Msgr. Charles Pope: Harrison Butker’s Commencement Address Is a Necessary Part of our National Conversation.

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By Msgr. Charles Pope, May 20, 2024

I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Whoopi Goldberg on a matter of cultural diversity. More on that in a minute. But most all of us have heard of the uproar regarding Harrison Butker’s commencement address at Benedictine College. Of course he also has many supporters, of which I am one.

The negative reaction on the “woke” left is, sadly, more of the same “cancel calls” from those who so often shout, diversity, equity and and Inclusion. As is most often the case, they don’t really mean “DEI” for those who oppose their views. Theirs is a very qualified and limited diversity and inclusion.  It is one thing to oppose what Harrison Butker said, but it is another to demand he be sanctioned, fired, or severely fined. In effect, too many of the “woke” demand that he must not be allowed any access to the public square, the NFL or any public forum; he must be silenced.

Clearly his speech touched on many major “heated” issues such as abortion, euthanasia, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) , surrogacy and the  views of the LGBTQIA+ community. Most notably, according to negative reviews,  there is  his view that women have been ill-served by feminism’s  insistence of careerism over vocation  and that it was understandable that many young women want to embrace being a “homemaker,” mother and wife.  These views are not those that the woke left thinks should be tolerated or accepted as part of a “diverse” and inclusive landscape of ideas. With the very religious fervor they attribute to us, they demand a kind of “excommunication” of Butker, and those of us like him, from the community of “decent, open-minded” people.

Enter into the debate an unlikely opponent of all the demand for inquisition and excommunication. I was quite surprised to hear audio of Whoopi Goldberg, generally no fan of our side of the cultural aisle.  Consider what sounds almost like the voice of reason in her remarks on Harrison Butker.

I like when people say what they need to say. He’s at a Catholic college, he’s a staunch Catholic. These are his beliefs and he’s welcome to them. I don’t have to believe them, I don’t have to accept them, the ladies that were sitting in that audience don’t have to accept them.”

She continued,

“The same way we want respect when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, we want to give respect to people whose ideas are different from ours,  because the man who says he wants to be president, You-Know-Who, he says the way to act is to take away people’s right to say how they feel. We don’t want to be that. We don’t want to be those people.”

Not sure that’s true of Mr. Trump or his followers, but, be that as it may, she expresses what we ought to hear from those who say they champion diversity and inclusion. Too often what we get is a kind of asymmetrical outrage from this group when their own views are challenged and moralistic demands for tolerance when it is about a matter with which they agree. Surely this is a human problem and tendency. But when your foundational platform and premise righteously claims diversity and tolerance for itself, the double-standard is highlighted. Ms. Goldberg is right when she says, “We don’t want to be those people.”

Those of us on the cultural right may be on the “outs” right now, but most of what we say was agreed upon by the vast majority of Americans even ten to twenty years ago. And while it is currently easy in our culture to scoff at us traditional Christians and Catholics, it might be good for the diversity/inclusion community to at least consider that many, if not most of these views emerge from our sincerely held religious  beliefs. Many widely and simplistically ascribe hate to us, along with arrogance. But what if it is humility that bids us to accept what we believe God clearly teaches, even at the cost of ridicule and outrage?

St. Paul summarized the biblical stance of the Christian faithful who often stand athwart the norms of worldly culture:

By open proclamation of the truth, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor 4:2)

So here is our task and witness. Christians, yes, even traditional Catholics, have the same right as any other group to be part of the national conversation. Our goal is to commend the Gospel message, with its entire moral vision to the conscience of every one, with the hope that we can reach some or all.

Harrison Butker and others like him want to see the world through the lens of the gospel. Others, sadly some of them even within the Church, claim our lens is smudged. But time will prove where truth and wisdom lie.

In the more than two millennia of the age of the Church, empire have come and gone, nations have risen and fallen, epochs along with trends and fashionable views, even heresies and schisms have all come and gone. But here we still are, preaching from the same ancient truths of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. We can do no other and stay faithful to what we firmly believe God has revealed.

We cannot compel agreement, and all are free to agree or disagree. But calls to silence our message or cancel our access are un-American and can’t work anyway. Jesus said to the cancel culture leaders of his day who demanded he silence his disciples:

“I say to you that if these could be silenced, the very stones would cry out!” (Lk 19:40).

Yes, the Gospel will go forth. Even if Harrison Butker, or your current writer could be cancelled, there is no chaining of the Gospel (2 Tim 2:9). God loves the world too much to permit total darkness. His truth is marching on, and always.

In the days ahead I hope to make some comments on his remarks on clergy. He’s spot on and we need the kickstart.

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