Danforth has criticized social conservatives for using God in polarizing ways, but he sees another role for religion in public life.

Danforth has criticized social conservatives for using God in polarizing ways, but he sees another role for religion in public life.

John Danforth has spent his life navigating the relationship between religion and politics. A Republican from Missouri, he served in the Senate for nearly 20 years and was later appointed ambassador to the United Nations by George W. Bush. He is also an ordained Episcopal priest. Over the last 10 years, Danforth has written extensively about the ways religion has poisoned politics, criticizing social conservatives for using God to polarize the country. Now, Danforth has released a new book. It’s about the positive role religion can play in bridging the partisan divide that paralyzes Washington. John Danforth on the relevance of religion.


  • John Danforth Author of "The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics"; former U.S. Senator and ambassador to the United Nations

Read An Excerpt

Reprinted from THE RELEVANCE OF RELIGION: HOW FAITHFUL PEOPLE CAN CHANGE POLITICS. Copyright © 2015 by John C. Danforth. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC.

The Relevance Of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics by wamu885


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A decade ago, Republican John Danforth wrote about the ways religion poisons American politics. Now, the former senator from Missouri attempts to provide the antidote. In a new book titled, "The Relevance Of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics," he describes the role faith has played in fueling gridlock in Washington and how it might help to get rid of it.

  • 11:07:26

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio, former senator, former UN ambassador, Episcopal priest, John Danforth. We do invite your comments, questions throughout the hour. Give us a call with your ideas, your opinions, 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to you, sir. It's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:56

    MR. JOHN DANFORTHGood to be here. Thank you very much.

  • 11:07:58

    REHMYou know, you come at a time shortly after the election of a brand new presiding bishop for the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. Tell us what you know of him, what you think of him, the first African-American presiding bishop elected.

  • 11:08:21

    DANFORTHI have not met Bishop Curry. I plan to meet him and go to New York in December. That would be shortly after he's installed as the new presiding bishop. I have seen a couple of his sermons on YouTube. I am very, very impressed by him. I think he has a vision of the church that is very outward-looking, very constructive and I'm looking forward to his leadership of our church.

  • 11:09:01

    REHMThe protestant churches and the Episcopal Church included are losing members by the thousands.

  • 11:09:11

    DANFORTHThat's right.

  • 11:09:12

    REHMWhat's happening?

  • 11:09:13

    DANFORTHThat's right, that's right. Well, I think that a lot of people are sort of identifying themselves as they call themselves nones, N-O-N-E-S. That is, people who are unaffiliated with any religion and I think that people are wondering just what is the church for, what does it stand for, what does it do, how does it relate not just to their personal lives, but to the world around them. And from what I know of Bishop Curry, those are his concerns as well and I think that he's going to offer the church the purpose that is going to be something that’s very, very appealing to people who are concerned about the state of the country and the state of the world.

  • 11:10:06

    REHMAnd speaking of the state of the country, it's certainly interesting times in which we live. Your last book, titled "Faith And Politics" criticized Republicans for exploiting wedge issues to cater to their base. Now, you're talking about how faithful people can change politics. Explain what you mean.

  • 11:10:42

    DANFORTHThe book that I wrote nine or ten years ago was a response to the politicization of religion or the use of religion in order to divide Americans, create wedge issues in order to energize the so-called base of the Republican party. And I thought that that was a misuse of religion, that it was not good for the country and so I wrote the book. And it turned out that at about the same time, other people were also saying basically the same thing.

  • 11:11:16

    DANFORTHMadeleine Albright wrote a book on the subject. E.J. Dionne wrote a book on the subject. And I think that the country benefitted from shedding light on the misuse of religion, but this book is different. It's really written from a more positive perspective and the question it asks is if you are concerned about the broken state of politics in America, what can be done about it and how can faithful people help try to make politics better than it is right now?

  • 11:11:55

    DANFORTHHow can they try to mend the broken politics of today? So this is a more positive outlook, I think, than the last book.

  • 11:12:07

    REHMBut forgive me, Senator, you served there in that body from 1976 to 1995. The Senate has changed tremendously, as has the House of Representatives. What kind of a role can faith play now that's positive considering the fractured nature of not only the Congress, but our entire country.

