Each opportunity to vote, especially in a presidential election, raises a vital question: What really forms the basis of our political choices? Perhaps it is our long-standing commitment to a particular political party. Perhaps it is our race or gender or economic class. Perhaps it is simply the most convincing TV commercial. Perhaps it is the Gospel.
The Gospel? Indeed, for those of us who are Christian, we want the Good News to be the very center of our lives, enlightening all our choices. Sober realism leads us to acknowledge, however, that some of the other influences often carry more weight. This election, an essential question to ask is: Will we take seriously our Gospel commitment when we make political choices? Help is available for all of us who want to answer Yes to this question.
Through their Administrative Committee, the U.S. Catholic bishops, as they had done for the past seven presidential elections, issued a statement on political responsibility. For 2004, the bishops present the challenging document, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” The statement highlights some key concerns of our country and church, poses 10 questions about human dignity and the common good, discusses the relationship between faith and politics, summarizes major themes of Catholic social teaching and addresses four areas of national and global concern. Though addressed to the Catholic community, the document is also appropriate for other Christians and, in many sections, for all people concerned about our country and world.
“Faithful Citizenship” reaffirms the bishops’ emphasis on the consistent ethic of life as a framework for addressing all political, economic and social issues. This call for consistency, along with the highlighting of many issues, is particularly challenging. No one issue is sufficient to determine a political choice, and no political party affirms life in every issue. What is a voter to do?
The bishops acknowledge the dilemma: “Some Catholics may feel politically homeless sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity.” Still, they go on to urge people to vote with an informed conscience and to get involved, reminding us that participation in the political process is a moral obligation.
Hard homework is necessary for an informed conscience. We must turn to our Scriptures, meeting Jesus, the heart and foundation of the Christian worldview, as he proclaims God’s reign of compassion and love of enemies, of trust and care for the marginalized. We must also listen to Church teaching, with its concerns about war and economic justice, about abortion and the common good.
What is our challenge as faithful disciples and as involved citizens in an election year? Especially since there is no clear match between the bishops’ position and any of the candidates, prayerful discernment will be necessary. Here is a possible process. First, begin now praying for God’s guidance and wisdom in making your political choices. Spend prayerful time with the image of the table described in the introduction of the bishops’ statement. Enter the table scene with open and compassionate heart rather than preconceived ideas and answers.
Second, read “Faithful Citizenship” (it can be found at www.usccb.org) along with some of the other statements listed in it. Third, discuss the issues with families and friends and parish and community members, trying to listen carefully to positions different from your own. Fourth, take time to ponder each set of the 10 questions. Fifth, if possible, do something that is connected with the table image or one of the questions. For example, volunteer in a shelter for the homeless or in an AIDS clinic.
Throughout the process, keep in mind the haunting question of Scripture scholar Walter Wink: “How can we oppose evil without creating new evils and being made evil ourselves?” Pay attention to that which best promotes the flourishing of all life. Finally, vote.
The issues are urgent; our challenge is great. How will you respond?