As we move closer to November and the election for our next president I am making a more and more intentional effort to sort through the issues, what’s at stake, and to whom to give my vote. What a difficult and gut wrenching time it has been.
Undoubtedly many of you are struggling through the same decision, so I thought it might be best for us to go over the moral teachings of the Church and how they are applied to voting.
Now, before anyone gets too worked up, let me say:
I am not a member of any political party.
I am not a fan of either candidate.
I am not going to tell you who to vote for,
but not because I don’t want to help you, but because I am not allowed.
The Church is recognized by our government as a non-profit, and therefore a tax exempt organization. The law prohibits such organizations from supporting political parties or individual candidates. The way the Catholic Church is organized does not allow any one parish or diocese to opt out. Either all the Catholic parishes in the U.S. are tax exempt or they’re not. All of this is way above my pay grade so until something changes, what I can talk about is political issues and stances, even as they apply to qualifying candidates for office according to our moral principles. Voting is a moral act.
We can start with voting itself. It has crossed my mind more than once to not vote. Maybe some of you are in that mindset. However, not voting is still a choice which we morally have to answer for. Neglecting our duty is the type of sin know as omission. In the first form of the penitential act we tell God we are sorry for, among other things, the good we have failed to do. We have a moral obligation to promote the common good. The common good is not just the responsibility of those in office, it’s ours, yet one important way to promote the common good is to vote for proposals or candidates who support it best.
The first and most basic moral law is to do good and avoid evil. It’s not both/and. It’s not and/or. It is do good and avoid evil.
For an act to be good, both the end and the means have to be good. In other words, the outcome or intention and the way we got there have to be morally good. We say the end never justifies the means. The circumstances surrounding a good end and good means could make the act more or less good.
For example, the intention of parents to give shelter to their family is a good end. If they buy said home with money which they earned, then the way they achieved the act is also a good. The other conditions or considerations are circumstances which to greater or lesser extent add to the good achieved, if said parents also choose a home where the children would be in a better school district, then the good done is even greater.
Unfortunately, it is easier to do evil than it is to do good. Why? An action is made evil by either the intention or the means being evil. Again, for an act to be good the intention and the means have to both be good. Only one of those two parts must be evil to make the whole thing evil. The circumstances can make an evil act more or less evil, however they can never make up for an evil intention or means, though sufficiently evil circumstances can ruin an otherwise good act.
For example, let’s take the same good intention of sheltering a family. The end is good, but if the means of sheltering the family is not buying the house but by taking it over by force and by keeping the rightful owners hostage in the basement, then the means are evil. The circumstances in this case could make the hostile family more or less culpable or guilty, but could not excuse them entirely.
There are acts which are so inherently evil, that the circumstances have zero effect on the level of guilt or punishment due to the one who chooses them. These are called intrinsically evil acts (non-negotiables).
Let’s step back for a moment now. We are able to participate in the good or the evil done by another person or group. That is, after all, why we are reviewing the moral law, to be able to apply it to our choice of proposals and candidates. We take part, in both direct and indirect ways, in the good or evil done by those we affirm, aid, assist or support, in this case in those we vote for.
As people of faith, how should we not vote?
First, we should not vote based on political party affiliation alone. One party may typically appeal to us than the other, but if we vote with respect to a candidate’s suitability we probably will not be able to vote a straight ticket. Parties change ideology and priorities, therefore, family or even your own voting tendencies should not determine your vote.
Second, please do not vote for someone for shallow reasons such as their appearance, personality on camera, or being media savvy. Those things don’t even qualify as icing on the cake. They’re the sprinkles on the icing, on the cake. They’re nice to have but we don’t need them.
Unfortunately, you are not safe voting for someone because they identify themselves as Catholic. There are a number of Catholic politicians who in my estimation, will have a lot of explaining to do on judgement day, scripture says “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Fourth, do not decide who to vote for based only on what is best for you personally. Remember, our responsibility is for the common good, not just our own good. What is best for all may not be ideal for me. It’s called sacrifice or charity.
Lastly, moral issues differ both in kind and in magnitude. We may not vote for someone who has many lesser issues right but fails to make moral decisions on greater issues. It’s like hiring someone who doesn’t have the education or experience needed for a job because they communicate well.
As people of faith, how should we vote?
First, we should evaluate each candidate which has a real chance of winning and see where they stand on our non-negotiable principals. We do not have to vote for a candidate who meets all our principals if it is clear they have no chance of winning. Why? Concern for the common good, which is both doing good and avoiding evil. Unfortunately, no write in candidate has a chance in this presidential election.
Then we rank the candidates according to how well they line up with the moral choices which are non-negotiables. We give preference to them accordingly.
If all, in this case both candidates are found to endorse positions which are at odds with non-negotiable moral choices. We vote for the one who would do the least serious harm. If that is not discernable, we then look at the issues of lesser importance.
We must also keep in mind the ability candidates will have to appoint other officials and the impact those people will have. For this presidential election, what comes to mind are the appointments that will be made for the Supreme Court. These appointments will shape the law, and our culture for years to come. That deserves consideration.
In my next homily we will dive into the issues that are non-negotiable and the role our conscience plays in making these and other moral choices. In the gospel today, the unjust judge hesitantly heeded the widow. May we not be so hesitant in heeding the Lord Jesus who speaks to our hearts, “Render a just decision for me.”