The Church as a Thermostat

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King makes an observation about the impact the early Christians had in the public square stating, “there was a time when the church was very powerful… the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

Every summer the Minnesota House and Senate Information Offices offer a thermometer to our legislators. Via their State Fair opinion polls, the nonpartisan staff encourage fairgoers to weigh in on a mix of hot-button issues and issues that may not have been addressed but could emerge in the next legislative session. Because the fair draws voters from a wide range of geographic and socio-economic backgrounds, legislators readily admit that they pay attention to the questions and results as means to “take the temperature” of the state’s electorate.

The state fair poll can be a useful thermometer for Minnesota Catholics too. The poll is unscientific—there is nothing to prevent any one individual from submitting multiple responses—so the real utility for Catholics comes from examining the questions being asked and what is being ignored. For example, the State Fair poll neglects to ask questions about a spectrum of life issues, whether it be about legislation that would support mothers in crisis pregnancies, improving family economics, or improving the quality of end-of-life care. Yet, when the poll addresses issues such as recreational marijuana use and school choice, the issues are not framed through a lens that brings into focus the impacts on human dignity and the common good.

The longer the culture is running cold or hot on an issue it can begin to feel normal even if it demotes life, dignity, and the common good. Therefore, we need the Church and all Her members to be thermostats. Catholics can be the ones to help bring the culture back into a stasis that allows for human flourishing by ensuring vital issues are not mischaracterized or overlooked.

One way to be that thermostat is to start asking your legislative candidates the questions that matter to the Bishops and the Church in Minnesota. By doing this, you can help them begin to better understand what issues are important to the Catholics they are vying to represent. To help you do this, the Minnesota Catholic Conference created a questionnaire for you to send to your State Legislative candidates. The questionnaire features 11 questions that cover a spectrum of life issues and more.

Legislators’ longstanding affirmation of the state fair poll’s utility proves they want to know what their constituents care about. So, let’s make sure that as we help inform our legislators and candidates, we aren’t just providing a passive temperature reading, but that we are actively helping to change the temperature by ensuring the right questions are being asked.

You can download your free copies of the candidate questionnaires by visiting You can view the complete State Fair poll results at

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