Lutherans on Religion and the 1960 Presidential Election


[1] Perhaps few times, if ever, in the history of the United States have questions about the religion of a candidate for President been more prominent than in the 1960 election. Citizens vigorously debated and many cast their votes on how they answered this question: Does the Roman Catholicism of John F. Kennedy disqualify him from being President?

[2] What were Lutherans saying about the candidacy of a Roman Catholic for President? How in 1960 did they understand and evaluate the religion of candidates for this high political office?   Many Lutherans, intensely concerned about the issue, were deeply involved in the public conversation about it. This interest is evident in church periodicals, in three official statements, and in a statement from 20 theologians.  The purpose of this article is to call attention to these historical documents, letting them speak for themselves, and thereby offer perspective for our own reflections on religion and public office today.   

Recalling the Context
[3] Lutheran churches' periodicals gave extensive coverage to developments related to religion and the election. Reference to a sampling of these news stories demonstrates the importance Lutherans were giving the issue as well as providing context for what they were saying.

  • U.S. religious editors said the top four religious stories in 1959 were birth control (condemned by the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops in November), Pope John XXIII's calling of an ecumenical council, the debate over the likelihood of a Roman Catholic candidacy for President, and improved Protestant-Catholic relationships.[1] Notably, all four stories concerned Roman Catholicism. 1960 represented a time of growth and ferment in the Roman Catholic Church. 

  • "Polls showed less prejudice against a Roman Catholic candidate than in 1928, when Al Smith went down to defeat….Dr. Franklin Clark Fry and others were quoted as saying that religion should not bar any individual from consideration for public office. Especially in the South, however, church groups warned against votes for any candidate who might be subject to domination by a church hierarchy."[2]

  • Before the West Virginia primary, Kennedy declared: "I am not the (Roman) Catholic candidate for President. I do not speak for the Catholic Church on issues of public policy and no one in that church speaks for me." The Roman Catholic Church has "no claim over my conduct as a public officer sworn to do the public interest." He stated that the "only legitimate religious issue" is whether a candidate would be "responsive in any way to ecclesiastical pressures or obligations" that might affect his conduct in office. His record, he said, showed that he had not been influenced by any such pressures.[3] 

  • A front-page editorial in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano said the Roman Catholic hierarchy has "the duty and right to guide, direct and correct" in the political field, just as it has in other aspects of life. "It is absurd to split the conscience into one part which is that of the believer and one which is that of the citizen, as if the Catholic religion were just one part of the life of the spirit and not a central idea which orients a man's whole experience. A Catholic never separates himself from the teachings and directives of the church. In every sector of his activity he must inspire his public and private conduct by the laws, orientations and instructions of the hierarchy." The editorial, supposedly aimed at the situation in Italy, condemned attempts at "proclaiming the believer's full autonomy in the civil sphere."[4]

  • Martin E. Marty told Minnesota Presbyterians that questions about the religion of a presidential candidate "have a hollow ring. The only way to put substance into this debate is actually to have a Roman Catholic President and then say, 'Let's look at the record.'"[5]

  • In his acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee, Kennedy promised to "reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly interfere with my conduct of the presidency in the national interest." In the two biblical references in his speech, Kennedy used the traditional "Protestant Bible," the King James Translation. Cardinal Cushing of Boston said he agreed with Kennedy on the separation of church and state.[6]

  • A statement from the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, headed by Norman Vincent Peale, warned that a Roman Catholic President might not be able to "withstand altogether the determined efforts of the hierarchy of his church to gain further funds and favors for its schools and institutions and otherwise breach" church-state separation. A counter statement from John C. Bennett and Reinhold Niebuhr said Peale and his associates "show blind prejudice because they see the Roman Catholic Church at all points in terms of the worst elements of its life."   Charles Clayton Morrison, former editor of the Christian Century, said Roman Catholicism, like communism, tried to "keep people in bondage." Religious leaders denounced anti-Roman Catholic "hate literature."[7] 

  • In a major speech before the Ministers Association of Greater Houston, Kennedy stated that if elected, he would always act "in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates."[8] 

  • A prominent Jesuit theologian, Gustav J. Weigel, "asserted that the Roman Catholic Church would not make any effort to interfere in the political activities of a Roman Catholic President nor would the President be bound by Roman Catholic dogma in deciding public issues."[9]

[4] Clearly the religious issue in the 1960 elections was the religious affiliation of one of the candidates who belonged to a church that was perceived by many to be authoritarian and a defender of church and state relations incompatible with the American experience. The issue was not the personal faith of the candidates or how the candidates used "God-language" in their speeches. News stories did not report on whether or not Kennedy was a "sincere and faithful" Catholic or on what Richard Nixon really believed. The occasional reference to Nixon's religion reported that he was a Quaker who attended a Methodist church, but who felt a person should attend church in his neighborhood, so, if elected, he would attend St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House.[10]   The news stories did not ask if Nixon was a "good" Quaker, if he believed in the Trinity or was "born again," or if as a Quaker, belonging to a pacifist tradition, he could protect U.S. interests. Nixon's vague, Protestantism-in-general did not cause any ripples in the election. Kennedy repeatedly assured voters that his Roman Catholicism would not interfere with his presidency. Yet, in a time of remarkable growth of Roman Catholicism in a Protestant country, voters passionately focused on what having a Roman Catholic President might mean.

Commenting on the Religious Issue
[5] Amid the conflicting voices and divisions of an electoral campaign, what were Lutherans themselves saying? Articles and letters-to the-editor in Lutheran periodicals in 1960 provide a partial answer. These personal, "unofficial" commentaries show a variety of views. 

Gerhard Lenski
[6] In his regular column in the American Lutheran Church´s Lutheran Standard,"Washington Comments," the Lutheran sociologist Gerhard E. Lenski reflected often on the presidential election. In February, he wrote, "Let the Kennedy name be entered…!" After referring to books about Kennedy and to Al Smith's 1928 campaign, he predicted that "issues centering in Roman Catholicism are going to play a large part" in the current campaign.[11]

[7] In May, Lenski referred to the U.S. Constitution provision forbidding a "religious test" for public office. In light of this provision, "a consistent effort" exists "to submerge the religious issue in political affairs." Lenski argued that it is not so easily disposed of because the sponsors of the Roman Church "continually invite a toleration for themselves which they find it impossible to accord to others." As long as basic issues like "education, marriage, public school, separation of church and state and other such matters" remain "unsettled [and] clothed in ambiguity,..the religious issue is bound to obtrude." Lenski also commented that Nixon's session with religious editors was "another sparkling Nixonian success."[12]

[8] In June, Lenski noted the recent statistics on Roman Catholics in the United States: 40,871,302, an increase of 1,365,827 in the last year, and an increase of 13,105,161 since 1950. He speculated that the combined growth of Protestants was not nearly as good. "Is it any wonder that our Roman Catholic neighbors who have worked so hard for their church and done so well should not now also want one of their number to represent them in the White House?"[13]

