Monday, October 10, 2016

Faith and Politics: Things Catholics Forget in 2016

Samuel and DavidBut the Lord said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance.
The Lord looks into the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)



Recent videos emerged showing the ugly personal behavior of one of the Presidential candidates. It disgusted some Catholics enough to disavow support for him. Others insist that the issues at stake outweigh these concerns. Unfortunately, these two factions have appealed to Church teaching to justify their concerns and denounce the other side as neglecting crucial issues. I’m not interested in commenting on this video or taking sides in the counter-accusations. What I am interested in doing is discussing some points where some in these factions have lost sight of what it means to be Catholic in these elections.

Never Do Evil So Good May Come of It

The first thing we must remember is we may never do evil so good may come of it. This is not a relativistic thing where we say, “X doesn’t bother me, so it’s ok.” This is about obeying the teachings of the Church. When the Church says we must never do X, we must never do X. What’s forgotten during this election is the fact that we must never do what our conscience condemns as evil. Yes, conscience can err (see Gaudium et spes #16), and if we do not bother to look to see whether we’re right or wrong, we will have to answer for it. But if we do strive to form our conscience to the best of our ability, and that conscience forbids a vote for a candidate, then to vote for that candidate is choosing an evil means to achieve a good end.

If another Catholic believes this person has not properly formed their conscience and are behaving scrupulously, they can discuss the issue with charity, seeking to clarify the desired good and the concerns about voting for a candidate. But it is unjust (not to mention a logical fallacy) to accuse someone of supporting Candidate Y simply because he cannot vote for Candidate X in good conscience.

Consider the Witness Before Unbelievers When Voting and Defending Candidates 

The second thing I think we should consider is the issues of witness and scandal. As Christians, we are supposed to give witness with our lives, showing what we believe. If we insist that others obey Catholic teaching, we should obey it ourselves. So, if we speak against sexual immorality (for example) in a candidate we despise, we cannot condone it in a candidate we support. Otherwise, this leads unbelievers to think we are hypocrites who preach, but don’t practice. So, when we vote or when we defend a candidate, we have to consider whether our vote or support witnesses to our faith or whether our actions become a case of “Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.” (Romans 2:24)

Let’s be clear, however. I’m not talking about watering down the message of our Faith to make it palatable to unbelievers. I’m talking about showing them we are willing to follow what we believe regardless of whether it benefits us or leads us to act against our preferences. Yes, it is possible to say in some cases that voting for candidate X is a vote to limit evil compared to candidate Y. But we don’t witness to the faith by saying, “But Candidate Y did it worse” or “We need to ignore the evil of Candidate X because we don’t want Candidate Y elected.” We have to avoid the appearance of special pleading. We can’t demand the candidate we oppose be held to a standard we will not apply to a candidate we support without looking hypocritical.

Political Platforms Can Be Similar, but not Identical, to our Moral Beliefs

I notice that every four years, Catholics point to the parties they favor and say that to be faithful to our beliefs we have to vote for this party. Conservatives point to the teaching on abortion. Liberals point to the teaching on social justice. But we have to remember that these political platforms are only similar to Catholic moral teaching, not identical. The political platforms might resolve some of the sinful situations in our country, but it would be wrong to think we can meet our obligation simply by voting for a candidate. Regardless of whether the president-elect defends or opposes the right to life, we have an obligation to promote the right to life and help the women and children in need. Regardless of whether the president-elect defends or opposes just assistance for the poor, we have an obligation to help those in need.

Even if the candidate we support is elected, we have an obligation to correct them when they go wrong. For example, the Republicans tend to neglect conditions which might lead a woman to consider abortion out of desperation while the Democrats tend to ignore the principle of subsidiarity that makes aiding those in need in favor of a bloated bureaucracy. Our task is not over if our preferred candidate wins.

Both Candidates Can Be Unacceptable Choices

The either-or fallacy tells us that if we’re not for Candidate X, we’re helping Candidate Y. It’s used to tell us that because Candidate Y holds a position condemned by the Church, we must vote for Candidate X. What this overlooks is the possibility that both candidates can be unfit for office. We can’t claim we must support X because Y is so terrible. It is possible that both X and Y are bad choices according to our moral beliefs. The most obvious example of this is the hypothetical case of Hitler vs. Stalin. The evils of one does not mean we can support the other.

We have to look at each candidate and see if he or she holds positions that are completely incompatible with our faith. If that candidate fails the scrutiny it does not mean the other candidate wins by default. The other candidate can also fail in the scrutiny. In such a case, a person who says, “I will not vote for either one” is not supporting the worst candidate. The person who votes for the worst candidate is supporting the worst candidate. The other simply believes both candidates are wicked.

