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How Faithful People Can Change Politics

by John Danforth

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9790-3
Publisher: Random House

A retired politician advises people of faith on how to influence politics in a civilized manner.

Danforth (Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together, 2006, etc.), who served Missouri as a senator from 1976 to 1995, begins by explaining that he is also an ordained Episcopal priest and almost took the route of ministry rather than politics. The author uses his faith background as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the proper role of religion in politics. He begins with a blunt assessment of modern American politics and makes the seemingly obvious argument that politics is not religion. He points out that for politics to work properly, politicians and activists must not see those with whom they disagree as the enemy. “When we do not keep politics in its proper place and when we make it our ultimate concern, when we turn politics into our religion,” he writes, “we transform it into something grotesque, and that is what we have done.” Danforth goes on to declare a need for virtuous citizens, a quality in the U.S. that he feels has largely disappeared since the early days of the republic. He argues against egocentric politics and self-centered political theories (including libertarianism). It is in building virtue that he believes faith can play a role: “Religion can supply what has gone missing: an understanding of what we humans are and an appeal to what we should be.” The author’s message is a call for civility and cooperation in the political realm; he even calls on Republicans to stop fighting such “lost causes” as abortion and same-sex marriage. Though Danforth’s work has merit and he is certainly a voice of reason, he can come across as slightly anachronistic, peppering his writing with stories about the likes of Russell Long and John F. Kennedy and hearkening back to a time when Washington politics was definitely different but only arguably better.

Well-reasoned advice sure to fall on many deaf ears.