Commandments for the Political Season
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
The political season has arrived in North Dakota. Not too long ago voters showed little interest in campaigns until the fall of election years. Then interest began to appear around the June primaries. Now party leaders, candidates, and activists begin their activities in the late winter and early spring when the party districts choose candidates to endorse and select delegates to the state conventions. The process is not new, but interest in these district activities has grown.
Redistricting has contributed to the increased interest. Some districts are new and some redrawn districts have incumbents facing each other. Moreover, redistricting also means more districts than usual will have races this year. For the Republicans, a much-publicized intra-party fight has added interest in the district meetings.
Catholic Church officials, including the North Dakota Catholic Conference, do not get involved in these activities. It stays out of party politics and elections. That does not mean, however, that individual Catholics should stay out of the process. Catholics have a moral obligation to participate in the political process. For some, that may mean becoming active in a political party.
Pope Francis has said that politics can be “the highest and greatest form of charity.” But, as with all good things, when politics becomes unmoored from the truth or becomes pursued for self-interest or hatred of others, it can become destructive. This is what we should never shed our Catholic faith when engaging in politics. Especially today, when politics, indeed our nation, is divided and hyper-political, it can become easy to get swept up in the politics and lose sight of our call to act as Christians in all things.
Recognizing the polarization and animosity in American politics, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched the Civilize It campaign in 2020. As part of the campaign, Catholics were asked to take the following pledge:
- To affirm through my words and actions the dignity of every person, each made in God’s image. Even those with whom I disagree are made in his image.
- To respectfully listen in order to understand experiences different from my own.
- To engage in critical examination to ensure that my perspectives are rooted in truth, that my sources of information are unbiased, and that I do not open myself to manipulation by partisan interests.
- To form my conscience through prayerful reflection, study of scripture and Church teaching, and guidance from reputable experts.
- To reflect on my own values and seek, with others, to identify shared values.
- To be open to the process of dialogue that can require change of perspective—my own and others’—in service to the inviolable dignity of all and the common good.
- To be a bridgebuilder who participates in constructive dialogue based in shared values, a mutual exchange of gifts, and the humility to together seek the good.
- To see differences in perspective as opportunities for creative tension which can yield solutions for the common good.
- To work with others in order to identify creative solutions rooted in our shared values.
Those are good principles, but I would offer these more specific “commandments” based on observations in North Dakota politics:
- Stay away from conspiracy theories. Of course, people who believe in false theories don’t recognize they are false, which poses a problem. As Catholics, endowed with reason guided by faith, we need to be vigilant against allegations of conspiracies that are not supported by verifiable evidence or attribute an unreasonable — or even theologically impossible — amount of power and evil to others.
- Do not accuse others of being fascists, communists, racists, misogynists, and other names. In fact, name-calling should rarely be used in civic discourse. Try to stick to the person’s position.
- Do not use or imply profanity. Profanity has no place in political discourse and that includes using a popular slogan that acts as a substitute for a profane and possibly sinful anti-Biden message.
- Do not assume that your social media shares, likes, tweets, and such are separate from your political life or your life as a Christian. Degrees of separation or anonymity do not insulate us from our responsibilities to be virtuous and charitable.
- Do not assume that the best delegate, candidate, or leader is the loudest or most controversial.
- Do not exaggerate. Stick to the facts and avoid labeling.
- Unless you have good evidence to the contrary, assume that even those with whom you disagree have good intentions.
- Never put yourself or party before the common good and the needs of the least among us.
Our state and nation need political discourse focused on the dignity of all human persons and the common good. It also needs a dialogue shaped by civility and even love. Let us pray and work for a better type of politics.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.