[9] Picking up on Martin Marty's claim that we would have a Catholic President, the question was "when?," Lenski set out some ideas for "thoughtful Protestants" for such a situation. "First of all, let us resolve to continue to be the best Christians we can be….Secondly, let us continue to be the best citizens we can be…Thirdly, let us strive to live at peace with those who differ with us….Finally, come what may, let us not yield to any spirit of pessimism, defeatism, or fear."[14]

[10] In a column titled, "Rome Changed-or Winked?" Lenski pointed to areas like church and state relations where Roman Catholics had apparently changed. He referred to Kennedy's statements on the separation of church and state and his opposition to spending public funds for parochial schools and to sending an ambassador to the Vatican, all which "sound very un-Catholic, almost Protestant." Because Kennedy and many other Roman Catholics valued religious freedom, "they have become in some respects far more Protestant than Roman Catholic." The "age-old antagonism still lingered," but "shall we not rejoice in 1960 over progress that has been made, and shall we not pray that further investigation and discussion will bring still better understanding?"[15]

[11] Lenski expressed a bit more skepticism in his next column. He reported on the address by Gustav Weigel and on a statement from 165 lay Catholics that said Kennedy could serve as President without compromising either his religion or his office. "Is this a gentle way of telling the world that the Roman Catholic Church is changing or trying to change? Even though we doubt such a conclusion, our readers will allow us the freedom to express the wish and the prayer that such is the case."[16]

[12] After the election Lenski wrote about "Healing Election Wounds." Noting the derogatory characterizations each candidate had made of the other, he called for an end to postmortem recriminations and reprisals. Among the "unsettled issues" after the election was that of Roman Catholicism's attitude toward church and state. Lenski appealed to his readers to listen carefully to Roman Catholic citizens who "insist that their church is truly American in its outlook, in full accord with the constitution and free from all duress and undue restraint." At the same time he asked Roman Catholic neighbors to become acquainted with Protestantism. The way to heal bitter wounds "created by a great political campaign" was the way of better understanding.[17]

[13] Lenski did not, as some wanted, "submerge" the issues that were raised by a Roman Catholic candidate and say, "Let's be gentlemen and not talk about them." He thought there were some issues that were "unsettled, clothed in ambiguity," and they required open discussion.[18] Although he harbored doubts about what it would mean to have a Roman Catholic President, his commentary was not driven by excessive fear and did not perceive Roman Catholicism as a monolithic block. He recognized change in that church, was not sure how significant it was, but his wish and prayer was that the change would be profound. Lenski seemed to assume a "Protestant" understanding of the role of a public official's religion, but he did not spell out what this meant; he did not criticize Kennedy´s statements on religion that made his religion a private affair. Lenski's commentaries demonstrate his commitment to "better understanding" on an issue and in a time when there were many barriers to such an enterprise. Another commentator in the same church periodical illustrates some of these barriers and presents a very different view of Roman Catholicism.  

William Emch
[14] In his regular column, "Question Box," in the Lutheran Standard, William N. Emch was asked to answer why so many thoughtful people "hesitate to elect a Roman Catholic as the leading official of our nation," and he gave a lengthy reply. "Why is this? It is because every Roman Catholic owes his highest allegiance to a foreigner. To that foreigner he must be absolutely submissive." Wherever the Roman Catholic Church has the power to do so, "they carry through their teachings with brute force, riding roughshod over the God-given rights of the individual." The Bishop of Rome "has Spain absolutely under his thumb." There Protestants are tolerated, but not given religious freedom or allowed to publicize their meetings. There "you have a picture of our country as far as religious affairs are concerned as soon as the Church of Rome is as strong here as she is in Spain today." The Pope has brought heads of nations "to their knees by threatening to release their subjects from civil allegiance to them." Emch concluded: "Protestantism tends toward democracy, Catholicism leads toward monarchy and dictatorship."[19]  

[15] Emch's article elicited strong reaction. Of the eight letters to the editor printed in the Lutheran Standard, seven opposed what he had written. The thrust of the letters was that the article's distortions and exaggerations "serve only to fan the flames of a religious prejudice against which we should be fighting."[20] In light of the large number of letters to the editor, Associate Editor Wilfred Bockelman wrote an editorial defending the periodical's policy of publishing different views and insisting "We Can Differ in Politics."[21]  Returning to the topic in his September column, Emch defended his position. He noted that he had "received far more compliments that criticisms." Although he did not think that the principle of religious freedom would disappear with a Roman Catholic President, Emch did foresee that "the Church of Rome will become bolder and bolder and ever get her hands deeper and deeper into the public treasury here and there to support her private schools and otherwise in various ways have the government favor the Catholic Church above all other churches." With the Roman Church, "we are dealing with a wolf, a wolf in sheep's clothing, and such a hidden, disguised wolf is all the more dangerous."[22] To recount Emch's position is to show how deep the Roman Catholic and Lutheran split was in earlier generations, as well as how his view of Roman Catholicism has lost plausibility since 1960. Fortunately, Emch's was not the Lutheran Standard's last commentary on the religious issue in the election.

Carl Reuss
[16] In the last in a series of four articles "for the Christian who goes to the polls," Carl F. Reuss wrote on "That Religious Issue in the '60 Campaign."[23]  Reuss stated that what he writes may seem partisan, but it is not so intended. He did not regret that "I may not reflect the anti-Roman bias I sense so often among fellow Lutherans." He recalled the Eighth Commandment about bearing false witness, quoted Martin Luther's explanation of it, and said he wrote in that spirit.

[17] Reuss underscored that "to raise questions about the religious faith and practices of a candidate for public office is not bigotry" (italics in original). To determine one's vote "solely and exclusively on the ground only of a candidate's religion, however, is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution," which prohibits requiring a religious test. Reuss then placed the issue in an historical-sociological context. The presidency has in effect been restricted to Protestants or men of no church affiliation, so that voters "may in effect have impressed a religious test for this high office. This theory is challenged in 1960." The religious issue raises the question of whether the United States is essentially a Protestant country, which does not allow the highest office to Roman Catholics and Jews. "It symbolizes a struggle between Protestant and Roman Catholic branches of Christendom for the spiritual allegiance of Americans." Roman Catholicism is the majority in some states and influential everywhere. "Any change or prospective change in the power or the prestige [of] groups in the population raises questions, fears, and suspicions." Reuss pointed to the ethnic, social class difference between Roman Catholics (from central and southern Europe as well as from Ireland), "who have not rated particularly high on the American social ladder," and the established Protestant groups. "Old-line residents dislike seeing a new class of people with different culture and traditions coming into leadership." This factor "will become even more serious in the future when even newer groups such as Negroes, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans begin seeking higher elective offices."

