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Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers   
Tougher issues    Homosexuality    Abortion    Being grownup   .

Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers

By John C. Danforth, June 17, 2005

IT would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our 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. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support 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. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

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.

John C. Danforth is an Episcopal minister, former Republican senator from Missouri, and former ambassador to the United Nations.

Tougher issues

The following are references discovered after Senator Danforth's editorial.

Evolution and "intelligent design" are not necessarily in conflict. Alan Leshner, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science, interviewed on The Diane Rehm Show 8/4/05 said "Darwin did not take a position that there was no intelligent designer or not. He didn't take a position on the question of "who started it all". We're only talking about how humans came to be as they are through a process of change and adaptation." Leshner says that evolution is a scientific idea; intelligent design is a spiritual or other sort of idea. He stresses that non-scientific subjects should not be taught in scientific classrooms.

"We too often forget that faith is a matter of questioning and struggle before it becomes one of certitude and peace. You have to doubt and reject everything else in order to believe firmly in Christ, and after you have begun to believe, your faith itself must be tested and purified. Christianity is not merely a set of forgone conclusions. Faith tends to be defeated by the burning presence of God in mystery, and seeks refuge from him, flying to comfortable social forms and safe convictions in which purification is no longer an inner battle but a matter of outward gesture." (Thomas Merton)

"What most saddens me in this whole raucous debate in the churches is how sub-Christian most of it has been. It is characteristic of our time that the issues most difficult to assess, and which have generated the greatest degree of animosity, are issues on which the Bible can be interpreted as supporting either side. I am referring to abortion and homosexuality." (Walter Wink)


Walter Wink in his essay Homosexuality and the Bible identifies three Biblical texts which unequivocally condemn male homosexual behavior, though female homosexual behavior is not so seriously regarded. He discusses the historical context for these views and the fact that people of the time had no concept of homosexual orientation. Further, Paul's condemnation was of relationships that were heavy with lust, not enduring committed relationships. He concedes that the Bible can be interpreted as supporting either side, but he presents thoughtful arguments for the person seeking to explore this issue.


Tom O'Brien identifies the follow resources for one who wishes to better understand the issue of abortion.

New York Times of June 27, 2004 op-ed article by Gary Wills "The Bishops vs. the Bible" in which he examines some of the Biblical verses that supposedly (but really don't) support a prohibition on abortion.

Resolution 1994-A054 of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on Childbirth and Abortion (available through online archives of the EC).

A series of articles from "Religion and Choice" at, and /es8/comp.html, and /es3/comp.html and

I also recall reading a very promising article in the last month or two about MEANINGFUL conversations among women who would have been labelled "pro-choice" and "pro-life" (and they are only shorthand labels) in an attempt to find some common grounds for the care, support, and informing persons who are pregnant and not sure they want to carry the child to term and how they can carry the child. The article dealt with the isolation of these pregnant women who often saw abortion as the only way they could continue working, or going to school, or whatever -- and how these otherwise "opposed" women worked to find ways to be of real assistance to these pregnant women. The article may have been in "Christian Century" in the last three months -- that is my best recollection. No -- I take it back: I now think it was in an issue of the Notre Dame magazine, and it is probably findable online. The ND Magazine comes out four times a year, and is very well done. It would have been in the 2005 Spring or Summer issues.

Being grownup

To be grownup is:
  1. to act in accord with what you most care about regardless of your circumstances,
  2. to accept that our lives are inescapably intertwined with the lives of others, and thus
  3. to balance your interests with the interests of others (in the spirit of the Golden Rule which is common to nearly all cultures).

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