Heresy is often, if not always, the result of attempting to simplify the belief and teaching of the Church. The Trinity is complex, nuanced, and confusing, so it’s easier to say that Jesus was created, or less than the Father, or just a roll that the Father plays. The Hypostatic union of Jesus’ human and divine natures is tricky, so it’s easier to say that Jesus was really a human that was granted divinity, or that Jesus was divine, and only wore a human body like a suit. These heresies were held by people who genuinely wanted to understand God, but weren’t willing to live with the paradox that God introduces.
We really like things neat and tidy and tied up in a bow for us. But this can be the path to heresy. We create rules that were not handed down by the Apostles. We make things harder than they have to be, and pass judgement on those who don’t fit into our carefully crafted framework.
I’m a convert to Catholicism, and I have found great freedom in following the Church where she leads. But following the Church where she leads means not running ahead of her, or putting words in her mouth. During this election cycle I’ve seen too many people simplify the nuanced teaching of the Church regarding whom you may licitly vote for, and too many people put words in the mouth of the Church. So, to clear up what the Church actually says about your vote, here are snippets and links to two great articles I found on Crux today. The first is from Charlie Camosy, someone I have come to greatly admire over the last year. The second is from Fr. Matthew Schneider. These two men often approach issues from a different perspective, but both faithfully relay the heart of the Church on such a complex topic.
Indeed, the U.S. bishops insist there “may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.”
These kinds of judgments are “complex,” and require the faithful to employ “a well-formed conscience aided by prudence.”
Here are just a few of the questions and factors that a faithful, individual Catholic voter will have to consider and weigh when making their voting decisions:
- Which candidates’ proposed policies are likely to save the lives of prenatal children?
- Are the candidates telling the truth when it comes to their views on abortion?
- Are the candidates likely to accomplish their abortion-related proposals?
- Could the pro-life movement recover from Donald Trump becoming its de facto leader?
- Could the pro-life movement recover from Hillary Clinton’s judicial nominees and genuinely pro-abortion Democratic leadership?
- What should we make of the fact that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support intrinsically evil acts?
- How should the likely relative outcomes with regard to abortion be weighed against the likely relative outcomes with regard to, say, the threat of nuclear war? The freedom of Muslims and other religious minorities? The separation of powers and the stability of our Republic?
The Church, in her wisdom, knows that the wild number of possible permutations involved in thinking about these judgments and weighing these factors mean that it is not something about which she can have a teaching.
Ultimately, the faithful Catholic voter – though obligated to listen respectfully to their bishop – has the final say.
Fr. Matthew Schneider talks about three ways a Catholic may licitly vote on Tuesday.
…there is a complicated point of means and ends: the means (voting for X) of achieving the end (preventing Y from being president) cannot be evil in themselves. Participating in politics to the degree it is possible is in itself good, and, if you are voting for someone with some redeeming qualities (which every candidate I know of has), you can be voting positively for those redeeming qualities. Thus, casting a vote for one of the two major candidates can be moral if it is done in order to prevent the other from taking the office.
The third party option is mostly a way to show you vote for principles, beyond somebody’s chance of being elected. If such parties get a big chunk of the vote, it shows a direction the other parties might move to appeal to such voters.
…spoiling the ballot is legitimate.
This can take many forms, from leaving it blank to writing in “Jesus Christ for Prez.”
It is similar to backing a third party candidate, except it is 100 percent a protest to the system and the candidates presented. It is important to show up for the election, as I’m sure that in some race, there is someone you can support – even if just for school board or county treasurer.
If you keep voting third party or ruining your ballot, it might be good to ask yourself why you don’t run. We need Catholics in public life.
In short, don’t let anyone tell you that you only have one choice; don’t let anyone tell you that the choice is clear. The truth is, this election is awful and there is no clear choice; there is no slam dunk candidate that perfectly aligns with Church teaching and has no scandals, who has a strong chance of winning. This election will require a faithful Catholic to compromise on some foundational value they hold. So, form your conscience using the Bishops document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and pray the Kyrie or Divine Mercy Chaplet as you cast your ballot.
As for me, because my state is not in contention, and the electoral college votes will all go solidly to the winner; I’m going to use my vote signal to the powers that be that I vote for issues and for people of character. Check out the American Solidarity Party or Evan McMullin. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but their weaknesses pale in comparison to what Washington has offered us this cycle.