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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dean, Kerry, Bush, and Religion
From a Mara Vanderslice article in Sojourners. Note that this was written before the election:

I remember the first time I heard Gov. Howard Dean speak, more than a year ago. Dean sharply criticized the move toward war in Iraq....At the time, the faith community had been active in opposition to the war, but while protests erupted around the world, our leaders in Washington remained painfully silent. Dean broke through that silence with what to me was a prophetic voice in a time that desperately needed politicians to be truth-tellers.

I was so inspired to see a candidate who was willing to stand up for the things I believed in that I decided to leave my job to work on the Dean campaign. As a Christian, I passionately wanted to galvanize the faith community around the candidate that had captured my heart and imagination. I headed to Iowa, where I managed to convince the Dean campaign to hire me to do outreach to religious communities. I was quickly dubbed the "church lady" as I tried to convince senior staff that, although many people of faith supported Dean’s positions, his secular image would hurt him in the election.

My appeals for intelligent language about faith were met with skepticism. I was told that Dean supporters were not religious and liked him because he didn’t talk about religion. A senior staff member who came into Iowa in the final weeks even asked me, "How in the world did you get hired?!" He just couldn’t comprehend expending resources to reach out to the religious community. "It’s not that I’m against it," he said, "it’s just I would have never thought of it. Who would have known religious people could get behind us?"

When Dean abruptly started talking about religion, his comments came across as insensitive and out of touch: He said he would only talk about religion when campaigning in the South; he called Job his favorite "New Testament" book.

I was amazed by the ignorance about religious people that I found among campaign workers, who seemed unable to comprehend Christians being Democrats. What an odd misconception, considering that an overwhelming percentage of Democrats are religious; according to George Barna, one of the most respected pollsters on religious matters, 79 percent of Democrats attend a Catholic or Protestant church. It was not the right wing Dean was alienating, but the very base of his party.

PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC nominee John Kerry need not make the same mistakes. Kerry and his wife Teresa have publicly emphasized the importance of their Catholic faith. Kerry spoke recently to a church audience quoting from James on how faith without works is dead. If Kerry continues to use religious language appropriately (and not only when speaking in the South) and embraces the millions of religious Americans that are the base of his supporters, he might just change some assumptions about the "secular" Democratic Party, and in the process, pick up a crucial constituency that could tip the balance of the election....

There are two conflicting views on Kerry's Catholicism. Here's what The Boston Globe had to say:

IN LABELING John Kerry "wrong for Catholics," the Republican National Committee is lying about the meaning of Catholic faith, insulting Kerry, and moving the political exploitation of religion to a new low. The Globe's Michael Kranish reported Sunday on the RNC plot to target Kerry's religious unworthiness as a Catholic. Not only do the Republicans distort Kerry's positions on complicated moral questions; they misrepresent the current state of Catholic ethical thought. General outrage is the proper response to this strategy, but Catholics in particular should repudiate it....

John Kerry's Catholicism is for real. His faith is informed by the spirit of the great renewal that occurred with Vatican II....

It is not too much to say that Vatican II was the church's nodding to this country for what it taught the world about the primacy of conscience and the rights of all believers. That spirit of openness is reflected in the public positions advanced by John Kerry....

Kerry's positions on a range of issues, from abortion to the death penalty to the centrality of social justice, mark him not as a renegade Catholic but as one of that increasingly large number of faithful Catholics who understand that moral theology is not a fixed set of answers given once and for all by an all-knowing hierarchy but an ongoing quest for truths that remain elusive....

Needless to say, there is an opposing view:

Now, 44 years later, another Catholic is about to become the Democratic nominee for president. I wish I could be as proud and enthusiastic about that as I was in 1960. Instead, I am embarrassed. Given his beliefs and his voting record, I wish John Kerry professed another religious faith or none at all. I would rather have an agnostic or an atheist in the White House than a person who proclaims himself a Catholic but tosses overboard those parts of Catholic doctrine that are politically inconvenient....

The liberal Massachusetts senator has consistently disregarded the church's teaching on the sacredness of human life by voting against any restriction on abortion, even the termination of a nearly completed pregnancy known as partial-birth abortion. He not only has voted to support abortion rights at every opportunity, but he also has proudly proclaimed his stance in speeches to Democratic pro-choice groups such as NARAL. Kerry is not in the least way embarrassed by his pro-abortion stance. I am, and I believe many Catholics are, too.

I realize that many Catholics disagree with the church's teaching on abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment and other issues. Polls show American Catholics are about as deeply divided on the issue of abortion as is the general public. Exit polls taken in the 2000 election showed Catholic voters split 50% in favor of pro-choice Democrat Al Gore to 47% for pro-life Republican George W. Bush. Clearly, the pope and bishops do not dictate how U.S. Catholics vote.

But Kerry's rise to the pinnacle of American politics, with his well-advertised Catholic label, raises the stakes in this struggle for the hearts and minds of Catholic voters. Can American bishops ignore the fact that his voting record on basic moral issues defies church teaching? Can Catholics who embrace the church's teaching accept as our leader a man who so easily abandons Catholic beliefs?...

As he has done on so many issues, Kerry is trying to have it both ways on abortion — consistently voting as a reliable supporter of the powerful abortion-rights lobby of the Democratic Party while professing a personal belief that is consistent with his faith and supposedly comforting to Catholic voters....

Kerry has said he opposes gay marriages, but when given an opportunity to cast a vote to support that claim, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress approved by large margins and was signed by Democratic President Clinton....

Kerry does not find it inappropriate to vote in accord with Catholic teaching on other issues. He is generally opposed to capital punishment, as is the church. If it is inappropriate to vote his faith-based view on abortion, why is it appropriate to vote as the pope would on the death penalty? How about the church's social teaching on subjects such as every worker's right to a living wage? Would Kerry hesitate to vote for a raise in the minimum wage because someone might think he's voting his religious belief? Not on your life....

Part of this may be due to the stricter hierarchical nature of the Roman Catholic Church. Or perhaps not. I've previously posted a portion of a sermon which notes that, at least politically, "United Methodist" is an oxymoron. But then again, perhaps United Methodism isn't as tolerant as the pastor suggests. Lookee here:

Two Iowa Methodist theology graduates are asking the United Methodist Church to revoke the memberships of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - both Methodists - alleging they have violated the denomination's teachings against war....

Ball and Steward...have created a Web site to solicit signatures on a petition to have Bush and Cheney expelled from the United Methodist Church.

However, both say their motives are faith-based. They decided to act after the president and others said their decisions about war with Afghanistan and Iraq were guided by prayer.

United Methodist Church bishops have criticized Bush's pre-emptive strike strategy. The church supports conflict resolution through the United Nations as an alternative to war and terrorism. It opposes indiscriminate military force to fight terrorism.

"Our country's response to Sept. 11 was violent revenge and not much more than that," Ball said. "Bush and Cheney are members of my church going against every teaching we have on war and acting completely contradictory to what Jesus taught.

"When you start saying that your faith guides you away from the things that make Jesus so distinctive, you can't claim you are a follower."

Bishop Gregory Palmer, who presides over the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, said church members "who have substantial reasons to believe fellow United Methodists are in violation of our beliefs and covenant have the right in our polity to seek the redress of those concerns. My prayer is that a just resolution can be reached between complainant and respondent if such action goes forward."

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