[18] Reuss next discussed the claim that Roman Catholicism allegedly demands total allegiance to its teachings also in political issues. After carefully describing the arguments for this claim, Reuss raised "the possibility that, although all of this is true, it is yet not the whole truth. There is another side which also should be seen." "A minor point," Roman Catholics may consider prohibition laws and laws against gambling as "Protestant laws." Reuss referenced "a carefully documented study, Roman Catholicism and Religious Liberty," from the World Council of Churches and authored by A.F. Carrillo de Albornoz, to support the idea that the Roman Catholic Church was in the process of changing its understanding of religious freedom: "'for one book or article in favor of the traditional doctrine, ten have been published defending universal religious freedom.'" This careful study "must make Protestants wary of imputing to Rome dogmatic propositions which deny religious liberty and make the church supreme over the state." 

[19] Reuss concluded with three points and a final appeal. 1) Attacks on Kennedy because of his religion will encourage Roman Catholics to vote for him solely because of his religion. 2) "Neither Mr. Kennedy nor Mr. Nixon adheres faithfully to precepts we outsiders believe are standard Roman Catholic or Quaker teachings." 3) Fundamental differences between the two parties "are issues far overshadowing the church membership of either candidate." Reuss hoped that Reformation Day would not be the occasion for "intemperate, ill-informed, slanderous attacks on alleged Roman Catholic demands for the political conformity of its members." If Lutherans are to avoid bearing false witness, then they need to make "diligent inquiry to learn what it is that Roman Catholicism actually teaches and what it actually expects of its members."  

[20] Reuss deserves high marks for giving substance and nuance to how Roman Catholicism should be perceived, which, after all, was the crucial religious question in the election. His historical and sociological observations, his documentation of the fact that Roman Catholic scholars were changing their views on religious freedom, and his framing the issue in terms of the Eighth Commandment were important contributions to what Lutherans were saying.

The Lutheran
[21] While The Lutheran (United Lutheran Church in America) provided extensive news coverage of the religious issue in the election, it did not feature commentary on it.[24] A possible exception was the regular column of Robert Van Dusen, whose comments on the election, however, tended to be descriptions of developments more than personal commentary. In January, for example, he wrote that "the prospects of John Kennedy being nominated are dwindling." He reported on a poll that indicated that while many Roman Catholics would like to see a member of their church as president, many others feared that mistakes by a Catholic President would be blamed on his religion.[25]  In May he wrote that Kennedy's Roman Catholic affiliation played a role in Wisconsin and wondered what it would mean in West Virginia.[26]  This type of reporting continued in some other of his columns in 1960.[27] 

The Lutheran Companion
[22] A quick and incomplete reading of The Lutheran Companion (Augustana Lutheran Church) revealed little on the election. In what appeared to be an endorsement of the author's views, a lawyer, U.S.A. Heggblom, quoted extensively from and reviewed without comment Paul Blanchard's anti-catholic book God and Man in Washington.[28] Some letters to the editor showed a strong anti-Roman Catholic attitude ("When Criticism is Not Bigotry"; "A Totalitarian Religion"; "Seeks Church-State Union"; "A Heritage at Stake"; "Let the Church of Rome Answer"; and "Are we Victims of Own Enlightenment?"). Others did not. One reader urged people to read Jaroslav Pelikan's recent book, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism. Another said Kennedy had spoken clearly on the issue.[29] A November 2 editorial "Religion and the Election," for the most part simply quoted from a report from the Commission on Social Action (see below).[30]

Lutheran Editors
[23] At a meeting of the National Lutheran Editors in late September, a panel discussed "Should the religious beliefs of the Presidential candidates influence enlightened voting in November?" Edward Schramm, editor of the Lutheran Standard, said "it would be tragic" if the election is decided solely or largely on religion. Albert Staudermann, associate editor of The Lutheran, stated that many Roman Catholics are displeased by Kennedy's statement that he will be directed by his conscience rather than his church. "For this reason the Roman Church would probably rather not see him elected to office." John Strietelmeyer, managing editor of the Cresset magazine, said Catholicism would lose more than it would gain by having a Catholic in the White House, since he would bend over backwards to not give the impression he was favoring his church. Alfred Rehwinkel, professor of Historical Theology at Concordia, exhorted people "to be on guard not to believe what is written by fanatics."[31]

[24] One wonders if US Lutheran church periodicals before or since have ever given so much space to a presidential election. The articles and letters provided readers a spectrum of views along with a number of perceptive observations. The commentaries stand at the end of a centuries-long era of hostility in Lutheran and Roman Catholic relations; Kennedy´s election and Vatican II´s affirmation of religious liberty undercut the notion that Roman Catholicism was incompatible with the American experience. Anti-Catholicism would continue in society, but in less blatant, more subtle forms. 

[25] Whatever their position, the commentaries understood the religious issue to be whether or not Kennedy´s Roman Catholicism would have too much influence over him. Some thought it would, and others thought it would not, but all agreed it should not influence him too much. When Kennedy spoke of his independence from the Roman Catholic Church, some were satisfied and some were not, but no one argued that he had gone too far in limiting the influence of his faith on him. The commentaries seemed to share the assumption that religious faith is or should be a private affair between God and the person without public significance.[32] To be sure, they address specific issues related to Kennedy´s religion and do not develop a theoretical framework for religion and public office. The churches´ official statements do move in that direction; how do they handle the issue of religion and public office?

Three Lutheran Statements
[26] In 1960 the national assemblies of the American Lutheran Church and Augustana Lutheran Church adopted statements on religion and the elections. Early in 1961 the National Lutheran Council also issued a statement on the topic. The complete statements are reproduced below, beginning with Augustana´s, which, although not the first, is brief and has a different character than the other two. 

Augustana Lutheran Church
[27] The Centennial synod of the Augustana Lutheran Church meeting in Rock Island, June 6 to 12, 1960, in acting upon a report by the church´s Commission on Social Action, adopted the following statement as the official declaration of the church´s position:

Whereas the ideological beliefs and affiliations or lack of them are, among other criteria, valid groups for judging the fitness of candidates for public office, and whereas it is a misuse of the concept of tolerance to exclude such criteria from consideration, the Church reminds its members of their individual responsibilities as voting citizens and urges a conscientious and prayerful study of these factors before voting for any candidate for public office.

The lengthy report from the Commission said that generally "no person, Marxist or socialist, Mormon or Roman Catholic, should on the ground of belief be barred from public office. It is equally obvious, however, that citizens and groups should inquire about a candidate's beliefs and affiliations, including his religion; and that although beliefs and affiliations should not automatically disqualify anyone, they, together with an estimate of pressures upon and responses of candidates, are among the crucial groups of decision which voters ought to consider."

