The last few weeks saw the results of the midterm elections dominate the news headlines. Talks of a supposed failed red wave, the fate of Roe v. Wade and the 2024 campaign of Donald Trump were among the many hit issues confronting American voters. This also comes in the wake of controversies of all stripes, including inflation, abortion laws and the war in Ukraine, which have been on Americans’ minds.
In the midst of the chaos, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement and anxiety of the elections and lose sight of what is most important, which for Catholics and other Christians is the proper worship of God and an adherence to the message of the Gospel. In recent years, American politics has become a concern for Catholics, especially in light of Francis’ greater focus on political issues and the ascendency of Joe Biden as President, who claims to be Catholic.
As a result, American Catholics are often just as divided as their non-Catholic counterparts on political issues, and many are confused as to how their faith applies in these political situations. Regardless of how one feels about various issues or what they believe the Faith teaches regarding them, I think there are three major takeaways for Catholics following the midterms and leading into the presidential election in the next two years.
The first takeaway is that we must avoid the idolization of political leaders and parties. All over social media, one was bound to find charges of human rights being taken away or freedoms squashed if they vote for this candidate or that party, painting entire swaths of people in a broad stroke for who they cast a vote for during the midterms. Though a lot of these are the rantings of 14-year old TikTokers, there are also many influential figures who hold these sentiments, and Catholics need to avoid them.
Any Catholic who is honest about their Faith and what it teaches will recognize that both parties do not carry the banner of Christ. Both will attempt to target voters of faith with cries of “social justice” and “Christian values” when their candidates often fail to adhere to both once they get into office. In an essay published in 2004 titled “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November,” Alasasdair Macintyre correctly points out how both parties fail the Catholic faith in one significant way or another, and on the points they do get right, often backtrack and compromise when convenient.
We shouldn’t let our faith be made a plaything of career politicians, and replace God with an idol of the elephant or the donkey. Instead, we must be willing to recognize the flaws in each party and vote accordingly or not at all if the circumstances deem it appropriate. As St. Augustine emphasizes, we, as members of the “City of God” among the City of Man are but mere pilgrims. We are not meant for this world, but rather the next. Any attempt to realize the Kingdom of God on earth has, and will, end in abysmal failure.
But the temptation to swing into the other extreme leads to the second point. Despite the hostile and divisive scene that is American politics, we should not then assume our only option is to run for the hills. Moral relativism combined with a faulty reading of American history has led many Christians to believe that their faith should play no role in their political decisions and that their religious beliefs are only “their truth” that should not apply to others. This could not be further from the truth.
Our Catholic faith has incessantly discussed the social issues of our day, especially in modern times, and how Catholics are to address them. Our political decisions are an extension of our morality. It is absurd to think, as many unfortunately do, that a Christian can just turn off their conscience, like flipping a light switch, when they cast their vote so as to avoid “imposing their religion” on others. This is nonsense. A true believer filters their world through the message of Christ. He is made King of their being, and His Word is grafted onto their soul. If we believe His commands to be universal, concrete truths, then they apply to all people, whether they are Christian or not.
It is inaccurate and irresponsible to segregate some issues as “moral” that religion cannot touch, and then leave others aside that are fair game. Helping the poor, responsible environmental stewardship and protecting unborn life are all moral issues that we as Catholics have an obligation to address and fight for. This does not change because the majority of people may see it differently. God’s Word doesn’t change or “get with the times”, and neither does the Faith and what it teaches. As such, we have a moral and therefore, Catholic responsibility to engage in the public square, and see to it that our society reflects the values we hold to be divinely sanctioned by Christ.
These tie into the third and final point, that evangelization and conversion must be the foundation of one’s politics. The results of the midterms do not just speak to the inadequacy of the parties and their candidates. It also speaks to the moral state of the American populace. The vast majority have made it clear that they’re morally opposed to many defined teachings of the Catholic faith. This unfortunately includes many self described American Catholics, who on matters of both faith and morals are often at odds with the Magisterium.
As such, in order to produce a faithful society, we must make faithful people. Calling on fallen away Catholics and evangelizing those outside the Faith must be included in any program to sanctify the larger American nation. This is of course a divine command; Christ in the Gospel of Matthew calls for the Great Commission, in which the Church is called to “make disciples of all nations” and to teach them to observe the teachings of Scripture (Matthew 28:19-20). This also doesn’t just apply to those outside the Church.
We ourselves must make sure that we are adhering to the Gospels in our personal lives. Frequent prayer and mass, reading of Scripture and the Holy Fathers, and acts of service must form the foundation for any political work we do in the name of Christ. After all, how can we share the light of the Gospel if we ourselves remain clothed in darkness?
Catholics need to remain vigilant for their nation, their communities and themselves with regards to their faith and politics. It’s easy to lose sight of what is most important, and thus a proper grounding in the Faith is a must when we step into the political arena. In this way, we can bear the image of Christ and get others to help leave the City of Man and join the City of God.