I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want my blog to be a vehicle for my political opinions. I especially don’t want my blog to misrepresent my political opinions as being Catholic moral theology. While we’re forbidden certain actions, we can reach different decisions about how to best be faithful to Church teachings. We must avoid rationalizing the forbidden choices through pick-and-choose quoting Church teaching in order to justify what we were planning to do anyway. We have to apply Church teaching to every aspect of our lives, promoting good and opposing evil to the best of our ability. That includes our political preferences. When one candidate openly supports an evil condemned by the Church, we’re not supposed to support that candidate without a reason that outweighs the harm done.
I don’t think I am violating my blog editorial policy by saying this election is particularly bleak for Catholics and other Christians seeking the right thing. In ordinary times any one of these candidates would disqualify themselves as the greater evil. This time, we’re going decide between two dismal choices. Donald Trump fails because of his violations of social justice teaching. The Democrats (at this time I can’t figure out who’s going to get the nomination though, at the time of my writing this, Hillary Clinton seems favored to win) fail because of their open support of moral evils. Some people enthusiastically support one of these candidates. Many are reluctantly choosing one on the basis of reducing the harm done to the nation. A few are championing a Third Party in general, write-in, or not voting at all. (My post on all these concerns is HERE). The problem with that movement is, while these people are clear on who they oppose, they cannot agree on who to support.
When we analyze these choices, we need to remember that the right to life takes top priority. We can’t take a number of lesser concerns and claim that, put together, they outweigh the right to life. St. John Paul II called support for these other concerns “false and illusory” (Christifideles Laici #38) without support for the right to life. But, when no credible candidate supports the right to life, we can vote to shrink the damage done by voting for the candidate we think is less extreme in their support for evil. We don’t support that candidate’s evil, and we have an obligation to oppose it. We can’t just wash our hands of it on Wednesday, November 9th and say “Not my problem."
That’s standard teaching on Catholic ethics in voting. People faithfully obeying Church teaching can reach different decisions on what their conscience will allow. The question we have to answer is, What defense will we offer at the last judgment for our vote? In other words, we will have to answer to God for our actions so we need to take our decision seriously.
What leaves me with election burnout are those Catholics who have embraced one of the choices—usually for reasons I find unconvincing—and go out of their way to condemn people who reach a different decision as being bad Catholics. Each of these factions will contrast the evils of the other choices with Church teaching, but when they compare their own choices with Catholic teaching, I find that reasoning shallow and, as a result, the accusation of being a bad Catholic for disagreeing with them to be offensive.
We all have the obligation between now and November of being open to new discoveries of truth that might impact how we need to vote. Truth is a key word here. Many throw unproven allegations—often based on what they think the words mean—across social media. We have the obligation to investigate them—NOT assume they must be true because we dislike this candidate—in light of our obligation to promote good and oppose evil. We may discover one candidate grows progressively worse than we thought, or we may discover allegations against a candidate are false. In these cases, we have to reevaluate our decision to see if it is still in keeping with Church teaching.
Certainly we can still hold opinions on the best way to vote, and we can debate each other about these opinions. That’s a good way to learn more about the consequences of our opinion and whether we still want to hold them. But we can’t commit rash judgment in doing so. Trump supporters and third party supporters (the biggest civil war I see between Catholics on social media[†]) can’t accuse each other of being bad Catholics when their consciences forbid them to vote the other way.
Dialogue is certainly welcome to help people reach the right decisions. But in doing so, we should keep in mind something said by GK Chesterton. “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.[*]” We must not condemn faithful Catholics who make a legitimate choice different from ours. Nor can we refuse considering if we somehow went wrong in our own reasoning.
If I was making a single point about what to watch out for, I’d say the danger is pride. Nobody wants to be in the wrong. Being a practicing Catholic means trying to live according God’s teaching and the teaching of His Church. So when someone says “I think that’s wrong,” anger is easy to come by. But even practicing Catholics are sinners. We don’t have the papal charism of infallibility. We can make mistakes. That’s why it’s important to constantly reevaluate our views and respond to differing views with patience and charity. If we don't, the results could be serious...
[†] Generally speaking, I haven’t found Catholics who support Hillary Clinton and few who support Bernie Sanders because they openly support things as “rights” which the Church calls intrinsically evil (always evil regardless of intention or circumstance). I have met some third party supporters who would support Clinton or Sanders over Trump if they didn’t have a 3rd party to consider, because they believe Trump is lying about opposing abortion and/or fear Trump would cause great harm in nuclear or conventional war. “Abortion vs. World War III” is the common rhetoric used here.
[*] Chesterton said this in the context of providing reasons for why one is Catholic, and not coming across like an uninformed bigot. I think his words can apply to other disputes as well.