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Obama, RFK and the Not So Secular Left

A few months ago, President Obama’s address at the National Prayer Breakfast caused conservatives to question whether the President was even Christian.  Yet his eloquent eulogy of Charleston’s Reverend Clement Pinckney, was an illustration of how his faith has informed his politics.  Remember, this is the same man who burst on the scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention declaring “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States.”

The right often dismisses us as faithless or as the “secular left”, but as someone who not only was named after a priest, was an altar boy, attended twelve years of Catholic School and even thought about joining the Christian Brothers, I viewed my politics as an extension of my faith.

While I would later work with one of Washington’s top banking lobbyist, the first lobbyists I ever worked with were nuns from the Catholic social justice group Network in promoting a health care plan before the Rhode Island Assembly.  In fact, it was often priests and nuns who encouraged me to be active in politics, since I grew up in the pre-Pope John Paul II Church that was more concerned with peace and social justice than sexuality and family planning.

I also grew up in a New England that simultaneously mourned and canonized John and Bobby Kennedy, with RFK being by hero since childhood.  Obama’s eulogy reminded me of a service I attended in 1988 for the 20th anniversary of the death of Bobby Kennedy held at his grave at Arlington Cemetery.  Coming during an election year, in the twilight of the Reagan administration and zenith of the Moral Majority, it was entitled a mass of “Remembrance and Re-dedication”  In attendance and participating were the Kennedy family, Cesar Chavez, John Glenn, Martin Luther King III and Andy Williams.  The service was an moving reminder of how RFK’s political beliefs were an extension of his Catholic faith.

Five years later, it was a more celebratory service, as in attendance was the new President William Jefferson Clinton.  Both services embodied my upbringing and what I believed as a Catholic and a Democrat.

In these past few days, when we witnessed the brave forgiveness demonstrated by the families of those gunned down in hate in Charleston and the victory of gay marriage in the Supreme Court,  I say “amen” not as a “secular leftist” but as someone who was taught in religion and politics that nothing was nobler than the pursuit of love and justice.

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