The Miami Herald vs. Kennedy, again

Bible Const2The Miami Herald has a standard obituary this morning for the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I am not sure what page the story is on, but I do know that — in the online edition — there is no mention of the death of this international evangelical leader on either the front page or on the main news page. I had to use a search engine to find it.

To get the thrust of the obit, you merely need to read the headline: “Televangelist made his church a political power.”

And there is this key section, ending with a stunning statement of the newspaper’s editorial opinion, and the opinions of Kennedy’s many critics — only the statement is made as unchallenged fact:

A leader of the schism that created the conservative Presbyterian Church in America in 1973, Kennedy co-founded the Moral Majority, the Coalition on Revival and the Alliance Defense Fund, which files lawsuits in church-state issues.

Kennedy campaigned tirelessly to tear down the constitutional wall separating church and state.

The obituary does carry a strong collection of quotations from people on both sides, when it comes to evaluating this Presbyterian orator’s legacy. But there is no way around that statement.

Now, I happen to disagree — as a guy with a degree in church-state studies — with Kennedy’s longtime attempt to portray the United States as a uniquely “Christian nation.” The role of Judeo-Christianity, seen through the Enlightenment lens, in the early history of this land is much more complex and, frankly, mixed than that.

There are plenty of people who would agree with this Herald statement: “Kennedy campaigned tirelessly to tear down the constitutional wall separating church and state.”

But there are many people who would fiercely disagree with that statement, including Kennedy himself. There are many others who would say that the truth is somewhere in between the newspaper’s blunt statement of opinion and the political gospel according to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

So maybe I am glad that the Herald, again, downplayed this story. Then again, it’s a long way to Fort Lauderdale from Miami, so maybe this wasn’t really a local story, a South Florida story. That drive up I-95 can take 30 minutes or so, more if the traffic is bad.

church and state 02As you would expect, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has an eight-piece package at the top of the online edition, including some video and a set of sidebars trying to outline the wide variety of causes and ministries that were created by this towering figure on the world evangelical scene. Veteran religion writer James D. Davis took a shot at summing it all up in the opening of his feature-story obituary:

Friends remembered his engaging ways and caring nature.

Followers admired his intellect and forceful leadership in conservative causes.

Opponents attacked his methods and feared the social effects of his beliefs.

As news of his death spread, few seemed neutral about the Rev. D. James Kennedy, one of the best-known ministers in the nation — indeed, the world.

The pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale influenced politics and social movements through his many affiliated organizations. In so doing, he galvanized conservatives who wanted to “reclaim America for Christ,” and he angered gay leaders, religious and political liberals who sought to keep a high wall between church and state.

He preached with magisterial conviction, wrote in scathing yet scholarly terms, spoke on TV and testified in Congress for his vision of an ideal America. And the thousands of others he trained assured that the causes — and opposition — would outlive him.

There you go. Davis lets both sides speak freely, but does not veer into editorializing.

One must assume that Kennedy also had, along the way, angered the editorial powers that be at The Miami Herald.

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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.

  • John Q. Public

    “Kennedy campaigned tirelessly to tear down the constitutional wall separating church and state.”

    They write these kind of statements, yet wonder why John Q. Public has little or no respect for the Fourth Estate anymore, regarding much of the mainstream media as being little better than tabloids, and biased ones at that.

  • Stephen A.

    The “Tear down the wall” statement is provocative and oozes bias, animus and Leftist snarkiness. Various media in this country are held in contempt by many former readers and viewers, and this is Exhibit A as to why (or maybe it’s Exhibit Y or Z at this point.)

    In short, reporters need to keep their stinking opinions out of news stories, and especially obituaries!

  • Huw Richardson

    Actually, when paired with the previous sentence it makes perfect sense.

    … Kennedy co-founded the Moral Majority, the Coalition on Revival and the Alliance Defense Fund, which files lawsuits in church-state issues. Kennedy campaigned tirelessly to tear down the constitutional wall separating church and state.

    Such organisations do campaign tirelessly to tear down that wall.

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  • tmatt


    I must disagree that this is a subject that is BEYOND DEBATE.

    All of these groups focus on the prevention of change. They have all been in a rear-guard operation, with the possible exception of on the public-schools issues and even there the conflicts are in societal changes elsewhere.

    So one cannot tear down a wall by trying to prevent change. Kennedy was part of a defensive reaction against the changes of, for the most part, the sexual revolution.

    Can you attack a wall by attempting to defend the old?

    Once again, let me stress that I do not agree with Kennedy on many or even most of his stands and certainly not with his approach. But I disagree that — in a news story — this is a topic beyond debate and balanced coverage.

