Kentucky voices

Mike Rivage-Seul: Heeding pope's call means moving in new direction

January 3, 2014 

For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote.

What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex — abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage?

How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots?

How will they answer the pope's call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed war on terrorism rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place?

What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights, according to the pope.)

All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champions of privatization, deregulated markets and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care; investing money in public education; increasing the minimum wage; supporting labor unions, food stamp programs and even Social Security financed by workers' own savings. Republicans are the "tough on terrorism" bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to "hatred of our freedom," rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.

According to the pope, such attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market — by regulation (such as Glass-Steagall or the Tobin tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps), by increasing the minimum wage and taxing the rich — can such problems be solved.

In other words, it's not possible this time to say, "Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities." That's not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts.

No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.

For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope have identified as sexual obsessions. It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.

Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic — for Hillary Clinton? Or will our Christian "leaders" be even more heedful of Pope Francis' direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders or the Green Party candidate?

We await direction from Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer.

Mike Rivage-Seul is a former priest and professor of peace and social justice at Berea College. He blogs at http://mikerivageseul.wordpress.com

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