This commencement address was delivered on Monday (May 7) by the Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, to the graduating class of Wesley Theological Seminary. The ceremony took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Full text of the address:

President McAllister-Wilson, Dean Oden, Members of the Board of Governors, Members of the faculty, staff, alumni, friends, parents, and most of all -- the Wesley Theological Seminary graduates of 2012:

I want to thank David for his overly generous introduction, and for his invitation to speak to you on this holy occasion, inside this exquisite house of prayer. Knowing the recent history of the Cathedral, I do want to express one desire. Namely, if at any time during my remarks, the earth should quake, and the sky should fall, and the Cathedral should rain its treasures on this pulpit -- I want to be declared a martyr.

Earlier this year, in downtown Washington, I was invited to lunch with President McAllister-Wilson and several faculty and friends of the seminary. Afterwards, we visited the Mount Vernon Square campus -- the magnificent church, the dormitory, the classrooms, and I heard more about your expanding dreams for yourselves and for your seminary.

It's a high honor to be offering the commencement address to seminarians studying theology here in our capital city, determined to engage the world for Christ and preach the Good News to people hungry for it. I find it especially exhilarating to address a graduating class representing 25 Christian denominations. As Pope John Paul II emphasized in his encyclical Ut unum sint (On Commitment to Ecumenism), we cannot proclaim the love of God in Christ without seeking the unity of all Christians. His message makes me especially grateful and humbled to be here today.

Commencement is always a joyful time, and I find your graduation today especially inspiring. There is no law of motion in the physical universe that guaranteed that you would end up where you are today. More likely, the many demands of life were pushing you in other directions, and you pushed back. Even if the Spirit called you here, the world did not make it easy to arrive.
You fought your way here out of conviction born of faith.

Conviction. It is indispensable to every good deed. It defies the forces of inertia -- the prevailing winds and currents that fight to keep everything the way it is, or worse. Without conviction, there would be no hope.

Conviction, however, is not all good. It can easily be corrupted by pride and greed and lead to hatred and division.

Last year, here in Washington, D.C., our elected officials nearly shut down the government in April, nearly defaulted on the debt in August, nearly shut down the government over disaster relief in September, failed to reach an accord for debt reduction in November, and forced another showdown over the payroll tax in December.

These stalemates proved that our political leaders don't suffer from a lack of conviction. But in many cases, they expressed their conviction as would a bitter couple seeking a divorce, using all manner of coercion to get the best deal -- dismissive of the misery their hatred would create in their own lives, and the injury it would cause in the lives of the children.

Yet, we cannot responsibly blame this on politicians. The hostility they expressed did not originate with them. We in this country are in the midst of a social crisis, a harsh and deepening split between groups that are all too ready to see evil in each other. Each side has never been more eager yet more unable to dominate the other. Both sides call for change, but each believes it's the other side that must change.

We cannot pretend to stand outside this. We are woven into it.

We the People are exhibiting the human tendency that James Madison warned of in 1787, in Federalist No. 10. And I quote: "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points ... have ... divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."

Two hundred and twenty-five years later, we are like actors following the script for creating factions: Develop strong convictions. Group up with like-minded people. Shun the others. Play the victim. Blame the enemy. Stoke grievance. Never compromise.

At a time of expanding diversity of people and moral opinions -- when we need more skill and wisdom in engaging those with other views -- we seem to be less skillful, less wise.

So of all the questions posed in this campaign season -- the most important one is rarely asked. Now, when the country is increasingly diverse, when the number of disputed moral questions is rising, when citizens have deep and opposing passions that neither side will give up for the sake of civility -- Can citizens of the United States learn to express their convictions in more skillful, more respectful ways?

We need an answer.

A country whose citizens treat one another with scorn does not have a bright future.


Many of you chose to come to a seminary in Washington D.C. because you wanted to engage the world, live your faith and learn how it can make an impact.

I believe your faith can have a transforming effect on the world.

Of all the graduates entering the wider world this spring, you here today, more than others, have the responsibility, and the training, and the commitment to address the most urgent, most strategic challenge in the country today -- the challenge of reducing hatred and promoting love.