U.S. Sen. John Kerry, just off the airplane from a meeting with Muslim leaders in Dubai, told the students at on Monday that there is more in all religions worldwide that unites rather than divides people of faith.
Kerry, a Democrat, said there are lots of pitfalls to debating faith issues during a presidential year, in a direct reference to the conservative Christian agenda that has dominated the last few Republican presidential primaries.
“The more I learn, the more I know that all religions live by universal values,” Kerry told students who packed the A.J. Gordon Memorial Chapel at the Christian college.
But that does not play well on television or in debates, he said.
Kerry, who lived for several years as a child in Hamilton and Ipswich, was invited to deliver the inaugural address at the college's Richard F. Gross Distinguished Lecture Series.
“I've always wanted to deliver an inaugural address,” the former Democratic nominee for President joked.
Speaking to the students of a college that declares it is a community where “faith in Christ matters,” the four-term senator said he believes that his career and his legislative agenda has been shaped by his Catholic upbringing.
He said the world faces problems of Biblical proportion. Among the most important issue is bringing the world's populations out of poverty. One of out every 16 verses in the Bible, he said, deals with caring for the poor. Yet too many Christians forget that helping the poor was such an important focus of Jesus' message, he said.
He said Christians should be very concerned about environmental abuses. Speaking on a warm afternoon one day before the end of winter, he said there is no question that the Earth is suffering from global warming.
He also said Christians should support universal health care.
“Jesus did not help just the sick who could afford to pay for it,” he said.
'Faith Not Worth Killing For'
Kerry, the decorated Navy veteran who opposed the Vietnam War, quoted St. Augustine in saying that war should never be waged except as a last resort and then with restraint.
“Faith may be worth dying for, but it is not worth killing for,” he said.
He reminded the students that the principal tenet of Christianity is to love their neighbor.
“We are more than the sum of our differences. We have an obligation to treat one another with respect,” he said.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he is hopeful that social media and globalization is forcing tyrannical leaders in many countries to be more accountable. He said he is pleased with the Arab Awakening.
“The days of the despots are numbered,” he said.
He answered several questions sent via Twitter from the audience. Some dealt with foreign issues. Another asked which team he thought would win the NCAA basketball tournament. He predicted that the University of Kentucky would win.
He got his only spontaneous applause from the students when asked about his stance on abortion. He said he believes that life begins at conception, but does not think that anyone has the right to tell a woman she cannot have an abortion.
He said it is clear from medical records that the number of abortions rises when the government tries to suppress them or withdraws financial support for abortion and education about abortions.
When asked for his advice to the students, he urged them to “ask a lot of questions, listen and trust your gut.”