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The Importance of Voting Catholic

by aquinasandmore on September 24, 2008

Did you know that there's a presidential election coming up here in the United States? This election has brought people into the discussions who might not normally be very interested in politics, because everyone seems to have very strong feelings about the election is this year. Since it is often the case that the candidate who wins the Catholic vote wins the election, Catholics are being particularly sought after in this election. Both of the major parties know this and are doing whatever they can to convince the majority of Catholics to vote for their respective candidates. Both make convincing arguments for different parts of their platforms that might appeal to Catholics who want to vote based on their Catholic beliefs. Catholic bishops are trying to help people get informed (even turning to avenues that seem to reach out to younger voters, such as offering iPods, loading videos onto YouTube, and using Facebook), and the website is meant to help encourage and inform Catholic voters.

So, what does all of this mean for those of us who want to vote as Catholic citizens?

I recently bought the book Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles Chaput, because I've been struggling with deciding who to vote for and I had been looking forward to reading what Archbishop Chaput had to say about being Catholic and American in political life today. I'll admit that voting for Obama has never been much of an option for me because I disagree with him on too many issues, most importantly life issues. But does not voting for Obama mean that I should automatically vote for McCain, since I agree with him on more issues? McCain, as far as I know, still supports embryonic stem cell research. And I'm not sure that I want to vote for someone who continues to support such an intrinsic evil. At the same time, though, I happen to live in a swing state where it seems that every day the majority support switches between Obama and McCain. Knowing this, and knowing that I would much prefer Obama not win the election, I can't help but wonder if it would be better for me just to vote for McCain (instead of a third party) so that Obama doesn't win the state. (Having Sarah Palin as McCain's vice presidential pick has definitely made voting for McCain more appealing than it was previously, but McCain is still the one running for president.)

In Render Unto Caesar, Chaput spends some time discussing the more general issue of being Catholic in America, and what our responsibilities are as Catholics. He makes the point that it is absurd to try to separate our Catholic beliefs with how we vote politically. It's impossible to say and believe in one thing while doing something else without making a mockery of what it is we say we believe. It shouldn't just be a belief, it should be a way of life. Everything we do, including how we vote, must reflect what we believe. As Catholics, we should believe that all life is sacred and precious, and as Chaput says, "deliberately killing innocent human life, or standing by and allowing it, dwarfs all other social issues."

I certainly believe other issues are important. We're facing tough times right now, and this election stands to be one of the more important elections in recent history. I think McCain has a lot of good to offer the country, and I'm fairly certain that if I vote for a third party candidate who agrees with the Church on all the life issues, he wouldn't win. But, to quote Chaput again, "we're not called to get results. We're called to be faithful." Render Unto Caesar doesn't say who we should vote for. There is no chapter entitled "Don't Vote for Obama" or "Vote for This Candidate, and Here's Why." The Church can't tell us who specifically to vote for, and neither can anyone else. There is not a rule that states that if a candidate holds a certain position, we absolutely should or should not vote for that candidate. There are many Catholics who seem to be quite faithful, and still are able to justify voting for Obama. There are also those Catholics who can't even justify voting for McCain, despite his more pro-life stance, because he still supports things that don't fit very well with Catholic teaching, and so they're turning to candidates outside of the two major parties. It is times like this that make it so important for Catholics to have fully-formed (and, hopefully, correctly informed) consciences, so we can make the decisions we need to, on our own.

I'm by no means an expert about politics. Nor am I an expert in Catholic teaching, beyond what I learned growing up, in college theology classes, and learning from those around me who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I read through Chaput's book rather quickly this first time because I just wanted to get the basics of what he said. A part of me was hoping that at the end he would say that, this election, Catholics should vote for (fill in the blank here). Of course, he didn't. But his message is unmistakable even in a quick read-through: as Catholics, we can't compromise our beliefs just to fit in with a majority or to soften Christ's message to make it more palatable. We have to hold firm to what he commanded, even if it seems hopeless. (And let's face it, in today's society, it often seems nearly hopeless more than it doesn't.) If we all follow Christ, we can each make a difference even if it's just a small one. If none of us follow Christ's will, who will be left to change the world?

