BEFORE THE CROSS | Viewing election issues through a lens of faith

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

This is the first in a series of four columns about forming Catholic consciences for voting. 

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Let's talk about voting.

Jesus isn't running for public office this year. Neither is His mother. That means we can stop looking for the perfect candidate. From the perspective of the Catholic faith, the perfect candidate isn't out there.

It also means I'm not going to tell you how to vote — not because IRS tax codes prohibit it but because faith doesn't require it. I only intend to write about what faith requires — to look at issues that weigh on every Catholic conscience, issues by which we can measure every candidate.

In addressing those issues, I don't intend to substitute for anyone's conscience. Rather, I intend to help in the formation of everyone's conscience.

Abortion remains the number one issue that weighs on the Catholic conscience in every election. Why? Because abortion is the destruction of innocent life on a massive scale. In the U.S. alone, it involves the deaths of almost 1 million children every year, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 million children since 1973. When the powerful can eliminate the vulnerable, and society is told to look the other way, something is drastically wrong. And that pattern sets a template that will express itself in other ways.

Abortion is a direct contradiction to the faith. If we don't object to it, we have little grounds to object to anything else, and little grounds to claim that our concern with other issues is motivated by our Catholic faith. Candidates who support abortion are telling us that they will make decisions by criteria that are in fundamental contradiction to the faith. In the face of that, it strains credulity to believe any promises they make about caring for the poor and vulnerable in a way that is acceptable to the faith.

There are other issues, too. Like what? Racism.

That one word conjures a set of events and attitudes, actions and non-actions, that can't fail to capture our attention. Looking across the country, in our own city, or into our own hearts, there's widespread evidence of a problem and we can't ignore it. To turn our backs on the anguish and frustration of our brothers and sisters is to turn our backs on Jesus, who said, "Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me." In other words: racism touches the heart of our Catholic faith.

What will we do about systemic racism? Faith doesn't give us one solution. But candidates who spend more time talking about tax policies than they do about healing racial divisions are telling us that they can't see or won't address a major issue that's tearing apart the human family. How can we trust them to represent us, to see and prioritize and address the most important human problems on our behalf?

There's more to be said about these and other issues, and I'll say more later. But I've said enough to uncover a dilemma that has haunted Catholics in every election of the past 20 to 30 years. It's time to confront that dilemma head on: we've created a party system in which it seems that half of the Catholic issues are championed by Democrats and half of the Catholic issues are championed by Republicans.

That isn't satisfactory. Catholics represent almost a quarter of the American population. Can't a voting bloc of 25% of the nation create a political landscape that regularly features candidates who represent Catholic values?

So, what can we do — each one of us, every day — to help change that system, to help something better emerge? We spend a lot of time and energy asking, "How did we get here?" But that's time and energy wasted if it's only spent on recrimination. We need to spend our time and energy asking: "How do we make something better?"

And, because we can't wait until something better emerges, we need to ask, "How should we vote in the meantime?"

How can we think about the election, talk about the election, and form our consciences in preparation for the election — not first as Democrats or Republicans, but first and last as Catholics? I'll address that in the coming weeks. 

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