Our Sacred Duty
After Mass, a parishioner approached me. Her words reached me well before she did. “Father, this time around the question isn’t which candidate to vote for, it’s, ‘Should I vote or not?’” I wondered how many people are mulling over the same thought.
This presidential election year, it’s no surprise that many Catholics find themselves in a conundrum. I’ve heard it expressed this way: “Is it a sin to vote? If I vote for either major-party candidate, I’m sinning, right?” One can feel cornered and wonder, What’s the right thing to do? A parishioner put it this way, “Voting is like taking bad medicine. You just have to hold your nose and swallow it!”
Traditional approaches to voting fail us today. You might ask yourself, Am I better off now than I was four years ago? or, Is the country better off? But those questions are moot. In a pandemic, no one is better off. Vote the issues? That’s not easy in today’s muddy political waters. Further, If I care for those who are poor and marginalized, can I still vote pro-life? But if I vote pro-life, couldn’t that hurt people who are poor? If I vote for school choice, I might hurt migrants and refugees. A vote for farming and manufacturing could harm foreign trade and investments. And a vote for religious freedom gets tied in a knot that this 450-word magazine column can’t untangle.
“Stay with your party” is another nugget of time-tested wisdom: Our family is loyal and has always voted a straight party ticket. More often than not in the present politically polarized landscape, you might ask yourself, Is that my party? I hardly recognize it.
So what’s a faithful citizen to do? I recommend you read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org). It’s worth the effort. It offers many fine points, including paragraph 36: “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”
The sacred civic duty of casting a ballot can make a person feel far from faithful when the choices are weighed down by the moral issues of our times. But remember that the exercise of faithful citizenship includes the righteous act of abstention. When you cannot in conscience vote for a particular person or set of issues, vote to transform the nation’s politics. In 2020, that might mean electing to sit this one out.
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