(By the way, I do highly recommend Render Unto Caesar. It's not a very big book, and it's incredibly easy to get into. Archbishop Chaput includes a lot of history, both Catholic and American, which was really helpful to put things into context and showing how other Catholics throughout history have dealt with having to make tough political choices like we do today. I'm planning on reading it again so I can pick up what I missed during my first quick read. There's so much to take in that I'm sure a more thorough read will have a lot to offer.)

What are your thoughts on the election? Is it better to vote for the "lesser of two evils" while acknowledging that we are not voting to promote those morally objectionable positions that the lesser evil might hold, or should we avoid the evils altogether and find someone else to vote for, even if doing so is seen as a wasted vote by the majority of the country?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

James September 24, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I agree that McCain is not a perfect choice for Pro-lifers or Catholics, but the Republicans have not set themselves up against Christianity the way the Democrats have. The official Obama platform declares: The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

Not only do they oppose any and all efforts to undermine the right to abortion, they have opened the way for tax funded abortions by including the regardless-of-ability-to-pay clause.

As Catholics we are not 1 issue voters, we are actually 5 issue voters. The Church recognizes 5 issues as being intrinsically evil and says that as long as these actions are promoted the common good will not be advanced. They are: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual “marriage”. These anti-Christian agendas can only prevail at the expense of Christianity and the Democratic Party strongly endorses at least three of them, thereby making the Democratic Party an anti-Christian party by default. In addition to these major differences we are also opposed to these secularists on the issues of empiricism, naturalism, moral subjectivism, relativism, environmentalism and the value of suffering.

I would argue that Catholics are not not morally obligated to vote for someone outside the two parties if that someone is not a viable option. You might as well write your own name in. With McCain I think we would at least have an environment where Catholics and Pro-lifers have a voice. There might even be hope that McCain will change his stance on embryonic stem sell research in the future. Obama represents a government based on ideologies that would support more religious restrictions and less free speech.

I believe that a vote for a third party is a vote for Obama.


Paul September 24, 2008 at 6:09 pm

It;s great to see people starting to talk about this.

I’m amazed at how little we hear the electoral college mentioned these days, when that and the two-party system pretty much eliminates any hope of a third party candidate winning… meaning such votes are about equal to not voting.

I go into this in more length here:

… but will probably pick up “Render unto Ceasar” also.


Ethan September 24, 2008 at 11:24 pm

For quite some time I’ve been leaning in the direction that James has taken – holding the idea that a vote for a third party is a vote for Obama, but I’m not sure if I was just taking that view because I wanted an excuse to vote for McCain, who I pray will win this election.

I’m wondering if voting for McCain is the same as allowing the means to justify the end. Obviously it would be bad if Obama is elected, but these 5 issues that have been brought up are “non-negotiable” (I believe those are the words the Bishop’s Conference used). If we vote for a candidate who supports stem-cell research, even if our vote is only to try to not let Obama win, or even to try to help McCain win (because right now he’s really our only hope), we’re still supporting that candidates beliefs. If abortion were the issue, instead of stem-cell research, and it was the only one that our favorite candidate had against him, would it be an easier decision?

Given the gravity of what’s at stake, I’m glad that somebody is asking these questions. After all, with what Obama has been promising, he is surely the most evil presidential candidate ever to be this close. But even with such great implications, and maybe even especially with them, can we sacrifice any of our core beliefs to have a greater end?

I’m sure the answer is no.

So – somebody PLEASE tell me that McCain has changed his mind about stem-cell research!


Ethan September 24, 2008 at 11:33 pm

I forgot to say thanks for calling attention to a moral question that I’m sure many people would rather not face (including myself). It really says a lot about your integrity as a Catholic. Keep up the good work!


Ethan September 24, 2008 at 11:39 pm

Oh, also, I meant “allowing the end to justify the means”, not the other way around.


Paul September 25, 2008 at 8:34 am

McCain slightly altered his position on embryonic stem cells:

At least there can be dialog with him.

If we vote third party and split the “pro-life” vote, are we culpable if our actions bring about the election of Obama?


Shelley September 25, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Hmmm. Some people will say that the lesser of two evils is still an evil. This is true, but I don’t think it is quite so simple as that when facing the possibility of an Obama presidency.

Of course I am against embryonic stem cell research, and I wish McCain were more vocally opposed as well. I’m not discounting the importance of the issue. But – and I’m not a scholar of course – it seems that stem cell research is the result of the bigger evil of abortion. Can we end embryonic stem cell research before we accomplish legally defining life as beginning at conception and outlawing abortion? If that can be legally established, wouldn’t that lead to being able to accomplish making embryonic stem cell research illegal?

A journey is accomplished through many steps;I believe that a McCain/Palin presidency would result in steps in the right direction, and that, as James said, a third party vote is effectively a vote for Obama.


Ben September 26, 2008 at 10:32 am

If we ALL took the view that a third party candidate was a better choice, couldn’t we get that third party candidate elected. The problem is that we don’t all stand together to do this.


Shalimar November 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

I have prayed deeply about this issue of voting for McCain vs. a 3rd party candidate. I, too, have read “Render Unto Caesar” and allowed myself to have an open-hearted position when two people I respect challenged me in my position to vote for McCain. I recently attended a Humanae Vitae conference in Denver with Bishop Connelly (sp?) and Archbishop Chaput and have had the blessing of talking with many people who devote their lives specifically to building a culture of life, especially in our Respect Life Committee in Colorado Springs. I have also talked with the Legionaries of Christ (whom are very obedient to Rome) and Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life. From all of these sources, I have received a confirmation that a 3rd party vote during this particular election would be a vote for Obama. The best comment I’ve heard so far is that abortion didn’t come about in a day, and it won’t end “in a day” either… it is a slow process, as impatient as we all are to end this grave evil and have everything be 100% pro-life. Of course, I respect anyone who votes according to a well-informed, pure, and good fruit-bearing conscience. That is what the Church says we must do. But let us be careful of extremism and impatience (in the time of Christ, this would be labelled “zealot”.) Our real King is Christ (NO ONE in politics) and we must do what we think has the possibility of most affecting the political sphere for good, even if it’s not perfect. For anyone who thinks this is a compromise, Archbishop Chaput stated in his book that there is NO Catholic party or perfect candidate. I would wager that a vote for anyone involves SOMEthing that is not 100% “right” or the “truth”… in otherwords, SOME compromise SOMEwhere. We need to be careful of expecting any party or candidate to line up totally with the Catholic Church, as this is not actually the purpose of politics. (I thought it was worth mentioning that in fact, there are some in the Constitution party who are avidly pro-abortion. This was disappointing to me, as I was originally hoping for Ron Paul.) In the end, we trust in Christ to bring about a converion of hearts in America, no matter who “gets in”… but we can still give life the best chance it has in the meantime…

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts! I say all of this with utmost respect :)

Many blessings, and FOR LIFE,
Shalimar and family


Ian November 4, 2008 at 2:28 pm

By voting for McCain we are moving the goal-post on what is acceptable one more step in the pro-abortion direction.

You say that we have to change things a little at a time and yet McCain is to the left of Bush on the stem cell issue. He also voted in favor of Ginsberg and Breyers, two of the most pro-abortion, anti-constitution judges on the Supreme Court. It seems that things are changing a little at a time – in the wrong direction. The National Right to Life Committee used to issue alerts about the evils of ESCR before the 2000 election but now that a Republican supports it, they are trumpeting the pro-life credentials of someone who had to be defeated in 2000 for not being really pro-life.

In 2012 when the Democrats field another abortion-crazed candidate and the Republicans field a candidate who holds McCain’s position except that he favors abortion during the first four weeks of pregnancy, will you vote for him then because the third party isn’t viable?

At what point does a pro-abortion Republican lose your vote?


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