Election Preparation: Get Informed
Friday, Sep. 04, 2020
Election season can be a challenge for people of faith. Though we profess a strong belief in the dignity of every person, electioneering far too often seeks to draw us into a much narrower view of our fellow men and women as either good or bad, conservative or liberal, us or them. Catholic advocacy groups may, unfortunately, contribute to this all-or-nothing mentality by ignoring the depth and breadth of the social doctrine of the Church to insist that Catholics must vote based solely on one or two issues. Doing so denies not only our baptismal call to build God’s kingdom on earth, it renders our political system ineffective.
Our federal, state and local governments rely on informed voters willing to hold their elected officials accountable through political processes such as voting. Individual Catholics have individual callings to particular issues and we need Catholics who are passionate about issues to engage in public life. But as a representative democracy, we also need politicians to act on multiple issues. If we all paid heed to those on either extreme telling us only one issue matters, we might end up with leaders who are dangerously unfettered in their actions because voters simply aren’t paying attention to anything but one or two items. Meanwhile, legislating for the national, state or local government requires politicians to be knowledgeable about tax, education, environmental and budgetary policies, just to name a few of the many areas where Catholic values and experience should be part of the discussion.
That doesn’t mean Catholics need to focus on everything, but we do need to consider how the leaders we choose will impact our broader vision for building a more just and peaceful community. Protecting unborn life is a vital part of a more just world, but the secular movement has so narrowly defined what it means to be pro-life so as to exclude much of Catholic teaching that deeply enriches the meaning of the dignity and sanctity of life. For Catholics, being pro-life is not just about saying no to abortion, it is about protecting the rights of women to fair wages and access to health care so they are better able to give birth to and raise a healthy child. It also means standing up for the right to life of individuals who are far from innocent, such as inmates on death row; or far removed from our daily experience, such as people seeking asylum within our country. The sanctity of life during a person’s entire life span is as important to our definition of pro-life as the first nine months.
The 2020 election will be a difficult one for Catholics. While there are plenty of apologists for both major party candidates, each presents significant moral decisions for voters guided by religious values. Voter “guides” or surveys or websites may claim to help Catholic voters cast their ballots consistent with our faith, but most ignore its key components in an effort to simplify complex decisions about the policies each candidate will support or oppose.
There is one resource for Catholic voters that recognizes the fullness of Catholic teaching and social doctrine, including our role in holding elected officials accountable: “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Unlike some other guides, this one does not dumb down the voting process to a short checklist or list of “non-negotiables.” Rather, it provides a lifelong process for Catholic voters to use to make their own decisions about the candidates. “Faithful Citizenship” recognizes that not all issues are of equal importance, but it also reflects that single-issue voting abdicates our moral responsibility as Catholic citizens “to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching” and engage in our political community with “well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”
Jean Hill is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.