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Backstory: 'St. Jack' hits the religious right

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It's not discomfort with religious values in public life that's behind his new drive, the senator insists, but concern that religion is being used to deliberately divide Americans. Politics practiced rightly is the glue that keeps a diverse nation together and the catalyst that moves it forward, he believes. Yet today the political arena is plagued by rancor and incapable of resolving the most crucial issues confronting America. He sees a link between that unhappy state and the power of Christian conservatives within his own party. He's stirring a ruckus, he hopes, so that others will speak up.

He wrote two blunt op-eds in The New York Times last year decrying the "takeover" of the Republican Party by the Christian right and calling for recognition that people of faith can disagree on issues.

This week, as the US political campaign intensifies, he hopes to spur more discussion with the publication of "Faith and Politics." Both a memoir and a presentation of the issues posed by today's religio-political agenda, the book offers what he views as a desirable alternative. Describing bipartisan achievements by centrists in the Senate, it asserts that the center is where action beneficial to the nation occurs.

Danforth hasn't been averse to adopting a moral tone himself. During his senate career (1976-95), he put such a premium on taking the moral high road that he was dubbed "St. Jack" by his critics. He fell from that high horse in the eyes of some when he marshaled support for Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1991. Mr. Thomas was a close friend and a former aide, and the senator has acknowledged that he played tough in denigrating Anita Hill and her charge of sexual harassment.

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