The faithful dilemma in November

Nicholas G. Hahn III
The Detroit News

Like many Americans, faithful Christians will find themselves in a bind at the ballot box this November.

Recent surveys indicate historic dislike of both major party presumptive nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But those who like the candidates don’t seem to be at worship, even if they might check a religiously affiliated box.

For prayerful voters, this year’s presidential election presents no choice.

Yet the country’s Catholic bishops guide voters in a letter on faithful citizenship that “this is not a time for retreat or discouragement; rather, it is a time for renewed engagement.” They say “participation in political life is a moral obligation,” but admit that “goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”

Ultimately, the faithful should “help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts.”

The latter is the rub for many Christians across the political spectrum. The bishops’ list of “things we must never do” include abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, the destruction of human embryos, genocide, torture, targeting noncombatants in war, racism, “deliberately” mistreating workers and the poor, and redefining marriage to deny its “essential meaning.”

Other social problems “are matters for principled debate and decision,” but “all issues do not carry the same moral weight.” The aforementioned ones have a “special claim on our consciences and our actions.”

This is a welcome repudiation of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who applied the biblical story of Jesus’ tunic “woven in one piece from the top down” to public policy issues. The cardinal suggested that matters as varied as capital punishment, the minimum wage and whether to wage war should be considered on the same moral plane as abortion or the definition of marriage.

When it comes to those intrinsically evil acts, Trump’s positions aren’t clear. Clinton’s reputation as an ardent abortion-rights advocate is well-known. What’s a person in the pew to do?

The bishops call not voting for either candidate an “extraordinary step.” But this year’s presidential contest is far from ordinary, and it may require extraordinary acts of conscience.

Twitter: @NGHahn3