Kerry says faith-based public service needed on both sides of the aisle

“Shame on us if we use our faith to divide and alienate people from one another, or if we draft God into partisan service,” Massachusetts Senator John Kerry told a capacity audience in an address at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theater Monday afternoon. “Shame on us if we so fear for our own advantage.”

The subject of his address, “My Faith and the Role of Faith in Public Life,” was aptly keyed-indicated by the standing ovation he received at its completion-to the strong Christian orientation of the university, which Kerry described as an institution that recognizes that the subject does not belong within the sole purview of one side of the political aisle.

Born and raised in the Catholic faith, Kerry said he confronted his own mortality head-on in Vietnam. As he grew disillusioned with the war, his faith was also put to the test. He said the scriptures, particularly a passage from the gospel according to Mark, shed a great deal of light for him on how to translate his faith into action in the public sector.

“Jesus said, ‘The son of man came not to be served but to serve,'” Kerry said. “I consider every day in public life, and all those questions we are charged to wrestle with, as a form of Christian leadership and an expression of faith. It’s not enough to say you believe in Jesus, but believing requires action.”

He discussed 10 subjects that illustrate how we might apply faith to the vital problems of today; among them, taking care of the less fortunate.

“The cares of the poor and troubled should be the focus of all of our work,” Kerry said.


He also listed four major challenges facing the world and the nation that people of faith and compassion must address: AIDS, global climate change, abortion, and a faith-based debate on the issues of war and peace.

“How can you sit by idly while this plague of our times, sweeps across the globe?” he said of AIDS. “How can we not do everything in our power to make sure our life-giving treatments are spread far and wide to those in need?”

Kerry described global climate change as one of the greatest challenges confronting the world in the long run. “God told us to be stewards of the Earth and its creatures,” he said, “and since most of the climate change is human-induced, it’s pretty clear that we have not done the job. There is ironclad scientific evidence [of global warming]. Surely this is an issue where people of faith can come together and demand action.”

On the issue of abortion, Kerry said: ” I believe the first step should be to unite and accept the responsibility of making the abortion act rare by focusing on prevention, by supporting education of new parents. Even as a supporter of Roe versus Wade, I’m compelled to acknowledge that the language used by both sides on the subject is both misleading and disrespectful, none of which does justice to the depth of the moral conviction that is honestly held by all. There has been a demonization rather than a debate.”

Raising the minimum wage, expanding educational opportunities, giving tax credit for domestic adoption, providing universal health insurance and expanding federal-funded child care, are steps Kerry said should be taken in preventing abortion.

Rekindling a debate on the issues of war and peace is necessary, Kerry said he felt, because the traditions on how and when Christians should fight-that is, war should always be the last resort, war must always have a just cause, wars of choice are unjust wars-are being forgotten. It is in America’s interest to maintain its unquestionable moral authority.

“We risk losing it,” he said, “when leaders make excuses for abuses in an Abu Ghraib or a Guantanamo, or when an administration formally lobbies for torture. For me the ‘just war’ criteria in Iraq were very clear. … [But] the words ‘last resort’ have to mean something. In Iraq…it was wrong to prosecute a war without careful diplomacy and assembling a real coalition, wrong to prosecute a war without a plan to pursue peace and avoid the chaos of looting in Baghdad…wrong to prosecute a war without considering the violence of the streets and what it would do to the lives of innocent people.”

“And for all the anger and fear that’s so often expressed about the intersection of politics and religion,” Kerry said in closing, “I believe the vision of public service based on serving, rather than being served, is ultimately a vision of hope, not despair.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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