Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Prayers for Senator Edward (“Ted”) Kennedy (D-MA)

I have upcoming analyses of race and gender and class in the Kentucky elections, which I will save for this weekend. I have other posts to get to, as well.

But not today. Today, I have to reserve just for asking prayer for Senator Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy (D-MA), the “lion of the Senate,” who has now been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor which is aggressive. It will be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, but the usual life expectancy after this kind of diagnosis is for less than a year, though I pray otherwise. (David Kuo, Bush’s original person in charge of the “Office of Faith Based Initiatives,” who resigned when it became clear that the office was being used for partisan gain rather than truly helping people, has an article on Faith in Public Life, in which he reveals that he has the same kind of tumor, but has been going strong for 5 years, now. I pray Kennedy also beats the odds.)

I was moved by the way that even longtime Republican adversaries like John McCain(R-AZ) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered apparently heartfelt prayers for Sen. Kennedy. (On the other hand, the Rightwing press and blogs, including many from the Religious Right, have been full of hateful, nasty comments, the LEAST offensive of which has been, “This couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy!” Who ARE these people? Who is their god? NOT, the Living God, Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen, that’s for certain!”) This is a testimony to Kennedy’s legendary ability to work across party lines in the Senate even while championing a long list of causes that the Right derides as “liberal,” such as labor rights, civil rights, the environment, public education, universal healthcare, and a non-imperialist foreign policy in which diplomacy and support for human rights are our first moves and military action a last resort.

Ted Kennedy is hardly beyond criticism. Earlier in his life, he apparently copied his older brother John’s womanizing, which, combined with drinking, led to the disaster known as “Chappaquidick,”–an inebriated Kennedy wrecking his car in a river, resulting in the death of a female passenger with whom he was apparently having an affair. (In high school, I told the same “Teddy for Lifeguard” jokes as my friends–and we were Democrats!) His first marriage fell apart. In 1980, he unwisely sought to unseat Pres. Jimmy Carter (D-GA) as the Democratic nominee and this schism, taken all the way to the Convention, was a major factor in Ronald Reagan (R-CA)’s victory that year–followed by a landslide victory in ’84 and the dominance of the GOP in national politics until 2006 (and, in my opinion, the steady decline of the nation’s moral health as regards to the common good). I have criticized Ted Kennedy for all these things and more.

But none of that changes the fact that he has been a champion of the poor (though coming from a very wealthy family), of civil and human rights, of education and healthcare, of working families–of a caring and compassionate society. I believe his passion in this regard stems not just from his family tradition, but from his deep Catholic faith–though his form of that faith is a liberal one. He has been in the Senate since I was born (1962) and I was counting on his influence to help get us universal healthcare. I pray I can still count on that help.

May God forgive your sins and shortcomings, Sen. Kennedy. May a gracious God heal you in body and restore you to us to continue your fight for justice. May we as a people be ready to take up that fight for justice as you face your own mortality and prepare for what may be your final battle. Amen.


May 21, 2008 - Posted by | prayer


  1. I hate it when people tell really not funny jokes like: “I would rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride as a passenger in Teddy Kennedy’s car.” Or, “more people died in Teddy Kennedy’s care than at 3 mile Island.” These are hateful attempts at humor and should be entirely restricted to jokes about the idiocy of GW Bush.

    Comment by randy P | May 22, 2008

  2. Randy, even jokes about “W” probably aren’t funny, although I am guilty of making them–as I was as a teen of making jokes about Kennedy. But what is really nasty is making jokes about someone’s misery–like rejoicing at Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor.
    I rebuked people who joked about Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease (although I suspected that it explained some of his policies) or rejoiced when Nixon died. It’s hard to love enemies and not to rejoice at their downfall, but we must make the effort.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 22, 2008

  3. I hate to tell you but contrary to your statement that Reagan only beat Carter by a narrow margin in 1980, Reagan won in a LANDSLIDE. It was a political slaughter. Carter only got 41% of the national vote to Reagan’s 50+. And the electoral college was even worse–489-49 It was a bloodbath.

    Check it out:


    Comment by randy P | May 28, 2008

  4. Thanks for the correction, Randy. I will modify the post.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 29, 2008

  5. Yesterday, August 7, 2009, my husband received a Thank you card from Mr and Mrs. Ted Kennedy…but..my beloved husband passed away July 4, 2009 of Glioblastoma Multifore (GBM)
    Richard had a biopsy was officially diagnosed in February 2009 We had five months..unfortunately..he was unable to walk or use his left arm..We brought him home by ambulance with Hospice. This disease is a “Beast” and little research seems to have been done with it..vitually incurable..Prayers for the Kennedy family and fortunately their finances can better help them through these dark days.
    Regrettfully…a widow

    Comment by Charlene Konersmann | August 9, 2009

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