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SDA2Catholic: An unforeseen cost of compromise?

I’ve asked our friends over at the Seventh-day Adventist to Roman Catholic blog to provide some Adventist/Catholic insight into the brouhaha over President Barack Obama giving the commencement address at Notre Dame University. After reading Hendrik Hertzberg’s New YorkerComment” on the matter, I invited both Hugo Mendenz and Brandon Ogden to share their thoughts in conversation with the New Yorker article and the state of Adventist/Catholic understanding.


“Vatican decries ‘arrogant’ Obama”, “Bishops criticize Notre Dame”, “Alumni pledge to withhold 14 Million dollars in donations”, these are all recent headlines surrounding the commencement speech to be given by President Obama at Notre Dame University on May 17th, 2009. Why would a popular president giving a commencement speech, at a prestigious university, elicit such strong reactions? It’s because the university happens to be Catholic.

A recent article entitled “College Try” on the New Yorker web site by Hendrik Hertzberg, puts forth the position that the outcry we are witnessing over Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony is primarily due to a widening values schism among Catholics in America. Unfortunately, Mr. Hertzberg is right. For the last several decades the Catholic Church in America, and in most of the Western world, has become a battle ground for traditional beliefs that oppose modern values. Many Christians, especially Catholics, have become like God’s CIA agents; blending into the crowd, becoming indistinguishable from the rest of the population, both in behavior and in social values. A smaller, but outspoken group, hold strongly to the moral values and beliefs historically taught by the Catholic Church.

Some may look at the current coverage of President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame as simply a difference in values between the two groups mentioned above. However, I would like to propose that there is a larger issue here that should catch the attention of all Christians, and even more so, all Adventists. How do we respond to those who are threatening our liberty of conscience and expression of beliefs? Adventism has long been a champion of freedom of conscience, strongly opposing any interference by the government into our personal beliefs and practices. The flashpoint for Adventism has historically been the freedom to worship on Saturday; for Catholics, the current issues we are fighting for surround our teachings on the right to life, such as abortion.

I believe the importance for all Christians in this debate, lies in the fact that the issues could easily be changed and the precedents being set today could adversely affect others in the future. Take for example Obama’s support for overturning the Health Care Provider Conscience Regulation. The effect of changing this would be that doctors or pharmacists who morally object to providing abortions or prescriptions such as the “morning after pill” would be forced to comply or risk losing their jobs and licenses. If the protection of conscientious objection is removed from health care providers, what group could be next? Could the government later decide that, as part of their education reform, children should be required to attend school on the Sabbath, with parents who refuse losing their parental rights? It’s the same concept but with a different target.

Perhaps we might look at the recent repeal of the Mexico City Policy, an act of the current administration, that restored funding (with your taxes) for groups performing abortions outside of America. Could it be that in the future, the precedence will be laid for legislation that will fund, with taxpayer money, an international labor program that requires work on the Sabbath?

Unfortunately, the issue right now is being played out primarily from within the Catholic Church, but the whole world is watching how we are responding internally to these external and internal pressures. Outside of the press, who enjoy a scandal in any organization, very few have taken notice of the ramifications of a less than united front being displayed by the Catholic Church. They see a priest, the president of a Catholic University, “boldly” bucking the establishment of the bishops and hierarchy of the Catholic Church. After all, the majority of the public and even the students at Notre Dame support Obama’s invitation and the bestowal of an honorary degree despite the fact that even a cursory review of his actions since becoming president show him to be not merely indifferent to Catholic teachings, but that he is continuing a long track record of fighting against some of our very core beliefs.

  • Obama has chosen Thomas Perrelli, the lawyer who represented Terri Schiavo’s husband in his efforts to let her die of starvation as the third highest ranking attorney in the Justice Department
  • Has forced taxpayers to fund pro-abortion groups in his decision to overturned the Mexico City Policy, sending parts of $457 million dollars to pro-abortion organizations.
  • He has begun the process of overturning pro-life conscience protections put in place by the former administration to protect medical staff and centers from being forced to perform abortions.
  • Obama has signed an executive order forcing taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research.
  • Reversed an executive order that encouraged more research in ways of obtaining stem cells without harming human life.
  • Signed an executive order establishing an new office in his administration called the “White House Council on Women and Girls”, and has placed Tina Tchen, a well known abortion proponent, as its director.
  • On March 11th 2009, Obama’s administration promoted an unlimited right to abortion at the United Nations meeting.
  • He has committed $50 million for UNFPA, the UN population agency that has supported abortion and works closely with the Chinese population control officials, forcing abortions and involuntary sterilizations.
  • On May 8th, President Obama released his new budget proposal which calls for taxpayer funded abortions and eliminates all funding for abstinence-only education.

While I have used primarily issues surround abortion because they are so readily available, the issue in relation to Notre Dame is not whether one agrees with the policies listed above or not, the problem for us is that to the Catholic Church, the right and dignity of life is a fundamental tenant of our faith and moral teachings. Instead of inviting someone who truly supports life and conscience in alignment with the teachings of the Catholic Church, Notre Dame will be presenting President Obama with an enviable platform to address a star struck student body.

Does it really matter? As a former Adventist I would shudder at the idea of Loma Linda or Andrews University honoring a politician who supports and actively champions a law that would violate Adventists ability to worship on the Sabbath, in fact, I can’t imagine it happening! Fifty years ago a Catholic University would have never issued an invitation to someone so diametrically opposed to our teachings, it wouldn’t have been an issue; fifty years from now, could it be an issue in Adventism? If so, will other Christians stand up with you to present a united front in defense of your long standing beliefs? I hope so!

Mary Ann Glendon, a distinguished Harvard Law Professor, and former US Ambassador, was announced in December 2008, as the recipient of the prestigious Laetere Medal from the University of Notre Dame at this year’s commencement. The Medal is the highest honor given by Notre Dame in recognition of distinguished service to “Church and Society”. Father John Jenkins, the president at the University of Notre Dame, offered her acceptance speech as a consolation to those who were upset that Obama would be speaking. Father Jenkins even commented in some of his talking points that he thought it would be good for President Obama to hear her address to the student body. When she found out that President Obama would also be speaking at the commencement Ambassador Glendon, informed Father Jenkins that she would not accept the medal or speak at the university.

Perhaps it would be better for Father Jenkins to listen to her actions, than for Obama to hear her speech. Hopefully, when our time of choice comes, we will all be as bold as Ambassador Glendon, in standing up for traditional values and justice, even if it’s only as simple as sharing a platform or presenting a united front against those who threaten our freedom of conscience. The first time we are faced with such a choice, it may not directly affect our own lives, but… next time it might.

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