True Believers: What JFK’s Death Did

Kennedy’s death, like the death of Jesus, changed history for the better.

Fifty years have passed since President John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963. He traveled to Dallas to heal a split in the Democratic party and lost his life when he was shot in an open-air limousine. A well-intentioned mission ended in death, and the world changed forever.

The assassination was a hinge in history, on par with Pearl Harbor and 9-11. It pivoted America from the calm of the 1950s to the upheaval of the 1960s.

But terribly shocking tragedies can have unexpectedly good results. Christians understand this, which is why we put crosses in our churches and around our necks. The cross of Jesus Christ is a reminder of a horrible death that had beneficial results.

Now JFK was no Christ-figure — far from it. Christians believe that Jesus was sinless, while JFK had deep personal flaws that undermined his reputation. But his death, like the death of Jesus, changed history for the better.

Initially, reaction to Kennedy’s assassination was nationwide shock and sorrow. Then the American people rallied around his vision of putting a man on the moon by supporting the Apollo program. JFK’s call for civil rights was amplified by his successor Lyndon Johnson, who invoked Kennedy’s memory as he advocated for the Civil Rights Act.

In the end, the death of JFK was not only a tragedy but a catalyst. I believe that it led to advances that might have become bogged down, or not occurred at all, if Kennedy had served two full terms during the chaos and conflict of the 1960s.

Not everyone will agree that good came out of JFK’s assassination, just as there is no unanimity about the value of Christ’s death. To find a benefit in tragedy seems counterintuitive, perhaps even scandalous.

But the followers of Jesus Christ now make up the world’s largest religious group, with more than 2 billion adherents. They accept the tragic death of Jesus as part of their religious history, and understand — in a variety of ways — that the evil that was done to him eventually resulted in great good.

On a practical level, Christians are motivated to fight injustice because it was a completely innocent Jesus who was nailed to a cross with criminals on either side of him. Across the country, for example, people are now working with the Innocence Project to exonerate wrongly convicted individuals.

Religiously-motivated movements can have national implications — as significant as the Civil Rights Act and moon landing that followed Kennedy’s death. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, which allowed victims and perpetrators to speak in public hearings and move toward reconciliation. Such a Christian focus on forgiveness comes from what Jesus said about his killers from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Could such good have been done without a violent death? Perhaps. But the assassination of JFK, like the crucifixion of Jesus, is both a shock and a stimulus. One death motivated the American people to work for progress, while the other continues to inspire Christians to fight injustice and do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The anniversary of JFK’s death is a sign, like a cross in a church. It points us toward the possibility that death is not the end, and that good can come out of evil.

Image courtesy of Cliff.

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  • Rongoklunk

    Much easier to accept that no god exists. If there really was a god up there – watching over us, he could have saved JFK’s life by simply blinking. But as usual god did nothing. That’s all he ever does – nothing. He couldn’t do less if he tried.
    To any intelligent adult, god is just a character of the imagination like Apollo or Jupiter or Baal.
    Humans invented thousands of gods over the eons. It’s what we do. We make-up gods, because it feels so good. It feels so much better than the reality that there’s nobody up there. It gives people hope – which we should have outgrown centuries ago. But we still believe nonsense for no other reason than it feels so good.
    Shame on us.

  • UrbanProgressive

    True believers always find affirmation in the events of history, but sometimes tragedies are just tragedies. The assassination of Lincoln lead to a very contentious reconstruction period which lead to decades of continued injustices against the former slaves and their descendants. Kennedy’s assassination was the first of a series of events that destroyed people’s faith in America as an ideal.

  • Sharkasm

    As Rongoklunk alluded to, it was the Roman Emperor Constantine that built the church / Christ as it is today, and that was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. Why do you think it was the Roman Catholic Church, rather than Christ church. To bad, as religion is the root of most wars, not that the Romans were peace-loving before accepting the worship of Christ rather than Apollo.

  • jyl1st

    This is true. But another way to look at it is what policy actually was stopped cold in its tracks after his death? Answer: Making peace with our enemies (I wonder who spoke about that?), which JFK was actively doing when he was assassinated. The direction of military and intelligence did not change, it was strengthened. So on this important point to people of faith, his death was most certainly not for the better.

  • JAMNEW

    No, shame on you for not being tolerant and open minded enough to think that there is even the slightest possibility that you could be wrong. I believe in God even though there isn’t any scientific evidence of his existence, just as there is no scientific evidence that he doesn’t exist. My belief is based on what I learned, see, hear, and feel in this universe. As you look at the universe and see no evidence of a designer I look and see his fingerprints everywhere. I look at our human body with astonishment at the complexity of systems that allow us to live and breath each day. Our brains, which send out and control millions of electronic signals each minute and move our bodies in a way no computer has been able to fully duplicate. I look at how every natural system in this world runs on a cycle And yet in your intelligence, you think that it all a coincidence, that all the atoms just happened to come together at the same time with no creative force. I don’t look at your non-belief as nonsence or a lack on intelligence, just as something you have every right not to believe in. You should extend that same right to all believers without think less of them.

  • HerrRJason

    The assassination of JFK did not change America for the better even a little bit. In reality, the opposite occurred. JFK did not want a war in Vietnam, but after he was killed the Vietnam War escalated exponentially, which in turn caused much of the upheaval at home. Anti-War protests broke out all across the country in the mid-sixties. Also, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing sharply dividing America even more. Furthermore, after Kennedy’s death American cities began to decline rapidly. Liberal policies have ruined Detroit, Chicago, New York, etc. Factories began to close and move out of the cities. More people are dependent on government than anytime in history. The working class began to move out of the cities, crime skyrocketed, gang violence skyrocked, and the drug trade infiltrated the very fabric of American values and was especially pushed on American cities. Lyndon Johnson broke off all talks with Russia which greatly worsened the Cold War conflict . JFK was trying to create peace with Russia. Nikita Khrushchev cried when he heard JFK was killed. In 1968 MLK and RFK were killed. The list goes on.

  • LongTimeSkinsFan

    Thank you… JAMNEW! Well said…

  • Anneinnj

    No good came out of JFK’s death. His brains were blown out as his wife sat beside him in the car, and then she scrambled to pick up the pieces. It was a horrible act of violence. That’s all. And it was fully human. No god played any kind of role, for good or bad. Until human beings grow up and take responsibility for the violence that we produce, rather than look to some kind of sky god for an explanation or, worse, a divine meaning behind the violence, we are doomed.

  • alank44

    i was 19 when that happened .
    a sad sad day

  • richardnola

    I believe the Innocence Project was created by secular Jews, not Christians.

  • richardnola

    Maybe I should feel ashamed for not finding this sort of theodicy apologetics particularly thoughtful or compelling. But I don’t.

  • JonPJ

    And your God couldn’t cause all these good things to happen any other way because…?