Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Partisanship and Moral Obligation

can. 747 §1.† The Church, to which Christ the Lord has entrusted the deposit of faith so that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit it might protect the revealed truth reverently, examine it more closely, and proclaim and expound it faithfully, has the duty and innate right, independent of any human power whatsoever, to preach the gospel to all peoples, also using the means of social communication proper to it.

§2.† It belongs to the Church always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.


 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 245.

President Trump signed an executive order on blocking refugees from seven nations for a period of 120 days. Not surprisingly, this has set off a lot of political quarrels. The nations he blocked all have a Muslim majority population and Americans are concerned with refugees being brought here and performing terrorist acts. People argue over whether he has the right to do this (if I read US Code 1182 correctly, I suppose it is legal) and over the fact that other Presidents (Carter and Obama) have used the US Code to exclude certain nationalities from entering this country. Unsurprisingly, we see a case where each side justifies their own “tribe” and condemns their enemies even when it means they condemn what they once praised and vice versa.

At the same time, there is a religious debate going on over Trump’s action and whether it is moral. While the American bishops have generally condemned this action, other Catholics point to the fact that the Church recognizes the right of the state to regulate immigration policies, and the need for prudence to avoid causing real harm by overwhelming the system or letting in people with a hostile intent.

This is just one of the issues being fought. Catholics have concerns on how their nation is run, and belong to different political parties based on what they think is the best way to handle it. Since both those Catholics who favor a government action and those who oppose it point to words from the shepherds of the Church, how to we reconcile these claims?

The first thing we have to remember is, regardless of what the government can legally do, Catholics must not support an immoral action. If a government action goes against the dignity of the human person or the natural law of God’s design, then the Catholic must oppose it. For example, abortion is legal in America. But no Catholic can support it. If a President supports the use of torture, we must oppose him. If a Supreme Court ruling legalizes “same sex marriage,” we cannot accept such unions as a valid marriage.

So, Christians who are citizens of a nation must witness to the nation by living out and explaining their beliefs. We can’t just cite the convenient passages that seem to mirror our views. We must strive to know how to know, love and serve God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. With each action we do, we have to ask whether we act out of love or out of self interest.

That means asking honestly. It’s easy to lie to ourselves and make excuses for what we wanted to do in the first place. But actually asking what Our Lord’s words mean and how the Church calls us to apply them? That’s hard. It can mean we have to set aside a comfortable ideology in order to do right. It’s hard, but it’s not an unreasonable command. If we love Our Lord, we will seek to do His will (John 14:15).

That means when the president does something we dislike, we have to ask ourselves whether we dislike it because it is morally wrong or because it goes against our political preferences. When the president does something we like, we have to ask whether we are in danger of liking something that is incompatible with our Catholic faith. In either case, we must set aside partisan preferences when they clash with the Catholic faith.

Yet, that’s what many people are not doing. Instead they’re bashing the bishops when they speak on the morality of Trump’s actions. They reduce moral concerns to political issues and get angry when the Church teaches in a certain way, as if they invented a teaching in response to Trump, rather than apply a long existing teaching to judge his actions.

When one reduces moral teaching to politics, they lose sight of the reason the Church criticizes the state. It’s not because the Pope or the bishops are left wing or right wing (they’re often accused of both). It’s because they’re concerned with the salvation of souls and warn the faithful that they must do something or must avoid another. If we write these warnings off as “partisan,” we’re ignoring danger to our salvation.

It’s not the purpose of the article to justify or condemn support of Trump. I just ask the reader to consider strongly who to listen to when the Pope and bishops say one thing, and the partisans say another.

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