Let’s get one thing straight: your political life and your religious life are not separate entities.
“Separation of Church and State” is intended to protect the Church, not the State. The State—the political forum—is meant to be girded up, guided, and yes, sometimes limited by the religious understandings which foment amongst its people.
If your faith teaches that something—say, murder is a crime against God and against society, than it is your duty to speak out against any State, particularly any State in which you are citizen or denizen, that legislates otherwise.
In nations where individuals can “speak” to the State by casting votes in favor of this legislation or that, this political platform or some other one, it is the duty of the individual formed in his or her faith to attempt to bring his State into moral concurrence with his faith through the power of his vote.
Aside: allowing your faith to guide your vote is NOT the same as being a single-issue voter or promoting a theocratic state or attempting to limit religious freedom for people of other faiths. In fact, I think we could easily get all the major world religions on board with “no murder.” Instead, the insights gained from your faith should inspire you to seek a polis rich with the life and justice you know to be foundational to human flourishing.
Religions, amongst other things, seek to teach their adherents what goodness, justice, and dignity look like. States, amongst other things, seek to provide their people with a good, just, and dignified society. That means religious people must inform their States about what kind of society they want and need.
So here’s Premise 1: You learn what goodness, justice, and dignity truly are in your faith community, not your political one.
If you are a member of a major world religion—if you are Christian or Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim—you have 1000+ years of official teachings to help you determine what it is to lead a Good Life, you also have an awful lot of advice on how to form/participate in a just society.
Premise 2: You should use your political powers to bring about a good, just, and dignified society.
In the United States, citizens can wield all sorts of political power: money, lobbying, petition-writing and signing, judiciary battles, protests, marches, sit-ins, walk-outs, etc., but our very most basic political power is the vote.
999 times out of 1,000, you should vote.
The coming presidential election this November 8, 2016, where the choice seems to be between two people who have publicly demonstrated some remarkably sinful behavior—sins which show evidence of personal evil (although, let’s be real, the last blogpost I wrote for this site called people out for pharisaical behavior, and NOBODY reading or writing this post is sin-free) and cast doubt on their fitness to lead a good, just, and dignified society—has led many to consider not voting at all.
Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil, and that is *not* what Jesus would do.
The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) came out with guidelines for participating in the US political system back in 2004 in this document: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In it, they strongly encourage faithful Catholics to be deeply involved in politics, beginning with casting their votes in favor of human life and dignity, not evil. When faced with the choices presented by the 2016 presidential race, voters might be attracted to this paragraph in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:
“36. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”
Premise 3: You have the option to morally choose not to vote.
Argument: But I think you should vote anyway.
You see, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the only people on the ballot this November 8. There are Third Party candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green Party). And there are others who haven’t made the ballot, men and women who dropped out of the race for whatever reason. When it comes to the presidential election, you do not need to choose between Clinton and Trump. You could vote for Johnson or Stein. You could write in a candidate who has dropped out. You could write in Mickey Mouse. If you’re over 35 and a natural born citizen, you could write in yourself.
Why vote for someone who won’t win? Simple, to wield your vote with political precision. By voting for someone other than Clinton or Trump, you make your voice heard in protest, saying, “I disapprove of the actions of these two people and I honestly believe Person X would do a better job.” That way, when whoever becomes president snuggles down into the presidential chair in the oval office, he or she does not get to say, “The majority of the United States is behind me,” but instead, “I thought I was one of two options, but Mickey Mouse was pretty close behind me in the official vote.”
By voting, you prove that you are not one of the many Americans who simply does not care or is too lazy to participate in the electoral process. By voting, you can show whoever does win the election: you are not the person America needs right now, you are just the person we ended up with. Try to be more like Person X.
Now, even if you decide to vote for the lesser of two evils, or if you make the morally informed decision to abstain from voting for our next president, you should still head to the polls on November 8.
There, you will vote for a number of other people and things, depending on your state. If you aren’t happy with our next president, make sure you are happy with your next Representative, Senator, Counsel Member—whatever your state is voting on. These people have a lot to do with how our country is run.
If you are not already registered to vote, register NOW. Registration deadlines vary from state to state, in the District of Columbia, where I live, the registration deadline was October 11. In Colorado, you can actually register day-of the election. In many states you can actually register online.
To vote or not to vote?
Wield your political power wisely.
Siobhan Benitez is a wanna-be contemplative called to the active life. She is married to a saint (inner-city Catholic school teacher), mother to an adorable monster (toddler boy), and fussy angel (infant boy). Siobhan is also a PhD student and Teaching Fellow at The Catholic University of America where she is (occasionally) writing a dissertation on the theological ethics of eating in the Christian family and (usually) teaching classes in Moral Theology and Ethics.