The Common Good

Honor Kennedy with Unity

Sojomail - August 27, 2009


Our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown. [Abdel Baset al-Megrahi] now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power .... It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

- Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, on the decision to release the man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. MacAskill acknowledged that his decision would anger many, but that Scottish judicial values include a tradition of compassionate release for the terminally ill. Doctors have given Megrahi about three months to live. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Honor Kennedy with Unity

In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, the Democrats were roundly accused of losing the "moral values voters" in America, and of being the party of secularists who were hostile to faith and religion.

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
The first Democrat to call me and ask to talk about that accusation and how to change the moral debate in America was Ted Kennedy. He invited me to his home, where he and his wife, Vicki, engaged me in a long and very thoughtful conversation into the night about the relationship between faith, morality, and politics.

Their deep Catholic faith was evident and their articulation of it very impressive, especially the impact of Catholic social teaching on both of them. Our discussion was not partisan at all, i.e., not about how to "win religion back" for the Democrats. Rather, we focused on the great moral issues facing the nation, and how we as people of faith needed to respond to them.

On the occasion of his death, I pray that God may now move us as a nation to address the greatest cause of Sen. Kennedy's life -- the need for a comprehensive reform of the health-care system in America -- as a deeply moral issue and one that calls forth the very best that is within us.

May we honor the life and death of Sen. Edward Kennedy by laying aside the rancor, lies, fear, and even hate that has come to dominate the health-care debate in America this summer, and regain our moral compass by recovering the moral core of this debate: that too many Americans are hurting and suffering in a broken and highly inequitable health-care system, and that it is our moral obligation to repair and reform it -- now.

While he might not be with us as we continue on this road to reform, his life and legacy can still help show the way forward.

On Oct. 3, 1983, Ted Kennedy surprised many in Washington by accepting the invitation of Dr. Jerry Falwell to come and speak at what is now Liberty University. Noting the seeming contradiction, he said, "They seem to think that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a Kennedy to come to the campus of Liberty Baptist College."

The divisive issue at the time was a nuclear freeze in the midst of the Cold War. He condemned those who called Falwell a "warmonger" and criticized a Harvard University audience that had booed and hissed at Falwell during a speech. He warned against all those who would distract from such an important debate by raising "phantom issues" and "false charges."

He challenged his audience and his political party by saying, "I hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ, that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility, that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor."

America is a different place in 2009 than it was in 1983, but Sen. Kennedy's call for a better debate is needed as much now as it was then. And his comments at Liberty University have an obvious application to the current health-care debate, which has become one of the most rancorous in recent American political history.

Much of the commentary on the death of Ted Kennedy has focused on how powerfully he could reach across the aisle of American politics, win the respect, trust, friendship, and even love of his political adversaries. Today, some of the most sorrowful of Kennedy's colleagues in Washington are Republicans.

Ted Kennedy showed you can have passionate and clear political commitments (nobody had stronger ones than he did) and, yet, still reach out to others with very different political views on the basis of shared moral values, love of country, and commitment to the common good.

We desperately need to heed his voice now: "I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity." His hope should be our goal today.

This article appeared on and is reprinted here with permission.

+ Email this article to friends

+ Share this article on Facebook

+ Respond to this article on the God's Politics Blog


Refusing to Forget North Korea

U.S. journalists Lisa Ling and Euna Lee have returned to safety, but they leave behind millions of North Koreans suffering from atrocious human rights violations. In this interview, assistant editor Jeannie Choi speaks with Joseph Kim, a North Korean refugee rescued by members of the nonprofit organization Liberty in North Korea (covered in this month’s issue of Sojourners). Listen as Joseph, now a U.S. citizen and resident of Los Angeles, shares his story of escaping North Korea at age 15.

play audio


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Kennedy, Health Care, and Imperfection
by Ruth Hawley-Lowry

I share this recollection because it seems to typify how we in America treat our politicians -- and each other. We react with adolescent fervor, where someone is "always" or "never" and we offer judgments of "good" and "bad" and neglect profound nuances in them -- and us.
+ Click to continue

The Downstream Media and the Death of Political Civility
by Randall Balmer

The passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy has brought forth many reflections on his ability -- regardless of his reputation as the archetypal Massachusetts liberal -- to engage in both spirited debate and bipartisan compromise. This called to mind a figure on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
+ Click to continue

Sam's Story: Another Human Tragedy in the Health-Care Debate
by Leah Garrett

Sam was one of 46 million people in our nation without health insurance. We share his story because he was a real human life. With a large, loving family and a passion for social justice issues, he was preparing for youth ministry.
+ Click to continue

Video: Jim Wallis and Tony Perkins on CNN
by Jim Wallis

+ Click to continue

Remembering Sen. Edward Kennedy
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

We do not all have to carry such a load, but we all live the mystery of life and love, we all have the responsibility to make an impact for the good on the small portion of the world that we inhabit and influence.
+ Click to continue

