As a Catholic Christian, I am expected to vote my conscience. My political choices matter not just for the future of my country, but also for the future of my soul. It is inconceivable to me to opt out of this obligation by not voting and not taking part in deciding the future of this great nation. This is especially true in that our country is the world leader that can help chart the course of this planet either to prosperity and moral fulfillment or to utter destruction. I must choose. I must vote. There is no other way.
However, what if the two choices presented offer an incomplete realization of the moral vision I see for our country? How do I vote for something that is both ethically good and at the same time ethically evil?
Many of us saw a difficulty like this in the last Presidential election. This apparent tension hovered over the personalities of the two candidates. The difficulty that I am pointing to has nothing to do with the two candidates and their personalities, but with the stances evidenced by the two political parties. While there was much in the platform of both parties that was admirable, if not a little contradictory, there was in each of them something unacceptable morally. I speak now not as a Democrat or a Republican or as an Independent. Nor are my words coming from any particular ethnic or accidental perspective. I speak as a believer in God, in Christ. I speak as a Roman Catholic Priest that, to me, is indistinguishable from my citizenship as an American; but this dual understanding of my life as Christian and Citizen requires me to make a choice in what is most important. When a conflict develops between my faith and my patriotism, I must prefer in all things my faith. As St. Thomas More declared at his execution for refusing to accept the King of England’s assumption to be the head of the Church: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first.”
But what happens to us as Americans when, in the platforms of both parties, there are ethically repugnant planks? There is much charity and compassion in the Democratic treatment of the immigrant and the need for generosity in giving social services. There is real concern that we treat even the minorities of our country with great respect, trying never to offend anyone. In the Republican platform, there is a strong defense of life at all its stages of development, opposing the killing of innocent life through abortion. Both these approaches fit nicely together as reflective of the dignity of the human person; but the two parties are opposed to each other and one must choose between one good and another.
I have often wished that one party could encompass both attitudes. In European history, it is not alien to see a party called “Christian Democrats”. In some of these cultures, it is not unheard of to include the religious dimension in the political. Of course, these nations may not have the very valuable tradition of the strict separation of Church and State that we have.
Truly, the reality here is different. Third parties have inevitably failed. That does not mean that it is inconceivable in the future that a centrist party might develop here that combines the true and more Catholic moral perspectives of both the Democratic and Republican parties; but that is not within the power of our individual choices. If that day comes, we know where our loyalties should lie, but given what we have today as we go to the voting booth for the next election, we must choose between the partial morally justified perspectives of the present choices.
We must, therefore, prioritize in our consciences what are the more important moral choices before us and then vote for those that mirror those priorities in the closest possible fashion.
Meanwhile, the Church must continue to urge both political parties to be more consistent in protecting human life in every stage of its development, including pre-born human life: children, adults of all varieties and situations, and aged persons facing illness and death. Abortion, gun control, drugs, immigration laws, capital punishment, health care etc. are all morally relevant issues. It is only in a consistent ethic of life that both parties can resolve their internal contradictions and present to our country a morally sustainable vision for future development.