Monday, October 13, 2008

Venting on Voting

Disclaimer: (1) If I had to vote today, my conscience would not allow me to vote for either McCain or Obama. In other words, I have no political horse in this race. What follows are not political frustrations, but frustration with an unacceptable Catholic approach. (2) This is not directed to any one person in particular, but is a response to a false narrowing of orthodoxy to a particular issue or political ideology. (3) This is very one-sided post, and intentionally so. I am writing directly in response to those Catholics who claim it is a sin to vote for Obama. If I were to come in contact with an abundance of Catholics making similar errors in reference to McCain, I would respond similarly.

I am sick and tired of hearing or reading that Catholics cannot vote for Obama. I do not mean to implicate your everyday Catholic who might be ignorant of the complexities of moral theology or the breadth of orthodoxy or a proper understanding of conscience. Rather, I am absolutely frustrated with Catholics who should know better - priests, deacons, theologians, intelligent and intentional Catholics - who insist upon focusing squarely and exclusively on the issue of abortion. They claim it is sinful to vote for a pro-choice candidate and implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) state that Catholics MUST vote for McCain. In doing so they obliterate the role of conscience in voting, which should be a personal prudential decision made with an informed conscience.

The Church’s teaching on this is clear. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated it in their document Faithful Citizenship:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity... There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil...In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching...As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

It really is that clear. A Catholic may, without committing sin, vote for Obama provided he is voting in spite of, not because of, Obama’s position on abortion. Period. Each Catholic, as an individual person, is responsible for informing himself on the Church’s teaching on the issues, on the candidates’ positions on the issues, on the integrity, qualification, etc. of the candidates. Once the person has informed himself, he should, in prayer, make a decision according to his conscience. No one should tell anyone that it is a sin to vote for either of these two candidates. (However, it would be a sin to vote for Obama because of his pro-choice position.)

Furthermore, these people reduce the Catholic consistent ethic of life to abortion, and in doing so, they brush aside the fact that McCain is simply not a pro-life candidate. 1) He is not against abortion in cases of rape, incest, etc. 2) As far as I can tell, his proposed policy is that the legality of abortion should be left up to the individual states. While this is an improvement over the current state of the law, it cannot be called a pro-life position in any sense of the term. 3) McCain is currently for embryonic stem cell research, which is basically abortion at an earlier stage and for the purpose of research. How can someone really make the claim that he is a “pro-life” candidate?

Everyone should educate themselves on the issues and a Catholic understanding of them. Everyone should educate themselves on the candidates. After reading, learning, praying, and discerning, everyone should feel free to vote their conscience. It is not a sin to vote for either candidate provided you are not voting for them because of their support for an intrinsically evil act.

I may disagree with your prudential judgment. You may disagree with mine. We can talk about it. We can debate it. But we should never threaten anyone with the guilt of sin due to their prudential judgment as a Catholic voter.


Henry Karlson said...

One of the things I find interesting is that there is an assumption as to what method one is to bring about and end to abortion. That is one of the big problems. Many people wrongly equate "if you don't agree with my method, you don't agree with the ends." Not true. And I think if people understood this, that the question is more than the ends, but also the prudential decisions as to how to get to that ends, discussions would go better (not perfect, but better).

Of course this is not to say all means are acceptable; and one can't just use the excuse of means to ignore the issues of life. But, you know, I believe so many people (politicians) do: they suggest only one means is acceptable (immediate overturn of Roe v Wade in the courts) knowing full well it would change nothing (so they can still get votes once R v W is overturned!)

Paul said...

Not all prudential decisions are made in a sinless way.

JB said...


Technically for a decision to be PRUDENTial it must be made with prudence. Prudence is a virtue. Therefore a prudential decision should be a sinless one.

Nevertheless, I get your point. However, I think I spoke specifically enough to make your comment moot.

A Catholic may not vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsically evil act because the candidate supports said act.

A Catholic may vote for a candidate who supports who supports an intrinsically evil act in spite of the candidate's support of said act.

This applies to a vote for either McCain or Obama as both support instrinsically evil acts.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

At the risk of complicating matters – it’s what I do – I would add that we should not be, in the last analysis, "issue-voters." We should look primarily at the character of the candidates running for office. Events arise that change the issues or the candidate’s priorities and plans regarding the issues. As of now, Obama wants to prioritize the Freedom of Choice Act, which is one reason I won’t vote for him, but unexpected events could prevent him from enacting his current will on the issue. When we vote, we vote for a person, not a set of positions. Conflating the two will likely lead to disappointment or worse.

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