The Washington Post devotes the most prominent part of its "Style" section front page today to a story headlined "'St. Jack' and the Bullies in the Pulpit." In a curious bout of news judgment, the Post and its reporter Peter Slevin decided it was newsworthy that former GOP Senator John Danforth has published two op-eds trashing the Christian right (one in the New York Times), bemoaning their place in today's majority Republican Party.
Slevin hints at why they're giving Danforth's writings so much ink: "The articles rocketed around the Internet. Liberals, along with a raft of lonely Republican moderates, loved them." So who are the "bullies in the pulpit"? Is that a cute slam on religious conservatives in general?
The only minister in the piece is Rev. Richard Land, "combative voice of the Southern Baptist Convention," who in "setting up the twist of the knife," says of Danforth, "It just sounds to me like Danforth's sore he lost the argument with a majority of the American people." If Slevin's missing the point of that supposedly vicious statement, it comes through in the article as Danforth shudders in dismay at the oafish people lining up the majority's support for defense-of-marriage amendments ("it's just cussedness") and allowing the Ten Commandments in public buildings ("much ado about nothing").
So the headline is just cute. Danforth (and the Post, and the New York Times) object to religious conservatives speaking out and lobbying for their causes and having so much darned influence. Whether they've actually "bullied" anyone, or just persuaded them, it doesn't really matter.
In the first paragraph, Slevin writes Danforth is opposing "not just any religion, either, but the the us-versus-them, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God, velvet-fist variety of Christian evangelism." As Danforth sees it, he adds, "many Republican leaders have lost their bearings and, if they don't change, will lose their grip on power. Not to mention make the United States a meaner place."
Lose their grip on power? Deep into the article, Slevin also allowed a St. Louis commentator to make the point that in the GOP of Danforth's nostalgia, in 1977, there were 38 Republicans in the Senate and 143 Republicans in the House. (No wonder the newspapers are getting misty.)
The liberal sour grapes really come through as they recall Danforth telling the Washington Post in 1991,
"I think anyone who felt that he was, you know, Mr. Wonderful, with an agenda that is the God-given agenda for the country to be accomplished at all costs -- he would be both sick and ineffective."
Danforth was talking about himself. Little did he imagine that there was a battalion of evangelical Mr. Wonderfuls marching on the nation's capital, which they would soon rule. Now he wishes that part about ineffectiveness were only true.