Christianity Today was founded in 1956 to offset the influence of The Christian Century. In those days, we rarely agreed on anything. But in the run-up to the 1960 election, the two magazines warned Americans against electing a Roman Catholic President.

The Roman Catholic Church was not like "most denominations," CT's editors warned. If it were, "all Americans would welcome a qualified Roman Catholic citizen in the White House." But Roman Catholicism claimed "the State should officially recognize the Catholic religion as the religion of the Commonwealth … and should … sanction the laws of the church."

Those words from Pope Leo XIII provoked the same kind of reaction as talk of Shari'ah law does today. "Election of a Roman Catholic to the presidency … sooner or later would be a threat to our freedoms," said CT's editorial.

The candidate at issue was, of course, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, war hero, senator from Massachusetts, and scion of a politically connected Irish American family.

His election to the presidency in 1960 was by the narrowest margin since 1916. One key factor in his victory was a speech he gave to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, assuring the ministers that fears of foreign and denominational influence on his policies were unfounded. Without those reassurances, no Catholic could have won the presidency.

Memories of that occasion emerged this year when former Senator Rick Santorum told a college audience that when he read JFK's speech he "almost threw up." Santorum told ABC News, "Kennedy for the first time articulated a vision saying, no, faith is not allowed in the public square …. What ...

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Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
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