Video: Ted Kennedy Speaking at Jerry Falwell's College
by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Evidence of Sen. Ted Kennedy's bipartisan bridge-building: On Oct. 3, 1983, he addressed Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College on the theme of "Faith and country, tolerance and truth in America." Watch a younger Kennedy address a younger Falwell at a time when the Moral Majority was ascendant.
+ Click to continue

Crux of the Health-Care Debate: The Role of Government
by Neeraj Mehta

So if we all agree that we need some sort of reform, then what the debate seems to get stuck on is whether the private market can move toward insuring all of us, or if we need the government to step in and provide some sort of tax/market incentive to help them, or a public-run option to compete with the private market.
+ Click to continue

Hope from the Next Generation: Hey, There's Recycling on the Floor
by Tracey Bianchi

Thankfully, this generation of kids will likely grow up considerably more planet-savvy than we currently are. Sad that it takes a climate crisis to bring about this reality, but it is coming along anyway.
+ Click to continue

Five Christian Considerations for Health-Care Reform
by John Hay Jr.

As an American citizen, I am personally convinced it is a right that's implied in the very intent of our Constitution and historic social contract. But it is as a Christian minister that I offer the following considerations on health-care reform to the church I love ...
+ Click to continue

As a Pediatrician, a Muslim, and a Mother: Speaking Out for Health-Care Reform
by Asma Mobin-Uddin

The sacredness of life and the responsibility of taking care of all of humanity are central tenets of my faith, Islam. The Qur'an defines the sacredness of each human life in Chapter 5, verse 32, in which it teaches that to take one innocent life is as bad as if one has taken the lives of all of humanity, and to save one life is as good as if one has saved the lives of all of humanity.
+ Click to continue

Nazis, Commies, and Manicheans in the Health-Care Debate
by Ernesto Tinajero

The Cold War taught my generation to view the world as good vs. bad, seeing the world as Manichean. One of the lasting effects of the Cold War is this Manicheanism within our politics, and we are witnessing this in the middle of the health-care debate. Recently, Chris Baker, guest hosting on the Glenn Beck show, called President Obama a "commie" -- a secret "commie" who wanted to control our lives.
+ Click to continue

Criteria for Spiritual Leadership: Content of Character
by Mimi Haddad

When determining who may or may not serve as an elder, deacon, pastor, or church board member, gender rises to the foreground so quickly and so often that some churches are reluctant to discuss the issue for fear their churches will divide as a result.
+ Click to continue

Health-Care Debate Requires the Wisdom of Solomon
by Brian McLaren

Solomon, that icon of wisdom, who, for all his flaws, knew there was a lot to learn from observing natural systems in their amazing interdependence. He was no one-issue expert who had climbed high into the silo (a.k.a. ivory tower) of one narrow discipline; he pursued multi-dimensionality in his life.
+ Click to continue

Video: Bill McKibben on The Colbert Report
by Bill McKibben

Environmental activist (and Sojourners columnist) Bill McKibben did a great interview on the Colbert Report. In spite of Stephen's usual jabs, Bill did a great job of explaining the importance of the movement that he helped found, and why immediate action is needed to combat climate change. Watch the interview here:
+ Click to continue

Video: Jim Wallis Takes the Health-Care Debate to Fox
by Jim Wallis

+ Click to continue

Video: Jim Wallis and Tony Perkins Discuss Health-Care Reform on CNN
by Jim Wallis

+ Click to continue

A (Nonviolent) Gun-Toting Witness for Health-Care Reform
by Rose Marie Berger

I decided to take a comic approach to the pro-health-care reform rally on Capitol Hill. Since my brothers across the nation were sporting their hardware at the health-care reform town hall meetings, I thought I'd do the same.
+ Click to continue

Video: Jim Wallis Talks Health Care on MSNBC
by Jim Wallis

+ Click to continue


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

What if you could participate actively in eradicating poverty? Children and Poverty Track in Doctor of Ministry at Saint Paul School of Theology. Learn with local and global leaders,

Want to work for peace and transform lives? RESPONSE 2010, the most comprehensive guide of faith-based service opportunities, is now available at Order your FREE copy from Catholic Network of Volunteer Service.

Sunday looms! Have you finished your sermon yet? Sign up for Preaching the Word sermon prep and see what Becky Garrison and Brian McLaren have to say about the Revised Common Lectionary this week. Buy now!

What the Waters Revealed: Christians and Hurricane Katrina. Explore the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of New Orleans' levees in this four-part study guide from Sojourners. Available for immediate download.

Good News for Troubled Times. Sojourners has resources and study guides on the economy to help you understand and get through these tough times. Click here to see the various titles available.

What Would Jesus Buy? Find out in this feature-length DVD. Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping discover the meaning of the Shopocalypse -- the end of mankind as a result of consumerism, over-consumption, and the fires of eternal debt.

God's Politics Blog facebook
MySpace YouTube

Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.