[28] The Commission recommended the following to the synod:


            1. That ideological beliefs and affiliations are valid groups for judging candidates for public office, and that it is a misuse of the concept of tolerance to exclude them from consideration. 

            2. That the Roman Church, because of its unique institutional claims, poses special problems in relation to the questions of religion and public office.

            3. That there are grounds for reasonable doubt that a Roman Catholic president would be free of institutional control and from desires to promote in special ways the ends of the Roman Church.

            4. That in turn this doubt raises the question of a potential threat to the work of the Church, the conscience of its members and the traditional ideals and sense of justice of American society.

            5. That the Church take a stand, cautioning its members to give special consideration to these problems and to the use of their voting privilege should a Roman Catholic be nominated for President.[33]


[29] Augustana´s official declaration was considerably much "milder" than the recommendations coming from the Commission. It affirmed the first point in the Commission's recommendations but not the others that mentioned Roman Catholicism, and it appealed to members individual responsibilities as voters instead of taking a stand "cautioning" members about voting for a Roman Catholic for President. Yet even with its general language, the declaration was raising concerns about voting for a Roman Catholic given that the only issue it mentioned had to do with "ideological beliefs and affiliations."

American Lutheran Church
[30] In its closing convention in April 1960, the American Lutheran Church commended to its members the following statement for "their serious study and deliberate discussion":

 Religious Faith and Public Office
The religious faith of a candidate naturally influences his conduct of public office. A vital faith inescapably affects both private and public life. To say otherwise is to deny the relevance of faith to life.

Nevertheless, the religious faith of a candidate cannot absolutely determine his conduct of public office. He is subject to pressures, valid and proper, from many sides and sources. In weighing and reconciling them all, he necessarily compromises any absolute rigidities his denominational dogma might impose in addition to the teaching of Scripture. We hold that no church body can compel the unquestioning allegiance of its members in public office to its partisan ecclesiastical dictates. Any candidate who binds himself so thoroughly to partisan ecclesiastical domination thereby unfits himself for public office

It is well to distinguish the dual roles of person and public official. As a public official sworn to operate under law one perhaps must condone actions in which one would not participate personally. One cannot allow his personal conscience to determine what official acts he will perform.

 An ardent abstentist, for example, must sign a properly-issued liquor license, an opponent of divorce must grant one that meets all legal requirements, and a warden who does not believe in capital punishment must arrange the execution of a condemned man.

Arbitrarily to rule out candidates who are members of one or another church body is unfair, unwise, and not warranted by the record of public service written by members of different religious groups. To attempt so to rule them out is likely to alienate these persons from the remainder of the community, encourage them to band together for mutual protection and advancement, and to foster "bloc" voting by this group in defense of its imagined interests.

Even so, however, it would seem unrealistic to choose a believer in faith healing as director of public health, a partisan patron of private schools to a seat on the public school board, or an advocate of church supremacy in welfare services to a post as public welfare director. Issues in the areas of health, education, and welfare are unusually sensitive and perhaps peculiarly subject to decisions made in light of religious faith.

Just as membership in a particular religious group should not disqualify a candidate from public office, so his particular church membership alone should not entitle him to support for that office.

The chief consideration, surpassing all others, is that the person best qualified for the position be chosen. Such personal qualities as integrity, courage, wisdom, and understanding are pertinent to the choice. The past records of the candidates and their parties, the claims they make and their credibility, and the probable benefits their supporters expect if victory is theirs, also are relevant considerations.

Among all these criteria the candidate's religious faith is but one criterion, important but not decisive. Attitude, ability, allies, and allegiance of the candidates, not church membership alone, should be factors which members of the American Lutheran Church weigh when they cast their ballots.[34]

National Lutheran Council
[31] Although the National Lutheran Council had a statement on this topic available already in 1959,[35] it did not act on one until after the 1960 election. In February 1961 at its 43rd annual meeting, the Council adopted the following statement to "be made available to members of the participating church bodies of the National Lutheran Council and to other interested persons as worthy of serious study and deliberate discussion."


Religious Faith as a Factor in American Elections
The religious affiliation of a candidate for political office is a valid concern of the voter, but in a democratic order a candidate ought not be opposed merely on the grounds of his religious affiliation without regard to his record or to his other qualifications.

Unless we are prepared to grant that religion, and, in particular, the Christian faith, is irrelevant to public life in the United States-a proposition which would hardly stand the test of objective examination-it will have to be admitted that the religious faith of any person will influence his private and public conduct to some extent. It is regrettable that the effort is sometimes made to disclaim completely all relevancy of religious convictions to political life. Such disclaimers are a danger sign since they reveal the "image" of the Church in the American mind is such as to make religion essentially irrelevant in those areas where the important decisions of our time are made.

The conduct of public affairs is subject to a multitude of pressures. Since even private conduct, where the pressures are far less complex, is rarely determined exclusively by a person's loyalty to a religious denomination, it is naïve to assume that a public officer's conduct of his public office would be exclusively determined by such religious loyalties. Obviously people of varying religious loyalties are constantly required to compromise these loyalties in order to avoid a breakdown in our pluralistic society. There is a great deal of difference between the theoretical claims of absolute loyalty which a religious community may be prepared to make and the actual loyalty which it can command. This appears to be true of all religious groups though in varying degrees.

The fitness of a candidate for public office depends upon many qualifications. Such personal qualities as integrity, courage, wisdom and understanding are essential for a candidate to deserve the support of church people. The past record of the candidate is a legitimate basis for evaluating his future performance. Although a basic change may not be impossible, it would be unwise to anticipate a fundamental reversal of an established pattern as a result of an election. The record of a candidate's party and the avowed policies of his supporters also must be taken into account. Among all these considerations the candidate's religious affiliation is one factor.

It is regrettable that some church people begin to show concern about the qualifications of candidates only when high Federal office is involved, neglecting state and local elections and primaries which often are just as important as national elections in deciding policies and leadership in our representative form of government.

To reiterate: the religious affiliation of a candidate for any office is a valid concern of the voter. But it has to be balanced against all the qualifications of this candidate and other candidates, and should not be taken out of the context of the total political situation in which a voter has to make his decision.[36]

[32] The statements from the American Lutheran Church and the National Lutheran Council, similar in many ways, convey the clear message-a wise and appropriate one-that a candidate's religion is one of many factors for voters to consider. These statements do not mention Roman Catholicism by name, but in practical terms in 1960, they were saying that one should not vote against or for Kennedy because he is a Roman Catholic. They sought to "neutralize" the religious issue in elections naming other qualifications that constitute a good candidate and by pointing to many pressures placed on elected officials. In other words, the statements made good use of Lutheran "two-kingdom" teaching.

