Former Sen. John C. Danforth (pictured here) spoke at the celebratory dinner, and I want to pass along a few points he made. I've always liked Jack Danforth from his early days as a Missouri state official, though I've sometimes disagreed with him on issues. I've found him to be a thoughtful, reasonable man. Perhaps it helps that he's an Episcopal priest in addition to being a politician.
Danforth's main point the other evening was that we need to defuse the culture wars by learning to live with our disagreements over hot-button issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and not immediately insisting that the legislative or judicial branches of our government solve them. That, he said, often merely leads to prolonged hard feelings and more uncivil discourse while preventing a social consensus from developing.
Let me give you a few quotes from him:
* "Nothing is more divisive than to claim that you are on God's side. Some time ago, after I had criticized the Christian Right for using wedge issues, Rush Limbaugh said that I wanted to silence religious people. Not so. . .I intend to speak out myself. But when we speak it's important to say that we aren't God and that our opinions about God aren't God. God transcends us."
* "When religious activists hold rallies, politicians aren't far away."
* "(In hot-button issues such as stem-cell research) often the argument is about religion. . . There is no recognition that it's a matter of opinion. The message is, 'I know God's truth. I'm on God's side. You are an enemy of God.' There is an armageddon quality to much in politics."
* "I think we should debate these (most divisive) issues in homes, churches and think tanks before we ask legislatures to act. Take the issue of religion. Legislatures are places of combat where sometimes, though rarely, the issues do involve religion. States forbid polygamy and child marriages even if a sect believes otherwise. Laws prohibit using peyote for sacramental purposes and require immunization regardless of religious objections. Such laws protect the health, safety and morals of the people and receive large majorities of public support. The question isn't whether government intervenes in religion but when."
Danforth propsed what he called at attitude of "watchful waiting" instead of beating each other's brains out over the issues that have formed the center of the so-called culture wars.
Mostly I agree. At the same time, I think we have to be careful not to allow an attitude of watchful waiting to be seen as not caring about the outcome of an issue. What if the abolitionists had been seen as willing to wait forever to see the institution of slavery outlawed? Might we still have legal slavery in America today?
Nor do I expect people who believe passionately that abortion is murder to quit saying that and to simply wait silently for the issue to resolve itself. And I don't think Danforth would expect that either. Rather, I think he would have prefered that passionate debate about abortion take place outside of government circles until something closer to a consensus developed, at which point it might have been possible to enact legislation reflecting that consensus. Instead, we're trying to live with -- and continuing to fight over -- the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
So what do you think? Is he on to something or is this impractical idealism?
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GETTING THE POPE'S EAR
For the pope's current trip to the Middle East, the Jerusalem Post printed this open message to Pope Benedict XVI from the chief rabbi of Haifa. He talks about the 1965 Vatican II document called Nostra Aetate, which for the first time put the Catholic Church on record as saying Jews should not be blamed for the death of Christ. For my detailed essay on anti-Judaism in Christian history, click on the link about that subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.
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P.S.: I'll be teaching a writing class in July at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, but the online catalog says that as of May 10 the class is full. For details about getting on a waiting list, click on the link about the class under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.
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ANOTHER P.S.: Thanks to reader Cole Morgan for organizing a picnic Saturday at Penguin Park for some of the commenters here on the blog. In this photo below you see some of the picnic-goers are deep into some kind of debate that I, for once, had no power to moderate.