Christophobia: Why JFK was Wrong

Recently, Bill Keller, a flunky editor at The New York Times wrote a column stating that the media had the right to ask candidates questions about their religious beliefs. The sentiment behind this statement is nothing less than abominable. In fact, it’s almost Stalinist in its hatred for one religion and one religion only –Christianity. Leaving aside the fact that what Keller and his ilk really want is to summon Republicans and Conservatives in chains before a type of secular Inquisition, this idea is evil on its own merits. If you don’t believe me, consider the hateful words that Keller used to justify this intrusion into the most private aspects of an individual’s life: “As a Catholic, I used to believe that a priest could take a wafer and turn it into the Body of Christ.” You can’t get much more scabrous than that. What we are talking about here is just another instance of a growing “Christophobia,” a disdain for Christianity and its moral tradition which I believe will eventually result in outright persecutution.

We see this already in the ridicule that Mitt Romney has had to undergo because of his Mormonism, or the increasingly hysterical assault against Rick Perry and Michele Bachman, both of whom belong to mainstream Protestant denominations. (Curiously, we didn’t see this same concern when Sen Barack Hussein Obama –who had a whack-job, bona fide America-hating bigot for a minister–was running for President.) And of course we won’t see it for politicians who, though they may belong to the same religious traditions are Laodicean in their religiosity. Think of Jon Huntsman, a Mormon like Romney, but who is culturally very much a secularist, or Kathleen Sebelius, a “staunch” Catholic who as governor of Kansas upheld partial-birth abortion.

First a little history. The modern regime of seperation of culture from religion (as opposed to the seperation of church and state) began for all intents and purposes with then-candidate John F Kennedy’s memorable address before the Houston Ministerial Alliance back in 1960. That memorable speech has become enshrined in American mythology as an iconic event that is so fundamentally good and true that it cannot be questioned. Much like the Emancipation Proclamation and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it has become a touchstone of American political discourse. In fact, it was anything but. It deserves instead to be viewed as the precursor to the modern Christophobia which I am talking about and should be repudiated from the popular imagination with the same alacrity that we reserve for Jim Crow legislation.

Permit me to explain. It is a little-known fact that Senator Kennedy met with the Baptist preachers of Houston upon their insistence, not his. For his part, he did so not to justify his Roman Catholicism, but to run away from it (at least in some modified way). The Baptist preachers had their own reasons, which I will explain shortly. Regardless, both Kennedy and the ministers were acting in an intricate kabuki theater purely for political purposes.

We know what was in it for Kennedy, but what was in it for the Baptists? Simply an excuse to continue to vote Democratic. Many of these same preachers were desperate to find a face-saving way for them to explain to their congregations why they were going to vote for the Democratic ticket (Lyndon Johnson had not yet been nominated for Vice-president). In the baldest possible terms, anti-Catholic prejudice was so pronounced because these same men had been telling their congregations for decades that the Pope was the Antichrist.

How bad was this anti-Catholic bias throughout the South? So bad that both Martin Luther King Sr and his more famous son cast their votes for Richard Nixon in 1960. So bad that the Rev J C Watts Sr, the father of the first black Congressman from Oklahoma, also voted for Nixon. On the other hand, as far as white Southerners were concerned, anti-Republican bias was even worse. Thanks to the memories of Reconstruction, the GOP was demonized as the party of Carpetbaggers and Scalawags, malefactors who never hesitated to grind the faces of the poor white majority in the dirt. Nor should it be forgotten that the Southern stranglehold on the Democratic Party was so pronounced that a disproprotionate share of New Deal spending under FDR was directed to the South. (FDR understood the tenuous nature of his coalition: he refused to enact anti-lynching laws because he knew the Dixiecrats would bolt.)

The Democratic ministers were thus caught on the horns of a dilemma. For several of the ministers, hatred of the Republicans trumped hatred of the Pope. But how to explain this heresy to their congregations, who were not sophisticated enough to see this? Simple: have the Democratic candidate come before them and after a fashion, repudiate his Catholicism. Kennedy, who was probably a lukewarm Catholic anyway, jumped at the chance.

