Saturday, June 18, 2005

Religious moderation... Hallelujah!

I'm not terribly religious myself, but John Danforth, Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri, makes an excellent case here for what could be called moderate Christianity. The entire piece is a must-read (and check out The Carpetbagger Report's take here), but let me single out a key passage:

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.

Danforth's acute diagnosis of the problem of the Christian right within the context of the Republican Party doubles as a thoughtful defence of moderation (and moderate politics) against the extremes, specifically the extremism of the religious right. Given that the religious right has assumed such power and influence within the Republican Party -- and by extension within American politics -- his arguments that "[p]eople of faith are not of one mind," that "equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions," and that "[m]oderate Christians are less certain about when and how [their] 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" need to be taken seriously.

Danforth sets himself apart from much of the Republican Party on key wedge issues like Terri Schiavo, stem-cell research, and a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. And, unlike the right-wing extreme, he "strongly support[s] 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". If only the religious right (and its opportunistic partisans in the Republican Party) would remember that God "reached out in compassion to all human beings" and that "the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves".

If only.

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