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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Voting as a Catholic

Voting as a Catholic

          I started this blog back in October.  My goal was to touch on contemporary issues from a Catholic perspective.  Of course I don’t claim any personal authority, but the Faith is the lens through which I approach the topics on this blog.
          Starting a Catholic blog one year before a Presidential election, as the primary season was heating up, it was inevitable that often politics would be the topic of my posts.  Especially with the recent struggles over religious liberty, as well as the raging culture war, Catholics, by virtue of our baptism, are obligated to be involved. 
          This understanding, and the effort many of us make to transform the culture through our participation, faithful both to our country and God’s Church, it can be frustrating to see fellow Catholics who seem to work hard to keep their Faith out of their political lives.  Part of our duty to transform the culture is to address this problem.
          Before reading further, I invite you to click on the link and read, or listen to, Paul Kengor’s commentary, “None So Blind as Catholics who Refuse to See.   
          Dr. Kengor’s commentary could apply to Republicans as well as Democrats, not to mention Libertarians, Greens, or anyone else.  The crux of the problem is when any of us place our allegiance to a political party above the allegiance to the values of our religion.
          Perhaps at one time we felt those two matched up, but maybe we have been blindly voting for a certain political party for years without reevaluating why we are doing it.  We are being challenged to be better Catholics, and better Americans, than that.
          The USCCB has put out a document meant to help, “Faithful Citizenship.”  Some people have criticized the document for being too vague, but a thoughtful approach to it reveals that it really is not.  The Church will never endorse a political party or candidate, even if one would seem obvious.  However, if we put into practice the principles of faithful participation in the voting process, we can be confident that we have voted with a clear conscience.
          Lighthouse Catholic Media has put out a CD explaining the principles as put forth by the bishops entitled, “Voting Guidelines by the USCCB.”
          Again, it does not endorse any candidate or party (it is actually a few years old anyway), but it does help understand the principles we are to employ when we vote.
          First we are reminded that blind allegiance to any political party is not prudent and can be a cause of sin.  There are many issues on which people of Faith can have legitimate disagreements, for example, how to best get the economy working again, how to get government spending under control, what is the best way to achieve the goal of a successful health care system for all people, etc.
          However, there are some issues that are not negotiable because they are intrinsically evil, for example, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc.  We can not support a candidate who supports these things, even if we were to prefer his positions on the other, more debatable issues.  (The CD does address how to prudentially approach a situation in which both candidates are on the wrong side of at least one of these issues, as well.)
          Many people can’t understand this because they will argue that issues such as taxes have moral implications, like abortion does.  However, at what rate to tax people with incomes over $250,000 is a matter of prudence, and people can disagree on what would be best for the economy, or most just.  There is no intrinsic evil involved.  Abortion involves the killing of an innocent person, always morally wrong by its very nature.  Taxes can not legitimately be put on the same level as abortion.  Though we do not vote for a candidate based on one issue, we can and should eliminate a candidate from consideration based on any one of these non-negotiable issues.
          In our discussion with fellow Catholics we can sometimes be frustrated by their unwillingness to see this.  Let me share an experience I had shortly after the 2008 election.
          I was having this very disagreement with a professor of moral theology at a Catholic college.  The college isn’t known for its orthodoxy, but this is a good and learned man.  After a few emails back and forth, he finally conceded that his position was not defensible.  I did not get this concession by appealing to the bishops, but by this argument:
          I knew the professor was pro-life, but also an Obama supporter.  I posed this question to him: “Would you consider voting for a candidate who supported the return of racial segregation?”  Of course he would not, regardless of that person’s position on taxes, health care, welfare, or anything else.  Segregation is intrinsically evil and denies people their basic human dignity.  And yet, as evil as segregation is, it is not as bad as actually taking someone’s life.  None of our Catholic friends would vote for a candidate who supported segregation, based on that one issue alone; therefore, they should also be unable to vote for a candidate who is pro-abortion.
          I bring this story up for one reason.  I am nobody.  I have studied philosophy and theology, but I’m certainly not a doctor of either.  This was an intelligent, learned man (and, as it turned out, humble as well).  We need not be intimidated when talking with our Catholic friends about these issues.  We can speak the truth, logically, and plant a seed.  The Holy Spirit can do the rest.  The biggest challenge is to do this with charity, and without getting angry.
          Another thing we can do is to give people a copy of the CD already mentioned.  Perhaps the pastor at our parish will make them available, or ministry heads will want them for their groups.  This is an easy way to evangelize and affect the culture.  It is also non-threatening, because we will not be telling people who to vote for, just giving them things to think about before they vote, and respecting them to make a decision based on a well-formed conscience.
          To obtain copies of the CD, please click here.  And encourage friends to do the same.