“In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 13)
Early voting has begun in Minnesota. Voting is an important component of representative government. Those chosen for elected office are entrusted to make decisions that should protect the life and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and advance the common good for all.
Politics, says Pope Francis, is one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good. We should be grateful that courageous people step forward, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, to run for public office. That said, it is a tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with the public good, and candidates for office should reflect on their role as one of service and not merely holding the reins of power. In other words, they are elected to do something, not to be someone.
Often, we are asked to clear up confusion about the right way to vote. In many cases, however, we must be candid that those requests are less interested in hearing us enunciate the principles of the Church’s social teaching, but instead they hope we shame their friends, family, and fellow parishioners into voting a certain way. The Church, however, is principled; she is not partisan.
As Catholics apply the principles of the Church’s social doctrine, they will sometimes come to different conclusions about the best policy prescriptions or best candidates. Indeed, many Catholics have strong opinions about different candidates, and about which party will best improve the lives of Minnesotans.
Such differences reflect the judgment of people of goodwill and should be treated as such by fellow Catholics. It pains us to see Catholics fostering division among the body of Christ by calling into question the faithfulness of others who vote differently. We are all responsible for our moral choices, including voting, and we must do so in accordance with a well-formed conscience. On the day of judgment, we will all have to answer for how we formed our conscience and informed our vote.
Whenever the results of this election are determined, roughly half the country and half the state will be disappointed. Many will be deeply upset. Here again, the Church must be a voice of reconciliation. We can disagree, but we need not be disagreeable.
For the republic to stay together, we must see ourselves as friends and not as enemies. That has become increasingly difficult, but the Church can and should be a model to the whole community of both legitimate diversity and reconciliation.
Being Christ to one another should be our priority. We are Catholics first and foremost, not Americans of one political stripe or another. We should see all people through that lens and treat them accordingly. The citizenship to which we must be most faithful is the City of God, not the city of man.
Doing so is made easier by recognizing that politics cannot save us. We have one savior, and it is not an elected official or any group of them. It is Jesus Christ. Any time spent around legislators should help foster the detachment we propose—they are a cross-section of the population and suffer from original sin like the rest of us. “Put not your trust in princes . . .” (Psalm 146).
Holiness is indeed the best antidote to the troubled times in which we live. Imagine how many problems could be solved if more people sought to conform their lives to Christ and live by his Holy Spirit? Let it not be said that no saints emerged during this time. Grace surrounds us; it is up to us to respond.
Let us cultivate a proper detachment from electoral results. We must keep our eyes fixed on loving God and our neighbor, thus fulfilling our responsibility as citizens of the heavenly city.
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.