Most Rev. Dr. James Thoppil
Bishop of Kohima, Nagaland
When election approaches in Nagaland there is passionate talk about Clean Election Campaign and pressure to join the campaign. Through this writing I would like to make clear the position of the Catholic Church in Nagaland and the principles on which it pitches its position.
The Catholic Church is not against or for any political party or any individual candidate or any particular ideology, instead appeals to the conscience of individuals to exercise their fundamental right responsibly and with utmost seriousness. The Bible tells us that as you sow so shall you reap (cf. Gal 6:7). If we sow our vote in corruption, bias, purely in subjective and benefit oriented motive, we shall reap such fruits. At the end of the day there is no point in lamenting and groaning over the situation one is faced with, instead one is invited to exercise one’s fundamental right to vote when the opportunity comes in pure and free conscience, weighing objectively before God, the values and principles, promises and perks every candidate offer to the electorate, checking on the track record of the candidate’s performance in personal and public life. So often it happens that candidates promise many good schemes and projects at the time of election and disappear until the next election. Once elected the winner forgets and bypasses the promises and electorate. To them one aptly apply the words of St. Paul “Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ“ (Phil. 3:18-21). Therefore, it is important that every individual examine and decide for oneself before God according to the teaching of the Church as to whom one must vote.
Voting: Fundamental Right and Duty
Voting is one of the fundamental rights of a citizen in a modern democratic state. In fact the Church teaches that there are three primary responsibilities as citizens: to pay taxes, to defend the country and to vote (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2239-2240). Each of these responsibilities asks one to put the good of society and of the fellow citizens above that of an individual desires and needs. In the voting booth one has the privileged opportunity to contribute to the building up of a nation and promotion of the common good by bringing the values and teachings of one’s faith to bear on the issues facing the society. We have the duty to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar (cf. Mk 12:17) and pray for those in authority (cf. 1 Tim. 2:2).
To Whom should One Vote
The Church does not tell to whom to vote for, nor does she endorse an official list of candidates or tell which party one should join. Catholics are to use their judgement and follow their consciences as they apply the teachings of Jesus and the core values of Christian faith to the choice they make in the voting booth.
How does the Catholic/Christian Faith help to make the Right Choice?
One is taught from an early age to form one’s conscience in the light of the Christian teaching. “To follow one’s conscience” is often misunderstood as something that allows one to do whatever one wants. Faith teaches that “conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth and calling one to do what is good while shunning what is evil” (US Bishops-2007). In the process of following one’s conscience the Social teaching of the Church which proclaims in unequivocal terms the importance of promoting the dignity of human person and human life. Promotion of common good can be a good guide and indicator for correct decision. It is also one’s duty to seek and understand the will of God prayerfully and seek enlightenment and guidance from the teaching of the Church.
Voting is not Single-Issue Matter
At election one is confronted with multiple issues and sometimes the issues are subtle and crucial. Although a candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee voter’s support, yet one’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, proved by one’s life, ideology, actions in public or private life, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. Voting for money or material gain (selling one’s vote), proxy voting, exerting force, fraud or inducement for voting for a particular candidate are acts contrary to Christian values and principles.
1. As Catholic/Christian, one is obliged to “build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and the vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended”. When one considers the issues in the light of this obligation, faith reminds one that one should not support “intrinsically evil” actions of any sort. Morally good acts are good in its object, in its end, in its circumstances and in its means and methods.
2. Church also opposes other actions that both violate human dignity and are destructive of life, such as human cloning or the destruction of human embryos.
3. Church condemns genocide, torture and racism for they too are severe violations of human rights and human dignity.
4. Church stands contrary to any actions against the commandments of God and teaching of the Church
4. The moral teaching of the Church is more than prohibitions. Christians are encouraged to respond to the basic needs of human being – food, shelter, health care, education and employment. One is called to defend religious freedom, support marriage and family, welcome the immigrant and protect the environment.
Thus we are called to draw upon the teaching of our Faith in coming to a decisions, and not party loyalty, self-interest or political slogans.
In today’s political environment, voting as a Catholic can be difficult. It takes serious reflection, knowledge of Church teachings and awareness of who the candidate is and where they stand on the issues that affect the public and private life. Voting is a serious moral decision that will affect not only the future course of the country and many innocent lives, but our own salvation as well. One cannot intentionally support moral evils or vote for a candidate who does such evils. The great privilege and right of democracy is that one, as citizens and religious believers, can have a voice in the direction of one’s country by voting for the common good. The great privilege of being a Catholic/Christian is that we have a body of teaching, going back to Christ himself which can help us to make good decision in the voting booth.
“An authentic faith … always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it …. If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church, ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, No. 183). Since one cannot objectively and subjectively know the overt and covert intentions and aspirations of different methodology proposed by various groups and individuals as “Clean Election Campaign” the Catholic Church, does not oppose or publicly join any slogan filled campaign, but appeals to the conscience of every individual to exercise his/her fundamental right responsibly and with utmost seriousness, knowing well that one’s vote counts not only for the present but for the future. Voting is a means by which one lay the foundation and direction for the future. As you sow so shall you reap!