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By MICHAEL R. BLOOD
Democratic Sen. John Kerry on Monday urged people of faith to work cooperatively on problems such as poverty, global warming and reducing the number of abortions — "godly tasks" that transcend the nation’s culture wars.
In a speech laced with anecdotes of his own journey of faith, Kerry, a Roman Catholic, told students in a speech at Pepperdine University that "we can take up God’s work as our own.
"Shame on us if we use our faith to divide and alienate people from one another, or if we draft God into partisan service," Kerry said. "As God gives us the ability to see, let us take up the tasks associated with loving our neighbors as ourselves."
Even with the nation riven over reproductive rights, Kerry said a shared goal should be reducing the high number of abortions. The first step, he said, it to accept the responsibility of making abortion rare.
"Even as a supporter of Roe v. Wade, I am compelled to acknowledge that the language both sides use on this subject can be unfortunately misleading and unconstructive. … Everyone is worse off for it," the Massachusetts senator said.
The 2004 Democratic nominee is a potential candidate for the party nod in the next presidential election.
Kerry’s remarks were among his most extensive ever on religion. He alluded to the 2004 election, saying his past reticence to openly discuss his faith allowed others to "draw the caricature for me. I will never let that happen again."
In the election, a national debate over religion and politics was touched off after St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would deny the Eucharist to Kerry, who supports abortion rights.
Anti-abortion advocates pressured more bishops to follow Burke’s lead. Kerry supporters accused Catholic leaders of trying to help re-elect President Bush, a Methodist whose position on abortion is more in line with Catholic teaching.
Exit polls in 2004 showed Kerry losing Protestants by a wide margin; Bush won the backing of six in 10. Among Catholics, Bush also prevailed although narrowly, 52 percent to 47 percent.
Kerry said although he was raised Catholic, it wasn’t until years after the Vietnam War that he came to a deeper understanding about his faith.
"For 12 years I wandered in the wilderness, went through a divorce and struggled with questions about my direction. Then suddenly and movingly, I had a revelation about the connection between the work I was doing as a public servant and my formative teachings. Indeed, the scriptures provided a firmer guide about values applied to life," he said.
Associated Press Writer Will Lester in Washington contributed to this report.