Sunday, April 13, 2008

Conservative Catholic Leader Testifies to Obama's Faith

Doug Kmiec: Barack Obama - Man of Faith
By Doug Kmiec
Catholic Online

One of the roles I promised to play in endorsing Senator Obama was to be a faithful witness to life. I am resolute in this.

MALIBU, CA (Catholic Online) - More and more, Barack Obama is demonstrating that he is a man of faith.

The nation will have another special opportunity to see this on Sunday in an important forum at Messiah College.

It was also evident today in the Senator's announcement that he had formed a Catholic Advisory Council from among his Democratic supporters to assist him especially in addressing sensitive religious issues as they arise and the remaining months of the Democratic primary.

Of course, I am especially pleased to see two prominent pro-life Democrats, Bob Casey and Tim Roemer in the leadership of this council.

Since endorsing Senator Obama it has been my pleasure to deal with the young men and women who on a day-to-day basis are considering the implications of various public policies upon the people of many faith beliefs in America.

One thing that is abundantly clear is that faith is not a side issue for the Senator either in his personal life or in his campaign.

In the forum this Sunday to be broadcast on CNN, religious leaders from across the ideological spectrum will participate. Both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton will be there. Unfortunately, Senator McCain has thus far declined the invitation, which is still open.

What the public will see on Sunday is a sincere religious commitment that Senator Obama did not invent for success in the Pennsylvania primary. Indeed, it was Senator Obama's thoughtful public remarks about faith during his U.S. Senate campaign that first attracted me to him.

Just the other day the Senator was in my old hometown of South Bend Indiana, where indeed, I first got to know the friendly and astute Tim Roemer when he was but a student at Notre Dame.With a PhD, distinguished Congressional career, and service on the 9/11 commission, Tim is a genuine voice of Catholic reason and compassion.

Not surprisingly, Senator Obama teasingly played with the audience’s “go Irish” sensibilities, but there was no mistaking how much Senator Obama respected this flagship Catholic University that has contributed so much to the American Catholic Church.

Of course, in speaking near the golden dome, the Senator was only a short distance away from where the light of faith first opened in his heart when he recognized that while he could engage in community organizing for the poor, without faith he would always remain “apart and alone.”

The Holy Father will be arriving next week in America and while he appropriately will not be meeting with any of the presidential candidates, there is little question in my mind but that he would affirm Senator Obama’s thoughtful challenges to secularism and those who would urge that religion be banished from the public square.

In his speeches, it's not surprising to see references to the Lincoln and Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass, but Senator Obama regularly touches the Catholic soul as well by showing a genuine knowledge of the work of Dorothy Day. In this, Senator tells his audiences that it is an “absurdity” to insist that morality be kept separate from public policy.

Don't misunderstand me. Senator Obama is not the equivalent of a televangelist, nor should he be. Having urged his liberal colleagues to see how much of American life is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Senator Obama makes a request of conservatives like myself — namely, that we try to fully understand the liberal perspective on the separation of church and state.

Not the infamous “wall of separation” that bizarrely mandates affirmative secularity disguised as neutrality, but the perspective, according to Obama, that separation more readily protects church from state than the opposite.

This sentiment, unlike the exclusionary view invented by the late Justice Hugo Black in the late 1940s, is as old and wise as Alexis de Tocqueville, who cautioned churches against aligning too closely with the state for fear of sacrificing “the future for the present.” “By gaining a power to which it has no claim,” Tocqueville observed, “[the church] risks its legitimate authority.”

There is nothing in that assessment of church-state separation objectionable to conservatives. Indeed, as I've written before, Obama’s thoughts could have been seamlessly added to Romney’s “Faith in America” speech without changing its meaning. And Senator, if you're reading this, don't be afraid to say so in your forum on Sunday, even as that name Romney might be jarring to some of the older partisans in the crowd.

Senator Obama's approach to faith is strong, but it is not exclusionary. He genuinely seeks to have his efforts bridge the religious and ideological divides on issues ranging from abortion to the importance of the American family to health care that respects the objections of conscientious religious believers to AIDS, climate change, and human rights.

The Compassion Forum will provide the opportunity for him to discuss how his faith and moral convictions bear on their positions on these important issues.

This is especially important for me on matters of life, which is one of the reasons why you will not see my name on his Catholic Council just yet. In the last few weeks, even the unflappable Obama in discussing abortion made a misstep -- seemingly referring to an unwanted pregnancy is a situation in which a young woman would be “punished by a baby.”

I've taken issue with this with his advisers. One of the roles I promised to play in endorsing Senator Obama was to be a faithful witness to life. I am resolute in this.

While I'm very encouraged by the presence of Tim Roemer and Bob Casey on his primary election team of Democratic Catholic advisors, as we move toward the general election I would hope that Senator Obama would take the wise counsel of evangelical Democrats such as Amy Sullivan and come out strongly for policies that would reduce the number of abortions -- support for adoption, pregnant women, abstinence education, and the responsible promotion of birth control.

An organization called Democrats for Life has proposed the creation of a "95-10 Initiative" in which states and the federal government would work toward the reduction of abortion rates by 95 percent within 10 years. That would be a unifying national goal, and one worthy of Senator Obama.

I may be wrong, but I sense the Senator is quite open to the possibility, and since I've been asked many times by my fellow Catholics to explain what I believe the essence of Senator Obama's position on life to be, let me summarize it in the following points:

1. First, I am confident that he understands this about human life: it is a gift of unparalleled significance, for which we can never fully thank our parents and our God.

