big day in South Bend

President Obama spoke at Notre Dame’s commencement today. If you’ve watched the news or driven down Angela Blvd past the protestors this week, you know that the occasion has been met with resistance from a vocal segment of the pro-life camp. The national media has feasted on the controversy, too (now there’s a surprise).

I wasn’t sure how to feel about all of this. I’m strongly opposed to abortion, and I have a high regard for authority in any venue, such as the authority of the Vatican to prohibit Catholic institutions from honoring political leaders who are on the record as pro-choice. At the same time, the ND seniors were being treated to a rare opportunity hearing President Obama speak. Moreover, I’m certain that some of the extreme measures undertaken by pro-life protestors (i.e. subjecting the residents of South Bend to graphic pics of aborted fetuses by flying them over the city and plastering them on billboard trucks driving through town) have done more harm than good.

But after watching Father Jenkins, ND’s president, and President Obama at the commencement, I’m not so ambiguous about where I stand. Neither man tiptoed around the conflict between ND’s positions and the president’s. But they both argued for and demonstrated a way of honoring the people with whom we disagree. We need more of that.

At one point President Jenkins noted that everyone’s freaking out about pro-life ND inviting pro-choice Obama, but no one is talking about that fact that Obama actually accepted the invitation. Christians have this adage: love the sinner, hate the sin. But let’s be honest. We SUCK at living out that ideal. We sense the risk of being misinterpreted as ‘soft’ on sin, and so we turn our backs on the chances the world offers us to sit at a common table. We’re afraid they might say nasty things about us, calling us drunkard or glutton or friend of sinners. Instead, I think we ought to seize those moments like Father Jenkins did.

If you get the chance, you should catch Jenkins’ speech. (If you find the transcript anywhere online, leave the link in the comments and I’ll post it.) It was the best part of the afternoon. I think it offered real guidance for anyone serious about imitating the example of Jesus in a world that largely respects Him more than it does His followers. Perhaps Christians would be less inclined to capitulate to unBiblical policy stances if there were more leaders demonstrating a way of holding to God’s Word that upholds one of its central teachings: love your enemies.

Thanks, Notre Dame. Today made me incredibly proud to be joining you for grad school in a month.