Newspaper Articles

Charleston Daily Mail
April 20, 1960

Church People in State Taking Kennedy Candidacy Calmly

Area Pastors See Religion Exaggerated

By Charlie Connor, Of The Daily Mail Staff

The religious issue need not become a dominant one in West Virginia's presidential primary election May 10. But it easily can - and probably will.

One group of clergymen representing various Protestant denominations told the Daily Mail today that, let alone, their members will make up their minds between Sen. John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey on the basis of their ability, not their religion.

They say they will not discuss the question of Sen. Kennedy's Catholicism from their pulpits.

Another group says they cannot help but mention the religious issue in their sermons because Kennedy himself is bringing it up every day.

All agree that it doesn't lok [sic] like the issue will be left alone.

A district superintendent of the Methodist Church, the state's largest Protestant denomination, said he had heard "not a ripple" of discussion about the religious question in his churches.

"And I'm in a different church every night and every Sunday," said the Rev. Charles Ross Culpepper of Charleston.

Mr. Culpepper oversees 100 churches in the local Methodist district. They have 21,000 members. Statewide, the Methodists have 11 districts with 202,000 members.

Mr. Culpepper said he met Saturday all day with the 10 other Methodist district superintendents "and Kennedy's Catholicism was not mentioned."

"Not a single preacher has asked me, 'what are we going to do about this issue?'" Mr. Culpepper said. "Although I see the issue raised in the press and by the candidates themselves, I do not find church people, as a group, discussing it.

"My notion is that it is being blown up as a trial balloon in West Virginia, sent up by one political camp or another to see how far tolerance has spread since Al Smith ran in '28. There is no doubt that when Smith ran, there was a great deal of prejudice and intolerance.

But World War II, with the great intermixing of GI's who had chaplains of various faiths, did much to cut across these lines. I'm a third generation preacher myself. I know in my grandfather's day, preachers spent more time fighting other churches than fighting for their faith. Times have changed.

"Sure, in those areas where emotions rule, you'll find steam and fire. But looking at state Christians as a mass, I think you'll find tolerance and understanding.

"However, if they keep on whipping this thing, keep on sending up their trial balloons, keep on pounding the issue home, I'm not saying sides won't be taken.

Presbyterian View

From the Presbyterian viewpoint, an expression of opinion came from a South Carolina native with the name of Kennedy, but no relation to the Senator.

The Rev. James R. Kennedy of Village Chapel Presbyterian Church in Kanawha City said bluntly:

"I'm not going to raise the issue in my pulpit. I hate to see it done in any pulpit. That is a matter for the individual member. I attended our quarterly meeting of Kanawha Presbytery yesterday and this issue was not mentioned."

(Kanawha Presbytery has approximately 60 churches representing 20,000 members. A minister and a lay member of each Presbyterian church in its area attend Presbytery meetings.)

From a Baptist viewpoint, the Rev. H. Lloyd Parkinson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Charleston, said he would rather not take issues in the pulpit if he could help it.

"But with Mr. Kennedy bringing it up every day, it may become necessary to tell our people about it from the pulpit. I believe Sen. Kennedy has a right to be a Catholic and, as a Baptist, I'll protect that right.

"However, since the Catholic church is not for the separation of church and state and not for public schools as we know them in America, I think it would be unwise to elect a Roman Catholic to the office of president."

Myerscough Differs

A note of disagreement came from another Baptist, the Rev. Oscar E. Myerscough of Baptist Temple, Charleston, who said "a man should be judged on the record and his character rather than on his religious beliefs."

He said that he felt the Baptist churches as a group would leave the question up to the individual.

"I do not intend to speak on this issue from my pulpit," he said.

The Rev. Hinery C. Rice, Jr., minister of the Fifth Avenue Church of God in South Charleston, said he rarely mentions politics from his pulpit, but that he had in Kennedy's case and probably would again before the election.

From a prepared statement, he said:

"I think there are many Christians in the Catholic church. I think Mr. Kennedy is a brilliant man and have nothing against him. I am against the central authority of the Catholic church that harnesses the mind and spirit. I felt honestly that a Roman Catholic president would be the first nail in the coffin of something we dearly love, the separation of church and state.

