Members of the press regularly express admiration for President Joe Biden’s privately held Catholic beliefs. Anyone can Google “President Joe Biden’s Faith” and immediately find article after article explaining the nuance and balance of Biden’s faith life and policy life. No less than a New York Times article described him as “the most religiously observant Commander in Chief in half a century” and declared “a different more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.”1
These journalists seem to love how he keeps his private views private, especially as it pertains to abortion. Biden himself said:
With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the Church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others…2
The sentiment seems to be that Biden represents a refreshing change. A truly faithful man at home whose personal beliefs show up in all the right places but are held in check on the most controversial issues for the sake of the republic. But is this as admirable as advertised?
Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, personally opposed slavery characterizing it as evil. Still, he helped negotiate and signed into law the Compromise of 1850 enacting The Fugitive Slave Law. This law required our government to actively work to return any slaves who threw off the bonds of slavery and escaped to free states, states populated with citizens who recognized the evil of what John C. Calhoun dubbed ‘the peculiar institution,’ back into bondage. His personal opposition didn’t impede his cooperation into requiring all states, whether slavery states or free states, to participate in the evil of slavery without consideration of the dictates of the conscience of those who chose to reside in states which rejected slavery.
The point? Voicing personal opposition and privately held beliefs is meaningless when the same person is willing to turn around and support laws that subject human beings to bondage and destruction. Millard Fillmore is not celebrated as a reasonable politician who surpassed his personal views to pursue a public policy which respected the rights of those who believed black slaves were less human than white people. If he is remembered at all it is as the man who signed into law an act of evil which dehumanized a whole category of human beings denying them the right to testify on their own behalf and treating them as property. This in spite of his personally held yet publicly expressed belief that slavery is wrong.
Black men and women held in bondage in slave states were full members of the human family. They ought to have been treated with the same dignity and respect all human beings are owed. If the unborn are full members of the human family, then they also possess intrinsic dignity and are owed basic respect. President Biden’s personal Catholic beliefs are as meaningless as President Fillmore’s personally held views on slavery. He either violates his own conscience to actively pursue policies which dehumanize, or his declarations of private convictions ring hollow. Whichever of those positions is true, the President doesn’t behave admirably on the issue of abortion by stating his personal opposition and statement of faith that life begins at conception while publicly expanding the reach of what are already some of the most liberal and permissive abortion laws in the world. If he is truly convinced life begins at conception, then his actions betray that life unto death. If he is not, then his statement of personal faith that life begins at conception represent the most cynical kind of political rhetoric.
Either way, Biden isn’t being praised for his faith. They are praising him for serving the interest of abortion and keeping his faith to himself. They are praising him for treating his statement of personal faith as, in all practical matters, meaningless.