I am sure that, on any given day in the U.S. Catholic Church, faithful members are calling their congresspersons, meeting with legislators at their Statehouses, and assembling in their parish halls to write letters. They are advocating at all levels of government on such issues as protecting unborn life, capital punishment, clean energy, religious liberty, and affordable housing. What’s equally amazing? We can imagine that two parishioners somewhere are in a lively dialogue about their opposing views on such matters. These two people are clearly committed to their principles. But, refreshingly, they are not threatened by the conversation. In fact, they each want to know if the Holy Spirit has something to say through the experiences of the other person!
This is faithful citizenship in action. It’s promoting God’s vision for life, dignity and care for creation through civic life while recognizing the goodness in those who disagree with us. As Pope Francis said to Congress, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity” (Address, Sept. 24, 2015).
Yet, few would dispute that, with each election season, faithful citizenship becomes more of a challenge. Heightening antagonism and polarization can tempt you and me to abandon our Christian behavior with each other. As my Archbishop recently shared in the newspaper:
One of the songs we sing in our churches includes the refrain, `Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.’ A fundamental cause of all the negativity we face in our national conversation is the speed at which we confidently point fingers at others as the source of our problems. We need to look humbly to ourselves first… We must engage in dialogue with the person who has a view differing from our own. The Lord is active in all our lives, so respect demands that we at least try to understand where the other is coming from. (Archbishop Dennis Schnurr quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 2016).
The content and tone of our political conversations must not be left up to political candidates and the media. We can make clear the type of rhetoric we expect from those honorably seeking public office, and we can exemplify respectful dialogue with each other. As a Church, we can help shape the public discourse.
To that end, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has launched a new campaign, Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate. We invite everyone to join the movement and take the pledge at www.civilizeit.us.
As the webpage explains, “Civilize It is a non-partisan movement and a call for all of us to help change the tone, follow our faith, and quiet the quarrels in our day-to-day lives.”
In the Archdiocese, we’re handing out Civilize It campaign buttons, car magnets, t-shirts and yard signs. Parishioners have signed letters to our candidates, urging them to keep their campaigns respectful and to consider the full slate of Catholic social teaching in their platforms.
Wherever you are, take the pledge! Share it! Tell yourself, friends and family that you are part of a movement to infuse civility, clarity and compassion into our political engagements.
Instead of allowing another election year divide American Catholics further, let’s first and foremost respond to the goodness of Christ in each other.
As Pope Francis exclaimed, “No to warring among ourselves!” As we faithfully live out our consciences in the public square, “[l]et us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love” (Joy of the Gospel, nos. 98-101). Let’s Civilize It!
Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office
Learn more about civil dialogue with these resources:
- Bulletin Insert on Civil Dialogue | Spanish
- 10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis: A Challenge to Families…and Candidates?