Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reflections on Christian Obligation and Politics

Politics lately tends towards extremely polarized devotion to the party platform while proudly proclaiming that only they have the good of the country in mind. At the same time, they accuse their foes of openly acting to destroy everything that is good and just.

In this mindset, Christianity is cited when the teaching coincides the person’s political views but condemned when it takes a stand against something promoted by the faction. This is not limited to one faction. The Political Left denounces the Church for her stances on issues like sexual morality and abortion. The Political Right denounces the Church for her stances on treatment of immigrants and economic justice. Both factions accuse the Church of being on the “other side” and say that the Church should “stay out of politics” and should “focus on more important issues” (that is, become a religious endorsement of Party X).

Unfortunately, many Christians—including Catholics—are guilty of taking part in this behavior. They believe that the Church should promote their favored political views and condemn what they condemn, while being silent on the moral issues that are at odds with their political party. This cannot be our approach if we want to be faithful. 

If we want to be faithful, we must put fidelity to the Church teaching first and judge the political parties according to that teaching. Given the state of American politics today where both major parties have embraced fundamental evils, it’s not surprising that people of good will disagree over how to vote to reduce or at least slow down the evils. Unfortunately, even here the Christian dialogue that should take place is replaced by slogans. I’ve seen people claim that “the bishops got played” in standing up for laws defending life, that the bishops are “ignoring the Catechism” in standing up for the just treatment of illegal immigrants. I’ve seen proponents of one party say “voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil,” to condemn their opponents while ignoring the fact that they are doing the same thing.

I find that Archbishop Chaput’s views on the obligation of those who vote for a pro-abortion party fits for every voter facing the fact that their party supports an evil or rejects a good:

What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform—one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them. (Render Unto Caesar, p. 228)

Whatever the Church teaches is evil, we cannot support. If we vote for a party in spite of their evil positions, we had damn well better do our best to oppose and change that evil. If we choose party A over party B, we had better be certain what the Church teaches on these evils, and not redefine the meaning of the Church teaching to fit our politics. You might say that issues A+B+C+D outweigh the defense of life (for example), but St. John Paul II taught, in Christifideles Laici:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fĂ­nds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Christian’s role in politics is not to benefit a particular view. It is to promote the public good according to God’s commands. What God commands is good because He is good [§], and we cannot say that as long as we don’t commit the evils we weren’t going to do anyway, we’re “good enough.” When the Church warns us against X, it’s not a matter of control. It’s a matter of our salvation. If we find ourselves resisting the teaching of the Church in a certain area, perhaps we should ask if we are in danger over sins in that area.


[§] No doubt somebody will point to the darker portions of Old Testament where God exacted judgment on certain nations through the Israelites. While the issue is off topic, the accusations tend to treat those nations as if they behaved like 21st century “enlightened” Americans instead of barbaric nations practicing what we would consider Class A felonies. God’s earlier commands were aimed at moving the Israelites away from the barbarisms of their neighbors in preparation for the arrival of Christ. God’s laws to the Jews on warfare were restrictions on behavior, not a license to run wild.

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