On the eve of a monumental election (arguably the most important election I have ever voted in), I thought that I would take a moment to express my thoughts on the influence of religion on politics.
Most of you know that I am a newly converted Catholic. I am extremely happy in my faith and find comfort and guidance in the mass and my conversations with God. I subscribe to many -- but not all -- of the Catholic doctrines. Significantly, I subscribe to these beliefs because they are aligned with my moral conscience not because The Church tells me to.
I believe that abortion is wrong. I would never be able to abort a child, and I would hope and pray that no one I know ever has one (or has ever had one). I know that there are many avenues and options for women carrying a child that they do not want. But I also know that I cannot understand every woman and her situation. I also know that this nation was founded on a strong belief of separation of church and state.
I was in mass two weeks ago, and the lectern read a letter from the Bishop prior to the start of mass. The letter was telling us all to go out and vote. But it didn't end there. The Bishop spoke about the need to feed the poor, educate the young, care for the needy, and defend our fellow man. I was completely okay with this. Finally the Bishop ended with the following statement, "The protection of human life from conception to natural death is preeminent among our moral values." This "abortion is the only issue" stance is a problem for me. While I believe that abortion is wrong, I completely support the pro-choice position in legislation. The government should not and can not make laws that are based on religious ideology. I will be pro-life in my activism but remain pro-choice in my politics. It is not The Church's position to influence laws. It is The Church's responsibility to provide counseling, support, and guidance to women considering abortion, regardless of the laws that exist. The lives of the unborn are indeed very important, but they are not the only issue that matters. What about the millions of people who starve every day? What about the abysmal condition of our school systems? What about the endless "war" in which we are engaged? What about the millions of people -- old and young -- who have no health insurance and cannot seek medical treatment? All of these issues are very important to me. As a democrat, I believe it is important to take care of ALL Americans -- young, old, male, female, rich, poor, healthy, ill, born or unborn. I am very willing to vote for the candidate who is most likely to address as man of these issues as possible. I know that there are always pro-life activists who will provide women considering abortion with options and counseling. It just isn't our government's responsibility to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies.
While I understand that so many of us find our morality and values within our churches, it bothers me that we so readily reduce our vote -- the most significant action we can take as an American citizen -- to just one issue. We are willing to forgo all of the other social services and issues to make sure that abortion is illegal. Why is it that we cannot focus those energies into preventing pregnancy (through education and available contraception) and working with women who are considering it? It just isn't our government's place to limit our bodies (women's bodies) with restrictions. I cannot in good conscience vote a single issue ballot.
On a very good and happy note, I do believe that this election is a good sign of things to come. Voters are turning out in recored numbers. It seems that Americans have finally taken ownership of their right to vote and see it as an important element of their citizenship. One can only hope that this passion and excitement continues in future elections.