Attention! Draw swords: Time to quote chapter and verse

ashenkerry.jpgIf politicians are going to wade into the faith vs. works debates in the book of James, then it is going to be a long, long campaign on the God beat. And what if the Vatican steps in as a referee?

The biblical scholars at the White House are screaming foul over a Sen. John Kerry sermon at the New North Side Baptist Church in St. Louis. The Associated Press stressed that JFK never mentioned Bush by name during his speech at New North Side Baptist Church, but aimed his criticism at “our present national leadership.” When it came time to open the Good Book, Kerry’s references included James 2:14.

“The Scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Kerry said. “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?”

(Compassion? Marvin Olasky, please call your answering service. They are calling you out.)

And on another JFK front, Kerry told Time that, while in St. Louis, “I certainly intend to take Communion and continue to go to Mass as a Catholic.”

This, despite the fact that during a previous campaign visit St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke publicly warned him “not to present himself for Communion” — an ostracism that Canon Law 915 reserves for “those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” Last year, Rome issued a doctrinal warning to politicians who call themselves Catholics that they have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

The Time interview ranged from Kerry’s altar boy days, to his church-approved marriage annulment, to his views of John Kennedy’s mix of faith and politics. It also featured this sobering quotation from an anonymous Vatican official (note that it is an American cleric) who observed:

“People in Rome are becoming more and more aware that there’s a problem with John Kerry, and a potential scandal with his apparent profession of his Catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion.”

Kerry went out of his way, Time noted, to return to the Senate floor to vote against a bill that would make harming a fetus a separate offense during the commission of a crime. The vote put Kerry on the same side as abortion-rights advocates in opposing specific legal rights for the unborn — and against nearly two-thirds of his fellow Senators.

P.S. (Tuesday) For Catholic swing voters, the issue that ends up being debated is this: Does a politician’s stance on abortion trump his or her stands on other life and justice issues? In other words, does Kerry’s stand on, say, national health care somehow cancel out his stance on abortion?

In his most recent newspaper column, the conservative leader Father Frank Pavone took this question head one. Pavone directs an organization called Priests For Life and it says a lot about this controversy that a group with that title exists. Pavone plays the papal card, writing:

Abortion is no less violent than terrorism. Any candidate who says abortion should be kept legal disqualifies him/herself from public service. We need look no further, we need pay no attention to what that candidate says on other issues. Support for abortion is enough for us to decide not to vote for such a person.

Pope John Paul II put it this way: “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici, 1988).

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Dwight

    And Kerry ended up supporting amendments in the bill which would simply increase penalties to violence committed against a pregnant woman. Of course they would have probably had 100 senators vote for such legislation.

    But it was always the goal and purpose of this legislation to define personhood to clear the way for a future challenge to Roe v. Wade. That may or may not be a good thing, but it does strike me as dishonest of some supporters to hide that intent.

    Kerry is certainly at odds with his church over this issue. Bush is also at odds with his denomination’s leaders over the war in Iraq. I’ve yet to much coverage of that fact. And never heard of folks who were denied communion because they voted for the war (which the papacy was opposed to) or support our death penalty, which is certainly in opposition to church’s teachings.

    It’s like there’s a number one sided attacks directed against those who are democrats and Christian these days.

  • tmatt

    At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church is a voluntary association and its leaders are in charge of membership requirements and have been for a rather long time. Communion is for members in good standing. This is stating it rather roughly. But this is not really an issue of church and state. Its a matter of sheep and shepherd.

    Just curious: Why would someone in Kerry’s position not become an Episcopalian? I asked Andrew Sullivan this question last year and he never answered.

  • Dwight

    Well Kerry’s positions certainly align with the Episcopal Church. But I’m not sure this would shield him from criticism if he switched. Because the public perception of Christianity is socially conservative and evangelical in content. So when people don’t match such a profile, their faith is not considered really legit.

    I’m thinking of Howard Dean. It was taken for granted that since he signed civil unions in Vermont (and claimed his religious faith as a factor in his signature) that he was a fake when it came to religion, even though his stance was perfectly in line with his denomination: The United Church of Christ.

    And Bush’s positions on the war and on a number of social issues are at odds with the United Methodist social principles and resolutions. But because his faith does fit the profile: evangelical and socially conservative, he’s legit.

    In this context, I imagine that democrats, regardless of denomination, are at a distinct disadvantage.

  • ELC

    Does anybody else find it ironic that Kerry chose a Baptist church in which to expound upon James? One has a feeling that they gave him some hearty “Amens!” though in a purely religious context they would have rather been inclined to accuse him of preaching “works righteousness”. Go figure.

