Tuesday, May 04, 2004

John Kerry and his Church

When John Kerry was asked by the Interfaith Alliance about the relation of religious faith to political decision-makind, he made a good statement. Faith, he said, is "your guidepost. . . your moral compass." We must do whatever "make sense to everybody that allows for the full diversity of our country, doesn't speak to one particular religion or one particular belief, but brings people together around a set of values that we share as a nation." Your moral compass is behind what "you transfer into policy, without in fact talking about it every minute and translating it into whatever your article of faith is."
See: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/Election2004/Election2004List.cfm?c=89

I agree with Kerry, although I would put it a little differently. Religious faith has political implications. But those implications should be translated into language that arises out of secular American history and tradition, especially the founding documents. They should be advocated, not because the Bible, the Pope, or the church says so, but because they represent authentic American values. Given Roman Catholic pressure on him to oppose abortion, the question for John Kerry is whether he will allow his church to dictate his views or whether he will make his own translation of faith into the language of American tradition. Kerry should support pro-choice because it promotes liberty, justice, and the common welfare and is an implication of his religious faith as he interprets it. The other possibility, of course, is that his position on abortion is a matter of pure political expediency! I am not at all suggesting that, although he could not run as a Democrat if he capitulated to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.


The most profound understanding of the relation of religion and politics I know of is found in a speech by Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York in an address at the University of Notre Dame September 13, 1984. He was dealing with the question as to whether he as a Catholic was bound to adopt a position against abortion in accordance with the teachings of the church. His answer was that he was not necessarily bound to do so.

Our public morality, then – the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives – depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not – and should not – be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus. That those values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.

. . . the question whether to engage the political system in a struggle to have it adopt certain articles of our belief as part of public morality is not a matter of doctrine: it is a matter of prudential political judgment.

Yes, we create our public morality through consensus and in this country that consensus reflects to some extent religious values of a great majority of Americans. But “no,” all religiously based values don’t have an a priori place in our public morality. The community must decide if what is being proposed would be better left to private discretion than public policy; whether it restricts freedom, and if so to what end, to whose benefit; whether it will produce a good or bad result; whether overall it will help the community or merely divide it.

1. Cuomo clearly recognizes that church and state is not the same problem as religion and politics.

2. He recognizes that religiously-based values have a legitimate place in public political discourse, but they have no privileged status since we have to find a moral consensus in a pluralistic society that includes a variety of religious belief and unbelief.

3. Political policies must be judged by whether they are best for the society as a whole, whether they promote peace, justice, freedom, and equality for all, not by whether they have religious sanction in some specific religion or denomination.

4. Christians as citizens and as public officials have to make an attempt to balance the moral truths they hold against political realities. Pragmatic judgments must be made which may require a compromise of the personal morality they espouse is persons of faith.