  • Pingback: D. James Kennedy (1930--2007) at PastorBlog

  • don

    Sad that Kennedy is pegged as an evangelical (now a fashionable pejorative like neo-con), but he is not remembered as an evangelist. I always thought his biggest impact on the church was with the introduction of “The Kennedy Method” of evangelism, the 5-part outline, and the whole door-to-door approach. He graduated the church from camp meetings and actually led mainstream Presbyterian congregations to grow by sharing their faith.

    But then, that’s small stuff since it doesn’t involve politics or celebrities.

  • Matt

    Hi tmatt. Isn’t it common to hear from people of Kennedy’s ilk that the “wall of separation” is a sham, should never have been fabricated, and should be done away with? And they don’t just try to prevent change; they also advocate reversing it (at least in words, if not deeds). They would clearly disagree with the word “constitutional” in the Herald’s sentence, since they don’t think the wall is in the Constitution, but it’s unclear to me that Kennedy would have otherwise disagreed with the statement. Reference?

    I initially wasn’t sure which aspect of the Herald quote you were criticizing. :) As a member of the PCA, I was slightly perturbed by the tone of the “leader of the schism” sentence. As to the facts, according to the NYT obit (not bad, I thought) and other sources, Kennedy did not leave the PCUS to join the PCA until 5 years after the split. However, I don’t know enough of that history to evaluate the statement further.

  • Jerry

    The words of your blog posting disagree with Kennedy’s statement reported in that story:

    Kennedy once declared it his followers’ ”job” to “reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise Godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

    If that quote is accurate, then it is fact that Kennedy wanted to tear down the wall – because he says just that. Now maybe he wanted at another time to soften the impact of his statement, but the statement makes his intent very clear cut and unambiguous. “Exercising Godly dominion” is tearing down the wall.

  • Mattk

    It is typical that a newspaper would focus on politics. I will always remember DJK as the preacher who convinced me when I was still a boy that there are no private sins; all sins, even those that no one ever finds out about make the world a worse place to live in, and that each of us has a responsibility to make the world better by resisting sin in our own lives. As usual, the press only wants to look at the temporal and ignore the eternal.

  • Jay

    I agree with Mattk. The problem is that to mainstream media, everything is a politics story. (As when a major development in Iraq is delivered by TV’s political reporter and not their military affairs reporter). I agree with Tmatt that the Sun-Sentinel coverage is model journalism by comparison: James Davis acknowledges the views of friends and foes. About my only critique is that we have to wade past the snide comments of a former political foe before we get any hint as to his religious beliefs.

  • David

    Perhaps the GR website should be sub-titled “The press . . . just doesn’t get the establishment clause.” I sometimes wonder what early American history courses many/most? journalists actually studied (apparently the revisionist ones).

    Although I didn’t follow Kennedy’s politics (and am a hard core supporter of Roger Williams’ church vs. state positions*), Kennedy’s use of the phrase “Godly dominion and influence” (quoted above) does not necessarily mean what the above user states (though I would concede that some/many? Christians apply it that way.

    *(Rhetorical questions alert): How many journalists even know who Roger Williams was? How many journalists even know that Baptists (gasp!) were at the forefront of the establishment clause debate? (Of course, most Southern Baptists don’t know either, so what should I expect?) Spoken from over thirty years’ experience (and counting) in SBC churches.

  • Scott Allen

    David (12), it’s clear from the comments on this thread that many people (Baptists and “non” alike) do not “get” the Establishment Clause. The constant reference to “the wall” as a Constitutional term shows how a lie, repeated often enough, will be accepted as truth.

    As you know (and the commenters evidently don’t) the term “wall” was from a private letter written by Thomas Jefferson 12 years after the First Amendment was enacted. The use of this letter, 150 years after-the-fact, as justification for a Supreme Court decision is truly unique in American juridical history.

    The drive-by commentary at the end of this obituary betrays how journalism like that at the Miami Herald is grounded in liberal mantras. Thankfully, the obituary for this style of journalism is being drafted every quarter, in red ink, on financial statements from failing publications.

  • Dennis Colby

    Thankfully, the obituary for this style of journalism is being drafted every quarter, in red ink, on financial statements from failing publications.

    And being replaced with what – the unbiased truth-telling of bloggers and talk radio hosts?

    O brave new world, that has such people in it.

  • Scott Allen

    Dennis (14), what you call the “brave new world” (oh, how scary!) is a competitive industry. You, as a consumer, are required to think critically. The producers, like GetReligion, are already much clearer about their objectives and more interactive with their consumers.

