Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

After a fifteeen-month battle with brain cancer, Senator Edward Kennedy died today at the age of seventy-seven. As one of the most influential liberal senators of all time, he was often viewed as the archenemy of conservatives. On a personal level, though, Kennedy’s warmth and charm would often endear him to many of his natural adversaries.

The late Jerry Falwell, for example, was one of Kennedy’s key political opponents during the 1980s yet considered the Senator to be a close friend. The two controversial leaders, who first got to know each other during the Reagan era when Falwell was head of the Moral Majority, remained close until Falwell’s death in 2007.

During one of their first meetings in 1983, Kennedy delivered a speech called “Faith, Truth and Tolerance in America” at Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University). In the speech (a five-minute clip is posted below) he spoke about his own faith and how it related to his role as a citizen and legislator. Here is a key section:

I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America. I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also 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. After all, in the New Testament, even the Disciples had to be taught to look first to the beam in their own eyes, and only then to the mote in their neighbor’s eyes.I am mindful of that counsel. I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?”

“There are those who do, and their own words testify to their intolerance. For example, because the Moral Majority has worked with members of different denominations, one fundamentalist group has denounced Dr. Falwell for hastening the ecumenical church and for “yoking together with Roman Catholics, Mormons, and others.” I am relieved that Dr. Falwell does not regard that as a sin, and on this issue, he himself has become the target of narrow prejudice. When people agree on public policy, they ought to be able to work together, even while they worship in diverse ways. For truly we are all yoked together as Americans, and the yoke is the happy one of individual freedom and mutual respect.”

(Via: David Brody )

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles