Voting with a Conscience

Barbara McCracken, OSB

Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. This column appeared in the Sept. 3, 2016, edition of the Globe.

Sister Barbara McCrackenWho is not really really tired of all the election hoopla? But how do you decide how to vote? Let’s look at some ideas that might help you make good voting decisions. I promise not to mention names or personalities of presidential candidates, nor even suggest how a person of faith ought to vote.

Just to be clear, the Catholic Church and most other churches are involved in the political process, but not partisan. The Church does not support any candidate or party. Rather, it welcomes dialogue with political leaders and candidates. Its causes are care for creation, defense of human life, the dignity and protection of the weak and vulnerable.     

Our church has issued statements on avoiding: war, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, genocide, torture, terrorist attacks, human trafficking, cloning, abortion, death penalty, discrimination based on race, religion, sex, ethnicity, disabling condition or age. 

Among the burning issues that the Catholic Church champions: the common good, peace, human rights, marriage, living wages, children, religious liberty, unions, private property, poverty reduction, income redistribution, support for the U.N., the Earned Income Tax Credit and Social Security, affordable housing, food security, sustainable agriculture, health care for all, asylum for refugees, economic justice, education, reform of our criminal justice and immigration systems, nonviolence, and better U.S. leadership regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

These are issues that elected leaders, especially congress and the president, need to be familiar with, and ideally be able to act upon in ways that promote the common good, not just for the U.S. but for the world. A safe and peaceful world translates to a safe and peaceful U.S. where it is easier for everyone to be good.

There probably is not a single reader that supports all of the above issues. Certainly there are no candidates for any office who support all of them. Discussion of such issues helps us understand each other and our differences. Dialogue is the way forward that can lead to compromise, an essential practice to make democracy work.

And what does all this have to do with being a person of faith? We all start from our belief in the common good, which is loving our “neighbor” in the larger understanding of that term. Caring for their well-being is the message of Jesus and a strong biblical concept. We cannot vote self-interest, tempting as that may be, and still support the common good.

In addition to voting with a well formed conscience, our country needs people who are qualified and willing to run for office. Not everyone can do that, but we can all work within a political party and/or let elected officials know our concerns and positions. We can all be more active in community organizations, another backbone of democracy.

The U.S. Catholic bishops publish a statement every four years prior to our presidential election.  This year’s edition, “Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” states, “Our country needs politics to be focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls; to be focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong; to be focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests.” 

Besides considering this document, you might want to look at the talk Pope Francis gave to Congress last September. From 1 to 4 p.m.  Sunday, Sept. 25, there will be a presentation at Sophia Center at the Mount on this document and more information about voting with a conscience. There is no cost to attend, but donations are always appreciated.