A standing ovation for a liberal.

Not since David went to live among the Philistines have adversaries treated one another so cordially—at least in the short run. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has every reason for avoiding the Moral Majority, to which he is the apotheosis of liberalism. Yet last month he boarded Jerry Falwell’s private jet, flew to Lynchburg, Virginia, and told a rapt crowd of 5,000 why he disagrees with Falwell’s political organization.

Kennedy discussed major issues of contention—nuclear freeze, the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion—and he criticized Moral Majority’s name for implying that “only one set of public policies is moral.” People with a deep faith, Kennedy cautioned, “may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept.”

He quoted Falwell directly as having written, “To stand against Israel is to stand against God.” Kennedy said, “There is no one in the Senate who has stood more firmly for Israel than I have. Yet I do not doubt the faith of those on the other side. Their error is not one of religion, but of policy.”

Overall, however, the 3,000-word speech was nonaccusatory and emphasized the need for respect. “I believe there surely is such a thing as truth,” Kennedy said at the outset, “but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?” After the audience—4,000 of whom were Liberty Baptist College students—gave Kennedy a standing ovation, Falwell joked that he would have to win back some of his students.

Before Kennedy’s evening appearance, he dined at Falwell’s home, and afterward attended a reception. No future get-togethers are planned at this point, but spokesmen for both Kennedy and Falwell say they are open to the idea. Moral Majority spokesman Cal Thomas said the Lynchburg occasion was “very positive and warm,” and is a step toward “disarming ideologues on both sides.” Thomas commented, “Sadat went to Jerusalem and now Kennedy has come to Lynchburg.”

It was Thomas who inadvertently brought about the Kennedy visit. A computer error in Lynchburg caused a plastic Moral Majority membership card to be sent to the senator’s office. When Thomas heard about it, he wrote a quick note that included a perfunctory invitation to Kennedy to stop by if he happened to be in the area.

To the profound surprise of everyone in Lynchburg, Kennedy accepted, and wanted to speak to the Liberty students. Although he has been critical of right-wing ideas and approaches throughout his political career, Kennedy has not attacked Falwell or Moral Majority by name in the past. His deputy press aide, Melody Miller, said “he doesn’t deal in personalities” and, unlike some other critics, “believes there is lots of room for religious involvement in public debate.”

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After the speech, “a number of students said he made them think,” Miller added.

Excerpts From Kennedy’S Speech

I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America. I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ—that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility—that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. After all, in the New Testament, even the disciples had to be taught to look first to the beam in their own eyes, and only then to the mote in their neighbor’s eye.

I am mindful of that counsel. I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct—or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?…

A generation ago, a presidential candidate had to prove his independence of undue religious influence in public life—and he had to do so partly at the insistence of evangelical Protestants. John Kennedy said at that time: “I believe in an America where there is no [religious] bloc voting of any kind.” Only 20 years later, another candidate was appealing to an evangelical meeting as a religious bloc. Ronald Reagan said to 15,000 evangelicals at the Roundtable in Dallas: “I know that you can’t endorse me. I want you to know that I endorse you and what you are doing.”

To many Americans, that pledge was a sign and a symbol of a dangerous breakdown in the separation of church and state. Yet this principle, as vital as it is, is not a simplistic and rigid command. Separation of church and state cannot mean an absolute separation between moral principles and political power. The challenge today is to recall the origin of the principle, to define its purpose, and refine its application to the politics of the present.…

The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of deep religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the bookburners … the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned—or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.

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The danger is as great now as when the founders of the nation first saw it. In 1789, their fear was of factional strife among dozens of denominations. Today there are hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of faiths, and millions of Americans who are outside any fold. Pluralism obviously does not and cannot mean that all of them are right; but it does mean that there are areas where government cannot and should not decide what it is wrong to believe, to think, to read and to do.…

The real transgression occurs when religion wants government to tell citizens how to live uniquely personal parts of their lives. The failure of Prohibition proves the futility of such an attempt when a majority or even a substantial minority happens to disagree. Some questions may be inherently individual ones or people may be sharply divided about whether they are. In such cases—cases like Prohibition and abortion—the proper role of religion is to appeal to the conscience of the individual, not the coercive power of the state.

People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice and even slavery, to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor.… I respectfully suggest that God has taken no position on the Department of Education—and that a balanced budget constitutional amendment is a matter for economic analysis, not heavenly appeals.…

Thus, the controversy about the Moral Majority arises not only from its views, but from its name—which, in the minds of many, seems to imply that only one set of public policies is moral—and only one majority can possibly be right. Similarly, people are and should be perplexed when the religious lobbying group Christian Voice publishes a morality index of congressional voting records—which judges the morality of senators by their attitude toward Zimbawe and Taiwan.

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Let me offer another illustration. Dr. Falwell has written—and I quote: “To stand against Israel is to stand against God.” Now there is no one in the Senate who has stood more firmly for Israel than I have. Yet I do not doubt the faith of those on the other side. Their error is not one of religion, but of policy—and I hope to persuade them that they are wrong in terms of both America’s interest and the justice of Israel’s cause.

