People always have the same wrenching emotional reactions—“crazy,” “scary,” “unbelievable”—when they are asked about this political season. Reason and dialogue are mostly drowned out by the deafening decibels of incessant hype and sound bites. There is little listening or real discussion. Storm clouds of rhetoric that is racist, anti-immigrant and -refugee, anti-life, anti-Islamic, anti- women, anti-free speech and anti-religious liberty hang over us. We seem more politically homeless than ever.
Our perennial question remains how to find our footing as followers of Christ and contribute to building a politics of human dignity and the common good amid this carnival atmosphere, which masks a very dangerous time for our country. We can begin by turning to the social and moral teachings of our Faith and then listening to one another.
In recent weeks, Cardinal Dolan has discussed Catholic social teaching and the role of religion in politics to “speak to the principles upon which politics builds: truth, virtue, trust, the common good, the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of human life and the duty of government to protect those last two.” In a recent solidarity journey to Iraq, he asserted the fundamental, even first, human right to religious liberty for the endangered marginalized Christian community there.
Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago, reflecting on the anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising, discussed our insidious divisiveness and abandonment of the common good. “And because we do not value growing together, a cancer grows that damages the whole social body,” he said. Other bishops have spoken out against the “ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry” (Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego); and have made a plea for a conversation in the Church about race with the Black Lives Matter Movement (Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill.). The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been steadfast in support of immigrants and refugees.
Again during this election year, the Catholic bishops have issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document designed to assist us in making election choices for “it is as citizens faithful to the Lord Jesus that we contribute most effectively to the civic order.” In putting Faith before politics, “Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligations to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.” Principles of Catholic social and moral teaching presented within a framework for forming our consciences enlighten an analysis of public policies that protect human life, promote family life, pursue social justice and practice global solidarity. See www.faithfulcitizenship.org for the document and bulletin inserts.
There is great danger when a society pulls inward and apart, where the focus is primarily on self-interest, because those most in need of charity and justice, who are often voiceless, may suffer the most. In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks us to throw off the “culture of indifference,” not to build walls, but to reach out beyond our isolation, cross barriers and touch the least among us. He asks us go beyond enmity and partisanship, to be a listening Church, and a restorative people of encounter and dialogue. He appealed to our deepest unifying traditions of faith, politics, freedom and justice when he spoke of Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King before Congress last September.
Finally, we must begin to listen to one another. At the Faithful Citizenship website, there are materials and guidelines for conducting civil dialogue. We should use them in our parishes. If we rely on our listening Eucharistic Faith, our community, our hearing of the Word, and put the love of others first, as Jesus taught us to do, then we can bring some hope and reason to our dangerously fractured public square.
George Horton is director of Catholic Charities’ Department of Social and Community Development.