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Questions and Answers

What are we to do about the elections when every candidate is either a liberal or questionable? But the Church tells us we have to vote, doesn’t it?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Civil Authority
• The Limits of Obligation
• Summary of Obligations
• Voting

 
Yes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does say that “submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (§ 2240). But the answer to your question is not as simple as declaring, “Therefore, we all have to vote.” The individual’s responsibility to civil authority has several complicated components. So let’s look at them.

 
Civil Authority

Looking back into the Old Testament, we can see that, once the Jews became established in their own country, they ruled themselves, first through judges, then through kings. Still, God was the highest authority, and all social order derived from the divine Law. The concept of the individual’s relationship to civil, rather than religious, authority began only when foreign nations invaded and conquered Israel and Judah.

Although we can imagine that there must have been resistance and rebellion at first, eventually the exile became inevitable. We have in Jeremiah a record of how God told the Jews to accept this inevitability of living under civil rule:

  

Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens and eat their fruits. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease. Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.

  

—Jeremiah 29:5–7

In other words, because external civil authority provided an environment of peace and stability in which the Jewish religion could be preserved, the individual was called to promote the welfare of that authority.

Now, at the time of Christ, the Roman Empire was the civil authority in Judea, and Christ, when asked about paying taxes to Rome, echoed the words of Jeremiah when He said, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). Christ—to the dismay of some of His followers—was no revolutionary, and He never called for disrespect to civil authority.

In the early Church, Saint Paul reaffirmed the need to respect civil authority (see Romans 13:1-7), and it is to Saint Paul that scholars have looked ever since in regard to the individual’s responsibility to the state.

  

The fact is, the Romans allowed Jewish religious freedom because they understood that the Jewish faith predated the founding of Rome; the Romans respected things like that—they may have been cruel and ruthless, but they were still intelligent people.

After Saint Paul’s time, however, when the early Christians started getting kicked out of the synagogues, the Romans raised their eyebrows. If the Christians were not Jews, then they were a new religion, and under Roman law they could legally be suppressed as a novelty that threatened the state’s welfare. It was this sort of persecution that brought about the early Christian martyrs: men and women—and children—who refused to respect an anti-Christian civil authority.

  

 
The Limits of Obligation

Consequently, in spite of our obligation to respect civil authority, there are limits to this respect. The Catechism makes this perfectly clear by stating it as a command: “The citizen is obligated in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons, or the teachings of the Gospel” (§ 2242).

This philosophy has its basis in the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Esther we have the story of Mordecai who refused to kneel and bow down to a king’s servant. In the book of Daniel we have the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had made (Daniel 3:1–97). In the same book we also have the story of Daniel himself who was thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to follow a law prohibiting prayer to any god or man except the king (Daniel 6:1–29). In the book of 2 Maccabees we have the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her sons for refusing to eat pork in violation of God’s law (2 Maccabees 7:1–42).

Moreover, we have the stories of countless Christian martyrs. It began with Christians who refused to worship the Roman emperor, and it has continued through the centuries with those who suffered persecution and death rather than betray their faith.

  

Notice that the directive here is not to protest laws contrary to the faith but to refuse to follow any such laws imposed on us personally. The Catechism makes no mention of the price of such refusal, but Scripture makes that price perfectly clear: persecution even unto death.

  

 
Summary of Obligations

So far we have seen that we have an obligation to promote the welfare of civil authority because it provides the general social stability to practice our faith. Even if the state persecutes us or does things of which we do not approve, we still must respect the law, pay our taxes, and pray for our leaders to repent their sins. But if we are directed to perform any act contrary to our faith—for example, when hospitals are ordered by the government to perform abortions—we have an obligation to refuse, whatever the cost to us.

Now, how does this apply to voting?

 
Voting

When we vote, we select persons who will take up the responsibility of making decisions about the future. In selecting these persons, we give them our approval to do what they see fit to do. Notice carefully: we give them our approval to do what they see fit to do. That’s a large trust. On what basis do we place it?

Well, we place our trust on what the candidates have said during their election campaigns.

And here is where the problems start.

What if the things a candidate says indicate that he or she intends to legislate for things contrary to our faith and morals? Well, by definition, our voting for that person gives our approval to those things. So where does that leave us? It leaves us in sin. The Catechism itself says so. It says that “we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them . . . by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them” (§ 1868).

Therefore, if we vote for a candidate who intends to legislate sin—that is, to order, advise, praise, or approve sin—we commit a sin because voting for that candidate amounts to approving sin. For example, if a candidate is pro-abortion, has a history of lying, perjury, causing scandal, spreading salacious rumors, breaking the law, and supporting immorality, and if you vote for her, then you are condoning all her sins, and, if she gets elected, you will share culpability for the sins she commits in office. That fact right there should govern the voting choices of any person who cares about the welfare of his or her soul.

Still, the problems can get worse.

What if a situation were to arise in which every candidate intended to commit mortal sin, or to order, advise, praise, or approve mortal sin? What do we do then?

There is only one answer. We refuse to vote for any candidate because it would obligate us to do something contrary to our faith.

Then we vow personally to live chaste and holy lives so that we will be a reflection of God’s glory into the darkness of our culture. Mind you, it’s far harder to live a true Catholic lifestyle, quietly, with humility and modesty, than it is to argue about politics. Furthermore, we pray and make sacrifices that this country will be spared the worst of the disasters and horrors that await it if it doesn’t repent its insane eagerness to trample Christian values underfoot as it heads down the ever widening path of diversity.

 

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