  • 11:12:46

    DANFORTHThe very word religion, the root of the word is the same as the root for the word ligament. Religion, the definition is holding things together. And I think that that is a mission for faithful people, to try to hold things together and particularly when Congress is not functioning. So I think that there are things that religious people can offer, things that they can say that are very positive and that give us a different view of what politics should be than what we're experiencing today.

  • 11:13:27

    REHMSuch as?

  • 11:13:29

    DANFORTHWell, I think one thing that religion says is that it's not all about us. That is, we, as a people, should not just be turned in ourselves and our own self interest. Self interest is, you know, part of what every human from all times has been concerned about. But our earliest presidents were interested in what they called virtue, which meant concern for the common good and not just about self interest. That's pretty well fallen by the wayside now.

  • 11:14:10

    DANFORTHAnd religion turns us out of ourselves toward the common good. So it's now been five years since Simpson-Bowles. It's been 21 years ago since Bob Kerrey and I chaired what was called the Kerrey-Danforth Commission on what's happened of the entitlements. Nothing has been done because what politicians are hearing from their constituents is don't cut any program, don't raise any taxes and you can't function that way and that's where we are so we're stalemated.

  • 11:14:47

    REHMAnd in a time when, as you perhaps heard in our prior hour, when 1 percent of the population owns 50 percent of the wealth not only in this country, but worldwide. How does the expression of faith deal with the issues that the country has to focus on when you've got a Congress that says we will only lower taxes, we will restrict regulation, we will insure that the wealthy get even wealthier?

  • 11:15:40

    DANFORTHI believe that very faithful people are both Republicans and Democrats. They are conservative. They are liberal, that good people are at every point on the political spectrum. I think that to say that there's a religious answer to a political problem is wrong. I think to say that my side is God's side, my side on questions of taxation, my side on questions of spending is the same as God's side really shuts down political discussion.

  • 11:16:24

    DANFORTHIn fact, that is a reversion to the wedge, the divisive use of politics that I commented on 10 years ago. So I think it's very important for religious people to say that politics and religion are very different spheres. Politics is working things out. Politics is -- well, legislating is, as people have said, making sausage. That's the nature of it. And to say my side is God's side really shuts down discussion and is not the thing to do.

  • 11:17:00

    DANFORTHSo there are differences of opinion, honest differences of opinion on questions of economics. Some people say that the government should have a heavier hand. Some people say that it should have a lighter hand. Some people say that taxes should be increased. Some people say the taxes are going to be reduced. Those are political issues on which honest people can disagree, but I don't think that those are religious issues.

  • 11:17:29

    DANFORTHI think where religion comes into play is not on directing or dictating a particular legislative agenda, but rather on the tone of politics and the way we conduct politics and the way we interact with one another.

  • 11:17:47

    REHMFormer Senator John Danforth, his new book is titled "The Relevance Of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics." We're going to take a short break. I'll remind you, you can join us. 800-433-8850. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, former Senator John Danforth is with me. He is also an ordained Episcopal priest. He's written a new book titled, "The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics." Here's our first website comment from Jerry, who says, there is a difference between people of faith serving in government and people using government to force their faith on others. Too often -- as in the Kentucky court clerk or Mike Huckabee, talking about requiring judges to follow his interpretation of God's will -- we see the latter.

  • 11:21:00

    DANFORTHWell, I agree with that comment. With regard to the Kentucky clerk, when you're elected to public office -- particularly to an executive position, as the clerk was -- your sworn duty is to execute the law. It's not to try to foist your opinion on the rest of the public. So she had a duty to execute the law, regardless of whether she agreed with it or not.

  • 11:21:28

    REHMWhat do you think she should have done?

  • 11:21:31

    DANFORTHI think that she should have functioned in her office as the law required her to function in her office.

  • 11:21:37


  • 11:21:37

    DANFORTHAnd not act -- and not act as an independent contractor. Or, if she couldn't do it, then she should have resigned.

  • 11:21:47

    REHMHow do you feel about gay marriage?

