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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Danforth Urges Republicans to End Christian Right's Influence

WASHINGTON (AP) - Is the Christian
right the Republican Party's real political base or have conservative
Christians taken over the GOP, forcing the party to meet their demands?

John Danforth
(Photo: AP / Kiichiro Sato, File)

Danforth, a former Republican U.S. senator and Episcopal priest, talks
to reporters at a news conference Thursday, June 15, 2006 in Columbus,
Ohio during the Episcopal General Convention.

For former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, the answer became clear when
the Republican-controlled Congress intervened in the case of Terri
Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died after her husband won
the right to remove her feeding tube.

"The effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive artificially became a religious
crusade and Republicans in Washington responded to a core constituency,
even though it meant abandoning traditional Republican philosophy,"
Danforth writes in his new book, "Faith and Politics: How the 'Moral
Values' Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together."

Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest and a lifelong Republican who
represented Missouri for 18 years in the Senate, argues that the
religious right has focused its agenda on divisive issues that polarize
Americans and create a stalemate in government.

These issues, such as abortion, gay marriage and the use of religious
displays on government property, are "of little intrinsic importance
except as wedges" to energize the base by pitting "people of faith"
against their perceived enemies, Danforth says in the book due in
stores Tuesday.

"If Christianity is supposed to be a ministry of reconciliation, but
has become, instead, a divisive force in American political life,
something is terribly wrong and we should correct it," Danforth writes.

He urges moderate Christians to be more assertive in spreading the
message of reconciliation so they can rebuild the political center and
abide by Jesus' instruction to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Danforth first denounced the influence of the Christian right in a
series of columns and speeches more than a year ago. The book is an
effort to generate more discussion about the role of religion in
American politics.

While he acknowledges that Republicans believe they can win elections
by appealing to the Christian right, Danforth says voters ultimately
will turn against those tactics because they don't want the GOP to be a
religious political party.

Since he retired from the Senate, Danforth has served as special envoy
to Sudan in 2001 and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 2004.
Drawing on his experience trying to broker peace in war-torn Sudan,
Danforth says Christians can find common ground by working with
religious leaders to help end conflicts around the world.

Back in private law practice in St. Louis, he is waging a passionate
and personal fight to support embryonic stem cell research and its
potential to cure ailments like Lou Gehrig's disease, which claimed the
life of his older brother Don in 1999.

He has taken a leading role in championing a Missouri ballot initiative
this year that would protect all federally allowed stem cell research
in the state. The measure is opposed by many church and anti-abortion

"No theologian, however learned; no church council, however
authoritative; no bishop or archbishop, however holy will ever persuade
me that protecting a frozen embryo that will never see the light of day
should take precedence over my brother Don," Danforth writes.

Critics such as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh have accused
Danforth of trying to push Christian conservatives out of politics. But
Danforth says he doesn't believe politicians should check their
religious beliefs at the door.

"There is a difference between being a Christian in politics and having a Christian agenda for politics," Danforth writes.

While Danforth's litany of complaints may make readers wonder if he has
considered leaving the GOP, Danforth said in an interview that he has
never questioned being a Republican.

"I believe in the basic principles of the Republican Party and I have
never wavered from those basic beliefs," Danforth said. "But I just
don't believe that any political party should be a sectarian party."


© 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


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