Power politics vs. faithful citizenship

If a decline in the percentage of people who vote is any indication, people are disheartened with our political system. There seems to be a collective feeling that politics is nothing more than a partisan power struggle that serves special interests instead of the common good. People do not believe that their one voice makes a difference amidst a cacophony of competing voices.

Though there are plenty of reasons for pessimism, Christians cannot give in to despair. The public arena requires our witness, and Christians cannot sit on the sidelines or delegate to others their responsibility to be faithful citizens.

As Pope Francis recently said, “A Church or a Christian who does not give witness is sterile; like a dead person who thinks they are alive; like a dried up tree that produces no fruit; an empty well that offers no water!”

Power politics’ dead end

One of the reasons politics seems so fruitless today is that it is often conflict-driven — a power struggle among rigid, ideological factions or interest groups.

Feeling “disempowered,” some people form groups to “take back power.” For example, Saul Alinsky, Chicago’s infamous political organizer, wrote the book “Rule for Radicals” as a manual for the “Have-Nots” on how to organize their voice and take back power from the “Haves.”

Ultimately, however, such “power struggles” are self-defeating. They typically coarsen the public discourse and create enemies instead of building bridges of dialogue. As this dynamic has become endemic to modern politics, people are thirsty for a new style of politics.

Politics as a form of charity

Pope Francis has said that politics, in the mind of the Church, is one of the “highest forms of charity.” Those who enter the political arena contribute to the conversation about how we order our lives together — that is, they work for the common good.

As Catholics, we should not engage in politics for the sake of gaining and wielding power. Rather, we engage in politics to share the social teachings of the Church in order to breathe life into our communities.

Though Alinsky’s “power struggle” tactics are ultimately self-defeating, he was correct in recognizing that people need to participate in the political process and share their views with public officials in order to effect change. Imagine the change hundreds of thousands of Catholics could make if they participated in politics to promote life and dignity throughout our state.

Be a faithful citizen

Often, activists tell us to participate in the political process, or “get involved.” People sometimes stop listening because they do not know how. One wonders, what can I do?

Participating in politics through elections, public debate and the legislative process is an exercise of service and civic friendship (solidarity) where Christians are desperately needed to foster the common good. Beyond voting, Catholics can participate by letting public officials know our views on policy matters as informed by Catholic social doctrine.

Network offers aid

To help you with the task of communicating with your elected officials, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has created the Catholic Advocacy Network. Through periodic emails and monthly E-updates, Network members are given simple, concrete ways to promote life and dignity through the political process.

In addition, the Catholic Advocacy Network is expanding and offering volunteer opportunities to help Catholics in their parishes and communities participate in public policy through an authentic Catholic lens.

Modeling a different style of politics rooted in civility and rational discourse will help contribute to a renewal of political life. As Catholics, we need to give witness and speak together as one voice to promote life and dignity in the public sphere.

Mollen is policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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