Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Liberals and Religious Tolerance: Bryan Kennedy Responds

We recently posted about a fellow named Bryan Kennedy, an unsuccessful Congressional candidate who posted what we described as a “tantrum” about religion and politics on a leftist blog called folkbum’s rambles and rants.

We noticed Kennedy’s statement on the Boots & Sabers blog.

We described Kennedy as a liberal, and clearly implied he is intolerant of conservative Christians.

He sent us an e-mail reply, which we are reproducing below.

But first, the original column of his to which we were responding:
How is it that conservative religious zealots have seized my Savior and determined His values? Why do they try to tell me how to live my life and how to follow Him? How did they come to the conclusion that Christ was pro-war, pro-business, and that He spouted hatred for people who were not like Him? These questions have puzzled me for quite some time. I was raised to believe that Christ was the peacemaker, he cast the money changers out of the temple, and he taught us to turn the other cheek.

I was raised Catholic, but as a teenager my family and I converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons/Latter-Day Saints). This was not an easy transition. We were nominally Catholic, so the move to a Church that requires so much of its followers was a big step. Mormons are among the most personally conservative of all Christians. We are strongly pro-family, don’t drink, don’t smoke, believe in chastity before marriage and fidelity once married, and we tithe 1/10th of our household income to the Church. To become a Latter-Day Saint is to make a major lifestyle change for most people. (It certainly was for us!!)

Despite conservative personal behaviors, Latter-Day Saints are also very progressive collectively. The Church has its own welfare system and we take care of people during hard times. The LDS Church has a worldwide charitable arm that functions in areas of natural disaster, famine or war to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Our women’s auxiliary regularly provides meals and assistance to families when a new child is born, a parent is sick or there is a death in the family. We take seriously the passage from the Book of Mormon, “When ye are in the service of your fellow being, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17) Our Sunday School classes and weekly worship services regularly teach of: faith, hope and charity; brotherly kindness; and lifting up the sick, the afflicted, the elderly, the fatherless, the widows, and the downtrodden.

We also hold as one of the most important tenets of our faith God’s gift of agency. We believe that we are saved by grace after all that we can do for ourselves. Being a follower of Christ requires us to give all of our heart, might, mind and strength to keeping His commandments and to emulating His example. In the end, we are human and will fall short. Thus, Christ’s grace saves us after all that we attempt to do for ourselves. Our agency is our God-given right to make our own decisions and to chart our own paths in life. God forces no one to follow His Son; we must decide for ourselves to pursue His Gospel in word and deed. Agency allows us the freedom to choose for ourselves in all things. To Latter-Day Saints there is NOTHING as important as agency.

Latter-Day Saints so strongly supported agency and religious freedom that they were driven by mobs of religiously intolerant Christians from Illinois and Missouri in the 1840’s to leave the United States and go to the Rocky Mountains. (Utah was part of Mexico when Mormons fled there 160 years ago.)

In the past couple of decades, LDS people have compromised their belief in religious tolerance and have “gotten into bed” politically with conservative religious ideologues, most of whom hate Mormons. (This animosity is because we believe that we have a living prophet, who talks with God and provides revelation for us today.) Despite this hatred by many conservative Christian churches, LDS people have voted lock-step with them on issues of abortion, lotteries/gambling, and “moral values.” Utah, which is over 70% Mormon has not voted Democratic for President since 1964. While Mormons espouse conservative, moral, personal behavior, we still believe that each person has their agency to choose for themselves. This conservative political realignment of the LDS Church appears to be overshadowing the best characterisitics of our religious actions — the progressive social values that fuel our church welfare, fellowship, and charitable programs.

Having now given a primer on what Latter-Day Saints believe, let me explain why I diverge from my religious community on political issues. It comes down to two things — my upbringing in an immigrant, pro-labor family, and my STRONG belief in agency as my primary religious value.

While I live by the conservative code of conduct of the Church, I recognize that it is a personal choice. I choose to live this way and I feel spiritually stronger by having bedrock principles that guide my actions. There is nothing so important to me as my freedom to make these decisions for myself. I resent people telling me how to live my life and criticizing me for not drinking and for not “sowing my wild oats” before getting married. There were many in my extended family who chastised us for abandoning our cultural religion in search of greater spiritual satisfaction. Within a few years, however, they saw a dramatic change in our family, our relationships improved, and my overwhelmingly Catholic family respects my parents, my brothers and me for our dedication to following Christ’s example.

Our representative democracy promotes religious freedom and tolerance and allows for people to make their own decisions about what to believe and what religious organizations to join. We also allow the freedom to not worship at all, if an individual so chooses. Essentially the “agency” that is so central to Mormon doctrine is written into the guaranteed freedoms of the United States Constitution.