  • Jon S.

    … a Sen. John Kerry sermon …

    Where’s the vaulted separation of church and state when you need it?

    Can someone tell me when it is socially acceptible for a politician to give a sermon in a church (Is it a tax-exempt organization?) and when it is not? Do you get a free pass when your “sermon” is merely a stump speech with one supporting Bible verse?

    And about the fact that Kerry preached in a Baptist church: Remember that it wasn’t a theologically conservative Southern Baptist church. Many churches that call themselves Baptist would place themselves squarely in the “progressive” camp.

  • Stacy L. Harp

    Here are some comments I posted on my website about Kerry’s Stump speech at church.


    In an article written in USA Today Sunday afternoon it is reported that John Kerry was stumping in a CHURCH! Wow, quick arrest John Kerry NOW! Since when is it okay to stump in Church? Hey, where is the ACLU? I mean, I could have swore that there is this little thing called “separation between church and state” and I thought that any political candidate wasn’t allowed to campaign in the church.

    Oh, I almost forgot, that is unless you’re an evildoer and don’t really believe in what the church teaches. In fact, it was even reported today that Kerry is in trouble with his Church leaders because of his pro-choice and pro-homosexual stands which are contrary to the Catholic Church. But see, Mr. Kerry doesn’t really believe in the Scripture or faith, all he is doing is using the faith trail to convince people to vote for him. And sad as it is, there are going to be a number of people who believe his tripe and dismiss the true biblical values that should be taught in the church.

    In fact in this weeks Time magazine, Kerry says, “I don’t tell church officials what to do, and church officials shouldn’t tell American politicians what to do in the context of our public life.” Wow! So is Kerry actually advocating a separation between public life and private life spiritually? I think so, and yet the ironic thing is that he is campaigning in a public church setting. Does anyone else see this paradox!

    The bottom line is that character counts whether you are in private or public and those who God calls to put in leadership carry a higher standard because they are leaders and leaders have the power to either lead morally or immorally. Think back to the Clinton years and what word comes to mind? Scoundrel, liar, endless lawsuits, oral sex, etc. Now think about our current President and what comes to mind? Integrity, God fearer, honesty and faithfulness to his wife.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a potty mouth like Kerry leading this nation and I shutter to think about what he must be like in private given his foul mouth language in the past few months in public. Either way, he should be arrested for stumping in a church because church isn’t for stumping, it’s for the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, something Kerry obviously hasn’t embraced.

  • Dwight

    “potty mouth”

    George Bush (both father and son) have said things in public or leaked, which easily constitute having a potty mouth. Remembering Nixon and LBJ’s language, I wonder if there has been a president who doesn’t have a knack for swearing. Carter?

  • Brant Hansen

    Perhaps John Kerry would be “considered legit” if he were coherent.

    Kerry denied that an officeholder’s religious views should have bearing on his public policy decisions. Then, he publicly takes the “leadership” to task for not holding to his interpretation of biblical principles.

    He’s similarly incoherent on the aforementioned abortion issue, saying endorsement of the abortion license is “not a litmus test”, but will be absolutely required of anyone he would nominate to the federal bench.

    He considers Roe v. Wade to be irreversible precedent, despite the numerous precedents later courts have overturned. If he’s being honest, he surely has a breathtaking lack of knowledge of law.

    Yes, we expect elites to complexify. But would sense-making be too much to ask?

  • John Hetman

    Sooner or later, Kerry will catch up with Kerry and receive the proper exposure that he so well deserves as a major fraud. I remember an old nun who used to call us boys on the carpet with her Irish accent by telling us, “Boy, you’re a big bluff!” That she was alive and could only put her 5 foot stature up against the Massachusetts Mendacity.

  • joseph

    In that picture, does Kerry have ashes on his forehead?

  • ELC

    “In that picture, does Kerry have ashes on his forehead?” Yes. The photo is from Ash Wednesday this year. (I’ve seen it elsewhere.)

  • Kimberly

    Also about the question of whether stance on abortion matters more than stances on certain other issues, the Vatican has addressed that issue directly before (what obligations are held by Catholic politicians). Basically, the Church isn’t dictating policy on things like national health care, or whether agriculture subsidies should be voted on this year or not, or Congress’s salaries. And it’s not directing that politicians try to enact theological precepts as law in democracy. But abortion is a grave moral evil that needs no reference to a specific religious precept to be seen as evil – like Fr. Pavone points out, it would be like saying “I’m personally opposed to terrorism (or slavery), but…” Nope: that kind of dichotomy isn’t possible.

    But I expect the media to keep giving Kerry a free pass.