Monday, November 17, 2008

JFK's Address to the Houston Ministerial Association

I'm writing a paper for Law and Religion on JFK's address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. In it, he addresses the fact that he's Catholic and how that affects his political views and his vision for America. I particularly like this paragraph:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

The bold portion up there is the most controversial, I think. How do you reconcile decisions made to lead a fundamentally secular country when you're viewing the situation through the lens of religion? The Catholic church teaches that the Pope is the head of the church (correct me if I'm wrong here. I'm not Catholic, but this is my perception). If you refuse to follow direction by the Pope, you're saying that you don't believe a fundamental rule of the Church. If you don't believe and follow a fundamental rule of the Church, are you still Catholic?

That part of JFK's speech did much to calm voters facing the option of voting for a Catholic president, but unless I'm missing something huge, I don't see how it can be reconciled with Catholicism as a set of beliefs.

Another question this brings up: Protestants often speak in terms of God talking directly to them. For example, "I feel that God has lead me to do this."

Would a Protestant presidential candidate actually say, in a campaign speech, that he believes in an America where a church, church elders (or God) would not tell the President how to act?

ADDED: This is the paragraph right after the one above:

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.


Anonymous said...

"public policy from the Popte, the National Council of Churches or any other ecc;ecclesiastical source"

Popte? ecc;ecclesiastical? You may want to fix that.

On the more pertinent subject matter, I'm an athesist, so I don't really view myself as qualified to answer the questions about the Catholic or Protestant faith but I am a large believer in the absolute seperation of church and state.

Lawrence Page said...

There are varying degrees of faith and religious observance in any religion. Many Orthodox Jews consider Conservative or Reform Jews to not be Jews because they do not follow all the commands of the Torah and Talmud: including but not limited to keeping Kosher (no exceptions), shaving, and not wearing a Kepa (Yamaca) all the time to symbolize ones' subservience to God. Of course, the vast majority of Jews in the world are not Orthodox, which raises a similar question: are they Jewish or just pretending to be Jewish?

The answer is somewhat obvious: the majority of Jews in the world might not be Orthodox Jews, but they are still Jewish. Likewise, Kennedy might not have been a strict, fully-compliant Catholic (because he rejected the Medieval edict that the Pope's word on politics was the word of God), but he was certainly a Catholic. Indeed, given how it almost cost him the Presidency, the fact that he did not renounce his Catholicism means more to me than whether or not he followed some antiquated Medieval edict of Catholicism that most modern Catholics have rejected.

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic, it is my perception that not following a direction of the pope does not make one not Catholic unless the Vatican ex-communicates you. The Pope is the head of the church, and his statements on faith are held to be controlling, and where faith intersects with policy a "good" Catholic should obey the Vatican (the Vatican's current unhappiness with Biden's pro-choice stance, which conflicts with the Church's teaching that life begins at conception is an example of how the Pope tries to throw his weight around). Basically there are two things that can be done to a "bad" Catholic...he can be denied communion at Mass, which is a big deal to Catholics, or he can be ex-communicated, or thrown out of the church entirely. You have to mess up very seriously to be ex-communicated. I'm kind of conflating the use of the Pope and the Vatican, which is effectively true but not entirely appropriate. The Vatican refers to the very upper echelon of the church hierarchy as well as the pope himself. As a side note, I would recommend visiting the Vatican's lovely.

Bob said...

"Would a Protestant presidential candidate actually say, in a campaign speech, that he believes in an America where a church, church elders (or God) would not tell the President how to act?"

I think that it will be a long time before a Protestant candidate explicitly snubs God. However, we saw in the past election that Obama had to denounce Jeremiah Wright and McCain had to denounce John Hagee. There seems to be a sense that there are "correct" expressions of Protestantism to which candidates must conform.