It’s election season in the United States and that can be stressful for Americans for many reasons. Maybe it’s because everyone is so worried about getting into major fights with their family, friends, or random strangers on the internet, or maybe it’s because a vote is a major moral decision with many elements that go into it.
For Catholics, this can be an even harder decision since no major political party in the USA completely aligns with the Catholic view of things, particularly from the pro-life perspective. One side of the political aisle advocates for abortion access and the other has restored the federal death penalty. For some faithful Catholics, voting is already a difficult decision, which makes recent comments from some representatives of the church so disheartening.
On August 30th, Fr. James Altman of La Crosse, Wisconsin claimed in a public Youtube video that “Catholics can’t be Democrats” and called for people to “Repent of your support for that platform and that party and its platform… or face the fires of hell”. Also, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted his support of those comments before eventually walking his support back. On the other side of the aisle, Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice lobbying firm, has said that “Catholics cannot support another presidential term of Donald Trump and be true to their faith”. All of these comments are problematic.
There are good reasons why a Catholic could support either side of the aisle. This isn’t to say that a vote is unimportant, but rather that each vote is to be fully discerned. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says directly: “We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election”. Therefore, it is wrong to say that a Catholic cannot support Democrats or Republicans.
For example, if someone were to vote for a Democrat because they explicitly desire for there to be more abortions, this would be problematic. However, if they were to vote for a Democrat because they primarily value the party’s stance on environmental protections, that would be a good reason to support a Democrat. The same would be said of someone who votes for a Republican because they explicitly want those on death row to die. However, if they primarily value the party’s anti-abortion stance that would be a good reason to support a Republican.
This trend of one side saying that the other is no longer able to belong to the church is a further sign of our growing polarization. It has become easy to say that the other side is wrong and evil if we have not engaged fully with them. The most worrying part of all of this is that our political party has become a greater part of our identity than our faith is. Our Church is becoming further divided and those who are attempting to cast out those with different political opinions, we are forcing division in spirit among us. As Jesus told us “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.
So what is a Catholic to do in all of this? Although it is difficult, we must do our research. More than that, we must consider and seek to understand what the side we don’t identify with is saying. It is not good enough to support a candidate because we have always supported them in the past or our preferred media outlets call our usual opponents evil. Rather we must trust that people of goodwill exist on both sides of the aisle, as unlikely as that may seem from our side. We must look at issues concerning the value of life across the board, from conception to natural death.
More than all of this, we must do our best to attempt to follow the greatest of the laws, “Love God, and love your neighbor” and take this law into our political conversations. We must ask ourselves if what we are doing in politics is the most loving response. If we can simply choose to be loving, and non-judgmental of our political opponents, knowing that we all belong to each other as members of one American family, we may just be able to rebuild relationships with each other and change some minds, and maybe even represent what God’s kingdom may look like here on earth.