I can’t vote in the December 12th election in Alabama, but I know many voters who can. As someone who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, I know from personal experience that Alabama is a complex place and that it does a tremendous disservice to residents of that state to offer oversimplified caricatures of bigots, fundamentalists, racists, and stupid country folk. At the same time, the Roy Moore phenomenon is hard to explain and it is harder still to understand how some Catholics can rationalize a vote for him in the upcoming U.S. Senate race. For anyone on the fence, this brief post will argue that a vote for Doug Jones more closely aligns with Catholic values than a vote for Roy Moore or the decision to not vote at all.
For starters, why should Catholics vote at all? Why should Catholics get involved in the messy realm of politics? Fundamentally, because we believe that God created us as social creatures who need each other to thrive. We live in human communities and those communities are shaped by policies crafted and implemented by elected representatives. It is a far from perfect system. But participation in the system means that you have a voice to share your values and influence decisions. We participate in politics not out of self-interest but out of self-gift: to make our communities better places for all to live. If you find yourself asking only how a politician’s platform will make your life better, you’ve missed the point of Christian participation in politics. Christian participation in politics is for the common good. And as the U.S. bishops have repeatedly urged Catholics, special concern for those most vulnerable must be at the forefront of our consideration. In Alabama today, consider those who are most vulnerable: economic inequality is extreme in the state, the refusal to expand Medicaid has had dramatic consequences for those most poor in the state, white supremacy is on the rise as a legitimate social movement, ICE agents are conducting raids and detaining immigrants at a rate higher than anywhere else in the Deep South, there remains an achievement gap between black and white students in Alabama public schools, women continue to face unplanned pregnancies, and the life they carry within them remains vulnerable as well.
But neither Republican or Democratic party platforms align with Catholic teachings, you say. I’ll sit this one out because to vote for either candidate is complicity with evil. Okay, yes, you are right on the first point. There is no perfect Catholic candidate in this election. You will have to employ the ethical method of proportionality. But in fact the decision here between a vote for Moore, a vote for Jones, and a choice not to vote all have both values and disvalues embedded in them. The right choice is the choice that involves the least amount of harm while advancing the greatest good for the most people. If you choose not to vote and Moore is elected because you did not vote for Jones, you are as responsible for the harm Moore causes as those who voted for him. You don’t get to say later that your non-participation frees you from complicity in evil.
Catholics should not be single-issue voters. If one looks at the church’s teachings one will find many ethical issues that surface as worthy of careful discernment in this election season:
Church teaching argues that life is sacred and should be respected from conception to natural death. Direct abortion and direct euthanasia are described as intrinsically evil acts that must always be rejected. (FCFC 22).
Church teaching argues that genocide, torture, and targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war can never be justified. Nor can violations of human dignity such as acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning (FCFC 23).
Church teaching argues that the current extent of environmental degradation has become a moral crisis especially because it poses a risk to humanity in the future and threatens the lives of poor and vulnerable human persons here and now… The failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or lack of health care, pornography, redefining civil marriage, compromising religious liberty, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. (FCFC 29).
In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the US bishops state that a Catholic “cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberating subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” (FCFC 34). But “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. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons…” (FCFC 35).
I’ve heard friends in Alabama say that they could never vote for Jones because as Christians they are opposed to abortion. But abortion is a morally complex issue that is deeply connected to other political issues like health care, respect for women as fully human, and economic disparities. It is too complex an issue to treat sufficiently in a single blog post, but as I interpret church teaching on the issue of abortion, I find it helpful to consider the way the issue has complex layers.
The implication of FCFC as cited above is that a Catholic voter can in fact vote for a Democratic candidate who supports a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, if the voter’s intent is not to support the candidate’s position on that particular moral issue but there are sufficiently grave reasons for supporting the Democratic candidate who is pro-choice. This is the proportionate judgment. Are there sufficiently grave reasons for voting for Doug Jones despite his support of women’s reproductive freedoms? Yes. Roy Moore is a sexual predator. He is stupid. He’s broken his oath of office and said he is not bound by the U.S. Constitution. His method for interpreting Scripture is dangerous. He is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-gay. He is unfit for the office of Senator. He is in the mold of Trump in his lack of concern for the poor and for people of color, and his lack of empathy for female victims of sexual assault. By contrast, Doug Jones has a proven record as a person of integrity, intelligence, and work ethic. He seems to care about the rule of law and especially about those most vulnerable in Alabama. In addition, his policies, if implemented, might actually create an Alabama in which women facing unplanned pregnancies felt more empowered to give their babies life, especially if they had jobs, housing, health care, and a workplace free from discrimination and violence. Abortion rates in Alabama dropped from 2011-2014 and reached an all time low in 2014, during Obama’s second term. If prolife voters are most concerned about supporting women who face difficult decisions and created a culture that respects life at all stages, one could argue that a close look at Jones’ platform reveals more alignment with these goals than the trumped up anti-abortion rhetoric of the GOP that simultaneously wants to pass a tax bill that privileges the wealthy.
Being a Christian is not easy. Being a citizen is not easy. But in this election, the choice is not as difficult as it might look.