The official policies of the Church are actually more moderate than many other conservative Christian religious groups. The LDS Church does not excommunicate a woman who has an abortion, although they do excommunicate persons who commit murder or assault. The Church’s policy on abortion is “Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons responsible have consulted with their bishops and received divine confirmation through prayer. The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion” (Church Policies Handbook, p. 157). The LDS Church does not oppose birth control. Once again, the Church Policies Handbook: “The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter. Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife” (p. 158). On prolonging life, such as the Terry Schiavo case, the Church has said: “When severe illness strikes, members should exercise faith in the Lord and seek competent medical assistance. However, when dying becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking diving guidance through fasting and prayer” (Church Policies Handbook, p. 156). We are a more moderate people that current political behaviors would lead one to believe. Each of these “moral values” issues mentioned above has agency and personal choice as its foundation.

As you can see, my personal political views appear to be in-line with the policies and teachings of my church. I choose to use my agency to follow Christ’s example. I respectfully allow others the right to use their God-given agency however they may. A respected conservative, Voltaire, is purported to have said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That is my personal feeling about civil liberties and religious freedom — agency and personal choice.

I am the grandchild of Italian immigrants. My grandfather, as a teenager, fled Mussolini and ended up in central Pennsylvania working in a coal mine, later a steel mill, and finally in a Mack Truck plant in Hagerstown, Maryland. My grandfather was one of the original signatories on UAW Local 171 union charter at Mack. While my grandfather was a religious conservative, he was a strong supporter of workers’ rights and liveable wage. He taught me that management can do good things, but they won’t generally do it without some prodding. He always believed in working together and in fostering good relationships with management. His philosophy was: “Sometimes they give; sometimes we do.” Outside of the union hall, he was a charitable and giving person. He once said to my 9th grade social studies class: “I have worked hard and been poor. I cannot judge someone else because I do not know what setback they have suffered. I give and don’t ask questions.” That is my example of progressive religious values.

My progressive religious upbringing does provide a foundation for my political beliefs. My recipe for successfully navigating the political world and getting things done in Washington: Take a healthy dose of personal choice and individual freedom and add equal parts of moderation in all things, building consensus, and working together.

This post should probably invite a lot of commentary. I look forward to reading your feedback and comments. Thanks, God bless, and Happy New Year.

Bryan Kennedy
Readers can decide for themselves whether this is intolerant of conservative Christians. But consider phrases like “that conservative religious zealots have seized my Savior” and they “tell me how to live my life” and “How did they come to the conclusion that Christ was pro-war, pro-business, and that He spouted hatred for people who were not like Him?.” So the Christian conservatives are “zealots” who are “pro-war” and “pro-business” (which we think is good, but Kennedy apparently doesn’t) and “hate” people who are different.

That’s real relgious tolerance on the part of Kennedy.

As for Christians trying to tell people “how to live their lives” — they most certainly do. An so do environmentalists, and feminists, supporters of racial equality and just about everybody else who thinks people’s behavior has important consequences.

Then there is “conservative religious ideologues, most of whom hate Mormons,” and “hatred by many conservative Christian churches.”

Rather strangely, he says “I resent people telling me how to live my life and criticizing me for not drinking and for not ‘sowing my wild oats’ before getting married.” It’s not Christians, at least not conservative Christians, who would attack him for that.

Now on to his “reply” to our post and the post on Boots & Sabers:
It is interesting that MU Warrior and Boots and Sabers bloggers have taken my post completely out of context and attributed to me many things that I DID NOT say. (They must be in training for a talk radio future.)

First and foremost: I am a practicing Christian, a Sunday School teacher, and I gave two years of my life to religious service in a developing country. I am married and the father of three small children, ages 6, 4 and 2. My two year old already knows how to pray, and she learned it from me and my wife. My missionary service in Portugal and subsequent research among the poorest of the poor in Brazil should remove ALL DOUBTS about my Christian principles and moral values.

Next: Allow me to define AGENCY by quoting the 11th Article of Faith of the LDS Church, “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, and what they may.” (See

Finally: As for the lies, misquotes and misappropriations in MU Warrior and Boots and Sabers, allow me to respond to the worst of these:

MYTH: I am a liberal. TRUTH: I was raised in a Conservative Christian Republican family. My parents and my brothers are still Republicans. I left the Republican party to work for a conservative, pro-life Democrat from Utah — Congressman Bill Orton. I am a political moderate, and far more independent-minded than McAdams and Owen give me credit for. I am a civil libertarian, I fear big government that spies on its citizens, I despise taxes that are squandered on pork barrel projects, I loathe deficit-spending, and I could never support the theocratic direction of the current leadership. I believe in agency and allow all religious (and areligious) people to believe what they want to believe. The problem is that a small but powerful group of conservative religious ideologues have tried to hijack the political process and legislate their religion for other people to live. That goes against my concept of agency, and DEFINITELY goes against the libertarian-leaning Republican Party of my youth.

