Canonizing Father Jack

DanforthPulpitWashington Post reporter Peter Slevin found a Republican he likes. He profiles former Senator John Danforth and his campaign to reduce the influence of the religious right.

It’s on the Style pages, the section of the paper in which a story will not run unless it’s snide. And that explains the beginning of the piece:

Jack Danforth wishes the Republican right would step down from its pulpit. Instead, he sees a constant flow of religion into national politics. And not just any religion, either, but the us-versus-them, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God, velvet-fist variety of Christian evangelism.

As a mainline Episcopal priest, retired U.S. senator and diplomat, Danforth worships a humbler God and considers the right’s certainty a sin. Legislating against gay marriage, for instance? “It’s just cussedness.” As he sees it, many Republican leaders have lost their bearings and, if they don’t change, will lose their grip on power. Not to mention make the United States a meaner place.

In any case, if you want to read about how Danforth supports embryonic stem-cell research, thought the Terri Schiavo case was about appeasing the Christian Right and thinks homosexual marriage is fine, you should check out the article. If you want to know more about the specific religious views that motivate Danforth’s political agenda, look elsewhere. Speaking of gay marriage, this paragraph made me laugh:

In Missouri, where Danforth won five statewide elections, a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage passed overwhelmingly last year. Yet he believes most people would say no if asked, “Do you believe we should just be nasty and humiliate people and degrade them because of sexual orientation?”

Well, yes, I imagine most people who oppose gay marriage would say no if asked that question. The article does repeatedly concede that Danforth’s time in office — when conservatives did not exert such influence within the Republican Party — was also the time when Republicans didn’t have nearly as much political clout. Unfortunately the article fails to make a convincing argument as to why Republicans should listen to Danforth’s views on religious influence.

The idea that the religiously motivated political views of one group should be replaced with the religiously motivated political views of another group could have been explored more substantively.

Either way, reporters should probably be more careful than Slevin was at letting such strong personal feelings show through. Even on the Style pages.

Photo credit: Donovan Marks, Washington National Cathedral.

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  • Miguel Ochoa-Peréz

    Dear Get Religion,

    I am a religion journalist and a daily reader (or skimmer, at least!) of your site. I very much profit from your perspective and the links you provide. I’ve never had any formal journalistic training, so it’s been great to pick up the lingo.

    I write, though, because a few days ago you posted an image of a woman clad in underwear lying on the laps of two men. At least, I think that’s what the picture was. I try hard to scroll quickly past such images. Somehow the Lord has graciously kept me from seeing many such things even though my job requires me to spend the whole day on the Net. I was surprised to see GetReligion publish such a picture.

    No chiding here, just a kind word. Please feel free to delete my post. I’m posting here because I don’t want to scroll down and post at that offensive entry–and I can’t find an e-mail address on your site.


  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I can’t help but wonder if that reporter on the Danforth story knew exactly how he was slanting and spinning the story. I know, out of charity, we are supposed to give professionals in the journalistic trade a little slack, understanding that complete objectivity may be a noble goal, should be aimed at, but is rarely purely obtained.
    But that intro gave all the earmarks of being by someone who knew what he was about–questioning and then demeaning the right of religious people to take part in our democratic processes and handling it in such a way that someone who is not strongly attached to any faith or is politically liberal will read it and want to spit nails at conservative or traditional religious people who become politically involved.

  • Michael

    I’m not sure that the assumption that this was “spun” by the reporter is fair. Anyone who has listened to Danforth recently or read his NYT op-ed would realize that the lead sounded like something Danforth would have said and didn’t require a biased reporter to step-in.

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  • Will

    I am relieved that he is “an Episcopal priest”, and not one of those diaconal priests.