Personally, I would’ve loved to have any President of the United States speak at my college commencement. At least then I would be able to remember who it was. As it stands now, I have the foggiest idea who spoke at my graduation. But seriously, as a pro-life Protestant who voted for Barack Obama, I’ve tried to steer clear of the current Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy (lest I tick off my outspoken pro-life friends or my outspoken pro-Obama friends).
I’m such a wimp, I know. Call me a bad Christian, but I just don’t have it in me to get that worked up over politics and ideology–and I realize that just by confessing this I’ve probably tainted myself in the eyes of those who see the abortion and embryonic stem cell issues as much more than matters of politics and ideology, and frankly I would agree with them. Nevertheless, I’m not wired to get all red in the face about it (for various reasons). I do, however, pray for the precious lives of the unborn (as well as the born). And I pray that our president will stay true to his pledge to help reduce the need for abortions and that he’ll stay open to hearing the views of “the other side,” as he promised.
As a journalist, it’s interesting to watch the gathering storm form around the University of Notre Dame following its invitation to President Obama. For many Catholics, this has become a deeply personal matter, one which they feel obligated to take a strong stand against. Just witness the news today that Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, a devout Catholic who was to receive a special medal during the Notre Dame commencement ceremony, has now declined Notre Dame’s honor as a protest against President Obama’s pro-choice views. (This commentary at AOL’s new site, Politics Daily, offers an interesting perspective on this latest chapter of the controversy.) For Catholics like Glendon, the integrity of their church is at stake. Still other pro-life folks have seized upon the controversy as a golden opportunity to promote their cause and protest the policies of a pro-choice president. I think it’s good theater but also a healthy outworking of democracy.
I’m reminded of the controversy at Calvin College, back in May 2005, when then-President George W. Bush was invited to participate in the commencement service at that evangelical school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though many welcomed his participation, a vocal movement of staff, students, alumni, and community members were against his coming. They even published two open letters to the president and took out a full-page ad in the local paper to publicly air their disenchantment. In the letters–one from students and alumni, another from faculty and staff–the protesters articulated their grievances, particularly noting President Bush’s launching of an “unjust and unjustified” war, his neglect of the needy and “coddling” of the rich, and his administration’s fostering of “intolerance and divisiveness.” You can read both of the letters here.
Interestingly enough, both the Calvin protest and now the Notre Dame uprising are related to issues of life. For the Notre Dame protesters, opposing Obama means standing up for the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn. For the Calvin protesters, opposing Bush meant standing against war and standing up for social justice and the rights of the underprivileged. Unfortunately, in the heat of protest, it’s often difficult for either side to see what they hold in common, that God calls us to care equally about all issues of life. (Plus, trying to be all diplomatic and conciliatory on these issues gets you branded as a flake and does very little for your fundraising efforts.)
In any event, I envy the students at Notre Dame right now (as I did the Calvin folks back in 2005). What a great educational experience, to be able to observe and participate in this working out of politics, religion, and civic engagement from their front-row position. Wouldn’t you love to be in one of Mark Noll‘s classes about now?