"I have visited most of the European countries and noted particularly the countries that are predominately Roman Catholic where multitudes of people are in ignorance and poverty. As for the people I represent, they'll vote the way they choose because they're Americans."

Nazarene Stand Given

The district superintendent of the Nazarene Church, which has 19,000 members in 120 churches, said his church would not enter "noisily into a lot of public controversy."

The Rev. H. Harvey Hendershot said he personally did not think the religious issue could be eliminated, however, and that the Nazarene church press would "acquaint our people with our stand on it."

Reading from the "Herald of Holiness," official Nazarene publication for West Virginia, Hendershot said that stand could be summed up in this observation:

"Every Protestant can pray without prejudice and rancor that the time will never come, in 1960, 1964 or 1968, that a man can 'count his beads in the White House,' not because there's an objection on how a man prays, but because a rosary is a symbolic chain binding every true Catholic to Rome's purposes, to Rome's pressures, and to Rome's infallible pope . . ."

The Rev. Hobson Fisher, executive director of Mountain Mission on the West Side, said he would not mention this issue from his church pulpit or during his radio ministry. He conducts five 15-minute religious programs Monday through Friday and a 30-minute program on Sunday, in addition to his church program.

"We're taught religious freedom in our schools and my people will make their own decisions in accordance with this teaching," he said.

The Rev. E. G. Hissom of Hissom Holiness Tabernacle said he was opposed to a Catholic becoming president of the United State.

"I oppose Mr. Kennedy as president," he said "I have mentioned this from my pulpit and may do so again. This is my personal feeling on the matter. To date, no official policy has been set by my church, although the matter has been discussed."

Kennedy Bewails Lack of Proper Food For Needy

By Herb Little

Fayetteville (AP) - Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass) criticized today what he said was the Eisenhower administration's failure to make more and better surplus foods available to the needy in this country.

Kennedy talked on this subject on a presidential primary campaign swing through an unemployment-plagued southern West Virginia coal mining area. Thousands in the section are subsisting on government-issued surplus foods.

Kennedy and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn) are running in the May 10 West Virginia Democratic primary as presidential candidates. It is a popularity primary which will not tie up any convention delegates. Humphrey is not in the state this week.

Speaks in Street

The first stop of the Kennedy campaign bus after setting out from Beckley this morning was at Mount Hope (pop. 2,500). He made a speech there standing on the hood of an automobile on the main street.

He said 4 million Americans depend on surplus foods distributed by the Department of Agriculture, adding:

"But what kind of food it is? Flour, rice and corn meal-Sometimes some butter, cheese and dry skimmed milk- and more flour, rice and corn meal.

"Perhaps they'll soon be receiving lard-sometimes there is a small amount of dry egg solid or dried beans - but it is mostly flour, rice and corn meal.

"That diet is not the basis of a decent existence."

Kennedy said such fare as beef, chickens, turkeys and ducks has been sent abroad in recent years under the overseas surplus food disposal program administered by Agriculture Sec. Ezra Taft Benson.

The Department of Agriculture has not "expected our friends overseas to get by on such a subsistence diet" as is provided in this country, Kennedy said.

Today's tour took Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, into the most overwhelmingly protestant section of West Virginia.

Over-all, Catholics are about 5 per cent of the state's population. But Raleigh County, where Beckley is located, is only 1 per cent Catholic.

The first three stops of the day - at Mount Hope, Oak Hill (pop. 6,000), and Fayetteville (pop. 2,500_ - were in a county, Fayette, which is about 3 per cent Catholic.

TV Up In Air

Television station WSAZ at Huntington announced both candidates had agreed to appear on an hour-long show on election eve - May 9, although a spokesman for Kennedy said no firm commitment had been made for that date.

It also was left up in the air whether the May 9 appearance - if it went on - would be a direct debate of a question-and-answer session.

At least one spokesman in the Kennedy party said privately it would be absurd for the two to wait until May 9, the night before the election, for a full-dress debate. Kennedy himself was non-commital.

So the situation remains - both say they're willing to debate from the same platform, but where and when remains far up in the air.

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