Catholic guidelines for political engagement Q. Someone recently told me that she doesn't get involved in politics, just as Jesus did not. The lady quoted Jesus who said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn 18:36). Are we supposed to avoid the things of this world or should we be involved in politics?
-- M.L., Wilton, Maine
A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
 The relationship between Christian faith and the political order is one of the questions that has engaged Christians since the very beginning. There have always existed two dangers for the Church: one is to embrace the political arena to the extent that church and state become almost inextricably enmeshed; the other is the way of sectarianism, wherein Christians withdraw from the political arena completely and try to live their lives apart from the public and political orders.
In the United States, there is formal separation of church and state. But that does not mean that Christians should not be involved in the political order. The U.S. Catholic bishops, in their 2007 statement, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," state: "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do" (No. 13).
The bishops' document quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states: "It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.... As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life" (Nos. 1913, 1915).
Jesus was not a political figure in the ordinary sense of that word. But he was concerned about the transformation of the social order through the conversion of hearts and souls. In Jesus' preaching, salvation was never an individual matter only, but a communal matter. When he said, "My kingdom is not of this world," he was making clear that he did not come into the world to change political regimes, but to bring about a new human order that would be on earth a sign of the kingdom to come.
I would recommend that, if you are able, you get a copy of the U.S. bishops' 2007 document and pass it on to your friend. (You can order it through any Catholic bookstore or it is available at It is an excellent summary of Catholic thinking on the participation of Catholics in the political order of the United States.