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Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 1, 2007

3.9 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two-term Maryland lieutenant governor Townsend makes a valid point: in America, faith is no longer about community. She longs for the Catholic Church of her youth, that "dealt with issues at the core of the Gospel—suffering, injustice, sickness, and poverty" rather than a Christianity influenced by a crop of preachers who seem to believe that "Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry and cared for the poor just so we don't have to." Addressing a broad range of issues including women, the religious right (and left), the GOP and her own political party, the Democrats, Townsend hopes to appeal to a wide audience, not just a Christian one. Personal anecdotes, including the text of a note from her father, Robert Kennedy, written to her on the morning of her uncle John F. Kennedy's funeral, make this a very personal discussion of faith, religious history and politics. Unfortunately, this doesn't always translate into a cohesive discussion, and the workmanlike style coupled with an doe-eyed earnestness leave the reader wanting. Townsend's call for the disillusioned to stay in church, meet with the priest or minister and help the community comes off more as a catechism than a battle cry. (Mar.)
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Instead of emphasizing the fact that we are all children of God, faith in America now divides communities." So charges Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who offers a faith-based platform for liberals.The right gets religion wrong, and the left doesn't get it at all, theologian Jim Wallis has observed. Townsend is proof to the contrary, a committed Catholic who despairs of the Church's political leanings and who counters with an ethic of service to the poor and powerless. In a neat but too-brief analysis, she contrasts her father's vision with that of Ronald Reagan, and by extension the liberal and conservative views of human nature. Asked by David Frost what people are put on earth for, RFK replied, "If you've made some contribution to someone else, to improve their life, and make their life a little more livable, a little more happy, I think that's what you should be doing." Reagan, by contrast, argued, "Each man must find his own salvation . . . every man to be what God intended him to be." Townsend dismisses the latter view as justification for "an entire multimillion-dollar industry that treats God as little more than a self-help guru who helps you be all you can be," and the notion of compassionate conservatism as "just another way to put the wolf in sheep's clothing." There is an appropriate role for religion and the religious in politics, Townsend argues, one that reconciles the liberating vision of the Founding Fathers with values born of faith, such as those contained in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum; the public, she reckons, is ready for just such a hybrid, even as rightist clergy and politicians have insisted that it's a war of each against all out there, undermining "the sense of national unity and collective responsibility that has mattered so much throughout American history."Watch for elements of Townsend's well-framed argument at the 2008 Democratic Convention. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 1, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0446577154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,626,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This thoughtful, deeply personal book is a reminder that true faith is not blind, nor deaf, nor dumb. Townsend is clearly a person of deep faith. She passionately conveys the essential role religious beliefs have played throughout her life. Yet she seems never to have shyed away from questioning the authority figures who lay claim to defining those beliefs. She thinks, she questions, she challenges. From a child in the classroom to a college student grappling with a friend's abortion to an elected official ridiculed from the pulpit of her own parish church, Townsend makes clear that she respects and values religious institutions but she has never been a passive participant. As a Catholic woman myself, this book resonates with my own experiences and feelings. I think it will do the same for many Christians. We just have to be willing to think, to question and to be challenged to act.
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Format: Hardcover
As Kathleen Kennedy Townsend holds up the mirror with this book, many American Christian denominations won't like what they see. These Christians denominations, the Catholic Church included, are retreating deeper into a quasi-fundamentalism that negates their ability to discourse openly. She regrets that her own Roman Catholic Church has retreated from the openness its 2,400 bishops heralded four decades ago. She is right to do so. The price that church has paid is a vanishing clergy, declining numbers and rising mistrust. Ms. Townsend laments that many Christian denominations today seems less concerned with Good News for the poor than acquiring power to impose their views on one and all.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book so much, I gave copies to as many people as I could, especially the young adults in my family. Kathleen Townsend is clearly a committed believer, whose values have been formed by her Catholic faith, yet she has wonderful, clear insight into the failings, timidity, and missed opportunities of all the Churches and Church leaders in recent years. I wish I could give copies to every Catholic Bishop and Protestant Church leader in the country. Buy it, read it, and then give it to your Pastor!
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Format: Hardcover
In "Failing America's Faithful", RFK's oldest daughter states that the Christian church in the United States, has moved away from its traditional roles of providing charity and promoting social justice. Instead, churches are primarily involved in one or both of the following:

a. Political battles about personal moral issues (sex, abortion, etc.)
b. A type of "individualist" Christianity where participants emphasize their own spiritual growth and needs, and maybe perhaps those of their immediate community, but de-emphasizing, ignoring or even walling themselves off from the issues that affect society at large.

Along with the right-wing evangelicals and the mainstream Protestant denominations, Ms. Kennedy's own Catholic Church is up for criticism too; not only abortion but contraception is banned there, and women are not allowed to be priests. (A whole chapter is devoted to the position of women in the Catholic Church).

The book covers some of the Kennedy family history, including her own childhood experiences, as well as the Church's (both Protestant and Catholic) place in the labor, civil rights, and anti-war movements through the years. But within the past twenty years or so, public Christianity in the United States has largely been co-opted by the Right; the Left is now mostly secular, and often hostile to religion. There is a Religious Left, but it is relatively small and quiet.

According to Kennedy, a true "Christian Nation" would be actively involved in supporting causes such as civil rights, women's rights, welfare for the poor, environmental issues, etc. rather than being involved in moral judgements, supporting "business conservative" concerns such as lower taxes, or promoting individual spiritual comfort.
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful and informative book and agreed with it totally. I too have been saddened as I have come to the realization that our church focus seems to have moved away from the value of putting one's self out there to help others and instead seems to have become the body politic! This book gives clear examples of where the churches have missed out on supporting our most needy and vulnerable members of society while we organize marches and protests against or for political causes. And Ms. Kennedy-Townsend also has some excellent insights on how to change our focus back to one of service and doing for the less fortunate. Being Catholic as well, I particularly found that chapter of interest. But regardless of your personal faith, the message in this book is one we can all do well to remember, that Jesus commanded us to "love one another as I have loved you".

Thank you and kudos to Ms. Kennedy Townsend for writing such a wonderful, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable book, I look forward to the next one!
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Format: Hardcover
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's book serves to emphasize how much the networks and major media missed the big religion story in the 2004 Presidential Election, portraying as they did a battle between a pious Religious Right and an unbelieving Secular Left. Ms Townsend makes the case for a Religious Left that is alive and well, and faithful to the Gospel principle of serving one another. This "decade of faith" is one in which Christians, including Catholics, will either steer themselves toward greater emphasis on Benjamin Franklin's aphorism, "God helps those who help themselves," or reinvest in Jesus' call to "love one another." She urges caution in this era of the country club Christian, where church membership becomes a badge of personal superiority to be lorded over others.

It's easy to see why Republicans would be offended by what she's written, and why conservative reviewers of her book here on Amazon pepper their critique with personal insults toward her. She argues effectively that contemporary conservatives have created a form of Christianity that bears little relationship to traditional Gospel teachings: justifying unilateral war, deconstructing decades of environmental protections in the name of "personal freedom," and restructuring the tax code to favor the most well-to-do. The real courage of the book lies in her suggestion that the Catholic Church leadership is being seduced by the conservative movement to steer Catholics toward beliefs like these and away from the imperatives of Vatican II to work for a more just world.

Coupled with her unique perspective as the oldest daughter of Robert Kennedy and her own accomplishments in American politics, Ms Townsend offers a mixture of anecdotes and scholarship that will leave the reader with a much better understanding of the recent history of American Christianity--and with a sense of concern about its future.
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