The Obama/ND “Outrage”

So, if you have any affiliation with Notre Dame, I am sure you have heard the news that President Obama will be delivering the commencement address for the graduating class of 2009.

My initial reaction was one of amazement. How cool must it be to have your last moments as a student at ND be with the President of the United States. And I thought, well, regardless of whether or not you agree with him or voted for him, this is quite a special moment. Seriously, how many Americans can say that they had the President send them off into the real world?

Now before I go on with the “outrage” (and I say that loosely because in my opinion it is bordering on flat-out irrational lunacy), I should at least say where I am coming from in this situation both religiously and politically.

Religiously, no, I am not Catholic, I am Methodist; however, I would be lying if I said that I am a huge fan of abortion. I can’t really align myself with what is currently defined as “pro-life” as I am a supporter of stem cell research and also do not believe the government has any right to deny funding towards something like Planned Parenthood. I am also a supporter of contraception as well. So, yes, my views don’t exactly align with the Catholic Church or most of ND for that matter and I do realize this.

Politically, I voted for Obama. I also voted for Bush. So as you may guess, I do not align myself to any political party. I vote based on who I feel is the best candidate is at the time (for the record, yes I did not think Kerry was a good pick for President over Bush). While I can’t subscribe to everything Obama ran for, I for the most part agreed with his plan for America over McCain’s. I feel he had a better long-term vision for our country regarding the current wars and conflicts we have in the Middle East, energy, and health care to name a few.

The point is, I didn’t dismiss him based on a single belief/political position and quite frankly, “pro-life” is far too narrowly defined. I find that too many politicians in the Republican party hide behind the hot topics of abortion and stem cell research and are able to far too easily secure the “pro-life” vote. All the while, these same politicians (and to be clear, yes, I know not all Republicans are like this) will do very little, if anything, to change the fact that there are millions upon millions of Americans with insufficient health care, including young children. How can allowing this status quo be pro-life? Are the deaths from inadequate care more acceptable? Could it not be possible that through new health care policy an unplanned pregnancy may actually go unterminated because the mother knows that both her and her child will be able to receive sufficient care?

I agree that abortion is an epidemic right now. The problem is that too many people use it as a last resort for birth control; however, trying to deny that issues like health care don’t also have a part in such decisions is quite narrow-minded. Fact is, there are many, many different things that come into play for such a hard decision and failing to address the other issues plaguing our society is not solving anything.

The health care issue is just one of many of such outstanding issues that needs to be addressed in our country and I don’t want to side track this post too far from its original intent. However, I want to make it very clear what my stance is on this and that I think people do not see the bigger picture when the term “pro-life” gets turned around before I go forward.

Now, back your regularly scheduled post.

So, Obama is giving a speech at ND. I expected the rather large “pro-life” contingent at ND to not be too happy with this decision. I get it, it doesn’t align with the Catholic faith, but we can all move on from that right? I mean, Obama isn’t going to go up there and talk about his pro-choice stance in front of the class of 2009. He’s a great speaker, this should all work out well and hey, maybe we even have a forum to possibly engage Obama in the Catholic perspective on such issues.

Not so much.

I figured flipping through today’s Observer Viewpoint would be interesting. I figured there would be some good debates on both sides. I thought back to the days of the Vaginia Monolauges and those debates. Good views for the most part on both sides, good debate, good reading, and in general good thought-provoking material.

I thought wrong.

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to link or quote the following text. I find it that disgusting. However, I feel very strongly that I need to comment on such a radical reaction. With that said, what follows is an excerpt from a letter from a 1988 alum:

I will be in attendance on commencement day with several thousand others to show my distaste for this decision. We will bring with us the graphic photos of what abortion does to its victims so there can be no doubt about the hatefulness of the man chosen to instruct Notre Dame graduates in how to be a success in life. I would suggest that if the administration does not want to suffer the embarrassment of pictures of dismembered children lining Notre Dame Ave. on what should be the happiest day of our newest graduates’ lives, they withdraw this invitation immediately.

I simply cannot believe this man graduated from the same school as I. In his letter he goes on and on about the “hateful” policies of Obama, yet his solution to this issue is to bring “graphic photos of what abortion does” to commencement which is nothing more than a shock tactic. How wonderfully hypocritical. Furthermore, he attempts to hold this over the administration’s head (and also the class of 2009) as if it were a terrorist threat or a ransom note. Never would I think a fellow member of the Notre Dame family would say such words and no less try to get them published.

From a current senior:

In this era of moral relativism when so-called “Catholics” are openly supporting anti-life candidates, why is Notre Dame reinforcing these misguided beliefs. Notre Dame cannot seriously label itself as a Catholic institution any longer if Mr. Obama is allowed to speak at graduation. You cannot be a Catholic and pro-choice, nor can you be a Catholic institution and give honors and awards to pro-choice politicians. Lest you forget, Fr. Jenkins, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops explicitly forbade such invitations in their 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life.” They write, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” It seems pretty clear that Notre Dame, having given Barack Obama 1) an award (an honorary degree), 2) an honor (an invitation to speak at Commencement) and 3) a platform (a captive audience of more than 10,000 people), finds itself turning its back on its Catholic identity. It appears, Fr. Jenkins, that three strikes and he’s out.

