‘Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way’

July 30, 2007

Don’t Give Up on Churches, Author Urges Americans

By Ann Marie Czaban, publications editor

Panelists:

  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland
  • Bill Kovach, journalist and founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists (moderator).

Americans should take responsibility for the state of their churches, rather than blaming religious leaders or the media, according to an author and former politician.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and oldest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, told a National Press Club audience July 30 that America’s churches have lost their bearings. Over the last 40 years, churches have focused less on helping the community and more on individual accomplishment. But she hasn’t given up on religion.

“The church has to be taught, and it is our goal to teach the church,” she said.

Townsend talked about her book, Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way, at an event sponsored by the Newseum and the NPC Book and Author Committee. Journalist Bill Kovach, founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, moderated the discussion.

Townsend said she drew on her Catholic upbringing and her tenure as a public servant in writing the book. It’s natural for religious teaching to influence social policy — especially on issues of justice and equality — and that America’s history proves that, she said.

But Townsend said that today’s churches — both Catholic and Protestant — are too involved in the politics of the individual, often working to define issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage rather than teaching the biblical lessons of community and self-sacrifice.

“[The Christian Right] are calling people un-Christian in a vicious way,” she said. “[They’re] not saying ‘I’m welcoming you, I’m loving you’ … it’s really ‘You’re not worthy.’ … I don’t think that’s Christ-like at all.

“If you think, as I do, that much of our sense of morality comes from the church, and if all the churches are preaching what’s good for you … [then] they’re not understanding that we’re all here together,” she said.

Responding to a question about whether the news media have contributed to such divisiveness, Townsend repeated her assertion that people need to take responsibility for the state of affairs, rather than blaming journalists.

“With the Internet, there are lots of ways to communicate, so we don’t have to rely on the media,” she said. Surveys have shown that many members of the media aren’t religious, she said, “So it’s up to us to do the changing. ... Don't rely on leaders — we have to do better, we’ve got to start influencing them.”

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