The Parable of the Pharisees and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) provides us with a lesson in humility. And humility is a virtue we don’t see exhibited very much in our society and in the political scene of today, especially as we approach this very important presidential election. The Pharisee prayed: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.” I can paraphrase the Pharisee’s prayer slightly and imagine the words coming out of our presidential candidates’ mouths: “I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this opponent of mine.”
Humility isn’t the first virtue I think of when I consider either of our presidential candidates. But there is a significant difference in how the two approach many of the issues that are very important to me. Some of those issues are matters of personal preferences—the candidate’s views on such things as taxes, immigration, climate change, or national security. All of these are subjects which can be honestly argued and debated. But there are other matters that are clearly not negotiable as we try to uphold truths contained in the teachings of Christ’s Church.
And as I reflect on these matters, I realize that I am deplorable. I am deplorable, and so are most of you, at least in the eyes of one of the candidates, because she believes that we are all homophobes and sexists. In her estimation, anyone who stands up for the sanctity of marriage according to Church teaching, must be doing so out of fear and hatred of gay people. And anyone who is pro-life must be a sexist because they want to deny women their reproductive rights—a euphemism for the right to kill unborn children, even if the child has already partially emerged from the mother’s womb. Of course, as Catholics, we are already considered sexists because we belong to what her campaign refers to as a backward religion, a religion where only men can be priests. Her campaign has even strategized ways to infiltrate the Catholic Church to instigate revolution from within. She is very much like the Pharisee in the parable. She feels she is superior—much more intelligent and enlightened than all of us, and more enlightened and knowledgeable than 2000 years of popes, philosophers, and theologians who have humbly been guided by the Holy Spirit.
Now, I do not want to make any pretenses that the other presidential candidate is a saint. He is also a difficult person to support. I personally know people who were financially hurt by his unethical business practices in the past. But when I consider his positions on abortion, on same-sex unions, and on religious freedom in contrast to that of his opponent, there are clear differences.
I know many are having great difficulty motivating themselves to vote for either candidate—they both have a very high unlikeability factor. In that case, it is important to look at the party platforms. Trump and Clinton are the faces of their parties, but when one of them is elected they will bring a much greater and impactful package along with them. We can start by looking at the vice-presidential candidates. Mike Pence, Trump’s nominee, is a champion for pro-life issues with a strong background for upholding the rights of the unborn. Tim Kaine, Hillary’s nominee, is a fellow Catholic. While he claims to support Church teaching, he insists that he cannot impose his religious views on others. If he truly believes Church teaching, however, that human life begins at conception, how can he not try to defend that life, like every other life, no matter what the views of others may be. I may disagree on his position on taxes or immigration, but I am sure he would not have any problems imposing his views on me in these matters.
And, of course, there are all the other appointments that the president makes such as the attorney general who will influence how our laws are enforced. And then there is the position of surgeon general. I think many of you can remember when we had a surgeon general appointed by Bill Clinton who suggested that masturbation be taught in schools and who encouraged Americans to “get over this love affair with the fetus.” It would be refreshing to have someone like Ben Carson as surgeon general.
But of even greater importance than the selection of the vice president, attorney general, or surgeon general, is the ability of the next president to nominate Supreme Court justices. This is, for me, the scariest component of the upcoming election. With great vision, our founding fathers put in place procedures that made it very difficult to amend the Constitution. Unfortunately, I don’t think they anticipated that Supreme Court judges would be politically motivated in how the Constitution, the law of the land, is interpreted; how they could redefine the long-standing definition of words such as marriage; how they could admit in Roe v. Wade that they could not determine when life begins and then arbitrarily set a period of 13 weeks after conception when abortion could take place without any justification; how they could decide that after 13 weeks abortion could still take place to protect the health of the mother— but then suggest potential threats to the health of the mother in these words: “Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved.” By extension therefore, according to the Supreme Court, distress, child care, and stigma are all justifications for abortion. Abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy is the result.
More recently, the Supreme Court has been fairly balanced along political ideologies: 4 justices were considered to be conservative (i.e. pro-life), 4 were considered liberal (i.e. pro-abortion), and one would side with one group on some decisions and the other side at other times. However, with the recent death of Justice Scalia, one of the conservative judges, the court now leans to the left. The next president will have the opportunity to nominate his replacement. It will either come back into balance or lean even further to the left. Additionally, we have three justices that are getting up in age—ages 78, 80, and 83. They may retire during the next president’s tenure in office. This presidential election will have an extreme impact on the make-up of the Supreme Court, its ideology, and the ability to address pro-life and religious liberty concerns.
Now I know that there is much disdain for the two major candidates. And I know some of you are considering voting for a 3rd party candidate, or not voting at all. In some years, when one candidate was assured of winning a state’s electoral votes, this may have been an acceptable practice— an opportunity to make a statement. But this year is different and there will likely be a thin margin of victory for either candidate. So, while you might not like either major candidate, or you might like another candidate more, in reality, only the Republican or the Democrat candidate will be elected president. Look not only at the candidate at the head of the ticket, but also at all the baggage they bring with them. Decide which of the two parties’ agendas you prefer and are willing to live with for the next four years and beyond, and then vote accordingly.
I cannot tell you who to vote for, but it is probably clear who I intend to vote for. I am concerned about the attacks on the culture of life. I am concerned about attacks on the sanctity of marriage and the family. And I am very concerned about the attacks on religious liberties. I wonder if I will be able to still preach about the Church’s teachings regarding abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and contraception, without being accused of hate speech. I can imagine being imprisoned because I believe and preach the teachings of a backward religion.
I would like to leave you with a Bible passage—an admonition to go be a prophet and bring the truth to others. It is from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy (4:1-2). It goes like this: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”