  • 11:21:51

    DANFORTHI think that this is an issue that, as a political matter, is over. I think that the public has changed so dramatically in a very short period of time, that it's no longer a live political issue. And the more time that goes by, the more it will be over because younger people just assume that gay marriage is correct. I am 79 years old and I think, like a lot of people my age, we never even considered such a thing. They never heard of it until, what, 10 years ago or so. So I think for older people, it's harder to come to grips with it than for younger people. I signed on to a brief to support what turned out to be the Supreme Court's decision. I thought that the time had come for the Supreme Court to say, okay, we've settled that issue nationally. Let's put it behind us.

  • 11:23:01

    REHMHere's another email from George in Wilmington, N.C., who says, it's my understanding of U.S. history that the so-called progressive era, from 1890 to 1920, where we saw attempts to mitigate income inequality, improve workplace safety, ending child labor, et cetera, had an underlying impetus or inspiration from the evangelical Christians. Today's religious zealots, he calls them, now seem to inspire the opposite. Your thoughts?

  • 11:23:51

    DANFORTHAgain, I think that there are good people, faithful people who have a variety of views on how to improve the economy. I think that religious people are concerned, must be concerned about the disadvantaged, about poor people, about sick people. But there are a wide variety of ideas of precisely how to go about doing that. By the way, on the progressive era, Theodore Roosevelt, when he accepted the Bull Moose nomination for president, he concluded his acceptance speech famously by saying, we stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord. I think, really, he was battling for Theodore Roosevelt, not for the Lord. But I think that it -- you -- it's not correct to try to identify your political position with God's position.

  • 11:24:52

    REHMIt's interesting that you say that. We have an email from Louis in Arlington, Va. Please ask Mr. Danforth how he feels about sponsoring Justice Clarence Thomas early in Thomas' career. What was it about Mr. Thomas' professional and personal credentials that led Mr. Danforth to believe he was qualified to be a justice on the court? What does he think about Justice Thomas' record on the court?

  • 11:25:35

    DANFORTHI have said from the outset of Clarence Thomas' tenure on the court, that I was not going to be a commentator on his jurisprudence and I'm not. I would say this, as a human being, he is a kind and decent human being. I've known him for a very long time. When I was state attorney general, I hired Clarence Thomas to come to work for me in Jefferson City as an assistant attorney general of my state.

  • 11:26:08

    DANFORTHAnd I think one other little telling thing to say about Clarence Thomas, I was at a dinner maybe 10 years ago and I happened to be at the same table with then Justice John Paul Stevens, the most -- said to be the most liberal member of the Supreme Court. I had never met Justice Stevens before. And before we sat down for dinner, he came around the table, he introduced himself. He hardly needed an introduction but he introduced himself to me, put out his hand, and his first words were, thank you for giving us Clarence Thomas.

  • 11:26:47

    DANFORTHSo that is how he is viewed as a human being, as a constructive member of that court. You may not agree with him. That's why we have nine members of the court, not one member of the court, because there are differences of opinion. But I am devoted to Clarence Thomas. I think he's just a wonderful human being and I am proud that I had some role in his past.

  • 11:27:12

    REHMDid you, when you supported him, have any doubts whatsoever during the Anita Hill hearings?

  • 11:27:28

    DANFORTHNo. I asked him, when this terrible event started to occur -- and it was awful -- I can tell you that, in my lifetime, this was really the ugliest thing that I ever lived through. It was terribly unfair. He was -- his -- and everything he had lived for, his whole reputation was at -- basically, on trial in a very public forum where there were no rules. None. None to protect him. So if somebody is accused of something in a court of law, there are all kinds of protections that people have. They're guaranteed by the constitution. There was nothing. This was just absolutely dumped on his head.

  • 11:28:18

    DANFORTHAnd he was in agony. He thought that everything that he had lived for was being destroyed, that his reputation and everything that he had worked for his entire life was just being trashed, was being destroyed. And the Clarence Thomas that I know very, very well was beside himself. He was unable to eat. He was unable to sleep. He was sobbing. And so I was and am his friend and I stood by my friend. And I'm glad I stood by my friend.