Of course, with America being a dualistic system, one of the two will win. So people who think one of the two is tolerable get angry when people refuse to vote for their choice. They think their candidate should win, and those who disagree and say, “I think both are wrong,” are seen as blocking their candidate from victory. But it is not the fault of the voter who sincerely believes this candidate is contrary to what a candidate needs to be.

The solution is not to convince the skeptical voter that the other candidate is worse. The solution is to show that their preferred candidate is good. You don’t have the right to bully the fellow Catholic whose prudential judgment is different from yours. If he has sought to follow the Church with no intent of evasion, he is not sinning in not voting for your preferred candidate.

God Will Always Be With His Church

Nobody wants a President who will do what they think is evil. Not everybody has a properly formed idea of right and wrong, and their idea of what is evil might be malformed. Knowing that is hard. We don’t want some idiot with a wrongly formed conscience to vote for the most wicked candidate while thinking it is good. We also don’t want to wind up with America becoming more unjust with more suffering. These are reasonable concerns. It’s not wrong to want a Church at peace in a country at peace. But we’re not guaranteed having this situation. Consider the Church through time and throughout the world. History tells of many times and places where the Church has been mistreated.

God permits these persecutions, and He warned of them (John 15:18-25). We’re not obliged to deliberately seek them out, and we’re not forbidden to seek justice, but when times of suffering come, God remains with His Church. Three hundred years of persecution in the Roman Empire afflicted the early Church. That was just the beginning. The Church in America has not suffered like the Church in the Middle East, or the Church in Eastern Europe or like the martyrs all over the world. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Another thought to remember is that God chastises who He loves (Revelation 3:19). With St. John Paul II prophetically warning us that we are part of the culture of death, our choice of rulers may stem from the fact that our cultural selfishness has brought us to this point where God permits incompetent rulers to chastise us (see Isaiah 3:4). He may be preparing us for a modern Babylonian captivity where we are forced to endure hardship for our faith to bring us back to Him.

Either way, His will is not thwarted. Regardless of who is elected, He will be with His Church. The question is, will we actually seek His will? Or will we assume our partisan politics are close enough?

But What About the Issues?

There’s no doubt that the issues are serious. America has fallen far and fast, and our nation calls many evils “good.” Certainly, we have to vote to block unjust laws and promote good ones.  A good society is one which makes it easy to be good, after all. And, of course, an informed Catholic has no real excuse for voting for a pro-abortion candidate when a proportionate reason does not exist. So, yes voting to promote our moral beliefs is important.

But there is more to our task than voting. Regardless of who is elected, we have the task to promote good and limit evil. So even if a candidate who opposes abortion is elected, this does not end our task to defend life and reduce the reasons people seek abortions. Nor does it give us an excuse to forget other issues where the new president does evil. A sympathetic government might make the task easier, but it doesn’t eliminate the task.

The Salvation of Our Souls Can't be Neglected

But for walesWhether it’s for personal gain or for a cause we believe in,
neglecting our obligation before God is dangerous.

The thing that troubles me most about this election is some people are willing to downplay evils if it benefits their candidate. Whether it’s a Catholic misrepresenting what a proportionate reason is to justify a pro-abortion candidate or one who downplays evils committed by their candidate while condemning them in an opponent, these are Catholics calling for letting the ends justify the means.

But we who have the teaching of the Church to guide us have no excuse to do wrong. We’ll be more severely judged (Lumen Gentium #14) than those without the Church. If we sacrifice our faith for our politics, we endanger our souls. We must never act in a way that does this. Nor can we demand others endanger their souls by acting against their conscience. That means before we ever get to whether a candidate is moral or immoral, or what the issues are, we must consider whether our own behavior in the elections are in line with what Our Lord commands. If it is not, then we risk our souls in the name of a political preference.

We must stand up for what is right, and of course we must use our judgment to choose a candidate who is not in opposition to what we believe. If we’re tempted to compromise on our Christian beliefs on doing right, then we must consider the cost of doing so.


It’s not for me to judge the soul of you, the reader. I have no idea how much effort you put into learning what is right and striving to follow it. All I can hope to do here is post some dangerous attitudes I’ve seen and why I think they are dangerous. There’s certainly nothing I can do to demand you vote differently than you choose—even if I did know your plans. 

What my fear is, is that we will lose sight of our obligation as followers of Christ and compromise our morality in favor of what we hope to achieve—even if it is a good end. To risk our souls, or to risk the souls of others by becoming a stumbling block for them, would be doing wrong. In an election where the candidates for President seem to be the worst possible, we must be careful not to risk souls in favor of achieving a goal by immoral means. Let’s fight for promoting good and limiting evil—but let’s make sure the means we use are worthy of the King we profess to serve.

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