Practical Voting

Votación Práctica

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
Publication Date: November 04, 2002

In the elections of 2000, surveys showed that among those calling themselves Christians, only 50% were registered to vote. Then, on election day, only half of the Christians who were registered actually went to the polls. The Christian vote has declined 10% since 1994.

Then we sit around and wonder why the policies of our country are less and less Christian. And remember, some races were won by 90 votes. A single congregation, and the efforts of a single pastor, could have made the difference.

One of the reasons that some Christians don't vote is that they are being told not to by some of their leaders. Some Christians feel it is more righteous not to vote when the slate of candidates isn't that great. They feel compromised, dirty, or even sinful by casting a ballot for someone with whom they disagree.

Now it is true that to vote for someone who will advance un-Christian policies, precisely because you want them to, while rejecting a better, viable alternative, is indeed sinful. But when you are faced with two candidates, neither of whom is perfect (surprise!), but one of whom is clearly closer in his/her convictions to the Gospel than the other, it is perfectly legitimate to vote for the better one.

Some mistakenly call this "the lesser of two evils." It is not. In this example, one is not choosing evil at all. Rather, one is choosing a good. The good is the reduction, as much as possible, of an existing evil.

A clear example arises with abortion. All abortions are currently legal. If one candidate wants to eliminate more abortions than the other one, my vote for the one who wants to eliminate more can be seen as an effort to reduce the evil of legal abortion, and a choice to reduce evil is precisely a good.

Now some Christians, not finding a candidate who is willing to eliminate all abortions, do not vote at all. It is a mistake, however, for these Christians to think they will be "tainted" by voting for an imperfect candidate. The vote is not a vote for canonization, nor is it a declaration that one agrees with every position the candidate takes. (The only way to do that is to vote for yourself!)

What then, is the vote? It is a practical exercise in leadership, by which we do our part to put people into office who can make some improvement in our country's policies. Both we and the elected official are obliged to make the maximum improvement possible at the moment. At the same time, nobody is morally bound to what is impossible, and it is perfectly legitimate to recognize the limits of what is possible.

Every abortion is wrong, and somebody else's sinful choice made them legal, not ours. No vote can end them all today. But a vote that can help reduce the evil is, in fact, a good.



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Daniel Marshall says:
7/21/2019 6:30:59 PM
Hi "correspondence,"

I wonder who you are who answered me, but I wish that you would relay what I write to Frank, Janet Morana, and Alveda King. You do wonderful work, nothing quite like it, but I live in blue country, and I cannot tell you how much, by taking an electoral political position, Priests for Life scandalizes and alienates people, including Catholics, with whom I talk, people who follow the same considerations that you sent to me re voting, but decide to vote for Democrats! By supporting Republicans, you make it harder for me to dialogue with them about abortion. P4L essentially limits itself to those who already agree with it.

There are several issues here to be disentangled. First is the issue of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Google the definition of "psychopath." Need I say more? A psychopath is dangerous. No psychopath should be president, for any reason. This is not to judge the president's worth before God or all his policies. Psychopaths are capable of doing good on occasion; but they are very wounded people, and dangerous.

As for the Republican Party, I notice that everyone wants regulation, even those who decry regulation, but they want regulation of different things. And that those who object to welfare for poor people are usually completely blind to the far greater welfare given by government to business. And that Republicans favor transferring the national wealth to a small number of the wealthy, as in the President's tax plan. I am in favor of businesses paying the true cost of doing business. Then we might have businesses that truly serve the common good, as well as a just distribution of wealth.

Not that Democrats are an attractive alternative. They may have more sympathy for the poor, but they are intolerant and domineering, trying to coerce people of conscience. This always weakens a country. Conscience is our strength.

Second is the issue of voting. In the article that you sent to me, Frank addresses people who believe that they have an obligation to vote and who believe that voting is a good thing. There are two issues here.

I believe that violence, whether "good" or "bad," leads to nothing but violence, that violence returns upon the violent, and that Jesus asked us to perform the works of mercy rather than the works of violence, which go counter to the works of mercy at every point. Yet all worldly governments (even the best, including ours) are built on violence--on mountains of weapons and, particularly, weapons of mass destruction. This does not lead us where we want to go. No war ever meets all the requirements of even so-called "just" war morality; it is a contradiction in terms. This is particularly true of modern war, which is indiscriminate and more and more targets noncombatants, especially children, babies, and the unborn, who suffer worst (e.g., through the "sanctions" that have become popular). There is no way of rationalizing war, although warriors always try. Truth is the first casualty in war.

I don't want a commander-in-chief who could lead us in war; why should I vote for one on either side?

More fundamentally, voting itself is coercive and enforced by violence--police, state police, national guards and other forces, and the military. What does voting lead to? Do those defeated in a vote or an election stop resisting after the vote or election? What do they do? At every step, they try to make sure that the winner(s) fail to accomplish their goals. Currently we have the ultimate state of dysfunction to which voting leads, in which a disordinate amount of energy is required for Congress to agree on even the simplest and most obvious of needs.

For these reasons, as a Catholic Worker for 54 years, I am an anarchist (that is, a "personalist communitarian," or person who believes in voluntarily cooperating or noncooperating responsibly with others in performing the works of mercy or other actions and in making decisions by unanimity or consensus, like Quakers and Iroquois); and therefore I don't vote, like Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, who suffered greatly in jail for the right of women suffrage, but nevertheless never herself voted.

Third is the question of abortion. Roe vs. Wade and its sister case constituted an end-run around the legislative process. Roe rested on deception, according to the subject of the case, who claimed that she'd been misled by the lawyers. The women involved in both cases turned against the outcomes of the cases and spent their energies fighting abortion. These cases are instances of violence. For these reasons, anti-abortionists like us are resentful and are never going to rest until the decisions are reversed.

In blue territory, it is impossible to hear an intelligent discussion or debate about abortion. There are occasionally sham debates in which the speakers are not evenly matched. Maybe it's the same in red territory. For this reason, the two sides of this dispute have drifted far apart, and there is not even a common basis in fact on which they can agree. Astonishingly, the Democratic Party has no idea how much of a litmus test this issue is for the next election. They risk losing the election among swing voters, like Catholics, over abortion.

These are points on which we can appeal to Democrats because they do not know these things and they are in their self-interest.

This is the way that we can approach Democrats and get them to at least accept diversity within the Party, if not to desist in their support for abortion. The greatest puzzle is the support of so many African-American leaders, who are Democrats, even of ministers, for abortion, although there is so clearly a racist aspect to the activities of Planned Parenthood. Besides (Dr.) Alveda King, the most interesting ministry to that community is Walter Hoye and Issues 4Life. I am willing to help him or Alveda in any way that I can within my community of Harlem, NY.

I think that we can be so much more effective if we appeal to the better angels of each side, rather than taking partisan sides in this election. I believe that there is a real basis for dialogue. The difference between the two sides is not between life and choice, because everyone supports both, as she or he understands both. The difference is over such things as population control, social services for pregnant women, eugenics, and equal opportunity in the workplace for women. If there really were enough social services of every kind for pregnant women, including workplace protection, does anyone think that there would be many women seeking abortion? I find that the opposition considers that a fair point. Not that I prefer government social services; I think that such services are better the more personal they are and the more from the heart. Such as Good Counsel Homes in the New York area.

Thanks for reading this. Let's dialogue creatively with those who support abortions and not associate ourselves with politicians of either side. Money is calling the shots on both sides and playing havoc with our society. Follow the money trail to find the truth.

Every blessing,

Daniel Marshall


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