Editorial: We have an obligation to stay engaged beyond election day

Voters in New York City line up to cast ballots outside Madison Square Garden Oct. 24, 2020, on the first day of early voting for the presidential election.  CNS photo/Jeenah Moon, Reuters 

Americans are revved up and raring to vote this election season. The number of early votes cast before election day, Nov. 3, has broken records, and people are streaming to the polls today.

Across the nation, nearly 79 million people voted early with less than a week to go before election day. That’s 57.2 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election in 2016. 

Tennesseans have joined the rush to the ballot box. Through Oct. 28, 2,109,156 early voting and absentee ballots had been cast, setting records along the way. That total represents a 38 percent increase over early voting at the same point before the 2016 election, with each of the state’s 95 counties reporting higher numbers than ever before.

Whether the flood of early voting is the result of people’s deep engagement in the political process or of their fear of standing in line at a crowded polling place on election day in the midst of a pandemic, we appear headed toward a record turnout.

We pray that people’s engagement and their interest in the important policy issues facing the country during this campaign season will carry far beyond election day. Catholics need to stay engaged so they can bring to the public square their faith and Catholic teaching, what the U.S. bishops have called “the richness of our faith.”

Voting is important, but we are called to do even more. In their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which the bishops reissue before every presidential election, they said, “Everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life and contribute to the common good.”

The document also quotes Pope Francis: “Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. … You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor.”

We bring to this effort to build God’s kingdom of love a unique perspective as Catholics, a perspective grounded by Church teaching and the example of Christ.

“The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition,” the bishops state in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

“To echo the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: Christ, the Word made flesh, in showing us the Father’s love, also shows us what it truly means to be human,” the document states. “Christ’s love for us lets us see our human dignity in full clarity and compels us to love our neighbors as he has loved us.”

Each Catholic has a moral responsibility “to hear, receive and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience,” the bishops remind us. “Foremost amongst those teachings are the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.”

In these times of intense partisan polarization, Catholics are called to change the tenor of our national debate.

“Our commitment as people of faith to imitate Christ’s love and compassion should challenge us to serve as models of civil dialogue, especially in a context where discourse is eroding at all levels of society,” according to the bishops. “Where we live, work and worship, we strive to understand before seeking to be understood, to treat with respect those with whom we disagree, to dismantle stereotypes, and to build productive conversation in place of vitriol.”

No matter the results of the election, we should not surrender to anger or vindictiveness. We need to continue to help build God’s kingdom of love in imitation of Christ.

Read the full document of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and other Catholic election resources at www.tennesseeregister.com.