Kennedy’s seemingly high-minded words helped him electorally no doubt (as did all the dead voters in Illinois) but they set in motion an insidious force in American politics that has irrevocably worked its way through our entire society. Instead of standing on liberal principle –that being the primacy of the individual conscience–Kennedy’s nostrum eventually made it all-but-impossible for any American to act on his conscience if it was formed by Christian conviction. This effectively neutralized the Christian moral tradition. We see this everywhere today. Not just politicians but even ordinary citizens cannot make the simplest judgments based on what used to be taken for granted. Indeed, we now often have to act against our consciences on a wide variety of issues and in several ways as we navigate through even the most mundane things in life, from the individual to the corporate. Do you want some examples? OK, how about these: Christian landlords cannot refuse cohabiting couples from renting apartments, religious corporation must provide abortion coverage to their employess, and Catholic relief agency cannot prevent homosexual couples from adopting children.

It certainly wasn’t supposed to happen this way. After all, throughout American history, from the Plymouth Colony to Abolitionism, from female suffrage to Civil Rights, the one guiding principle that animated all political discourse was Christianity. A cursory reading of history proves this in spades. Read the public speeches and private letters of every great eminence in American history, whether he be in politics, culture, the military, or the academy, and you will find that the atheists, the agnostics, and the secularists could be counted on one hand. Nor was this fact obviated by Christians being on one side or another on any particular issue. Consider slavery: Christians were in fact on both sides of this explosive issue. In fact, it highlights the fundamental truth of this thesis, that Christians could both uphold slavery as well as emancipation and look at the same sacred texts while doing so. There was no extraneous call for argumentation based on any other religious or ideological tradition. To suppose otherwise would have been ludicrous, after all, the overhelming majority of the American nation throughout history has always been Christian.

To be fair to JFK, I’m not sure that he intended for things to work out this way, but they have. The persecution of the Church will now progress in a more subtle fashion for the foreseeable future and will continue to accelerate in due time. The thing for us to remember is how we got here and to remember that bad ideas –and questionable political poses–have bad consequences. Those of us in the Orthodox Church who are similarly beholden to ideas of “diversity” and “tolerance” should take heed.


  1. cynthia curran says

    Well, there are limits on the religious question. I prefer Mormon Matt Romney over liberal protestant Barrck Obama. Some conservatives and leftist because of Romney’s Mormon religion think he isn’t quality to be a presidential candidate.

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  3. cynthia curran says

    Well Pastor Jeffries stated that one should not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. One should vote for Perry since he is an evangelical christian. Personality, I dislike Perry since he supported in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and encouraged illegal immigrants that usually have children to come to his state. But on the other hand he is cutting down on welfare and illegal immigrants with children are probably the biggest users of welfare in Texas because of their low income since they received lower wages. Perry wants to use them for cheap labor but not have the Texas state support their kids. Romney has his flaws but I think he will appeal to a general population and his health care was only for the state of Mass.

  4. Robert Badger says

    One of the baneful effects on JFK and indeed the whole Kennedy family were a number of liberal Catholic theologians. Prominent among them was the prominent dissident theologian Hans Kung who was subsequently stripped of the right to call himself a Catholic theologian by then-Cardinal Ratzinger with the blessing of Pope John Paul II. Hans Kung pretty much rejects the primacy of the Successor of Peter, but that is not his only problem. He embraces a very troubling approach to interreligious dialogue which seems to imply that Jesus is not the only Saviour and that all religions can lead to salvation. He is also a rather fanatical devote of the historical-critical method in its most extreme form.

    Other figures, such as the Jesuit Fr Robert Drinan and the moral theologian Fr Charles Curran, who like Kung was deprived of the mandatum to be a Catholic theologian, also advised the Kennedy at this time especially on the touchy issue of abortion.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Mr Badger: also because of their mega-wealth, the Kennedys (post-JFK) caused the Archdiocese of Boston to become extremely lax, esp in regard to the the granting of divorces. This had a corrosive effect on that diocese’s moral rigor. Ultimately Boston became ground-zero for the pederasty scandal which shook the American Catholic Church to its foundations.

  5. Robert Badger says

    What happened in the Boston Archdiocese ought to be a wake-up call. Sadly, the laxity had gone on for years and years. Cardinal Cushing was pretty lax, Cardinal Medeiros punished the wrong people, and Cardinal Law never punished people who should have been punished. Cardinal Law was intimately involved with the revision of the Canon Law accomplished under John Paul II. He has no excuse for not doing what he should have done. He’s one of the foremost experts on Canon Law. Sexual abuse of the young was cause for dismissing a priest from the priesthood then and it is now.

    As far as annulments go, the Boston tribunal was very lax. I’m glad the Roman Rota threw out one of the Kennedy annulments.