Every four years, the American Catholic bishops outline our moral obligation to vote in the presidential election. While they provide some helpful talking points, these quadrennial letters understate or even overlook the scope of our responsibility to live out our Catholic faith in public life.
Voting with a properly formed conscience in every election – not just the presidential election – is certainly a moral obligation. But, not unlike our weekly Mass obligation, this is just the minimum requirement: much more is expected of us.
Catholics have so much to offer America, but often we just don’t know where to start. Here are five ways you can go beyond the “moral duty to vote” and start restoring the nation we love.
You can’t change the cultural and political landscape if you’re wandering around blind. The first step to being politically active is finding trusted sources of information.
This doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it doesn’t have to cut into your leisure time. Find one or two trusted resources (see our list!) that you go to on a daily or even weekly basis. Skim the headlines, and if a story grabs your attention or you see a call to action take the time to read up on it.
Are the headlines disturbing? Yes. And from time to time your blood pressure will skyrocket. But think of it this way: Reading up on the news is like reading about the saints and martyrs – there are really bad people out there. There are also amazing stories of people in our public square trying to do better, sometimes in heroic ways.
We are watching history unfold so that we can be part of those heroic stories and become saints ourselves. Here are our favorite picks for staying informed.
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When people think of politics, they think of voting.
But political life embraces all the ways that we live together in communities.
For some of us this means volunteering at our parish or local charities like soup kitchens or afterschool programs. We can also attend local town hall meetings. You don’t have to say anything – just start by showing up!
Historian Dr. Jeff Mirus wrote that “one reason for the rapid spread of Christianity in the earliest years is that the Christians took care of those in their communities better than did the mighty Roman Empire.” The same thing should be happening in America today.
As Catholics, we care for those around us in a sacramental way – meaning we do it in person, at personal cost. Our faith puts us in the best position to form healthy relationships and build community trust. Trust fosters the friendships and conversations that form the basis of a thriving local community.
Isolation and loneliness have destroyed many local communities, and Catholics hold the key to building personal connections – something of which Americans are in dire need. But we have to get out there and meet our neighbors first.
Here are some simple ways you can identify one or two local events for your and your family to attend. Don’t feel like you have to change the world in one visit to a soup kitchen! Plan to build a long-term commitment that’s sustainable for you and will build relationships over months and even years of just showing up.
We also have a responsibility to our state and federal governments: the price of freedom is vigilance! How do we make a real impact on our elected officials without burning ourselves out or neglecting our family, work, and neighbors?
One simple step: make it personal.
Former U.S. Congressman Tim Huelskamp served twenty years in public office. He told CatholicVote that the biggest lesson he learned was: it’s all personal – especially for politicians.
Huelskamp noted three reasons why our political involvement has to be personal:
First, politicians cannot bear to lose their office. And for all too many of them, they take themselves more seriously than the office itself.
Second, most political decisions are not based on fancy reports, in-depth committee hearings, years of academic study, or morals, ethics, or faith. Rather, most votes are made based on personal factors, and the most effective way to influence them is a personal, not an intellectual approach.
Third, because of the above, many politicians are very susceptible to pressure and sometimes persuasion — especially if it means they could lose their next election. And having an opponent on the ballot is often just the way to get their attention. As the old saying goes — you can’t beat something with nothing.
This is great news for Catholics. We have all the advantages when we make political action personal.
Remember that the Church’s mission is not to transform society or a global order. The Church’s mission is all personal. It’s the salvation of souls.We are personally invested in the salvation of our elected representatives (whether they care or not!). And we are personally invested in the wellbeing of people in our community.
The best way to bring that personal pressure? Show up.
Show up to their office. Show up at rallies. Show up at meetings of school boards and state legislative hearings.
We are stronger together. Don’t try to become a political warrior all on your own. Catholics are all about the personal and the communal – in both our spiritual and political lives.
Small groups of like-minded Americans have had enormous impact on the cultural landscape. The 40 Days for Life Campaign is a case-in-point. In 2004, four Christians met in Bryan-College Station, TX, to pray together in front of a local abortion mill. Today that “small group” model has extended into 1,000 cities in 63 countries.
That’s the power of a few like-minded Catholics finding ways to be politically active. You don’t have to do this alone!
CatholicVote has two great resources for connecting you locally with political (and spiritual) allies.
CatholicVote Action Network CatholicVote local action networks will empower you to take the steps you feel most comfortable with. Our volunteers participate in a wide variety of grassroots actions, including
Small actions lead to powerful change for your state and America. Join us!
CatholicVote University equips college students with educational and professional opportunities to engage in the public square. Covering politics, public policy, economics, business, and culture from the perspective of our Catholic faith, our program gives college students the opportunity to engage in serious, nonpartisan dialogue with experts and peers and be prepared for your future career and vocation.
We hesitated to include this one, because too often Catholics (ourselves included!) feel like a social media presence is a substitute for in-person action. It’s not.
But the truth is that there is a growing need to be part of essential conversations about politics and policy through social media. Using social media creates the potential to join that discourse, complementing (but not replacing) face-to-face contact.
We’ve talked about using social media to stay informed, but it can also be a two-way street for communicating your convictions to policy makers, influencers, and the media. Just be sure to follow a few simple rules:
Every day, our school boards, city councils, county commissions, other local governments, courts, and state governments impose critical political decisions upon us. While these may not be reported on the evening news or blasted out online, their policies can even more dramatically impact our daily lives and those of our families than those from Washington, D.C.
Congressman Huelskamp urges fellow Catholics to discern public service: “There is absolutely no reason a concerned Catholic citizen couldn’t or shouldn’t be in these offices. In fact, I believe that every single Catholic citizen in America should prayerfully consider running and serving in public office or directly assisting those who do.”
There is an adage: If you want something done right, do it yourself. And for citizens of a republic, we can do more than clamor and complain. We can run for these offices ourselves — make these decisions for our neighbors and communities — and live out our Catholic faith in the public square. Particularly for local offices, all it may take is just one person, one concerned citizen, one faithful Catholic to run for office. And win or lose, when we stand up for our values, we impact politics, the public square, and perhaps even our eternal life.
And while running for office is great, it isn’t for everyone. You can equally make a positive impact by volunteering with local campaigns.
Candidates and their staff notice volunteers who show up and show out for a cause they are passionate about, this often allows you to have their ear once they are in office. Each elected official is only as strong as the community that stands behind him or her.
Heritage Foundation also provides briefings for candidates on a range of topics. These consults are also valuable for campaign staffers and volunteers – become your candidate’s expert on a given issue!