The protests over President Bush's upcoming commencement address at St. Vincent College aren't just coming from the current college community at the 161-year-old Benedictine institution. The latest voice raised comes from former college president Maynard Brennan, who would like to be pleased about the first-ever presidential visit to his alma mater, but is distressed that "President Bush and his administration have so often violated Christian, Catholic and Benedictine teaching and tradition."
While so much has been made of President Bush's outward piety over the last few years, few people have really tackled his religiosity. Brennan, a former Benedictine, writing in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contrasts the principles of Christianity with the deeds of the president.
Mr. Bush calls himself a born-again Christian; he quotes the Bible; conservative Christians form his political base. Yet, in Matthew 25 we read that Jesus identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the imprisoned. This gospel further challenges us: If we do not care for the least and the lowest, we cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Has Mr. Bush led us to care for the powerless and the marginalized? The numbers of poor, homeless and imprisoned people in this country continue to rise. The gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially: According to the most recent figures, the top 1 percent of Americans -- whose average income was $1.1 million a year -- received 21.8 percent of the nation's income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 37 million Americans, or 12.6 percent of our population, were living in poverty in 2005. I cannot forget the many pictures of American poor struggling for survival after Katrina. Many continue to suffer so many years later.
It's worth a read. And I also give props to the classiness (and serious Catholicism) of the students who, while likewise not happy with the commencement speaker, have no plans to be rude.
"I do not like the man. I do not like his politics," said George Miller, a 19-year-old freshman studying political science. "But as a Benedictine, I think we should let him come, not based on his merits, but based on ours."
UPDATE: The St. Vincent community has put together a petition to President Bush.