U.S. Rep. Todd Akin caused an uproar last week when he told a national radio audience that "at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God." On Tuesday, he issued a statement apologizing to anyone who thought he was questioning their faith.
But the apology fell flat with a group of St. Louis-area clergy members, most of whom are liberal. They plan to gather at the Akin's Ballwin district office at 11 a.m. today to deliver a letter calling on him to "reconsider not only your words, but also your moral priorities as a political leader."
"Congressman Akin continues to insist that liberalism is anti-religion. As a pastor and a constituent of Congressman Akin's, I find this deeply offensive," said the Rev. Kevin Cameron of Parkway United Church of Christ in west St. Louis County.
The saga started Friday when Akin, R-Wildwood, appeared on the radio program of Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, where he was asked about NBC's decision to omit the phrase "under God" from a taped clip of the Pledge of Allegiance aired during recent coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament.
"Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal, and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God," Akin said.
The "hatred for God" comment quickly made its way around the Internet, and several Missouri religious leaders criticized Akin and called for an apology. The Rev. Krista Taves of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville said Akin's comment 'shows how very little he knows about liberals, and how very little he knows about God."
Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth in Creve Coeur characterized Akin's statement as a "grotesque politicized attack."
At first, Akin appeared to hold his ground. In an interview Monday on radio station KMOX-AM, Akin said there was no reason to apologize, since he meant that not all liberals hate God, only that liberals have "a hatred for public references for God."
"There's just such a historic pattern there that I think that it probably could've been clarified, but no, I'm not going to apologize for what I see liberalism doing in trying to take God out," he said.
Less than 24 hours later, Akin issued an apology.
"People who know me and my family know that we take our faith and beliefs very seriously," he said. "As Christians, we would never question the sincerity of anyone's personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism, not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies."
Former Republican senator and Episcopal priest John Danforth said the discourse about religion in politics has changed greatly since he was last in elected office nearly 17 years ago. Even though his constituents knew he was an ordained priest, they didn't expect him to "function as their religious leader as a senator."
Now, the focus of politics seems to be on energizing the base, and one way to do that is to turn politics into a religious crusade, he said. But "politics isn't religion, and religion isn't politics."
"Religion can inform politics, and people who are religious people often feel they have an obligation to be involved in politics," he said. "But that's not the same thing as thinking your views are God's views."
As for Akin's comments, Danforth — who wrote a book in 2006 about religion and politics — said he was glad the congressman clarified his original statements.
"If you were to really ask Congressman Akin if a liberal can be faithful, he would say that's true," Danforth said. "There is a long history of liberals who believed they were speaking from a standpoint of their faith."