As the nation slowly makes its way beyond the scandals of beauty pageant contestants, we find ourselves now engulfed in an even more tense and controversial situation. Namely, the protests against Notre Dame University for asking President Obama to speak at their graduation ceremony. The reason behind the protests? Notre Dame is a Catholic institution, and in theory dedicated to the preservation of life in all its forms, including unborn children. Obama, however, is Pro-choice and does not share the Church’s strong feelings on the abortion issue. Therefore, several students have risen up in protest against the President’s appearance, which is being called a violation of Catholic values.
I’m of two minds about this issue, and no that’s not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign that I refuse to give myself over to limited partisanship. The moment you give yourself so completely to an ideology, liberal or conservative, is the day you’ve stopped thinking.
On the one hand, I am disappointed in Obama’s stance on the abortion issue. As a bishop recently put it, people fought for Obama’s right as an African American to be free and equal in our nation. Now that he is in a position of power, Obama turns his back on the most vulnerable of our society. In many ways, he resembles our founding fathers who yearned for independence…but only if slavery was permitted to continue. Having rights for yourself should not mean denying the rights of others.
Everyone was once a fetus (trust me, it’s science 😉 ) and we are all here because someone made the choiceto give us a chance at life. Ironically, so many who have benefited from that choice now fight to take that same chance at life away from others. Obama is an intelligent man, and I hope someday he is able to reconsider his position on this issue. However, I still respect him as a fellow human being and wish him well. Jesus did not reject those who disagreed with him, quite the contrary (more on that later).
I admire the Notre Dame protesters for speaking their mind even when the law and society are against them. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, it’s rarely a good idea to adopt a “my country, right or wrong” attitude. Sometimes your country is wrong and when that happens, you must speak up. Frankly, it has never been popular to be Catholic in America. Celebrities like to think they’re gutsy for ridiculing the Catholic Church, when in reality, it’s probably the safest, most acceptable thing in the world to do. Interestingly, according to the recent Gallup poll, more and more Americans say they are opposed to abortion. I do believe this is due in part to the brave protestors over the years who dared to spread the word and never give up.
No, America is not perfect. Still, one of the reasons we have to be very proud of our little nation is our emphasis on free speech and civil exchange of ideas. At times we take this privilege for granted, forgetting that so many citizens of the world can only dream of such a right. As I said in my entry regarding the Miss California controversy, we ought to be able to have serious discussions and disagreements in a respectful manner in the spirit of camaraderie, without declaring war on each other. This is a lesson both liberals and conservatives continually need to learn.
I admire liberals for preaching the values of free speech and equality. But sadly this often only seems to apply to those who agree with them. The words “liberal” and “partisan” seem like automatic contradictions, yet ironically they are all too frequently seen keeping company.
By the same token, I admire The Catholic Church for its undeniable dedication to charity and education over the years (I went to Catholic school my whole life and was always taught evolution, thank you 😉 ). However, it often has a somewhat “our way or the highway” attitude which makes it comes across as overly authoritarian and needlessly intimidating (two things you can never accuse Jesus of being 😉 ).
You know what, though? I think Notre Dame’s graduates can learn from both President Obama and the Pro-life protesters. And now I’m going to shock all of you. I honestly appreciate Obama’s agreeing to appear at a prodigious Catholic college like Notre Dame, despite knowing he disagreed with many of its policies. He could have just as easily brushed the invitation off. Instead he chose to realize that Catholics are a part of this nation too, and deserve his respect and support as President of the United States. Just as Jesus befriended the dreaded tax collectors, so should Notre Dame welcome those who respectfully disagree. To do otherwise would indeed be a violation of Catholic values. 😉
By the same token, the Pro-life student protesters have shown that we are a nation that prizes free speech, free thinking and the ability to critique our leaders (civilly of course 🙂 ). Ah protestors, as an early ’90s “Cotton – Fabric of Our Lives” commercial once put it, “With steadfast stares, the people cry, brave future…new world…” 😉
Furthermore, these brave souls are standing up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves. It’s an American tradition, and not something to be discouraged. As long as they conduct themselves in a civilized manner and not give the naysayers a reason to discredit them. Here I’m reminded of the words of another group of young protestors from the 1992 classic Newsies, “If we get violent, it’s only playing into their hands.” 😉
So in conclusion, I hope and pray President Obama and Notre Dame’s Pro-life protesters can find it in themselves to provide a good example for the graduates of 2009 and for all of our nation. New ideas don’t come from stagnation, they come from exchange. We need it now more than ever.