Mormon Inquiry

I’m not sure what all the Catholic commotion is about concerning this weekend’s visit of President Obama to the campus of Notre Dame to deliver the commencement address to this year’s graduating class. See “Notre Dame president catches heat for Obama invite” or any of a thousand other stories for the details. How could a university and its sponsoring community (the Catholic Church) not be thrilled with the honor of such a visit? What graduate attending this ceremony will not tell kids and grandkids a dozen or more times the story of how President Obama spoke at her graduation ceremony?

Part of the problem is how polarized politics has come to overshadow government. Even the President is now seen more as the partisan leader of his political party rather than as the chief executive of the government or the head of state. Presidents who practice “the permanent campaign” and never transition to governing mode fuel rather than counter this tendency of media and citizenry to view the office through a political lens rather than a patriotic or at least a civic lens. But surely a commencement ceremony, if any, is a forum where politics can be set aside for a day and the focus can be on celebrating the achievements and hopes of the young graduates?

The politicization of everything has infected churches, it seems. Of course I defend the right of churches to speak out on public policy issues (but not endorse candidates). But it is unfortunate if a focus on politics displaces the core religious concerns of a denomination, including the ability to function as a civil institution rather than as an uncivil political group when the occasion calls for it. I think Catholics who object to Obama’s visit have moved in this direction — they are defining this as a political event where the proper institutional position should be to emphasize opposition to Obama’s present abortion policy (or his gut-the-CIA campaign or his de facto nationalization of the auto industry, etc.). I think this is better seen as a civic event, a celebration of sorts, where the proper institutional position should be to welcome the head of state who is visiting to honor the graduates and the university. Politics can wait until next week.

Congratulations, graduates. I hope you treasure the day and do great things in the future. Enter to learn, go forth to serve.

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