Can of Worms: Politics and Religion, Guest Post 4

To Catch Up:
     Guest Post 1 (Leila - Leaning Right)
     Guest Post 2  (Kate - Leaning Left)
     Guest Post 3  (Michelle - Leaning Right)

Today's Guest Post is by Sarah at Fumbling Towards Grace.  To round out the week, Sarah will lean back toward the left, but like Michelle, takes serious issue with both political parties.  Just as with the others, Sarah, I thank-you for writing in this space and I'm honored.

The Pillar and Ground of Truth: On Being Catholic in Political Life
When Rebecca asked me to write a post for this Can of Worms series about political beliefs and Catholicism, I was flattered, but also a little worried. It would seem that in writing a post talking about my political beliefs, I would actually have to talk about...my political beliefs. I mean, yes you all know I try to be pro-life across the board, and that I support the Church’s stance on immigration. But, I often intentionally shy away from fully disclosing my political beliefs, lest I alienate all of my dear readers. Because, you see, despite the fact that Rebecca has asked us contributors on this series to post why we believe that being a Republican or Democrat better enables one to follow the Catholic Church in political life, I have to posit something different in my reflections.

If not impossible, it’s very, very difficult to be both a card-carrying member of either political party and a Catholic who tries to take seriously all of the Church’s social teachings (not just the “non-negotiables”).

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Catholics should exempt themselves from political life. Just the opposite! As Christians we have a duty to speak the truth at all times, and in all places, and that includes in public life. Archbishop Charles Chaput says brilliantly in his book Render Unto Caesar:

“Our problems can only be solved by people of character who actively and without apology take their beliefs into public debates. That includes Catholics. We need to be stronger in our public witness, not weaker. Whether America is really 80 percent or 50 percent or 10 percent Christian doesn’t matter. If we really believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, that the Catholic Church is who she says she is, then we need to live like it. If we really believe that the Gospel is true, we need to embody it in our private lives and our public choices.” (Chaput 33).

It’s actually pretty easy to claim to be a Republican or a Democrat. After all, we all have temperaments, predilections, and family relationships that make us more apt to like one party or the other. And once we’re firmly entrenched in a party that makes us feel like we’ve got the answers at our disposal (if only they’d listen!) then along comes the Catholic Church, throwing a wrench in the works, asking us to go beyond our comfortable allegiances and to use a completely different set of criteria in order to evaluate policies and societal goals. The nerve!

I should know. In college, I loved the *idea* of being a Democrat. But, I take what Bishop Chaput said above seriously, and so, since I know the Gospel is true, I have to live like it. And unfortunately, the Democratic party has made it abundantly clear to me over the years that it’s policies in regards to protecting human life, the primacy of parents as educators of their children, the protection of the family, and the moral nature of society are at odds with what I know to be the Truth. Too many Democrats want to make the government “our father”, and to make paying taxes to fund welfare programming take the place of performing the works of Mercy ourselves, as our Lord commanded us to do. So I had to make a choice: Do I be a Democrat first and a Catholic second, or am I a Catholic always and everywhere, and live with the discomfort of lacking a political home? In the end, it’s a choice we all must face, and only your conscience and God can decide.

Lest I let the Republicans off the hook too easily, I have to say that they too, have missed the point entirely. They (and please don’t misunderstand me, when I say “they” I do not mean the Republican Party Platform, but the individual Republicans who have been elected) are more concerned with material gain and their own portfolios than they are with the character of society. In recent years, Republicans, who call themselves “Conservatives” - in their ever-constant drive for more, more, more - fail to conserve anything, excepting perhaps, the bottom line. Many Republicans, who claim to be pro-life, are rather unconcerned with actually ending the injustice that is abortion, as long as they have it as a hot-button to push for votes during election cycles. The support for torture (also known in double-speak as “enhanced interrogation techniques”) shown by far too many Republicans amounts to cooperation in grave evil, as the Pope has said on several occasions. Just as Democrats (and here I do mean both the party and individual Dems) are wrong to support the injustice of abortion, Republicans (individual Reps) are just as wrong to support the injustice of torture. It is a foundational teaching of the Natural Law that it is never permissible to use evil means to achieve one’s ends, even if those ends are good.

