Father Dwight Longenecker
You Can Be President Today!
Every American child grows up with the promise ringing in their ears that they could be president of this great country, and the rise of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama seems to indicate that a boy from a broken home and a modest background really can rise to the top.
What interests me more is not who is on top, but who is on the bottom and in the middle of the heap. The president has certain responsibilities, but so does everyone who elected him, and unless they take their responsibilities seriously any president is powerless. When you stand the election on its head the electors have a responsibility not only to elect the right man, but to be the right man or woman themselves. One man may be elected president, but everyone has the responsibility to do what the president does.
I'm not merely suggesting that everyone needs to be a good citizen, pay their taxes, try not to litter, and put out the flag on the Fourth of July. Instead, the issues that informed our vote should inform our daily lives. We should do what we want the president to do and try to accomplish in our own sphere of influence what we want for the whole nation.
The Catholic bishops issued a document instructing Catholics on seven issues that concerned the election. These seven issues concern us all year round. They motivate a Christian citizen's life and service because they spring directly from our Catholic faith and our love of Christ.
The first of the seven issues is the right to life. A Christian is not pro-life simply because he votes for an anti-abortion politician once a year. Being pro-life means we fight for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. We are involved in the battle against the culture of death in every way, not just on election day, but throughout the year, and we must make pro-life choices in our own lives—in our marriages and in our own end-of-life choices. Being pro-life means making sacrifices for the weak, the vulnerable, disabled, and elderly every day.
The second issue is Marriage and Family life. Being pro-marriage and family means more than voting against gay marriage proposals. It means we live out our commitment to marriage and the family within our homes day by day. We fight against all that harms marriage: divorce, artificial contraception, adultery, pornography, homosexuality, rape, prostitution, and promiscuity. We teach our children the positive view of sexuality and married life. We reject divorce and struggle each day to make our marriages and families succeed. Our support for family life is a way of life—not just a vote.
Likewise, our support for the rights of religious freedom and the right for all to have the basic material needs is a way of life. We don't simply vote for a politician who promises to support religious liberty. We live religious liberty by fearlessly living out our faith without compromise. We defend the religious liberties of those with whom we disagree. We tolerate other beliefs and have open hearts to those who are different.
The fourth issue is the recognition that all people need the basic stuff for a life of dignity. We don't simply support politicians who want to help the poor. We help the poor. We get involved. We care for those less fortunate and contribute to their welfare. Socialism is the false system that assumes the government will do what we should be doing—helping to poor from the resources of the rich. If the wealthy people were properly responsible for the poor in their community nobody would vote for socialists.
Fifth, we support the dignity of work and the rights and responsibilities of workers not just by voting for a politician who is in the pocket of the labor union bosses. Fairness to workers and recognizing the dignity of work is not the responsibility of a politician. It is our responsibility. If we are employers, we do our very best for our workers. If we are employees, we do an honest day's labor. We are loyal and fair, and we support our company working together as a team.
There are two final issues to which the bishops draw our attention: working for peace and proper stewardship of the world's resources. Once again, we don't simply vote for a politician who promises peace and reconciliation and unity among people. We work as hard as we can to build bridges of understanding, peace, and unity in our family, parish, school, and community. We don't just vote for a politician who promises 'green' policies then wash our hands. Instead we shop and choose responsibly—eschewing a greedy and rapacious lifestyle and observing a modest way of life, keeping in mind the proper stewardship of our world's resources.
If everyone aimed to do what we think the president should do, much of the political bickering would stop and the world would soon be the beautiful, just, and peaceful place we want it to be.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism Pure and Simple. Visit his blog and sign up for Faith Works! his free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith here.