We are called, we are challenged, we are politically responsible

By Jeanne Christensen, RSM 

Last night I wrote a well-reasoned and informative piece on faithful citizenship… I reread it this morning and knew that there is no passion in it! Faithful citizenship is so essential to the core of who we are as Christians in a political climate that I can not say it strongly enough. Yes, we have to look to church leaders, teachings, and documents to assist us in becoming well-informed; but we also have to read, reflect, and dialog with persons we trust and respect outside the church arena. We must form our own consciences and to do that we must learn, discern, make our final judgments and then vote. We must pray about the dilemmas which face the American people and watch for the promptings of the Holy Spirit within.

But before we do anything, we must understand our civic and political responsibilities. We are called to see them through our eyes of faith, and we must bring our moral convictions to public life … whether we are running for office or voting for someone else. We are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society — we must be a voice for the voiceless. We can do this when we focus on moral principles, on the needs of the poor and vulnerable, and on the pursuit of the common good.

“[Our] moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of ‘right’ or ‘left,’ nor the platforms of any party. Our values are often not ‘politically correct.’ Our responsibility is to measure all candidates, policies, parties, platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person … whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good.” (“Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. November 2003, p.7)

People of faith are also called to advocate for those most in need because the common good is understood as the social conditions that allow people to reach their full human potential and to realize their human dignity. It is not simply the sum of all good things that one has or desires, nor is it the sum of the good of the greatest number of people. It is the structure within which a society can flourish and individuals can achieve their full human development. The U.S. Catholic bishops recognized that “the central question should not be, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It should be, ‘How can we — all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable — be better off in the years ahead? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue greater justice and peace?” (“Faithful Citizenship,” p. 2)

People of faith “are constantly being challenged to better form their consciences about public matters — fundamental questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left behind.” They can look for guidance from church leaders, theologians, other well-informed persons, traditional church teachings, and documents in which ethical and spiritual examinations of key issues are found. It is hoped that people of faith “who vote will examine the position of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as on the candidates’ personal integrity, philosophy, and performance … Decisions about candidates and choices about public policies require clear commitment to moral principles, careful discernment and prudential judgments based on the values of our faith. (Taken from “Voting Your Conscience: Reflections from the Peace and Justice Office,” Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, 2004)

While it is the church’s role to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, it is not the role of the church to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. “A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals … a political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.” (“Faithful Citizenship,” pp. 11-12)

As we prepare for the upcoming, mid-term election, we are challenged to raise the questions that matter to us, to find the resources that enable us to be well-informed, and to sit with our trusted colleagues, friends, and family members in contemplative dialogue. Contemplation invites us to conversion and to enter the very deep place within ourselves where we encounter God. (“Crucible for Change: Engaging Impasse through Communal Contemplation and Dialogue,” Nancy Sylvester, IHM and Mary Jo Klick, Editors. Sor Juana Press, San Antonio, TX, 2004)

When we have encountered God, how we act is forever changed. We consistently ask, what would God do in this instance, how would God address this injustice, how would God vote? What is God calling me to at this time? In this situation? In this election? How do you answer these questions? What do you do with your answers? Are you ready for the call, the challenge, your political responsibility?

Some resources that may assist you are found at:

The “Faithful Citizenship” document and a wide range of related materials can be found at: http://faithfulcitizenship.org.

In a recent email from the USCCB Department of Social Development and World peace, I was heartened to read: “The current statement is the standing teaching of the USCCB until the bishops update it before the 2008 election.”

“Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics” is produced by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. It can be found in English and Spanish at: http://www.thecatholicalliance.org. A toolkit entitled “Organizing for the Common Good” is also found at this site.

“Voting God’s Politics: An Issues Guide for Christians” and an accompanying toolkit “Voting God’s Politics Toolkit for Organizers” are available from Sojourners at: www.sojo.net.


Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM is a Sister of Mercy who lives in Kansas City, MO. Until May 2006, she was director of the Office of Peace and Justice for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for six years and now is Project Coordinator for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community.

Return to kcolivebranch.org





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: