Saturday, July 04, 2009

Review - "Failing America's Faithful"

Title: Failing America's Faithful - How today's churches are mixing God with Politics and Losing their way.
Author: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Publisher: NY: Warner Books, 2007 (206pp)

Townsend is the niece of the late US President John F Kennedy. In a way, this book is a small biography of her life. This book appears like another of those calls for churches to keep their hands off politics. In that sense, the title is needlessly provocative, and can become an innocent missile waiting to be hurled at the much criticized conservative-Right in America. One could not be more wrong. The author instead is calling for the Christian public, both Catholics and Protestants, both evangelical left and right, both churches and governments to be more outward-looking than inward. One ought to build up more social capital rather than personal wealth.


  • Written with the Christian in mind, Townsend seeks to remind them to return to their roots of faith exhibited by outward care for socially needy, the poor, the marginalized among us.

  • Her message is consistent that regardless of our different religious affiliations, our call to love God and neighbor remains the same;
  • An inward ‘spiritual awakening’ is needed for outward transformation
  • God’s Church is a ‘welcoming one’ and not a ‘rejecting one.’ (34)
  • Catholics need to be reminded of their tradition and rich history of social justice and affirmative actions;
  • Protestants need to practice greater inclusivity, to learn from the ways of Martin Luther King Jr (civil rights advocate); Rick Warren (PEACE movement); Puritans (pay attention to needy); Jonathan Edwards (equality for all; and preaching hope of heaven);
  • Being a ‘Christian nation’ essentially means having BOTH charitable ‘hearts’ as well as ‘hands’, not simply ‘voting Republican.’


  • The title can mislead. Her main message is not for the Church to disengage from politics totally, but to re-engage in a more constructive manner.
  • Her claims of politicians putting sexuality and reproduction at the forefront seem to let the press off the hook (26-27).
  • Her concluding chapter contains many good ideas. However, there is a sense that many of those point to ‘charitable heads,’ without a proportional treatment of how to cultivate ‘charitable hearts.’
  • Her accusation of the Catholic Church’s patriarchal mindset appears one-sided.
  • Only toward the end did she admit that the primary audience she had was Christians. Perhaps, this should be mentioned earlier in the book.

In conclusion, I believe the book augers well to irritate comfortable hearts of Christians living a life of plenty, of power and of possessions. The only way to appreciate the charitable actions mentioned in her final chapter is for each reader to first experience a ‘spiritual awakening’ of their own. That, can only be done by the Holy Spirit, which is why I appreciate her ending the book with a prayer. Kudos to Townsend for a great first book of hers!


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