Boehner, Day, and Obama: Contrasting Christian Approaches to Society and Politics

christians boehner obama dayOn May 14, 2011 conservative Republican, Catholic, and Speaker of the House John Boehner received an honorary degree from Catholic University and delivered its commencement speech.  He tried to persuade the graduates of the importance of the values that shaped his own Catholic upbringing.  He summed it up by saying, “So there you have it: humility, patience, and faith—the raw material of hard work and sacrifice.” He also spoke of his prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and added, “Recently, I was asked if there’s a special prayer I say before going into meetings with the president. Well, I always ask God for the courage and wisdom to do his will and not mine. Serving others —that’s not just how I lead in the Congress, it’s how I lead my life.”

Forty years earlier Dorothy Day, who considered herself a Christian anarchist and pacifist—Tolstoy was one of the influences on her—refused from the same university a similar honor as that bestowed on Boehner.  She is now being considered for sainthood by the Vatican. In a letter to the Catholic U. president of April 12, 1971 she indicated her reasons for turning down an honorary degree, as she had from other institutions of higher learning on seven previous occasions. It was mainly because they had ROTC programs and were too closely allied to the federal government, often receiving defense-related grants. She also mentioned that the organization she headed, the Catholic Worker, stood for the poor, many of whom required a type of education not provided for by the colleges and universities of capitalist America.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Although she did not mention it in her letter she and her organization’s paper, The Catholic Worker, had also spoken out against racial and other types of injustices since the paper’s inception in the early 1930s. For decades it’s masthead had contained a picture of Jesus embracing a black worker and a white worker clasping hands; she and the paper had protested the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; and in 1973 she suffered the last of her numerous protest arrests, this time for “unlawful assembly,” in the midst of picketing in behalf of the itinerant Mexican workers of the United Farm Workers led by her friend Cesar Chavez .

Published by the LA Progressive on May 19, 2011
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About Walter G. Moss

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University. His most recent book is An Age of Progress?: Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces (2008). For a list of all his recent books and online publications, including many on Russian history and culture, go here:

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