[33] Both statements also affirmed that religious faith will and should influence the conduct of public officials. Indeed, in its post-election statement, the National Lutheran Council strongly objected to efforts "to disclaim completely all relevancy of religious convictions in public life" which would "make religion essentially irrelevant" for important social and political decisions. While aware of the danger of privatizing religion, this statement (or the ALC one) did not say more on what the role of religious faith should be for one elected to public office.

A November Surprise
[34] On Sunday, November 6, two days before the election, many Lutherans were surprised to find in their morning newspaper a version of this article that appeared in the New York Times:

 20 Lutherans Support Kennedy; Deplore Injection of Faith Issue

Twenty Lutheran theological professors in six states issued a statement yesterday supporting the Presidential candidacy of Senator John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic.

The text of their statement follows:

"It is apparent that the religious issue is still vital to voters in the coming election, in spite of all efforts of the candidates to avoid it. In view of the repeated clear statements of Senator John F. Kennedy, we feel that a vote against him because of his religion would be a breach of our tradition of separation of church and state.

"Furthermore, because of Senator Kennedy's forceful and imaginative stand on foreign policy, civil rights and social welfare, the undersigned support his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States and thus demonstrate their confidence in his ability to be not a 'Catholic' or 'Protestant' President but a great American President."

The signers were:

A.C.M. Ahlen, Northwestern Luthern [sic] Theological Seminary, Minneapolis; Sidney E. Ahlstrom, Yale Divinity School; Roy Enquist, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio; George W. Forell, Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, Maywood, Ill; Arndt L. Halvorson and Roy A. Harrisville, Luther Theological Seminary, Philadelphia; Karl Hertz, Hamma Divinity School, Springfield, Ohio; Axel C. Kildegaard, Chicago Theological Seminary; Kent S. Knutson, Luther Theological Seminary.

Also, William H. Lazareth, Lutheran Theological Seminary; George A. Lindbeck, Yale Divinity School; A.D. Mattson, Augustana Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Ill.; Jaroslav Pelikan, Federated Theological Faculty, University of Chicago; Warren Quanbeck, Luther Theological Seminary; James A. Scherer, Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary; Franklin Sherman, State University of Iowa, Iowa City; Herbert Wolf, Wittenberg University; Don H. Zinger, Grand View College, Des Moines; Joseph Sittler Jr., Federated Theological Faculty.[37]

[35] The Associated Press story received wider circulation and was the source for many responses. The Detroit Free Press, for example, carried the story with this headline: "Lutheran Group OK´s Kennedy." Its leading paragraphs stated: "Twenty top-ranking Lutheran theologians Saturday endorsed Senator John F. Kennedy for the Presidency. It was the first such action taken by a body of Lutherans in behalf of the Democratic candidate, a Roman Catholic. The founder of Lutheranism, Martin Luther, sparked the Protestant break from Roman Catholicism, nearly 400 years ago. Signers of the Kennedy endorsement included theologians of various branches of Lutheranism at 11 institutions." After providing the text of the statement and the names and institutions of the signers, the AP story concludes, "The statement was released here [New York] through the National Lutheran Council."[38] 

[36] Twenty of the most important Lutheran theologians joined together not only to speak on the religious issue but to endorse the Democratic candidate for President! Suddenly a new issue emerged among Lutherans: Is this what Lutheran theologians should be doing?

Lutherans Respond
[37] The AP story was incorrect in reporting that the statement had been released through the National Lutheran Council, and it expressed its regrets, but the inadvertent error contributed to the uproar around the statement. The Council's office "was flooded with telephone calls,"[39] and Paul Empie, the Council's Executive Director, as well as the presidents of Lutheran churches received numerous letters asking why the NLC had endorsed a candidate. Lay persons talked about withholding their giving, and pastors complained about how much explaining they had to do. "You may be sure," responded Empire, "that we in the Council regret very much that an error not of our making created so much misunderstanding and confusion over a highly controversial subject."[40] In their responses, Empie and the Presidents made it clear it was not an official statement of the NLC or any Lutheran church.[41] 

[38] Beyond this confusion, the reactions (and overreactions) to the statement voiced the view that Lutheran theologians should not endorse political candidates. Some responses questioned the theologians' view of Roman Catholicism, some objected to their endorsing a Democratic, and some pointed out that none of the signers were parish pastors,[42] but the most important criticism was that they were using their churchly position to support a candidate, to advance a partisan cause. 

  • "Why these men were not willing to speak for their candidate from their political loyalties as citizens rather than cravenly using the sanctity of their positions in the Church is difficult to understand. Perhaps their political prostitution of religious positions is due to the fact that as ordinary citizens no one would have been deceived by the transparency of their wisdom."[43] 

  • "They used a Godly office to serve a worldly end."[44]

  • "In my judgment, the statement tends to be presumptuous in lumping together twenty theologians as a lobby or pressure voice. I argue the privilege not of twenty citizens but of twenty theologians. There is an atmosphere about it of superior judgment on a highly debatable issue. It is suggestive of an 'egocentric hat.' I question highly the moral justification of speaking under a denominational label. Whereas our church deliberately avoided speaking in the current election, the theologians successfully put Lutheranism's tag in the Democratic camp. If some pastors have erred in leaning prejudicially in one direction, our theologians are hardly justified in projecting a counterbalancing error."[45]

  • "I am not suggesting for a moment that any of the men involved, because of their position as faculty members in our Seminaries, should remain neutral in the political life of their country. However, I deplore the fact that these men, by acting jointly, have by implication, used the position which the church has given them to give credence to their individual political views. I could well agree with a joint statement urging people about being blinded by religious prejudice in casting their ballot, but I cannot see using such a statement as a stepping stone for a corporate endorsement of any candidate no matter what his political or religious ties may be."[46]

[39] On Monday, November 7, Dr. Fredrik A. Schiotz, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Dr. Malvin Lundeen, president of the Augustana Lutheran Church, released a statement stating that the AP story on the theologians' statement "conveys the impression that it has a measure of official standing. This is completely erroneous. Neither our Churches nor our theological seminaries endorse political candidates, whatever the party. While we defend the right of an individual to speak his mind, we strongly deplore individuals allowing the name Lutheran to be identified with a political endorsement."[47]

[40] In commenting further on "the propriety of any pastor, theological professor, or church official endorsing a political candidate," Schiotz wrote that to do so "risk[s] the forfeiture of the confidence so necessary" to proclaim the Gospel. "It is impossible for a pastor, theological professor, or church official to disassociate himself from his office as an anonymous John Doe. The public will tend to identify his political endorsement with the Church which he serves." A pastor's concern for the community is better expressed in speaking out on questions of human rights and ethics and leaving voters to decide about candidates.[48]

