“Christian Discernment and the Ballot Box”
Hopefully, when we go to the polls on Tuesday, 8 November we will bring our Christian conscience with us into the voting booth. Hopefully, the political spectacle played out over the past year has better informed us about the issues, enabled us to voice our concerns about the candidates and to more closely examine and evaluate public policy and programs. If so, then we should be ready to cast our vote using a reasonable measure of Christian ‘discernment’.
Consideration for the long standing social and moral teaching of the Church should allow us to make an informed decision when it comes to voting for political leaders, representatives, laws and policies. These teachings are based on the Gospels central message of love of God and neighbor. These principles include the preeminent respect for the life and dignity of all people and a preferential responsibility towards the poor, the needy and the marginalized. Also included is an abiding reverence for God’s creation and a commitment to protect the sustainability of our planet. Adhering to these basic Christian principles requires making choices that go well beyond short-term economic interests. Politics is not about trying to find some elusive perfect marriage between social concerns and personal morality; it’s about practicing the art of the possible. An election is about who best practices this art. The voter decides what can be done and which candidate can best accomplish it. If we’re looking for the perfect society, then we’re outside politics. Politics teaches that we live with the imperfect and try to make it better.
The Church’s advocacy on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed, her defense of the sanctity of life from conception to a natural death, her promoting the sacramental nature of a one male and one female marriage, her opposition to war and the death penalty, her teaching on the disastrous consequences of man-made climate change, her commitment to universal education, accessible health care, economic justice and other contemporary social and moral issues often places her in a minority view. Her position on these issues indicates that the Church cannot be branded as either conservative or liberal when it comes to social or political matters. In the practical realm, the Church has no particular political orientation, her members are as diverse as the possible just solutions for the problems that plague society. While always honoring the Church’s basic principles of social justice and moral teaching our individual response to specific concerns can vary without us always sharing the exact same points of view. There is no such thing as an ‘Orthodox Vote’ in the ballot box.
Choosing who to vote for can be tough when political parties and candidates embrace, as they usually do, values not fully in line with the Church’s social and moral teaching. While a well informed Christian conscience could prevent a person from voting for a political candidate, program or law that contradicts fundamental principles of faith and morals, we may be compelled to search for the ‘least evil’ and most ‘common good’. As Christians, we can apply a simple moral litmus test to the current debate. What will the candidates proposed programs mean for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society? A candidate’s political, economic or social proposals should be viewed from the bottom up. We need to ask how their program treats those whom Jesus calls ‘the least of these’ [Matthew 25:45]. The ones who have no powerful lobby, who’ve never been to the Hamptons or a plush golf resort, who have never been near a private plane or luxurious yacht, but who do have the most compelling claim on our consciences and on our common resources. In a few weeks we’ll have the opportunity to bring these unaccounted for ‘brethren’ into the voting booth with us as we cast our one ballot for someone who can give them a voice. With this in mind, our vote does matter and we need to exercise our right to cast it.
Blessings, Fr. +Timothy