Bishop Seitz on the Problem with Single-Issue Voting

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas writes:

The presidential election is fast approaching. Elections are a critical way we take an active role shaping the common good. We naturally project our hopes and desires for a resolution to the pains now afflicting our country onto that important moment when we cast our ballot.

A deep faith rooted in love is moved by the fragility of others and unsettled by systems that cheapen human dignity. For Christians, the ecstatic experience of being taken out of ourselves and into the drama of the reign of God opens us up to the horizon of the common good. As Benedict XVI said, “the more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them.” We get involved in building the common good because, as St. Óscar Romero said in his last words before being killed, “every effort to better a society, especially one that is so enmeshed in injustice and in sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God desires, that God demands of us.”

The experience of the nearness of Jesus and the love of God, our common Father, creates in us a new mindset: We are dependent, we need one another and we really are responsible for one another. This is what the virtue of solidarity is all about, the recognition that our destinies are woven together or they are not woven at all. Human fragility is not to be denied or demonized or hidden away, but met with love and compassion and solidarity. As Sister Thea Bowman put it so beautifully, “God’s glory is revealed because we love one another across the barriers and boundaries of race, culture and class.”

Our vote is but one expression of this all-encompassing commitment to the common good and the project of building up solidarity.

In the last several months, the wind has been knocked out of us by a major pandemic that has left many, especially the poor and people of color, with no lifeboat. We have also seen how the promise of equality contained in our founding documents has been deferred again and again because we cannot confess with one voice—as church or country—what should be self-evident, that Black lives matter. The individualism rampant in our social, political and economic life is rending the body politic and the body of Christ. But there is a lesson in all of this. As Pope Francis recently put it, “having failed to show solidarity in wealth and in the sharing of resources, we have learned to experience solidarity in suffering.” The Lord is teaching us solidarity by schooling us in fragility….

We must also acknowledge the stumbling block created for religious voters by the Democratic Party’s ever-stronger commitment to promoting abortion without any sensible restrictions, including Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris’s support for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which threatens to break the last surviving bipartisan compromise in a decades-long stalemate over Roe v. Wade….

The deepening dogmatism of the Democratic Party on abortion is an inescapable moral challenge. But Catholics also need to recognize that we are living out the collateral effects of a misbegotten decades-long settlement between certain groups of political and religious leaders on the right. For far too long, in pursuit of “single-issue” strategies to end abortion, many Christians have scandalously turned a blind eye to real breakdowns in solidarity and dehumanizing policies, including crackdowns on worker rights and voting rights, the slashing of social support for the poor and sick, racism and the exploitation of immigrants and the environment….

President Donald Trump has voiced his support for unborn life and taken steps toward defending life, like the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy. Likewise, he has taken positive steps to protect religious liberties. But the president has also tainted the pro-life cause with the individualism and cult of wealth, greed and celebrity that very quickly erode solidarity and cheapen life. And he has undermined the foundational importance of religious liberty with actions like travel bans targeting Muslims. Supported by a pagan aesthetic of self-assertion and buoyed by a destructive politics of fear and xenophobia, his administration has encouraged the worst expressions of nativism. And this is dangerously taxing the durability of our democratic institutions….

Catholics may still arrive at different conclusions as to for whom to vote. But however we vote, God will judge us by the authenticity of our commitment to continuing to stand with all those forced to the margins of our society, even after Election Day.