Once again, the narrow-minded views above enrage me. You can support a person and not agree 100% with him. As I said before, a candidate that says “Hey, I don’t like abortion or stem cell research, vote for me!” does not automatically deserve your vote or support. Conversely, just because a candidate has a pro-choice stance doesn’t mean you should immediately count him or her out. Furthermore, voting for such a person does not make you pro-choice automatically. Unfortunately, our voting system puts us at the mercy of two major candidates, and these days there will always be one that is pro-life and one that is pro-choice. There is no earthly way that your views, even Catholic views, will always match up with the pro-life candidate across the board.

As far as the Bishops’ edict, let’s apply this same standard in the above letter to another former speaker from ND: Geroge W. Bush. He was given the same three things as Obama and he supported the torture/continual holding of prisoners of war in Guantanamo Bay without giving them trail. That does not fall in line with Catholic faith, period. Therefore, ND should now go back and revoke his honorary degree and publicly apologize to the Catholic community for allowing such a man to have spoken at the University.

I sure hope you think that sounds ridiculous because I do too.

This standard from the Catholic Conference of Bishops is unrealistic. I am fairly positive I can find something quite against Catholic fundamental teachings from damn near any politician that has spoken at ND. The only reason this is being brought up for Obama is because of his pro-choice beliefs. Had McCain won the election and was invited to speak at ND, I guarantee this edict would not be brought up, even though he would have likely still allowed places like Gitmo to remain open. It is a horrible double standard that people are subscribing to.

If we extend this “logic” even further, I too also go against several fundamental moral principles of the Catholic faith as I defined earlier in this post. I too have been given an award by ND (my diploma) and an honor by being able to attend ND. Guess ND royally screwed up there!

And now, I’m going to do something really crazy right now and quote something else that I do believe the Catholics hold as a fundamental moral guideline: The Bible.

3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8: 3-7)

1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15: 1-7)

Now, I do not believe ND would ever take the stance that they are above the teachings of Jesus and I fail to see how their current actions are not unlike that of Christ. Despite Obama flying in the face of Catholic teachings, he is being invited in just as Jesus did with the sinners of his time. Who are we to deny Obama the chance to speak to the class of 2009 simply because of his pro-choice stance? Would this not be a perfect opprotunity for influencial members of the ND family like Fr. Jenkins and Fr. Hesburgh to engage the President in pro-life issues?

Why are certain members of the Notre Dame family not taking a step back to realize these things? Can positives not come from this situation?

I hardly think any rational human being is looking at Obama’s speech as ND’s endorsement of his pro-choice beliefs. That is way at the very start, I called this an “outrage” because it really has no merit. This is a huge honor and a historical moment. Obama is speaking at only one other non-service academy school. This is nothing short of an absolutely amazing chance the class of 2009 has and people are choosing to see it as a tragedy.

As much as I strongly disagreed with Bush’s politics, especially at the end of his tenure, I was still insanely jealous of my friends in the class of 2008 at Texas A&M that were able to attend Bush’s commencement speech during their winter graduation ceremonies. Politics and my personal feelings aside, I know that things like that are once-in-a-lifetime opprotunities and would feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it.

To those “outraged” by this, I encourage you to take a step back. For those in the class of 2009, you are a part of history — you may not agree with the man, but this is a special moment that very few people will ever experience. To those outside the class of 2009, I implore you to continue fighting for your beliefs, but to respect this moment for the class of 2009. There are many that are extermely happy about this and to spit on their moment in the sun is simply not a very Christian action no matter how you slice it. You will have your forums to voice your opinions, commencement day should not be one of those times.

To close, I will quote current ND senior Mark Weber whom sums up my thoughts best I believe (I encourage you to read his whole letter in the Viewpoint — by far the best in today’s selection):

It is our responsibility, not our Commencement speaker’s, to continue to cultivate our Catholic identity and apply it beyond graduation. The role of a Commencement speaker is to welcome college graduates into the real world, arm them with knowledge of complex and evolving issues, and inspire them to be passionate and influential citizens of a global community. I simply cannot think of anyone more qualified to do these things than the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama.

Thus, to my fellow pro-lifers: let us battle the president on each and every issue pertinent to life, but let us not undermine our intelligence and our patriotism by forsaking other important issues in the reckless pursuit of one. The world will not stop turning for the abortion issue to be resolved. We as Catholics are therefore called to be dynamic citizens who take a multi-dimensional approach to making our world a better place; this means listening and learning from influential world leaders such as Barack Obama. To disinvite the President of the United States based on a single issue, even one as important as abortion, would be a disgrace both to our Catholic identity and to this great Catholic University.

Very well said Mr. Weber and I couldn’t agree more. I surely hope the rest of the Notre Dame family will heed your words.

  • Ida Know

    This was a great post , Ryan.

    Collective egos such as churches, political parties or even student bodies are dangerous and contageous. There's an old saying everyone needs to remember: Live and let live.

    If someone cannot look outside of themselves, their belief systems or any other part of their self-righteous, "we're better than you" mentality, then they don't deserve to be addressed by a President, Fryar or sinner. The sharing of ideas and ideals will be lost on that type of audience because it is not in line with 'their' beliefs.

    Shame on those who want Obama removed as speaker. Shame on those who are so hard-lined in ANY issue that they'll resort to terrorist-like tactics to force-feed their causes to others, and shame on people who cannot think for themselves.

    – Rob Phillips / Free-thinker.