That Was Then, This is Now
by Stephen Foster
Does anybody continue to believe that things are not lining up according to prophecy?
Of course, there is nothing resembling unanimity of opinion among our readers as to what is lining up, or how prophecy is in the process of being fulfilled.
Let me take this opportunity to again remind some of you that my perspective on eschatology is aligned, or in accordance with—and admittedly informed by—the historic SDA understanding of Biblical prophetic eschatology; outlined by Ellen White in The Great Controversy.
Therefore my observation and interpretation of events will, of necessity, differ greatly from anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to Adventist exegeses of the eschatological prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
I should also acknowledge that my ideological position insofar as temporal economic and social affairs are concerned is left of center.
These disclaimers are advisable—if not indeed necessitated—due to the fact that there are readers who do not share my view of historic SDA eschatological doctrine; and insofar as temporal economic and social affairs are concerned, have ideological leanings or philosophies that may tilt somewhat right of center.
Many who do not share my perspective on SDA exegesis of Biblical eschatological prophecy will not and cannot agree with my perspective of current events, even if they mostly or fully agree with my ideological opinions about temporal economic and social affairs.
Many who happen to share my perspective on SDA exegesis of Biblical eschatological prophecy will very likely agree with my perspective of current events, even if they mostly or perhaps fully disagree with my ideological opinions about temporal economic and social affairs.
In the interest of communication efficacy and focus, I will continue to attempt to refrain from assigning ideological or ideologically charged labels to people and personalities and systems; and instead/only identify policies, positions and statements in the context of historical Adventist doctrine.
Final warning: please read this blog carefully. Again, if you do not subscribe to historical Adventist doctrine with regard to Biblical eschatology, we are not supposed to agree.
So, now shall we get at it?
Things have dramatically changed in the past 52 years from when then Senator John F. Kennedy was seeking to become the first Roman Catholic President of the United States to now; as both former Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are seeking to become the second Roman Catholic President of the United States, and former Governor Mitt Romney is seeking to become the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon) President of the United States.
One thing that has changed is that an American of African descent is now President of the United States; which is something that was certainly inconceivable in 1960. This tells me that nothing is too improbable to happen from an electoral standpoint. This President has, on various occasions, sought to present his Christian bona fides in ways that have appeared awkward, at best.
52 years ago John Kennedy delivered a speech to clergy in Houston, Texas during the 1960 U.S. Presidential campaign to assure non-Catholic clergy that he would not allow his religious affiliation to effect his decision making as President; nor would he be taking his marching orders from his church.
Four years ago, actually on December 6, 2007—during the previous primary election (nominating) cycle— former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney delivered a speech that was similar to Kennedy’s in that his purpose was to find acceptance and tolerance by evangelical groups and voters for his candidacy for President, as a Mormon. It was however drastically different than Kennedy’s speech in that the conclusion at which he arrived was that, if anything, “the notion of…separation of church and state” has gone too far in recent years. This view is/was in accordance with many of the groups and voters who are now, and were then, indispensible to a successful candidacy; from Romney’s perspective.
84 years ago, in 1928, New York Governor Alfred E. (Al) Smith, the Democratic Party nominee for President that year, then seeking to become the first Roman Catholic American President, clearly expressed a belief and understanding that the separation of church and state was to be absolute; saying in an article in The Atlantic that “I recognize no power in the institutions of my church to interfere with the operation of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land. I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of church and state and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States.”
Kennedy made it abundantly clear then that he too believed that the separation of church and state should be absolute. Speaking on September 12, 1960 before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel, Kennedy said “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
This did not allay the perceptions of very many Seventh-day Adventists in the United States who were nonetheless concerned about the prospect of a Roman Catholic becoming President for the first time in American history. Although but a child in 1960 I recall my parents, though not fans of Richard Nixon, nevertheless supporting Nixon for President.
Now, fast forward about a half century later, as public subsidization of private parochial schools is advocated by significant portions of the political class and the U.S. ambassadorship to the Vatican is an unchallenged reality.
Whereas then then-Senator Kennedy clearly emphasized the fact that he had always opposed any public funding for parochial schools as well as a U.S. ambassadorship to the Vatican, and that (in issues such as birth control) he would not speak for his church, nor would his church speak for him; now, the requiring of insurers and/or non-church employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception is viewed by presidential candidates as a war against the Catholic Church.
One candidate, former Senator Santorum has stated “One of the things I will talk about, that no President has talked about before is, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…” including his belief that contraception is “not OK. Because it’s a license; to do things in the sexual realm that is, that’s counter to what, how things are supposed to be.” Although less than three months later, on January 6, 2012 in Dublin, New Hampshire, he said that he did not believe that his view “should be, or will be, imposed on anyone…and [he] would not vote for banning contraception. That is an individual decision; contraception can and should be made available. I, as a…because of my faith convictions and because of what my church teaches, do not participate in that.” [It should be noted that as President, he would not “vote” on anything.]
Previously in this campaign season, in a speech last October (2011) at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, New Hampshire, Senator Santorum candidly commented on the September, 1960 John F. Kennedy speech in Houston, saying that “Earlier in my political career I had an opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up.”
When asked about that reaction by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on February 26, 2012, Santorum answered, “Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’ I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”
Now of course, in point of fact, the Kennedy speech neither says, or indicates, or implies that religious people “can have no influence or involvement in the operation of the state.” What he (Kennedy) did say was that, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
This very seeking to impose the will of religious institutions, organizations, and/or entities “directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials” is indeed the crux of the matter for historic Adventists and others who understand that an absolute separation of church and state is by far the safer course; and is also what makes the visceral reaction that Senator Santorum admits to having to the Kennedy understanding of church-state relations troubling.
Coincidentally, on the same day that former Senator Santorum was interviewed on television by George Stephanopoulos, former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is quoted by the AP’s Ken Thomas to have told a Georgia church audience that "The forces of the secular left believe passionately and deeply, and with frankly a religious fervor, in their world view and they will regard what I am saying as a horrifying assault on what they think is the truth," Gingrich said. "Because their version of the truth is to have a totally neutral government that has no meaning."
Now “a totally neutral government” is what would seem to be ideal insofar as protections of liberty of conscience are concerned. One wonders what could be wrong with the concept of a “neutral government?”
What is at least as troubling as Santorum’s reaction to Kennedy’s speech is the irony—if that is what it is—that, whereas a half century ago, the John F. Kennedy speech was necessitated by the need to assure non-Catholics that as President he would not be influenced by his church; now, a half century later, Catholic candidates for President are seeking to assure/persuade anyone listening that they believe Kennedy to have been wrong—and some Adventists apparently/inconceivably agree.