  • 11:28:54

    REHMDid you therefore come to believe that Anita Hill was a total liar?

  • 11:29:05

    DANFORTHI believe in Clarence Thomas. I don't -- I've never met Anita Hill. Never met her, never seen her, have no idea...

  • 11:29:12

    REHMSo you were not there in the -- you were not there?

  • 11:29:15

    DANFORTHNot when she testified. No, I was not. I was with Clarence.

  • 11:29:21

    REHMDid you hear what she had to say?

  • 11:29:25


  • 11:29:26

    REHMAnd you did not believe a single word.

  • 11:29:30

    DANFORTHThat's correct.

  • 11:29:31

    REHMSo to this day, you believe she lied throughout.

  • 11:29:37

    DANFORTHI don't know her. And I never have said she's a liar. I don't know what goes on in somebody's mind. I don't know what the explanation is for this. The various people had explanations at the time. I don't have any background myself in psychology or what goes on in somebody's head. I don't know -- I can never put myself in somebody else's mind. But I do know Clarence and I know what kind of human being he is. And I know what kind of kind person he is and what kind of gentle person he is and how he cares about others. That's the real Clarence Thomas. He cares deeply about other people. And I could go on and on telling you personal examples of how he has related to people and cared about people.

  • 11:30:34

    DANFORTHAnd he, for example, Justice Sotomayor, a very liberal member of the court, once said that the thing about Clarence Thomas is he knows everybody in the Supreme Court Building. He knows everybody there and he knows something about their families. That's the kind of human being he is. He's a kind, caring person. And to me, this whole thing was a little like "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was somebody who was a very wonderful human being and he was being totally trashed without any rules to defend him. And so I was there to defend him.

  • 11:31:12

    REHMDo you have any comment on the decisions that he has participated in -- most specifically, Citizens United?

  • 11:31:27

    DANFORTHI certainly will be happy to comment on Citizens United as a decision. He did not write that, Justice Kennedy did.

  • 11:31:34

    REHMI understand that.

  • 11:31:35

    DANFORTHBut I -- as I said before, Clarence -- my relation to Clarence Thomas is, I'm his friend. It's just as simple as that. I am not his jurisprudential commentator or critic. That's not what I do. And I said that from the get-go, when he first went on the court.

  • 11:31:57

    REHMTalk about...

  • 11:31:58

    DANFORTHAnd I'm not going to set that -- I'm not going to set myself as somebody who comments on his opinion. On Citizens United, I -- and its predecessor, a case called Buckley versus Valeo, I disagree with what the court did. I think that -- well, first of all, I question whether spending money is the same as speech. But beyond that, I think that the effect of Citizens United is that it so emphasized the First Amendment by identifying spending with speech, that a...

  • 11:32:35

    REHMAnd corporations.

  • 11:32:36

    DANFORTH...that it ignored the basic structure of the Constitution, which is to create and then guarantee a republican (word?) republican form of government, meaning that the people control the government. And I think that the effect of Citizens United is that it at least creates in the minds of ordinary people that there is inordinate power in the hands of the few to swamp the political opinion of others.

  • 11:33:09

    REHMDo you think that that's what has happened as a result?

  • 11:33:16

    DANFORTHYes, I do. I think that campaign financing is just totally messed up. Totally. And I also think that the distinction between -- that the court drew in Buckley versus Valeo, the distinction between contributions to candidates and independent expenditure is just not a good distinction. It puts the candidates at a disadvantage to the interlopers.

  • 11:33:48

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Senator John Danforth is with me. We're talking about a variety of issues but most particularly his new book, "The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics." Right now, Senator, the government, the Congress seems to be in gridlock and yet we have a political campaign going on for the presidency. We have many candidates up on the stage, Republicans. We had five Democratic candidates on the stage the other night. How do you believe religion can infuse the current presidential campaign to improve it or change it?

