Anytime I hear critics attack Christians for being weak on social justice issues, equality, and human rights, I think of John Wesley and Jack Kemp. With his death this week, America has lost a man whose faith, life, and career are inextricably linked to the best aspects of our national history and tradition. Jack Kemp’s life illustrates the power of integrity and authentic Christianity.
I first met Jack Kemp in 1970 when my husband and I organized his first campaign event in Buffalo, New York — a reception for about 200-300 potential supporters — when he began his political career with a successful run for Congress. A star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, Jack led the Bills to championships in the American Football League. As a congressman, he represented western New York for nine terms before running for president (against George H.W. Bush in 1988) and vice president of the United States (with Senator Bob Dole eight years later).
Jack and Joanne were very special friends of Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America (CWA), and her husband, Tim, and the LaHayes endorsed his 1988 run for the presidency. Jack was a very popular speaker at several of CWA’s national conventions. His personality, enthusiasm, and energy made him a dynamic speaker; his personal integrity and deep commitment to his faith made him especially effective when speaking to Christian citizens about their responsibility to be involved in shaping national policy. He was especially effective in challenging Christians to become involved in rescuing inner city youth and rebuilding America’s major cities.
Jack Kemp was a unique politician because of his strong voice and consistent expression of Judeo-Christian values, especially the necessity for the “party of Lincoln” to be as open to minorities as the major league ball teams who depended on unity and teamwork for victory. For him, minorities included blacks, Hispanics and those of the Jewish faith (who, in Kemp’s day, tended to be Democratic rather than Republican). He went out of his way to address audiences that were not typically GOP in order to recruit minorities to his party. He also heartily campaigned for those within his party whose views were diametrically opposed to his own. He had a unique ability to be firm in his own views, but respectful of those with different views. He was a master at building coalitions that reached across traditional special interest groups without compromising his conservative political or religious stances.