In less than two weeks, U.S. voters will go to the polls to elect national, state and local leaders. It’s a nerve-racking time, with a tense and negative political climate that fills the halls of Congress and trickles down to every state capitol and every street corner. Even though it’s only a mid-term election, the stakes are high — and spending on political advertising seemingly higher.
Since 2007, the U.S. bishops have offered guidelines for Catholics heading to the polls. That year, the bishops adopted “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.” Over the years, the document has been updated to include excerpts from papal documents and to reflect developments in domestic and foreign policy.
It might be a good idea to revisit some of the points made by the bishops in “Forming Consciences.”
“As a nation, we share many blessings and strengths, including a tradition of religious freedom and political participation,” the bishops wrote in the document’s introduction. “However, as a people, we face serious challenges that are both political and moral. This has always been so and as Catholics, we are called to participate in public life in a manner consistent with the mission of our Lord, a mission that he has called us to share.”
They then set out to address the church’s role in formation of conscience, offering four basic principles of Catholic social teaching as guidelines: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.
Here is what they say on these four teachings:
Dignity of the human person: “Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. Among these attacks are abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
The dignity of human life also “calls us to oppose torture, unjust war and the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes; … to oppose racism; to oppose human trafficking; and to overcome poverty and suffering,” they say.
Subsidiarity: “The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that larger institutions in society should not overwhelm or interfere with smaller or local institutions,” the bishops say.
The common good: Lawmakers must base their decisions on what is best for the common good and not their political careers or political party. “It is therefore necessary that an economic system serve the dignity of the human person and the common good by respecting the dignity of work and protecting the rights of workers,” say the bishops.
Solidarity: Loving our neighbor, loving the stranger, loving the foreigner. These are key tenets of solidarity. “In light of the Gospel’s invitation to be peacemakers, our commitment to solidarity with our neighbors — at home and abroad — also demands that we promote peace and pursue justice in a world marred by terrible violence and conflict,” according to the bishops.
With these four teachings in mind, voters can ask themselves (by educating themselves on each candidates’ stance) whether a candidate would support these important issues also suggested by the bishops in “Forming Consciences”:
- Protecting the weakest in our midst;
- Protecting the fundamental understanding of marriage;
- Achieving comprehensive immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship;
- Helping families and children overcome poverty by ensuring access to education and fair and living wages;
- Providing health care for all;
- Opposing policies that reflect prejudice, hostility toward immigrants, religious bigotry and other forms of unjust discrimination.
The entire document is available at this link.