Tag Archives: president

Pope’s concern is much deeper than most environmentalists’

September 24, 2015

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

People assume President Obama and Pope Francis share similar concern over environmental issues, but I think an important difference motivates these two world leaders.

The president advocates for tougher green laws because he wants a cleaner world. Like most environmentalists, he wants cleaner water, cleaner air and cleaner soil to drink, breathe and cultivate. Pope Francis wants those things too, but he really wants much more. He wants us to grow closer to God.

While Pope Francis is worried about the environment, he is much more worried about our souls. The Pope isn’t worried about climate change because of what it will do to our land and oceans, but because of what it says about our relationship with God.

Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’ that all things are connected. He explains there is a relationship between humans and nature; if we don’t know how to treat each other, then we won’t know how to treat nature.

The fix to our current deplorable situation, Pope Francis writes, isn’t so much the adoption of renewable fuels as it is about placing God at the center of our being. Although you would never know it from reading the media accounts, the majority of Laudato Si’ is advice for getting our relationship right with God.

When the pope laments the polluted environment, it is because he recognizes it as a symptom of a culture that has seriously damaged its relationship with God. And while the symptom is alarming enough, the Pope’s real concern isn’t the symptom; it’s the cause.

If we can restore that relationship, we will find the environmental issues less pressing. If we can get ourselves right with God, it will follow that our relationships with each other, and with nature, will improve.

Thomas Bengtson is a local small business owner and writer. You can contact Bengtson by visiting his website.

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How Protestants — and Nixon — tried to keep JFK out of the White House

April 29, 2009

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“The Making of a Catholic President:
Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960″
by Shaun A. Casey

Protestants and Republicans failed, but they did their damnedest to try to keep a Catholic from becoming president of the United States.

This incredibly detailed account proves — with the hard evidence of preserved letters and memoirs — that under the guise of fighting to preserve the principle of separation of church and state, large Protestant denominations and influential Protestant leaders teamed with the Republican Party and its nominee in the 1960 election — Richard M. Nixon — to feed anti-Catholic prejudice among the large Protestant voting majority.

Famous names like the Rev. Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale are uncovered as joining in, nay, leading the charge, in order to keep the Catholic Kennedy from the White House.

Casey’s research shows how Protestant ministers and church leaders used their pulpits and their printing presses to blatantly state that no Catholic could ever be trusted to uphold the U.S. Constitution as president.

The anti-Catholic bias came out via the preaching sermons that attacked JFK, airing radio and television programs that did the same, running lengthy articles against Kennedy in Protestant magazines like Christian Century and Christianity and Crisis, and printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets in an attempt to sway the election Nixon’s way. Leading the chorus of anti-Catholicism was the Republican National Committee.

Nixon involvement uncovered
If only the American public had known about the duplicitous ways of Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign, the country may never have heard of a bungled burglary at the Watergate complex because Nixon’s credibility would never have allowed him to even run for the presidency later, no less be elected or approve of criminal activity to try to win re-election.

While publicly vowing not to raise the issue of a candidate’s faith, Nixon surreptitiously had former Missouri congressman O.K. Armstrong working the anti-Catholic bias angle across the country with Protestant church leaders and especially the anti-Catholic group Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Armstrong recruited organizations like Citizens for Religious Freedom, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God and the National Council of Churches to use speeches and printed material to show how a Catholic president would undermine the country.

Armstrong worked under the guidance of Albert Hermann of the Republican National Committee, who was the organizer of anti-Catholic forces for Nixon.
Bias clouded issues
Casey points out that the issues of the day in 1960 were public funding for Catholic schools, the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a supposed threat to separation of church and state, and especially the fear that the Vatican would direct a Catholic president in how to govern the country. What comes through the historical evidence is first the fear by Protestant elites that the United States would no longer be a “Protestant nation,” and second that both Protestants and Republican leaders feared Catholic voting power.

Interestingly, President Dwight Eisenhower had won the majority of Catholics in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

In going after the anti-Catholic vote, Nixon took up a suggestion from Rev. Billy Graham, who wrote in a letter to the then vice president, “when the chips are down I think the religious issue would be very strong and might conceivable work in your behalf.” Graham in fact shared his mailing list with the anti-Kennedy efforts.

