Politics & Policy

Article of Faith

Kerry says faith affects his other positions, so why not abortion?

If you’re an informed Catholic who watched the third presidential debate you have to be wondering what, exactly, John Kerry was talking about when it comes to abortion.

#ad#Asked by moderator Bob Schieffer about unnamed Catholic archbishops who are telling people it’s a sin for them to vote for candidates like Kerry because of their support for abortion rights and embryonic-stem-cell research, Kerry rambled on about respecting the bishops’ views but disagreeing with them. That was hard enough to follow.

Then came the kicker: “I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith.”

What article of faith was Kerry talking about? That abortion kills an innocent human being? That’s not a peculiarly Catholic belief or “article of faith.” Plenty of people who aren’t Catholics think abortion entails taking an innocent human life. President Bush does, and he’s a Methodist, not a Catholic. So too many Lutherans, Baptists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians agree with faithful Catholics and President Bush. Then there are non-Christians, including many Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, for whom abortion is the killing an innocent human being. Indeed, some people with no religion at all or who deny God’s existence take the same position.

How, then, can opposition to abortion rights be “an article of faith”? Or if it is, why should that preclude opposing abortion on other grounds held in common with people who don’t necessarily share one’s faith?

Apparently, whatever scruples Senator Kerry has about his Catholicism informing his views of abortion and embryonic-stem-cell research don’t affect his stances on many other political issues. He declared,

My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says, ‘What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.’ And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.

So it’s okay for Senator Kerry’s Catholicism to influence his efforts against poverty, or to clean up the environment, or to fight for justice and equality. As he said, “All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.” But for some reason his Catholicism mustn’t influence him to support the right to life for unborn children.

Thanks be to God, viewers of the debate were spared one misstatement Senator Kerry has imposed on audiences before: The claim that he accepts the Church’s teaching on abortion, despite not being able to “impose that teaching on others.” Presumably, he means by “accepting the Church’s teaching on abortion” that he thinks abortion is something morally wrong and would never encourage a woman to have one. But, of course, the Church says more than that abortion is immoral. Cursing in your living room is immoral, but the Church doesn’t advocate outlawing it.

Abortion is different because unborn children have an inalienable right to life, which the government must secure. Since Senator Kerry doesn’t support the right to life for unborn children, it’s false for him to claim to accept the Church’s teaching on abortion, which includes supporting the right to life.

We have here a classic case of someone who seems so worried about “not imposing religion on people” that he doesn’t even impose it on himself.

Mark Brumley is president of Ignatius Press, associate publisher of Ignatiusinsight.com, and contributor to The Five Issues That Matter Most.

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