Respect for conscience is most in jeopardy—and the harmony of our diverse society is most at risk—when we reestablish, directly or indirectly, a religious test for public office. That relic of the colonial era, which is specifically prohibited in the Constitution, has reappeared in recent years. After the last election, the Rev. James Robison warned President Reagan not to surround himself, as Presidents before him had, “with the counsel of the ungodly.” I utterly reject any such standard for any position anywhere in public service. Two centuries ago, the victims were Catholics and Jews. In the 1980s, the victims could be atheists; in some other day or decade, they could be the members of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. Indeed, in 1976 I regarded it as unworthy and un-American when some people said or hinted that Jimmy Carter should not be President because he was a born-again Christian. We must never judge the fitness of individuals to govern on the basis of where they worship, whether they follow Christ or Moses, whether they are called “born again” or “ungodly.” Where it is right to apply moral values to public life, let all of us avoid the temptation to be self-righteous and absolutely certain of ourselves.…

We sorely test our ability to live together if we too readily question each other’s integrity. It may be harder to restrain our feelings when moral principles are at stake—for they go to the deepest wellspring of our being. But the more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side.

Those who favor ERA are not “antifamily” or “blasphemers,” and their purpose is not “an attack on the Bible.” Rather we believe this is the best way to fix in our national firmament the ideal that not only all men, but all people, are created equal. Indeed, my mother—who strongly favors ERA—would be surprised to hear that she is antifamily. For my part, I think of the amendment’s opponents as wrong on the issue, but not as lacking in moral character.

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I could multiply the instances of name calling, sometimes on both sides. Dr. Falwell is not a “warmonger”—and “liberal clergymen” are not as the Moral Majority suggested in a recent letter, equivalent to “Soviet sympathizers.” The critics of official prayer in public schools are not “Pharisees”; many of them are both civil libertarians and believers, who think that families should pray more at home with their children, and attend church and synagogue more faithfully. And people are not “sexist” because they stand against abortion; they are not “murderers” because they believe in free choice.…

North American Scene

A Texas doctor has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in a Texas court for drowning a live-born fetus. After a July 1979 abortion, according to five of his former employees, Raymond Showery wrapped the baby’s face in the placenta, submerged the body in a pail of water, put it into a plastic garbage bag, and discarded it. Showery pleaded innocent, claiming the incident never occurred. The court decision was unusual in that the body of the victim was not produced as evidence in the case, since it had been disposed of. His lawyer said the conviction would be appealed.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair does not have and never has had before the Federal Communications Commission a petition that threatens to remove religious broadcasting from the airwaves. Nevertheless, letters of protest still flow into the FCC at the rate of 135,000 a month. Many of them come from members of conservative churches. Since 1975, the FCC has received nearly 16 million pieces of mail about the alleged petition.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a man whose 12-year-old daughter is undergoing court-ordered treatment for cancer. Since mid-September, Pamela Hamilton has been receiving chemotherapy for a huge, cancerous tumor on her leg. Doctors said that without treatment she would die within three months. The girl’s father, Larry, a Church of God pastor, says only God can cure his daughter and that she should not be receiving medical treatment. The treatment was ordered by a state appeals court.

Representatives of four major Protestant agencies have condemned recent Senate action to establish diplomatic ties with the Vatican. The National Council of Churches, National Association of Evangelicals, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State say the Senate action is an official show of preference for the Catholic church. The Senate voted in September to repeal a 116-year-old ban on funds to support the diplomatic mission.

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The number of clergywomen in the Episcopal church more than doubled during 1982, rising from 215 to 555. The total number of Episcopal clergy is about 3,000.

The Saturday Evening Post will no longer accept tobacco advertising, starting with its March 1984 issue. Since the Post was purchased by the Benjamin Franklin Society in January of 1982, the question of whether to continue advertising tobacco products has been at the forefront. The society is a nonprofit corporation that disseminates medical and nutritional knowledge to support research on cancer and other diseases. The magazine also carries Christian-oriented articles. “We believe in placing Christianity in a positive and favorable light,” says religion editor Robert Silvers.

Just a few days before he died, Catholic Cardinal Terence Cooke wrote a letter condemning mercy killing and reaffirming his commitment to the sanctity of life. “Life is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, physical or mental diseases, loneliness or old age,” he wrote. In another letter, the cardinal urged the Irish-American community to work for peace and reconciliation.

Some 15,000 demonstrators from American and West German churches gathered last month to protest the planned deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany. The rally was planned to coincide with an official celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the first German settlement in America. Organizers of the demonstration said they, not the official celebrants, truly represented the pacifist beliefs of the original German settlers.

Bread For the World has thrown its weight behind the Human Needs and World Security bill, which, if enacted, would halt increases in foreign military aid. The Christian lobbying group contends that military aid, called “security aid,” hinders more than it enhances security. The bill would channel more foreign aid into programs that directly benefit poor people, BFW policy analyst Paul Nelson stresses the legislation would not affect U.S. defense spending. BFW hopes the bill will be introduced in both houses of Congress by year’s end.

National Bible Week will be observed November 20–27. In this forty-third annual observance, it will culminate the Year of the Bible, declared earlier this year by President Reagan. An interfaith celebration sponsored by the Laymen’s National Bible Committee, National Bible Week is observed to motivate interest in Bible reading and study.

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