  • 11:35:00

    DANFORTHWell, what politicians are hearing from -- what they believe they're hearing from the public is, never compromise on anything. They don't give an inch. And that's where we are in politics. And politicians, members of Congress who consider compromise are told that if you dare do that, we're going to oppose you in the next primary election. So that creates gridlock. There's no give by anybody, left or right. And so nothing is done. So on the question of the national debt, which is a big one for the future of our country, nothing is said. And by the way, nothing is asked by the media. So I have not watched all of the three debates, the two Republican debates, the one Democratic. I watched pieces of them, I've not watched all of them.

  • 11:36:00

    DANFORTHBut to my knowledge, no question has been asked about, what do you intend to do about the now knocking on the door $20 trillion in national debt. It's been finessed. So instead of the American people having an opportunity to consider various alternatives for how to do deal with this issue, it's all just sort of pushed off and it's all a bunch of little quick comments and one-minute, two-minute answers to whatever the question happens to be. But the question is not -- does not really pertain to something that's serious for the future of the country.

  • 11:36:39

    REHMOf course, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have talked about the growing income inequality, and certainly, both as a financial and as a moral issue, and surely a sense of religion comes into their thinking.

  • 11:37:11

    DANFORTHWell, I don't know about that. As -- I'm kind of repeating myself, but I don't know that it's right to say, here is my political program, for example, paying for college tuitions, and that's religious.

  • 11:37:29

    REHMIt may be...

  • 11:37:29

    DANFORTHI mean, there where are we -- what it may be, they may think so, but there are people with different points of view, so.

  • 11:37:36

    REHMAll right. Short break here with Senator John Danforth. If you'd like to join us by phone, email. I look forward to being with you.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Former Mr. John Danforth is with me. He is also an Episcopal priest. He's written a great deal about the intersection of religion, politics and faith. His new book is titled "The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics." We're going to open the phones now. Let's go to Jewel in Johnson City, Tenn. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:41

    JEWELThank you. Senator, I just wondered what your opinion would be for the folks all across this country that seem to have a great urgency to get prayer in schools and erect monuments and fly flags on government property and schools, so forth. And I wondered what you would say to them and what would be a quick explanation in your opinion of the separation of church and state.

  • 11:41:23

    DANFORTHI believe that the separation of church and state is a very basic principle in our country. I think that the idea that somehow faith is served by, for example, putting up a monument on courthouse grounds is kind of weak. I don't see that that particularly serves the cause of anything, except it creates a very divisive, kind of hot button issue for people to get exercise to that.

  • 11:42:00

    REHMSomeone has tweeted, David has tweeted, "How does Sen. Danforth feel about Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson's recent comments about Muslims in American political office?

  • 11:42:24

    DANFORTHOh, the Constitution is very clear on this issue. There cannot be any religious test for holding public office in the United States, and that's that.

  • 11:42:34

    REHMSo what was your reaction when you heard him, or read, that he had said that?

  • 11:42:40

    DANFORTHThat he didn't understand the plain meaning of the Constitution.

  • 11:42:44

    REHMWhat's your feeling about Donald Trump as a possible candidate nominee as the Republican presidential nominee?

  • 11:42:59

    DANFORTHI think it's unthinkable.

  • 11:43:00


  • 11:43:04

    DANFORTHWell, I think that Donald Trump is an angry, hateful, divisive force in American politics, and that he would be a terrible president and a terrible candidate. He wouldn't be elected president if he were the candidate of our party. He would be -- he would be just trounced. It would -- a lot of Republicans would go down to defeat if he were the candidate, and he's not going to be the candidate.

  • 11:43:35

    REHMWho do you think might be the nominee among those who presented themselves? Who would you support?

  • 11:43:48

    DANFORTHLet me just first say that I am a member of the Presidential Debate Commission, and our position is not to be supportive of one candidate of another. So I don't know how to answer the -- I can give you, you know, my personal preferences, but I don't want to seem like I'm campaigning for anybody. I'll be happy to do that if you like, but with that caveat.

  • 11:44:13


  • 11:44:14

    DANFORTHWell, I think that there are two candidates who would best represent the Republican Party, and who I think could win the election, and they are John Kasich and Jeb Bush.

  • 11:44:28

    REHMAnd you feel that either one could defeat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or former Maryland Governor?

  • 11:44:42

    DANFORTHYeah, I do. I believe that, yes.

