But he also said that, when it came to abortion, "What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith."
The statements cannot be reconciled. By Kerry's own admission, he seeks to legislate his articles of faith on people on nearly every issue under the sun -- except abortion. Suddenly, on that issue alone, he is an adamantine secularist.
But in recent years, Democratic rhetoric has been changing, for several reasons. One, many voters are put off by such double-talk. Another reason is that many smart liberals have noticed that some religious Americans are more activist on economic and environmental issues but are turned off by what they perceive as pugnacious secularism.
During the last presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton was comfortable speaking the language of the social gospel movement, historically the religious wing of American progressivism. But Obama was even better. Speaking during the campaign at an evangelical church in South Carolina, he said, "I am confident that we can create a kingdom right here on Earth." He supported Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and kept the agency when he took over, albeit with a slight name change. He courted evangelical pastor Rick Warren. His social agenda, went a constant refrain, was deeply informed by the injunction that we "are our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper."
Leaving aside the fact that the Bible nowhere says we should be our brother's keeper (the phrase appears once -- when Cain is trying to dodge a murder rap from God) or my own view that the government should never see itself as a keeper of anyone but incarcerated criminals (my dictionary says keepers are prison guards and zoo wardens), I think Obama's approach is a welcome change of pace.
Politics has always been a contest of values, and religion remains the chief source of those values. Our political discourse has long been cheapened by the canard that only conservatives try to use the state to impose a religiously informed moral vision, while liberals are guided by science, reason and logic as well as some secular conception of decency and compassion. No party has a monopoly on such resources, and it's about time we all recognized that.