2. Second, he acknowledges that all of us should want young people to approach sexual intimacy with responsibility and with reverence. As a father of two daughters, he says he views this as his responsibility to convey to his daughters and for his daughters to observe.

3. Third, he candidly admits what we all know, parenting is a blessing, but no easy task. Nevertheless, Senator Obama believes that we need in our homes, our schools, and our churches to convey that children raising children is a recipe for cultural disaster.

4. Fourth, I'm convinced the Senator Obama sees the most important witnesses for life as those witnesses who speak from the heart and speak honestly -- that is, fully and responsibly -- about abstinence, and in an age-appropriate way, about all responsible forms of contraception.

5. Fifth, and he and I are in disagreement about this, but he makes a plausible case that there's been too much focus on the law. People always want to talk about Roe v. Wade. Doesn’t this take our eye off the ball? Maybe, if the ball or objective is a happy, healthy, loving family. Supreme Court rulings whether you agree with them or not are not really what determines that outcome.

6. Sixth, the way Senator Obama sees it the Supreme Court has said it’s not the law's place to get between a woman and her doctor. In his public discussion he has also added importantly -- her clergyman. And in this, I believe he recognizes that the Supreme Court doesn't say abortion is moral or good or the prescription for happiness.

7. Seventh, more than many of us, Senator Obama has a capacity for empathy. He deeply feels that how one views abortion is a judgment that needs to be informed by faith and by love and by the economic and social reality facing the woman.

8. Eighth, I get the sense that he knows his words fell well short of the mark when in the midst of a much longer and thoughtful answer, he said he wouldn't want a daughter "punished with a baby."

What was he trying to convey?

Most certainly, not that human life or an innocent was a punishment. Rather, that it punishes a young woman not to give her good counsel about the significance of sexual intimacy, including contraceptive information.

As a Catholic, I see artificial contraception as the destroyer of the unitive and procreative nature of the human person. I cannot claim to have had the opportunity to conduct a long seminar on Humane Vitae with the Obama campaign.

If I were part of the forum on Sunday I might bring it up. But implicit in the word “punishment” was indeed Senator Obama’s grasp that welcoming a baby into one’s home when one is mature enough to be a parent is one of the most precious memories in life, and we should ensure that no child of ours by lack of information about responsible sexual behavior – be it anchored in abstinence or prevention – ends up being deprived of that moment, or, if you will, punished by ignorance.

9. Ninth, I believe Senator Obama as President will support every effort to make sure that these life-changing decisions are made not by politicians or judges, but by the prospective mother in the context of those who know her and care about her.

10. Tenth- and I am very confident of this: Senator Obama believes that the best way to honor life is not by endlessly playing the politics of division over the Supreme Court, but by honoring life in what we teach and what we do in our own families. I have shared with him the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that we should be careful never wish to "portray the greatest of gifts – a child – as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience."

I would be surprised if those words do not resonate with him and inspire him to reaffirm his intent as President to work toward a socially just economy so that no mother in America would ever feel forced to view a child in that way.

Of course, in matters of faith, we must remember that “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.”

But as the Catholic bishops have instructed us voters should not use a candidate’s opposition to abortion “to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” — such as, say, the invasion of a foreign nation leading to the sacrifice of the lives of our own troops and of thousands of others.

So how will Senator Obama bridge these gaps that have been called by others a “clash of absolutes”?

The forum on Sunday will give us more of his thinking, but this much is already apparent: Senator Obama is a realist, and he urges us to be as well -- not in the sense of sacrificing principle in the life we lead, but in the sense of understanding that in our common life in community, there is a distinction between the uncompromising commitments that religion calls us to make and the public policy that we can realistically expect.

This is a dose of political pragmatism, and reasonable on virtually any issue not involving a grave moral evil. It’s not an easy answer. But frankly, that’s a problem not just for Obama, but for all of us.

As he writes, “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

To his credit, Obama neither offers up a glib, unsatisfying solution nor reverts to the standard liberal line that objective moral values have no place in the public discussion. Our problems are not mere technical dilemmas. “They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.”

If we can put aside the divisions that old-time partisans have stoked for so long to our disadvantage, more people might see abortion as a product of societal indifference and individual callousness: the former exemplified by economic conditions ranging from inadequate wages to evictions traceable to the subprime fraud; the latter typified by a self-centeredness that sees children as competitors or enemies to personal fulfillment.

A person who understands the significance of faith as well as Senator Obama does is likely to have a better chance of understanding and addressing both causes. Why? Because when the seemingly insoluble intrudes upon life as it inevitably does, the religious person has the humility to pray.

In earlier forums, Obama has concluded his own religious reflections with a prayer for his country. What is this prayer that he says regularly: simply, that despite our profound disagreements, “we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all.”

Not surprisingly, Senator Obama has been guided by this prayer in structuring the forum on Sunday. Senator Obama's advisers stressed that the forum was a conversation, not a debate.

It is a conversation long overdue and much welcome, and whether Senator Obama succeeds in his quest for the presidency are not -- and I hope he does -- this conversation in itself will be a lasting reminder of how a man of integrity and faith has helped all of us focus on the things that really matter.

Doug Kmiec is the Chair and Professor of constitutional law, Pepperdine University; former Dean and St. Thomas More Professor of law at The Catholic University of America; and former constitutional counsel to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush


Milehimama said...

6. Sixth, the way Senator Obama sees it the Supreme Court has said it’s not the law's place to get between a woman and her doctor.

Notably absent is the thought that Obama cares for the babies. He doesn't want the Supreme Court or legislators to prevent their death, at the hands of their own mothers and doctors, under any circumstances.

Betty said...

Notably absent with McCain as well.