The campaign is finally over! Whether your guy won or lost, it’s time to take a deep breath and relax, maybe even mend some strained relationships. But, here’s the bad news: the fight isn’t over; it’s only just beginning. The responsibility we have as citizens and Catholics only begins with voting. In fact, what we do in between elections is much more important than taking a little time to cast a ballot on Election Day.
In the coming months, I’m going to be writing a series of posts for Ignitum Today on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and the themes of the council documents and papal encyclicals that make up the core of the Church’s social doctrine. If Catholics are going to truly and effectively live out our obligations as faithful citizens, we need to understand what those obligations are.
First, we must educate ourselves and others on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. The insights found therein are a tremendous storehouse of wisdom, but are perhaps the least known aspect of Church teaching. I hope that my upcoming posts serve as a simple introduction for those who read them, but ultimately, catechists throughout the Church must renew their commitment to faithfully teach and proclaim the entirety of the Church’s doctrine, including social doctrine.
Second, we must understand the most effective means of advocating just policies. I find it curious, and somewhat frustrating, how easily people can get invested in a presidential election, where they have very little influence and are unlikely to ever even meet the candidates, but are uninterested or unwilling to engage at the state or local level. Many very important decisions with moral consequence are decided each year in state legislatures and that is where individuals and small groups have great influence.
For example, almost all pro-life victories of the last several years have happened in the states. In my own state of Kentucky, we have tremendous opportunities to reduce the number of abortions performed with fairly simple pieces of legislation. Unlike presidents, or even members of Congress, in most places state legislators represent a relatively small number of people and often even spend most of the year in their districts. A group of four or five parishioners or pro-life activists should have very little trouble meeting with their local state legislator and impressing upon him or her the importance that many constituents place upon that issue.
Third, we must remember that the fight is more important than the result. It often takes years of work to pass good legislation, and our obligation is to keep trying, whether we win or not. We are called to be faithful witnesses to the values of the Kingdom of God, not shrewd political operatives who are never on the losing side of a vote (though there is value in political acumen, of course). State legislators are accountants and doctors who live across town, not exalted beings whom we should be afraid to approach. They are our servants, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask them for something every once in a while.
It is easy to get caught up in the campaign rhetoric and believe that a particular election is “the most important in our lifetimes” and that we can’t possibly survive if the wrong candidate wins. This is, of course, especially problematic when the “wrong” candidate actually wins. In reality, the outcome of every election creates its own challenges and opportunities. We are called to do good and mitigate evil in whatever political environment we might find ourselves in. Besides, that environment won’t be the same for very long.
In short, the good news and the bad news are the same: there is always another election right around the corner.