    It’s really a shame that we can’t have Walter Cronkite do our thinking for us any more, isn’t it? Still, you’re free to subscribe to the Miami Herald — as the saying goes, “Just Do It.”

  • Dennis Colby


    That would make sense, if any more than a tiny handful of blogs actually made money. Generally speaking, capitalist societies prize paid labor over unpaid labor; most blogs are the work of enthusiastic amateurs, and are consequently judged that way by the public.

    I am not a consumer of blogs the way I’m a consumer of newspapers. Blogs cost me nothing. I enjoy GetReligion tremendously, but if I had to pay $50 a year to read it, my desire to read it might cool accordingly.

    If you’re going to invoke the sacred cow of competition, you should at least compare apples to apples. You describe GetReligion as “a producer,” for example. But in fact the site exists explicitly to comment on journalism produced by other people – the mainstream media, by and large. GetReligion is not a producer of news in the same way that the Miami Herald is a producer of news, and no one implies that it is.

    My question: in the exciting new future you’ve laid out for us, when there are no more newspapers or TV networks or radio news, do you really think that an actual industry with regular paid labor will spring up, based entirely on blogs? Blogs mostly comment on work produced by other people. When those other peole are gone, what will blogs comment on?

  • tmatt

    Amen, what Dennis said!

    I think blogging is important, but it is not a basic news source. It is more like the people’s version of media criticism and, at best, a source of balance that keeps real media serious.

    But the great white shark is the real media. Blogs are the fish attached to the shark.

  • donbee

    As a commoner and armchair Christian, I will sorely miss
    Kennedy …His sermons always hit home with me. He certainly led a pure and clean life not unlike persons in the media. They should be wary to cast the first stone.
    DonBee Savannah, Ga. 31407

  • Chris Bolinger

    Dennis, Scott was attacking liberal rags like the Miami Herald, not all newspapers. It was you, not he, who suggested that the only alternative to liberal newspapers is blogs and talk radio. Your equating an attack on liberal newspapers with an attack on all newspapers, TV networks, and radio news is ridiculous and revealing.

    By calling competition a sacred cow, you indicate that you are uncomfortable with competition, especially non-traditional competition, for traditional, liberal media outlets. By trying to put blogs in their place, you indicate that consumers must be educated about what is a proper source of news and what is not. I, as an intelligent and discerning consumer of news and information, roll my eyes and chuckle at your attempt to educate Scott, me, and others who disagree with you.

    Newspapers are businesses. I and other readers are the customers. Start giving the customers a little more credit. Or is it not worth it to stoop to the level of “such people”?

  • Daniel Arguelles

    I attend the, as the liberal Miami Herald puts it, “conservative Presbyterian Church” Dr. Kennedy founded, and my love for my fellow neighbor and humanity has grown exponentially. My daughter goes to the school Dr. Kennedy founded. When I walk into her classroom all I see are love messages posted throughout the walls, and the hallways.

    The Herald doesn’t know what it is talking about. There is no constitutional separation of church and state. It’s not in the Constitution and it’s not in any of the nation’s founding documents.

    And for those fearing the coming theocracy, take a drive to the church. Right next to it is a liquor store and a few blocks away an abortion clinic. Throughout US1 in Fort Lauderdale there are bars, tattoo locals, strip joints, huge sex toy stores openly displaying their wares without regard for the children, rainbow flags galore, piercing parlors, new age and palm reading houses. No, the ones who feared Dr. Kennedy such as the laughable theocracywatch don’t have much to worry about. My church stands as a haven in the mud, and finding where Dr. Kennedy promoted a theocracy will be as futile as finding the so-called wall of separation in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Scott Allen

    Chris (19), may I offer a belated “thank you” for your comments. I could not have expressed them better.

    My only additional observation is that Blogs are not profitable NOW but Dennis assumes that they will not be in the future…why? He mentions subscriptions while leaving out advertising. No doubt that online advertising revenues are nearly zilch right now, but that is a function of “circulation.” That can change, as can the breadth and depth of news coverage.

    Also, Blogs DO occasionally produce news. They are more in tune with their readership and do produce factual reporting (or “reportage” if you wish). Truly, how many reporters really go out and “get” the news? They get it through contacts with the government, police, sports franchises, etc. How exclusive will that be in the future? The Internet has opened up the potential for much more interaction between the actual news generators and the public…more than a few daily newspapers, magazines and TV stations.

    Above all, the Dennis’ of this world can defend their dependence on the current media model at length but they are spitting in the wind. The online trend is inexorable. Dennis needs to re-read TMATT’s comments on the future of online journalism.