John F. Kerry used a Baptist pulpit Sunday to speak of eternal life and denounce President Bush, as Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton joined him for a home-stretch push to energize African American Floridians who felt disenfranchised in 2000.
Kerry, who has been reticent about his faith but plans to talk of it more, tried to reach socially conservative blacks put off by his support for civil unions for gay couples by warning against those "who try to divert and push some hot button that has nothing to do with the quality of your life."
"Never again will a million African Americans be denied the right to exercise their vote," he said.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who has battled apathy about his presidential candidacy in the black community, prayed, tapped along to rollicking gospel tunes and held up a pocket Bible in a church where he was repeatedly called "the next president" and even "president."
"We are taught to walk by faith, not by sight," he said, drawing shouted responses of "Amen!" and "Teach it!" Kerry went on to speak of "the great gap today in America," and to quote from the New Testament book of James that "faith without works is dead."
"When I look around me in this country, I see a whole bunch of people who talk about faith, I see a whole bunch of people who put it out there, but I see an awful lot of deeds undone, I see a lot of work to be done in this country," he said. Without specifically mentioning Bush, Kerry said he thinks of "these folks from Jeremiah who, we are reminded, they have eyes but they don't see and they have ears but they don't hear."
The senator reminded viewers during Friday's debate that he is Catholic and was an altar boy and said that "religion has been a huge part of my life."
Some bishops have said they would deny him the sacrament of Holy Communion because of his support for abortion rights, which is contrary to Catholic teaching. Kerry began his Sunday by attending a Catholic Mass in a Haitian area of North Miami, where he received Communion.
Later Kerry told parishioners at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami's Liberty City that he was "not here to preach," but an enthusiastic congregant shouted, "You are preaching!" Kerry told of the teacher who asked Jesus "what do I have do to gain eternal life?"
"I can tell you, it's in Luke 10," Kerry said, referring to the commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Kerry became more explicitly political, and the congregation roared its approval. "In the 1990s under Bill Clinton, we lifted more people out poverty," he said. "This president has taken that $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into the biggest deficits in American history. . . . These folks want to take Americans backward and cut overtime pay. Not in my America. . . . These people talk about values?"
Congregants waved fans emblazoned "People of Faith for Kerry-Edwards." Kerry smiled after former U.S. representative Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) said he is "fighting against liars and demons."
Kerry, who has compared Bush to those in the Bible story who ignored the wounded man before the Good Samaritan helped him, joked about the risk of being upstaged by Jackson and Sharpton. He said he didn't mind because "God's speaking here today, and we're going to listen."
The minister, the Rev. Gaston E. Smith, endorsed Kerry, saying, "To bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry."