The 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.
As 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.