September 19, 2014

Be Our Guest / Glenn Tebbe

How should Catholics prepare to vote? Key principles when approaching elections

The 2014 election in Indiana does not have the high profile offices of president, governor and senator on the ballot; these come in 2016. But that does not mean the 2014 election is less important.

This year’s ballot includes all U.S. Congress members, all state representatives and half of Indiana’s state senators. In addition, state offices such as secretary of state, auditor and treasurer and many countywide offices are on this year’s ballot.

Each election has value, its own importance and consequences. Hence, all elections should be taken seriously and deserve due diligence when considering the candidates and issues involved.

Moreover, as Catholics, we are obligated to take part. In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation.

Elections provide an opportunity to debate and decide about leaders, policies and values that will determine the direction of our state and nation. As is evident, public policies and decisions by public officials have moral dimensions and consequences that affect everyone. So how does one prepare to fulfill his/her civic duty and decide for whom to vote?

The Church can offer some guidance, not by recommending candidate X or Y, but by giving guidance and perspective in how to approach the issues and how to determine a prudent choice.

One cannot compartmentalize politics and morality.

A common error in our time is the dichotomy between faith and public life. All of human life and activity is within the scope of God’s care and concern.

Some today want to keep religion out of the public square, but that denies the integration of faith and life. The Church teaches that faith is to be lived each day and in all that one does; Sunday Eucharist nourishes and enables us to live the Gospel’s call each day, in all that we do. We are called to be a leaven in the world. Personal as well as political activity is rightly guided by moral norms.

Voting is a moral act.

One’s vote should not be based on frivolous or selfish motives. Catholics are called to be guided by moral convictions and not attachment to party or interest groups. One should not let party affiliation determine who they vote for or lead them to neglect fundamental moral truths.

The Church’s call for political engagement is different from other institutions and social groups. Interest groups and political parties have a focus of power and governance; the Church asks for persons to focus on the dignity of every human being, the development of the common good and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.

Be principled and not partisan in political and social issues.

Politics is often ideological, emotional, and divisive. The Catholic tradition does not offer an ideology, but a moral framework in which to evaluate policies and candidates.

The Church asks that Catholics engage using faith and reason and to form one’s conscience through study and prayer. First, one must seek to know what is right by studying Scripture and Church teaching.

Secondly, one must use reason to study the issues in the light of faith, and, lastly, prayerfully ask for God’s guidance and will to be done.

Opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations.

Catholic social teaching is holistic. One must always oppose intrinsic evils that directly threaten the sanctity and dignity of human life such as abortion, euthanasia, genocide, torture and racism.

In like manner, there is an obligation to contribute to the common good in solidarity with those in need. The right to life is linked to the basic needs that every human being must have to live and thrive.

In addition to the basic human needs, defending religious freedom, supporting marriage and family, welcoming the immigrant and protecting the environment provide for the common good. While evil must always be opposed, that does not mean that this absolves one from doing good. Both are required.

Because no candidate is perfect, it is difficult to find one that complies with all the values and principles of Catholic social teaching.

In the end, people must form their consciences through study and prayer, and then vote based on their best judgment of which candidate will do the best job of protecting from evil and promoting the common good.

So how can we be sure we made a good choice? God gives us the virtue of prudence, which enables one to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.

During the election season, seeking God’s help in developing the virtue of prudence is also a good way to prepare for voting.

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

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