Reverend Jack

REVEREND JACK… As a kid growing up in St. Louis, I somehow acquired and put up on my bedroom wall a campaign poster of our GOP senator, John Danforth. I did this not out of any deep fealty to the man or his party ? indeed, on his picture I penned in a mustache, beard, and pirate-like hoop earring. It was more a sign, I think, of my then-vague interest in politics, and the fact that I genuinely liked the guy. He seemed serious, smart, moderate, and kind.

After college, when I first came to Washington, I tried to get a job in his office. I was told by his equally kind chief of staff that my political proclivities seemed to put me more comfortably on the other side of the aisle, which I had to admit was true. Still, over the years, I have remained a fan of Danforth’s. And his op-ed in the New York Times today shows why. An ordained Episcopal minister, Danforth offers perhaps the most effective counter to the Christian right that I have ever read:

Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to “put God back” into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors’ lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals….

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.

Reading this, you can see why Danforth didn’t last long as the Bush administration’s U.N. ambassador.

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. He was an editor at the magazine from 1986 to 1988.