If all politics is local, let’s be more neighborly

In making our political decisions, we must consider the four Cs: civility, compassion, courage, calm

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
OSV Newsweekly

Today, we know Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father. In 1796, supporters of his presidential campaign were called “cutthroats who walk in rags.” American politics have always been rough and tumble. Yet as Christians, we are called to raise the level of dialogue. Let us always strive to bring thoughtful civility into the public discussion, even as we add to it some challenging ideas and values.

It can be challenging, especially when the polarizing rhetoric often spirals out of control. Don’t take the bait. In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops updated the quadrennial guide to help us navigate election season. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship offers a comprehensive reflection on exercising your faith in the context of modern American politics. It reminds us we are called “to be servants to the whole truth in authentic love.”

Civility: Debates are part of the American way and help prepare well-informed voters. An old adage still rings true; we can disagree without being disagreeable. I was taught in logic class to avoid the ad hominem argument — attacking the person rather than the idea. Good debate should not lead to animosity and division but to a dialogue that seeks what is the best direction for all. In other words, good politics serve the common good.

Compassion: Catholic social teaching calls us to be concerned about all people, from the moment of conception to natural death. Every human being is graced with dignity in the image and likeness of God. I have been invited to the White House in Washington and the governor’s mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky. In these seats of power, it keeps me humble knowing whom I am there to represent. My voice is not my own, but rather belongs to the struggling people who otherwise would not be heard. I spoke about a range of issues including protecting the child in the womb and her mother, promoting good educational choices, providing proper health care for all, environmental stewardship, religious persecution, and reforming our criminal justice system.

Courage: As people of faith, our religious principles should influence our decisions about what is best for our common life, so that we can promote the common good. These values promote a deep understanding and active engagement on behalf of human dignity. They are the main reasons we strive to safeguard and preserve religious freedom. But in our current political environment, these goods are often falsely set against each other. The remedy to this problem is courage — the courage of our convictions, and the courage to act on them.

For example, the Little Sisters of the Poor, like so many ministries of service, were forced by government to choose either serving those in greatest need or serving them by means consistent with Church teachings. We can and must do both. The Little Sisters responded with the courage to affirm the fundamental coherence of our Catholic moral vision, and to press their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Make no mistake: in the public square, we do not impose our faith on others nor do we remain on the sidelines. We must have the courage to face what Pope Francis calls the “the polite persecution” of forcing religion from public service. At the same time, and recognizing we are all sinners called by Jesus to conversion, we do not allow our teaching to become a justification for unjust discrimination. No one should face persecution, especially violence, but the Church must also remain free to witness to the truth of Christ in love.

Calm: Civility is built on patient respect and good manners. It is part of the American way to debate important issues, and we should certainly bring our strongly held principles and passions to that debate. But tone also matters. Our task is to move from debate to dialogue; a dialogue that allows us to articulate our Christian values and to listen to others, moving us to morally sound solutions. An important aspect of being a good citizen is education and reflection and, for people of faith, prayer — which can bring many graces, including a sense of calm.

Another reason my brother bishops issued Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is to offer a resource for people prayerfully considering all the issues before us this election. A common question is, “Who should I vote for?” This is a question the faithful must answer for themselves, but Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship offers good advice. “Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.’”

We work for the promotion of life and against the weakening of its protections. Every life should be welcomed into the world, nurtured while it is with us and given opportunity to flourish until God calls us home, in his time rather than when society wrongly sees us as a burden. As you navigate this highly charged political climate, remember to pray, learn, reflect, seek the common good, engage in civil dialogue, and vote.

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress in September, Pope Francis said of our nation’s elected representatives, “you are the face of its people. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the timeless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.” Pope Francis went on to say, “to this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

As Christians in the public square, let us always do our best to reflect the face of Jesus. In doing so, we invite our politicians to achieve the noblest aspirations of their profession. American democracy is at its best when it serves the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, securing for all the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Original post HERE