God and conservatives
John Danforth, the former Republican senator from Missouri and Episcopal minister, was on Meet the Press this past Sunday. He, as contrasted with most of the more shrill Christian fundementalist leaders who are in the public spotlight, radiated a gravitas and intelligence that was clear to see. He was calm, he was reasoned, and most of all, it was apparent that this was a man who had examined things clearly and honestly, not just as far as was necessary to come up with a justification for an agenda or desire for power.
During the interview, Russert referred to the editorial "Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers" which Danforth had written in the New York Times in June of 2005. The sentiments expressed there need to become more widely acknowledged by the general public, and Danforth expressed an degree of optimism that the public will slowly begin to see the destructive influence of those who misuse God as a tool to gain power. He sees the corrosive and unreasoned influence of the Christian right becoming more widely recognized for what it is, and therefore condemned and pushed back to the margins from where it emerged before Republicans discovered it as a lever to pull for political power and gave them influence far beyond their number.
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.
For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.
The full transcript of Danforth's appearance, as well as Russert's interview with Bill Clinton, can be read here. If you have the time, it's worth reading.
It takes not much time or thought to realize that the very issues used most cynically by the religious right and those who want to jump on their bandwagon as a means to power are almost ridiculously irrelevant to the true well-being of our country and the world. And most perversely, if their pet issues were returned to a rational priority, namely very far down the list, it would affect almost no one's life in any way, let alone negatively.
If prayer continues to be forbidden in classrooms, the country will NOT suffer or be diminished. Most people's lives won't be impacted in the slightest.
If gay marriage or civil unions are allowed, the country will NOT suffer or be diminished in any way whatsoever. Most people's lives would not be impacted in the slightest.
If the fight to burn a flag in protest is preserved, the country will NOT suffer or be diminished and no one's life will be even remotely impacted.
If religion is not allowed to be drug blatantly into the courtroom, people's rights will be preserved and no one will be harmed in the slightest. The country will not be worse off and no one will be affected in the slightest.
If schools are allowed to continue teaching established scientific fact regarding evolution, the country will not suffer, and absolutely no one will be harmed. It will have no negative impact on anyone, anywhere, at any time.
If abortion is allowed to be safe, rare, and legal, the country will not be harmed, nor will it suffer. And those that don't believe in it will not be harmed in the slightest, nor will their lives be affected in any way.
The entire agenda of the so-called Christian right is almost frivolous in light of the matters of enormous import to the future of our country and the very world we live which are crying out for immediate attention, energy, and solutions. Rather, such divisive ideological hot-button issues serve as a side-show, effectively blinding millions of people from other far more serious, far more pressing issues which, by contrast, most definitely WILL impact the country, and our planet itself, and will affect the lives of everyone living now and far into the future.
Yet politics are dominated by whether two gay guys should be allowed to marry, forcing religion into the schools and courts, and preventing even common sense gun measures? In the scheme of things, the right's obsession with these issues is impossible to fathom, other than a blatant and cynical attempt to manipulate and use the easily duped to keep them in power.
In a way, the Christian right are useful idiots to Republican power politics. They still, lemming-like, vote for Republicans due to their views on abortion, for instance, even though the Republicans have done essentially nothing on the issue, and don't have any intentions of doing anything, even though they've now controled all three branches of government for a relatively long time. They're willing dupes, fed endless propaganda from the tube and the pulpit. Yet they're still willingly manipulated, almost zombie-like, over and over again.
The right is more than aware that without this core of easily duped fundementalists, fed a steady diet of largely meaningless rhetoric and tossed tiny bones every now and then, they'd never stand a chance at the polls. The polls are the last remaining lever of power that they're money can't buy entirely. (which is why they're focusing on controling the counting of the votes instead, but that's another issue)
And it's precisely as Danforth notes, the Christian right's absolutism, their belief that they and they alone are privy to and understand God's will, that makes them so corrosive and dangerous to our long-standing democratic processes and traditions. They're attitude and choice of issues accomplishes nothing so much as driving wedges and sowing even further division and polarization throughout the country.
And all their fervently argued issues could dry up and blow away tomorrow, and the country would not only not suffer, it would be far better off, far more united, and given a chance to regain the traditional sense that we are all Americans and all together in the effort to make our nation a better place and an example to the world for peace, tolerance, justice, and freedom.