  • 11:44:44

    REHMYou think that the country wants to see a Republican president?

  • 11:44:51

    DANFORTHWell, you're asking a Republican that question. I do, yeah. I think that the Republican Party has a lot to offer our country, and does, in that there are basic principles of the Republican Party that are very attractive to most people. Republicans tend to share a common view that government should be restrained, that the growth of the country is more likely to come from the private sector than the governmental sector. Republicans tend to believe that we should try to keep taxes low and the way to government regulation light. And those are basic -- and Republicans tend to believe in free trade, which is the Democratic Party has now gone and totally off the wall with that matter.

  • 11:45:45

    DANFORTHSo, yeah, I think there are basic principles of the Republican Party that are attractive to an awful lot of Americans. And if we emphasize those principles, we would do very well in the election.

  • 11:45:58

    REHMAnd what do you think about the growing wealth gap in this country and what an elected Republican president could do to change that?

  • 11:46:13

    DANFORTHI think that the policies of the Obama administration have not worked for the economy, that the economy has not grown, that opportunities have not been improved for the average American, that people have been left behind because of those policies. And that the Republican approach to the economy would do a better job of creating opportunities for the average person than the policies that the Democrats have offered.

  • 11:46:41

    REHMHow do you account for the, some, 10 million jobs that have been created since the Great Recession began?

  • 11:46:52

    DANFORTHI think that the economic performance -- there are all kinds of statistics. I wish I had them in front of me. But I think that the performance of the economy has been very weak, and the recovery...

  • 11:47:04


  • 11:47:04

    DANFORTH...from the recession has been extremely tepid. And I think that it would be a good thing for Republicans to campaign on that.

  • 11:47:15

    REHMAll right. Let's go back to the phones to Willington, Colo. Jim, you're on the air.

  • 11:47:23

    JIMHi, thank you very much for taking my call.

  • 11:47:25


  • 11:47:25

    JIMLet me just say that I'm a Missouri native and a graduate of Washington University, and I appreciate what the senator's done for that university over the years. My question involves this, what, Senator, would be your message or what is your message to members of our electoral body in Congress that would prepare them better for a foundation that leads to a great common good? If you had an elevator speech, so to say, or if you were lobbying them, what would you be telling them? Thank you very much.

  • 11:48:01

    DANFORTHWonderful. Thanks for your comment about Washington University. I think that's more my brother than it is me, but I do appreciate that. It's a great university. What would I say to legislators, to members of Congress today? First, that the whole purpose of Congress as created by the framers of the Constitution, is to place -- is that it's a place to work out differences of opinion and differences of interests. And it's a place for compromise. And Congress now is totally broken down when the -- they can't even elect a speaker of the house, that is a total breakdown of Congress.

  • 11:48:47

    DANFORTHSo I think that I would -- what I would say to them is get on with the show, and, you know, you're in business to try to make things work. And there's gotta be some give and take in order to do that.

  • 11:49:01

    REHMBut you've got 40 or some say even 50 members of the far right freedom caucus who are in a position that Paul Ryan, who has been a gatherer, urged to run as speaker of the house, but has so far certainly not committed, and it looks as though he may not. Who's going to satisfy them? How are they going to be satisfied with this extraordinary gap between the major group and the minor group?

  • 11:49:45

    DANFORTHI don't see that anybody would -- who their own -- I mean, it's -- their approach is rule or ruin. My way or the highway.

  • 11:49:53

    REHMAnd how is faith? How is religion? How is your view of spirituality going to help them come to a better place?

  • 11:50:07

    DANFORTHWell, one of the messages of religion is politics and religion and different. And politics is not a place for sort of creedal formulations; I believe this, I believe that. It's not a place for absolutes. And to create political principles is absolutes, my way or the highway, is really from a religious standpoint tantamount to idolatry. It's enshrining something human as being absolute. And from the standpoint of politics, politics can't work that way.

  • 11:50:44

    REHMHow do you feel about the issue of abortion?

