Every time elections draw near, I let out a pastoral shutter. As a pastor, it’s my duty to
encourage my congregation to vote and to encourage them to choose candidates who best
advance the vision and moral teachings of the Church. (This includes strong advocacy for the poor and forgotten.) I’m aware that our government is watching us during this pre-election time, ready to pounce on us if we endorse one political party or candidate over another. The threat of rescinding our tax-exempt status ever looms over us. Moreover, the Church too advises good pastoral judgment at this time. Pastors are never permitted to publicly endorse one political party or candidate over another.
Preaching and teaching should advance the cause of faith, morality and social justice and it should leave to personal conscience and choice the candidate an individual Catholic votes for.
Some Catholics maintain that “the Church should stay out of politics”. This sounds nice and simple and, if chosen, takes the heat off. But it’s an extreme interpretation the principle of the separation of Church and State and it’s naïve. This position relegates the Church to silence and impotency and promotes the abandonment of the Church’s mission to announce the Good News and to transform our ego-driven world.
As I understand my charge as a pastor in election time, I accept the reality that I cannot, and will not, endorse any party or candidate for any elected office. However, that doesn’t mean I have to keep my voice silent. I feel strongly that I, and every clergy person, needs to point out the areas of concern that the Church sees as critical in our time.
We should encourage our congregations to make judgments about candidates based on the eternal truths advanced by Christ and his Church. I will point out the complexity that Catholics have to face when making their choices since neither Republicans nor Democrats are committed to furthering all the principles we hold.
And, I have to remind parishioners that, as Catholics, there are some fundamental truths that can never be compromised. These include humanitarian assistance to immigrants, commitment to racial equality, more equitable distribution of wealth, increased health care access, religious freedom and above all, the legal protection of the unborn.
I expect that I’ll get some flack for speaking out during this election time. Some of the push-back may be directed at me personally and that may be justified: sometimes preachers don’t present things clearly or completely. However, I’ve learned that some of this flack also comes from some who don’t want to be reminded of the principles being preached. They don’t want to see trouble brewing from the pulpit. It disturbs their peace. They don’t want to think about re-evaluating their positions.
Some others may have compromised their own political views long before and are committed to “more practical” or “more progressive” ideas. When this happens, I’m going to disturb some by my voice. I really don’t like doing that. But I have to.
It’s also helpful for me to keep in mind that a great many of our Lord’s teachings were counter-cultural back then and remain so. Some of his teachings strongly confront secular values which are taken “as gospel” in this world. So, some hostility should be expected as we enter the fray of this election time. This is nothing new. We’ve been facing that kind of push-back, in one form or another, since the Incarnation.