In sermons and speeches, Rev. John C. Danforth has commented often about the challenges America faces in the current political climate.
He’s someone who speaks from experience, having served three terms in the U.S. Senate and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. His 2006 book, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together, articulated the tensions between secular and religious factions in government today, and offered a road map for a more meaningful discourse.
At the heart of Danforth’s criticism is a desire for more civility and less divisiveness.
“We have become so combative, so polarized, so enraged with one another that we can’t find common ground on major subjects that we must somehow resolve,” he said in a sermon delivered last year to the congregation at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
Danforth’s commitment to the belief that we can and must foster civil public discourse on two of the hottest-of-the-hot topics — religion and politics — has helped to create a new scholarly and educational center on campus.
Funded by a generous gift from the Danforth Foundation, the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis was founded in 2010 as an ideologically neutral venue for fostering rigorous scholarship and informing broad academic and public communities about the intersections of religion and U.S. politics.
“At the Danforth Center, we intend to bring individuals of different religious, political, educational ideas together to really listen and understand where each is coming from,” Marie Griffith, PhD, director of the center and the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities told the St. Louis Beacon when she was named director of the center in 2011.
“Instead of talk, talk, talk about me, me, me, we want them to listen to others, to understand others’ values, political and civic divisions,” she continued.
As part of its charter, the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics has created a public lecture series attracting well-known figures such as Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator and best-selling author, George F. Will, who will be the fall semester’s keynote speaker, as well as E.J. Dionne Jr., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post. The center also brings to campus five distinguished faculty and hosts a number of academic lectures, symposia and conferences on the St. Louis campus and in Washington, D.C.
In May 2012, the center launched Religion & Politics, a new online journal dedicated to providing greater depth of understanding around the religious and political issues that are shaping our lives.
The journal’s tagline, “Fit for Polite Company,” offers an aside to readers who are looking for an alternative to the jabs and posturing of punditry found elsewhere. Instead, Religion & Politics focuses on providing debate with a respectful tone.
“As we have grown and expanded into a multiethnic and culturally diverse nation, our religious differences have multiplied and our political divisions have deepened,” said Griffith when the new journal was launched.
“Our journal was founded to explore these issues from a broad range of diverging viewpoints, rather than a single grinding ax,” she said. “Religion is neither inherently virtuous nor innately evil; rather, imperfect people interpret their own religious (or secular) beliefs, with outcomes that may be virtuous or evil, by anyone’s definition.”
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