If politicians are going to wade into the faith vs. works debates in the book of James, then it is going to be a long, long campaign on the God beat. And what if the Vatican steps in as a referee? The biblical scholars at the White House are screaming foul over a Sen. John Kerry sermon at the New North Side Baptist Church in St. Louis. The Associated Press stressed that JFK never mentioned Bush by name during his speech at New North Side Baptist Church, but aimed his criticism at "our present national leadership." When it came time to open the Good Book, Kerry's references included James 2:14.
"The Scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" Kerry said. "When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?"
(Compassion? Marvin Olasky, please call your answering service. They are calling you out.)
And on another JFK front, Kerry told Time that, while in St. Louis, "I certainly intend to take Communion and continue to go to Mass as a Catholic."
This, despite the fact that during a previous campaign visit St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke publicly warned him "not to present himself for Communion" -- an ostracism that Canon Law 915 reserves for "those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin." Last year, Rome issued a doctrinal warning to politicians who call themselves Catholics that they have a "grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them."
The Time interview ranged from Kerry's altar boy days, to his church-approved marriage annulment, to his views of John Kennedy's mix of faith and politics. It also featured this sobering quotation from an anonymous Vatican official (note that it is an American cleric) who observed:
"People in Rome are becoming more and more aware that there's a problem with John Kerry, and a potential scandal with his apparent profession of his Catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion."
Kerry went out of his way, Time noted, to return to the Senate floor to vote against a bill that would make harming a fetus a separate offense during the commission of a crime. The vote put Kerry on the same side as abortion-rights advocates in opposing specific legal rights for the unborn -- and against nearly two-thirds of his fellow Senators.
P.S. (Tuesday) For Catholic swing voters, the issue that ends up being debated is this: Does a politician's stance on abortion trump his or her stands on other life and justice issues? In other words, does Kerry's stand on, say, national health care somehow cancel out his stance on abortion?
In his most recent newspaper column, the conservative leader Father Frank Pavone took this question head one. Pavone directs an organization called Priests For Life and it says a lot about this controversy that a group with that title exists. Pavone plays the papal card, writing:
Abortion is no less violent than terrorism. Any candidate who says abortion should be kept legal disqualifies him/herself from public service. We need look no further, we need pay no attention to what that candidate says on other issues. Support for abortion is enough for us to decide not to vote for such a person.
Pope John Paul II put it this way: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination" (Christifideles Laici, 1988).