Serious people feel overwhelmed going into the 2012 election. Seeing many choices or none, some seek a rationale to stay home on Election Day, but to give in to such discouragement is political despair.
Fortunately, conscience can guide us, even when we don’t know it. The voice of conscience can include a feeling of disconnect – a this-doesn’t-feel-right sensation, and a sense of puzzlement – and the sense that this-doesn’t-gel-with-what-I’ve-been-taught. People of conscience weigh key moral issues. They study and struggle with the questions at hand. They engage in a lifetime effort to develop the fine-tuned moral sensitivity needed to understand deeply Church teaching on critical issues.
Issues that directly affect innocent human lives, such as abortion and euthanasia, are primary and demand serious consideration. Since 1973, there have been an estimated 53 million abortions in the U.S. Two states, Washington and Oregon, have legalized physician-assisted suicide for persons with terminal illnesses, called “death with dignity.” Concern for other life issues, such as the death penalty, is vital. Today the Church questions if execution can even be used in modern society since we now have secure ways to keep people from harming others. Since 1973, there have been 138 documented cases of innocent people eventually freed from death row. After a ten-year hiatus the death penalty was reinstituted in our country in 1976. Has this contributed to the responsibility, restoration and rehabilitation needed in our criminal justice system?
Millions of undocumented persons demand our compassion. An estimated 11.1 million have made the U.S. their home, raising families and contributing to the economy. Some came here as children; this is the only land they know. There is an immigration problem and justice demands a humane solution to it, one that respects the responsibilities and rights of all.
There is a move to redefine marriage. The marriage of a man and a woman is the foundation of the family and the basic cell of society, yet various proposals seek to erode and ultimately redefine the perennial meaning of marriage in the law. The contribution marriage makes to the common good is essential, and protection of marriage is another matter of justice.
The growing disparity between rich and poor means most of the world’s resources are in the hands of a small percentage of its people. More than 50 percent of the world’s assets are owned by the richest two percent of adults … the bottom half of the world population own only one percent of the wealth. In our nation 46 million people live below the poverty line, established at $23,113 for a family of four. Approximately 25 million people are unemployed or underemployed – a real unemployment rate of 15.6 percent.
The Constitution heralds religious liberty in the First Amendment, yet in recent years religious groups have had to fight for this right. Some opponents dismiss religious freedom as inconsequential. We’ve seen legal efforts to deny the church the right to participate in government programs unless it cedes its religious principles. We’ve seen government officials dismiss those who defend marriage as between one man and one woman as “bigots.” We’ve seen the state try to define who can be a minister in a church. We see that people are persecuted for their faith around the world, losing their homes, even their lives, for lack of religious freedom.
State-sponsored violence through war and other aggression results in thousands of deaths and millions of disrupted lives. The Church’s long-held just war teaching suggests war is permissible only if the damage inflicted by the aggressor is lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to the aggression have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there are serious prospects of the war’s success; and the use of arms does not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
Other issues are at stake in the coming election but the above issues deserve particular concern. Can they be discussed civilly? Can individuals look at them from several sides and consider what resonates with their conscience? These are matters for study and prayer before anyone enters the voting booth.