Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our Silly Season: Preparing Ourselves for the 2020 Election

350Every four years, American Catholics on social media celebrate our silly season (also known as “the presidential elections”) by taking an IQ nose dive while coming up with theological reasons why we are fully “justified” in setting aside Catholic teachings which our party is at odds with. In this season, Catholics who point out that Candidate X is at odds with Church teaching on a subject get accused of supporting every evil that candidate Y supports. And, if you decide to vote for a minor party or to only vote “downballot” (vote only for offices below the Presidential level), then you are also guilty enabling the victory of “the other side.”§ This isn’t a quirk of one faction. Catholics from both major parties do this while accusing the other side of doing it.

That doesn’t mean that the elections should be taken lightly. In each Presidential election, we are selecting who will be responsible for executing laws and appointing judges to rule on what is and isn’t licit. The values of the man elected are important because they will govern the choices made. As Catholics, we need to vote according to our Faith in such a way to promote the public good… or at least block the worse evil.

Unfortunately, American Catholics aren’t a voting block. Our votes are as diverse as the rest of the country#. So, despite the efforts of the bishops to teach on these values, we’re going see many Catholics pick the teachings their party agrees with and cast them as “the most important,” while treating the teachings their party opposes as “prudential judgment,” “opinions,” or even “bishops getting involved in politics.”* They will, of course, condemn Catholics of the “other side” for doing exactly the same thing. Such Catholics should be aware of Matthew 7:2. By citing the need to obey the Church where it agrees they show knowledge of the authority which they reject when they disagree.

Both sides are right when they say that neither side is perfect, and that some issues are more immediately pressing or involve graver matters than others. Take the Right to Life. The Church does indeed teach that the sanctity of life has to be defended from conception to natural death. That is much broader than partisan Catholics treat it. Some Catholics treat it as only involving abortion and euthanasia. Others try to say these things will never be outlawed and we can only hope to pass laws that reduce the need for them. Both accuse the other side of ignoring Church teaching when actually both sides are guilty. So, what is to be done?

I think that Archbishop Chaput, speaking about the abortion issue, laid down a wise guideline on dealing with voting for candidates who promote what the Church calls evil:

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. 

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so—that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions—as we someday will.

Render Unto Caesar,  pp. 229-230

I believe that this applies to every candidate we vote for who is at odds with Church teaching. We can’t accept abortion or torture or same sex marriage or the treatment of migrants as a closed matter. If we believe we must vote for Party X, we must fight to change our party when it is in the wrong. We cannot be silent out of fear that the “other side” might win.

But this is exactly what Catholics don’t do, and I wonder if we really do accept the Church teachings on the issues that our party is wrong about. It seems like we’re more inclined to say that issue X is outweighed by issues A+B+C when our party is in the wrong on X and A+B+C match our personal politics. But, using the archbishop’s challenge, will our reasoning for voting for the candidate who is wrong on issue X satisfy the victims of our vote on the Day of Judgment. Remember, the most dangerous sin is the one that sends us to hell, not the one we are in no danger of committing.

So, when the Pope teaches on an issue that our preferred party is in the wrong over, when the bishops speak out against our immoral national policies, we must listen and form our conscience. No, that doesn’t mean making the perfect the enemy of the good. But it does mean that—if we vote for a candidate in spite of¥ his support of an evil position—we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do to end the support for evil, remembering that God will be our judge and we cannot lie to Him.


(§) As a personal disclosure, I believed this one until 2016 when I believed both major party candidates were unfit for office.

(#) While it’s a popular maxim that the Catholic vote shows who will win the election, it only seems true in the sense that the “Catholic vote” will mirror the general sentiment of the country.

(*) In the past twelve years, for example, the US bishops have simultaneously been accused as a bloc of favoring the Democrats and the Republicans.

(€) The prevalence of contraception in America is of course a grave issue. But before we can hope to outlaw it, we will need to convert the moral attitudes of the nation, because an overwhelming number of Christians (including Catholics) see nothing wrong with it.

(¥) Of course, voting for a candidate because he supports that evil is condemned.

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