Politics and pulpits

Several years ago, shortly before one of the presidential elections, an associate pastor at our parish gave a dynamic homily regarding the responsibilities of Catholic voters. He started his message by saying that “one’s Catholic faith shouldn’t be a factor when we go to the polls.”

The statement immediately grabbed the attention of the congregation. Then the priest continued with a great deal of enthusiasm. “No, our Catholic faith shouldn’t be a factor when we go to the polls — it should be the factor.”

In other words, if our Catholic faith isn’t guiding our actions, especially when it comes to important efforts like electing politicians or voting for laws that will have an impact on society, then what good is it? In that same homily, he also applied the statement to politicians who identify themselves as Catholic but whose platforms and voting records represent the opposite of what the Church teaches.

That method of operation for both Catholic voters and politicians has become even more commonplace in recent years. That said, an interesting report released in September by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project show just as many people, when it comes to elected officials, are getting tired of them leaving their faith at the door.

According to Pew, nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of the public thinks religion is losing its influence in American life, and a majority of those who say the influence is waning see this as a negative development.

Maybe it’s all the bad news that we’re being inundated with from around the world that has Americans longing for leaders who believe in something or someone bigger than themselves. Whatever the case, this survey shows that voters support more religion — not less — in politics. And it’s not just religion in politics that is gaining acceptance, but politics in religion. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up since the 2010 midterm elections.

Regardless of one’s party affiliation, I never quite understood why there was such a disconnect. Why do voters, and in particular Catholic voters, have a problem with our priests and bishops talking about politics and faith — and our candidates mixing politics and religion?

While priests and deacons can’t endorse candidates from the pulpit, they can and certainly should preach and teach about what the Church has to say about issues we are facing in our culture. If we aren’t going to be getting any instruction from the Church on key issues that dominate political discussions — including the hot-button issues of marriage and abortion — then why bother going in the first place? Is it just to pat ourselves on the back for meeting our weekly Mass obligation? Is it about seeing our friends and getting the occasional free coffee and donuts? Why believe in anything — or belong to the Church or any church, for that matter — if it is not going to affect how we live our lives and respond to God’s call?

What type of a moral compass is used by politicians and voters before they run for office, endorse a particular piece of legislation or cast a ballot? Shouldn’t our faith have something to do with all of this?

These are the kind of questions that our associate pastor asked in that challenging homily years ago. These are questions that challenge me today. They’re also timeless questions we need to be continually asking ourselves — questions that should be posed regarding those seeking our vote, seeing as how crucial midterm elections are right around the corner.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.