Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Tom Chaney: Faith and Politics

Tom First posted this column in the 17 December, 2006 Hart County News-Herald.
The next earlier Tom Chaney: Of Writers and Their Books Tom Chaney R739: The Pleasures of Biography.

By: Tom Chaney

Faith and Politics

Senator John Danforth served three terms as the Republican senator from Missouri (1979-1995). He served as ambassador to the United Nations and as special envoy for peace in Sudan.

As an ordained Episcopal priest, his most recent book, Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together, Viking Press, 2006, speaks eloquently to current issues in American politics.

When he arrived in the Senate, the Republican Party was in a minority in the Senate. When he left in 1995 they were in a majority. "This improved electoral status has occurred as the Republican Party has identified itself with the Christian Right."

Danforth notes that this identification was starkly seen in the Terri Schiavo case wherein the Republican leaders rushed through Congress legislation to keep Schiavo connected to life support despite the findings of the Florida courts and a previously evinced will not to be kept alive artificially.

The union between the Republican Party and the Christian right led to the shift of the majority in Congress based upon a number of "hot button" issues.

"But," Danforth writes, "this is not a coalition of traditional Republicans and the Christian Right in the nature of a merger of equals. This is the takeover of the Republican Party by the Christian Right.... with no resistance from traditional Republicans."

As a moderate Republican, Danforth says, "When I entered the Senate, I did not check my religion at the door.

"There is a difference between being a Christian in politics and having a Christian agenda for politics. There were times when I believed that on a particular issue, I was doing God's will. My attempts to address the hunger crises in Cambodia and Africa were time of such belief, but such times were very rare. For the overwhelming majority of my time in public life, I had no certainty that my side was God's side."

Asking what faith brings to politics if not an agenda, he answers, "[f]or me, it brings a struggle to do God's will that always falls short of the goal. ... Most of all faith brings recognition that our quest never leads us to certainty. We are always uncertain, always in doubt that our way is God's way. That self-doubt makes it possible to be reconciled to one another. It is a faith that makes the reconciling work of politics possible."

From this point he examines the wedge issues of abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and family values. His discussion of these issues is informed by his faith, but the positions he has taken on those questions are not predetermined by the radical right.

"Christians," he observes, "can have a profound effect on politics without espousing the wedge issues that drive Americans apart. The alternative to the activism of the Christian Right is not passivity, but a different kind of activism, one that emphasizes the reconciling quality of religion as opposed to its divisive force."

Danforth finds three broad areas where Christians across the political spectrum can find common ground.

The first such area is that of peacemaking, "Where followers of the Prince of Peace, whether liberal or conservative, might find opportunities to mediate the religious components of violent conflict in parts of the world where people kill each other in the name of God."

"A second broad area of agreement is the commitment of liberal and conservative Christians to show compassion to suffering people simply because those in need are children of God." It is this area of agreement that Danforth witnessed in Sudan where many varieties of Christians joined to help a desperate people.

The third area is not one of issues. Politics "involve human beings who, whatever their position on questions of public policy, deserve our respect if not our agreement. When politics devolves into character assassination, all Christians should speak out against personal destruction."

This, then, is Danforth's politics of reconciliation.

Faith and Politics is the best statement thus far for help to lead the nation out of the morass of divisive argument. As one who was raised a southern Baptist and steeped in the doctrine of the separation of church and state, Danforth provides a difficult map toward the reconciliation of faith and public life wherein the latter is infused with the former with full acceptance of the validity of differences and the impossibility of knowing ultimate truth.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2011-12-11 10:12:15
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by Linda Waggener and Pen Waggener, PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia Magazine. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.