Steve's Soapbox

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Amen, Amen, Amen Brother Danforth

Danforth Criticizes Christian Sway in GOP
Oct 26 8:51 PM US/Eastern
By DANIEL CONNOLLY
Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK

The influence of evangelical Christians in the Republican Party hurts the organization and divides the country, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth said during a visit to the Bill Clinton School of Public Service on Wednesday.
Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest, met with students during a seminar and held a luncheon talk at the graduate school.
"I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right," he said in an interview after his talks. "I don't think that this is a permanent condition but I think this has happened, and that it's divisive for the country."
He also said the evangelical Christian influence would be bad for the party in the long run.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracy Schmitt declined comment.
Danforth, who recently served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made similar criticism of the party in an opinion article published by the New York Times in June. In that article, he called for religious moderates to take part in public life.
People of faith have an obligation to be in politics, he said.
"I think the question arises when a political party becomes identified with one particular sectarian position and when religious people believe that they have the one answer, that they understand God's truth and they embody it politically," he said.
"Nothing is more dangerous than religion in politics and government when it becomes divisive," he said. "I'll give you examples: Iraq. Northern Ireland. Palestine."
Danforth, considered a conservative on social issues, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and served three terms. In his final term he played a key role in defending Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas against claims of sexual harassment during bitter confirmation hearings. Thomas eventually was confirmed.
Under Democratic President Bill Clinton, Danforth was appointed special counsel in an investigation of the deadly 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas.
The current President Bush appointed Danforth as special peace envoy to Sudan and later as ambassador to the United Nations.
Danforth was sworn in as ambassador in July 2004 and resigned in January. Wednesday, Danforth cited his age _ now 69 _ and his desire to move back to his St. Louis home as his reasons for leaving.
He most recently has worked for the Bryan Cave law firm in St. Louis. Former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark. and dean of the Clinton School for Public Service, invited him to visit the school.
The school, housed in a remodeled red brick train station on the grounds of the Clinton presidential library, opened in August and currently has 16 students enrolled in its two-year master's degree program. It is a branch of the University of Arkansas.
"I thought that the students were bright and highly motivated and it was encouraging to have the opportunity to spend some time with them," Danforth said. "I thought the physical facilities were wonderful."
The school plays an important role, he said.
"I think it's important to encourage and inspire people who have an interest in public service and to equip them for public service," he said. "But in my view more important than any particular curriculum item is to be encouraged and strengthened as somebody who wants to participate in public service."