Friday, August 28, 2009

Reflections on the Conflicted Faith of Ted Kennedy


With the recent passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, accolades are flowing freely and generously from those who admired him most. Even his critics have found the capacity to offer gestures of complimentary reflections, praising most often his tenacity to hold fast to what he believed.

However, when such a topic turns to the deeper issues of faith and church the dedication to doctrine and conviction is more conflicted for this lifelong Catholic. As a recent article in TIME by Amy Sullivan well notes, the "hard-living Kennedys weren't known for being famously devout." Indeed, their indiscretions are only too well documented as are many others of Washington, regardless of religious affiliation. In fact, Ted Kennedy struggled with his faith throughout his life, it appears, and one would hardly blame such soul-searching especially after the repeated tragedies that hit his family with one death after another.

Sullivan notes, however, that Kennedy found a way to return to his family faith, albeit in his own unique way. "'And ultimately, says Casey, Senator Kennedy's relationship with Catholicism is one familiar to many American Catholics. 'He went through a period of alienation from the church,' says Casey. 'But he came back on his own terms, he made a form of peace with the church.'"

"On his own terms." That says much of Kennedy's faith as a Catholic. Like many Catholics in politics it seems that it is not possible to be fully Catholic, with the unbearable weight of all that moral baggage, and still win elections, or maintain ones status within the Left. In the early 70's Kennedy was opposed to abortion. But that changed with the years, despite his church's unwavering opposition. As Sullivan writes: "Indeed, abortion was the main topic on which Kennedy received criticism from church leaders. He had begun his political career opposed to abortion — in a 1971 letter, Kennedy wrote, "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized." But like many other Democratic politicians, he became a supporter of abortion rights by the 1980s. By the end of his career he was regularly awarded a 100% positive rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his abortion-related votes, a record that put him at odds with church leadership."

Kennedy may indeed be the icon of today's modern Christian, claiming piety and devotion to a church, while practicing that faith according to personal choices rather than being bound by biblical or doctrinal mandates. History will have to judge the success or failure of his voluminous legislative efforts. However, God's Word judges clearly the willingness to confess the faith or hide from it for personal gain. For all the accolades showered upon this man, I remain regretful and saddened that he could not find the courage to maintain a simple defense for those helpless unborn children whose lives were unceremoniously snatched from them in the name of choice.

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