The hyper-partisan state of contemporary American politics poses a significant threat to the unity of the Church. And we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that politics is inherently partisan. That’s the nature of the animal. Having clear distinctions between parties is in many ways a useful and efficient way to structure the public policy debate, and to organize a government. Principled disagreement is a healthy way to carry on a constructive dialogue about policies. And, certainly, no democracy can function without a healthy party system — just look at the deplorable state of politics in New York City.
But the modern obsession with politics has gone beyond a healthy debate about which policies are to be preferred, and which will work better to address social problems. During this hotly-contested election, it seems now that all issues and all relationships are being colored by whether one is a Republican or Democrat, or whether one favors or opposes the re-election of the President.
This partisanship, which was reserved to the political arena, has invaded private life, and is intruding upon the Church. People are being drummed out of the Church as not “real Catholics” because they show insufficient partisan zeal, or because they propose showing civility to one candidate or another, or because they suggest that one can vote for a candidate other than a Republican or Democrat. And that is very dangerous.
Look, I know very well that there is a lot at stake in this election — and I’m not even talking about pragmatic issues like economic and foreign policy. The policies of the current Administration are deeply anti-life — they aggressively promote abortion at home and abroad, undermine the authentic definition of marriage, carry out a program of aggressive warfare that recklessly kills civilians, and are openly and actively hostile to religious liberty. I cannot personally imagine any “proportional reason” that would justify voting in favor of a candidate who supports so many intrinsically evil policies. (Remember, this is my personal opinion, not an official statement of the Archdiocese)
But, no matter how significant this election is, the winners and losers are all mere flashes in the pan, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing ephemera that nobody will remember in a short time. There are few things as dated and time-bound as partisan politics.
The Church, the Body of Christ, is an entirely different matter. She is eternal, and her mission transcends any temporary partisan election that divides people. The Church continues Christ mission of calling all people to himself in unity through the Holy Spirit. Factionalism in the Church has been a problem from the earliest day — just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. But in any age, factions and divisions deeply wound the Church.
I am a political wonk. Election Day is my Super Bowl. I read political news compulsively. But I constantly have to remind myself that, as Pope Benedict once wrote:
The state is not the whole of human existence and does not encompass all human hope. Man and what he hopes for extend beyond the framework of the state and beyond the sphere of political action.
All people thirst for the divine, and politics cannot satisfy that need. Only God, through the instrument of the Church, can provide the answer. Before any political affiliation, electoral interest, or policy preference, we are Christians, members of Christ’s Body. And we must never let any partisan politics divide the Church in any way that would diminish her ability to draw all people to God.