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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Failing America's Faithful

boisi center for religion and american public life

The seventh annual Prophetic Voices of the Church lecture featured politician, professor and prominent Catholic layperson Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  Townsend is the author of the recent book Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way (2007).  Her November 7 talk elaborated on the many ways in which the Catholic church had fallen short of its own values. The eldest child of Robert Kennedy, Townsend wove several stories from her childhood into her talk. She recounted her father’s exhortation to remember how fortunate she was and to understand that such privilege always comes with the responsibility to serve others. 

Townsend explained that her family and her church instilled in her the social and political values of community and compassion that are in danger of being lost in an individualistic, inwardly focused American society. We have reached the point, she argued, that even churches—traditionally the most important institutions in a community—have lost their focus and narrowed God’s word to little more than opposition to gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research. Myopic focus on these isolated social issues “blinds us to the 2,500 passages in the Bible that tell believers to care for the sick and the poor.”

She called for proactive participation by the laity in the Catholic church and called on the Church hierarchy to abandon its fear of women and issues of sexuality. “Reform comes from the bottom up, not the top down,” she said. “It is up to us to help change the church.”