President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame last Sunday stirred the controversy that the press loves. Religion, politics, and pro-life protesters being arrested are ideal for headlines and news footage. But what is the foundational issue here?
On one level, I have to admire the president for not ignoring the proverbial “horse on the table.” When protest erupted in the arena, he was prepared to address the controversy surrounding his visit as a pro-choice president to what is theoretically and historically, at least, a pro-life Catholic university.
But what did he say? In regard to abortion, he offered an olive branch of sorts, citing a toning down of his own campaign’s rhetoric about “right wing ideologues” and spoke of “the possibility of common ground.” He didn’t seem to notice the contradiction in his speech as he later noted in regard to abortion that “…the views of the two camps are irreconcilable…” I couldn’t agree more. When one group believes that life is sacred and worthy of legal protection and the other group believes a woman has a choice to kill her own child in the womb, there is no common ground.
The president referred to two historic events. Last Sunday was the 55th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that abandoned the “separate but equal doctrine” that allowed discrimination based on race. The other reference was to the work of the Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower that ultimately was approved as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
These breakthroughs in civil rights would not have been possible unless the Supreme Court and the Civil Rights Commission and eventually the country came to a consensus about race. This was not finding the common ground between the NAACP and the KKK, where there was none. The common ground had to be the reached that the Declaration of Independence applied equally across the racial divide.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Breakthroughs in civil rights and the election of the first president of African descent was possible, not because of “common ground” between two irreconcilable camps, but through repentance for racism and a long struggle that human worth is not based on race, but on the image of God. Praise God for this breakthrough!
May God have mercy on us that we, including the president, may recognize the same in regard to the youngest and most vulnerable among us, but who are no less persons made in the image of God.