Obama Welcomes the Pope but Not the Pope’s Core Beliefs about Life and Liberty

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on September 24, 2015

President Obama’s remarks upon greeting the Pope at the White House generally were lovely. There was also, within them, a great deal of moral irony.

Consider the following excerpts:

From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as President, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.

True. And historically, the Catholic Church has also been one of the nation’s foremost leaders in helping families adopt children. Sadly, in Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, Catholic adoption agencies have been closed. Likely these are only the first such closures in an era in which agencies are being compelled to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. As reported by Our Sunday Visitor, “When religious organizations work for the common good — the welfare of children — and accept taxpayer money from state and local governments, the attached obligation is to treat all comers equally. For Catholic organizations to comply is to violate Church doctrine.”

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the ‘least of these’ at the center of our concerns. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity, because we are all made in the image of God.

True again, Mr. President. But what about the unborn? What about those more than one million little ones who, every year, are destroyed at the dawn of life? What about their mothers, so many of whom are victims of a predatory abortion industry? What about the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, an organization now exposed as one that customizes abortions so as to best harvest the babies’ organs for sale?

Do the unborn have no dignity? Are they not the least of “the least of these,” the most defenseless and weakest and most vulnerable? Are they not made in God’s image? The president rightly asserts that “every human being” is made in that image, based on the first chapter of Genesis. I would direct him to Psalm 139, where the image of God is seen as stamped upon those the psalmist describes as being woven in their mothers’ wombs.

President Obama continued:

You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely. (Applause.) Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty. It was the basis for so much of what brought us together. And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty, but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith. Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship. The faithful are imprisoned, and churches are destroyed. So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.

While it is gratifying that the president mentioned the persecuted church, his rhetoric about international religious liberty is incommensurate with his policies here at home. “Live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.” Really? Why, then, have so many Americans been legally penalized or threatened with court action for trying to “live out their faith” consistently and graciously?

What about Hobby Lobby, which the Obama Administration sought to compel to offer potentially abortion-causing drugs? Although vindicated by the Supreme Court, Mr. Obama is now taking a back-door route to try to get Hobby Lobby to provide such drugs to their employees.

And demanding that the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, also provide contraceptives – really, Mr. President? As a panel of five judges with the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said earlier this month, “When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

Religious liberty is more than “gathering at a place of worship.” And “living out one’s faith” is more than attending a service or reading the Bible in one’s home. For Christians, it means following the commands of God graciously but uncompromisingly at all times and in all spheres of activity.

On the international religious liberty front, Mr. Obama has shown an at-best tepid commitment to defending the persecuted. Whether in his refusal to address issues of Christian persecution in the Middle East, or in his hesitancy to declare the Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria a terrorist organization despite its manifest brutality, the President seems uninterested in taking a strong public stance against one of the greatest foreign policy issues of our time: the widespread and growing persecution of Christians worldwide.

In sum, it is odd the president goes out of his way to generously welcome Pope Francis when the president’s policies with respect to abortion, same-sex marriage, religious liberty and even the imposition of transgenderism in the military run so gratingly counter to the teachings of the church that the Pope represents.

I write all of the above as an evangelical Protestant, a man of the Reformation, who appreciates the Catholic Church’s commitment to the issues just discussed. It is my hope that the pope will raise all of them with his White House host.

However thick the gloss Mr. Obama seeks to place over the profound, unchanging differences between his priorities and the convictions of the church whose leader he has welcomed, the underlying reality remains clear. No ceremony and no elegant words can obscure it.

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