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About That Graduation Speech

  /   Thursday, June 13, 2024   /   Comments(0)

Now that the dust has settled a bit, and Harrison Butker’s graduation speech (full text here) is old news, let’s take a look at it and what some have been taking offense at. The thing that really gets me is that it seems that the vast majority of the people who made comments either act like he should be tarred and feathered or like this was the direct word of God that is above any criticism. Both are way off here, but the former, some of whom have gone so far as to call for his dismissal from the Kansas City Chiefs, are just outrageous. My question is this: Can there be room to recognize the good things he has said even as we acknowledge that the speech was not perfect?

You can probably guess that I have absolutely no sympathy towards those that are all bent out of shape by what he said. Their reactions are just sheer insanity. However, there are still problems with people acting like this was just the ultimate in speeches. One person said on X that making a criticism just because the speech wasn’t perfect would be like petty infighting among Catholics. I have some sympathy for his view, and I agree we should support those who try to proclaim the Catholic faith. However, I also find it imprudent to cling to anything that attempts to defend the faith, especially if there’s something being said that is not correct.

Butker truly did try to convey the importance of family over career. He spoke of the importance of speaking up about and standing up for the faith. He reminded people about the importance of “doing the small things well” and about surrounding yourself with people who share in our Catholic faith to help build us up. We can tell that he took a strong stance just from the sheer number of feathers he ruffled.

A lot of people took offense to his comments about his wife and women as homemakers in general. While his choice of words in saying that his wife’s life “truly started” when she was married and had children was probably not the best, what he said otherwise about both his wife and himself leaning into their vocations and their family was actually very good if properly understood. He specifically mentions that his wife makes sure that he doesn’t let football and his business take him away from his vocation as husband and father.

I saw people online accusing him of relegating women to being considered inferior to men. I’ve long found this thinking to be ridiculous. Is there really anything inferior about spending your life raising souls who will one day spend eternity in Heaven or Hell rather than working for a corporation? Why is the modern workplace considered the ideal place that we need to be? I am all in favor of women having opportunities to work and make money. I am not in favor of treating economic opportunities as the most important ones or as a test of whose life is really fulfilling. Besides, just listen to Butker’s words describing the title of homemaker.

Others took offense because they felt that the life he described was just not possible for them. This is kind of a strange unwritten rule I’ve seen online that says it is not permitted to make a suggestion unless absolutely everyone is able to follow it the exact way you suggest. Look, it’s perfectly fine for someone make a suggestion that may not be possible for everyone. If circumstances don’t allow a family to have a stay at home mom, this doesn’t mean that Butker’s proclamation is wrong. Some women will have reason for working outside the home.

Like I said before, the speech isn’t perfect. Butker spends quite a lot of time talking about lack of leadership in the Catholic Church. I see where he’s coming from because, when I was his age, it was a huge concern of mine. Just go look at my earliest blogs on this site. With that being said, I think he devoted too much of his speech to this, kind of like I devoted too much of my time and energy to it when I was his age. The problems still exist, but we are in an era now where solid Catholic materials are much easier to find than they were back then.

The other major criticism that I have of his speech is that he takes a shot at natural family planning saying “there is nothing natural about Catholic birth control.” This is permitted by the Church, and so I really believe what he said was an error. NFP can definitely be abused, and it would be fine for him to give his opinion that more should consider allowing God to give as many children as he will. However, he needs to state that as his opinion. Natural family planning is permitted by the Church, so he can’t consider it “heterodox teaching.” One could also argue that he over-promoted the Latin Mass, but I don’t think what he said was really wrong.

Then, there were a couple of other things he said that are open to interpretation. So, I’ll share how I interpreted them. He uses the term “stay in your lane.” I took this to be a complaint about a trend we see in the Church that is a kind of “clericalization of the laity and laicization of the clergy.” The former part of this can be seen by the many lay people you have in the sanctuary today, especially the number of lay people distributing the Eucharist. This is really supposed to be the function of a priest or deacon. The former part is a bit more tricky. One example from over a decade ago was when the USCCB had a position on reducing the level of mercury in thermometers. Yes, I really saw that. It’s not a matter of faith, and I don’t think that’s the “lane” of the USCCB.

He also made a controversial comment about Congress passing a law making it illegal to state biblical teaching on who killed Jesus. This was taken by some as at least a potentially anti-Semitic comment. Let me make clear that I am completely opposed to anti-Semitism. While it’s possible that he meant what he said in an anti-Semitic matter, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. That proposed bill he was alluding to could have easily wandered into dangerous territory. Who interprets what is and isn’t anti-Semitism? What is to stop some anti-Christian prosecutor from going after the Gospels? It may not reach that extreme, but these kind of bills are far too open to being interpreted too broadly, and that may be what Butker was getting at.

The world is greatly in need of people who will truly proclaim the Catholic faith and who will not back down. We need these people in all walks of life, whether it’s sports, medicine, show business, manufacturing, retail, or anywhere else. While I do have some genuine concerns about some things he said, I would definitely be more likely to call this a bold proclamation of faith than I would a disaster. Let’s at least give him credit for being willing to say what he believed needed to be said.

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