(Viewpoints is our monthly series of op-ed articles offered to Catholic News Service clients. It presents two differing opinions on important Catholic issues.)
By Tom Sheridan
Catholic News Service
OK, I get it. You don’t like the way the election turned out. Your candidate, (fill in the blank), lost, and the one you absolutely, irrevocably hated, (fill in the blank), because of (his or her) actions, inaction, comments, attitudes, prejudices, history, etc., etc., etc. won.
Whew! Lots of emotion in that paragraph. But it’s an undeniable truth following the 2016 presidential election. Somebody wins and somebody loses and a whole lot of other somebodies (that’d be YOU!) aren’t very happy about it.
True, the 2016 election was different. The rhetoric was stronger, more vitriolic. But more important, this election was possibly the most religion-centric in U.S. history. Not just because the candidates’ faith — or lack thereof — was probed, questioned and even mocked, but also because of how adherents of various faith communities — whether officially or not — lined up behind their champions and often despite the candidate’s very public behavior.
Catholic bishops were mostly careful with their observations, pointing out that neither party nor candidate had a lock on how they mirrored church and Gospel values. A few Catholic groups and individuals took specific positions. Evangelical Christian denominations and leaders were almost unanimous in picking sides, in many cases flouting previous pronouncements on morality and family values.
The usual faith-laced themes were trotted out: abortion, contraception, immigration, diversity, gender issues and how a future Supreme Court might shift the nation’s historic Judeo-Christian bent. There were unsupported charges of anti-Catholic bias against one candidate.
Some campaign rallies boasted a tent revival flavor. There were even qualms that the campaign against ISIS in Iraq would usher in a biblical apocalypse.
Add in the often-vile, usually incorrect or misleading emails and other screeds involving faithful practices or values, and you have a campaign threaded with religion, usually polarized religion.
That polarization is unlikely to change.
More than ever, religion will continue to be a trending topic in America. As much as political labels, religion will be a lens through which America’s public life plays out, affecting policy, our domestic health (mental and physical) and how we treat the least among us and more.
Nevertheless, the ballots have been cast. On Jan. 20, someone new will be in the White House. President-elect Donald J. Trump will continue to please and anger many. The election may be over, but the fallout is just beginning.
And for better or worse, religion will be in the thick of it.
That’s OK. We want our leaders to have faith. But neither have we wanted our presidents to support a particular religious extremism.
What does all this mean for the Catholic in the pew each Sunday? And even for the Catholic NOT in the pew each week?
Bottom line: Americans — perhaps especially Catholics — should not separate religion from the national conversation.
True, it’s a fine line between a democratic nation strengthened, guided and affirmed by religious belief and faithful policies and one that becomes an oppressive theocracy. The first appreciates the legitimate diversity of beliefs that exists and seeks to recognize the dignity of all. The latter enforces a single belief system.
We don’t have a state church, and shouldn’t. But religion and faith are important connectors for Americans and should never stray far from the public square.
What does that mean for you, who may or may not have your candidate in the White House? Proclaim human dignity and respect for others. Work for the least among us, the marginalized, the poor, the stranger. Always choose life.
These are Gospel values, but too often they aren’t political, policy or even always popular values. That’s why it’s the role of religion to proclaim them in the public square.
It’s called faithful citizenship.
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Comments are welcome. Contact Tom Sheridan at CNS.firstname.lastname@example.org.