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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Finally, Kerry takes on the faith issue

THE GREATEST hope that John Kerry offered last night was not so much anything he said in policy. It was in spirit. He held out the possibility of a less arrogant America. "I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve," Kerry said. "But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side.As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side."

That drew one of the loudest applauses of his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for president. He deserved it. It was about time the Democrats started fighting faith with faith.

Up to that moment, the focus was on how the Democrats were going to fight to take back the American flag from the Republicans. That was followed by a stirring speech by former congressman Max Cleland and the appearance of Kerry's Vietnam buddies. Retired General Wesley Clark, a former candidate, brought the FleetCenter to its feet by pointing to the ceiling and the giant illuminated replica of the flag and thundering, "That flag is ours and nobody will take it from us."

But faith has been another matter for the Democrats. Aside from Jimmy Carter in 1976, most polls show that the more that people go to church, the more they tend to vote Republican. Far more Republicans than Democrats believe, in a May Washington Post poll, that religious leaders should try to influence politics.

Bush has all but said that God has called him to invade Iraq, the most disastrous American action since Vietnam. For right or wrong, Bush joined the flag and faith at the hip and up to now the Democrats have been too afraid to question Bush's certainty in such matters.

But now, with the Muslim world and much of the rest of the world raging at our unilateralism, Kerry made a bold plea to question how certain God is that our actions in the world are right.

Back in 1865, Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, dwelled on the notion of whose side God was on in the Civil War. "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other," Lincoln said. "It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces."

Lincoln said that four years after he declared he had no purpose to interfere with the institution of slavery. He came to believe that perhaps the Civil War was God's punishment for it. Kerry will and should not go that far about Iraq. But with over 900 American soldiers, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians, dead, all for false pretenses, he got his applause because he sounded the first cry that the Republicans do not own either the flag or God, and the certainty that war is our first option.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com. 

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