As a general rule, I try to stay out of politics on this blog. That's probably a good thing. However, I think I would be negligent if I didn't mention something every once in a while. I do eventually have to stand before our Maker and give an account for my life, and yes, politics is a part of my life. So yes, God will ask us to give an account for our political positions as well.
I know lots of Catholics would just assume keep religion and politics separate. I get it. Part of it is about wanting to keep our religious beliefs pure and unspoiled by the dirty partisanship that inevitably permeates politics. Part of it is about wanting to vote a certain way, without letting religion spoil it. Part of it is just confusion in general, due to poor catechesis from our religious leaders, not knowing which issues to put before others.
I'll try to simplify matters here as much as I can, then I'll tell you how I have managed to deal with in in my own conscience. Here are the basics...
- PRO-LIFE: The Catholic Church teaches that killing innocent people (especially pre-born babies) is a mortal sin, and that it is always wrong. Hence, it is an "intrinsic evil". That's just a five-dollar term for "always wrong". It is never right. Under no circumstances can we condone it, and we can never vote for politicians who condone it. The only time we can ever vote for a politician who advocates the shedding of innocent blood is if there is no other politician running who doesn't advocate it. Case closed! This is a non-negotiable issue.
- PRO-FAMILY: The Catholic Church teaches that it is wrong to vote for issues or politicians that disrupt or undermine the traditional family unit: father, mother and children. This covers a variety of things. It is wrong to vote for laws or politicians that allow for people to marry people of the same sex. It is wrong to vote for laws or politicians that allow for governments to deprive parents of their parental rights. It is wrong to vote for laws and politicians that attack states, organisations or churches that help families live decent and wholesome lives.
- PRO-WORKER: The Catholic Church teaches that human beings should have the dignity of work and the dignity of a living wage. Now this means many things. It means that people have the right to start their own business, and have fair laws that give them equal access to the open market. It also means that employees should have the right to own a piece of the company they work for. It also means that employees should be paid a wage they can live off of, and support a family on. It also means that people who can't work should be cared for with some kind of social safety net.
Now I could go into a host of a whole lot more issues here, but I promised I would keep it simple. So here it is. These three points above are what I believe to be the three "essential" issues that should be at the forefront of every Catholic voter's mind. (I really wish our Catholic leaders would make it this simple. That doesn't seem like too much to ask.) So here we are. I've outlined three "essential" principles that any Catholic voter can keep in mind when going to the polling station. I've also listed them in a numerical order of most important to the least. Obviously, the PRO-LIFE issue is most important. The PRO-WORKER issue is least. Keep in mind however, that even though the PRO-WORKER issue is least important of the three, it does play an important role in the first two. A society that doesn't respect workers undermines families, and a society that undermines families undermines life. So you see, all these issues are inter-related. One affects the other, but nevertheless, each in its order. One cannot have a family or a job if one is not alive first. So the issue of life always comes first, then family second, and then work third. All other issues are basically "secondary" or "prudential" as far as the Catholic voter should be concerned.
The problem comes when politicians (and sometimes even our own religious leaders) place "secondary" or "prudential" issues over and above the three "essential" issues. For example; in this election cycle, it would appear (to the untrained listener) that some of our bishops would have us believe that immigration is the single most important issue on the ballot. I'm sure that's not the case, but many would think that, listening to their recent statements on immigration. Furthermore, another problem occurs when people get the order of the three "essential" principles confused. Sometimes the PRO-WORKER position is placed on top as number 1, while family and life become subordinate. This is a dangerous trend, but sadly one that is very common among lay Catholics, and sometimes even our Catholic leaders. It's important that we stick to the "essential" principles of Catholic voting: (1) Pro-Life, (2) Pro-Family and (3) Pro-Worker. If we get these three confused, or even worse, we place some other issue over them, we lose our Catholic identity in the polling booth.
So now we get to the issue of political parties. The first thing every Catholic should understand is that our primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ (our King) and that allegiance is extended to his Prime Minister (the Pope) and his Royal Court (the Bishops). As Catholics, we have to remember that our primary government is a Heavenly Kingdom. We operate within democracies and republics within this life, but there will be no voting in Heaven. Our roles and obligations as a voter are temporary. They deal with the type of government we have in this life, and we will answer for our actions for it in the next. So when it comes to political parties, we Catholics must always remember that our allegiance is to Christ and his Church, not to the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, etc. Therefore, a political party should be seen as nothing more than a tool. It is a means that can be used to accomplish a political end, but it is never the end in and of itself. In today's age we see a lot of Americans putting party before country, and sadly, we even see a lot of Christians putting party before country and God!
I cannot stress this enough. Political parties are not important! I liken them to a paper towel. You use them to accomplish what you need done, and then you throw them away. They only remain relevant insofar as the issues they advocate for have not already been accomplished, or the issues that have been accomplished are now under some kind of threat. Political parties are useful, but they are also disposable. I think the world would be a much better place of more Catholics would adopt this point of view.
That being said, no Catholic is obligated to vote with one party or another. If a Catholic is a Democrat, for whatever reason, he is under no moral obligation to vote only for Democrats. If a Catholic is a Republican, for whatever reason, he is under no moral obligation to vote only for Republicans. This may seem like an elementary thing to say, but it is shocking really, how many Catholics act in a way that is contrary to this. They think that because they are Democrat, they must vote only for Democrats, or because they are Republican, they must vote only for Republicans. How absurd! Yet it is the reality in which we live. If you're Catholic, do you vote only for Catholics? No. If you're white, do you vote only for whites? No. If you're a woman, do you vote only for women? No. So if you're a Democrat, why do you vote only for Democrats? If you're a Republican, why do you vote only for Republicans? It's time for Catholic voters to grow up a little. We have our three "essential" issues. That should be enough for us.
Finally, I will reveal a little something about myself. For years I struggled with partisan politics as a Catholic. For some reason or another, I find myself as one of those people who feels a need to identify with a political party. However, there is a problem with American party politics today. Among the two major parties, Democrat and Republican, neither one fully adheres to the three "essential" Catholic principles. Generally speaking; Republicans often back the first and second Catholic "essentials" but undermine the third. Meanwhile, Democrats generally back the third, while undermining the first and second. As a result, it's fairly easy for a good practising Catholic to vote Republican, until such a time that the sate of the economy and wages gets so bad, that they're tempted to vote Democrat. This is truly a sad state of affairs which has been the norm in the United States for the last 40 years.
For generations my family was Democrat. By that I mean my whole family, both on my mother's side and father's side. This was the case well into the 1980s. By the time we got to 1990, everyone in my family was voting Republican. They still are today. Though most of my family is Protestant, I would have to say they follow the three "essential" principles of Catholic voting better than most Catholics do.
In recent years however, I have felt the need to identify with a party that upholds all three "essentials". Since the two major parties don't do this, and probably never will, I've been forced to look among the lesser third parties. Understanding that I am never obligated to vote ONLY for members of my own party, I find myself continuing to vote for Republicans and Democrats in national elections, until such a time as my own third party can eventually get a leg up. Until then, at least I know the party I am part of best represents Catholic principles, and whatever monetary contributions I may occasionally make to my party, will go toward promoting some Catholic principles without undermining others. I am a member of the Solidarity Party, and I'm proud to call myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but rather a Solidarist. I invite all of my readers to look into the party and see what they think. Regardless if one finds the Solidarity Party attractive, what's more important is that we vote by our Catholic "essential" principles, not political parties, "secondary" issues, or confused ideologies that put parties above Church.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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