You’ve likely heard by now that the great senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, has died.
Kennedy, who succumbed last night after a year-long fight with brain cancer, was a stalwart of the Senate, it’s third-longest serving member, and an iconic figure in American Catholicism. Certainly not the most pious, but among the most recognizable.
Over at GetReligion, tmatt goes so far as to ask readers a true-or-false question: “Based on the information available in the mainstream press coverage of his death, Edward Kennedy is the most influential American Catholic political leader in our nation’s history.”
I’m neither quick to agree or disagree. What fascinates me is the degree to which Kennedy was a practicing Catholic. We may never know. But, much in the same way that high-profile or newsworthy Jewish Americans are identified more by their tribal affiliations than their personal beliefs, Kennedy was a liberal Catholic and the last living prince of Camelot.
In light of Kennedy’s passing, David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network excerpted some quotes from a 1983 speech at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College titled “Faith, Truth and Tolerance in America” (seen above):
“I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America. I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ, that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility, that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. After all, in the New Testament, even the Disciples had to be taught to look first to the beam in their own eyes, and only then to the mote in their neighbor’s eyes.I am mindful of that counsel. I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?”
“There are those who do, and their own words testify to their intolerance. For example, because the Moral Majority has worked with members of different denominations, one fundamentalist group has denounced Dr. Falwell for hastening the ecumenical church and for “yoking together with Roman Catholics, Mormons, and others.” I am relieved that Dr. Falwell does not regard that as a sin, and on this issue, he himself has become the target of narrow prejudice. When people agree on public policy, they ought to be able to work together, even while they worship in diverse ways. For truly we are all yoked together as Americans, and the yoke is the happy one of individual freedom and mutual respect.”
“The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the book burners…the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned—or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.”
“People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice—even slavery—to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor. I believe that the prophecy, ”The poor you have always with you” is an indictment, not a commandment. And I respectfully suggest that God has taken no position on the Department of Education—and that a balanced budget constitutional amendment is a matter of economic analysis, and not heavenly appeals.
Religious values cannot be excluded from every public issue; but not every public issue involves religious values. And how ironic it is when those very values are denied in the name of religion. For example, we are sometimes told that it is wrong to feed the hungry, but that mission is an explicit mandate given to us in the 25th chapter of Matthew.
Second, we must respect the independent judgments of conscience.
Those who proclaim moral and religious values can offer counsel, but they should not casually treat a position on a public issue as a test of fealty to faith.
In bonus coverage, Rob Eshman, writing at Bloggish, gives a rundown on Kennedy’s impeccable record on Israel.
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