Former Sen. John Danforth (search) said Wednesday that the political influence of evangelical Christians is hurting the Republican Party and dividing the country.

Danforth, a Missouri Republican and an Episcopal priest, commented after meeting with students at the Bill Clinton School of Public Service (search), a graduate branch of the University of Arkansas on the grounds of the Clinton presidential library.

"I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right (search)," he said in an interview. "I don't think that this is a permanent condition, but I think this has happened, and that it's divisive for the country."

He also said the evangelical Christian influence would be bad for the party in the long run.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracy Schmitt declined to comment on Danforth's remarks.

Danforth, who recently served as ambassador to the United Nations, made similar criticism of the party in an opinion article published by the New York Times in June. In that article, he called for religious moderates to take part in public life.

Danforth, considered a conservative on social issues, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and served three terms.