August 25, 2000


Political Engagement: A Moral Obligation

Kathy Thornton, RSM
National Coordinator, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Teresa Villa Nira
NETWORK Latino Outreach Coordinator

Here in the United States we are blessed with a democratic tradition that allows us to carry our moral values into the public arena. We who believe in justice for all peoples have the right and responsibility to participate in the political process and to join with others in advocating for a just society.

Political participation is a moral obligation each one of us is called to fulfill. Almost everyone has personal and professional obligations that make it difficult to find time for other activities. But the busiest people, those most heavily committed to family, work, community and church, are often the very ones who see firsthand the effects of government actions or inaction in their own lives and communities. People who are involved in programs for immigrants, who struggle to support families in minimum wage jobs, and who worry about the safety and health of their children know more about the real world than some of the politicians who run for office. It is important to share this knowledge with others.

For many Catholics, it is significant that the U.S. presidential election is taking place at the end of the Church's Jubilee year. Jubilee, as it says in Scripture, is based in the strong belief that personal and societal transformation is possible. When we think of the meaning of Jubilee, we recognize that all of us must work together as a community to transform government and society so that they are based on justice for all people. We can do this by connecting with political movements, organizations and candidates who share our personal beliefs about justice. We are asked to know the issues and the candidates in order to vote for government representatives and laws that will result in a more just society.

Most religions have teachings that describe their vision of justice. Since its founding, NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, has encouraged its members to use Catholic Social Teachings to examine government policies and legislation. These teachings, and those of other faiths, can also help people to select political parties and candidates who best represent their vision of a just society. The U.S. Catholic Bishops encourage the faithful to know the Church's teachings and to act to make this a more just society.

When we apply Catholic Social Teachings to this year's political candidates, we ask these and other questions: what does the candidate see as the causes of poverty in the United States, which is the world's wealthiest nation? What would the candidates do to reduce the suffering caused by poverty and other forms of injustice? What policies would the candidate create or support to ensure the rights of diverse racial groups, immigrants and indigenous people? How would the candidate promote peace and stability within this nation and in the world?

Some commentators say that presidential candidates from the two major parties represent a "centrist" position. But there are differences in the ways they answer these questions. It is up to us to uncover those differences. As participants in the political process, there are many options for becoming fully informed about political candidates. We can read newspapers and magazines, check campaign Web sites, attend political rallies, watch TV debates, communicate with campaign offices to ask specific questions, and attend candidates' forums. It is also important to hear what candidates outside the two major parties are saying. Their different perspectives can be valuable.

We must all resolve to speak out, with the belief that the people have the power to shape a world of justice for all.

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