I am beginning to wonder if principles still have a place in a post-modern world. I am also starting to feel somewhat like a dinosaur for believing that principles should always take precedent over the prestige of a national platform. That should be especially true if the platform is attached to the largest and most revered Catholic University in America.
But on May 17th, Notre Dame will join the ranks of those with stars in their eyes and a lack of starch in their resolve. They will allow President Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion rights President in our nation’s history, to address their graduating class. His place of honor will be a moment of dishonor for devout Catholics around the world who believe that life begins at conception and should therefore be proclaimed by the Church and protected by law.
Opinions on Obama’s visit are split between those who believe he deserves to speak because he holds the office of president and those who believe he should be disqualified because he holds no respect for the sanctity of life. So far, at least 60 Catholic bishops have publicly denounced the visit and at least 354,000 people have signed various petitions expressing their outrage. Bishop John D’Arcy, the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, issued a statement describing his thoughts about Obama’s role in the sanctity of life debate. “While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”
But not everyone agrees that President Obama should not be allowed to speak. In fact, the consensus on campus seems to be that any president should be welcomed at Notre Dame. The Observer, the Notre Dame campus newspaper reported receiving 313 letters from alumni and 299 letters from students. Seventy percent of the alumni letters strongly disagreed with Obama’s visit while Seventy-three percent of students supported the scheduled appearance. Thomas Heitker, freshman biology major, expressed the personal conflict between principles and prestige saying, “We can’t just forgive his viewpoints, we can’t just let it go without expressing out thoughts on it. But he’s only speaking at three universities this year and to be one of out so many is something we should be proud of.” Clearly for Heitker, the prestige that comes with a presidential visit trumps the viewpoints that defy forgiveness.
Of course, it should be noted that President Obama has not asked for forgiveness over his views on abortion. After declaring during the Saddleback debate that the ultimate question of when life beings was “above his pay grade,” President Obama must have received a substantial pay raise shortly after his inauguration. He moved swiftly and confidently to send American tax dollars around the world to pay for abortions and he seemed to be very sure that life is expendable when he sentenced countless human embryos to be sacrificed on the alter of questionable science.
Perhaps the most bizarre twist to this already twisted tail comes with the realization that Notre Dame, in inviting President Obama to speak and award him an honorary degree, is violating a 2004 directive issued by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. The directive reads: “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.” Notre Dame’s action of ignoring the Bishops directive sets up a collision of ideology and theology between Catholic religious leaders and the educators who are supposed to support and teach Catholic doctrine. Trading the defense of Catholic Church teaching for a personal audience with the most powerful political leader in the world will leave the Catholic Church with little or no moral authority.
In Haggai’s day, God condemned the children of Israel for “living in paneled houses while the house of God remains a ruin.” How much more will God condemn those who live in the false security that comes with the prestige of this world while the truth of His Word is set aside? Perhaps those who believe Notre Dame should turn a blind eye to President Obama’s views on abortion should consider the question of Amos who asked, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Or maybe they would be swayed by the words of Paul who said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” Surely they would resonate with the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
First, Georgetown University agrees to cover the symbol of Jesus at the request of the Obama Administration and now Notre Dame agrees to honor Obama by giving him a platform of plausibility in the eyes of the world. It appears that at least among Catholic educators, the precepts and principles of God’s Word are taking a back seat to the prestige of the office of President of the United States.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.