As Catholics striving to live out the gift of Eucharist in our daily lives, we confront the tension that exists between secularism and religious faith. This vitriolic mid-term election year provides a perfect example as well as an opportunity to practice what we preach.
For the first time in 30 years, Iowans will elect a new senator. Tom Harkin, completing his fifth, six-year term, has decided to retire. Vying for his coveted seat are U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, and Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican. Unlike our secular counterparts in the press, The Catholic Messenger will not endorse a candidate for the Senate race or any other race for political office. Catholics are called to engage in the electoral process by voting their consciences, formed by Catholic social teaching.
Evaluating a candidate’s stance on issues inevitably leads us to finding some shades of gray in relation to Church teaching. Church leaders admit that no candidate for political office likely has views that mesh with every aspect of Catholic social teaching. Issues are far more complicated and require genuine soul-searching.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) notes that the Church’s social teaching is “…about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.” Key themes of the Church’s social teaching are: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation (see www.usccb.org).
Bread for the World beseeches American citizens to take a stand for those most in need this election season, to bring hunger to the forefront and let candidates know where voters stand. That certainly meshes with the Church’s Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, which observes: “The obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation.” But some Catholic and non-Catholic politicians think a tough-love approach toward those living in poverty is humane and just.
Immigration reform is another complicated issue. The Church teaches that we are to welcome the stranger, the immigrant. “ … When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right,” states a pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico. But some sincere Catholics believe it is morally wrong for individuals to break the law by entering the United States illegally.
Same-sex marriage is another issue that tugs at the hearts of many Catholics, as evidenced in the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. What will the Church ultimately decide on this issue? Thirty-two states in the U.S. now have legal, same-sex marriage. Catholic Church teaching, citing natural law, holds that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Some bishops at the October synod, which concluded last week, said that same-sex unions can be a “precious support in the life of the partners.” That statement, however, was removed from the final report, news sources say.
To evaluate how a particular candidate’s stance on issues fits with Catholic Social Teaching, we’ve got to research the candidates and the issues they’ve championed. We need to know where they have been short-sighted, which means also reading criticism of the candidate. Listening to the harangue on TV political ads won’t do. We need to exercise caution reading voter guides, which more often than not are biased. At the very least, examine voter guides from both political camps to get a broader view of the candidates.
Our job as faithful citizens who are imperfect people living in an imperfect world is to elect politicians whose stance on issues most closely reflect Catholic Social Teaching and strive to attain the common good. Our discernment process should also include prayer. Then we will be practicing what we preach.