  • 11:50:48

    DANFORTHHow do I feel about it? I am pro-life. I've always been pro-life. I voted pro-life. I believe abortion is something that is repugnant. But I think that since Roe vs. Wade, the issue is over. It's no longer a political issue. So the people who feel the way that I feel about it are not going to win any political fight on it, but there are, as far as the culture of the country is concerned, as far as valuing human life, as far as trying to work out alternatives to abortion, there are constructive things that can be done by people who share my position. But as a political issue, it's no longer a political issue. It was taken out of politics by the Supreme Court back in 1973.

  • 11:51:43

    REHMBut it's still a political issue, Senator. Forgive me, but you have Republicans on the Hill continuing to push against Planned Parenthood, wanting to end abortion, even though you say it is a decided issue.

  • 11:52:06

    DANFORTHIt's a decided issue so said the Supreme Court. There are issues maybe on the edges like what is the age of viability, that kind of thing. But as far as the availability of abortion, according to the Supreme Court, and that Supreme Court is not going to overrule itself, and the Constitution is not going to be amended to deal with this, it's not a live political issue.

  • 11:52:34

    REHMSo do you believe that Republicans are wasting their time continuing to focus on issues like Planned Parenthood?

  • 11:52:49

    DANFORTHWell, issues like Planned Parenthood, I don't know. I mean, you know, I mean, if they take the position that sort of trading in body parts is not a good thing, I think they...

  • 11:53:00

    REHMThey have already said they will no longer sell fetal tissue.

  • 11:53:03

    DANFORTHI think -- yeah, but I think that, you know, as far as the point that they made, it's a reaction to a particular sort of sub-issue of it. But the Roe vs. Wade is with us. I mean, that's the end of it.

  • 11:53:23

    REHMMr. John Danforth. His new book is titled "The Relevance of Religion." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to David in Frederick, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:40

    DAVIDHello. Senator Danforth, I wish you'd had a little more time in this program to actually talk about your book. My question, comment is that I don't think people of faith bring much of anything to the table in terms of helping government create policy. You've said correctly, and I agree, that religious beliefs really aren't things that should be legislative, but the methodology of faith is also something that doesn't work. You believe it without evidence, whereas policy should be based on evidence and things that work. And so I'm curious what it is that you think that people of faith can offer public policy, because (unintelligible) at all. Not that they shouldn't be permitted to participate. Of course they should. It's a free country. But what does faith as opposed to not faith provide?

  • 11:54:28

    DANFORTHI made the distinction between the assertion that particular policy positions are religious on one hand, which I think is not a good thing to do, and the belief that religion offers a perspective on politics, and an opportunity to change the tone of politics on the other hand. And I do believe the latter. And that is what I think the relevance of religion to politics is. I think religion fosters political compromise, which is now really nonexistent in Congress.

  • 11:55:05

    DANFORTHI think religion turns us beyond ourselves to a concern for the common good, which I think is necessary if we're going to deal with basic budget questions, the national debt, rather than, you know, what can I -- what can I give to -- or what benefit can I give, what tax can I reduce for whomever that happens to please. So I think in that connection religion offers a lot.

  • 11:55:32

    DANFORTHI think for the tone of political campaigns today, religion has an awful lot to say because political campaigns now are rock bottom. They're just really awful. And I think religious people would have a lot to say about that. And I think that these are common messages from faithful people, whether they're Republicans, Democrats, whether they're conservatives or liberals. They're broadly shared religious principles. And if religious people were more active in the question of tone, they could make a major difference in how our government functions.

  • 11:56:09

    REHMHere's a final quick question from Ruth, who says, "As an atheist, a progressive and a big fan of Jack Danforth, I'd like to hear his thoughts about how folks who believe in social justice but not God fit into his thoughts about fixing the mess we're in."

  • 11:56:35

    DANFORTHWell, this book, "The Relevance of Religion," is really written for people who are religious about what they can do to try to fix the state of politics. But when we're talking about fixing the state of politics, I think there's a lot of room for people who believe, who don't believe in religion, who have no religious affiliation at all.

  • 11:57:01

    REHMMr. John Danforth. His new book, "The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics." Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 11:57:15

    DANFORTHThanks for having me.

  • 11:57:17

    REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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