A Teachable Moment?
I was struck by the following excerpt from a recent article in the NYT about Catholics and the election:
One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)
Mr. Madonna, the political scientist, said of the Catholic vote in white, working-class Scranton, “This is a tough area for Obama and some of it is race.”
Much has been made about the important role of the bishops in helping to “form the consciences” of the faithful as they consider their choices in this election. For my own part, I welcomed the interventions of the bishops in response to the comments on abortion from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Joe Biden (D-CA). Both politicians were high profile Catholics whose comments misrepresented the teaching of the Church. Their comments deserved correction. It was certainly a “teachable moment.”
I would argue, though, that it is not the only “teachable moment” in this election cycle. Evidence–both survey and anecdotal–is mounting that there are a significant number of voters–including Catholic voters–who will not pull the lever for the Democratic candidate because of his race.
It would be one thing if these voters were truly motivated by revulsion against Senator Obama’s stand on abortion. It seems difficult to believe, though, that this could be the primary motivation for voters who cheerfully pulled the lever for the likes of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
If the bishops want their claim that they are primarily interested in “forming consciences” to be taken seriously, they need to pay as much attention to the process by which Catholic voters make their decisions as to the final product. If I may paraphrase T.S. Elliot, it is no victory for the Gospel if Catholic voters make the right decision for the wrong reason.
To vote against Senator Obama because of his stand on abortion is defensible and perhaps even praiseworthy. To vote against him because he is black is to commit an act that is evil. I think it would behoove the bishops to make this exceptionally clear.