio advertisements on behalf of a state constitutional amendment that would legalize a type of embryonic stem cell research known as therapeutic cloning, in which the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is replaced with an ordinary body cell. In a few days, this develops into the beginnings of a human embryo that contains stem cells able to become any type of cell in the human body.
The goal of the research is therapy for some of the world's most devastating diseases and injuries. The goal of the proposed amendment, now being contested in a
It is an issue that affects Danforth personally. One of his brothers, Donald, died in 1998 of Lou Gehrig's disease, a focus of stem cell work.
"What is the thinking behind saying that we should criminalize research that can prevent Parkinson's or juvenile diabetes?" Danforth asks. "We should criminalize research because we want to save cells in a petri dish that will never be implanted in a uterus and never become people?"
All of this and much of the paralyzing polarization on Capitol Hill he traces to "my fellow Christians."
"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."
Fronting the Center
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."
"Through very careful calculation," Lloyd says, "people in politics have decided that tolerance doesn't mobilize a base for a campaign, and what does is making people angry. My hope and my guess is that there is a fair amount of revulsion and that the moment is right for one or more candidates who want to appeal to a more generous spirit in the American people."
That certainly dovetails with the argument of Baptist Sunday school teacher and certified Democrat Jimmy Carter, who pursues the theme in his hot-selling recent book, "Our Endangered Values," with 750,000 copies in print. He quotes Danforth and accuses the GOP of building an intolerant, uncivil agenda from "narrowly defined religious beliefs." Hardliners, he says, are deepening the social divide by "imposing their minority views on a more moderate majority."
In an interview, Carter praises Danforth as "one of my heroes" and says modern-day fundamentalism is identifiable by superiority, exclusivity and narrow-mindedness. The current alignment reminds him of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting frenzy of 50 years ago. He says the country licked McCarthy and will beat the Christian conservatives, "once the American people realize accurately what is happening."
Yet conservative academic John J. Pitney Jr., author of a book on political warfare, simply does not buy the Danforth-Carter analysis. He also says religion has long been influential in politics and he questions whether moderates could power a movement.
"Moderation is no more an ideology than pastel is a color. It's just a muted version of something else," says Pitney, a politics professor at
Thus, the future influence of religion in politics -- and which shade of religion gains the greatest political traction -- likely comes down to an old-fashioned electoral equation. Just as Richard Land says, and he is betting on the influence of voters who like their lines clearly drawn. He thinks the very certainty that Danforth disdains is what will carry the Christian right to greater heights.
"We do believe God has a side, that he's not a moderate or relativist on everything," says Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I'm not a prophet. They may convince the American people they're right. We may continue to convince the American people we're right. I'd be happy to debate John or Jimmy anytime, anywhere."
The retired senator might prefer it otherwise, but he accepts the paradox that the hustings and the nave are where his fight must be waged if religion is to assume a less prominent place in the political arena. He is writing a book to be released during this year's political campaign, and he is counting on the anguished, the aggrieved and the annoyed to push back against the Christian right.
"What I hope is somebody runs for president on this theme," Danforth says. "I do hope it's a Republican."