The abortion question has roiled two very different religiously affiliated institutions in recent days. Notre Dame, the venerable Roman Catholic university, stood up to angry demonstrators who wanted the school to withdraw its invitation to President Obama to speak at commencement because he supports abortion rights. Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, removed official sanction from the campus Young Democrats Club because the Democratic Party is pro-choice – and that position conflicts with official Liberty policy.
At issue: how we deal with controversy and conflict in a democratic society. Notre Dame opted for tolerance and respect, although to be honest they hope that their side will come out looking better and having more influence. Liberty, however, stood resolutely by its guns, saying, in effect, you can’t be a standard Democrat (meaning a Democrat who supports reproductive rights) and be in compliance with Liberty’s Christian doctrine. Period. No discussion.
Both situations caused an uproar. While Notre Dame’s response offers some hope for a truce in the culture wars, Liberty’s shows the depth of animosity in some circles toward safe, legal abortion.
At Notre Dame, President Obama addressed the controversy head-on, acknowledging there are “irreconcilable differences” while calling for civility and understanding. Liberty, on the other hand, advised its Young Democrats Club to part from its parent party and affiliate with a Democratic group that opposes abortion rights. The Young Democrats still will not get the official Liberty stamp of approval but perhaps they will be redeemed in some way.
President Obama’s call at Notre Dame – “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.” – is in sharp contrast to Liberty’s narrow attitude. Reducing political discourse to one issue – be it abortion rights, gay rights, global warming, economic security, or anything else – is a disservice to democracy, free thought, and the common good. The intolerance shown by Liberty University is harmful to both religion and politics.