Protestant fears over Catholic Jack Kennedy winning the 1960 presidential election

Romanism in the Light of Scripture
By J. Dwight Pentecost
Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2014, 145 pages

When John F. Kennedy formally announced his candidacy for the office of President of the United States in January, 1960, Protestant ministers across the nation were greatly alarmed. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and it was generally accepted that Catholics in this country placed their loyalty to the pope in Rome above their loyalty to the American Constitution. Protestant pastors warned their congregations not to vote for Kennedy and a number of books and pamphlets were published to that effect.

This book, first published in 1962 by Moody Press, collects a number of sermons from J. Dwight Pentecost (d. 2014, photo right) that warned of the ascendency of Catholicism in American politics and government. Pentecost was pastor of Grace Bible Church in Dallas, Texas from 1958 to 1976 and also a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1955 to 2014.

Chapters include:

  1. Is Rome a church or a state?
  2. Is Mary the Mother of God?
  3. Is Mary Co-Remptrix?
  4. Was Peter the first pope?
  5. Is salvation by works or by faith?
  6. Is there a purgatory?
  7. What if the Vatican controls the White House?

Chapters 2-6, which focus on theology, provide excellent comparisons of Roman Catholic doctrines with Biblical Christianity that are still valid today. Most important is chapter 5, which compares Rome’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit with the Biblical Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Man-pleasing, doctrine-lite, ecumenical evangelicals would like to smooth over or dismiss the unbridgeable theological differences with Rome and Roman Catholics in defiance of Scripture and the Lord.

Chapters 1 and 7 provide great insight into the thinking of Protestant pastors at the time of Kennedy’s candidacy and presidency. Pre-Vatican II Catholicism was decidedly much more militant than the version we see today. Popes and prelates had repeatedly declared (and demonstrated throughout Catholic Europe and Latin America) that civil governments were subservient to the Vatican and that the Catholic church had the god-given right to suppress all “heretical” Protestant churches. A few bold American Catholic churchmen parroted these prerogatives even up to the time of the 1960 presidential election. Incredulous? Pentecost quotes several Catholic sources. Is it any wonder that Protestants feared the ascendency of Catholics in American government?

All of this worry seems quaintly paranoid from our vantage point. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) radically changed the Catholic church’s approach to Protestantism, from confrontation to ecumenism. Catholicism’s political power in America also began to wane in the 1960s in conjunction with the rising religious indifference of its membership.* Candidate Jack Kennedy met with Protestant ministers of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960 in order to quell concerns regarding accusations of his divided loyalties. See the transcript of his speech here. Kennedy reassured his audience of his adherence to the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and that the pope would have absolutely no influence on his politics. Of course, we now know that worries about Kennedy were needless. Kennedy was MUCH more focused on procuring female companionship for himself whenever his wife, Jackie, was absent from the White House than he was in seeking policy advice from Francis Cardinal Spellman.

I enjoyed this short book for its solid theological content and also for its window into an era when ecumenism with Rome was anathema to American Protestant leaders. Order the Kindle version from Amazon here. My, how things have changed in only sixty years! These days, a segment of evangelical leaders trip over each other in their rush to betray the Gospel of grace and embrace Catholicism and the pope.

*An example of a contemporary Catholic politician is New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who unabashedly cohabitates with his girlfriend in the governor’s mansion and strongly endorses “reproductive freedom,” i.e., abortion.

6 thoughts on “Protestant fears over Catholic Jack Kennedy winning the 1960 presidential election

    1. Thanks. I’ve read several books published at the time which warned of Kennedy’s election because of his Catholicism. I have to give pope John XXIII credit. It was a demonic masterstroke for Rome to change its modus operandi from militant confrontation to ecumenism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes I hear younger Evangelicals talk about the prejudice of older Protestantism against Catholicism…but if we are to be truthful a Romanist view of church and state must be considered as you pointed out and that it wan’t naked and pure prejudice without any grounds for concern for JFK…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When this book was written in 1962, Protestants were still being persecuted in Catholic-controlled countries in Europe (e.g., Portugal and Spain) and in Latin America. The quotes that Pentecost provides from American Catholic contemporaries reserve the ultimate right of the Vatican to force its will upon all nations including the suppression of Protestants. This relatively recent history has been suppressed. That’s right, any negative criticism of Rome is not tolerated by today’s tolerant evangelicals. I encounter this in our church small group. The comments my wife and I make about Catholicism are not well received.

        Liked by 1 person

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