[41] Lundeen took a similar position, using stronger language. Neither the Augustana Church nor its institutions have "a right to endorse political candidates" and "to do so is to enter into an area of activity foreign to their chief calling." He deplored what happened in the case of the theologians' statement, because it identified Augustana and Augustana Theological Seminary with a candidate for public office. "The timing of this ill-advised release in relation to election day was such as to put the weight and influence of the Lutheran Church and certain of its institutions in the employ of the campaign strategy of the Democratic party. Such use of the Lutheran name was highly improper." For a pastor, theological professor or church executive to endorse a candidate "is open to serious question" and "is a disservice to the Church." A pastor is so identified with the Church that it is impossible to dissociated himself from it; for the general public, a pastor's endorsement would likely be regarded as that of his Church. Lundeen adds that such an endorsement becomes divisive in the Church.[49]

[42] Dr. Armin Weng, President of Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, called the affair "most unfortunate." He wrote in a letter that the signers had a right to support whomever they pleased, "but they had no right to use the name of the Seminary or to give the impression that the Seminary faculty endorsed their particular stand. The timing of this thing on the eve of the election is reprehensible to say the least." Weng added that "the students of their own volition had a protest meeting and protested the action of the men who signed this document. Also on the straw vote, Nixon won almost three to one."[50]

Signers of Statement Respond
[43] Some of the signers of the statement had their own individual response to the critical letters they received. Some of the letters they received were "full of some pretty juicy language," in the words of Joseph Sittler. Sittler concluded his reply to "a thoughtful and good letter" by remarking, "I don't mind being called wrong, injudicious, non-existential, or even references to my hat! - But several letters have asked me the amount of my bribe, asked how my wife likes her new mink coat, and called me Father Sittler, S.J.!"[51]  In a hand-written letter to letter to Franklin Clark Fry, Martin Heinecken quoted some of the letters he had received that "only reveal the kind of bigotry we were concerned to protest."[52]

[44] In their replies, the signers insisted that there was nothing official about their statement, that they were not claiming to speak for Lutheranism, and that they were hardly identifying Lutheranism with the Democratic party. They also emphasized that they were responding to a situation in which there was a wide-spread abuse of religion. Sittler, for example, said he did not sign on as a theologian. "I, at least, signed because I wanted to rebuke the generally uncriticized assumption that to be a Lutheran was identical with anti-Catholic, or with political conservatism, or with party."[53] Heinecken and William Lazareth are more specific:

On the tactical level, it also seemed an appropriate counter-balance to what the National Association of Evangelicals had done throughout the nation on the previous Sunday with their anti-Catholic Reformation Day religious-political rallies. Protestant pulpits were abused wholesale. It was this emergency which necessitated the statement's hasty composition and last-minute circulation, and not any desire to prevent the publication of other political viewpoints before the election.[54]     

[45] The signers also expressed some different understandings of the statement and their motives for signing it. Apparently some were unaware they were publicly endorsing a candidate.[55] While for most signers the most important issue seemed to combating religious bigotry, for Franklin Sherman it was endorsing the best candidate: "The second sentence of our statement was to my mind for more important than the first."[56] 

[46] The signers also differed in whether they signed as theologians or not. Roy Enquist wrote:

Your objection to theologians making a statement (not as citizens but as theologians) reflects a kind of pre-Niebuhrian and un-Lutheran hesitation to accept and use the structures of political action as they exist in the real world.  Luther was faithful to the gospel when he, as a theologian and a professor in a Christian university, gave specific advise [sic], criticism, counsel to those making decisions in the political life of his day. Lutheran theologians in the 20th century (as in Germany in the 30´s) have been untrue to the gospel when they have used their professional rank as a justification for remaining silent when matters of national political importance were being decided. When churchmen insist on saying nothing in an area of controversy, arguing that the churchman as such has nothing unique to say, their silence constitutes in fact its own kind of witness. This unwillingness to speak is much more dangerous in the long run.[57]

[47] In contrast, Heinecken and Lazareth signed on as private citizens who understood that they were making "a partisan political judgment on which equally devoted Christian citizens could and would legitimately disagree." They saw the basic question as: "Do Lutheran theologians have the right to speak out publicly as private citizens on controversial political issues? And, if so, how may this be done?" They answered on the basis of a functional understanding of the office of ministry and the distinction a Christian plays in the two kingdoms of creation and redemption. "On the one hand, the Christian as teacher (or preacher) should not be permitted to take advantage of his office to propagate partisan political viewpoints inside the classroom (or pulpit)." On the other hand, the Christian as teacher "should be permitted to exercise his Christian social responsibility as a citizen." Since the Lutheran minister is involved in a functional office and not invested with an indelible character, the minister may exercise political responsibility as a citizen. 

[48] Heinecken and Lazareth concluded that while "it is generally wise on grounds of pastoral expediency that a local clergyman not become too directly involved in the affairs of partisan politics even as a citizen," and "this may also be true" for seminary professors, "such action is certainly theologically permissible and it should be left to the conscience of the individual." The clergy or teacher "must be careful to indicate in which capacity he is speaking and acting." Heinecken and Lazareth admitted that "it would have been much clearer if the signers had stated explicitly what they assumed implicitly: 'Though we are teachers of Christian theology, we speak here unofficially as private citizens.'"[58]

[49] This "November Surprise" may not have determined the outcome of the election, but it was an interesting event in Lutheranism's involvement in elections. Insofar as this brief, hastily composed statement[59] from 20 theologians addressed the religious issue it was very much in tune with the predominant message of Lutheran periodicals and statements and was a timely response to the events of Reformation Sunday. Yet because it also made a partisan commitment, it raised serious questions about Lutheran pastors, church leaders and theologians endorsing political candidates.  Many said "yes" to the first and "no" to the second. The statement provoked a debate that showed sharply different interpretations of the same document as well as different views and applications of the Lutheran social teachings. 

[50] The signers were correct in insisting that there statement was not official and that they were not speaking for all of Lutheranism. The critics were also correct in sensing that when 20 Lutheran theologians jointly endorse a candidate, the public meaning of Lutheranism was implicated. The statement's import was to give a distinctive public face to Lutheranism, one that was not anti-Catholic and politically conservative, as Sittler wrote. Because of the historic break at the Reformation, what Lutheran theologians said about a Roman Catholic candidate had special significance. If there had been theologians other than Lutherans, or if there would have been signers from disciplines other than theology, or if the label "Lutheran" had not been used, the public significance of the statement would have been different.[60] The statement was news worthy and aroused justifiable criticism as well as praise because it came from Lutherans in responsible positions who spoke in certain contexts at least with the authority of Lutheran teachers of the faith.

[51] It is legitimate, indeed a responsibility, for Lutheran theologians to be concerned about the public face of Lutheranism, but this does not in itself justify partisan endorsements. While all parties in the debate affirmed that all Christians have responsibilities as citizens, they articulated three views on endorsement: 1) Theologians as theologians have a responsibility to endorse candidates in certain situations, as argued by Enquist. 2) Theologians should not endorse candidates, as argued by Schiotz and Lundeen. 3) Theologians may endorse candidates but they should be clear that they are doing so as private citizens, as argued by Heinecken and Lazareth. 

