By Mike Bucaria
This month, the Rock the Vote tour made a visit to the University, and was heralded beforehand by flyers, T-shirts and Facebook events all around campus. This came just days before the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service and a few short weeks before hundreds of students will leave for different service break trips around the world. So, of all the events and ideas being advertised around campus, social justice and politics are prominently at the forefront.
Both have merit in their own right, but regardless of their merit this brings an interesting topic to mind. Over the summer, religious leaders of different denominations (especially Catholics) appealed to Congress, attacking the budget proposed by a Republican representative as overly harsh on the poor, selfish and fundamentally immoral.
The problem with this budget is that the Republican sponsor was none other than the budget committee’s chairman and Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Since its introduction in the House, it has become the basic economic plan of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Therefore this religious opposition is especially problematic for the GOP team since Ryan is appealing to his Catholicism as a strong part of his identity.
There has been heavy opposition from Catholic clergy and laypeople alike, including Sister Simone Campbell, who ran Nuns on the Bus, a 2,700-mile tour through nine states that would be especially affected by Ryan’s budget. Declaring a call to conscience as her motivation, Campbell said, “We felt we must do this as our response to calls of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching to actively challenge injustice wherever we find it.”
However, the Republicans are not the only object of religious criticism. The Democratic National Convention identified several stances that are unpopular with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including supporting marriage equality and opposing regulation of abortion. Others are supported by the Church but opposed by Republicans, such as advocating immigration reform to work towards citizenship and opposing budget cuts in education. The bottom line is that the Church supports some aspects of the Republican and Democratic platforms, but they also find other aspects of the respective platforms glaringly immoral.
This is not the 15th century, and religious leaders are not trying to officially endorse a particular candidate, but there is no doubt that letters, articles, sermons and statements reflect tacit or vehement approval and can sway voters. And this is not just Catholics: other religions, especially ones with strong or orthodox communities have the tendency to vote as a block. Therefore, religious leaders in our country are facing the obligation to speak out about what they see: approval where it is deserved and rebuke where change is needed.
Quite frankly, this is not a matter of picking between excellent and similar candidates. Instead, it comes down to which candidate religious leaders hate less. Unfortunately, there is no “honorable mention” certificate that can be handed out, so voters looking for guidance will listen to what their clergy says.
As a consequence, religious leaders need to resist the urge to make the election a one-issue decision. For instance, a more conservative preacher cannot vilify the Democrats on their support of abortion and a more liberal rabbi cannot discount Republicans on their opposition to social reform because there is much more to the candidate than one issue. Ranging from economics to foreign policy, candidates do not always fit neatly into party delineations.
I personally find it hard to reconcile liberal or conservative social views with liberal or conservative economic views, and I find it helpful to ask people whose opinions I respect. Ranging from brothers and priests at the University and from my high school to my friends, this covers a wide range on the spectrum of political inclinations. However, it takes a dose of self-awareness and social awareness to know when my advice giver is giving partial or biased advice.
Although I’m personally drawn to some fringe third party candidates, no candidate who has garnered fewer votes than there are students at the University seems like a good alternative to the Republican and Democratic candidates. I do not want to discount the candidates, but deciding what is most important is not easy.
The obligation rests with religious leaders to pick their battles: They need to stand by their religious convictions, but at the same time they should not alienate themselves into an obscure special interest group focusing on only one issue. Whatever the outcome, politics and religion should stay as far away from each other as possible, but people will always look to religious clergy for political advice. The best that we who are seeking advice can ask is advice that is cogent, well informed and not xenophobic.