A reader told The Catholic Messenger, “The church should stay out of politics!” That phrase echoed during the run-up to the midterm elections and continues to reverberate even after the winners have been decided. But the issues on which candidates waged their campaigns — immigration, trade wars, gun ownership rights, climate change and abortion among them — dominate our society’s attention. Those very issues underscore the need for the church (which is all of us) to stay in politics!
We may need to clear up confusion about what constitutes “politics.” Pope Francis does that in his World Day of Peace Message for 2019 with the theme “Good politics is at the service of peace.” The Holy Father observes that “Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction.” The challenge for our elected officials, taking office this month, is to make every effort to protect those who live in this country “and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future.”
Pope Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who noted that all Christians are called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to their vocation and according to the degree of influence each has in the political arena. We don’t have to hold elective office to advocate for laws, policies and procedures that promote human flourishing. “Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the human family,” Pope Benedict said.
Working for the common good means practicing “those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity,” Pope Francis says. Those virtues apply to every issue commanding our nation’s attention. Iowa’s bishops state clearly in their Faithful Citizenship document that our church’s social teachings “translate the Gospel into daily living. Catholic social teaching is based on the foundational principles of respect for human life and dignity, and the common good.”
Iowa’s bishops further state that Pope Francis “warns us against the error of separating religious practice and social engagement. … Voting and other forms of political engagement are as much a duty of our religion as is daily prayer and Sunday worship.”
Get engaged by keeping track of issues being addressed in the Iowa General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 14 in Des Moines. Visit the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) website at (www.iowacatholicconference.org) to read about and to download the 2019 ICC Legislative Principles and Concerns. A sample of what the ICC supports:
• Education Savings Account program; enhancements to the School Tuition Organization tax credit.
• Health care that is more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including immigrants and their children.
• Increased availability of mental health care, palliative care and hospice service.
• Addressing pornography and the proposed legalization of sports gambling as public health concerns.
• A state constitutional amendment which would declare the Iowa Constitution to be “abortion-neutral.”
• Assistance for resettlement of refugees.
• Measures to promote healthy families such as increasing the state’s minimum wage, increasing the availability of affordable housing and addressing food insecurity.
• Legislation to protect residents from racial profiling.
• Programs to assist persons re-entering the community from incarceration.
• Consideration of the availability of Gun Violence Restraining Orders.
At the federal level, Congress convened Jan. 3. Track legislation through the ICC website or at govtrack.us. Also keep tabs on your county board of supervisors and city council. Many have websites to keep you informed. Legislative forums are another opportunity to learn about and to make your thoughts known on important issues. Your local newspaper, elected representatives, League of Women Voters or chamber of commerce may be able to provide dates and places.
Pope Francis says that “good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes the fundamental rights which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”
The church most definitely has a place in politics.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor