A desire for truth should drive Christian values
The U.S. bishops tell us in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," their document on Catholic political responsibility, that the church can help us understand our role in voting.
They start by teaching we must have a desire for the truth. As Catholics, we believe there is objective truth. We believe that we can know it. We further believe we can enter into relationship with truth, for truth has a human face in Christ Jesus. Truth is a person. Therefore, forming our conscience starts with fostering our relationship with Jesus by reading the Scriptures and coming to know him through the "Catechism of the Catholic Church."
This desire for truth should drive us to be informed voters. We have to know the major issues of our time, what the various candidates hold about those issues, who those issues effect, and what the alternative views are. Finally, we have to pray for the wisdom and prudence to make the right choices.
So, conscience is that small, still voice that tells us to do good and avoid evil. What, then, does the church have to tell us concretely about either?
Regarding avoiding evil, one of the more basic principles is that "the ends do not justify the means." The bishops write that "there are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor."
No matter how good a politician's intended goal might be, sometimes they propose to achieve their goal through means that are evil. These fundamentally evil means are called "intrinsically evil" actions. Such actions, say the bishops, "must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned."
What are these actions? The bishops are very specific. They are abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on embryos, genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants in terrorism or war.
Okay, so that is the avoiding evil part. What about doing good? The bishops warn us about thinking we've fulfilled our responsibilities by just avoiding evil. We are called to vote for the common good, to elect representatives who promote what is truly good for our nation. A fundamental moral obligation that stems from this is the effort to help "the least of these" in our society with a particular care and love. Indeed, failure to help the poor, says our Lord, can land us in hell. (Mt 25:45-46; Lk 16:22-23)
Unlike avoiding evil, however, the bishops do not list specific actions. This is because the good of helping the poor "may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means." The bishops also note that the pursuit of goods such as food, health care and home are, as Blessed John Paul II wrote, "false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination."
Next month, we'll see what this means for the two temptations in public life.
Omar Gutierrez is the manager of the Archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.