On this, the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we Americans might do well to remind ourselves of the distance we've come (not far enough but still quite a distance) in overcoming prejudice against Catholics.
JFK, as you may know, was only the second Catholic to be nominated by a major party for president. The previous one was Al Smith, governor of New York, whom the Democrats nominated in 1928 to run against Herbert Hoover. But Hoover crushed Smith, in no small part because of anti-Catholic bias.
That bigotry can be found in American history as early as the time of the Revolution, when the anti-Catholic language was bitter, harsh and effective.
Over time, Catholics began to be mainstreamed into American society, but anti-Catholic attitudes still were prevalent when Kennedy ran. I've told this story before, but I'll repeat here that the pastor of my own small-town Presbyterian church in northern Illinois told his congregation from the pulpit in that 1960 election year that if JFK won the pope would run the U.S. government. And he was serious.
To his credit, Kennedy -- like Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith later -- confronted the issue head on. JFK spoke about his Catholicism to a ministerial association in Houston, promising to defend constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. And, in the end, he squeaked by Richard Nixon.
In the 2015 book that my pastor, Paul Rock, and I wrote, Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church, there's an acknowledgement of the anti-Catholic attitudes that have continued up to the present time, though it's been a sign of change that so many non-Catholics have admired and supported Pope Francis.
This year, in which we commemorated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, is a good time to remember the vile ways in which Protestants and others historically have treated Catholics in this country and to pledge to continue to work for an end to such nonsense (as some folks are doing in Wichita.)
There certainly were things to dislike about JFK (his reckless womanizing, among them) and reasons to disagree with him politically. But to reject him because of his religious commitment was evidence of a sickness that we've not completely healed even today.
(The photo here today of JFK's grave is one I took decades ago on what was obviously a wintry trip to Washington, though I'm no longer sure what year I took that trip. I think it was perhaps 1969 or 1970. And I've always liked the shot, so I was happy recently when I stumbled across it again while clearing out some old files.
(P.S.: The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis died the very same day Kennedy was assassinated, but that sad news naturally got pretty lost in the news that day.)
* * *
MUGABE AND THE ROLE OF RELIGION
Robert Mugabe, who resigned yesterday as president of Zimbabwe, had a strange and important relationship to Catholicism, this Economist piece reports. He was both challenged by churches opposed to his policies and supported by religious people because of his long connection to the Jesuits. The article to which I've linked you appeared just before news of the resignation.