Political Activism and Catholic Social Teachings

By Michelle Melcher Knight
November 4, 2011

Discerning how to be involved in the political process of the United States and maintain our focus on our faith can be a puzzling and frustrating experience. With a two party system that often seems to leave us with an “I don’t fit anywhere” feeling, Catholic citizens need a guide for participation. Fortunately, our faith does not leave us unprepared for this dilemma. Catholic Social Teaching is truly a guide for all of life, including political decisions.

When we come to understand the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, we can imagine the kind of society God wants for us. At the core of this teaching is the “life and dignity of the human person.” If we do not have this genuine care and respect for all life, we cannot have a faithful society. Each and every decision we make in our daily lives and each and every decision by our government should reflect this oundational reality. God has made everything and everyone, and we are all precious and valuable.  Decisions at every level and in every area of government and society must first consider how they impact the life and dignity of each individual involved.

Our participation in the political process is even mandated in Catholic Social Teaching. The “call to family, community and participation” reminds us that the organization of our society should not be left to chance or to others. We must fully participate in decisions that determine how our society functions. Our participation must seek the common good and protect all members and the structures that support them.

Catholic Social Teaching demands more from us than we may realize. It outlines the rights of individuals and societal institutions, but also gives us responsibilities “to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.” We must choose political leaders who take these rights and responsibilities seriously.

And we must be involved in the process of choosing those leaders and continue to communicate with them throughout the process of legislating and implementing legislation. If we stay out of the process, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities nor advocating for our rights and the rights of others.

These responsibilities extend first and foremost to those who are poor and vulnerable, another tenet of Catholic Social Teaching. We must ask ourselves and our political leaders about our/their priorities as policies and legislation are considered and enacted. Are the needs of those who are poor and vulnerable in our society and around the world met with our laws and our uses of our time and money? Only then can  we consider the needs of those who enjoy better economic circumstances.

Another tenet concerns workers, specifically “the dignity of work and the rights of workers.” A foundational statement for this teaching is that “the economy must serve people, not the other way around.” Especially in these times of unemployment, recession and rising prices for food and other necessities, we must ensure that our government protects workers and their jobs. All who desire to work must be enabled to do so. Are our leaders enacting policies that provide for the creation of jobs with living wages? A job with a living wage honors the dignity of an individual and his/her family.

Catholic Social Teaching also instructs us to be in solidarity with all people throughout the world. This teaching is difficult to honor when conflicts arise. Can our political leaders find ways to love all of our neighbors, no matter the differences between “us” and “them?” The needs and concerns of people in minority populations,  such as the indigenous people with whom so many Columbans live and work, must be at the forefront of policies that show solidarity. We, as citizens and voters of faith, must insist that our policies work towards peace for all people in the world.

Finally, and with no less importance, Catholic Social Teaching calls us to “care for God’s creation.” The Earth is our home, and we must care for it as much as we care for the individuals whom God has created. Do our policies protect and preserve creation? The needs of the environment cannot be subsumed by our desires for things.

Those of us living in the United States are fortunate to live in a country where we can participate in the political process. Although it is difficult to find any one politician who upholds all of the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, we must do our best to elect those who represent these values as closely as possible. No matter who is elected, we must continue to communicate with our legislators and advocate for policies that reflect every aspect of Catholic Social Teaching.

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