I know there are many people who say that the Church and the bishops should not be engaging in political discourse. I say those people have their head in the sand — or somewhere even more uncomfortable. Any individual has the right to speak into the political marketplace of ideas and offer their thoughts on what politicians and governments ought to do and what programs they ought to support. Ordination does not invalidate someone’s right to do that. Of course, along with that goes the right of others to completely disregard what anyone says about politics.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap, is one of the most politically aware and politically astute bishops in the US. As the presidential election nears, some of the archbishop’s thoughts on politics and religion are being circulated. And his thoughts are well documented in books and other writings, including the book Render Unto Caesar, obviously an allusion to Jesus’ words when asked about paying taxes to the Romans.
A great quote from Archbishop Chaput is this one, which talks about the duty and obligation of voters to make wise decisions and not ones based on blind adherence to one party or another:
Party loyalty is a dead end. It’s a lethal form of laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. The sound bite and the slogan do not matter. They belong to a vocabulary of the herd, and human beings deserve better.
In New Zealand, where there is a much more diverse electoral system than in Australia and especially the United States, I have cast votes for politicians or parties across four different parties. I think that is Archbishop Chaput’s point; really look at what the candidates and parties stand for rather than vote for a candidate or party because your mother did or your grandfather did or “we always have”. That is not taking your civic obligation seriously. You might find that the decision you make is the same one you’d have made using the “we always have” method, but engaging the mind in an analysis of policies and their adherence with your values is a much more beneficial process.
It is expected many Americans who supported President Obama in 2008 will abandon that ship and cast a vote for Mitt Romney this year. Regardless of which candidate you’re supporting, that should be a sign of democracy at work when someone can sit back and make a decision based on the here and now, rather than the kneejerk reaction of just doing what they’ve always done or what they did four years ago.