[52] While the distinction between theologian and private citizen is not always so bright as Heinecken and Lazareth might have wanted, what they said points in the right direction. Lutherans should not exclude the possibility of a theologian endorsing a candidate, and the requirement to do so as a private citizen is almost always right. Yet Lutherans do well to remember the church´s distinctive gospel calling and the advice "that it is generally wise on grounds of political expediency" for pastors and theologians not to "become too directly involved" in partisan politics. In our democratic society, it is good to maintain the distinction between partisan politics and other forms of social or political involvement, even if the distinction is not always clear. In a time when partisan endorsements by religious leaders are common, some Lutheran restraint may be in order.

[53] Lutherans in 1960 were engaged in lively and often perceptive discussion on religion and public office. Their "two-kingdom" thinking served them well in allowing them to hold and debate different positions and yet to develop a predominant message about the religious faith of a candidate and elected official. By encouraging voters to evaluate candidates on the basis of platform, character and competence, all of which may or may not be correlated with their religious faith, they were offering counsel that we do well to follow. 

*I thank Elisabeth Wittman and Joel Thoreson for their wonderful assistance in locating sources in the ELCA Archives for this article.


End Notes

[1] Lutheran Standard (January 9, 1960), 3. By "Lutherans" I am referring principally to three church bodies (and their members) that after mergers in the early 1960s were later to become part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They are the American Lutheran Church (Lutheran Standard), the United Lutheran Church (The Lutheran), and the Augustana Lutheran Church (The Lutheran Companion). The National Lutheran Council also had a 1961 statement on religion in elections.

[2] "Roman Catholic for President?" The Lutheran (January 6, 1960), 10.

[3] "Kennedy vows Independence," The Lutheran (May 4, 1960), 5.

[4] "Vatican affirms political role," The Lutheran (June 1, 1960), 4. Cf., "Vatican Proclaims Right to Have Hand in Politics," Lutheran Standard (June 4, 1960), 4.

[5] "Catholic President 'inevitable,'" The Lutheran (June 29, 1960), 7-8.

[6] "Catholic candidate," The Lutheran (July 27, 1960), 4.

[7] "Faith seen as election issue," The Lutheran (September 21, 1960), 4-5. Cf., "NCC Leader Joins Kennedy's Staff; Anti-Catholic Literature Increases," Lutheran Standard (September 17, 1960), 4. In New York the Fair-Campaign Practices Committee reported that circulation of anti-Catholic literature might exceed that in 1928. Also, cf., "Three Statements Are Made Public On Election of Catholic President," Lutheran Standard (October 1, 1960), 4-5. Besides the statement connected with Peale, the article refers to one issued by 90 Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish leaders vigorously opposing all attempts "to make religious affiliation the basis of the voter's choice of candidates for public office." The third statement came from the board of Trustees of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, saying that the largest church in America "officially supports a world-wide policy of partial union of church and state wherever it has the power to enforce such a policy."

[8] "Candidate asserts moral freedom," The Lutheran (September 28, 1960), 6.

[9] "Pressure on President denied," The Lutheran (October 12, 1960), 5-6.

[10] "Catholic candidate," The Lutheran (July 27, 1960), 5.

[11] "Ride on, Young John!" Lutheran Standard (February 20, 1960), 10. That Kennedy had not yet officially announced his candidacy yet in February 1960 sounds unreal in 2007.

[12] "Why Religion Is an Issue," Lutheran Standard (May 14, 1960), 14.

[13] "Lesson of Summit Conference," Lutheran Standard (June 25, 1960), 13.

[14] "Life Under a Catholic President," Lutheran Standard (August 6, 1960), 7.

[15] "Rome Changed-or Winked?" Lutheran Standard (September 3, 1960), 7.

[16] "Catholics Explain Their Stand," Lutheran Standard (October 29, 1960), 7.

[17] "Healing Election Wounds," Lutheran Standard (November 26, 1960), 7.

[18] "Why Religion Is an Issue," Lutheran Standard (May 14, 1960), 14.

[19] "A Catholic for President?" Lutheran Standard (July 16, 1960), 13.

[20] "Reaction and Rebuttal, Letters to the Editor, Emch Draws Fire," Lutheran Standard (August 13, 1960), 2-4; "Reaction and Rebuttal, Letters to the Editor, Emch Draws Fire," Lutheran Standard (August 20, 1960), 3. The letter quoted in the text comes from Mrs. James W. Cone (printed in the August 13 issue).

[21] "Editorial: We Can Differ in Politics," Lutheran Standard (August 27, 1960), 15.

[22] "More on Catholic President," Lutheran Standard (September 24, 1960), 15-16.

[23] "That Religious Issue in the '60 Campaign," Lutheran Standard (October 22, 1960), 10-11.

[24] I was surprised to find that the Lutheran Standard had more commentary on the elections than did The Lutheran. I do not know the reason for this difference. It was interesting to find the following comment in a letter from Dr. Franklin Fry, President of the United Lutheran Church in America. The letter, written on November 21, 1960, to Dr. Daniel L. Seckinger, Jr. in response to his inquiry about the statement from 20 Lutheran theologians (see below), concluded by saying: "Finally I am happy to reassure you that the United Lutheran Church in America no longer expresses a pronounced political attitude in its publication as used to be the case twenty and more years ago." ELCA Archives, Dr. Franklin Fry files.

[25] "Washington, Presidential Race," The Lutheran (January 6, 1960), 15.

[26] "Washington, Kennedy Fights Back," The Lutheran (May 6, 1960), 10. 

[27] See, "Washington, Religion Issue," The Lutheran (September 28, 1960), 11; "Washington, Religion and the Election," The Lutheran (November 2, 1960), 13. 

[28] "Separation of Church and State," The Lutheran Companion (September 7, 1960), 8. 

[29] "Our Mailbag," The Lutheran Companion (October 19, 1960), 2-3; (October 26, 1960), 2-3. The letters titled "Let the Church of Rome Answer" and "Are we Victims of Own Enlightenment?" come from the October 26 issue. 

[30] "Religion and the Election," The Lutheran Companion (November 2, 1960), 5.

[31] "Religion Should Not Be Sole Factor in Present Campaign, Editors Say," Lutheran Standard (October 15, 1960), 4; "Editors Debate Religious Issues," The Lutheran Companion (October 26, 1960), 10; "Neither Presidential Candidate Should Be Favored Editorially, Lutheran Editors Agree," The Lutheran Witness (October 18, 1960), 24.

[32] After the election, the Lutheran Standard carried a two-column story quoting at length from a lecture given by John Bennett arguing that the candidates' efforts to disengage themselves from religious controversy might easily be misinterpreted: "They stated their case in a way which easily leads to the conclusion that religion is a private matter which has no effect, one way or another, on any citizen's opinions or commitments in the sphere of politics." "Churches Do Have a Responsibility in Politics, Says Protestant Leader " (December 17, 1960), 4.

