October 31, 2014

Be Our Guest / Glenn Tebbe

Election issues, candidates and your vote this November

The Catholic Church teaches that government exists to promote and secure the common good, and that Catholics have a responsibility to participate in and fulfill their roles in the civic and public affairs of the community. “Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good” (Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, #189). As one expression of this responsibility, most of us will be responsible and exercise our right and duty to vote this November. Yet this is not as simple as it would appear.

There is a constant rotation of ads on TV, in newspapers and on the radio. Social media, too, is clogged with campaign slogans and support for particular candidates. Many become numb to all the noise and tune it out. Others enter the fray and take sides in the debates and campaign activities.

Because we know we will have to make a choice when we vote in November, most of us, in the midst of taking care of family and work responsibilities, attempt to sort through the maze of contradictory comments and pledges, and the overstated assertions about the candidates, parties and policies. It is difficult; one can get lost in the detail and rhetoric. How does one sort through and determine what issues are substantive and which candidate is more likely to better promote the dignity of persons and the common good?

The Church in its role as teacher will not identify particular candidates, but it does contribute to the conversations about what is best for society by defending human dignity in all of its stages. And in doing so, it addresses related issues such as respect for all life, immigration, health care, marriage, religious freedom, economic justice, education and family.

Because campaign ads and candidates typically only speak in sound bites, it is important to focus on the salient issues that will have a long-lasting impact on our society when deciding on whom to support. One can do this by looking at candidates through the lens of Catholic social teaching, and to consider the moral dimensions of public issues.

Consider the candidates’ position on these significant issues:

  • Conscience protection for individuals as well as religious institutions to serve the public in accord with religious principles and values.
  • Social and economic policies that support jobs with good working conditions and just wages.
  • Comprehensive immigration reform and support of refugee resettlement for unaccompanied children.
  • The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
  • Opposition to legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Respect for all life, including rejection of violence and the death penalty.
  • Affordable health care for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
  • Support of policies to protect vulnerable persons; prisoner rehabilitation and re-entry programs.
  • Support of “child benefit” as principle for participation in education programs and parental choice in education of their children.
  • Opposition to abortion, also including support for mothers and children during pregnancy and infancy.
  • Stewardship and care of the Earth for this and future generations.

No candidate will perfectly comport to Church teaching, and all issues do not carry the same weight. Opposition to intrinsic evils has a special claim on our conscience. Often one has to choose which candidate is more likely to do the most good or the least harm.

Voting decisions should include the candidate’s commitments, character and integrity because there will be circumstances and issues arise that now are not known, on which the official will have to make a decision.

At those moments we, the electorate, are relying on our representatives and public servants to use their prudent judgment in determining the best course of action that will promote and secure the common good, the primary purpose and role of the position, which he or she is seeking.

(Glenn Tebbe is executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the public policy advocate for the Church in Indiana. He can be reached at gtebbe@archindy.org.)

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