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What does being a 'faithful citizen' really mean?
Panel discusses how to apply faith in voting
Pictured: Father Frank Cancro, pastor of Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont, uses a rope made of three strands to illustrate a point about how people of faith must bring their beliefs into their decision-making process: basing the morality of their actions on God's natural law, Church teaching and tradition, and our properly-formed consciences bound up together. (Patricia Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
CHARLOTTE — Peach pie and ropes.
That's what Christians can think about when puzzling over how to apply their faith in the political sphere, a smiling Father Frank Cancro suggested during a panel discussion at St. Peter Church in Charlotte Sept. 6 as the Democratic National Convention was winding down nearby.
Besides Father Cancro, the panel included the Rev. Rodney Sadler Jr., a Biblical scholar who teaches at Union Presbyterian Seminary; Dr. Cassandra Jones of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and professor at two seminaries; and the Rev. Richard Boyce, who teaches theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary and serves as mayor of Belmont.
The discussion was organized by Mercy Sister Rose Marie Tresp to examine how we as Christians can apply our faith in the political arena and inside the voting booth.
Father Cancro, pastor of Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont, first asked the crowd of more than 50 people to visualize a pie – "peach pie is my favorite" – cut into quarters. Those pieces are comprised of equal measures of political activity (parties, voting); witness of our faith (how we personally choose to evangelize the Gospel); the actions we take; and prayer.
The pie is more "nutritious" if we include all four parts when thinking about what it means to be a Catholic and a Christian, he said.
"All four of those elements are necessary," he said. "No one piece of it alone is enough to satisfy or nourish" us as people of faith and how we work to transform the world in which we live.
And the rope? That symbolizes what we need to make informed moral and political choices.
A rope made of three strands forms a bond stronger than the individual threads, he said, holding up a rope to the crowd. Similarly, our ability to make moral choices is strongest when we rely upon God's natural law, Church teaching and tradition, and our properly-formed consciences – bound up together.
Sadler pointed out that the Scripture passage in Luke 4:14-21, when Jesus announces the Good News to the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaims the fulfillment of the Scriptures, almost reads like a political manifesto: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." In fact, government and religion were closely intertwined throughout Scripture and history, he said, and we can take lessons from that even in our modern democratic societies: political leaders have a moral obligation to care for the needy and powerless, and the faithful have a responsibility to be active in political life.
Likewise, Jones noted that her faith, her relationship with Jesus Christ, informs her political activity. It's more than a moral code, she said, "it's my lifestyle."
Boyce agreed that Americans "are confused" when it comes to the role of faith in the public arena. They think faith must be separated from politics, which unravels the rope Father Cancro mentioned.
"I get the question all the time. I'm a Presbyterian minister and, yes, I'm currently the mayor of a small town," Boyce said. "Folks say, 'What in the world are you doing serving in public office as an ordained minister?' There are lots of ways of answering," he said, pausing slightly before quipping, "The simple way, when it's a Presbyterian asking me, is 'Read some history!'"
In all seriousness, Boyce continued, politics is where we translate our faith into action, and he cannot leave his faith behind. Faith also reminds him as a political leader that he is there not to serve himself, "but to serve God and my neighbor."
He added, "I don't want the government in charge of my particular religious practice, but that does not mean in reverse that I leave my religious practice behind when I exercise" my politics.
Father Cancro also noted that we cannot run away from politics and our responsibilities as Christian citizens. We are living in the world and have an obligation to transform it by our individual and collective actions, he said.
"By our witness, by our lives, by the way we act and who we are in living the Gospel, we bring that fire to transform us into the Kingdom of God, rather than longing for it (as) some reality far away," he said. To do that, we must "embrace God's love and share God's love."
Especially given the bitter partisan divide that exists, all the panelists urged, people of faith must engage others with passion, civility and mutual respect – and remember that God's always in charge.
"I believe politics is a serious business, but it is of penultimate importance," Boyce said, and we must keep a spirit of humility and humor. It's like the old song "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," he continued. "That's simple theology, but I tell ya, if I simply hum that tune every time before the city council meets, I could say, "OK, Lord, You've got it all in Your hands now. We're going to give it a crack, but if we make a big mess of it, we trust You can clean it up fairly quick. And if one thing we do tonight leans in Your direction, would You give us a little sign of Your pleasure?' I'd like to see more politics with that kind of flavor."
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
Online at www.usccb.org: Read the U.S. bishops' 2011 "Faithful Citizenship" report; download resources for parishes and ministries; explore youth group and classroom activities; see explanatory videos from Cardinal Timothy Dolan and others; learn more about Church teaching on life and social justice issues; read commentaries from USCCB staff on the top questions of the day; pray a novena for Faithful Citizenship; and much more. Many materials are available in both English and Spanish.
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