Which presidential candidate should a good Catholic vote for? I don't know, but plenty of pundits, and even a few bishops, are happy to give an answer. That's the corporate religion approach to politics. They buy into the false dualism of our two-party system, which demands that every person, community, and idea must be either Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. We know that states, and churches, are never just red or blue, but it sure does make it easier on bloggers and journalists if we pretend that they are. Unfortunately, many believe the gimmick is actually truth.
Way back in February, the Los Angeles Times published a pair of opinion articles by Charlotte Allen and Diana Wagman arguing that liberals and conservatives cannot talk to one another. Sounds silly, until you read this gem from Wagman: "We each would prefer the other just didn't exist." I wish I could believe that the attitudes espoused by these two women are only an aberration, but I've heard their echoes constantly in the political discourse offered up by both secular and religious voices during this election season. It's sad and pathetic, and not the way for siblings to treat one another.
"It is past time that we recognize this family of the One, this fellowship of the One. They are tired of us ignoring, neglecting, and tarnishing it. This family is our Creator's greatest gift to us and we spit upon it constantly. Enough!"
Jesus admonished us to "repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." We do not honor our Parent when we allow ourselves to get swept up into the natural inflation of our politics, where small things look like life and death matters, and shrill, angry self-righteousness sounds prophetic. Our Church and our family deserve better. They belong to God, and cannot be carved up to suit the needs of political games. Yes, we do need to vote; Jesus did not absolve us of our obligation as citizens. But what matters is how we vote, not for whom we cast our ballot.
In saying this, however, I am not interested in assembling a guide or checklist for your conscience. There are plenty of Catholic entities filling that void already; perhaps too many, and some too eagerly. No, the Catholic Vote I have in mind is something very different, an antidote to the poison spread by people like Allen and Wagman, a simple practice that a theology professor named Gerald W. Schlabach urged us to take up for Lent this year: "Love the Enemy in Your Pew"
So this Lent, listen to uncomfortable voices in your community. Listen without arguing back, for as long as it takes to really hear. Listen deliberately. Listen for the back story behind positions you may never agree with. Debate later.
... Listen particularly to someone who represents all you think might be wrong with the Church. A Catholic neighbor ... who is so impassioned about some ways of defending life that he or she seems to ignore other ways. Or an openly gay Catholic who continues to receive the Eucharist or an activist campaigning to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Listen to the fan of that dangerous neoconservative columnist George Weigel, or the fan of that idealistic peacenik Jesuit John Dear.
I don't care which candidate you vote for in November. I do care that you vote to love and listen to those who will be voting for the other guy.