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The Crux

The Problem with Harrison Butker's Graduation Speech Is Not What You Think

The controversy is about all the wrong things

Unless you've been sleeping for the past couple of weeks, you've likely heard a thunder of protest against a commencement speech made by Catholic placekicker Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs. He delivered his address to graduates of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, a Catholic school.

from The National Catholic Register courtesy Benedictine College

Immediately upon completion of his speech, the voices of rage and ruin in American culture rose to a fevered pitch. "How dare he!" they cried. "Why, the nerve!" they shouted. And what was it that raised the ire of the cultural elite? None other than the usual fanfare of progressive talking points:

  • It was misogynistic

  • It was racist

  • He condemned a woman's right to abort her baby

  • And he referred to Taylor Swift as his "teammate's girlfriend" (Gasp!)

I'm going to pause right here and say I've read the speech. I didn't listen to it. Before there was a lot of brouhaha about it, I couldn't have cared less what he said. But I have noticed that much of the criticism of Butker has little to do with his career or politics and more to do with his opinions about what it means to be a Catholic. Much of it is coming from non-Catholics.

Since I'm not a Catholic, why should I care?

I care because the Catholic church is a part of the church that Jesus Christ built, but Butker treated it as if it was THE church that Christ built, and he made some rather interesting statements about what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century.

The Real Problem with Butker's Speech

Before I go on, I'd like to point out that liberal celebrities Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Maher have stated that they fully support Butker's right to free speech, even if they disagree with what he said. I also want to point out that this would have been the response of any liberal before the Feminist Brigade and the LGBTQ apparatchiks took it over. Liberalism used to be all about free speech.

I, too, believe in free speech, even if I disagree with what is being said. In Butker's case, I think he made some rather awkward statements about what it means to be a person of faith in America.

I'll say here, as well, before moving on, that I am not a Christian who believes that Catholics aren't real Christians. I disagree with much of what the Catholic church teaches, but a person can belong to a church whose doctrines are disagreeable and remain a Christian. We could say the same thing about virtually every Evangelical in America. But this is a digression. Let's get down to brass tacks.

A Christian is a Christian by Any Name

I want to separate Butker's political statements from his statements about the church and what it means to be a person of faith. This is important because I don't believe a person's faith should be judged by their political opinions. I do believe, however, that if a statement is true about what it means to be a good Catholic, then it's also true about what it means to be a good Christian regardless of denomination. And that's where I draw a line on much of Butker's speech.

In his speech, Butker made this statement:

As members of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, it is our duty and ultimately privilege to be authentically and unapologetically Catholic.

I'm not certain I understand what Butker meant by that, but I am certain that to be Catholic should not any different than to be a Christian faithful to any other persuasion. A true Christian—whether Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, or otherwise—should understand that Christ is all. He is the reason any of us have faith and our faith should be entirely focused on Him. If it is placed in an institution, then it is misplaced.

Christianity is About Christ, Not Any Particular Church's Teachings

In the next paragraph, Butker let this little gem slip:

Our Catholic faith has always been countercultural. Our Lord, along with countless followers, were all put to death for their adherence to her teachings.

I agree that the Christian religion has always been, and always will be, countercultural. However, the countercultural aspect of the faith is not a political position as it is often presented. It is countercultural in its practice due to the values that Christ brings into our consciences. But let's be clear that Jesus Christ was not put to death for His adherence to the church's teachings. After all, He was the Teacher. Rather, He was put to death for claiming to be the Jewish Messiah, and every martyr in history was put to death for believing Him in His claim. It is that claim that separates the faithful Christian from everyone else.

What's So Wrong With Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

In the next sentence, Butker drops this political bomb:

The world around us says that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves whenever they go against the tyranny of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Like Butker, I don't believe Christians should be silent when it comes to matters of justice and peace. However, it has always been a tenet of the faith to be obedient and respectful to civil authority so long as that authority does not violate the commands of the all-righteous God. While many progressives can be over-the-top in their insistence on conforming to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is nothing inherently anti-Christian or unGodly about those values. What's wrong with expecting people of all races, religions, nationalities, etc. to be treated equally under the law? In practice, Christians in the workplace should support diversity, equity, and inclusion so long as it doesn't force faith-based institutions to violate their bylaws and principles (and when that happens, it is an exception, not a norm). Most Christians who work in corporations, governments, and other human-centered institutions do so by the laws that make such institutions possible. We should live by the laws of the land insofar as they do not violate the laws of God.

Christ's Church is a Priesthood of Believers

Another point I'd like to make is that Butker seems confused about the nature of the church itself, and it's a common confusion. Not just among Catholics but among all Christians. What I'm alluding to is the commonplace idea that there is some kind of division between the priesthood and the laity.

To be clear, there is no such division. The Apostle Peter spoke of the priesthood of all believers and the early church practiced it. It wasn't until the end of the second century that the clergy-laity divide began to show itself. That division was formalized by the end of the third century and sanctioned by the Catholic Church upon its organization. The Protestant Reformation never corrected that problem and now thousands of denominations practice a hierarchical division that our Lord never endorsed, embraced, nor taught.

Butker, however, does endorse this division in several ways throughout his speech. Here are a few ways he misguidedly endorses a bad ecclesiology:

  • He draws a parallel between parish priests and lay people with the father-son relationship in speaking to the practice of lay people helping parish priests solve personal problems;

  • He criticizes priests for becoming "overly familiar" with parishioners;

  • He cautions lay people against studying theology contrary to the Apostle Luke's praise toward the Bereans for doing so.

I readily admit that Butker said some decent things in his speech, and I agree with some of those things. He is a man who loves his family and prioritizes his roles as father and husband. Those are commendable virtues, both as a Christian and as a member of society. However, the idea of a dividing line between lay members of the church and the priesthood is a manmade division that ought not to exist.

Christians Live for Christ, not For the World

The watching world will continue to criticize Christians for what we believe and what we stand for, and they will continue to condemn us for not buying into their value system. For recognizing that and standing against that, I give Butker an A+ for the ideas he expressed in his speech. On the other hand, we do not live for the world. We live for Christ. To be a strong witness for the Lord in these "post-God" times, as Butker put it, we must know who He is and what He stands for. That is not a Catholic problem; it is a Christian one.

I hope that the young men and women Butker addressed earlier this month embrace the Christ of history rather than place their hopes in a historical institution painted by the hands of man.

Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.

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