What would JFK do?

churchstateGayle White and Tom Baxter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on how much the church-and-politics atmosphere has changed since 1960. When John F. Kennedy ran for president 44 years ago, he had to assure skittish Protestant ministers that he wouldn't let his Catholicism influence his political decisions. Conservative Christian voters now prefer candidates whose policies are shaped by their faith. Indeed, as White and Baxter report, some bishops have disciplined Catholic politicians (including Kerry) who profess personal opposition to abortion but whose votes are consistently pro-choice.

Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, treats these changing attitudes as hypocrisy:

"The conservative religious movements in this nation feared that the Roman Catholic Church would dictate Kennedy's public policy decisions," Gaddy said. "Now, those same people are pushing vigorously for political candidates who will elevate their commitment to a religiously conservative social political agenda above the responsibilities of their elected position."

It could just as well be a sign of greater harmony among Catholics and Protestants who share a concern for the public square. It could also have something to do with how many Catholic-fearing Protestant pastors who confronted JFK 40 years ago have since gone the way of all flesh.

Further, could it be that ecumenical pro-life activism of at least two decades helped fellow believers discover each other as allies? Might Evangelicals and Catholics Together have changed some hearts and minds? Must even greater diversity and tolerance between orthodox Christians become evidence of something sinister?

Actually, Gaddy needn't worry about the excessive mixing of orthodox doctrine and conservative politics. The Hill said in August 2003 that Kerry told the Vatican to pipe down when it spoke against gay marriage:

"It's important not to have the church instructing politicians," Kerry, a Catholic, told the Boston Herald.

Savor the irony of this: One JFK had to pledge loyalty to a secularist politics so he could calm fears of a Vatican-controlled White House. Forty years later, another JFK defends this policy, grounded in the fears of another era, as something almost sacred. Clearly the times haven't changed for everyone.

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