Too often the above represents the extent of our civic discourse. It lands in our email boxes and we hear it on radio and television talk shows. Many of us had hoped that after last year’s election we’d see an end to the simple, small-minded drivel masquerading as respectful and intelligent dialogue. But well into 2013 we realize we were mistaken: what used to be a year-long campaign has turned into a never-ending cacophony of talking heads, insults, and obfuscation of issues. If truth is the first casualty of politics, we can now add civility and decency to the casualty list.
Many, if not most, of the issues that define our political debate today have become emotionally-charged “third rails,” and any attempt at dialogue with those we disagree with can quickly turn into an unqualified mudslinging fight. The Church is not immune: we’ve been the recipient of nasty, vitriolic emails and phone calls from folks who disagree with public policy positions taken by the Virginia bishops. Our Faith, however, calls us to a more generous response. Our call to be disciples of Jesus first and foremost commands us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. It compels us to protect innocent life, the sanctity of marriage and family life, to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and protect God’s creation. These are requirements of our faith.
Too often we let our alliance with a political party or interest group cloud our mission as faithful citizens, taking positions against our calling as Catholics. In the age of the internet and 24-hour news cycle we can choose to watch only the news or read the blogs that comport with our views. Frankly, technology has made it possible to live in a bubble where our own views are seldom challenged and where we don’t have to engage our neighbors in civil, intelligent dialogue.
Here in Virginia, another election season is right around the corner, and so much is at stake. Can we Catholics strive to regain a higher ground in our political discourse? Can we lead the charge in bringing civility back to the public square? Yes, but it will require charity—or as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: charity in truth. We cannot compromise with unformed consciences or abandon moral truths, but we might ask our brothers and sisters why they disagree with Church teaching on a particular issue being debated in the public square. Then, why not explore together the treasure-trove of information our Faith has provided us over the centuries to inform our decisions and conscience?
Such invitations to dialogue may not change minds and hearts. But they will show us that respect and love of neighbor is not lost.
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