Nixon, however, had a problem of his own: Civil rights. In order to gain Protestant votes, he had to win a large percentage of conservative white southern voters, so he could not be seen as progressive on race and have any chance at the southern vote. In hindsight, that foretold the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” that took electoral voters from the formerly Democratic “Solid South” camp for election after election in the later part of the 20th Century.
Kennedy and his faith
“The Making of a Catholic President” shows how the Kennedy camp came to realize the serious threat that JFK faced from anti-Catholic bigotry and how he and his strategists determined to confront the issue directly.

Kennedy sought out and listened to Protestant leaders and then addressed their fears.

Over and over during the primaries and the general election campaign JFK voiced his opposition to tax dollars for Catholic education, his opposition to an ambassador to the Vatican, and his commitment to the constitution of the country over the dogma of his faith.

He entered the West Virgina primary, winning the votes of that overwhelmingly Protestant populace, then into the lions’ den of the Houston Ministerial Association, where he gave a speech and answered questions from that hostile Protestant audience.

That event may be the most often recalled remarks by Kennedy about the impact of his religion on his actions in office.

“Whenever an issue may come before me as President . . . I will make my decision . . . in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

Kennedy’s statement echoed a quote that appeared in a Look magazine feature on him Feb. 16, 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution in all parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”

At the time, Kennedy was chided by writers in Catholic magazines like the Jesuit’s America and lay-run Commonweal “for yielding too much ground to the Protestant worriers,” as
author Casey put it.

What is more interesting, and which deserves similar book-length treatment, are thoughts Casey brings up in his epilogue.

For further reflection
JFK carried 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960, 34% of the white Protestant vote, and 50% of the regular-attending black churchgoers, but won the electoral votes of hugely Protestant Texas, perhaps in part thanks to running mate Lyndon Johnson.

But Casey asks: “What was the nature of Kennedy’s Catholicism?”

The answer according to one priest who knew him well was that he was a conventional Catholic of his day who understood the structures and traditions that were the church of 1950s Boston.(That priest was a certain Father John Wright, a confidant of then-Senator Kennedy who offered extremely valuable advice about how to handle the issue of his faith. The priest later became the Bishop of Pittsburgh and a John Cardinal Wright.)

Even is one disavows some of the alleged moral failings that have come to light about JFK in the years since his assassination, considering the current climate of pressure on Catholic candidates from some of the American hierarchy and other corners of the church, one has to wonder if today JFK would be able to pull 83% of the Catholic vote, or if the fact that we now have had a Catholic president would take the cachet off electing a Catholic for Catholic voters.

Still more to think about
Casey’s epilogue offers cause for reflection for other, more important issues for today’s Catholic.

In pointing out how JFK sought understanding from Protestants, not endorsement, Casey says:

“As religion has increasingly become connected to the political divide in this country, it has reinforced a gulf among faith communities such that members of the religious Right and the religious Left routinely demonize one another and, in doing so, ape the worst aspects of American political culture.”

He adds two more thoughts:

First, the political independence of faith communities is good for both the faith communities and the nation. Second, endorsements of politicians by faith communities are usually misguided.

“The Making of a Catholic President” should be read by every Catholic — and every Protestant — eligible to vote. — bz
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Power of the presidency comes alive in history of Andrew Jackson

February 7, 2009

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“American Lion,”
by Jon Meacham

As a new American president takes the stage, reading a history of an American president some 180 years prior is an enlightening joy.
Watching Barack Obama utilize his mandate from the 2008 election has been the perfect backdrop for going back in time to learn how — in 1828 and during the eight years of two terms Andrew Jackson showed many U.S. presidents how the power of the presidency might be used to lead.
A youth during the War of Independence, a hero of the War of 1812 and a renown Indian fighter, the man those close to him called “the General” won the popular vote as well as the electoral vote in two elections, and he never let it be forgotten by those who disagreed with his reasoning.
Meacham paints a thorough portrait of Old Hickory — warts and all — yet his loving brush strokes are obvious. Readers, too, will find much to admire in Andrew Jackson, yet much for which to find fault with him as well, and that’s to the historian Meacham’s credit: He lets Jackson be human, not all good, not all bad, but multi-dimensional.

