Magazine article Newsweek

The Authenticity Test

Magazine article Newsweek

The Authenticity Test

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Miller

Just 40% of Americans go to church weekly, but 70% want a president with strong religious faith.

Over the past three years, Sen. John Kerry has had a lot of time to think about his God, and at a meeting with journalists in Washington earlier this month he shared those thoughts. He grew up in a Roman Catholic home before Vatican II; though devout, he prayed in private behind his closed bedroom door, as was the custom at the time. In Vietnam, he prayed to God to save his life, and when he came home some of his foxhole promises no longer felt so pressing. Kerry, a divorced, pro-choice Democrat with a foreign-seeming wife, ran for president in 2004 against an incumbent whose personal Christian-conversion story was intricately woven into his public persona. Yet, out of principle or stubbornness, Kerry chose not to expound upon his own faith until late in the race -- too late, he says in retrospect. In the spring and summer of '04, a handful of U.S. Catholic bishops announced they'd refuse Kerry holy communion on the grounds that his stance on abortion went against church teachings, and Kerry suddenly found himself having to answer fundamental questions about who he was and what he stood for. "I should have started earlier to introduce who I really was -- in '02 or '03," he told NEWSWEEK last week. He gave a big Catholic-values speech in Florida in October, but by then it was too late. "October is October. You've got to do this earlier," he says. "People have to have a sense of this as a continuum. Explaining how Catholicism has shaped my view of public life -- it would have made a difference."

These revelations should be instructive to the field of '08 hopefuls, who as a group represent a dramatic range of religious views and observance, from Catholic to Mormon to -- potentially -- Jew, and from extremely orthodox (Mitt Romney) to much less so (Rudy Giuliani). Despite their religiosity or lack thereof, all will have to tell a convincing faith-and-values story to the American public -- for Americans, though cynical about politicians, still love public piety. …

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