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Monday, October 25, 2004

John Kerry's political theology.

John Kerry speaks during church services at the Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida October 24, 2004. REUTERS/Brian SnyderHere are some extended passages from Senator Kerry's speech yesterday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen called "perhaps the most overtly religious speech of the campaign by either candidate." (The photograph shows Kerry speaking earlier in the day at a church in Fort Lauderdale.)

For me, this campaign is about more than a set of policies; it is about a set of ideals: fairness and opportunity, stewardship and community, concern for the middle class and the poor, and the on-going struggle for the security of our nation and a more peaceful world.

So today, I want to share with you my vision for America and the values that inspire it. . . . I want to talk about the foundations of belief and commitment that brought me to public service, that have sustained me in the best and worst of times, and that I will carry with me everyday as president.

It all began with my parents who, in addition to making sure I learned and lived my faith, also taught me at an early age that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves. What they taught me was truly put to the test when I was in Vietnam. Faith was as much a part of our daily lives as the battle itself. Some of my closest friends were killed. I prayed. And I even questioned how all the terrible things I’d seen fit into God’s plan.

But I got through it. I came home with a sense of hope and a belief in a higher purpose. For more than 30 years, as a soldier, a prosecutor, a senator, and now as a candidate for president, I have tried to live that belief. And for the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting people like you all across this land — people who love their families, love their country, and are determined to build a better life for their kids. . . .

In the Book of James we are taught: “It is not enough, my brother to say you have faith when there are no deeds. . . . Faith without works is dead.”

For me, that means having and holding to a vision of a society of the common good, where individual rights and freedoms are connected to our responsibility to others. It means understanding that the authentic role of leadership is to advance the liberty of each of us and the good that can come to all of us, when we work together as one united community.

Catholics call this solidarity. We simply mean that as children of the same God, we share a common destiny. We express our humanity by reaching out to our fellow citizens, and indeed, to all our brothers and sisters in this country and on this earth. It means that the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties are not felt in isolation, they are shared by all. The anxieties of hard-pressed families are as much in our hearts as those who enjoy much more comfort. . . .

My faith, and the faith I have seen in the lives of so many Americans, also teaches me that, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” That means we have a moral obligation to one another, to the forgotten, and to those who live in the shadows. This is a moral obligation at the heart of all our great religious traditions. It is also the vision of America: “E Pluribus Unum.” The ethical test of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. . . .

The Bible tells us that in others we encounter the face of God: “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you received me in your homes; naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” This is the final judgment of who we are and what our life will mean.

I believe we must keep faith, not only with the Creator, but also with present and future generations. . . .

I know there are some Bishops who have suggested that as a public official I must cast votes or take public positions — on issues like a woman’s right to choose and stem cell research — that carry out the tenets of the Catholic Church. I love my Church; I respect the Bishops; but I respectfully disagree.

My task, as I see it, is not to write every doctrine into law. That is not possible or right in a pluralistic society. But my faith does give me values to live by and apply to the decisions I make. . . .

My faith gives me hope that we will come together and rise to that challenge. I believe we will find the strength to live out the words of President Kennedy that, “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about bringing Democrats and Republicans together for a higher purpose. It’s about the principles that have made America a land of opportunity and compassion — and a beacon to all the world. It’s about that dream of “liberty and justice for all” — the vision that defines our destiny and our mission. We will never fully finish that journey — not on this earth. But let us move forward with a strong and active faith. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.

So I ask all of you — Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, faithful and less faithful — to pray together that God guide this nation in the decision we make nine days from now.

So how do you — and how should we — assess the legitimacy of this political theology? It strikes me as a theology of service, active empathy, social responsibility, and ultimate humility — themes consonant with my own religious commitments and with mainstream American values. Of course, Tom Beaudoin would say that these words are purely calculated to appeal to religious voters and that religious language shouldn't be used in political campaigns, but I think they do give us real benchmarks to measure Kerry's commitments and actions against.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 25 October 2004 at 6:31 PM

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October 26, 2004 04:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think Kerry's words clarify his ability to distinguish between religious doctrine and essential values that people of all faiths share. It's clear he understands the responsibility of an elected official to represent and lead, not to turn religion into law. He makes that distinction regularly and articulately in various speeches I've heard. I respect his humility, and I sense that it's genuine.

It's interesting he mentioned Lincoln. I read of a biographer or journalist who interviewed Pres. Lincoln during the Civil War. He noted how the President agonized over the need to minimize casualties on both sides. That's crossed my mind many times watching Kerry during this campaign. It's a kind of soul searching that I'm not so certain Bush engages in.

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