Danforth says religion can bridge America’s divisiveness

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ROBERT A. COHN , Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Former Senator John C. Danforth, R-Mo., expressed deep concern over political divisiveness in the United States, and
suggested that shared religious values could help bring the polarized nation together.

Danforth, whose distinguished record of public service includes not only three terms representing Missouri in the U.S. Senate, but also serving as Missouri attorney general and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was the guest speaker Monday at a meeting of the advisory board of the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute of Human Relations, which is under the aegis of the Jewish Community Relations Council. The meeting took place at the St. Louis Club in Clayton.

Phyllis Markus, chair of the Newmark Institute, said Danforth’s career and topic were consistent with the institute’s goal of “working to create a more pluralistic society.”

Danforth’s Message

In his remarks, Danforth spoke about widening political divisions in America, which he said undermined the concept of “E pluribus unum”—“Out of the Many, One.”

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The output of our democracy, Danforth said “is to bring people together to work out their differences, not to deepen them and drive us apart.”

Danforth who has both a law degree and ordination as an Episcopal priest, urged the Newmark Institute to “take on an initiative based on the role that religion can play in keeping America together.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

As preparation and as a guidebook for such a role, Danforth suggested the last book by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Morality,” which was published in 2020.  Sacks (1948-2020) was the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Rabbi of the United Congregations of the global British Commonwealth of Nations.  He was widely admired for his scholarship as well as for his leadership skills and courage.

In Sacks’ book the author sought to “restore the common good in a divided time,” covering much of the same ground as Danforth did in his remarks.

“Where are we today?” Danforth asked.  “A lot of people feel we are coming apart.”

Danforth deplored “the increasingly tribal” nature of politics today.  On the right, he noted a kind of populism has emerged that sees the world divided between “us and them.”  On the left, there are things like the 1619 Project and a hypersensitivity, such as concerns about micro-aggressions and the like.

“So, what role can religion-based organizations play in bringing us together?  The root of the word religion is the same as that for ligament, the connective tissue that holds us together. The word shalom in Hebrew is completeness, or wholeness.”

Danforth added, “We should not treat our political opponents as the “enemies,” but with respect.

Referring to the framers of the U.S. Constitution,  Danforth credited James Madison’s support of a Congress, which would encourage compromise between the mercantile urban citizens and the agricultural sector.

“We should come together within our shared values and restore civility and comity to our public discourse and values,” Danforth said.