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WASHINGTON LETTER Oct-22-2004 (920 words) Backgrounder and analysis. xxxn

Changes seen in candidates' tactics on religion as campaign ends

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the 2004 presidential campaign drew to a close, one candidate was drawing criticism for "engaging in partisan politics" by making frequent appearances at churches, offering biblical quotations to support his positions and accepting endorsements from religious leaders.

"There is no place for partisan political campaigning and organizing in a religious congregation," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. "Houses of worship and their leaders will serve our nation best by staying true to their role as places of unifying prayer for people of all political persuasions and as sources of compassionate ministry for all people in search of a more meaningful spirituality."

It was Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic candidate for president, who was the object of Rev. Gaddy's criticism, not President George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, who is better known for his faith-based and scriptural campaign references.

The minister was commenting specifically on Kerry's Oct. 10 appearances at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church of Miami, where the candidate spoke from the pulpit, and at St. James Catholic Church in North Miami Beach, Fla.

The Interfaith Alliance -- which was founded as an alternative to the Christian Coalition and describes itself as "the national political voice of the interfaith movement" -- has been critical of both Bush and Kerry when they have overstepped what the alliance sees as the boundary between religion and politics.

But in the campaign's waning weeks, Kerry seemed to be injecting religious rhetoric in his speeches and embracing religious leaders more often than Bush did.

"It might have been surprising to some people in (the Oct. 8) debate that the candidate who referenced faith-based organizations and his own faith was not George W. Bush but was John Kerry," said Amy Sullivan, an editor of the Washington Monthly, at an Oct. 12 election-year forum in Chicago.

Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, an organization for gay and lesbian members of the GOP, predicted that on religious issues the Kerry campaign would "be more public, watching John Kerry where he gives speeches, where he visits, and the type of language he uses."

"Whereas George Bush, I think, is going to be much more private with it," he added. "And so I think you are actually going to see a flip between what Kerry and Bush do publicly and what they do privately."

Kerry raised issues of faith in both of the last two debates.

"I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy," Kerry said in response to a question about abortion in the second debate. "Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today."

But, the Democrat added, "I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that."

In the third debate Oct. 13, Kerry said his Catholic faith "affects everything that I do and choose."

"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," he added.

In a campaign ad that came out last summer but has gotten little play in the Washington area, Kerry said, "There was a period in my life when I thought I might even be a priest -- as a young person." When he went to Vietnam, he added, "most of the time I wore a rosary around my neck when we went into battle."

Bush, on the other hand, often mentions God and faith in his speeches, but rarely names his own denomination. Raised an Episcopalian, the president joined the United Methodist Church when he married.

Both major parties' candidates for vice president -- Vice President Dick Cheney for the GOP and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina for the Democrats -- also are Methodists, as is Bush's predecessor, President Bill Clinton, demonstrating the diversity of political views within the denomination.

But the religious experience that many believe has affected Bush's faith life most strongly was his 1985 experience of becoming a born-again Christian, influenced in large part by his Episcopal parents and their friend, Baptist evangelizer the Rev. Billy Graham.

"My relationship with God is a very personal relationship," Bush told Radio and Television Ireland in June. "And I turn to the good Lord for strength. And I turn to the good Lord for guidance. I turn to the good Lord for forgiveness."

In an effort to explain the religious implications of the 2004 U.S. presidential race in a speech at the World Congress of the Catholic Press Oct. 13 in Bangkok, Thailand, Msgr. Owen F. Campion harkened back to the 1960 election of the only Catholic U.S. president, John F. Kennedy.

In 1960, said the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor Inc., "most Catholics were inclined to agree on major moral, and even political, matters."

"This fact changed, and the change came swiftly," he said. "The assassination of President Kennedy, the prolonged and very contested involvement in Vietnam, and the scandals within President Richard Nixon's government led so many Americans ... to question entrenched institutions," including the church.

Forty-four years later, "Americans identifying themselves as Catholics today hardly speak with one voice," Msgr. Campion said. "Not even the pope could turn a majority of Catholic Americans against war in Iraq."


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