No political figure in America should ever, for any reason, mix religion and politics. To do so is to threaten the very foundation of the Republic.
Except if you’re a liberal. Then it is mandatory, and for the public good.
That’s the point of a convoluted editorial by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend that recently appeared in the Washington Post. Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and daughter of Bobby Kennedy, attacked Sarah Palin for saying that the religious beliefs of public officials can inform their policies. Palin criticized John F. Kennedy, Kennedy Townsend’s uncle, for subordinating his Catholicism to his politics — for saying that his faith would in no way inform his presidency. Kennedy Townsend then rebuked Palin by praising the way that faith has influenced the public policy activism of the Kennedys. The point seems to be that no one should ever speak for God.
Except, of course, the left.
“To demand that citizens display their religious beliefs attacks the very foundation of our nation and undermines the precise reason that America is exceptional,” Kennedy Townsend writes. Then for good measure, Kennedy Townsend asks, “Who is Palin to say what God’s ‘walk’ is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?”
Well, if Palin is not qualified to tell us what the Lord wants, Kennedy Townsend certainly is. It is essential, she writes, “to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the public realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care.” And on those issues, it is essential to work for social justice.
Because, well, that’s what God wants. Kennedy Townsend notes that her uncle JFK “had his faith tested.” He saw war, knew suffering. “His God did not make life easy but did require a commitment to justice.” Then there was Robert Kennedy, who saw apartheid and then wrote an article asking if God was black. Later, Uncle Ted Kennedy fought for universal health care. Oh sure, Teddy’s lifestyle and radical abortion position didn’t always jibe with what his church, the Roman Catholic Church, teaches. But the Church is not always right; there, too, “we have an obligation to bring about those changes” that the Church doesn’t realize are good for it and for society.
So: American politicians should not let their religion inform their decisions about anything. Yet they must fight against poverty, for peace, against bigotry and for social justice — and make the Catholic Church more liberal while they are at it. They should do these things because that’s what God wants. But they shouldn’t be religious about it — at least if they are on the right.
In the December issue of the Catholic World Report, editor George Neumayr has a brilliant column about “Social Justice and the New Politics.” He notes that it is issues like amnesty, taxes, immigration and government-run healthcare that the Catholic left “seeks to dogmatize even as it relativizes the Church’s teaching on natural law.” Anything that advances liberalism is sacrosanct; anything conservative is evil. Ann Coulter is right — liberalism really is its own church with its own catechism. Kennedy Townsend is every bit as dogmatic and hectoring as Billy Sunday; the only difference is that her church is the Church of Liberalism. And it is amazing that neither she nor the editors of the Washington Post could even see the irony.
For anyone who has truly embraced Catholicism, it is simply not possible to not have your faith influence your life — even if you are a politician. You will see in the poor and homeless the face of Christ. You will want to protect the environment, God’s creation. And if you are taught that abortion is wrong — a teaching that does not exactly contradict science, human reason, and the conscience — you cannot help but vote against it. I can only thank God that Kennedy Townsend was not giving her advice to the leaders of the Civil Rights era. Something tells me that those Christian activists would not have taken to it.
I wish that Kennedy Townsend and the rest of the Kennedys would simply have the integrity to once and for all admit it: they are no longer believing Catholics. If nothing else, it would prevent train wrecks like the Post editorial. If Kennedy Townsend simply admitted that she is a secular humanist who uses social engineering to try and create an ideal society, she could avoid logical concussions. As a secular humanist she could simply leave God out of the equation. She could write that she believes in creating the most happiness for the most people, and that no politician on the left or the right should presume to speak for the Almighty. Failing that, she could become an Anglican.
Mark Gauvreau Judge is the author of several books, including Damn Senators and God and Man at Georgetown Prep. His articles and essays have appeared in various publications.