Before I entered seminary, I was a student at the U of M, and my major was political science. I was a part of a campus political group, volunteered in a campaign, and really thought politics would be in my future. In a way, I never shook the political bug. I still follow polls, watch ads, and follow what politicians have had to say. I’m also pretty set in my political views too and have voted the same way since 1996, with the exception of voting for Jesse “The Body” in 1998. (Hey, at least he lowered our license tabs right?).
Depending on who you ask, the most important issues will vary. Indeed, a lot weighs on the mind of a voter. And while there’s no real moral issues over a lot of issues, other matters carry a lot of moral weight. What does a candidate feel on life in the womb? How does he or she feel on immigration? How might the candidate define marriage? What do they believe with respect to being a steward of the earth or on the environment?
It goes without saying that while the Church does not endorse candidates, She does speak out on issues. The Bishops of the United States do have a voters guide called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which doesn’t tell people how to vote but does address what a Catholic should be thinking about when they head to the polls. You can read it all online at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/, but in it here are some key points:
One is that life issues should be a foremost consideration. The bishops state: “The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion. Other direct threats to the sanctity of human life include euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research.” As such, while other issues certainly deserve attention, life issues are paramount. This is because when we are talking about attack on innocent life, it is an intrinsic evil. The bishops go on to say: “all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.”
It goes without saying though sometimes a Catholic will vote for a politician who may be at odds with church teachings on life. Does this constitute sin? The answer is only if the person is voting for the candidate for that reason. From the bishops: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (emphasis added).
Besides life issues, other areas are covered, including marriage. They say that marriage “must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children.” We believe that God ordered marriage between a man and a woman. There’s a reason it takes a man and a woman to have a child. We are not forcing people to live a certain way, but what we are saying what we call marriage is a sacred institution and a society should recognize that.
The bishops also stress that it’s important a Catholic forms their conscience, which is a process:
“First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a
willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgment.” This means we have to carefully look at the position a candidate may hold on an issue and then make a prudent judgment about how we should then vote.
One additional note (well actually two): tolerance and respect are so important, but so too is fortitude and a willingness to engage and argue. It seems we have become more polarized both in politics but also even in the Church. We may have different ideas and viewpoints. As I said, if you were to sit down with me and try to convince me to vote for someone other than who I’m voting for this week, it’s not going to happen. You also could never convince me to wear a Green Bay Packers jersey. That being said, I do not hate people who have different views than I do. One of my closest friends is the polar opposite of me politically, but we maintain a great friendship. And I serve people as a priest from all ends of the political spectrum. However we also cannot be afraid to talk politics or religion. Arguing is what we learn in logic class and is one of the first classes one takes in seminary – how syllogisms can lead to a conclusion. As I’ve said before, I fear we are losing our ability to argue and are more prone to shout or spout off on social media and name-call. Don’t be fearful of talking about your beliefs, in particular how they relate to your faith. Research where candidates stand and what the Church has to say. Read the platform of your preferred political party. Study issues. And engage with others and have discussions. While you might not convince me to change my vote, through arguing I’ll have a better idea of where you are coming from and others will also have more food for thought. We need to do a better job of doing our homework rather than just shouting all the more loudly “I’m right you’re wrong!”
We truly live in a remarkable land, and it’s so easy to take our freedom for granted. Tuesday
gives us a chance to make our opinions heard, so please do vote. No matter who wins on
Tuesday, odds are some of us will be pretty unhappy. Do strive to put away anger on Wednesday morning, and join me in praying for our newly elected leaders.