Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has written one of her perennial disingenuous articles manipulating religion for political gain (she’s earlier claimed that Obama is more Catholic than the pope, since Obama supports abortion — no, really). This time, she’s bashing Rick Perry for not being sufficiently Christian on the pages of The Atlantic.
My interest isn’t in attacking or defending Rick Perry. Rather, I just want to point out how utterly hypocritical and self-serving this piece (and scores more like it) are. After all, this is the same Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has rode the coattails of her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who she says “urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.” So when it suits her, she wants religion to have no place in politics (for example, in the area of abortion). But when it doesn’t suit her, she wants “to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.”
In doing so, she manages to badly bungle what Scripture actually says. The Atlantic article is a masterpiece of unintended ironies. For example, she begins by attacking Rick Perry for being proud of his Christianity:
Most political candidates also profess their belief in God. At the same time, they rarely make a big deal of their devotion. They’ve probably read Matthew 6:1, which warns, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.”
I had read [The Purpose Driven Life], and coming from a different Christian tradition, I was struck by how much it focused on getting you to feel good about yourself rather than caring about your neighbor, which Christ had said was the greatest commandment.
I was dumbstruck by this one. This is a pretty basic error. From Matthew 22:34-40:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Yes, loving your neighbor (which is a bit more than “caring about your neighbor,” I suspect) is critical to living out the Gospel. But it’s not the greatest commandment, precisely because Christ didn’t come to create a Welfare State, but the Kingdom of God. We love our neighbors because we love God, and His Image and Likeness is imprinted upon every face we see.
To confuse these is indicative of a misunderstanding of the very purpose of the Gospel. Christ is the hub. When we draw closer to Him, we come closer to the other spokes — right relationship with God leads to right relationship with everyone else.
Theology aside, how about basic journalism? We’ve got Ms. Kennedy Townsend setting herself up as the authority over who can call themselves Christian, and yet she’s getting basic details wrong. Do they not fact-check at The Atlantic? I can’t help but imagine that Mark Twain, a former columnist for The Atlantic himself, would be ashamed at how bad the magazine has become.
At bottom, if Kennedy Townsend really believed that the government should be imposing Christian morality, she’d have a much harder time defending her record as a hardcore pro-choicer during her time as Lt. Governor of Maryland. So I don’t even view this article as stupid: I view it as dishonest.
I know that there’s a broader legitimate debate to be had amongst Christians over what role the government should have, both in promoting morality and in providing for the “least of these” (Mt. 25:45). Scripture leaves enough ambiguity that well-meaning Christians have come out on different sides of this, and many of these issues come down the prudential judgment of the believer and voter. We’re called to care for the poor: how we do it is left up to us.
By all means, we should continue to have that debate. But this article, and scores more like it, do nothing to further that. Rather, they’re just a way for liberals like Kennedy Townsend to hijack Christianity in a none-too-subtle attempt to score political points against Republican political candidates. Regardless of your view on the appropriate role of government in the protection of the common good, we should be united against these wolves in sheep’s clothing.