Election 2020: A New Catholic Moment

A REGISTER EDITORIAL: ‘The mission of defending human dignity and freedom does not end with any election.’

U.S. flag waves in the wind. Election Day 2020 draws near.
U.S. flag waves in the wind. Election Day 2020 draws near. (photo: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

Nov. 3, like everything else about 2020, will be very different from past election days where the campaign season ended with citizens exercising their sacred duty at the ballot box.

This year widespread recourse to mail-in ballots during the pandemic could delay the final count for days, if not weeks. Then there are fears that once the results are called the outcome will be challenged over accusations of election fraud or voter suppression. And whoever wins the election, there’s also dread of escalated social unrest afterward.

The social tumult and ideological combat roiling our nation over the past eight months has sparked these fears about our future. 

Painful divisions have wounded our families and friendships and damaged political discourse. Our way of life, from the rule of law to our system of government, is under threat. Social trust has broken down as the pandemic lockdown has further loosened the bonds of community and plunged millions of Americans into economic distress.

How can Catholics witness in this moment?

The future of our nation could be decided by how Catholics witness before and up to the vote cast at the polls. And that witness is found in how we intentionally embrace Jesus Christ’s command to love.

The most critical action we need to take going into this election, and after it’s decided, is to “love one another.” The election cycle has divided and challenged well-formed Catholics, even in their own households.

There is no future for our nation if love grows cold — especially love for the unborn child, for the migrant, for the sacredness of Black lives and for all who live in poverty and exclusion — yet we have too much evidence across the country that love is, in fact, growing cold and people’s anger is growing red hot. We are all responsible for what happens next, but especially Catholics, who are expressly commanded by Jesus Christ to love others — from our enemies (Matthew 5:44) to our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and fellow members of the Church (John 15:9-17).

Love is the non-negotiable in this election cycle, and only love is capable of defeating the unrest and even violence in people’s hearts: Love for each person made in the image of God, love for our political enemies, and love for our country will prevent greater disorders and help establish true justice and peace in society. But love must start at home, and it must begin with our complete obedience to what Jesus has commanded.

With the conclusion of the election, Catholics will reflect on the results. But however the electorate chooses, several realities will remain:

  •  We are a divided, polarized and fragmented society, and no election will easily repair the torn fabric of American culture. 
  •  As long as abortion remains so much at the heart of the divide, we will be a broken and spiritually ill country. 

For Catholics, we are called not to consider the election as a finished affair. Regardless of the outcome, this will be a moment to embrace the cardinal virtues and to live them in our daily lives and in how we go forward in January with the government we have elected.

We need to be actively engaged in the ongoing search for political and social reforms, as we have been in past eras marked by similar patterns of social injustice and political unrest. Our public institutions reflect the values and habits of the American people. To renew them, we need to seek our own conversion and strengthen our own virtues. 

The mission of defending human dignity and freedom does not end with any election. Likewise, the defense of religious liberty must continue, regardless of the occupant of the Oval Office and which political party holds the majorities in the Senate and House.

Finally, we know as Catholics that politics is never ultimate. It is not the cause of our hope, and it is not the final aim of our lives. Jesus is Our Lord. This election year, more than ever, we will need to witness to this saving truth.

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