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Posted by on May 18, 2009

We Are the Only Christians: Choice, Democracy, and Obama at Notre Dame

America Magazine, published by the Jesuits, has an interesting editorial on the controversy about pro-choice President Obama speaking at Notre Dame University’s commencement yesterday and receiving an honorary degree.

Another Catholic publication ( in the hands of lay people – no less) Commonweal has a more focused pro-Obama position in a post on its blog by Paul Moses.

The issue according to these statements is the relationship of the Church as an organization, the faithful as a social movement, and the Government.

America’s editorial quotes St. Augustine in his criticism of the Donatists in his native North Africa and their refusal to have anything to do with the Imperial government. Donatism had other positions as well such as their rejection of Christians who had defected under persecution. “They believed that the church should be a community of saints not sinners.”

Even in the 4th century and earlier the politics of church and state caused a lot of controversy. Today at Notre Dame, President Obama like all of his predecessors holds some positions that do not agree with official Church teaching. George W. Bush invaded Iraq contrary to Pope John Paul II’s opposition to the policy of pre-emptive war.

The American bishops have championed a “seamless garment” pro-life agenda that opposes abortion and capital punishment. The bishops also advocate one primary solution which is legislation to once again make abortion illegal. The split in the Catholic community is over tactics. Many do not feel that re-criminalizing abortion will actually solve anything since it will only drive the practice underground.

In the 20th century there has been an attempt by Christians – in particular Catholics in the pews – to accommodate to a secular ethic of government. (Divorce, homosexuality, and birth control are now sanctioned by secular government even though these practices are contrary to traditional Christian teaching.) The broader issue is how does one advance a Christian agenda for social relations while supporting the secular ethic of not forcing one’s belief on another. In the abortion issue there is also the question over the best tactics for discouraging this and other activities that are not pro-life.

President Obama’s talk yesterday at Notre Dame proposes a pragmatic solution of providing incentives and support services for mothers to choose to deliver their unborn children. This seems to be the most effective approach to build a national policy of compassion and support for families and children. If our goal is to significantly reduce abortions this is probably a better tactic to implement such a Christian and humanitarian vision.

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