[33] Quoted from Gevik, Dean. "Church Speaks on Presidency," The Lutheran Companion (July 6, 1960), 15-16. The complete report from the Commission is online at under predecessor church documents.

[34] The statement was printed in the Lutheran Standard (May 28, 1960), 5. While the statement offers good advice and does not mention Roman Catholicism explicitly, it does, in interestingly phrased sentences in the second paragraph, imply a certain attitude toward Roman Catholicism when it speaks of "absolute rigidities…in addition to the teachings of Scripture" and compelling members "to its partisan ecclesiastical dictates." In distinguishing between person and public office, the statement fails to qualify its blanket judgment "one cannot allow his personal conscience to determine what official acts he will perform." In certain situations, a person's conscience should impose limits on what the person does in public office; personal conscience should always interact with the responsibilities of public office.  

[35] A document with the same title as that eventually adopted was approved by the Committee on Social Trends, June 29-30, 1959 and recommended for adoption. This document rejected as false four statements: "1A The religious faith of a public officer is irrelevant to the conduct of his office. 1B The religious faith of a public officer is bound to determine the conduct of his public office. 2A The attitude of certain religious groups towards the religious responsibility of public officers in the exercise of their office is such as to justify the exclusion of their members from public office in a free democratic society. 2B The fact that a major religious group has so far never supplied the nation with a person to hold a particular public office should make us support a candidate of that religious persuasion in order to show that we take democracy seriously." (These statements are underlined in the original draft and followed by commentary.) The document continues by arguing that the fitness of a candidate for depends upon many additional qualifications besides religion. The style of this document differs from what was adopted in 1961, but the substance is the same. ELCA Archives, National Lutheran Council, 1959.  

[36]The National Lutheran (March 1961), 20.

[37]The New York Times (November 6, 1960). If the signers had had more time and the opportunity to edit the document together, the phrasing might have been different. As some critics mentioned, the statement only criticizes those who vote against Kennedy because of his religion not those who vote for him because of his religion. The final sentence can be interpreted to imply that religion is a private affair, that presidents should not allow their religious identity to influence their conduct in office. More research needs to be done on how the statement was put together and the reactions to it.   

[38] Detroit Free Press (November 6, 1960). 

[39] "Stand of Lutherans. Synod Head Denies Church Asks Votes for Kennedy," New York Times (November 8, 1960). The synod head referred to was Rev. Dr. John W. Behnken, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, who said the Lutheran theologians "were speaking only for themselves" and that the Lutheran Church "never seeks to persuade her people to vote for any particular candidate." The story also reports that the National Lutheran Council made it clear that it had endorsed no candidate. 

[40] Letter to Rev. Lauri J. Anderson., November 11, 1960. Empire also issued a statement on November 11, "NLC Position Clarified In Connection with Theologians' Statement." ELCA Archives, National Lutheran Council, 1960.

[41] For example, in his reply to Dr. Daniel L. Seckinger, Jr., Dr. Franklin Clark Fry wrote, "I hope you will not be offended if I express astonishment that anyone should think that a release which was plainly marked as coming from twenty theologians could have spoken officially for our church." Letter, November 21, 1960. ELCA Archives.

[42] When The Lutheran carried a three-paragraph story under the title "Theologians' plea backfires," it made special note that "none of [the signers] was pastor of a congregation."

[43] Letter from Lauri J. Anderson, to The Rev. Dr. Norman A. Mentor, President, National Lutheran Council. ELCA Archives, National Lutheran Council, 1960. 

[44] "Excerpts from letters received by the NLC in response to article re 20 theologians."  ELCA Archives, National Lutheran Council, 1960.

[45] Undated letter from Pastor Richard C. Klick to nine signers of the theologians' statement. Several signers responded to Klick and commented that his was the most thoughtful letter they had received.

 ELCA Archives. National Lutheran Council.

[46] Letter from Theodore C. Schlack to Paul Empie, November 10, 1960.  ELCA Archives. National Lutheran Council.

[47] "A Statement from the President," Lutheran Herald (November 22, 1960), 10 "The Church and Political Endorsements. A Statement by the President of the Church," Lutheran Companion (December 14, 1960), 3.

[48] Ibid., "A Statement from the President," 10.

[49] Ibid., ¨The Church and Political Endorsements," 3.

[50] Letter to Dr. Richard Klick, November 15, 1960.  ELCA Archives.

[51] Letter to The Reverend Richard C. Klick, November 23, 1960. ELCA Archives.

[52] November 23, 1960. ELCA Archives.

[53] Ibid., Sittler letter.

[54] Memo, "Reactions to "20 Lutheran Theologians Endorse Kennedy," Martin J. Heinecken and William H. Lazareth, November 21, 1960. ELCA Archives.

[55] Schiotz reports on his conversation with three of the signers from Luther Seminary: "In a causal conversation about ten days ago, the four men had deplored the strong anti-Kennedy activity of some pastors because he is a Roman Catholic. One of the four had pulled from his pocket a statement from a professor in another city and, without noting the endorsement in the statement, the men had agreed that it might be useful if used judiciously. They had no anticipation that the statement was to be released to the press. When they learned that this was being done, they tried to have the statement recalled or their names withdrawn but it was to late for this to be done. On behalf of the Church, I have accepted the regrets that have been expressed by the three professors whom I succeeded in contacting." Ibid., "A Statement from the President," 10.

[56] Letter to The Reverend Richard C. Klick, November 21, 1960, 2. ELCA Archives

[57] Letter to Richard Klick, November 23, 1960, 2. ELCA Archives

[58] Ibid., Memo.

[59] One should remember the practical difficulties of putting a statement together and securing signatures in a short time. "Perhaps if the signers had had an opportunity to edit the text, it might have been possible to compose a clearer and more balanced statement which would have prevented a great deal of the confusion which has since arisen." Heinecken and Lazareth, 1. Sherman also wished some phrasing had been put otherwise. Sherman, Ibid., 1

[60] Heinecken and Lazareth wrote that the statement was limited to full-time teachers of theology "because of their more intimate involvement with the theological questions surrounding the issue of a Catholic running for President." Ibid., 1. One might ask if persons in other disciplines or outside the academy were not also informed about the issues. If they were acting as private citizens, one might ask, why was it a statement only from theologians? Why were all the theologians Lutherans? The answers have to do, I think, with defining the public face of Lutheranism. Although Heinecken and Lazareth as well as Sittler and probably others rejected the notion that they signed as theologians, Enquist's argument that the statement came from theologians as theologians seems to provide an answers to the questions above and raise other ones.        



© November 2007
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 7, Issue 11