It’s not easy to realize that the party we’ve been a part of (regardless of which one), and feel a kinship with, is and has participated in the creation of laws, policies, and institutions that make it harder for God’s Kingdom to be built on earth. God knows, it took me years of prayer to come to the realization that I just *couldn’t* be a Democrat (or a Republican) and the kind of Catholic that God was calling me to be. The choice was not easy (not nearly as easy as it should have been), but it was right for me.

Again, I must quote Chaput:

“ The Gospel says that we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free - not comfortable; not respected; but free in the real sense of the word: able to see and do what’s right. This freedom is meant to be used in the service of others. Working for justice is an obligation of Christian freedom.”

I can much better recognize those places in our culture where injustice is present, and pray and work for solutions, if I am not part of the problem. And from where I’m sitting, with a Catechism in my hand, both parties in the American political system are part of the problem.

So why bother trying to change things, if both parties are so flawed? Because it’s part of what we’re charged with as Christians.

“We Christians are in the world, but not of the world. We belong to God and our home is heaven. But we’re here for a reason: to change the world, for the sake of the world, in the name of Jesus Christ. The work belongs to us. Nobody will do it for us. And the idea that we can actually accomplish it without engaging in a hands-on way the laws, structures, the public policies, the habits of mind, and the root causes that sustain injustice in our country is a delusion.”

And again, I ask, “why the Church?” Why should Catholics listen to the Church when it comes to teachings on society? Why should being a faithful Catholic in matters of public life be more important than being a Republican or Democrat?

I’m going to let Archbishop Chaput answer that question, and also end my thoughts here. It’s my sincerest desire that if you *are* a Catholic and a Republican or Democrat (with more than a reluctant association with either party), that my words have made you at least pause to consider another way of approaching politics.

“John XXIII was a man of unusual pastoral skill. He was alert to the concerns of others. He had a strong sense of social justice. He saw the evil of the arms race. He respected the achievements of the modern world. He was a globalist. He understood the suffering of people in the developing countries; the priority of the poor; and the mission of the Catholic faith to all persons, in all cultures, in all ages. And yet he sifted all these concerns through a heart shaped by his episcopal motto: “obedience and peace”. John XXIII never saw the Church as a problem that needed fixing, or a corporation at civil war  with its soul. The Catholic Church was one reality, an intimately personal unity summed up in his great encyclical Mater et Magistra, issued a year before the council [Vatican II]: “Mother and Teacher of all nations - such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation. She is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth.’
            Charles de Foucauld once wrote that obedience is the yardstick of love. For John XXIII, any love of the church that claimed to express itself as disobedience to her teaching would have been impossible to imagine.” 


  1. Sarah - beautiful, as always, my friend. You were able to use such beautiful quotes in support of your post. And, I agree completely about not being a "card-carrying" member of either party. In Missouri, people don't have to declare a party - so I haven't and won't!

    This has been one of the things that frustrated me so much the last couple of election cycles:
    "Many Republicans, who claim to be pro-life, are rather unconcerned with actually ending the injustice that is abortion, as long as they have it as a hot-button to push for votes during election cycles."

    Great post, Sarah! Thank you!

  2. Great post, and explains so well (and perhaps better than I could) why I'm a registered Independent and often end up party splitting when I vote.

    Thank you!

  3. Beautiful post, Sarah, and I L.O.V.E. the quotes by Archbishop Chaput! He makes me want to move to Denver!!!

  4. Again- beautiful post-

    But I still don't see how a Catholic can vote for a democrat in good conscience. MAYBE if he's "pro-life" but then you have the Stupaks of the world.

    What are the issues with the Republicans?

    I'll list the ones I can think of.
    • War- not unique to R's- Afghanistan and Kosovo...
    • Torture- not a party platform- in fact many Dems were aware of torture including Pelosi.
    • Fiscal Conservatives- I'm assuming Dems see this as opposed to social justice, but I explained on Wednesday how the Free Market lifts ALL people up.
    • Not pro-life enough- perhaps maddening, but a million+two times better than the dem position.
    • Death penalty- got me there (and I'm against it) but the death penalty is not intrinsically evil, whereas abortion is. The two are not the same and cannot be compared as such.
    • The Environment- there is a LOT of debate on the truthfulness of global warming. This seems to be nothing but a money-maker scheme for the top-dogs of the issue, such as Al Gore.

    What am I missing?

    It seems to me that besides being on the correct side of the non-negotiable, as Leila pointed out, the Republican party is infinitely better than the Democratic party. Not perfect... (again-I'm a libertarian! :)) but if the question is between the two- Republicans should win every time for Catholics.

