Not a Prodigal Son

Kerry has a different language, a different connection to ritual, and a different relationship to Jesus than that of Bush.

BY: Deborah Caldwell

 

Continued from page 4

In an Indianapolis speech in June to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Kerry talked about his belief that politicians honor God by helping others through government policies. "I am running for president because it's time to turn the words into deeds and faith into action," Kerry said. "Scripture tells us there is a time to break down and a time to build up. This is our time to break down divisions and build up unity."

In A Call to Service, Kerry wrote that he believes the Bible calls for practicing social justice and equal rights. He also criticized religious opposition to gay rights. "I believe that this and every other form of discrimination is opposed to the spirit of the Bible," he wrote.

Though it's not clear what effect it's had on him, Kerry's spiritual biography added a new chapter during the campaign when he discovered for the first time that his grandfather was an Austrian Jew named Fritz Kohn who converted to Catholicism with his wife, Ida Lowe, then changed his name to Frederick Kerry and moved to the United States. Though he was a successful and well-known businessman in Brookline, Mass., Frederick Kerry eventually lost three fortunes--and committed suicide in 1921. John Kerry apparently knew none of this history when it was excavated by the Boston Globe a year ago.

Kerry has said repeatedly that he draws inspiration from his family. "My parents helped me understand at an early age that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves," Kerry said on the campaign trail in early July.

Kerry will never be the kind of glad-handing guy who grabs a voter's hand and says he'll pray for them. He is, however, a devout Catholic who has never apparently had a crisis of faith. Yet a June 2004 Time magazine poll found that only 7 percent of voters described Kerry as a "man of strong religious faith." A Pew Center poll indicated that only a quarter knew he's Catholic. Numerous other polls show that Americans who attend church regularly are overwhelmingly pro-Bush.

Kerry is now wrestling with how and when to discuss his faith. His campaign staff has reluctantly concluded that remaining silent will merely allow the Republicans to define him as a secular Democrat out of the mainstream. About two months ago, Democratic consultants including Mike McCurry, President Clinton's former spokesman, met with senior Kerry officials to press their case that Kerry had to find his religious voice. McCurry told Beliefnet: "They said, 'It's very hard for Kerry to do. It's just not a comfortable thing for him to address."

He has sympathy for Kerry's discomfort. "If you ask a Catholic in the Northeast to talk about his faith, he might say, 'Huh? What is this, Catechism?' Kerry is exactly in that category."

But Kerry appears to be finding his footing. A campaign ad released on July 26 directly tackled the faith issue. In it, Kerry says the following: "In Vietnam I think most of the time I wore a rosary around my neck when we went into battle. So I believe. I still believe."

Then he seemed to nail it during his acceptance speech on July 29: "And let me say it plainly: in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. ... I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day."

And now, voters will see if Kerry can keep up the faith drumbeat. He may not wear a rosary around his neck on the campaign trail, but he'll probably wear his religion on his sleeve.

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