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Voting as a Christian

Updated: Oct 22

man in ermine
Thomas More staring intently

Mt. 22:15-21

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God. How do we do this? One temptation is to be isolated from the world. Various Christians throughout our history have tried to do it this way. But from the earliest days of Christianity, some of our leaders have known that Christians are supposed to have an important role to play in the world. I love the Letter to Diogenes, where Christians are seen as the soul of the world.

To sum it all up in one word, what the soul is in the body, that is what Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the parts of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul lives in the body, yet is not of the body; Christians live in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body. So Christians are known to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul and wars against it, even though it is not harmed, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures. In the same way, the world hates the Christians, though not wounded in any way, because they renounce pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, as well as its parts. Christians, in the same way, love those that hate them. (Letter to Diogenes)

So, we have established that Christians indeed do have a role to play in the world. But how do we do this? Is there a Catholic political party? Thank goodness there is not, because Catholics are allowed to have different viewpoints about how to resolve society’s issues. But our Catholic identity definitely has to influence our politics. One of the best efforts in recent times to speak abou this is Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia. He has a great book, Render Unto Caesar. Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.

The Church claims no right to dominate the secular realm. But she has every right – in fact an obligation – to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice. In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay 'out of politics.' Politics involves the exercise of power. The use of power has moral content and human consequences. And the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community (Chaput, Render Unto Caesar, pp. 217-218).

To render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, it is important to keep our view fixed on the Common Good. There seems to be a basic assumption that we should all vote egotistically. But actually, we are called to vote as our conscience tells us it is best for the common good.

A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life, 2002)

When we face our Lord at the Final Judgment, we will have to respond as well for how we have acted as citizens, as members of this society. We are called to imbue our society with the values of the Gospel. We cannot look at the poor condition of the world and merely cross our arms. Rather, we should roll up our sleeves and do everything we can to make the Gospel message arrive to every heart. As Americans, we enjoy the secret ballot and should never be forced to answer “who did you vote for?” As Christians, we should all be able to answer the question “why did you vote?” “I voted to bring this society closer to Christ.”

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