S+L logo

Confronting the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus

November 6, 2016

A Reflection on the US Election

Having grown up in the USA, I cannot recall a presidential election campaign that has been so divisive, bitter, toxic, embarrassing and polarizing. This ugly campaign has left people in the USA and outside America repulsed and despairing rather than excited and hopeful. Televised debates were reality shows that revealed immature behavior and poor oratory. An overwhelming majority of voters are disgusted by the state of American politics, and many harbor doubts that either major-party nominee can unite the country after this divisive, expensive and noisy electoral campaign. The mounting toxicity threatens any victor.
RefugeesRather than focusing energies and conversations on issues, on how people can move their country forward, succeed and generate hope, it has been an ultra-expensive exercise in destroying others. Both candidates are perceived as disrespectful and dishonest to one another and to the public and viewed unfavorably by a majority of voters. Who can bring the country back together after this bitter election season?
How easy it is for Catholics in the United States and around the world to be cynical or discouraged at what we have experienced throughout this electoral campaign, but neither attitude is helpful to the cause of truth, freedom and good citizenship. Our Catholic Christian faith tells us that God will provide what we need to do his will. Catholics who are faithful citizens have the ability – with the help of God’s grace – to make choices that are morally sound even if they appear to be politically incorrect.
There is not one candidate for political office who perfectly represents all the positions of the Catholic Church. No political party has written a platform that is in complete agreement with the Catholic perspective on life issues, morality and social justice. And yet, Catholics are strongly urged by the Holy Father and their bishops to get involved, to exercise our God-given right and responsibility to select leaders, and to affirm policies that are morally responsible and promote the common good. To choose not to vote is a very poor decision and not good citizenship.
Certain political activists, claiming to speak for the Roman Catholic Church, often use the tactic of dividing Catholic social teaching into two separate categories, with one set containing the so-called ‘non-negotiable’ set of positions. To divide and distort Church teaching in such a simplistic and cynical way for partisan objectives is not legitimate. Nor is it authentically Catholic. This approach is a distortion of theological concepts, including “intrinsic evil” and “prudential reasoning.”
Pope Francis rejects this notion that there are a special set of non-negotiable values:
“I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values.”
For those who claim that the abortion issue is the only item on the political agenda that determines the next leader of the United States, such an attitude is not the complete pro-life position held by the Roman Catholic Church. Those who claim to be pro-life must be sure that their ethic for life is a consistent one. The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness, the dignity of the human person. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice.  Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.
refugees-marchingIf citizens take into consideration these important principles and the full meaning of what it means to be “pro-life” and vote according to informed consciences, they cannot fail in their duty as faithful citizens or loyal Catholics. For us, the sacredness and dignity of all human life is found at the center of all issues, including the urgent matters of abortion, euthanasia, care for creation, war and peace, the preferential option for the poor, true economic justice, immigration reform and the responsibility to make difficult moral choices. In this campaign there is not not one item alone on the agenda. How have the candidates and parties addressed the essential respect for human life, the questions of freedom, difficult moral choices that must be addressed, the preferential option for the poor, the welcome and care of refugees, the care for God’s creation and authentic commitment to world peace that avoids war?
As with nearly every issue that has been raised during this electoral campaign, what Catholics call “care for creation” has become very polarized and deeply misunderstood. They mistakenly fear that environmentalism is just an excuse for increased government intrusion into the lives of individuals and communities. We must answer the question that Pope Francis posed to the world: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ ” (Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,#160).
pope-refugeesThe American Bishops have pointed out in their important background document for this election: “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity”
(U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” #34.)
The Bishops also teach: “In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (#37).
On the eve of this historic election in the United States, I would simply like to recall two recent, important quotations of Pope Francis.  First, from his memorable address to the special Joint Session of the United States Congress on September 24, 2015 at the US Capitol:
“… All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.”
francis-with-poor-in-dcAnd in Sweden last week, in his homily for the Solemnity of All Saints, Pope Francis proposed six new beatitudes for the modern era:
"Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart;
"Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness;
"Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him;
"Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home;
"Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others;
"Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians."
"We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus. Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy."
May these words of Pope Francis be a guiding light and source of instruction, inspiration, consolation and hope to the people of the United States during these momentous days. May they help us to be agents of unity and healing as America moves forward.