My father often said that big government controls people’s lives and we should always be wary of government having too much power. In 1991, he also made two prescient observations. (At the time, we were both Republicans, although I switched parties shortly thereafter.) He said that he was concerned about the religious elements of the Republican Party that appeared to be gaining too much power in the party and he feared that they would eventually take over and push their agenda on others. The other thing he said was that he feared that we would someday be willing as a people to give up many of our freedoms to a government that promised to “keep us safe.” (Coincidentally, he said that he thought it would be a Democratic president who would seize more government control. He admitted while visiting us at Christmastime that he was wrong. He voted for Bush II both times, but admits that this past year has been alarming to him.)

I am a middle class family man who has worked for everything he has. I am a MODERATE and I see good and bad in both political parties. I am NOT a partisan ideologue and have regularly split my ticket when voting (with the exception of 2002 and 2004). I think a balanced system with both parties being forced to reach consensus and govern from the middle is far healthier for a representative democracy.

MYTH: All Republicans are religious zealots. TRUTH: I believe that most Republicans are not religious zealots. The Republican Party of my youth has been taken over by a small group of people who wish to force their religious view of the world on the rest of us.

MYTH: I am a partisan ideologue. TRUTH: I believe that there are Republicans AND Democrats who should not be in Congress because they only serve themselves and prop up their position. I support major reforms to the political process and a return to a representative democracy. Right now, we have elected representatives choosing their voters through gerrymandered redistricting, instead of voters choosing their representatives in competitive elections. The problem is a corrupt Washington system that cares more for itself than the American people. Jack Abramoff is a perfect example of what is wrong with Washington, and his tentacles of influence reach out to members in BOTH parties.

MYTH: I support government welfare and big government. TRUTH: I believe in a social safety net, but I also believe that people should be responsible for taking care of themselves. I believe that, in times of trouble, individuals should call on family first, their religious community second (if they are a part of a religious organization), and the government third. NOTHING IS MORE POWERFUL OR MORE LIBERATING FOR THE SOUL THAN HARD WORK.

We have seen much disparity between rich and poor in our country. Many Americans do not receive a liveable wage. Government’s limited involvement in insuring that the business sector is doing its part in paying a liveable wage does NOT mean that I am anti-business or that I favor extensive government regulation. I DO NOT. My health care proposal is VERY pro-business and was crafted with the assistance of a number of CEOs who are both Democrats and Republicans. I want to make it easier for business to compete on a global scale and to be able to provide good, family-sustaining jobs to Americans. Achieving that would be a win-win for our country. That is not liberal or conservative — it is COMMON SENSE.

CONCLUSION: I have a strong and abiding faith in Christ, nurtured by my Catholic upbringing and reinforced by my later conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I believe that good people and good (but limited) government can do good things. That is what I will fight for — taking care of people when they need it and strengthening the economy so that people need help less often. It is in the best interest of everyone that all Americans work in good family-sustaining jobs, have adequate access to healthcare, get a good education to prepare them for the future, and are free to live according to the dictates of their own conscience.

These are my values and they govern and direct my life. I made the original post on because I rarely see in the news media moderate religious values — you’re either a Conservative Christian or a secular humanist. I am neither, and I feel that the polarization of religion harms our society as a whole.

This is what I believe and I take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for what I actually say (but will deny and decry misquotes, misappropriations, half-truths and lies).

Bryan Kennedy
The interesting thing about this is that Kennedy somehow thinks that we and Owen at Boots & Sabers have attacked his personal piety.

That’s simply not true.

But when he decries “the theocratic direction of the current leadership” and says that “a small but powerful group of conservative religious ideologues have tried to hijack the political process and legislate their religion for other people to live” and that the Republican Party has been “taken over by a small group of people who wish to force their religious view of the world on the rest of us” he’s showing not only that he’s a liberal (which is obvious given his policy positions) but that he’s intolerant of conservative Christians.

He doesn’t mind feminists, or ACLU members, or unions or the gay lobby “forcing” their non- (and often anti-) religious views on people.

All of these phrases are complaints that are typical of liberals. He doesn’t see room for honest policy disagreements on issues like abortion and gay marriage. He only sees narrow minded and bigoted people on the other side.

And thats not tolerant.


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