  5. Yeah, I've refrained from commenting all week, but I did enjoy the simplicity of this post. However, I don't think it brings us any closer to addressing the question of what a Catholic American is supposed to do!
    I came to this same conclusion before the last presidential election, but unfortunately, like that Simpson's episode makes fun of, the third party is not a viable alternative in our political system. Our system was specifically designed so that we wouldn't have a billion political parties popping up dividing the votes on basic issues (like in most other countries) - for better or worse. Frankly, I think its unfortunate that these moral issues are part of any political platform. They should be a given! I do agree that its wrong for individuals to support something like torture, however individual support vs. a party platform are entirely different scales and produce entirely different levels of culpability. And I shutter when people place economic benefits or job security over basic life issues.
    Anyway, that was just my two cents :)

    Rebecca, when are you going to write a post about your views? Looking forward to reading that one!

  6. I think that you should be honored that there are fewer comments on this post since it is an indication that you've not driven anyone to outrage!

    I am afraid that this next presidential election will have me completely "throwing away" my vote... but I am gradually becoming okay with that.

  7. I was worried that whoever was drawn for Friday might get fewer visits, but then perhaps Rae has a point. I think I will wait to post again until at least Tuesday so it gets some more 'front page' time!

    Your quotes regarding the Catholic Church and why we must take our Faith believes into the voting booth with us are really sitting on my heart. Thank-you.

    Allison - my post will probably be up next week. I have a lot to think about and need to take some time and reread all of these posts and comments. I will say that I learned a lot, and frankly that was my goal!

  8. Hey everyone,

    Thanks for the great comments!

    Lauren - I appreciate your thoughtful comment especially, and I'm hoping to come back later today and write a thoughtful answer!

    I just wanted to write a quick comment thanking everyone for reading and commenting on my post yesterday! :)

  9. I am so grateful to read and be among a community of strong Catholics who defer to the teachings of the Church, approaching their political views with a Catechism in one hand.

    In my personal voting experience, I have weighed the pros and cons of individuals running for office, not the parties endorsing them when I cast my vote. So Sarah, I strongly agree with your statement, "Just as Democrats (and here I do mean both the party and individual Dems) are wrong to support the injustice of abortion, Republicans (individual Reps) are just as wrong to support the injustice of torture."

    In political campaigns, it seems that the candidate to most strongly endorse marriage, family, and morality is usually mocked. So as Chaput states, "Our problems can only be solved by people of character who actively and WITHOUT APOLOGY take their beliefs into public debates." It's a desperation, in a sense, as Michelle stated...and while there isn't a clear party to vote with, there is a clear direction provided by our Church...almost a reversal of what you might find in other religions...and that...is freeing.

  10. Sarah,
    I think your post is great. As a Catholic who is Republican only because their platform is the closest I can get to what I believe, I'm always disappointed that the Republicans don't actually do what they say they will do, especially in issues such as abortion. And they don't because so many are stringing us along because there is nowhere else to go, OR they are too spineless to do the job.

    The Democrats, and I used to be one, have seemed to have dissolved into the Libertine party, anything goes, anything you want to do is fine for us...it does not matter if society is destroyed or we turn socialist, just let us have the power, and line our pockets, and we will look the other way. They pretend to care about issues such as poverty, but only pay lip service to it, not really solve the problems. They talk Utopia, but only so far as it is to keep themselves in power. And things only get worse. Look at the places Dems have had power for decades, like New Orleans and Washington, D.C. - how are the people there better?

    I'm Republican and not Independent because being Independent does not allow me to vote in primaries in my state. We need to get people to work! And not in gov't jobs. That will help poverty. I could go on and on but the Catholic platform is the best: protect and help the innocent, promote virtue and beauty and marriage, help educate, support families, promote work, etc. Neither party does the job well and I don't see it getting any better.

    As mothers we need to educate and train our kids to be self-sufficient and strong in the faith because the Gov't only takes from you and you can't rely on them do anything to really help you. You have to help yourself and also the others in your community.

  11. Great post, Sarah! Really, way to go for all the guest posters here. I really enjoyed reading it this week, though I'm clearly a little behind getting to this one. I thought there were a lot of good points made. I was just discussing the last couple of days with people that I don't feel that I can, in good conscience, register as either a Republican or a Democrat. I can and will vote, but I can only take it candidate by candidate.