One way: Jackson’s
Jackson was the break-through candidate, the one who saw the president as the representative of the people against entrenched interests. He took that mandate from his election as a voucher giving him the right to make changes — and that he did.
Coming from his Tennessee home (the Hermitage) to a Washington that was just decades old but already seemingly set in its ways — particularly with regard to who had a “right” to government jobs — Jackson made it plain that he do things differently — and his way. Hundreds of long-time government staff found they were replaced by Jackson appointees, for one thing. That was new.
When it came to Congress, Jackson initiated greater use of the veto, enhancing presidential power: In 40 years no more than four or five Acts of Congress had been vetoed by six presidents; Jackson vetoed four in three days.

A man of firsts
Jackson was the first Democrat, and might be credited — for good or ill — as the one who started party-line voting, and a president who offered favors for votes in Congress.
During the election year of 1832, when he sought a second term, Jackson broke with tradition and initiated the first presidential campaign tour. Not willing to let others do his bidding, Jackson made the barbecue circuit, shaking hands and being seen as he made his way from his home in Tennessee to Washington and elsewhere. In New York City, one observer likened a Jackson torchlight parade to Catholic processions.
The campaign of 1832 may be where image first played a major role in how Americans voted. Jackson’s men repeated the message that “a vote for Jackson was a vote for the people while a vote for (Henry) Clay was a vote for the privileged,” Meacham noted.
Jackson understood the power of his personality and how the power of personality gave a president power.

Pro-slavery, anti-Indian
Along the way, though, President Andrew Jackson made what today society would say were serious errors — even immoral ones.
For one thing, Jackson was a slave owner and upheld the practice of slavery. He moved to curb the forces of abolition, even suppressing with presidential orders the right of printed material to be delivered from abolitionist writers.
He also saw Native Americans as just in the way of the progress of white U.S. citizens, and his policies and practices led to cruel resettlement of Indian tribes. The “Trail of Tears” — the forced removal of the Cherokee to the west — was a shameful result of Jackson’s Indian policy though it took place a year after he left office. An estimated 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees forced out of Georgia died along the way due to brutal treatment by the U.S. military.
Reading of his life now, though, is a good reminder, Meacham points out, “that evil can appear perfectly normal to even the best men and women of a given time.”
Ironically, despite his own participation in slavery, Jackson is also credited with preventing the southern states from seceding from the Union. When South Carolina felt compelled to reject Acts of Congress, Jackson stamped down and denied that any state had the right to do that.
When the tariff on southern cotton proved to be a divisive issue that could lead to succession, Jackson worked out a compromise that cooled tempers.

He is still with us
For my taste, too much of Meacham’s work pays attention to the pettiness of Washington society and how it impacted Jackson’s cabinet and household.
But Meacham shines in showing how Jackson has influenced and continues to influence the presidents of the United States:
— Running at the head of a national party;
— Fighting for a mandate from the people to govern in a particular way on particular issues;
— Depending on a circle of insiders and advisers;
— Mastering the media of the age to transmit a consistent message at a constant pace;
— Using the veto as a political weapon.
“He gave his most imaginative successors the means to do things they thought right,” Meacham noted, citing examples of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman as evidence.

A man of prayer
Readers interested in Jackson’s spirituality will find consistent references in “American Lion” that show the seventh president to have been a man of prayer.
Jackson’s rhetoric regularly includes mention of the Almighty, he is seen in prayer and frequently a nearby church, though he didn’t join a particular denomination — Baptist — until after he left office. His reasoning? He didn’t want it to look like he was joining just to improve his image.
One wonderful anecdote that captures a whiff of Jackson’s spirituality and a large bite of his sense of power is told upon his death near the end of the 360 pages of prose in this Random House book. Meacham writes:
“In Nashville,
according to legend, a visitor to the Hermitage asked a slave on the place whether he thought Jackson had gone to heaven. ‘If the General wants to go,’ the slave replied, ‘who’s going to stop him?'”
— bz
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