John Danforth's new book, Faith and Politics, is being championed as an "incredibly thoughtful book" in which Danforth "oozes sincerity and good sense as he excoriates 'Christian conservatives' (naming James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, among others) for corrupting religious doctrine on reproduction and marriage and inappropriately inserting it in government." In his appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" Danforth made very clear the premise of his book: That the pro-life movement, the traditional marriage movement, and movements aligned with these in social conservatism, are uniquely responsible for dividing America.
Danforth's book will receive inordinate attention because of who he is. He is a Republican. He is an Episcopal priest (which puts him in the elite company of....let's see....John Shelby-Spong, Gene Robinson, and Catherine Jefferts-Schori. Yeah, I'd keep that prominently on my resume). And so, he represents the only solution for unity that so many can envision—for conservatives to sell out and for liberals to carry the day entirely.
It is funny the way that people view division. A person or movement can unilaterally introduce incredibly controversial or even offensive ideas, roil the populace with them, and then fling accusations of divisiveness upon anyone who dares not to acquiese to the controversial crusade that they themselves introduced. Somehow, the public often seems to forget to ask who threw the first punch.
- Who unliaterally amended the Constitution by unconstitutional means by inventing a right to abortion in 1973? Why doesn't the path to unity include a call for those who started the fight to overturn this hateful act?
- Who has provoked the controversy over gay marriage? About gay anything? Can anyone say with a straight face that cultural conservatives are the ones who have advanced these divisive issues to the forefront of the public square? Why isn't a return to the concept of marriage and sexuality that has dominated the entire history of our nation (with very little controversy, by the way) a good way to find unity?
- Who has started chopping up some human beings in the search for cures for other human beings? It seems like a good way to end the division over this issue would be to end the practice that serves as the cause of the division.
- Who invented the modern-day idea of glossolalia around a century ago and launched crusades to spread the "full gospel" throughout existing churches and denominations? Why are not those who insist upon the promotion of such novel practices the ones who are guilty of division?
- Who started the talk of our conventions drafting official positions on doctrinal ideas like so-called "private prayer language"? If such resolutions are divisive, then why does the charge of divisiveness not fall upon those who instigated the idea?
- Many bemoan the tenor of blogging conversations, but who is the true genesis of the blogging battles? Why are the responders the ones charged with picking the fight?
- Why are the Episcopal dioceses that are seeking to remain Christian the ones who are charged with "schism"?
Danforth's book is also troubling for its suggestion that tepid religion is the best religion and is somehow better for the nation. The pro-life movement is not inherently a religious movement. Indeed, it is no more religious than the emancipation movement or the civil rights movement was, and these three have much in common. Very passionate religious fervor has produced some of the greatest things about this nation, and usually when it occupied one side of a divisive controversy. One problem with the whole analysis offered by Danforth and many others is the assumption that divisiveness is always wrong. The emancipation movement was divisive, and thank God for it. It seems to me that the charge of divisiveness is a convenient one to level when one would rather not discuss the merits of one's own position on the real, underlying issues.
But Danforth's book will nonetheless enjoy tremendous appeal, both among those who claim to be protecting politics from the evils of faith and probably among some of those who claim to be protecting faith from the evils of politics. If either claim were true, it might be worthy of investigation. Instead, they are merely working to give political power to a different faith and to substitute one set of politics for another into faith communities.