Marolt: The Church can no longer preach party politics
I believe Pope Francis has thankfully, even if indirectly, validated the dilemmas confronting Catholics in the voting booth. I say this looking forward to the upcoming general election cycle while remembering the last, in which many Catholics were reportedly informed regionally from the pulpit that it was sinful to vote for President Barack Obama due to his plan for health care reform, including coverage for abortions in group health plans.
My relief in the Holy Father’s de facto absolution for contemplation of our electoral choices is not because I am pro-choice. It is because there is no clear moral difference between the major political parties in this country when it comes to respect for life. As the pope points out, the general conservative support of the death penalty is as atrocious as the general liberal views on abortion. If told I can’t vote with the abortionists, then I am left to side with the executioners. I don’t see how that constitutes virtue-based partisanship.
All life is of infinite value. Isn’t that the theological point? It’s important to acknowledge what that means. If one life is of infinite value to God, it is equal to all lives combined. If there is no price we can put on a human life, we can’t say one is less valuable than a multiple of others. It’s a beautiful concept: I am worth the world, just as you are — even if impossible to fully grasp.
If we accept this, and I do, it is as horrific to kill one convicted criminal in the electric chair as it is to kill tens of millions of innocent, unborn babies. I don’t say this lightly. It is my act of faith in coming to grips with the sanctity of all human life ultimately left solely in the hands of our perfectly just creator to reconcile.
In coming to grips with our consciences in the voting booth, I think it’s important to consider what we are trying to accomplish. I want to preserve life, but not just to keep people breathing. What’s important to me is fostering recognition of Christ’s presence in all human beings so that we can live in his love and peace to the best of our human capabilities. If the death penalty and abortion stances cancel candidate choices in this regard, I am left to make my decision on other factors, even if those are less important.
In the end, I don’t think we have accomplished much if we save one or a billion lives if we don’t genuinely foster respect for life in the process. If we save an unborn baby’s life by making abortion illegal, but his parents would still have one performed if it wasn’t, I think we have fallen short of our goal. Likewise, if we outlaw the death penalty but millions would still have a criminal executed if it was permissible, we have done nothing to eliminate hatred in mankind’s heart.
In both cases, what we have actually done is to only reinforce narrow commitments to respecting life the way respective political parties have written it up, while forcing their “opponents” to leave life alone under threat of worldly punishment, which is nothing close to respect and causes resentment, which is actually the antithesis of respect.
The issues of the death penalty and abortion polarize us. Discussing them in the political arena where we must take sides to participate forces the issues, sometimes to the point of fostering hatred. The poison of politics, regardless of whether a position is morally defensible and correct, has the power to destroy friendships and divide families. Considering this, I cannot see how fueling the debate from the pulpit by drawing hard lines through an incredibly complex weave of conflicting moral positions by both major political parties in our country can be an advisable plan.
I believe we have a moral obligation to participate in our governance since the opportunity of freedom to do so is an incredible gift. But, we also need to understand that politics is a secular game of give and take; that includes the giving and taking of those of many faiths and those of none at all. The result is a mixture of ideals we individually embrace and many that we don’t, usually presented as an “either/or” choice. Supporting either side wholeheartedly is spiritually indefensible. In as much, Catholics do not need a ballot cheat sheet prepared by the archdiocese. Into the voting booth we only need to take our faith as strongly as we can embrace it, a conscience as clear as we can make it, and the Holy Spirit as generously as he will give himself to us.
Roger Marolt believes in giving to Uncle Sam what is his and then praying like crazy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.