January Politics for Churches

Harry Truman once said, “During election season, we behave somewhat as primitive people do during a full moon.”  Every four years around the time of a general election, I, like many other church leaders would love to disappear because people go crazy.  In addition, numerous churchgoers want priests to instruct Catholic voters how to cast their ballot, condemning those who, in their view, do not adhere to ecclesial teachings.  Some priests, bishops, or religious school presidents take the bait by presenting a letter, homily, internet video, or other communique that attempts to steer voters one way or another.  But that is not our role.  It never was.  It never should be.  Our role is not to rile people up against others but to help form consciences in imitation of Christ.

We take our cues from Jesus, who was politically active.  We take our cues from recent popes, John Paul II to Francis, who encourage us to follow Christ’s example.  His example recognized societal injustice and responded to it through active nonviolent means, a practice which was studied and emulated by the likes of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Like them, we should live and preach the politics of Jesus, spelled out beautifully by Catholic Social Teachings and by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document, Faithful Citizenship.  As Pope Francis said, “It is not true that good Catholics don’t meddle in politics.  Good Catholics don’t ignore politics—they get involved.” 

The third week of January provides us with several opportunities to get involved and engage in meaningful politics as our nation inaugurates a new president, celebrates the life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., commemorates the sad and sobering anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion, and collects millions of cans of soup for the annual soup-er bowl drive that will feed hungry and poor citizens across our country.  These are prominent opportunities for us to heal and build up after months of hurt and tearing down.  A very different political direction from condemning presidential candidates through pulpit, print, or social media, it provides a healthier and holier way to form consciences.

Last summer’s protests that turned into riots across our country were heartbreaking and embarrassing for most of us, as police were condemned, cities were burned, small businesses destroyed, and innocent people harmed and killed.  What happened in our nation’s capital last week was even more heartbreaking and embarrassing.  The condemning rhetoric by a priest from Wisconsin, a bishop from Texas, or a pastor from Maryland that threaten Catholics as mortal sinners if they don’t vote for their candidate is also heartbreaking and embarrassing.  Maybe not as damaging as a major political figure who incites violence or a senior religious prelate who abuses children, but it is still destructive. 

Though it may be wishful thinking, I hope that church leaders unite to help us all engage in the political arena in imitation of Christ.  Catholic politics should drive us to support Wednesday’s inauguration whether we believe that the Biden/Harris administration will work to heal or fear that their policies could further divide.  Catholic politics directs us to celebrate Monday’s commemoration of the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who imitated Jesus by responding to oppression and opposition via active, non-violent initiatives that offer hope to victims of social and racial injustices.  Catholic politics encourages us to weep on Friday for the sixty million babies that have been killed since the legalization of abortion in our country and acknowledge the psychological and spiritual pain that it has caused so many citizens.  Catholic politics should inspire us to join faith communities across our country in the annual soup-er bowl soup collection to feed the hungry and care for the poor.  Good Catholics don’t ignore politics, they get involved to create a better society—not to tear down but to build up.

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